Category Archives: Indie Publishing

Pandas, learning about writing, and spite

We did, in fact, return from Origins. I enjoyed the Author panels I attended, though I only ended up attending one per day. While I was jazzed to actually try out the author track, I was still primarily there on vacation, to play board games.

In the end, I attended:

Edit Yourself
I love editing possibly too much. I can’t help it. I also like weeding my garden, which has certain similarities. And I am one of those odd readers who get distracted by bad punctuation / grammar. But I am, admittedly, weird. It’s like an allergy. I can’t help that either.

The focus here was pre-editing before you send it to a real editor, which is a helpful skill no matter how much experience you have — the more you can smooth things out beforehand, the more time editors have to dig into more complicated topics, right? Saying “ahh, they’ll fix it in post” is true, to a point, but it is in everyone’s best interest to put the work in.

Some good tips, including “read aloud” — which I’d heard before, but usually wimp out on — and not being tempted to pile on descriptions just because you know what things/characters look like in your head.
The latter was oddly gratifying, because I’ve always felt I was alone in that. My view is, “I don’t care whether your mental image is exactly the same as mine, as long as you have a mental image to go on.” If I have evoked something for you, and it isn’t so out of step with the tone of the scene that it breaks the scene for you, great. I do not care how wide you think my characters’ jaws are, or the exact tilt of their eyebrows. As far as I’m concerned, radio is not the only theater of the mind, and I like it that way.

I do hope you don’t whitewash everyone in my cast, but y’know, that’s partly on you and partly on me. Otherwise, mentally cast however you want. That’s not what’s important in the story.

We’re off track now. Editing. Yes. Do it.

Self Promotion Sells Books
Why yes, yes it does. Everybody can go home now.

Okay, okay, so this panel drilled down into various factors, including an author website, social media, and most importantly, not being a dick on social media.

I asked my husband to come with me to this panel, because I would literally rather go to the dentist than promote myself, and I figured he’d do a better job of lovingly nudging me to do these things if he heard the same talk. This is not the most professional move ever, but this is the reality of my life.

In other news, I will probably eventually drag myself to Twitter. ghhhhhhhghghghrrrrglll.

Finding Work as an Editor
Not for you, Grasshopper, not for you.

As previously noted, I love the editing process possibly more than writing itself. And it isn’t about nitpicking or finding errors, really, it’s about getting into the guts of what makes a story work and trying to make it work better. I think the process has a bad reputation, and caring about grammar and punctuation and things has a bad reputation too. Musicians aren’t called unflattering names if they try to play without wrong notes, but if I care where that comma goes, I’m a jerk. Fair?

Anyway, getting into plot structure or continuity or whatever, for me, is like a gearhead getting elbow-deep into an engine. It’s about understanding how it all works and making it work better. Plot structure is my weak point, and so I try to learn more about how to make it better, and try to bring that out in edits. I love learning about it, even if that means I don’t have it all down pat.

However, due to several factors, I have no real chance of beta-reading or editing for anybody else. Like any other job-hunting, you need experience to get experience, and failing that, the right degree. “Trust me, I studied genetics and viruses but I’m just really good at grammar and love editing” holds no water with anyone, and rightfully so. I can check whether your science is reasonable, buuuuut I work in fantasy, where we all prefer to forget that winged dragons generally have six limbs and that isn’t a thing that happens in vertebrates really.

I don’t mean to whine, though. It was a very informational and interesting panel. I’m fascinated by how the field works and what people do in it. There was great information, down to the level of contracts and taxes, as well as approaches to editing (ex. realize what the author is trying to do, not what you’d do in that situation).

So those were the panels I attended. Recommended highly. I hope to see more next year.

Also related to writing: Bought two medieval recipe books from MedievalCookery.com, which I have already used as an idea source. I’m not one to cook these things in real life, but I try not to fall into the “all stew and ale, all the time” trap in my writing. (I am haunted by the fact that refrigeration does not exist. Do not count how many times the characters go grocery shopping in Book 2. That way lies madness.)


I also attended a roleplaying session at Origins for the first time, a demo session of Ryuutama. Unfortunately, this session was right around dinnertime, and I got punchy and laughed for several minutes at the spell list for no good reason (except that it contains spells like “create 1 cubic meter of dead leaves” and that’s too cute to stand). Otherwise it was quite fun. I’m looking forward to putting together a hybrid in-person/play-by-email game of Ryuutama.

