Todd Newton's Blog

February 23, 2015

Couldn't find the 2015 version. Deal with it.So after me taking a year off, and them taking a year off, I finally got back to COSine, the small-ish Sci-fi & Fantasy Convention held every year in Colorado Springs. Cons are great, and this one is just large enough to have a lot to do but just small enough to see the same people every year. They may not recognize me (well... yet) but seeing their familiar faces is in itself a good time. It being a small-ish Con, it doesn't cost an arm and a leg to attend, and even though it's just in the Springs I like to stay at the Con hotel for the weekend (nice weekend away plus the hotel's event rate is usually quite stellar).

All that to say, I attended COSine. To attend a Con means you're not a guest, you have to pay to get in, you don't get anything fancy to attach to your laniard, and you don't get to sit on the panels. You do however get the opportunity to learn a shit load, self-reflect while listening to other people pontificate, and ask questions to people more professional than you ... all the while semi-hiding that you've written multiple books and probably could do all those things if you weren't being lazy... But hey I digress.

First thing I noticed was that the event was at a different hotel than usual, and as it happened the place was a bit fancier. The Hotel Elegante, which boasts very nice rooms and a lovely 10 Commandments mural just outside the front door (hey, it is Colorado Springs after all), was damn fine and I hope they have it there next year. On the other hand, I was not quite happy with the food at the hotel restaurants (I'm kind of a food snob now, that's a different story) but just up the road is Flatirons Bar & Grill which, despite the country music droning into my ears during lunch, quite impressed me.

Second thing I noticed was that the Guest of Honor (GoH) was Nathan Lowell, whose name sounded familiar but not in an I-love-that-guy's-books sort of way. In fact, it took until halfway through the Con for me to actually remember where I knew his name from. The main reason I'm not uber-familiar with him is because Lowell writes mostly Sci-fi (Quarter Share is apparently where it all began), but a lot of his philosophy on writing is inline with my own. He runs a blog and various other social channels and does incredibly well for himself, despite not being in RMFW or SFWA (there was some discussion regarding these things during his Author Interview). Check him out.

No, the reason I knew who he was is because he's huuuge on Podiobooks.com (which, if you'll recall, I published The Ninth Avatar there for a bit, before Trapdoor Books acquired it to publish and I had to take the audio version down). You'd think that would be enough to jog my memory, but when the brain works the brain works. I knew Nathan Lowell because he did the podiobooks readings for Michael Sullivan's The Crown Conspiracy and subsequent novels, which I enjoyed quite a bit. Audio books just aren't my thing, but I can handle them in short bursts.

Anyway, to get back on track here, Lowell quoted an often-used set of rules for writing (& publishing) that are attributed to Heinlein (who is talked about so much at COSine he needs to have some sort of welcoming bust on the registration table). These are explained very well here, but to put it very simply:

WriteFinish itDon't rewrite except on Editorial order (aka you're being paid or will be paid)Market itMarket it until it's soldStart something elseSitting there absorbing a currently well-known author regurgitating a ridiculously-famous author's ELI5-simple writing rules, I had one of those "what the fuck am I doing?" moments that less crass authors refer to as epiphanies. 
COSine came at a really good time for me, and approaching the end of last year I wasn't even 100% sure I was going to attend. I'm very glad I did, because it fed into what was already going on in my mind, which is me telling myself to get off my mind's ass and do some work. With everything that's been going on the last 5 or so years, unemployment that led into a very stressful job, raising a puppy, struggling with who I am these days, I found I'd really let writing fall by the wayside. In fact, it was one of the first things to go when the times got tough in my life, and that makes me incredibly sad in retrospect.
Sad not because of all the time I've missed out on that I could have been writing instead of playing Final Fantasy XIV or watching Burn Notice through for the 10th time, but sad because I treated writing as optional. That implies a lot, not the least of which is a lack of professionalism, and I can even throw in a reference to how disenchanted I felt at the time. Writing should never be the first thing to go. All that was in the process of changing; I'd finished up Scions, put a cover together, and released it out into the world. I was pondering what to do next (besides avoid marketing like the plague) when I decided I'd go to COSine for a weekend away among other SF/F fans and authors.
Sitting in on Nathan Lowell's Author Interview was the swiftest and greatest kick in the ass I've gotten in a long time. Now, of course that was weeks ago and I'm just blogging about it now, but that doesn't mean I've been idle in the meantime. I ditched my old writing journal, which was full of notes on all three books I've published so far, as well as critique group notes from my old Writer's Group (which I've actually been avoiding all this time ... damnit) and on my way back from Colorado Springs I picked up a new writing journal. In it I've written some writing & marketing goals, quite a few notes, and general thoughts. 
Change doesn't come overnight, but thanks to COSine 2015 it's no longer as glacial as it once was. Cheers to what hopefully becomes a great year, and see you at COSine 2016 (where we can all fawn over Jim Butcher and get our Dresden Files novels signed!!!).



