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A blog about anthromorphics and writing in general.

Indie Publishing – A Double Edged Sword



In the last several posts I talked about what it takes to be a writer and what success means to each of us. To some of us success means earning boatloads of money. To others it means being widely read. It can be said that if your work is widely read you should be earning boatloads of money, but that isn’t always true. We’ll leave that discussion to another time.

Today I want to talk about the double edged sword every writer has to consider at some point or another. In the past, there was only one real way to get your work published. A writer had to work with a publishing house, large or small, to get the work published, distributed and marketed. Today every writer has another option, and it’s becoming more widely used and accepted; indie publishing.

Indie publishing is short for Independent Publishing. An indie publisher is an author who created his/her own book, does all the marketing, creates the readable images and receives the lion’s share of the royalties. Publishing houses usually do all of the back breaking work of editing, cover design, marketing, distribution and many other tasks a writer is usually unfamiliar with. They also serve as a clearing house, rejecting work that just shouldn’t make it to market. Indie publishers use services from companies like Amazon, Smashwords, and a growing number of others, to get their work to market, record the sales and distribute royalties. It takes away the need for query letters, interminably long waits, the volumes of rejection letters and the horror stories some writers have experienced with publishing houses and editing services. It also allows junk to be published in ebook format. This makes it difficult for readers to determine authors who write high quality work from those that write junk.

As appealing as indie publishing appears, it has to be looked at as a double (triple?) edged sword. Many aspiring writers have submitted their work to magazines or publishing houses for publication. After waiting months, with no acknowledgement, they self publish. After going through the work of creating your own ebook on Amazon or elsewhere the writer is notified the work has been accepted by the magazine. “Ruh-Roh, Shaggy!” Many magazines require a work that’s not been published in any format. That would include self publishing. Amazon’s KDP Select program also requires that works published through them are not to be found electronically elsewhere. They even periodically check to determine if that’s the case. From their Terms of Service contract:

1 Exclusivity. When you include a Digital Book in KDP Select, you give us the exclusive right to sell and distribute your Digital Book in digital format while your book is in KDP Select. During this period of exclusivity, you cannot sell or distribute, or give anyone else the right to sell or distribute, your Digital Book (or a book that is substantially similar), in digital format in any territory where you have rights.

If the magazine you’re being published in creates an electronic format, and many do, you will find yourself in violation of your Amazon contract. It works the other way around too. Many magazines where you can submit your work to become more widely known, also require exclusivity. If your work also happens to be published by Smashwords, you’re out of luck. For example, take a look at the fiction submission guidelines of Strange Horizons. This is not uncommon. This gets even more sticky if you write short stories. If you submit a short story to Strange Horizons and it’s accepted and published, then publish an anthology of your stories on Amazon containing that published story, does that violate your terms of service? Probably.

So what’s a writer to do? The safest course is not to put yourself in that situation. If you’re publishing with Amazon, use material you’ve never used anywhere else. If you’ve submitted material to publishing houses or magazines, don’t publish on Amazon until the material had been rejected.

There are pitfalls to whatever decision you make. If you go with traditional publishing it’s easier on you, but you frequently are giving up your soul. If you decide to go the indie route, you have to, in most cases, make sure your material has not been published anywhere else. This completely ignores the need for you to find a way to create an attractive cover, learn the ins and outs of the ebook generating software, market your book, and other considerations.

Decide what you want to do first, then stick to it. Yes, you can decide to start out in traditional publishing then go indie, or vice versa. Many writers have. Like in everything in life, there are pros and cons to your decisions. Decide which options provide you with the most pros, then pursue it with a vengeance.

Next time we’ll talk about designing a book cover for an ebook and how you might go about it.

 

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Posted by Gene Wolf - September 22, 2014 at 7:37 pm

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What Do You Want to Be?

Do you remember your earliest childhood days? Those days when anything was possible, those days when being a pirate or an astronaut were equally likely? Anything, and I mean anything was possible. I remember being in the garage on day and I had some scrap wood, a hammer and a nail. I found two likely sticks of wood and nailed them together so one piece was perpendicular to the other. It was a masterpiece and the best airplane the world had ever seen. I spent the entire day going on adventures with my plane, all around the yard with the boundless energy only a six year old possesses.

