Small Realities

Inside the mind of Lance Schonberg

Archive for the tag “Writing”

On the Writing of Fiction and Why I Do It

Every fiction writer will have a reason for choosing fiction.  You hear and read a lot of them that sound clever and dramatic on the surface of things.  Most of them boil down to one of (or some combination of):

  • I have to.
  • I need to.
  • The voices in my head make me.

I understand all of those, and I’ve felt them all on occasion, but I’m also a huge believer in free will and anything that doesn’t consider it leaves out part of the equation as far as I’m concerned.

The summer I was eight, my uncle pressed a copy of the Lord of the Rings into my hands to keep me busy.  Seems a little excessive, doesn’t it?  “Here kid, have a thousand pages of fantasy fiction.  That ought to keep you quiet for a while.”  Not nearly as long as he hoped, I think.  I’d already read Fellowship at that point, so got through it fairly quickly and tore into Towers by the next day.

And that wasn’t even the beginning.  Dad had plenty of SF and Fantasy lying around when I was a kid in the 70s and I read a lot of classic and not so classic genre fiction.  My school library had more and the local library beat both together.  I discovered McCaffrey early, and Silverberg, and Niven, Le Guin, Pohl, Herbert, Smith, Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, and dozens of others.

The 70s moved into the 80s and a couple of years later I became a teenager and my reading expanded deeper into the genres.  Fantasy came into its own and SF got broader than ever before.  Bova, and Feist, and Eddings, Salvatore,Bradley,Jordan, Brooks, Anthony, Pratchett, Alexander, and on and on and on.

The 80s became the 90s and I grew older and kept reading.  By the time we rolled the millennium, I had a wife, a son, and a daughter on the way.  Less time for reading, but I never let it go.  My horizons got broader, but I got pickier at the same time, less forgiving of some things and more understanding of others.  My youngest daughter arrived somewhere in there, too.

These days I read less than I did for myself before the whole family thing happened, and more non-fiction than ever before.  It’s a strange, winding road, but along the way I found a lot of things that had been lost, like Dr. Suess, and picked up things I never would have otherwise, like Harry Potter.  There’s no way I can possibly come up with a guess at how many hours of joy and pleasure reading, and particularly reading Science Fiction and Fantasy, has given me.

And that’s why I write.

Sure, it might satisfy some psychological need I have and maybe the voices in my head like to be let out of my imagination to play through words across the screen, but that’s not why I write.

I write because that’s what I feel it takes for me to pay back all the writers who have gone before me.  If someone reads one of my stories and enjoys it, then I’m thrilled to have added a little joy in reading to someone else’s life, and the hours of work that went into it were more than worthwhile.

Read on and be well.

(Cross-posted from my new website.)

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The November Blog Plan

I’m not doing NaNoWriMo this year.  It was cool last year, winning with 50,544 new words of fiction on a single project in a single month (and I slacked off the last day since I’d technically won the night before with 50,010 words).  Very cool, even if I was a bit burnt out at the end of it.

I don’t have time this year.  Not even close.  Too much going on, and too much to catch up on, some real life and some no less real even if it’s pretty much virtual.  There are a couple of things I’ve even been avoiding, but I can’t mentally afford to do that anymore.  I’ve made a lot of efforts to compartmentalize my time on different projects and met with mixed results.  Maybe I need to go back to the To Do list, but that’s not the issue at this particular moment.

NaNo aside, I do want to step up my writing just a little bit so for November, so I’m going to try to blog every day.  Yup, every day.  All thirty of them.

Now, I’ve got a bit of an advantage since I’m currently running two serials, Turn the World Around on Tuesdays and Branch Santa on Saturdays, so cutting out those days, I really only need 21 posts.

I’ll also add that not quite all of those 21 will be here.  I do have a second blog, Walking a Martial Road, which is a place for my musings on martial arts in general and karate specifically, and I’m planning to post there on Wednesdays during November.  I’ve more or less already got topics set for those, so now I’m down to only needing 16 subjects to post here (there are 5 Wednesdays in November this year).  There are plenty of things coming up (Remembrance Day, the release of Halo: Anniversary Edition) and lots of things going on in the world.  I think I can manage that.  It’ll be down to finding the time to write those posts.

And that’s the challenge for me for November.

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo this year, I’ll cheer you on from the sidelines, but I’m busy catching up and blogging.

Self Publishing – What I’m Not Doing

I’m not typically a crowd follower.  I like to make up my own mind about things, usually after doing some research and thinking about it.  And something I’ve decided not to do is publish individual short stories.  There are a couple of reasons for this, but both of them come down to basic mathematics.