I suppose I sort of played one of the Dread games too, in a friend’s beta testing round.

How’s that for range?


By and large, though, I tend to spend most of my time either faffing about the vendor room or in the board room. Board games tried out this time:
Survive: Escape from Atlantis  – my husband played this growing up; it was new to me.
Takenoko  – my favorite of this batch.
Gloom – I’d wanted to try Gloom in Space, but they didn’t have it; next time. This is the only one of these that I’d played before.
Kill Doctor Lucky – second favorite of this batch. SPITE POINTS. Just saying “spite points” makes me snicker.
Cottage Garden – ooh look, this technically isn’t out yet! Aren’t we fancy. Tetris + bingo, kind of. I’d recommend it.
The Networks – we didn’t have time to fully get into this one.
Tsuro – thanks to the CABS folks, who recommended this when we came up like “we are too tired to think and have 1 hour before our next thing, whaddya got”.
Veggie Garden – By Quick Simple Fun, an apt description as well.
Rampage / Terror in Meeple City  – it’s kind of astonishing how bad I am at this game.


On a more personal note, it’s interesting to compare this experience to past experiences through the lens of working on treating my social anxiety. It’s still easier for me to be an attendee than an exhibitor, but this was a more chill experience than I think I’ve ever had at a con. Even compared to other Origins-es. Of no particular interest, just noting something.

So, where are we?

Last time I said I was going to try to finish the first draft of Book 3 before Origins, which happens next week.  So…?

The answer is “no, BUT.” I have written a lot of material, and re-outlined most of the book — not a lot has changed, but a couple of events were shifted around to tweak the tension. Of what’s outlined, all but two scenes are finished.  The outline covers the beginning through the last turning point, right before the Victorious Resolution of All Problems and the denouement. In other words, everything but the ending.


Some further reading while we all wait:

How Fake Science Saved Lives in Victorian London (io9)

Without getting too far into the weeds of lore, the history of miasma theory was the basis of a lot of the “magic science” in this series. In short, if healing magic exists, why wouldn’t people think that magic causes diseases generally? It’s important for healing, so it must be important for other health-related situations too.

And so through trial and error and just-so stories and folklore, they wind up with a lot of bogus reasoning for useful practices. Such as: boiling lake water to make it drinkable. Obviously, boiling drives out the tainted magical energy that would otherwise make people sick. And when people start to discover microorganisms, the proverbial waters get muddied with ideas that people already had about magic.


Origins, though: I actually signed up for some writing lectures/workshops, which, you know, would be the first writing workshops I’ve been to since tenth grade. I KNOW RIGHT WHAT. Self-publishing is terrifying, who let this amateur write books??

Anyhow, the con has several authors as guests/speakers, and quite a robust lineup of fiction- and game-writing talks. I’ve pre-registered for three, and will consider more as social anxiety / spoons / blood sugar / inertia allow.  Also, well, working around shopping time, going out for food time, nap time, board game playing time, and attending workshops on things like terrain building and chainmail making. There are almost too many things to do at this con. It’s great.

I’ve also signed up for a demo/learn-to-play session for Ryuutama, the game book I bought last year and have yet to play at all. Four words, people: “Hayao Miyazaki’s Oregon Trail.” And “cute” can be an actual in-game descriptor for a piece of equipment. And the character classes include “farmer.” I mean. How could I not.

Second Year Recap: Doing It Wrong, For Fun

It has to be longer than that. Right? It’s been… it’s only been two years? I mean, that’s 20 years in indie pub terms, but… two years? Huh. (OK, it’s a few days short of 2 years, but this week is going to be hectic from here on out.)

I wrote a draft of a two-year retrospecticus at about 1.5 years, because this year was so intensely frustrating and defeating that I didn’t see any other way it could end. And yeah, it was pretty much like that. But not entirely.

Theme song: “The Poet” – Bastille (as noted in the liner notes for THH, I listed to a lot of bombastic arena rock this year)

Continue reading Second Year Recap: Doing It Wrong, For Fun

Build up your mailing list, they said

I want to sincerely apologize to the folks on my mailing list. I appreciate the gesture of signing up, because it means you’d want to hear about future books — it’s really the only way anyone can let me know that they want to read future books. I wanted to let this group know before anyone else that the second book was finally out.