Today, as an adult, I’d look at that youngster and simply smile. Certainly I’d never shatter his illusion that two sticks badly nailed together could ever fly. I’d never tell him his adventures were all in his mind and could never possibly come true. That would be cruel. Yet, at some point, those things were taught to that youngster. He came to realize what was possible and what wasn’t. He came to understand that the wood and hammer and nail he used to build his world was a waste of time. He put those things aside, never to be looked back upon. They were slowly forgotten.

I have a blog where I write about my retirement in Tennessee. I have a friend named Quinn who stops by from time to time to help me understand the world around me. I’ll be making a post there in the next day or so concerning his latest lessons. The other day he asked a rather bizarre question. It was something like, “Can you remember what you’ve forgotten?” My immediate thought was to respond with, “Of course not.” However, when you’ve known Quinn as long as I have you understand the immediate response is usually the wrong one. I instead, after a few minutes of contemplation answered with, “No, I don’t believe so.” He answered with a statement, uncharacteristic for him because ninety percent of the time he only asks questions. His response was simply, “Try.”

That statement led, a few days later, to me being in a small coffee shop on a hot day. I didn’t want coffee but I noticed they had a cooler filled with different soft drinks. I spotted a bottle of grape soda and took it to a table to simply enjoy the coolness of the beverage. I gave the flavor no thought really, it was cool and wet and that’s all I cared about at that moment.

When I took the first sip, Quinn’s statement hit me like a sledgehammer. I have not had a grape soda since I was a kid. It was one of my favorites. All of the sweetness, bubbles, and sugary freshness came back to me like opening a chest and finding it loaded with treasure. At that moment all the possibilities of the world were available to me. Just for a few moments, anything was possible. I had forgotten the taste of one of my favorite drinks. I had forgotten that, if I wanted, I could be a pirate or an astronaut. For a brief moment, the chains of adulthood I had been bound with were gone and I was free to imagine anything and if I could imagine it, it could be real.

Which brings me to today’s post. One by one, over the tears, we forge the links of our own chains. We tell ourselves that simple wooden airplanes can’t fly, will never fly. Click. We tell ourselves there are no such things as pirates and in order to become an astronaut you have to go through years of training. We can never be one. Click. One by one we bind ourselves with the links of thick chain.  How many links? Hard to say really. Every time you tell yourself you can’t do something I think one more snaps into place.

Yet, as writers, at least fiction writers, we try to convince the world anything is possible. We write, already starting with a handicap of not believing it ourselves. Have you every listen to anyone trying to make a convincing argument when he or she doesn’t believe what they’re saying. It’s tone deaf, it’s flat, it’s unconvincing. On the other hand, listen to someone talking about something they have a passion about. They grab you, they pick you up and sweep you along with their passion and fervor. Like a child, their believe gives them a boundless energy.

I honestly believe that, as writers, we have to be like children. That rough wooden plane can fly, it can go one adventures, it can change the world. We have to shed the chains we put upon ourselves and believe in our imagination. We can write, we can weave a story people will enjoy. We can write about astronauts or pirates. We can bring them to life. We can make them real.

What do you want to be? A writer? Then make it happen. Start with remembering what you’ve forgotten. Start with realizing anything is possible. Stop telling yourself it’s too hard or you don;t have the time, you don’t have the skill, that no one will read your work and that you’re just not good enough. Those are the chains you need to shed. It is possible. Go find your own personal grape soda, whatever it is and remember how much was possible, is possible now.

What do you want to be? With the eyes of a child, see it and be it.

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Posted by Gene Wolf - August 20, 2014 at 9:05 am

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When to Quit

Some writers go through periods of just throwing their hands up in the air screaming, “Why do I keep doing this shit?” They submit to a multitude of publications, only to receive the inevitable rejection letter. They post to online sites only to get a handful of ho-hum responses. Some people ask to read their ‘stuff’ but never respond. It’s frustrating. It’s maddening. It’s enough to make you quit in disgust.

