C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

See all my books at AllThatChazz.com.

Writer’s Writing Rules by Max Griffin

Frolic among the writing rules. Use what you will, ignore the rest. (I prefer guidelines about writing rather than rules, but there’s good stuff here!)

No Wasted Ink

Ray Bradbury once said, “I don’t tell anyone how to write and no one tells me.” Yet, when pressed, he produced eight “rules” for successful authors.

In fact, if you Google your favorite author together with “writing rules,” you’re likely to discover links to that author’s answer to the question, “What are your rules for writing success?” Try it. I found rules that ran from two items for Robert Heinlein to twenty-four for Dashiell Hammett. That may say something about their respective styles, or maybe about how much self-reflection went into their writing, or something else. But still, there is some wisdom to be garnered by looking at these lists.

Not all Writing Rules are equal. Hammett’s, for example, are detailed, but in such a way that they apply primarily to detective novels of his era. Here’s his first rule, for example:

There was an automatic revolver, the Webley-Fosbery, made…

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Filed under: publishing

An Apocalypse in the Middle of an Apocalypse

When I started publishing books in 2010, my pace got faster as I refined my processes. Take a couple of books through the editorial process and you identify quirks, mistakes, and inefficiencies you can avoid with future projects. At one point, I wrote five books in one year (and that was while I still had a day job). I took three days to format my first book. Back when I serialized This Plague of Days, I refined that formatting process down to a few minutes. Some things get easier with experience, feedback, and repetition. Then along came a killer pandemic and all my routines and expectations got torpedoed.

Trouble writing? This bud’s for you, bud.

Not Coping with COVID-19

The last book I put out was a thriller called The Night Man. That was Christmas, 2019. Almost two years later, I’m finally about to publish again. For several reasons, I took my time with my new book. This apocalyptic tale is a compelling experience that, in part, explores how we respond to disaster (or don’t). Endemic asks, “What happens when a pandemic never ends?” It’s not a short read, but the pacing will make it feel that way. I put so much of myself into this book that, despite its grand setting and sweeping scenes, the story is a relatable cautionary tale about what happens when variant storms strike. I wish the story wasn’t so relatable. The immediacy of viral dangers affected my writing routines negatively. What follows are my suggestions if you have been similarly afflicted.

How to Write (or not) in the Middle of an Ongoing Disaster

  • Put yourself on a social media diet. If the TikTok warning comes up suggesting you go outside to smell the roses, you know you’ve been on the app too long. It’s easy to get sucked into doom scrolling. I sure did. Though the news might give you ideas, it can just as easily suck away writing energy. So much of the news is repetitive that listening to a third epidemiologist in one day is counterproductive.
  • Self-care. Maybe that means remembering to take a shower. Perhaps exercise is missing from your day. Look at what’s missing and fill that need.
  • Writing sprints with a willing writing buddy work.
  • Setting a timer and writing your first draft as fast as you can in short bursts works, too.
  • Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t do.
  • Think of each chapter as a short story instead of setting your sights on a huge word count. “I am going to write 500 words before the top of the hour,” sounds reasonable and doable. “I’m going to knock out a massive epic of 150,000 words by the end of the month,” is intimidating.
  • Tell stories you feel a great need to tell. Passion alone may not take you all the way to the end of the project, but it should give you some inertia. Hacks don’t have passion. Business considerations are for before and after the writing session, not during. Write the story.
  • Abandon unreasonable expectations. If you’re writing 200 words a day, don’t torture yourself with promises to craft 10,000 words tomorrow morning.
  • There is no rule that says you have to produce x number of books a year. Things change. Your response can change. Do what you can do and want to do. What you think you need to do can’t be bigger than what you can do.
  • Avoid martyrdom. I’ve pulled my share of all-nighters as a writer. I don’t do that anymore because I know if I push myself too hard for too long, I’ll get burned out. I want to write useful pages. Longer hours might just give you more mistakes to fix.
  • You are a writer, not a robot. Accept that now isn’t necessarily your time to accomplish x, y, or z. The rise and grind ethos is fine if you can stay healthy working at a blistering pace. Some people get energy from that approach. It’s not for everyone, though. Is anything?
  • Many go-getters and gurus will encourage you to “get back to normal.” The pandemic is not over and, to me, such admonitions feel like celebrating a touchdown at the 30-yard line. I understand the inclination to pretend this disaster isn’t ongoing, but it is. These are not normal times and not everyone is okay. Not everyone’s losses or ability to respond to challenges are equal. Be kind to yourself.
  • Some writers have found the lockdown experience energizing to their work. I know of no stats that suggest what and where that split is. On the other hand, many people have quit their jobs. Writing is a job you can turn your back on. You can quit and focus your energies elsewhere. If it’s not good for you right now, be honest with yourself when you need to walk away.
  • Professionalism? Sure, I’m all for it. Set a schedule. Have a dedicated work space and show up. Establish flowcharts of your action plans for writing and marketing. Measure and record your quantitative output. Keep an eye on the quality of your input. Do the thing … as long as it’s helping you, not hurting. Writing is supposed to be fun, remember?
  • Hydration, sufficient sleep, a healthy diet, and exercise are all important. However, these are not panaceas. When people need help with physical and mental issues, some well-meaning cheerleaders will appear to tell you to go for a walk in the sunshine. That’s fine as far as it goes, but if your pancreas is merely serving a decorative function, you’re going to need more intervention than nice thoughts and meditation. If you need professional help, get it.
  • Another’s writer’s success can be motivating. That’s not true for me, though. When Amazon tells me an author I follow has come out with their fourth book in four weeks, I don’t feel good about myself. Besides, there are too many variables to replicate another’s path precisely. Do not compare your output to anyone else’s production schedule.
  • Procrastinate productively, whatever that means for you. If you need a nap and can do so, enjoy that nap. If you want to clean up your workspace, go head. However, don’t tell yourself you’re going to write “sometime” today and end up torturing yourself with I-should-haves. If you’re going to take the day off from writing, choose to do so consciously and choose early in the day. The worst writing days are the ones you tell yourself you were supposed to have had and didn’t execute.
  • A caution about procrastination: Are you one of those travelers who pack your entire wardrobe for a weekend getaway? When traveling, take half the clothes and twice the money. When writing, no, you don’t need to do so much research. Research to achieve verisimilitude is encouraged. Research that pushes your deadline back a month is procrastination.
  • Rely on social support. We have all grown more isolated in the last year and a half. Break loneliness. Talk to friends on the phone. Enjoy a Zoom call. Reach out and text someone. Share another cute dog video. Think of it as physical distancing, not social distancing.
  • Prioritize. That sounds like I’m scolding, so let me rephrase: Be lazy about the right things. Say no to the right things and yes to the write things. For instance, me to She Who Must Be Obeyed: “I got a lot of words down today, but I didn’t mow the lawn. It’ll keep another day.” Or, “I’m sick of the Sunday Bean Soup I made. It’s the fourth day in a row. Wanna order pizza?”
  • Writing, but you’re not feeling that last scene? Maybe it’s time to reward yourself with a short story to submit to an anthology. The right change can boost your creative energy. Taking a break can mean going for a swim. It might mean putting your energy into that mystery you’ve always dreamed of. You know, the one where the orangutan escapes from the zoo and solves heinous crimes with his sidekick, a Mormon sign language interpreter with a penchant for exotic cheeses. Do you, boo!
  • Blocked? Start writing about that. What does that frustration feel like? What childhood affront does that pain remind you of? Thinking about writing and not doing so is pain. Starting to write about anything, primes the pump and gets the juices flowing. Write fast, write now, and edit later. Silence your inner critic and dive in. Soon you’ll look up from the page and discover you’ve been at it a while and now you have something to work with. Blank pages are notoriously difficult to edit.
  • Read something that inspires you. You can read as a writer and analyze the narrative. I’d suggest you read like a reader instead. Remember the joy of reading? Let that feeling percolate so you’ll come back to your love of the written word.
  • Find what motivated you before you lost your mojo. There aren’t any wrong answers. Love, spite, competition, proving your ex wrong? Whatever gets you back to the writing mindset.
  • Aim for excellence, not perfection. Perfectionism is self-hatred. Some writers speak of putting out “minimum viable product.” I’m nervous about that wording and how it can be twisted. However, if it helps to get you writing, consider that there are plenty of successful writers entertaining legions of happy readers. Not all of them are solely focused on writing The Best Thing Ever Written. They are writing to entertain without the burden of a subjective and snobby literary standard.