First, if your mythical average 100,000 word novel is priced, in e-book format, somewhere between $2.99 and $5.99, then, on a word-parity basis, it’s probably reasonable to price a 30-35,000 word novella individually between $0.99 and $1.99.  Following the same logic, a 5,000 word short story would get priced at between $0.15 and $0.30 cents.  If I look at what I hope is a viable online magazine model, Flagship Magazine gives you a half dozen stories per issue, plus an editorial and some commentary, both in pdf and audio, for $2.99, or $1.99 for the text only version, bringing us back into the $0.30 per story range.

All of which comes down to my not being able to justify $0.99 for an average short story, which is the minimum allowable list price point under Amazon’s model (but, oddly, there can be discounts on these—I found a couple at 10-20% off this afternoon), unless you set the story at free, which is a short term tactic to drive interest, not a long term strategy to do well as an author.  (And I firmly believe at this stage of the game that you have to be on Amazon if you’re self publishing.)

But say I could convince myself to sell a 5000 word story for $0.99, netting me $0.35 per copy sold on Amazon, a little higher amount on B&N, and a bit more on Smashwords, maybe.  As the publisher, I’m doing more than just the writing of the book.  I also have to find artwork and do the layout and formatting plus any marketing that might be involved.  Now, I suppose I don’t need to do much marketing for a short story, right?  But formatting doesn’t take any less time and unless I’m going to sucker convince an artist to just giving me their work for nothing, I need to pay for cover art, and it will take three copies of the story sold for every dollar I pay the artist for that cover.  Once the cover is paid for, I’ll need to sell another 150 copies of the story before I’ve made 1¢/word, 750 to get to a pro rate of 5¢/word.  And I’ve still done the formatting for free.

I’m a big advocate of trying a bunch of different things to see what works, so I’m not entirely sure why I’m giving myself such a hard time about it, but I don’t think I can do a short story for $0.99.  I can’t see myself buying one at this price, so why should I expect other people to?

But at least some other writers do seem to.  I’m not discounting the possibility that it’s possible to make a living selling individual short stories as mini e-books, but it doesn’t feel like a viable path for me.  And I see quite a few shorts priced significantly above $0.99.

What it comes down to for me is that I feel like it’s difficult to justify anything under novelette size for a dollar, and that novelette should have something different or extra about it.  I’ve thought a lot about Thorvald’s Wyrd, qualifying as a novelette at only a little over 13,000 words, and I’m not comfortable thinking about it at higher than that minimum price.

I’m still debating the right price for Turn the World Around.  At 35,000 words, it’s a stone’s throw from what’s generally considered a short novel (40,000 words), but a long, long way from that standard 100,000 word novel.  This needs some thought for the initial price and probably some flexibility and a willingness to play with that price to find the right one.

The exercise in basic math, if nothing else, has made me consider the viability of short story collections even more closely, and I find I like the idea a lot more.  After all, there are a lot of great short stories out there just waiting to be gathered up.  Why shouldn’t some of mine be among them?

(Thinking about this, I did consider the price tags on print books and magazines for value comparisons, but it’s difficult to consider that as fair.  Printing and distribution costs can have a big impact, particularly on magazines.)

Self Publishing – What Else I’m Doing

Self Publishing comes in a number of forms, print and electronic, and I’m not limiting myself.  Or trying not to.

In my last post on Self Publishing, I noted a couple of serials on this blog, both of which are going to become e-books.  I have no intention of taking either of them down from here as I think it’s important to be able to sample someone’s work before you drop some hard earned money on their stuff, even if it’s only 99 cents (the probable price point of Thorvald’s Wyrd).  I think serials are fun, too, and read a few each week when I can find the spare moments.  There’s something about delayed gratification on a cliffhanger that they figured out for TV shows a long time ago.  Three or four months is too long to wait for a new episode, but a week is enough to build some nice anticipation if you know the next piece is coming.

I’m also going to be starting a new serial on Friday.  Yes, I’m well aware the old one isn’t done yet, but this is a Christmas story and if I don’t start it until Turn the World Around is over, I’ll have to post three times each week in the weeks before Christmas to get it up in time.  Too crowded.  So the first scene of Branch Santa will debut on Saturday, October 15th.  I’ve never been sure whether to classify this story as Science Fiction or Fantasy as it has elements of both, but it’s certainly not Science-Fantasy.  I’ll let you guys decide.  I should say it’s sort of a Christmas story.  Only a small part of the story actually happens at Christmas, but it does involve Santa Claus in a big way.