When I write I have to have music in the background. That’s mandatory. If I don’t have music, or a clean desk, I can’t work. Yes, I’m strange. Today the thought of writing this post was rattling around and echoing in my mind. I wasn’t sure just how to approach the subject of quitting. Then a couple of serendipitous things happened. I saw an advertisement for iHeart radio so I installed it on my phone to give it a try. It is free, I love music, I listen to either books or music when I mow lawn so I thought I’d check it out. It’s good. No advertisements so far and I’ve been listening for hours. Then the second unexpected thing happened. I was listening to the old Bread song, ‘Guitar Man.’ Check out the lyrics. It might just as well have been written about writers instead of musicians. There’s one portion that was particularly appropriate to what I wanted to write today:

Then the lights begin to flicker and the sound is getting dim 
The voice begins to falter and the crowds are getting thin 
But he never seems to notice, he’s just got to find another place to play

Think about it. The musician in the above stanza doesn’t even consider quitting. Even when the sounds isn’t any good, even when the crowds are thin, he still has to find another place to play. The same is true for writers. Real writers. They just have to keep going. They’ll submit that next story to yet another publication. They’ll write that next story in the hopes this one catches someone’s attention. They just have to find another story to write.

I titled this post, ‘When to Quit.’ You know the answer. You never quit. You keep pushing on through the frustration, through the disappointment, through the soul crushing discouragement. You’re a writer.

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Posted by Gene Wolf - June 21, 2014 at 1:39 pm

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Success

At times I write in this blog about success. Today I want to look at success from a different angle. First let’s examine success itself, just not with writers. I think everyone would agree Elvis Presly was a successful performer/singer. The Beatles and Melissa Etheridge were also successful performers. No one would argue otherwise. We all know Elvis Presley was a truck driver before he became the famous performer. We know the Beatles were once names the Silver Beetles and played in nightclubs before becoming the best known band on the planet. Melissa Etheridge played for small groups and I actually saw her at the New York State Fairgrounds, performing a free summer concert before she was well known.

Even Stephen King went through coming up from nothing. Many of you have heard the story about Stephen King throwing his first draft of ‘Carrie‘ into the trash because he thought it was garbage. His wife rescued it and the rest is history. (Click on the Carrie link because the article there is a very worthwhile read.) Stephen King had his doubts about his ability to write, even after ‘Carrie.’ He wrote three stories under the name Richard Bachman to see if his first success was just a fluke or whether he had real talent. Remember, this was after his success with ‘Carrie.’

Another example of a successful performer is Harry Chapin. Okay, listening to an hour of most of his songs and drinking a fifth of Scotch will drive anyone to suicide, but still he was successful. In one of his engagements he recorded a conversation titled ‘Dirty Old Man.’ In it he said,

In the sixties I wrote about four hundred songs
Before anybody even paid any attention

Four hundred songs! Imagine writing four hundred songs before you even begin being considered successful as a performer!

In all of the cases above, no one will argue with them being successful. They rose to the top. They rightfully earned fame and fortune. They were huge successes. They also demonstrate two other qualities that many of us forget; determination and perseverance. Carrie was turned down by thirty publishers. Thirty! Harry Chapin wrote four hundred songs, Melissa Etheridge played free concerts in podunk towns and the Beatles played in nightclubs.

Many of us have doubts about our talent for writing. It certainly isn’t unusual and it’s a trait shared by even the best writers or performers. Success also means different things to different people. Would I like to be on the New York Times best seller’s list? Of course. Will I ever get there? Probably not. But you know what? I’m already successful. My family likes my stories. My friends like my stories. The people working in my vets office like my stories. Not out of kindness mind you because they do tell me about things they didn’t like. But overall all reviews are positive and that’s success for me.

I know an author online, Melissa Foster, who I consider a friend, though we have never met. She is definitely a successful writer. By anyone’s standards, she is a success. She goes to book promotions, book seller events, conferences. She goes on speaking tours, conferences and talks about writing. She seems to love it and gives back to her readers as much as she gets from them. It’s another form of success. To me however, doing those things would be hell. I’m a recluse, I avoid people almost as much as Howard Hughes. Going out into public like Melissa does would be torture for me and I certainly wouldn’t call it a sign of my success.

Success, like love, seems to have many different definitions. We all know what love feels like, we all know, to some degree what success feels like. To each of us though each is individual. It’s personal. It’s unique.

You can define success by having your stories enjoyed by the personal at a pet hospital or by millions. You can define your success by the money you make or by the enjoyment you get out of writing. Success is how you define it. However, you will never achieve success without determination and perseverance. Write four hundred stories like Harry Chapin wrote four hundred songs. With determination and perseverance you’ll achieve success, no matter how you define it.