What helped me most?

I faced challenges to my mental and physical health over the past couple of years. Chronic insomnia robbed me of many productive days, for instance. What I needed was time. I wrote a little, poking at my WIP. I didn’t manage to write every day. The best I could do was four days out of seven. When I allowed a limit and told myself it was okay not to write on a certain day (or series of days), the stress headaches went away. Taking my time with the story fueled my creativity. Patience made for a richer, more layered novel.

Writing a little at a time, I got where I needed to be. This month, I’ll release my first book in a long time. I’m healthier these days. My mojo and ambitions are rising again. There will be a hardcover, paperback, and a podcast of Endemic. Next year, expect an audiobook. Endemic holds echoes of my most successful series, This Plague of Days. I took my time. Endemic was worth the wait.

~ For all my killer crime thrillers and apocalyptic epics, please do check out my links at AllThatChazz.com.

http://www.AllThatChazz.com

Look for Endemic on Amazon later this month. To get your heads-up about when it’s available, sign up for updates at AllThatChazz.com.

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War Stories from Trad Publishing

When I moved to Toronto to enter the heady field of publishing, I had romanticized the profession. Profession, see? I didn’t know yet that it is mostly an industry. I dreamed that, surrounded by the glittering literati, it would be all wonderful words, sharp wit, and too many cocktails at book launches. Here are a few things I learned in short order:

1. If you’re looking for opportunities to trade bon mots, people in publishing don’t have a monopoly on that skill. They might have cornered the market on a false sense of superiority and condescension, but funny? Nope! Most of us were poor. Trying to survive in one of the most expensive cities in the world does tend to dampen one’s spirits.

2. If you’re new to the industry, anyone who’s been at it for two years longer will step back to see if you’re wearing shoes. At my first cocktail party, someone held forth on the strife of the former Yugoslavia and denigrated my opinion. She may have thought me a young hick, but I was the only one in the room who had actually traveled there and witnessed the damage bullets can do.

Snobs tend to gravitate to the profession. Stephen King left a publisher who profited well off his books because, despite his early success, they couldn’t seem to remember his name when they passed in the hallway. “Only a genre author, you know.”

3. After working in traditional publishing for five years, I can assure you that they don’t have a disproportionate number of smarter people than any other industry. I was chronically underwhelmed by many of my colleagues. There were a few gems, of course, but plenty of folks whose job was to make judgments had lousy judgment. One publisher I worked for ran himself out of business because he only wanted to put out “important” books. He may have briefly impressed his friends on the Rosedale circuit, but his list did not sell enough to sustain. I remember telling my sales manager, “Another sodbuster? Fine, but would it kill him to put out a cookbook people will actually buy this Christmas?”

