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

Write and publish with love and fury.

Writers: On Confidence

I just listened to a Tim Ferriss podcast with designer Debbie Millman. Good Q&A about designing our lives.  One of the takeaways for me was about confidence. Ms. Millman interviewed many successful people. She encountered only two who didn’t feel like impostors teetering on the precipice of defeat. The confident pair were octogenarians with long records of success. For everyone else, success is a moving target, ephemeral and slippery.

If you don’t feel successful, it’s okay. Even after you have some measure of success, chances are good you won’t feel big enough for your britches even then. On the other hand, I have run into individuals who are stunningly confident. They’re probably deluded examples of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. According to Wikipedia:

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which low-ability individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability as much higher than it really is.

From my experience, the people in publishing who sound most sure of world domination are novices. They tend to look at book publishing as a lottery and they’re a little too positive they’ve got the winning ticket with their first book.

The veterans have seen more failure so they aren’t betting on one book. They tend to look at each book as a journey, an exploration and an experiment. They also tend to look back on earlier efforts with some measure of regret: the writing that could have been improved upon or marketing mistakes were committed. More experienced authors appear more laid back about whether something hits. Even as they do a lot of smart things that make a heavy ROI more likely, they’re sanguine. They keep on producing. They don’t get sucked into review rages, shame spirals, bravado or defensiveness.

As a writer, it’s nice to have confidence but it’s not necessary. Do the work and enjoy the process more. Writing is its own reward first. Turning readers into fans is a separate thing, very different from facing the page and spinning out gold ink. 

Don’t worry about how much self-assuredness you possess or how little you’ve yet to earn. Confidence is a big soft pillow. It feels good until the stuffing gets knocked out of it. 

Just write.

~ I write science fiction, urban fantasy, apocalyptic epics and crime thrillers. Please do check out my books and podcasts on my author site, AllThatChazz.com.

 

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Filed under: authors and money, publishing, Writers, writing, writing advice, , , , , ,

How to keep moving forward.

My wife, She Who Must Be Obeyed, deals with a lot of sad, difficult and traumatic situations in her noble work. She helps a lot of people but it’s not easy. To combat the downside, she keeps what she calls a perk file. That’s where she holds on to commendations and thank you letters from those she has helped. Writers should have a similar file.

As an author, you will have disappointments. It’s inevitable. As I wrote in a post below (The Writer’s Curse) we are imaginative and therefore perpetually dissatisfied. Copy and paste your fave reviews to a special file for those dark days to come. When the disappointments arise, reread those five star reviews and fan letters. Cherish them and keep going.

I’ve often thought about quitting, especially when I’m overwhelmed. (Quitting isn’t always a bad idea, either. More on that in a coming post.) I did stop writing completely for almost five years. Those were not good years. For me, the dissatisfaction of not writing is worse than the bad writing days.

This week, a reader reminded me why it’s important to keep going. Stories are powerful. I replied, thanking her for being a reader, of course, but her letter is too important an inspiration not to share with fellow writers. She wrote:

Dear Robert Chazz Chute,

I read zompoc because I need to read something that takes me away from my reality – a genetic condition that slowly transformed the woman who could turn somersaults in mid-air to the woman in a wheelchair.
Fortunately,my sense of humour is intact.
Friends, family and NHS have stuck with me, so I’m lucky compared to most disabled people.
And the connection with This Plague of Days?
It distracted me from my pain – always present unless I’m asleep.
Yep. Stories are that powerful.
Even when they’re stories about unrelenting terror.
This Plague of Days is an epic piece of writing.
But you know that already.
I just felt like telling you that I know that too.
And thank you for writing something that set me free, for a while.

~ I am Robert Chazz Chute and I am often sad. I get misty reading this letter, but in a good way. I am less sad this week thanks to this reader. You can check out all my stuff at AllThatChazz.com, or just read and reread this letter to get inspired to write something epic that distracts readers from their pain. Distracting us from pain is, I think, what it’s all about.

Now I’m off to write more. Thanks again, to all the readers.

Filed under: All That Chazz, publishing, Writers, writing, writing advice, writing tips, , , , ,

Writers: Who influences you?

NEW THL COVER JAN 2015 COMPLETE

FYI: Grab your free dark fantasy and a free crime novel here. The Haunting Lessons is free today and tomorrow only!


Everything that has ever happened to us goes into our books. Every slight and terrible vengeance, real or imagined, gets poured in. Here are some of my influences:

1. During a podcast, the guest talked about the Hagakure, the book of the Samurai. It had been a long time since I’d read it, but as soon as he mentioned it, I knew I had an empty place for that puzzle piece in the next book in the Ghosts & Demons Series.

