Due to the busy schedule ahead of us and the upcoming U.S. holiday, I won’t be able to write a blog today, and I probably won’t be able to next weekend either :( I’m really sorry!
However, I wanted to leave you all with some good news and with a question!
First the good news: I’ve completed the final edits for Rise of the Forgotten! I’m really excited about this, because there’s not much left for me to do before I can setup and order a proof copy! I’ve already purchased the license for cover art for books 1 through 3 and the cover art for Orc War Campaigns, so all I have left to do is finalize the maps!
And one other thing to finish, a part I’m struggling with…the “About The Author” page. I don’t like what I’ve written in the 1st editions of books 1 and 2, but I don’t know how to re-write it. I’ve already had one friend give me really good suggestions on facebook, but, my question to you all:
What are some of your favorite “About The Author” pages that you’ve read before? Or, if you’re a writer, what have you written for yours in the past?
Thanks for reading, and to those celebrating this weekend, Happy Thanksgiving!
Back in March, I wrote an article about software that analyzes a passage and tells you whose writing style it is similar to. One of the things I was surprised to learn was that my writing style has changed over time. More than that, I’ve even come to realize that my writing style changes depending on what I am writing.
I’m not just talking about the difference between fantasy and sci fi, but within a single novel. The first Sword of Dragons novel (Rise of the Forgotten), I initially got Arthur Conan Doyle, and later on, JK Rowling. I’ve put in a few other passages from Rise of the Forgotten (all edited versions) and got Dan Brown for an action sequence, and then JK Rowling for another random section.
However, back in March, I was surprised when passages from Burning Skies and the unfinished book 3 came out as Ursula K. Le Guin, the writer of the Earthsea series. I’d never read any of her work, so wasn’t sure what to make of it. So I went out and bought the first Earthsea novel, The Wizard of Earthsea. About a week ago, I finally started reading it.
…and I don’t see it. I don’t see any similarity to her writing style. I was shocked by that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I don’t like her writing style, I actually rather enjoy it and I’m getting through the first book very quickly. In fact someone said she’s a master of character development, so the comparison is flattering. But I don’t see the similarity to my style.
Or at least, I didn’t think so at first…
Am I Just Too Close To My Own Writing To See It?
I mentioned this to my friend Liza the other day over IM. She kinda paused for a bit, and then replied that she actually could see the similarity, and started going into details about how. One of the thing she said is that we both write very matter-of-fact in many instances.
I see that in Earthsea, but I wasn’t seeing that in my own writing. And I started wondering…is that just because I’m too close to my own writing? I know that’s why they say a writer should always get an outside editor (hard to do when you can’t afford one…)
It’s neither a good thing or a bad thing, though, it’s just my style. Some people will like it, some won’t. I started wondering if I should find a way to adjust my writing and make it less ‘matter-of-fact’ but then I realized that it works for me. Not to say my writing style is perfect – I will never stop trying to make myself better.
But that’s an important thing to remember. Find your voice. It may be like someone else’s, but that’s okay as long as it is your voice and it isn’t a struggle to write in that style.
So Do Outside Opinions Matter Or Not?
This becomes a rather difficult question to answer. Not everyone likes my writing style. And I truly do think that I’ll always have room for improvement. But who would be the best judge of my style and what direction I should go to improve it?
Honestly that’s something I struggled with in the writer’s critique groups. There were writers from all genres there, and some of the other writers there were criticizing aspects that were staples to fantasy. As much as I like to turn some tropes on their heads, if you do that too much, you can actually drive readers of your genre away. Finding that balance is difficult.
I find that writers often try to impose the rules of their genre onto others when they get into a critique group. Just ask any die-hard literary fiction writers. (And now I’m having flashbacks to my college days…)
So does that mean that only writers from your story’s genre can be good judges? Actually…not necessarily. Because even within a genre, writers have their own styles, and readers can have preferences to styles.
So the question is…who is the authority? Is there an authority? I honestly don’t know. Even within a single genre, ‘famous’ writers can have extremely different styles, and some of those famous writers break every rule that’s out there.
I don’t have an answer to that question. At all.
So my only advice: go with your gut. Trust the opinions of your target audience and don’t stop trying to improve your writing. In fact, pay close attention to what your target audience says. That may be the best thing you can do for yourself and your writing.
Part of why I was excited to release last week’s announcement was that I can finally talk about the different pieces of my latest project, and how everything is coming along with them!
This includes the maps of Halarite for the Sword of Dragons novels! A couple of years ago, Wayne Adams of VtW Productions introduced me to a friend who was interested in making maps for the Sword of Dragons. Through many months of collaboration, Chloe drew up several maps, including a low-detail one of the world and higher-detailed versions of each continent.
One thing we agreed on was that she would not label anything. That task would fall to me after I scanned them in. However, there’s one thing I didn’t think about at the time:
I have very little experience making or labeling maps. And it is not as easy as one might think.
How do you put labels on a map so that it is understandable, legible, and not cluttered or confusing?