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Published on February 23, 2015 15:08 • 7 views
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Goodreads Book Giveaway Scions of the Shade by Todd Newton Scions of the Shade by Todd Newton Giveaway ends February 23, 2015.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads. Enter to win
Wheels are turning for more good things, stay tuned and good luck!



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Published on February 23, 2015 13:33 • 8 views

January 12, 2015


I love this picture so much that I'm just
going to keep using it again and again.Writing is communication, that's what it's all about, and we all kind of know that going in (to one extent or another). Some of us are great at communication, some of us not so much. Writing is actually one of the easier ways to communicate because it's passive.

Think about that for a second. I don't mean passive verbs vs. active verbs or anything technical like that; writing as opposed to say, speaking aloud, is a passive form of communication. Even something like IM or text messaging is passive in this context. While it's true that once you hit send it's gone, you have ample opportunity to think about what you're going to say, shape it, and edit it before it goes out.

And that's where the subject of this post comes in because communication has two moving parts: what you say and how you say it.

Fiction, whether it be fantasy novels or pretty much anything else, tends to all be saying the same thing. Or at least similar things. Themes aside, which are really just the sauces of stories, your general novel is going to have the same basic ingredients: plot, characters, conflict, etc. So the "what you say" is the conveying of some sort of story, typically through the eyes/minds of your characters and/or narrator, of a journey, whether literal or figurative, during which there is struggle and growth and resolution. What differentiates you, and your novel, from the thousands of others being written and read right now, is the "how you say it" part.

Think of it this way, why do they keep making Spider-Man movies? We all know how they're going to end: the hero always wins. Is it how he wins that matters? Is it the cool visual effects, the brilliant acting abilities, or just the heroic display of action that keeps us coming back? It's a question for the ages, but what's not up for debate is that they keep making the movies and we keep watching them. Now, I could be cynical and say they're just doing it for money, but let's stay on point here.

They keep making them because even though it's essentially the same story, it's told in a different way. No matter which villain(s) he fights, no matter whether he ends up with Gwen Stacy or Mary Jane Watson, no matter if he's a photographer, college student, or both, the way the story plays out is what keeps us interested in the newest iteration.

This is true for all communication, how you say something can greatly change the context of what you're saying. In one sense it's as simple as the difference between a whisper and an exclamation, the difference between "i love you" and "OH MY FUCKING GOD I LOVE YOU SO MUCH!" Even though they're basically saying the same thing, what they're conveying is far more than just the words themselves. There's meaning behind everything, and nowhere is that more true than in writing.

As you write, you must be thinking about how you're saying things. Word choices, sentence structure, what details you reveal vs. what you keep hidden, it's all vital. One of the earliest lessons that starting-out writers are taught is striking adjectives and adverbs or avoiding the overuse of them. Why? Because it's insulting to your reader to have to spell everything out for them. Take this for example:

Jane stood by the window and was very sad.vs.Jane looked longingly out the window with sorrow on her face.vs.Jane gazed out the window for a time to hide the tears streaming down her face.
Some of you may be thinking this is one of those "show vs. tell" discussions, and you'd be right. This topic is very much informed by showing rather than telling, but this goes a step further to say show well, don't tell. You can see in the example above that the first sentence is just plain telling; if you write sentences that plainly state [character] was [emotion], or if you use the word "very" in your writing, stop. This may be the way you think, but it can't be the way you write because it's weak. Don't be a weak writer.