4. People on the editorial side, mostly women, are infamously underpaid. They do not share the wealth. The moolah all funnels up. (And don’t get me started on the unpaid intern scam.)

5. Some editors and not a few salespeople denigrate authors’ efforts. Publishing companies buy manuscripts to sell books, but their respect for those who produce those manuscripts varies widely.

Hey! Want to break free of the blank page and work inside trad publishing? If you were impressed by the dismissive speech Meryl Streep gives Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada, this might be the job for you! If, on the other hand, you have self-respect and intolerance for workplace abuse, at least work at a firm big enough for an HR department.
(I put a bad boss in a hammerlock once. That fucker still owes me $5,000.)

6. Perhaps driven by desperation, some authors are pills, too. For instance, Bookstore X refused to sell books by a particular author who had a bad reputation. Bookstore X stood just down the street from the publishing house, so naturally, when the author got taken to a liquid lunch, they stopped in. The author discovered Bookstore X did not carry any of his books. “But I’m a literary icon!” the author wheedled.

Embarrassed, the publisher blamed the sales rep (i.e. me) and sent a memo to my boss. “What’s going on?” she wailed. It wasn’t a conspiracy. What was going on was the bookstore owner didn’t like the author personally. Nobody liked either of them, in fact. In hurting himself, the author tried to hurt me. (That writer is dead now. I claim to have had nothing to do with it.)

7. Speaking of bookstore owners, I liked most of them, but they had romantic ideas getting into their business, too. They thought they’d be reading books constantly, maybe even hobnobbing with famous authors. Instead, they were often saddled with businesses pushed out and pushed down by big box retail and online stores. Calculating GST payments all day and worrying about impending doom does make one surly.

One guy made a big deal out of the fact a sales rep didn’t want to get up at 4 in the morning and travel up from Toronto to pay a visit at 5:30 a.m. to a little bookstore in the back of the beyond. (Wasn’t me, but I felt bad for the sales rep from another house.) Another bookstore owner got very pissy that I dared to use the word comedy instead of humor. That person is now out of business, but I assume she’s yelling at some retail worker somewhere on Instagram.

I was tasked with presenting an extensive list for 16 publishers to a board of librarians. There were more than a
dozen people around the table as I went into my spiel. One guy thought the enthusiasm I had for my list made me stupid. I made a joke and he rolled his eyes. “Ba-dum-bump!”

I was young and full of blue piss, so I stopped my show and pushed back. “You don’t want me to be funny and energetic in my sales pitch? Fine. I. Can. Deliver. The. Entire. List. In. Robotic.
Fashion. If. You. Want. You wanna stop busting my balls now?” Everyone laughed but the guy I called out, but how can badly behaving customers learn if we don’t teach them?

8. Not everyone has romanticized ideas about what they do. My first two publishing jobs were at Harlequin. An exec struck up a conversation with me in the company cafeteria. “Why did you come here?” he asked. I told him my background was in journalism, but I loved books so I got into publishing.


“We’re not really publishers, though,” he said. “We’re book packagers.”

Meeting him, I vowed to escape before my innocence and light of aspiration in my eyes went dead.
You do want to keep some of your beginner’s mind as you move through your career. Otherwise, the days are long and sad.

9. A wannabe novelist and poet who worked as a copy editor told me, “Many people who want to write gravitate to this industry.” Then he cackled on at length about an author whose typo mixed up desert and dessert.
Maybe he wouldn’t have been so mean to actual writers if he didn’t still have a novel of his own trapped in his head. Frustrated writers make the most truculent editors.

You used to see this kind of behavior on social media, and the worst offenders were snotty agents. I don’t know if there are still high-profile agents making sport of the authors and unsolicited manuscripts in their slush piles. There are fewer agents now, perhaps for good reason.

10. This may be the worst one: Plenty of authors betting big on their first book have a romanticized idea of what New York or Toronto can do for them. They think if they get a traditional pub contract, they’re set for life. They won’t have to do a thing but write. Most authors don’t make much, and there are quite a few independent authors who do better financially. Either way, most of the marketing is on you. Some marketing requirements will feel onerous and still come to naught.

Unless you’re a controversial political figure or a hot celebrity, your advance will be lower than it was thirty years ago (and it wasn’t great then.) You may never earn out your advance and get royalties. Promotional opportunities that independent authors routinely use are denied you by traditional publishers. You don’t have the flexibility. If your first book fails to clear the bar, a trad publisher is unlikely to bet on you twice. Organize your own company, editorial team, and marketing, and you’ll get as many kicks on goal as you want.


Trying to negotiate a trad contract? Your publisher will inform you all contracts are boilerplate. Ignore them and have an IP lawyer negotiate for you before you sign your rights away. Nobody’s looking out for you but you. The acquiring editor is not your enemy, but this is the business part, not the art part.

About trad pub transparency: Your advance will come slowly, in stages, and you’ll have to rely on accounting reports from the publisher that obfuscate reality. At best, you’ll find out how your book is doing a couple of times a year, too late to respond in a timely manner.


FULL DISCLOSURE:

I’ve been independent since 2010, but I’m not saying you shouldn’t try your luck, talent, and skill in the traditional publishing arena. I am saying you should go in with your eyes open. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone.