Thankfully, I had actually done some work on this all the way back in school, and a little bit since then. Plus, I love maps. I have a giant map of Middle Earth hanging on the wall at our apartment, and I have kept every map from every Elder Scrolls game I’ve bought, not to mention some old maps from EverQuest.
As I’ve been working on this, I’ve come to realize a few things…
Labeling What’s Most Important
Just like a book cover must convey the appropriate message to the target audience, a map should be tailored to convey the information someone might need from it. In the case of a novel, a map should have the information a reader might need.
These decisions are especially important for me since my maps will be in a small, black-and-white paperback format. That means there isn’t going to be room for a lot of small details, and fine-print will make it impossible to read. Obvious labeling will be necessary.
I do have the advantage of the fact that I have different detailed maps. The overall global map has few land features on it, so that gives me room to label political boundaries, for instance. Furthermore, I’m considering having the global map span two pages, as I’ve seen done in other novels.
Then, for book 1, I’ll have the more detailed map of Edilas, the continent where the 4 kingdoms are, on a single page. For book 2, I may still include that map, but I’ll also include a map of Devor.
Another lesson I remember from school is that bigger features require bigger names. So for instance on the global map, I’ll make the world name the biggest. Continent names will be smaller. Kingdom names smaller, followed by city and feature names.
Maps for Print vs. Maps for Web
One advantage I do have: these are fairly high-res images. So while I’ll be focusing for now on the maps that’ll go into books 1, 2 and 3, I will be making higher-detailed versions for the website, http://www.theswordofdragons.com/. Thankfully people can always zoom in to read finer print on the web.
There’s also the advantage of color on the web. I’ve already played around a bit by adding overlay colors for the 4 kingdoms on the global map. I think this will be useful and interesting for readers.
While I don’t want to make readers of the print editions go online to see more detailed maps, I think having the option will be a nice addition. “Here’s these maps, but if you want to see more details, go to the website!” That’ll allow readers like me, who love to learn as much as possible about fantasy worlds, to get more information.
That’s all for today! I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into the production of the 2nd editions. If there are any specific features you’d like included in the maps, let me know in the comments!
Life has become completely crazy this year, especially in the past few months since we had to move (and not exactly by choice, either.) Between the chaos and craziness that has been my day job this year, wedding planning, and moving, I’ve found myself with very little time and energy to write, or do much of anything writing-related.
It suddenly occurred to me how much I missed writing, and how I’ve had few good methods to help relieve stress. I remember one afternoon, while we drove to the grocery store, I turned to my fiancee and said, “I really need to find time to write regularly again.” It was out of the blue, but I figured there had to be some reason I felt compelled to say it.
And not long after, I realized why: writing is one of my biggest outlets. One of my biggest stress relief avenues. In fact in recent years, it has become the biggest. I no longer sing in choir, haven’t in years, and I don’t read as much as I’d like to, especially in the past 2 or 3 years. But writing, that has been my constant.
Even after we finish unpacking, the craziness isn’t likely to end anytime soon, we still have a long ways to go in our wedding planning, and work isn’t going to let up anytime soon.
While TV and video games still provide some outlet, they still don’t have the affect on me that writing does. They aren’t as powerful an outlet. They help me wind down at the end of the day, which is needed, but they aren’t writing.
Why Is It So Powerful?
I don’t really have a definitive answer to that question, but maybe we can figure it out right now. Storytelling has been a constant in my life, ever since I was a small child telling wild stories to my Great Grandma Marcis. It was fun. And then in 5th grade, I wrote my first short story, and have been hooked on writing ever since.
But somewhere after that, writing definitely became more than just a fun obsession. Just like choir, just like reading, just like video games, it allowed me to shut out the rest of the world and become engrossed in something else. With choir, when I sang, the world around me disappeared and my entire Universe became the director, the choir, and the audience. When reading, the characters on the page were my entire Universe. Same with video games.
But then, that still doesn’t explain why writing does more for me than any of those other outlets. It certainly didn’t always. I still remember how obsessed I became with Final Fantasy 7 when I first discovered it. Same with EverQuest.
I think it wasn’t until I moved to Colorado, when I finally broke a 4-year writer’s block and finished book one of the Sword of Dragons, that writing became something far more for me.
In the past 5 years, I’ve written 3 complete novels and am developing many more. The development, the writing, the publication process, it all makes me so happy! I obsess over my stories (ask my fiancee, once I get on a tangent about a story, I don’t stop talking about it!) and they feel like they need to be told. And that I need to be the one to tell them!
It’s my way of giving back to the world, I think, while at the same time giving myself something. I’m able to satisfy both my need for stories, both to experience and to tell, while giving the world stories.
Recently when watching the latest trailer for Star Wars The Last Jedi, it reminded me how great stories make me feel. And I love being able to make others feel that way. Maybe my stories aren’t as great as Star Wars – that’s not for me to decide. But who knows, someday, maybe someone will fall in love with my stories the same way I fell in love with Star Wars, or Star Trek, or Lord of the Rings.
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.
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:
“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.
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!
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.
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?
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?
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…
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.
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.
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!
Trials and triumphs of writing, finding an agent, and publication.