And, instead, for a reason that was never explained, I was banned — apparently for life — the first time I tried to use the Mailchimp service. I submitted a help request more than two weeks ago, half of my book’s lifespan, and an eternity in customer service terms.

I’m frustrated, and that’s not anyone’s fault. I do want to say that I had every intention of following through on my promise to keep people notified, and I am really upset that I couldn’t reach out to the people who actually wanted to hear from me. There aren’t many of you. I work in the word mines in near-total silence, here. And the one time I could say yay, check this out!, banhammer.   So frustrating.

 

To get a little more inside-baseball about it, the indie world hammers nonstop on the point that You Need to Have and Grow A Mailing List OMG. It is the number-one most important thing eevveeerrrr. Brands and mailing lists are more important than books in this business. Not exaggerating.

Well.

They’re important if you can use them.

So, yeah. Sorry, everyone. I hope a few of you wander by even if I can’t send an email, and check out the book. I just can’t tell you that. Wish I could, but, well. Nnnnnope.

Chronology notes and the New Year’s story

The sidebar / progress bar has said “THR 1.5, New Year’s Story, not sure what to do with it” for several weeks now. I think I’ve figured out what to do with it: hang onto it until a few more books are out.

This is probably a bad idea business-wise, but it’s what I think is right story-wise. 1.5 is a long short story / short novella-length interlude between The Healers’ Road and The Healers’ Home, when Agna and Rone meet up over New Year’s (the vernal equinox, in their world) to hash some things out. It’s the closing of the arc of their friendship as it exists in THR, all messed up with ambiguity and misunderstanding and all that dramatic stuff.

Verdict: It would work a lot better after we’ve seen Rone’s story. And while Rone’s story has been outlined for a while and a couple of chapters were included in early releases of THR, I really think the way to go right now is to finish out Agna’s story before jumping tracks. At the very least, THH needs to get out there. Considering the potential events of THR3, we may have to jump back into someone else’s story (Agna’s sister, most likely) and set some groundwork for larger world events before moving on, but the end result is: now is not the time for this particular story.

This is another How Not to Do Indie Publishing, but to be honest, it will happen how it happens or not at all. Someday, the chronology of these stories will be complete, they’ll all gain volume numbers, and one can start reading at the beginning and sail through to the end. In the meantime, we are in a Discworld situation, with arcs following various characters semi-separately from one another. I can live with that.

Three hundred books, five hundred days, lots of words

According to my calculations (?), between ebooks, paperbacks, and the two versions of Kindle Unlimited so far, 300 copies of The Healers’ Road have been purchased and/or read as of this week. (As the owner of a towering TBR stack, I do not expect everyone who’s bought it to have read it already.)

Woohoo? Maybe. Sure, why  not.

Coincidentally, as of yesterday the book is now 500 days old. That feels like forever, in some ways. I’m several weeks into edits on its sequel, and I’ve finished two and a half drafts of another novel* and a few short stories and novellas** since then, along with a boatload of test run / futzing around scenes – “well, this doesn’t fit into a real outline yet, but what would happen if I threw these characters into this situation?”

* as yet unfinished / ** as yet unpublished

Back when I listened to other people, I was told over and over that an indie book has no more than 30 days in its life cycle. You absolutely must hit a particular Hot New Releases chart on Amazon, immediately, and once you slide off it, you better have another book out or nobody is ever going to want to read your stuff again. Because that’s all there is, that one chart. That is the world in which indie books live, and there is no other. Just that chart.

My book is 16 times that age now. It’s apparently a Galapogos tortoise of a book. The weird thing is, though, out of those 300 copies, you know how many were in that magic 30-day window? Ten. So… I don’t know.

I’d still like to write faster, if I could. I’m aware that since I work so slowly, the first year’s worth of THR readers are going to have no memory whatsoever of me or my book. I built that uphill climb with my snail’s pace, and I’m going to have to live with it.

But hey, consider that I started the first proto-drafts of THR in 2006 and finished it in 2014, then wrapped up THH in roughly a year and a half (fingers crossed). That’s over five times faster. If that pace kept up, I’d have another book out in three months. And yeah, that probably won’t happen – but I learn something every time that gets applied to everything that comes after. I guess the goal is to take <1.5 more years to wrap up the trilogy, and then <1.5 years to start the next part, whether that’s Rone’s story or someone else’s.