Last year, a NY publisher approached me about submissions. I admit, I was excited. I sent an outline for a thriller. I haven’t heard anything from them since. I would still consider going hybrid, for sure. Any chance to expand my readership is an alluring thing. On the other hand, knowing what I know about all the variables, I’m not into chasing after anyone, either. (Cue Cheap Trick singing, “I Want You to Want Me!”)


BONUS MYTHS:

Some writers believe they are bound to get treated better by a boutique publishing house. At small operations, whoever answers the phone is more likely to know your name. However, a business on the brink is not more likely to treat you better. They don’t have the budget for that. They are more likely to go out of business.

Big versus little isn’t the issue. It’s about the people. It’s nice to work with nice, competent people who love what they do and share a sense of urgency about your work and concerns. But there’s another fly in the ointment. Editorial staffs have been downsized for years in favor of cheaper outsourcing. That editor at Big Publishing House who loved you and your work last year may not be there this year. She’s selling alpacas in Arizona now, and she’s much happier.



~ My next novel launches this September. In the meantime, please do check out links to my killer crime thrillers and apocalyptic epics at AllThatChazz.com.

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Beware the Guru and Groupie Gap

The whole Amazon store went down. It was just for an hour or so, but no one knew what was going on. Probably a little glitch while they performed an update. Some authors checked their profiles and, naturally, assumed it was only their sales page that had transformed into an error page. After all, what seems more likely? The whole store crashing or just a few lowly authors getting it in the shorts? Worried, sweaty, and stressed, a few dared to ask on social media, “What’s going on?” Veteran authors mostly ignored the problem, confident that an army of Amazon techs were on it and would soon set things right. Those at the top of the heap didn’t sweat a drop.

Neither reaction was wrong, or at least, not exactly.

Successful authors sell a lot of books and good on ’em. We all want to be read and appreciated for the sweet gumdrops we are, claiming literary turf, inspiring awe, and whatnot. Those who have “made it” in the monetary sense have a cushion of comfort. They didn’t always enjoy such a margin for error, but they’re secure in their word empires now. Sometimes, safe in their bastions, they forget the stress of being an up-and-comer, a slogger, or a might-be. Masters of their domain often have vast newsletter lists, staggering backlists, connections, and more projects in the editorial pipeline. And Money with a capital M, of course. Sincerely, good for them! Anybody who can gain legions of fans in this environment (Earth) is impressive. A few may need an extra dose of compassion, though, especially when they get overly self-congratulatory about not sweating the small stuff.

No Kale for Kisses

Many moons ago, Amazon paid late. This was and is unusual. Used to receiving my cash infusion on the last day of the month, I was concerned. A reasonable human response, right? I did not panic, but I did make the mistake of posting to an author group about it. I even began the post with, “Nobody panic, but …” I was about to contact Amazon to look into it because, y’know, money. It makes the world go round (or is that love? No, it must be money because my grocer eschews my kisses even if all I want is kale.)

I digress. Back to my post in the author group: Quick as a flash, I got scolded for airing my petty worldly concerns. A fabulously oblivious author, immune to the struggle or forgetful that others may have rent to pay and children to feed, popped on to order me back to work. A delay in payment wouldn’t bring her down to ruin and desperate survival mode, so why worry? She’d just returned from a month-long writing retreat in Bali, so fiddle-dee-dee and fuck me, I guess.

I mention this because you may be an up-and-comer, a slogger, or a might-be. Those who dispense great advice sometimes develop a blind spot with age and experience. What helped them in 2012 may not apply to you. There are many variables, of course. If you don’t share the same genre, for instance. That said, successful people often have fantastic advice and can provide useful models to emulate. Cast a skeptic’s eye everywhere, including here. I’ve got the best of intentions, but how are you to know? I don’t say, “Ignore me at your peril.” I say, “Here’s what I see,” and hope you find value. If not, not.


The point is, when people make it big, they often rewrite their biographies in their heads. They forget how many people helped them along the way. They emphasize their go-getter affirmations and attribute their popularity to a wealth of talent. After the fact, nobody thinks they’re lucky, just hard charging and brilliant. This is a natural occurrence visible in all fields of human endeavor. Bill Gates infamously played down the free contributions of hordes of anonymous programmers in the early era of computing. Donald Trump claimed he got a “small loan” of a million bucks from his dad. (It was much more than $1,000,000.) Studies show BMW drivers are less likely to stop for pedestrians at crosswalks. Test subjects given a distinct advantage in a card game attribute their wins to intelligence and talent and mock other players even though they know they cheated! Humans are weird.

Sometimes, even the best masters fail to show compassion to the problems of those following in their wake. They may become indifferent to the struggles of their students. Those who sell tons of books have more resources than someone closer to the beginning of their writing career, or even mid-career. (Ahem. This is where I sheepishly raise my hand at the back of the class.) If someone who claims mastery has a huge mailing list and you don’t, that’s a gap in resources. Instructing you to announce your launch to your small list won’t be very helpful. Showing you how to develop said list and collaborate with others in advance of your launch would be much more on point.

Old joke: I moved here with nothing, phoned my rich uncle, and he sent me $2,500,000 to start my real estate business. Why can’t you do that?


You may be frustrated because you aren’t where you thought you’d be by now. Please have patience with yourself. Learn all you can from everyone whose strategies make sense to you. As long as being a writer makes you happy, keep going. Enjoy the trip because it’s not all about the destination. Day to day, the fun is found on the page, building stories, filling in plots, discovering characters, and expressing yourself. The static state of being an author is ultimately less important than the magic verb: write!