Next up on the possibilities list is a children’s book.  Carrie the Catfish, which certainly needs a better title, is a six thousand word Fantasy story I wrote in response to my youngest daughter’s request for a mermaid story.  It’s not what I had in mind when I started writing, but it’s what I produced, and if the Pink Princess was disappointed in the near total lack of mermaids in the story, neither she nor Nature Girl has expressed any unhappiness with the story, and both have repeatedly requested it to be read to them.  The question is one of illustration at this point.  I’m trying to talk my wife into it, a woman of considerable artistic talent.  She, on the other hand, is trying to talk me out of even thinking about her for it.  I’m not quite sure why.  However the debate ends, I’d really like to share this story.

My other debate is short story collections.  Graceland is a themed collection and I’m absolutely going ahead with that.  The debate here is over un-themed collections.  I have more than enough good stories (in my opinion, at least) to manage several short story collections.  Limiting myself to one Fantasy and one Science Fiction, I could select 90-100 thousand words worth of stories, some previously published but many not, to fill the two books pretty quickly.

Traditionally, single author collections have been a hard sell, even harder than anthologies, unless you’re a really big name author.  And they’re nearly always lumped in with anthologies.

Ah, but there’s that word again: traditionally.  And while the word isn’t the antithesis of what I’m trying to accomplish, the point in my mind is that just because something hasn’t worked for traditional publishing doesn’t mean it won’t in the new landscape.  There are certainly collections out there, especially in e-formats, and I’m repeatedly on record as saying we’re in the early stage of a golden age of short fiction, so I think the question I should be asking myself is why not?

Unless, of course, I want to try getting at least some of these stories in front of magazine and anthology audiences first, which I do.  I’m still debating with myself, but I think when I produce the first Small Realities (or whatever the title ends up being) collection, it will likely wind up being a more equal mix of reprints and new work, leaning at least a little towards reprints.

Thoughts?

What I’m Going to Self Publish

I said yesterday that I’ve developed a five-year plan with regards to my writing and publishing career, today I’m going to share the details of that, at least a little bit.  The five-year plan is vague after the first year, and flexible even inside it.  All deadlines are tentative and will be altered to reflect reality, the main reason I’m not actually going to share them as that’s gotten me into trouble in the past.

I’m going to call 2012 the first year, even though I’m going to start on things a little sooner than that.

First up will be the e-book version of Thorvald’s Wyrd.  As a quick refresher, this is a heroic fantasy tale inspired by Norse mythology and told in 100-word scenes.  Originally serialized here (and it’s still up and available), the feedback I’ve gotten has been really good and even included several requests/demands for an e-book version.  I’m about to put out feelers for cover art and have a couple of people in mind to ask.  This may happen before the end of 2011.

Next in the queue will be the e-book version of Turn the World Around, my current serial.  First Contact with an attempt at interstellar peace.  I’ve had some good feedback on this, too, mostly by e-mail, and while the serial isn’t complete, the story is at a little over 35,000 words.  This also might happen before the end of the year, or maybe early January.

In both cases, there will be a print version as well, almost certainly via CreateSpace.  There isn’t a huge cost associated with this and it makes it easy to get a bunch to take with me to a conference or a convention if I choose, something that a couple of people have put a bug in my ear about.

Here is where things start to get a little more fluid.  Or maybe variable is the right word.  For the rest of the year, I’m going to continue writing the stories for Graceland (the themed collection with a story inspired by each of the songs from Paul Simon’s seminal album of the same title).  I’m going to do very little editing of my own work in October, focusing on some other things I need to get completed.  November will be for a reread and revision notes on Skip To My Luu (a working title, which I do kind of like), and picking up whatever I still need to do on a couple of other commitments.  In November, I hope to start the second draft along with the first round edits on the Graceland stories.

But wait, you exclaim, what about Heroes Inc?  Didn’t you say you planned to have that done by the end of the year?  Heroes Inc is a working title, by the way, and yes, I did say that on more than one occasion.  But the beauty of self publishing is that the schedule is up to me, and I found when I finished the second draft, I wanted to let it rest for a while and come back to it with fresh eyes again.  So now the plan is to alternate drafts with Skip To My Luu.  The outline has me finishing the 4th (usually final for me) draft of Heroes Inc in the very early spring and Skip To My Luu a few weeks after.  The Graceland final drafts should be done just about when I start on Heroes Inc, so I’ll be looking for Beta readers for three different things within about two months.  That might be an interesting challenge.

So, allowing for a good amount of time for potential revisions after the Beta readers tell me all the problems with each volume, finding cover art, and doing all of the formatting and prep work for each of the three books, I hope to have all three ready for publication between mid-summer and mid-autumn.