 

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Posted by Gene Wolf - June 2, 2014 at 10:09 am

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Voice

I’ve written in the past about my editors. I’ve told you how the editor I was using died unexpectedly last year. It was quite a blow to me and I was in a funk for an extended time. Then, after a few dismal attempts at finding another editor I finaly, finally found another editor I can work with. I’ve sent her a few of my stories and she has uncovered issues with them that I completely missed. Excellent!

A few months ago I sent he one of my favorite stories. I think every writer has a story they are particularly fond of. The story I sent to Susan is titled, ‘Changes.’ It is about the greed of big pharma, the dedication to research of one particular genetic scientist and what people are willing to do in the face of near certain extinction.

Last week I received the edit back. Again, Susan caught a few things I never considered, the reason I knew I needed an editor in the first place, but she pointed out one issue that really surprised me. Voice. Apparently it’s a common problem with writers without extensive experience.

Now, you have to understand there are at least two different voices for a writer. I suspect there are probably more. The first is the voice of the author himself or herself. For example, If I were given a couple of pages from Andre Norton, Robert Heinlein, Jim Butcher, Kevin Hearne or Jane Lindskold I’m sure I could identify each correctly. There’s a style each of them possess that is unique. That’s their ‘voice.’ It’s unmistakable. However, that’s not the voice my editor was referring to.

The voice Susan was pointing out to me, and what I need to correct, is the voice of my characters. They all talk the same, they all ‘sound’ the same. Now, granted, in ‘Changes’ they are all technical people, all research scientists and all very intelligent. I suspect they all would sound very similar. However, they all shouldn’t sound the same.

One of my characters, Frank, is a rather submissive gentleman. His wife makes him sandwiches to take to work every morning. He’s a diligent worker but he’d rather remain in the background rather than be in the spotlight. Steven, is an exceptionally brilliant researcher, second only to a man half again his age who has dedicated his entire career to discovering the workings of genetic code. What my editor was pointing out, and unfortunately correctly pointing out, was that when Frank talks he should not should like the head researcher or even Steven. He should sound like Frank.

So just how should Frank ‘talk?’ Since he’s rather submissive his sentences should be hesitant, probably short and probably filled with passive words.

“Do you think we should test this subject for digestive issues today or should we wait until tomorrow when he’s more recovered from anesthesia?” would be something you would expect Frank to say. It’s weak, it’s tentative and it shows lack of both authority and confidence.

“Set up a digestive panel for the subject. Feed him no more than thirty grams of protein and monitor blood glucose levels every hour for the next twelve hours. Please email me the results as soon as you have them.” is something you might expect Steven to say. It’s direct, it is a statement of what he wants done, when he wants it done and what he’s looking for. While the level is just as technical as Frank’s was, the delivery displays a completely different personality. This is what Susan was pointing to and what I completely missed in my story. I was more interested in telling the story than in the personalities, a grave mistake for a writer.

Writing ties together a number of talents; world building, storytelling, writing, psychology and the ability to relate to your intended audience. Without proper voice a writer falls short in both storytelling and psychology.

I now have to go back into this story and make sure each character has a distinct voice. When you’re writing, make sure you identify with each character as an individual and convey their personality through their own distinct voice. It’ll save you a great deal of time later. *laughs*

 

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Posted by Gene Wolf - May 11, 2014 at 1:30 pm

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Your Environment

When you’re writing do you get to a point in a story where you just don’t feel like writing? Perhaps you don’t know where you want to take the story or maybe you just want to go take a nap because something is off. I’m sure it’s happened to you. When I get into those situations I recall something my mentor Quinn told me years ago; pay attention to your environment. It’s more important and there’s more going on in it than you know.

I have specific needs when I’m writing. The simple things like, in the early morning, a cup of coffee or a glass of Red Bull. In the afternoon it may be iced tea or soda. However, when I’m really stuck I’ve taken to sitting back and looking at my desk. I have specific needs before I can write. My desk MUST be clean. I don’t mean empty. I have computer speakers on my desk, a printer and some wipes for my glasses. I mean clean. I cannot have smudges on my glass desktop. It has to be clean. I also need music in the background.

I know, I know, many of you are laughing or saying to yourselves, “Ugh! I couldn’t possibly work with music playing.” That’s fine. Everyone is different. When I’m writing an action scene I find it helps to have active music playing softly in the background. If I’m developing a quiet scene, something like Enya or the Moody Blues helps me get the tone right. I cannot work without music.