The second and third examples, though, have only subtle differences. The second is still very much telling, having to convey meaning with an adverb and the idea of sorrow being on someone's face. The third is all showing, and it's evocative. We can read a lot into that sentence. Who was she hiding the tears from? Is she angry, sad, both? Why is she gazing for a time, is she too upset to speak or is she waiting for someone to leave the room? Obviously most of these questions would be answered contextually, but the ones that aren't keep us interested. There's nothing interesting about the first two examples, just a sad woman being sad.

But how you say it relies on more than just what words you use and what details you choose to share; even things like the length of your sentences are incredibly important, not just to the readability of your work but also how the information comes across. It can be something as subtle as not using a comma (even where you think one should go) or separating your thoughts into shorter, terse sentences to give the appearance of hurried tension. Sometimes things like this work, sometimes they're too obvious for their own good.

You can have the most boring, cliche story in the world plot-wise, but if you tell it well you can still captivate your audience and achieve an emotional reaction. Often it doesn't even matter what the writing is about if it's great writing, which is always what you should aim for. By the same token, if the way you tell the story is terrible, it makes no difference what kind of story you're telling. Ideally you try as hard as you can with both, but if you're going to worry more in one area than the other, make it "how you say it." What you say is a lot more malleable, at the end of the day.



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Published on January 12, 2015 15:04 • 8 views

December 22, 2014



The Holidays are here again. A time for people to either pretend they're ridiculously happy while they're ridiculously miserable or genuinely be somewhere in between. Personally, I can take or leave the holidays except for one thing (I'll get to it eventually), because honestly I dislike being accosted for money by bell-ringers every time I go to the grocery store and having to listen to the droning on about some drummer boy everywhere I go.

But that's me. I'm somewhat of a Scrooge. Doesn't mean I can't enjoy certain aspects of the holidays, namely the "being with people I enjoy the company of" part.

As with Valentine's Day, one should not need an excuse to show or tell someone they love them, appreciate them, and enjoy their company. If you're not doing these things, chances are you're not being shown or told much either. Life is not a Disney movie, where we can all be ourselves and magically everything will work out in the end; relationships require a bit of maintenance.

As with pretty much everything in life, you get out what you put in. If you have friends you never speak to, you'll eventually find yourself with fewer friends. Your priorities are elsewhere. Now, I don't mean that in a negative way, but it's the truth: if you're not spending your time and effort maintaining relationships, you're spending them elsewhere. Maybe you play ice hockey and that's what you've made your life all about. Perhaps work has overloaded you, you're stressed to fuck and have no energy for "being social" after bearing that stress for gods know how long. Whatever the excuse, you could probably use a hug.

And that's what holidays are good for: free hugs. With the holidays package comes the native feature of being around other people, usually that there is mutual shit-giving-about. And even if not, you can make some new friends while bonding over either mutual likes or mutual dislikes. It's not that difficult.

Or, if you prefer, you can be alone for the holidays and escape all the gleeful hoi polloi. There are some advantages to alone time, particularly for us introverts, so long as we recognize that too much of it is unhealthy. Here too, though, you get out what you put in. If you spend all your time alone, chances are you're going to perpetuate that because you're the center of your universe. Or maybe you'll just get some writing done.

Despite my fervent objection that some people take it too far, the holidays are an excuse to be happy regardless of what else is going on in life. It doesn't hurt that most of us get a few days off from work. It's also a time to celebrate. Whether it's a birth, a season, yearly traditions, or just the people who enrich your life, take a moment to celebrate something. Even if it's just the fact that you're alive, that you made it this far, and that you have unknown and exciting things ahead of you, rejoice. You don't have to get lost in the trappings of giant bows and peppermint bark, I promise.

Happy Holidays to friends, family, and strangers. Cheers to you and yours, and here's looking forward to an excellent 2015.


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Published on December 22, 2014 09:09 • 6 views

December 18, 2014

This is my work and I'm proud of it.
Click to purchase.So... holy shit. I blogged a whopping 3 times in 2013, and none at all in 2014 (not counting this one). To the uninitiated, that might seem like a drastically long period of inactivity. It might be enough to start thinking that I've given this whole writing thing up.