If you do make it to the summit, please have patience with others. We can’t all see your grand vistas from where we stand on our journey up the mountain, but we are climbing.

Bonus self-care hint: If you confess your honest troubles and someone replies with, “All you’ve got are excuses,” they’ve forgotten themselves. Remember who you are.

~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute. I write apocalyptic epics and killer crime thrillers. You’ll find many entertainments on my author site, AllThatChazz.com. This is the call-to-action part where I ask you to buy all my books. Do click over for the links. Whew! That was awkward, putting it all out on Front Street like that.

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The Honest Get Rich Quick Scheme

Sometimes writers spend so much time writing, they read much less or not at all. Try not to fall into that trap. I was reminded how important it is to make time for both reading and writing recently. Somewhat ironically, the reminder came in the form of a movie.

There aren’t many good movies about writing. Finding Forrester is my go-to, but I found another gem. 84 Charing Cross Road is a plotless yet charming period piece starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins. The 1987 film of Helene Hanff’s book is about her decades-long correspondence with an antiquarian bookseller in London. A writer in New York, she was obsessed with English books that were difficult to obtain. She goes to great lengths to get the old tomes she desires. Bless her.

The movie is less about writing and more about a quirky character and her love affair with books. As the world transforms through the late ’40s to 1971, Hanff smokes, drinks, writes Ellery Queen TV scripts, and reads obsessively. God, I love people who read. Sometimes it feels like they’re an endangered species that should be protected, doesn’t it?

The experience made me long for a time when books were so much more important to the culture and didn’t have to compete with social media and video games. Still, there are readers out there waiting for something special. Maybe your next creation is what they don’t know they’re waiting for.

Often, those movies the masses come to love spring from literature. Maybe getting a book made into a movie is our best shot at riches, but that’s debatable. The book usually has to hit big before a movie gets made years or even decades later. So, what to do? While you’re waiting for fame and fortune to find you…oh, no, I’m kidding. You don’t actually wait for those things that may never come. You gotta go hunting.

Aspiring heavy hitters wade through podcasts and courses about the tactics of segmenting mailing lists to grow their readership. The details of advertising and newsletter marketing aren’t sexy, but the gurus aren’t wrong. I’m annoyed by some of the requirements of modern publishing, especially since Facebook ads can be such a recalcitrant bitch these days. But this is the business side of the art we’re in.

I’m more obsessed with craft than marketing, a position which in today’s media consumption landscape makes me sound stupid and quaint, or at least naive. None of that is true. I’m just a bit tired. Though I’m glad to have received my second vaccine, it knocked the stuffing out of me for a few days.
Now that I’m vertical again, it’s back to the brain tickle business.

In sum, you became a writer for the love of books, so don’t just write them. Reading more will improve your writing, but do it all for the love of books. We may never become wealthy or even recognized, but reading makes our lives richer in the here and now.



~ Get richer in the here and now. I’m Robert Chazz Chute and I write killer crime thrillers (try The Night Man) and apocalyptic epics (read AFTER Life right now!) You’ll find links to all my books on my author site, AllThatChazz.com. And thanks, that’s super cool of you, you sexy undistracted butterfly.

Filed under: movies, publishing, reading, , , , , , , , , , ,

Reading and Writing Distractions


Once upon a time, two of the most recognizable figures were Muhammad Ali and Ernest Hemingway. They could go anywhere in the world, and they would be recognized in the street. You know what Ali was famous for. Hemingway was famous for writing, of course, less so for boxing. Being a savvy multiple streams-of-income author, Papa advertised liquor, too. Since the media revolution, all entertainment and infotainment markets are fractured and fragmented. We went from three TV channels to…how many streaming services are there now? I don’t have enough fingers and toes for high math.

But our problem, Dear Writer, is not just about too many things to track. You’re being tracked. Within the strict parameters of our media consumption algorithms, consumers tend to stay in their lanes. If you’re into K-pop, you’ll be fed more K-pop. If not, not. Data-driven platforms are watching and if you buy one toilet seat, they’ll serve up ads for all the toilet seats, bidets, and cushy tushy accoutrements you ever imagined and never needed.

Which brings me to publishing

There are more choices now and that’s great for everyone except when it’s not. If you dare to seek out the unknown, there’s plenty of it. However, the unknown will tend to remain so to those lucrative masses we dream about reaching when we’re penning a new masterpiece. To earn money writing books instead of some more likely venture, every publishing guru recommends drilling down in your genre. Romance is too broad a category. Mercenary/kidnapping/rescue romance caters to a specific audience. Cultivate that garden and you’ll have less competition and a smaller yet defined audience to seek out, advertise to, and serve. Within those fences, write at least two or three series with on-brand sexy covers and repeat until you’re sick of it, but sick of it on a yacht.

Westerns are out. Weird western gothic love triangles featuring murder by ouija board, a hotshot lawyer/city girl obsessed with maple syrup, a hot illiterate cowboy who sees ghosts, and a tough but tender rodeo clown into bondage? That’s in!

Ahem. These are just examples of drilling down, folks. Don’t jump on these frivolous examples as if it’s the military sci-fi trend kicked off by Chris Fox when he wrote Write to Market in 2016. Many writers didn’t take his advice to research a popular-yet-not-overcrowded genre they enjoy and write for it. They took his research seriously, though, and jumped on the military sci-fi bandwagon. That’s why there are so many covers of spaceship ass on Amazon. (Shout out to the excellent Six Figure Authors Podcast for the spaceship ass reference.)