But this points out what I look for. If I can’t work there’s usually something that’s preventing me from doing so in my environment. When I correct whatever it is, the words again flow. Here’s a suggestion. The next time you’re blocked just sit back and look at the environment around you. What’s in it that you don’t like? Take the time to correct whatever it is then go back to writing. Think of it this way. When you go to the movies or are reading a good book and someone talks to you it takes away from your concentration. Your writing environment is very much the same. You may not even be aware of it because most of us don’t pay that much attention to our surroundings. But it’s true. On some level we can’t work, we can’t concentrate. Once the obstacle is removed the words again flow.

Give it a try.

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Posted by Gene Wolf - April 27, 2014 at 9:41 am

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I’d Like to Hear From You

I’ve pulled all of my stories from Amazon in order to get them looked at by a professional editor. I’ll have them back up this year. In the meantime I’m writing again and now I’d like to get your input. For those of you who have read ‘Changes’ you know a plague swept the world. In order to avoid decimation of human kind a small group of people underwent some rather dramatic changes. I’m not going to spoil the story for you by giving it away.

The sequel takes place nearly four hundred years after the event. Assume if you will a group of humans that survived in a bunker meant to protect politicians from a nuclear war. In a facility meant to hold twenty-five thousand people for ten years a small group of humans from the armed services have survived. Like most facilities built for survival by politicians and the military, no expense was spared and everything was hardened. Here’s where I need your help.

Assume four hundred years have passed and there are some four hundred survivors where population is strictly controlled. There’s a fusion reactor so electricity is not an issue. However, after nearly four hundred years the reactor is on its last legs. Food is also not an issue. Since the facility was built to house twenty-five thousand people there were plenty of provisions. Again though, all of the canned goods are long past being edible and are being used for fertilizer in hydroponic gardens. There are many vegetables like tomatoes, beans, peppers, etc., but no fruit since there were no trees when they went into lock down. Clothing is not an issue. Military uniforms were in storage from the beginning but items like paper, desks, chairs were never thought to be necessary for more than ten years. Ammunition and rifles are plentiful, as are vehicles, but there is no fuel after four hundred years. Electronics are the rarest of all. Electronic components have been scavenged from equipment there during lock down but the years have not been kind to components. There were thousands of cameras outside the facility during the initial event but most have quit working a hundred years ago. Only a very few remain operational and many of those that still have an image have been overgrown by vines or the view blocked by trees. Marriage is strictly controlled and birth even moreso. Forced abortion is required for those exceeding birth limits. Death requires the disposal of the body into grinders where the material is used for hydroponic growth medium.

If you were in this facility what do you see as a major problem? I’d love to hear your ideas. Exiting to the outside is impossible because the virus that targeted people might still be viable, even after all this time. If you’d like to offer your thoughts please comment.

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Posted by Gene Wolf - March 23, 2014 at 3:08 pm

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Editors

Wow, it’s been a year since my last post. Yes, I’ll admit it, I’ve been in a funk. Since the editor I had been using passed away I’ve actually lost some interest in writing. It might not make a great deal of sense to you, but please allow me to explain.

Imagine a baseball player with some natural talent. He can move with supreme agility, catch, throw and hit. In the local ball clubs he’s the best. Everyone praises him on his skill. This player has ambitions to make it to the big league. He wants to play for the Yankees, or the Red Sox, or the Cardinals. It really doesn’t matter to him what team he plays for as long as he’s in the major leagues.

Sound familiar? The above analogy can be used for almost any professional endeavor. Perhaps a doctor wants to work at the Mayo Clinic or Johns Hopkins. Perhaps a physicist wants to work for CERN or Brookhaven. Writers may want to write for a specific publishing house like Random House or Tor. Most writers I know though don’t have a specific house in mind, all they want is to be published, and that brings me to today’s post.

Like the baseball player, most writers have received encouragement. It might have been from family, friends, teachers or critique circles. The writer might even have published articles in a local newspaper and received acclaim for them. However, like the baseball player the writer also harbors a gnawing doubt and sometimes crippling uncertainty that they are good enough. If they possess those fears, and many of us do, they’re probably correct. Who knows you better than you? To those writers experiencing these destructive fears the question becomes; what are you going to do about them?