I haven't, and I have proof.

Scions of the Shade, now complete (with cover and all!), has been released out into the wild. That's a major step in the right direction for me, and I was hoping that would release some of the blockage I've had creatively. Somewhere, deep inside my mind, there was this belief that an unfinished project kept me from focusing on something new.

But you know what I came to realize? I haven't stopped learning. I haven't stopped living (well, to be completely honestly, for a little while there I did). But you know what else? That's okay.

The constant demand for perfection [sic] aside, I can tell from re-reading my previous posts that I was letting discouragement bring me to a complete halt. It's an easy thing to do, just convince yourself an activity is pointless and it's pretty much guaranteed you'll stop doing that activity. That's fine for lame stuff like making your bed, hanging up your jackets and jeans, or putting things back in drawers. Not so great for writing.

What it does is negate any pride you might feel in your work. Far from being a sin, pride is a vital part of why people do what they're good at. Common sense, but if you feel like you're good at something you're bound to enjoy doing it a hell of a lot more than if you feel like you're terrible at it. That's sort of a different topic. A topic for another day.

We're talking about pride in your work here. Pride in what you have created, in the time and energy you spent and the outcome it produced. Can you be proud of an unfinished novel? Well, I guess you could if you wanted to be, but it's completion that really gives you the pride, accomplishment, and therefore confidence to move on to the next one.

The way I thought of it this morning was, how are you going to spend your blood? As macabre as that sounds, I'm sure we've all used the phrase "blood, sweat, and tears" from time to time. I don't know about you, but writing doesn't make me sweat (if it does, you're probably doing it wrong), and it certainly doesn't make me want to cry (maybe if I were writing heart-rending romance or the next Twilight fanfic though...), so blood is all that's left.

It's never helped me to try a "live each day to the fullest" mentality; no matter how hard you try, most days are full of mundane bullshit like commuting and bathroom breaks that--despite my best efforts--I can't make feel epic. Rather, I'm going to try to approach this how I approach most of my life, and that's with a niggardly grasp of my time. Where I spend my time matters more to me than where I spend my money (as my bank account can attest), and is the primary focus of just about every decision I make. Before I even do a mental cost/benefit analysis, I'm wondering if I should be spending my time on this thing.

So, to make the metaphor work for me, blood = time. I'll just keep saying blood because it's evocative and because people like vampires (sparkly or otherwise).

We'll see how it goes.

---

I'm working on a few new series' of topics that hopefully you'll see posted here within the next month or two. May even return to an organized approach to blogging in the New Year. It's time to take this shit to the next level. If you agree, want to help, or want to be involved, leave a comment or shoot me an email. I'd be happy to spread the love with some mutual pimpage.



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Published on December 18, 2014 11:18 • 3 views

July 19, 2013

I have decided that I have more to say on the matter [of] today.



To be completely honest, the thought of writing novels doesn't excite me nearly as much as it once did. As I've said before, I think I've proven (at least to myself) that I can do it ... but just because we can do something doesn't necessarily mean we should, right?







Do I want to write? Yes, without a doubt. I love creating characters and worlds, putting both through the ringer and seeing what comes out the other end. It is an enjoyable experience. If that's all that were involved, if it were a weekend hobby for my own personal pleasure and I could safely and sanely treat it as such, I don't think I'd feel the way I do right now.



Problem is, it's not a hobby. Calling it a hobby is actually kind of demeaning. Writing is work, and a hobby should be fun. Writing is for others, and a hobby should be for yourself. Writing novels implies that there is some kind of audience involved who would presumably consume them, and this last bit has been lacking.



Do I write shitty books? Perhaps, perhaps not. I prefer to think not, but that may be a little ego showing through. The Ninth Avatar is not equivalent to Heroseed, after all. Thomas Redpool and Scions of the Shade show progress, considerable improvement in my ability to craft characters and pace and write proper endings. I have open projects, I have uncompleted manuscripts; I have the desire to write. But ... why?