Which makes the basic order of release:

Thorvald’s Wyrd

Turn the World Around

Graceland

Heroes Inc

Skip To My Luu

While I’m doing all of these later drafts and getting a bunch of short stories out into the wild (which I haven’t done much of this year, or none, actually), I will be drafting the next big project.  I’ve already started it, referring to it as Alishra’s story in a previous post back in May.  I haven’t got a lot done so far, two whole scenes, almost 5,000 words, and all of it long hand (and that was the point, to work on it without letting it take over).  It’s a big story and might take me a long time to get the full first draft down, but I’m going to start on the keyboard early in the new year, assuming I can catch up on everything else first.  I have been doing some heavy duty plotting.  It’s a multi-book arc and if I can get the first two done to the first draft level in 2012 along with everything else, I’ll be thrilled.

And yes, I’ll publish that story, too.

Why I’m Self Publishing

I’ve been a writer for almost as long as I can remember.  When I was in the early years of grade school, I’d use my classmates as characters in science fiction and fantasy epic adventure stories.  By my freshman year of high school, I’d graduated to short novel-length, highly derivative works in the same genre, hand written and occasionally even finishing a story.  I later moved into teenage poetry, some of which actually wasn’t bad, and genre short stories.  By university, my writing had dropped into fits and starts and it stayed there for a long time: short bursts of fiction and poetry followed by long periods of ignoring it.  In my 30s, the short periods got longer until, after explaining to my then nine year-old why it was important to follow your dreams, I wondered why I’d stopped following mine.

So I picked up the shreds of stories I’d mostly not finished over the previous couple of years and started finishing them.  It took me a couple of months to establish a routine where I was doing some writing (nearly) every day, and on Christmas 2007, after everyone else had gone to bed, I started writing my first real novel, Dragon Summer.  I finished it exactly five months later (clocking in at 108,104 words)

I’ve written several other novels and many short stories since, beginning to submit my work near the end of 2008 and placing almost two dozen shorts.  This year and last year haven’t been nearly as productive as I might have like, due to a bunch of real world issues and other commitments, but I have high hopes for 2012.  Why?

Because I’m taking my career into my own hands and I’m going to start self-publishing.

I have nothing against traditional publishing and have plenty of books on my shelves from traditional publishers, large and small, but the landscape is changing and becoming a lot more virtual, and a lot more personal.  Traditional publishing may or may not adapt, but I don’t think I’m willing to wait and see if it does, or wait if it doesn’t.  It’s a different world and I think it’s time to see where the waves of change might take me.  Maybe past time, but every day is a new beginning, right?

There’ s been a lot written across the internet of the dos and don’ts and the whys and why not’s of self-publishing, and I’m not going to rehash much of it, but after a lot of thought and internal argument, I’ve got three reasons that it’s right for me.

Time

Ignoring how long it might take to write a book, edit, polish, get advice back from your Beta readers, revise, and polish it again, if you’ve got a good story on your hands, the time it takes from initial queries to agents through delivery to book stores can be three years (or four, or five, or more).  Then, you’ve got three months, six if you’re lucky, for your book to do really, really well or get pulled from the shelves.  It doesn’t have a chance to have any word of mouth or marketing mean anything.  If I publish myself, it may not get into stores, but I can have it on Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords as an e-book within a few days of deciding it’s ready.  Which doesn’t mean a first draft goes up on the Kindle; a first draft is never, ever ready, not even to be seen by another human being.

Control

Say I’ve negotiated that three-plus year wait from query to print run.  Once I sign the contracts, I have very little say in what happens to the book and I’ve probably agreed to make whatever changes the publisher feels are necessary to make it fit the category it’s been put in.  If I take on the workload myself, I pick the cover artist and the cover art, when the book releases, what the price is set at and what I want to do or not do for promotion, ancillary material, or otherwise making use of my rights as the story’s creator.

Personality

Taking the time I need, and exercising the control I’ll have, will let me produce a work that’s completely reflective of what I want, what I feel is right for each book.  The final product will, in some fashion, reflect not just me as an author, but me as a person and my willingness to take care of all of the steps between conception and release.  It wasn’t possible for most people even a few years ago.  Another reason to love the digital age.

Plan But Be Flexible

So I’m developing a five-year plan.  The first year is laid out in fair detail, but after that it’s much more vague and fluid.  Even the plan for that first year has a lot of flexibility built in.  I have a full-time job and a full-time family.  I can project what I think things will be like, but the last couple of years have taught me that a lot of little things can add up and a big thing can blow you out of the water.  Things change, sometimes gradually, sometimes rapidly, and sometimes all at once.  We survive and adapt and grow.

In my case, we also self-publish.

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