I know for a fact, by myself, I do not have the talent to write a bestseller. Please read that carefully. I did not say I do not have the talent to write a best seller. I honestly believe I could. However, I am also just as certain I cannot do it on my own. I’m not that good. I need help. I need another pair of eyes to critically look at my work and point out where I’ve screwed up. The baseball player in the analogy above might have abundant raw skills but raw skill will never make it in the majors. They operate at a whole new level. While you might be lightning fast in your movements, unless you can anticipate where to be at the right time, you’ll never make it to a sharply hit ball in time. It’ll sail right by making you look like you’re flat footed.

Writing is much the same. You might have a great idea for a story. You might have great believable characters, a wonderful hero and an absolutely hateful antagonist. If you simply put your story out there though, most likely, like the raw talent ball player, you’ll be looked at as a hack. Perhaps your sentence structure is awkwark. Maybe you use the same word too many times or placed too close together. Is your punctuation correct? Spelling? proper use of words? Like the ball player caught flat-footed a writer can look very similar without help.

The baseball player can get help. A good coach is invaluable. Instead of playing his normal position oat shortstop with runners on first and second he’s been told to play slightly deeper and towards third base with a right handed batter. He’s positioned for a sharply hit ball. Instead of it burning past him he’s in position to catch it or knock it down, throw to third or back to second for a potential double play.

A good editor is as valuable to a writer as a good coach is to a baseball player. A good editor can look for things like inconsistent timing, shallow characters, overuse of words, plot holes, and so much more. Just like to coach telling the shortstop how best to play the position under specific circumstances a good editor can make similar suggestions to a writer.

I know this for a fact. This is the reason I’ve been reluctant to write when my previous editor passed away. Oh, I’ve been looking for the past year. I’ve tried several but there are so many charlatans out there. I’ve spent time and money on several and all were far less than satisfactory. I never gave up but finding an editor that works for you takes both time and money. It’s taken me a year. I believe I have finally found an editor I can work with and, like a good coach, she has the knowledge to help position me where I belong on the field. We’ll see.

In the past month I’ve developed a renewed confidence in my ability. Yes, I can write but, like most writers, I also need help. I believe I have that now. I’ve sent several stories to my new editor, stories that I have gone over numerous times. I was mortally embarrassed when I received the editing on those stories. I won’t go into detail but my belief that I shouldn’t try to publish on my own was thoroughly validated. *laughs*

I’m back to writing. At least four hours a day with ass firmly planted in a chair. Whether I’m writing new, making corrections or outlining, I’m writing again. It feels good.

If you’re a writer get a ‘coach.’ A good coach. Spend the time and the money to find one that works for you. No matter how good you are, or think you are, a good editor will make you better. That’s what this game is all about; being the best you can be.

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Posted by Gene Wolf - February 26, 2014 at 9:02 am

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Goodbye to a Friend

Sometimes you meet someone who turns into an immediate friend. Those of us fortunate enough know these friends through a lifetime. Others, only a brief time. Today, I’m sad to say I have to count myself in the latter group.

Months ago I was searching for an editor. Okay, searching is the wrong word, and as a writer, I like to use words correctly. I was flailing around trying to find someone who could look over my dreck, not get ill while they read it, and offer me some constructive points on how I could improve what I had written. After a few false starts I discovered Karlyn Thayer.

I immediately endeared myself to her by spelling her first name wrong in an e-mail. She corrected me, in no uncertain terms, and I knew I had found a friend. I was absolutely sure I had a friend when, one of the stories I sent her for editing, contained the anthro character of a dragon. She let me know she really did not like dragons. Okay, okay, some people don’t, that’s understandable. We chuckled over that, through e-mail, and she helped me improve my story greatly.