I've given some serious thought to writing something else. Not short stories, they're not my thing and in fact I don't even enjoy reading them. The little snippets I wrote for "daily dime" years ago were barely five minutes of work (and it shows). What else is there to write other than novels, though? Screenplays? Other sorts of scripts for video games, storyboarding for graphic novels or comic books?



No, my problem isn't finding something to write or to write about, it's what's the fucking point?



I'm raging against the brick wall of indifference here. People rarely read to begin with, and I'm trying to get them to take a chance on an obscure author with very little credibility and not a ton of content to offer. Nobody cares. It's the same reason I don't tweet or post on Facebook very often, the same reason I don't blog very often. It very, very quickly feels like a waste of my time that would be better spent actually accomplishing something.



Now, this may sound overly harsh. Friends and family may be piping up with "I care!" and that's fantastic, but friends and family do not constitute (and cannot replace) an audience. You guys would probably read my poetry if I posted it and clap just the same, but I wouldn't expose you to such horrid drivel as that.



So, bitching about being ignored by the public-at-large aside, what am I ultimately left with? The desire to do something that accomplishes nothing. I want to write but I don't want to write. I want to create worlds and characters that are fun and exciting and create an emotional reaction in a reader, but without a reader it feels unrelentingly pointless.



It's like getting in your car but having nowhere to go. All I've been doing lately is the equivalent of practicing parallel parking and 3-point turns (two of the most rarely used driving techniques known to man). I know how to "drive," but where am I supposed to actually "go?"



I'm sure if you've been reading the blog (or if you go back and check some of the most recent posts) you'll see one theme over and over again: discouragement. I am so discouraged right now when it comes to writing novels that it's almost funny. I haven't really been talking to anyone about this either, just been bottling it up for a year or more, occasionally letting a bit or two slip out on the blog or the occasional offhand comment. I try to avoid being obsessively negative, at least outwardly. Inwardly I'm probably one of the most negative, irascible jerks you'll ever meet (or at least I can be). I'm a negative optimist. I'm a negamist.



The worst thing is that with writing I can't escape that negativity. It's there, staring me in the face, every time I think about it or want to write about it or want to talk to someone about it. I have no good news to report, I have no progress to report, I have nothing to show for all the work I've done over the last 8 years with regard to writing novels. All of the learning, networking, and typing I've done have amounted to precisely jack shit. I have no idea what's going on at Trapdoor Books, but I know for certain at this moment that none of it involves me. Thomas Redpool was self-published, which is a great and terrible thing, and it looks very much like Scions is about to go the same route (provided that I can get a cover designed). Chances are that subsequent projects will follow in their footsteps simply because I don't feel that "getting published" has changed or will change anything.



Writing novels isn't fun and exciting anymore, it's only discouraging. One man's opinion, but I sorely wish there was something else that I could write that would actually be interesting and consumable, and it looks like "code" is the only thing that applies. Doesn't quite tell a story, doesn't provide nearly the flexibility and freedom of a fantasy novel, but at least I won't forget how to type.



So there you go, now you know what's truly on my mind and why I'm not producing word count or hyping up my next project. Maybe in a few months I'll look back on this post and shake my head, utter some choice curse words and hit the delete button. A guy can dream, can't he? In the meantime, I'll be continuing to focus elsewhere with all this shit in the back of my mind gnawing at me.
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Published on July 19, 2013 09:43 • 58 views

Copyright Square-Enix 2013!

You know, reading over the tone and topics of my past posts is pretty entertaining sometimes.



I'm still here, still thinking about writing far more than I'm actually doing it. But that's okay, I have the distinct feeling that writing isn't done with me (and therefore I'm not done with it).



I've had some other things going on (no this is not an I'm busy excuse). Last year I got into Final Fantasy XIV, an MMO that has quite the story in itself but has also nearly turned into a great game. I say "nearly" because the game isn't "out" yet as far as actual release; it's still in beta but I've been participating in that (and I played v1 of it last year, read up on the sordid past if you want to know the details). Pic on the left here is my avatar. Yes I play a sexy elf girl; I figure if I'm going to watch a character run around and kick ass for hours at a time, it might as well be something I want to look at. Don't judge.