2. When John Cleese was a guest on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Jon mentioned the Choir Invisible. Besides being a funny sketch and a great poem, the reference set off fireworks in my mind. The Choir Invisible became a complex secret society that fights evil in The Haunting Lessons. (We don’t read enough poetry anymore, by the way. Lyricism seeps into our writing when we drink enough of it.)

3. William Goldman, author of The Princess Bride (among many other wonderful novels and screenplays) always catches the reader by surprise. When you are sure what is going to happen next? That’s when he’s got you. I love that. I do that. It makes plot development a joy and dares you to stop turning pages, even when it’s late and you have to be at work early in the morning.

4. I studied The Divine Comedy in school. When you’re writing about demons and the fight between good and evil (or bad and evil), a quote from the classics slipped into the narrative makes for a big moment that adds to the depth of the atmosphere I want to achieve in a key scene.

5. I loved the action in Mickey Spillane novels. Film is definitely in the mix, as well. When I’m writing the Hit Man Series, Quentin Tarantino, the Coen brothers and Guy Ritchie are never far away.

6. Stephen King’s structural devices from The Stand and It went into This Plague of Days. Chuck Palahniuk’s appreciation for the macabre is in all the horror. Contextualizing the bizarre with the weird and real is a lesson learned from The X Files.

7. As a disappointed humanist, I want to be Kurt Vonnegut. Not the writer per se, but the man. If I ever release my time travel novel, he’s in the mix in a big way. I miss him.

8. When I’m writing action and suspense, Skrillex, Eminem and Everlast are playing in the background. Visceral goes with viscera. A steady diet of standup comedy balances out the blood. The path between horror and humor can be a knife edge. 

9. Fight scenes and sex scenes: draw on experience and each variety of conquering and surrender is all the more delicious.

10. Director Kevin Smith and comic Joe Rogan inspired me to write my first book, Self-help for Stoners. Chasing that dream long into the night continues to keep me going in the face of adversity.

I write original books (if it can be said there is such a thing.) However, we all have our artistic ancestry. What’s yours? What do you recommend?

~ FYI, one more time: The Haunting Lessons is free today and tomorrow and my first crime novel, Bigger Than Jesus, is also free everywhere. Hit AllThatChazz.com now for the links.

Bigger_Than_Jesus_Cover_for_Kindle

Filed under: Books, Writers, writing, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Authors: Give success a try, but don’t let it spoil you.

I love talking to people on the way up. Striving for excellence, many authors manage to stay humble and helpful and fun to be around. Nobody knows everything yet and, contrary to what you’ve been told, not walking around in God’s presence is easy on the nerves. Then there are those who think they are gods on Earth.

1. My son was sick on the day a popular author came to his school. The kid was disappointed that he was too ill to attend so, while on a Kleenex box run, I went to the school in search of an autograph for him. The author’s mood could best be described as pissy. He’d visited too many elementary schools and he obviously felt the event was beneath him. He had forgotten what it was like to aspire to his position.

Suggestion: Remember when you imagined one of the perks of authorship was signing a book and inspiring a young reader? If you’re not happy to be where you are, do what everyone in retail does: fake it and smile or don’t do it.

2. When an author is on the way up, he or she hasn’t lost the common touch. The struggles they face are challenges everyone can relate to. When those problems change, some superstars feel they are beyond your questions and bored of the answers. 

Suggestion: Condescension isn’t cool. Kindness is the heavyweight champ who beats the shit out of Condescension every time. If you can’t be nice, Shutting Up can win, too.

3. Some people make so many sales they assume everything they do is gold. (This malady often afflicts those who make too few sales, as well.) It may give solace to know that you don’t have to be a great writer to sell a lot of books. Some people are better marketers than they are writers. Depending on your sales dashboard, that fact may annoy you, too. 

Suggestion: Don’t break your arm slapping yourself on the back. Not in public. That sort of self-congratulatory bravado is only for the people who love you. Maybe not even then.

4. I know of an author who got into a business relationship where he’s the senior partner. He’s very public about this mentoring relationship. He never lets anyone forget he’s The Man making the genius moves. The way he talks about his junior partner humiliates her. Someday soon the student will tire of being treated like a dumb child and she shall slay her master. 

Suggestion: To the master? Continue being a self-aggrandizing dick. I don’t like you. To the underling? Use a sharp blade. When your moment comes, do not hesitate, young samurai. Soon you shall be ronin, free and making your own way.