Since I frequently write anthro stories, many of my characters possess animal characteristics. I sent Karlyn another story to edit, this one with a wolf as the main character. I was brainstorming a suggestion she sent me and told her it was a great idea and was thinking seriously about it. She responded with:

God forbid you should have to think! // I like the idea of a story for each calendar page, although (I hate to tell you) I dislike wolves even more than I dislike dragons. // Looking forward to your next story!
LAUGHS!!!! Okay, so I’m off to a great start! Over the months she helped me improve, and I believe my writing has improved greatly under her tutelage. We laughed about some things I wrote, she schooled me in fine points and, as harsh as some of her comments seem out of context, her e-mails were always supportive, always encouraging and always helpful.
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Karlyn passed away yesterday after a short battle with MRSA. It’s a drug resistant bacterium which attacks blood, tissue, everything. Karlyn, like all those seeming to die well before their time, burned with an intense bright light. She knew her work, obviously loved it, and didn’t bother blowing smoke up someone’s ass in order to make them feel good. Her goal was to produce better writers. While she never said so in so many words, I firmly believe that, if someone didn’t like what she said or how she said it, they could go pound sand. She never came across that way but she never bent her principles in order to make someone feel better. At least that’s how she acted with me and I suspect everyone else in her life.
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Karlyn, I feel privileged to have known you and I can assure you, you will be missed.

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Posted by Gene Wolf - December 16, 2012 at 10:12 am

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Write Crap

There’s a saying most writers are familiar with attributed to Ernest Hemmingway. He is quoted as saying, “The first draft of anything is shit.” Okay, he should know, and I mean no disrespect when I write that. Someone who has written such classics as “The Old Man and the Sea,” “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” and “A Farewell to Arms” obviously knows how to write. He also must know what it takes to write and write well.

Do you recall how you learned anything? From something like riding a bicycle to driving a car. Did you just hop on and do it? Probably not. Unless that was you who backed into my AMC Matador one day in the Restaurant parking lot in Weedsport, NY. Most of us learn from someone who has done it, and usually done it competently. We will not be good at first. If you remember back to when you first learned to ride a bike you were probably a bit wobbly, unsteady. You improved over time. You probably even had an accident or two before you gained confidence and climbed onto the seat and took off without even thinking of what you were doing. If you ever learned how to drive a manual transmission car your first starts and stops were probably less than smooth. Let’s not even talk about stopping at a red light on a hill and some jerk pulls up close behind you. Eventually you took it all in stride and didn’t give it any thought.

Why should writing be any different? The answer, of course, is it isn’t. You’re first attempts, as Hemmingway alludes to, will be crap. Even when you know how to write the first draft will still be crap. I hear from too many people writing and saying they would like to write. Of course they’re lying to themselves. What they’re really saying is, “I would love to write well. The first time. The first draft” I suppose some people can. I’m not one of them. You probably aren’t either. Hemmingway didn’t believe he was either or he would never had made that famous statement. So the people writing to me and conveying their wish to write are saying they want to do something even one of the most talented writers could not do. Sound unrealistic? Yeah, to me too.

So what should they be saying? Well, that’s hard to say. I usually respond to them by saying, simply, “Then write.” Of course they come back with the reasons they cannot write. Busy with life and family, busy with the job, they aren’t talented enough, and many, many other reasons. Those reasons are all valid of course. Who am I to say they aren’t? However, if those reasons stop someone from writing then that simply indicates to me that the person doesn’t really want to write. Writing takes effort, it takes passion and it takes sacrifice. If you are not willing to bleed for your art then you’re not interested in being a writer.

Take Stephen King for example. He threw his first success, “Carrie” into the trash and his wife fished it out and convinced him to finish it. Obviously he thought it was crap. He has said of “Carrie,” “…my considered opinion was that I had written the world’s all-time loser.” Another highly successful writer acknowledging that early work can be considered crap. However, like Hemmingway, Stephen King did not let that stop him. He went on. Before he was famous he lived in a trailer, couldn’t pay his bills and even had his phone removed because he could no longer pay for it. He sacrificed in order to write. He taught in order to make a living and still wrote. He lost confidence in his writing ability and still wrote. He bled for his art. He wanted to write, and he did.

So, my advice to everyone out there who wants to write? Write crap. I’ll make it even simpler. Write. Sit down and write. Turn off the radio. Turn off the TV. Put on some background music if it sets the mood but don’t let it distract you. Then write. Then write some more. Then write even more. Write crap. Just like riding that old bike or driving that jalopy you owned as a kid, you’ll know when you’re improving. You’ll get turned down. It’ll hurt. It’ll smart. You’ll probably bleed. That’s Okay. Keep writing. Unless you’re writing you’ll never be a writer. Unless you first write crap, you’ll never be a writer.

1 comment - What do you think?
Posted by Gene Wolf - December 8, 2012 at 8:23 am

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