More recently, Dynasty Warriors 8 was released. If you've been reading this blog for a while then you know how nuts I go over Dynasty Warriors. In the 3 days I've had it so far I've probably only played 4-5 hours of one single Story Mode so I'm not actually all that nuts over this one. I'm reserving judgement until I've played a lot more, but my initial feelings are that they actually focused too much on the gameplay and skimped on other aspects (the story, more specifically the presentation of said story). The lack of narration between battles is a huge omission, for example, and I've read that if you turn off subtitles in the settings then you get absolutely no explanation between battles (just a map with a bunch of floating heads and arrows). I'm so confused by this that I barely know where to start. Even so, the gameplay elements are indeed the best so far in the series (which is interesting considering DW7 was pretty damn fantastic in nearly all aspects).



Things are also progressing at the day job; I'm making a full-on transition from one role to another which brings a lot of additional responsibilities on my time that I'm trying to figure out how best to accommodate. Eventually it will mean more money; more immediately it will mean less frustration (or frustration of a different kind). The old post I made about "writing code" is becoming a lot more apt now than it was back then, as these days I'm buried in PHP as often as not, and that's a very good thing considering the alternatives.



That's all I've got for now, but I'll leave you with a good view from FFXIV. The visuals on this game really are quite impressive, and they're only going to get better.





Click for larger version

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Published on July 19, 2013 07:00 • 39 views

May 10, 2013


Not-writing is frustrating. Not-blogging-because-I-haven't-been-writing is a symptom of that, but one that's easily overcome.



I think I've made it pretty apparent with the sparse posts that I haven't had a lot to say. Nothing profound, relevant, or useful anyhow. Well fuck profundity, fuck relevance, and fuck usefulness; this is a blog, not a paid service. I can waste your time with my pontificating all I like.



Well... no, perhaps not.



I just prefer not to air my dirty laundry, publicly complain, or demand sympathy from strangers over what amounts to little more than a money-making hobby (regardless of how much I wish it were more of a lifestyle). At the very least I try to leave these things ambiguous (if you've read my past posts then you'll know what I mean). I avoid these things because it's pathetic, or at least it feels pathetic.



I think writers by their very nature are plagued by doubts and confidence woes, and I've harped on this the past so I'll spare you the warm-and-fuzzy. We probably all feel like we need to prove we can do it. To someone, to ourselves, to "the world" whatever that really means. We want to plant our flag in the unconquered territory and scream loudly, "MINE!"



More to the point, it's difficult to talk when you feel like you're just talking to yourself. It feels like no one cares, or at least that no one is interested, and that's a high hurdle to jump with the aforementioned natural doubts and confidence woes. Add on top of that that books, as a whole, are not (and haven't been) the most popular form of entertainment. Therefore, writing isn't a lucrative business. If people aren't reading you, not only does it feel like a personal failure to attract their attention but there's an easy excuse to lean on that does little more than make writing feel like a waste of time and effort.



I think I've proven to myself that I can write. Otherwise I would have stopped a long time ago; I wouldn't
have written three books and dived into a fourth. That's not the
issue, or not where the challenge lies anyway. It's not the propensity, or the capability, or even the "talent" to do something that drives us to do it. It's the desire to reach an end result, to fulfill a dream, to satisfy a goal.



For me, as with this blog, it's having something to say that prompts a reaction. Something that gets attention because it deserves attention.



My first three books said I was unclear, dissatisfied, and disgruntled
with the answers religion had to offer. Starka may end The Ninth
Avatar
with a new ecumenical outlook, but my view of mankind is
anything but one of a unified peaceful coexistence. Thomas Redpool Goes To Hell all
but says everything you believe is crap, and yet you revel in it as if
believing in it is some great accomplishment. Scions of the Shade
drives home that you/we are all slaves to religion; true or false,
right or wrong, it is present and constant in all our lives whether we
believe in it or not.



Now that I've put most (if not all) of that behind me, what do I have to say? My "writing style" (if I can be so bold as to claim that I have one) is all about making my characters' lives harder. For a long time I think I used religion for this; it certainly made my life harder for quite a few years.