Meanwhile, if you’re still querying agents, they still don’t know what they want, but like the infamous ruling on pornography, they’ll know it when they see it. They demand to be delighted and each agent has vast swaths of queries they’ll dismiss out of hand with a sneer. Research your agent first so you don’t end up as a sad example they mock to entertain strangers on Twitter. You don’t want to see your manuscript get this hurtful and unprofessional treatment: “Some pathetic creature dared to send me his heartfelt memoir of divorce and the loss of his parents as the Sandwich Generation suffers on! Har-har-har! What an asshole!”

In short, competition is stiff, so choose your targets carefully.

In independent publishing we are no longer subject to gatekeepers and, yes, in most ways there is no better time to be a writer than this moment. Just don’t underestimate the competition for eyeballs. The same distractions that keep you from writing are keeping your potential audience from reading. Gird your loins, guard your mind, write well, and write something that will distract your target audience from their crying babies, eating, and the fact that the world is on fire.

~ Hey, in case you don’t know me, I’m Robert Chazz Chute. I write killer crime thrillers (try The Night Man) and apocalyptic epics (read AFTER Life right now!) You’ll find links to all my books on my author site, AllThatChazz.com. And thanks, that’s super cool of you, you sexy undistracted butterfly.

Filed under: publishing, Writers, writing, writing advice, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

When Everything Falls Apart

10 years of writing and publishing.

To my great surprise, I looked up from my keyboard last night and realized I started Ex Parte Press ten years ago. Wow! That decade went fast! And so many books! Cool! In theory, I’d like to celebrate. However, given the state of the world, I’m not in that sort of mood. I picked up a little bottle of yeast that will not expire until 2022 and said, “Sure, you’ll be alive in a couple of years, but what about me?”

I had such big plans for 2020. We all did. We’re at the halfway mark and, for me, the last six months were a write off. Oh, I often seemed busy. I messed around with some marketing objectives. My tasks, no matter how small, often expanded to the time allotted. There was always more research to do and preparations to make. I did a little of writing here and there, but I didn’t lay down my usual decent word counts. I was out of my writing routine and this Stella could not seem to get his groove back. I completed a book doctoring project for another author at flank speed. It’s often easier to honor our obligations to others than it is to take care of ourselves.

COVID-19 was and remains an enormous distraction. I suffer health anxiety, so I’ve spent a lot of time on issues beyond my control. I’ve washed my hands raw, lost sleep and, at odd hours, pulled out the Lysol wipes to cleanse doorknobs, banisters and…well everything. That’s one form of self-care, but stress management and mental hygiene are important, too.

Past time for a change

I decided it was time to focus on what I can control. My office is a mess and the household chores are overwhelming. Each day, I put something away, recycle, throw something out, or clean something new. We have a quarantine garden so I’m taking care of that. I’ve always regarded gardening as an old man chore, but I was wrong. I get it now. It is calming to grow what you eat, and more interesting than I expected.

I walk as much as I can and, in fear of the ventilator, I have to get my BMI down. I went vegan again and have lost 7 pounds in three weeks so far. As I write this, I’m scheduled to speak with my doctor on Monday morning to talk about some blood test results. That doesn’t help my health anxiety one bit, but I taught relaxation techniques for years. I just have to practice what I preached:

Focus on what you can control.

I’ve become more conscious of how I spend my time and what I think about. Call it mindfulness. When the fear rises, I watch it roll in, as if I’m an outside observer, taking in my reactions instead of wallowing in the anxiety. It’s hard to maintain and I do have my moments. However, by eliminating needless tertiary stress, my anxiety is usually manageable.

And I’m writing again.

I pared down my overly ambitious plans to manageable goals that are time-specific. I haven’t published since Christmas. However, I have two book projects I’m very excited about that are in varying stages of production. One is Crime and Punishment in the middle of an apocalypse. The other is a prequel to This Plague of Days. I hope to have them both out in late fall.

I’ve noticed that since I’ve become more aware and regimented about what I eat, I’m more mindful of everything else. Yes, everything fell apart. It doesn’t have to stay that way. I’m putting it back together and re-engineering it.

I think I’ve proved a well-known rule again:

How you do one thing is how you do everything.

~ If you want to see what I’m eating (and a bunch of other book stuff), follow me on Instagram @robertchazzchute.

Check out my books and subscribe to my author site, AllThatChazz.com.

Filed under: getting it done, pandemic, publishing, the writing life, , , , , , , , , , ,

You need Publisher Rocket

I recently updated my Publisher Rocket software and I highly recommend this tech to give you a sales edge. In the search for appropriate and more profitable keywords, this is the real deal. (Category searches, once deleted, are now back so you can optimize those, too.)

Publisher Rocket quickly gives you an overview of your book’s potential keywords, from number of competitors to income for your chosen keywords. Every time I click “Analyze” it’s a treat to get a peek behind the curtain and see what could work and what definitely won’t. What are readers really searching for? Stop guessing. Publisher Rocket knows.

I’m currently wrapping up my book doctor work on a non-fiction travelogue. Using Publisher Rocket, I tested a bunch of possible keywords. This software gave me great insider information that will help the author optimize their sales. I discovered that “Brazil tourism” and “Patagonia tourism” would be wasted keywords (i.e. no damn money). However, I found four hot keywords that related to horseback riding. There are seven allowable keywords and two categories on Amazon. The keys I found through Publisher Rocket were appropriate for the book and will open the door to greater discoverability by the target market.