Where was I. 0.6 copies a day. It’s nowhere near the New York Times list, but it’s still tortoising along.

I am excited and grateful for every blip on my sleepy little graph. I hope every person who takes a chance on my two cranky jerkface characters has a good time, whether they found the book 2 days or 250 days after it was released.

I’m not in any hurry. The books will be there. The journey starts over and over. That’s one thing I love about books.

Elsewise: Books. And more books.

Lately I’ve been finishing the second (and a half?) draft of another project, which will be on another pen name if it’s ever released. I’m a vat of contradictions and waffling when it comes to that project, even more so than usual, so it’s taking forever.

I’ve also gotten some progress on a quilt that I’ve been poking at intermittently for the last, oh, 18 years — lest you think my glacial working speed is limited to writing! Ha. I think it’s technically a quadruple Irish chain. It’s made of a boatload of nine-patches and a smaller boatload of mostly-solid blocks. It’s all nine-patches from here on out, which means lots of strips and tiny squares.

I have also read the first writing-advice book that has made me excited about writing instead of alienated and hopeless! Which means that it’s probably a bad fit for most actual writers, but if you care about stories/writing/art as well as money and have a lot of tug-of-war between the two, try it out. I’m not even a writer — in the indie publishing world, you don’t count as a writer if you have an income stream that is not self-employment or support from a spouse, and I have one of those — but I found it helpful anyway.

I’ll do a proper write-up of this month’s books at the end of the month, as always, but I’m still in a gleeful cloud of “somebody out there thinks it’s OK to care about things!!” and have to gush.

Friday Playlist: Reason Left to Create

Repetition or not, I gotta go with this song this week. No more Go! Team for a while, I pinky-swear.


So far, my personal favorite on the new album is the closer, “Reason Left to Destroy,” but this one is pretty representative, and fits into this playlist thread better. (RLTD is a bit mopey for a Go! Team song, which is like saying “it’s slightly darker bright yellow.”) The Go! Team is in its Marching Band Meets Sesame Street mode through most of album, and the title track has a jangly, sparkly, weekend afternoon sound. As usual, the vocals are buried so far into the background that they’re hard to make out, so don’t worry about the lyrics so much.

There’s the hopeful song for today.

If my posts seem like a lost soul tacking desperately in one direction after another, that’s probably because that isn’t far from the truth. Life imitates art in that regard, in that the course of the series is now caught in a question of What You’re Supposed to Do vs. What You Want to Do.

What You’re Supposed to Do: Write a funnel book that will be cheap-or-free, appeal to a wide audience, and rope as many people as possible into the series, like a gateway drug. Ever wonder why there are so many perfectly cromulent free books on Amazon? It’s a universal marketing tactic, and it’s quite successful. (You’re supposed to write this first, but Agna and Keifon ran off with my motivation, so their book got done first.)

What I Want to Do: Follow the characters into the next phase of their lives, and play out a bunch of plot threads teased in the first book. (Yanweian politics and charming rabble-rousing ex-boyfriends, the tension between regions/cities in Kavera, the new hospital in Wildern and its effects on the growing frontier town, the fate of the Despana Agency after 200 years in Agna’s direct line of ancestry…)

I’m not demanding that the world want the same things I want, or buy it in droves, or even care. For my own stress levels, I’m going to stop trying to square this circle and just write some more circles.

I care about the backstories of these characters. There are pieces of the Academy years that I want to get into. But maybe not now, and maybe not as an introductory novel. Right now I’m thinking that Agna’s backstory can form a second-narrator thread in another book (backing up Rone or Esirel), or it can be bonus material, like the lore documents that I eventually plan to use that way.

THR2 now has the dorky working title Healer Town. And that sounds like a children’s TV series, so a proper title is TBD. It and the second-pen-name rewrites are the priority this summer.

Priority Smackdown Rumblemania

Today’s soundtrack: “Gimme Sympathy” by Metric, which is not about sympathy. (Or, why exactly would you wanna be the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, and what does that tell you?)

Two unrelated moments have led me kicking and screaming to examine my priorities, and to realize that examining one’s priorities is an important task. No matter what common knowledge or assumptions may tell you, there are ten million paths to every location, and ten million reasons to start traveling.

Continue reading Priority Smackdown Rumblemania