Did I have these things in mind as I wrote them? Probably, but buried
beneath denial and resentment. I didn't write because I had a bone to pick, but unconsciously my characters became the
voice that I didn't want to have. The jury will always be out on whether this is a good or bad thing,
since my books have garnered neither sales nor following nor
recognition. But, funnily enough, I really don't care about any of
those things and never have. All I care about is an emotional
reaction
, but the right attitude only goes so far.



(Especially when no one is watching.)



Writing a novel is a lot like performing an amazing feat where you
can't tell if the audience is listening, watching, or asleep. Attention is why writers do what they do. It's why pretty much anyone of any creative area does what they do. And it's not that "they want attention" in the sense of fame and notoriety (though I'm sure we'd all be happy with some of that) or because they're "attention whores," but they want their efforts to attract attention. They want to know that what they're doing has meaning to someone other than themselves.



What do I have left to write about? Do I have anything to say? Will it attract attention?



I guess we'll find out, because I'm not giving up. (Not yet anyway.)









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Published on May 10, 2013 09:52 • 61 views

November 13, 2012





I've been out of the scene. Haven't been following blogs, haven't been reading articles, haven't really been reading. Still.



On a technicality, of the editing kind, I can barely say I've been writing... though it shouldn't really count in light of the fact that I just haven't felt strongly about it really all year.



A lot of things continue to bother me, and it's not just my run-of-the-mill motivational struggles. Honestly, it's facing down the lack of interest that I'm finding insurmountable at the moment. People not wanting to read what I write makes me want to give up. I know that sounds petty, whiny, and immature, but there you have it. I don't want to produce if there is no consumption. "Writing for myself" is something I could do without being passionate or serious, without calling myself an author.



Personal turmoil aside, I think this hiatus is going to last a bit longer, however I will finish editing Scions of the Shade and either self-publish or give a half-hearted attempt to querying it--possibly just to pass the time. The problem is that it doesn't help if I recede further rather than try harder, but there's no convincing evidence that either course of action will bring back the passion I used to feel when I believed in this.



So that's where I am right now. Someone else has been blogging, which spurred me to post something of my own (however inane or whiny it might be). No big insights here at the moment. Wagons still circled, but luckily we're not running out of food. How's that for mixing metaphors.







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Published on November 13, 2012 06:52 • 50 views

July 9, 2012


We've all heard the stories, seen the tweets, the Facebook pages with a million "likes." We want that. We want a huge following behind our books. We want fans eager to consume our next project the second it becomes available. We want forum discussions and blog posts postulating things about the worlds and characters we create. We want entire deviantart accounts devoted to fan art with our books as inspiration. We want gold-shitting unicorns and toy rockets.



In short, we want the world to notice us in spite of the improbability of this actually occurring, and it seems the general consensus on how to do that is to use social media channels. Other people have done it and been successful, so our attempts should be just as successful, right?



That, my friends, is Cargo Culting. From the article:


The term "cargo cult" has been used metaphorically to describe an attempt to recreate successful outcomes by replicating circumstances associated with those outcomes, although those circumstances are either unrelated to the causes of outcomes or insufficient to produce them by themselves.

(For some reason, the concept makes me think of that movie The Gods Must Be Crazy. I haven't seen it in probably twenty years, so I can't even remember what it's about except the vague recollection of natives getting dropped on by western civilization. Probably isn't even a relevant reference.)



A lot of the philosophy behind social media's popularity as a marketing channel is the Snowball Effect. You like something > one of your friends sees that you like something and they like it > one of their friends ... You get the idea. It sounds fantastic on paper, and this is "word of mouth" in action. So why doesn't it work?




Well, two reasons, really. The first is that most of the things you "like" are already popular. These are the things that get attention because people have already heard of them. Fifty Shades of Gray probably gets hundreds of likes per hour day, but it's already a huge smash. It doesn't need your "likes." You know what does? Quality fiction such as Michael Sullivan's Riyria Revelations. I say quality because these epic fantasy novels are not Twilight fanfic. I'm not kidding.