Publisher Rocket takes the guesswork out of building your Amazon sales page for your books. If you haven’t downloaded it already, it’s time.

Here’s the link again.*

*No, it’s not an affiliate link. I just thought that if you’re a writer publishing on Amazon, you want and need this advantage.

~ This week, I’ve got a new post up on my author site, AllThatChazz.com. “Every Evil Thing” is about using your history and pain to inform and to fuel your writing. No, I don’t need therapy. You need therapy! I’m not crying, you’re crying!

Check out all my books at AllThatChazz.com, and buy ’em up! Cheers.

Filed under: publishing, , , , ,

A Warning for Writers

I’ve used Google Docs to work with editors and beta readers for most of my books. Not anymore.

In addition to working as a suspense novelist since 2011, sometimes I take on book doctoring projects. I’m collaborating on a paranormal series with the Armand (The Great) Rosamilia and working with Gari Strawn of strawnediting.com on something right now. All of these book projects depend on the use of Google Docs. I got a nasty surprise recently and, if you’re a writer, you need to know about it.

I had just completed my second round of edits on a book project for another author when I discovered that Google docs had failed me. I doubted myself, at first. Then the realization set in: I’d made edits and corrections but the changes I thought were saved came back!

This set off a wave of disappointment, irritation and not a little anxiety. I thought I was nearly done with the project. I’d already pulled my trusty editor, Gari, into the mix. However, the truth could not be denied. We had worked from one master file in Google Docs and we couldn’t trust it anymore.


You can’t trust Google Docs, either.

What to do? What to do? To quote Ed Harris in Apollo 13, “I believe this will be our finest hour.” Gari and the project manager were understanding and supportive, focused on solutions.

I had no choice. I had to switch to an alternative immediately. There are several alternatives to Google Docs. Some are free or have premium options. After reading a recommendation from another book publisher, I decided to try Zoho.

I went with the premium version since I’m managing book projects for myself and others. Fortunately, I could make Gari part of the Ex Parte Press team through the app but the Zoho Writer app is free.

Signing into Zoho, I was a bit frustrated at first. I found the interface a bit clunky and non-intuitive. All I could think about was how I had to get past this problem to meet my deadline. Time was of the essence and I didn’t want to have to deal with a steep learning curve.

Unsure Zoho would be a smooth transition, I tried the free Microsoft’s free online platform. They needed confirmation that I wasn’t a robot so I clicked the button for them to send an email confirmation to activate my free subscription. That email never came. Neither did the text to my phone. While I was waiting or Microsoft to get their act together, I figured out Zoho.

Zoho wasn’t so bad after I did a little bit of checking, experimenting, and googling. Perhaps my initial disorientation was because I was so used to Google Docs. Zoho isn’t terribly expensive for the power user, but it is a primarily a business application. That means it has the mojo for major collaboration, but it’s not built with writers and publishers in mind. (To be fair, neither was Word. Plenty of people used Track Changes in the old days. I always hated Track Changes. Reading those little red squiggles, I thought I’d go blind.)

Because of its orientation toward formal communications in the business world, Zoho’s correction engine throws up a lot of flags you won’t need. It’ll question contractions, for instance. Possessives, like “parent’s house” got a squiggle under it, too. I wish Zoho was integrated with Grammarly. It’s not. If I could make one change, that would be it.

For comments and collaboration, Zoho is better than Google Docs and Word. You’ll get a lot of false positive flags of foreign words, for instance, but at least the notations are clear and easy to resolve. If you leave the browser too long, you’ll have to reload, but reloading is quicker than Google Docs. I found the application was much faster, allowing me to bounce around the document.

There are other alternatives besides Zoho you could choose. (Here’s a link to alternatives to Google Docs.)

Whatever you choose, be aware that the changes you make in Google Docs may revert or fail to save. You could lose a lot of time and effort that way. I sure did. This setback came late in our editing workflow, so I’ll be pulling all-nighters through to the end of June to get back on track.

Fair warning.

~ You write books. Do you read them, too? I recommend that. I recommend you read my books. I’m a suspense novelist who writes apocalyptic epics and killer crime thrillers. Check out the glories and a whole lotta whatnot on my author site, AllThatChazz.com.

Looking for more work/life balance? Me, too. More of that on today’s post about the writing life, how I’m battling insomnia, losing weight (and winning).

Filed under: Books, Editing, Editors, getting it done, publishing, writing, writing tips, , , , , , ,

Should Writers Double Back?

I’ve been thinking a lot about how things change. Before the pandemic, I would eat up book publishing podcasts like a fat guy scarfing down fudge donuts. I had to retreat for a while before I could move forward again. Dark paths through the woods are like that sometimes. I’ll get back to those podcasts, but I had other things to do for a while, like wonder when COVID was coming to kill me and losing sleep over nightmares of talking panthers (which were also trying to kill me). Not a joke. Happened last night. Talking panthers with green teeth are unnerving.

A few other things have changed (besides permanently giving up on writing at a coffee shop).

  1. My first anthology was Self-help for Stoners. I’d won a bunch of short story contests and SHFS was my first self-publishing experiment. I had a few dry runs before I figured out the publishing process. Inspired by director Kevin Smith and Joe Rogan, I dedicated that book to them. I’ve met Kevin and he could not have been sweeter. He liked the book, too. However, his movies over the last few years have disappointed me. The guy who broke into Hollywood with the clever writing in Clerks has fallen into reiterating his cult films now. Red State was okay, but that was 2011. He can’t get back to doing anything as compelling as Chasing Amy or as original as Dogma. Creatively, he’s stuck in park. That’s less inspiring.