The other reason is actually simpler: no one cares what you like. Sure, you can recommend things to like-minded people, and they may pick them up, but chances are they've already heard of such things and just needed a little push, but people are generally wary about the entertainment they consume. They want to feel like they found that band or that book, that it belongs to them, and they get upset when it gets popular. Okay, so maybe only hipsters feel this way, but my point is that people don't really want to be directly told what to consume. (They want to be indirectly told, which is why advertising exists in the first place)



The simple fact is that creating a Twitter account, Facebook page, and custom website for your book are fine things to do, but you can't expect them to (on their own) garner you readers. It's great to have a presence, but you've got to build that presence and make people notice you.



Back to cargo culting. The reason social media is so popular as a marketing channel is because it's free. Word of mouth is free, and they're generally thought of as the same thing. But are they? I know a company who recently used a "tweeting service" to generate buzz. This service employs either bots or some type of computer-savvy immigrants willing to work for low wages (usually both) to tweet, retweet, like, and generally give the impression of popularity. Did/does it work? No. It absolutely does not work. It is cargo culting. It is assuming that just because a popular book has a facebook page and twitter account, having those will make your book popular. As documented by the thousands of Indie authors who still have day jobs, this just isn't true. At all.



To further clarify the illusion, have a look at this article: The Great Social Media Flim-Flam

(this paragraph sums it up best)


"If you’re a writer and you follow a bunch of other writers [which we all do] , you will be fed a steady stream of commentary on how many words they wrote that day or how difficult it is to start writing without yet having their morning coffee. Or they’ll link you to yet-another blog post on the importance of persistence and not giving up. (Do writers not post on any other topic?) Is this helpful to pushing your book? On the less friendly side, you have the other writers who push their books in your face constantly and don’t bother with the chit-chat (takes up precious character space to say “hi.”) Do they really think endlessly hyping their books is going to intrigue me? With all the posts on all the writers’ sites that talk about how estranging that sort of self-serving behavior is, are they not reading those comments? Do they just not care? Are they selling books this way?"

My Twitter feed is so full of other authors that I barely deem it worth checking anymore. I don't know these people, they follow me because they did a search for people who have "writer" or "author" in their bio and followed me. Did they check out my books or my website? No, probably have no idea what kind of books I even write based on what some of them write. And I get new followers here and there without even posting on a regular basis. They just find me, follow me, and hope for the best.



The Indie author market is not so saturated that we can afford to all buy each others' books and live comfortably off of that. Still, I have an idea I may employ to see if it will actually make a dent in all this silence and confusion that is Promoting Your Book On The Internet.



But, seriously, take another look at Susan's post. Look at the [horrible] pie chart:







Only 11.8% of readers, according to Publishers Weekly, discover books via their various social networks. Blogs are just as low. The point of her article is why should we be putting so much time into something with such a low return on investment? and I couldn't agree more. I think social media as a marketing tool is ridiculous, and whoever had the idea in the first place should have been laughed out of the room.



So, then, how do we market books? Well, that's a work in progress and I think it always will be. People are doing some interesting things with Goodreads, and all that, but I think the simple truth we have to face is that people don't read books. It's incredibly rare that I meet a person who gives half a shit about books, much less reads them, who isn't planning on writing one themselves. We're all busy watching Netflix, or going to see Avengers for the twentieth time. Books are competing with more accessible forms of entertainment, and no one is spending money to market them because books don't really fly off the shelves like they used to.



Should we give up? Of course not, but we're going to have to figure something else out. Social media isn't it. I think, if we can just get people excited about reading again, we'd have more readers who'd buy more books. Easier said than done, but based on the pie chart the highest possible value comes from personal recommendations.



Maybe, just maybe, if we authors can get over ourselves and our fears enough to humbly approach those we know who read and recommend them our own books, they'll read. If they read, they might enjoy. If they enjoy, they might review or tell their friends (with their mouths, not their facebooks and twitters). This isn't a dig at anyone for "not supporting me," rather it's an earnest plea that if you do know an author, there is one very easy way to support them. If you read, read. If you review, review.



If you do neither, maybe it's about time you started.









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Published on July 09, 2012 08:18 • 67 views