    As for Rogan, I used to listen to all his podcasts. Now I listen when he interviews a scientist. My politics don’t jive with many of his guests and he sometimes spreads misinformation. I’m more a past fan than a current enthusiast. He also gives Alex Jones way too much rope. This is not me “cancelling” Joe Rogan. He’s got the most successful podcast on the planet and who gives a shit what I think? The point is, were I to write that book today, he wouldn’t be included in the acknowledgments. Things change.

    Note: If you’re looking for a thoughtful and funny podcast where the hosts listen to Alex Jones so you don’t have to, I recommend Knowledge Fight. They break down his claims in humane and surprisingly serious ways that show how deeply that man needs help.
  2. When I began writing This Plague of Day’s back in 2009, Aspergers was among the preferred nomenclature. Now “on the spectrum” seems generally preferred (though individuals on the spectrum have their personal preferences, of course). I would say and write “on the spectrum” now. Diagnoses of autism have such a wide range of implications. What it means for the individual and their families is a vast continuum. On the spectrum is perfect in the diversity the phrase reflects. I wasn’t ahead of the curve on the vocabulary a decade ago. This is not an apology. It’s an acknowledgment that I do not own a time machine.

    On the plus side, I have heard a lot of positive feedback from many readers on the spectrum. They and their families appreciate that I touched on the issues of diagnosis, labels, and the varied coping skills possessed by parents, siblings, and caregivers. It’s a very small part of a huge zombie apocalypse trilogy, but since the protagonist is on the spectrum, those issues came up naturally. The mother and father did not deal with their son identically, but I portrayed their viewpoints sensitively. I know that because everybody loves the mute hero of the apocalypse, Jaimie Spencer. Despite their differences, nobody hates his parents or sister, either.
  3. Since I wrote This Plague of Days, health professionals have largely changed how they feel about masks, too. Years ago, I served in healthcare and was part of a meeting about planning for the emergency measures we’re dealing with right now. The expert advice was different then. Hell, the expert advice was different at the beginning of this year! Remember when massive global pandemics that affected everyone were a thing of the past? Good times.

    The consensus when I wrote TPOD was that, due to moisture in the breath, a mask did not protect the user after about 20 minutes because the barrier would soon be compromised. Look around now! You can’t get into a Costco without a mask and you know what? I’ve changed, too. I accepted the new expert advice readily and wear a mask whenever I venture out beyond the walls of my blanket fort. Not that I get out often. I stay put unless my mission to the Badlands is essential.

    Is there a next step?

    The logical question is: Should I go back and revise history to fit the present day? First, the blanket refusal, then the nuance.

    In my current circumstances, I have neither the time, energy, resources or bandwidth to go backward. So no, I won’t be combing through huge books I wrote a decade ago to ensure they vibe with a tiny number of people who might choose to be graceless in their reading. However, I am writing a prequel to This Plague of Days so I will update what I can in the new book.

    I would need a really good reason to double back. Besides, would I have to change it when the medical vocabulary changes again? The nuanced answer is: possibly. If I live long enough for words to be too far outdated, I would consider editing again if I had the capacity to do so. I never used it, but as a for instance, the term idiot savant used to be common parlance. That is unfortunate. So is the misuse and offensive use of the word retarded. I have not used that term unless I’m talking about fire prevention.

    In any case, I doubt I’ve written anything worthy of cancelling me. Might someone on the planet be offended? Of course. This isn’t my first day on the internet. What alarms me about some outlying readers is their demand that a fictional character’s experience reflect their own reality identically. That’s simply not possible and, not for nothin’, I’m writing entertaining novels aimed at making a splash and a wide appeal, not a boring biography for each reader.

    (Hint: Some ghost writers get paid big bucks to write those biographies for no one to read.)

    I do my best to get details right, of course. Authenticity in the contextual nitty-gritty provides the thrust and lift that allows the more fantastic aspects of a narrative to fly. There is also creativity and artistic license. One rather condescending reviewer gave me high marks creatively, but berated me for not using real street names. She suggested I was lazy. I’d named her city and she demanded it be represented accurately.

    To which I say:

    Fuck, no. Yes, of course I know what Google Maps is. I made conscious choices for good reasons which became apparent later in the series. With my artistic license, I can drive anywhere. No kibitzing from the cheap seats is required. She’s entitled to her opinion, but I don’t write novels by committee. I wouldn’t have been offended, but it stuck in my craw that it wasn’t a casual reader calling me lazy. It was another author. I’m sure she knows what artistic license is, so I guess that leaves being bossy.

    As for Kevin and Joe

    I used to like what they did so much more. I might again. I don’t think they’re bad people and everybody gets to like what they like. I expect others to show some grace, so I’ll aspire to transcendence, too. The dedication stays. They don’t inspire me now, but they did. They might do so again.

    Everybody ease up. We’ve all got enough to worry about. I’m really focused on trying not to die right now.

    ~ Feeling existential dread? Need a break? How about a rallying cry for some positive societal upheaval? I recorded a story from my anthology All Empires Fall. It’s called The Face of Victory and you can listen to my reading of it on my author site, AllThatChazz.com.

Filed under: COVID19, publishing, Rant, updates, writing, writing advice, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

Available now!

Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

Action like a Guy Ritchie film. Funny like Woody Allen when he was funny.

Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

You can pick this ebook up for free today at this link: http://bit.ly/TheNightMan

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