5. “What if I were to try __________?” asked the young padawan.

“No,” the Jedi said. “That strategy is not for you. It is beyond you. I’m doing that this year, but don’t you try it.”

As the young padawan walked away, head down and embarrassed, he had to wonder if the Jedi was just trying to cut down on the competition.

Suggestion: Successful people inspire others. Discouraging others detracts from success. People remember how you made them feel. Keep reminding everyone how important you are and eventually there won’t be enough sycophants left to buy you that yacht you bragged about.

Many successful people manage to speak of their achievements with grace. 

Look to those who credit luck as well as strategy. I really like people who talk with me. I avoid people who speak down to me. When I feel the need to punch, I always punch up, not down.

The good news is, though it sucks to be a failure, we can always choose to be good people. The bad news is that you may succeed and become a bad person. Beware.

And, please, aspire to inspire.

Filed under: authors, book signings, Books, robert chazz chute, Writers

Writers and Writing 2015: Everything is Awful Edition

Everywhere you look, it seems we’re entering 2015 under a dark cloud. In many ways, 2014 kind of sucked. Tales from the torture report and numerous shootings seemed to reinforce my chronically disappointed view of humanity…but let’s talk publishing and tackle what we can handle.

Yes, publishing news sucked, too.

The VAT has come in. If I sold much in European markets, I’d be upset about it. Almost all my book revenue comes from the US, so it’s a shrug for now and a worry for later in my case. There’s a lot of Chicken Littling going on, and even a guru or two saying indies will be begging to get trad contracts again. 

Before I go on, I want to burn a straw man argument. There’s a lot of nyaa-nya, nya-nyaa-nya about how Amazon isn’t so great anymore because Kindle Unlimited (KU) devalues books etc. The forces behind the gloating (“Do you still love Amazon now that they’ve proven they aren’t your fairy godmother?”) are arguing with ghosts. Our love for Amazon was always conditional, so chill.

Let me clear a few things up from the indie side about our prospects in 2015:

1. Amazon has grown progressively less attractive to some authors. True. I’m one of them. However, some authors report they are doing better since KU came in. Let’s calm down and evaluate on a case by case basis. Running from Amazon might not be for you even though it may be right for big sellers who aren’t selling so big anymore. KU might still serve you if you aren’t so well known and if you write short.

2. When we defended Amazon, it was because that’s where we made money. It was a business decision, just  as the decision to leave exclusivity with Amazon is a business decision now. The straw man screams we either have to love or hate Amazon’s terms. Appreciate the nuance because it’s more complex than that. Look at your numbers and consider how you feel about Kindle Unlimited’s limited payoff before you make your move.

3. KDP Select versus the other platforms is still not a binary choice. I’ll keep some books exclusive to Amazon for a time. Not all of them. Not forever. I’ve been migrating a few books to other platforms as they come out of Amazon exclusivity. That will continue. My debuts will go to Amazon, but I won’t be clicking the auto-renewal button. After 90 days, most books will be everywhere. It’s got to be strategic, not a panic.

4. Just because Amazon isn’t paying off as well as it did does not mean the other sales platforms have improved. Can you name a single recent innovation the other platforms have come up with that benefits writers? Any new discovery tools over there? No? Waiting for Amazon to devolve isn’t a proactive strategy.

5. Considerations: I’m pulling many of my books out of exclusivity because of Kindle Unlimited. Though I get new borrows all the time, I’ve written a lot of long books and who knows how long it will take readers to get around to getting past 10% on my big books? KDP and KU exclusivity, in my case, seems increasingly a place for top of sales funnel projects (i.e. prequels, short stories and novellas.)

Add a call to action to short works to help readers find the longer books. Serials appear to be gaining popularity among writers again since KU came along. I serialized This Plague of Days, but some readers get awfully confused about serials and I don’t want to have to do it again if I can avoid it. I’d rather sell the TPOD Omnibus. Serialization is an option, but the tools to make it work better are not honed. 

6. Corollary: Kindle Unlimited pays horribly, but we may not actually be losing as many sales as we think. I suspect there are book buyers and there are KU users who are into free and super cheap books. Two groups. No one knows for sure how much that Venn diagram overlaps, but my guess is many KU users tended to get their books from libraries, not bookstores, before Kindle Unlimited became available. Nothing wrong with book borrowers and library users, but I can’t afford to subsidize the lending program anymore. I believe that exclusivity is hurting me too much and I hate the uncertainty of the KU payment, so I’m getting out.

7. Caveat: To harken back to point #4, since it’s so important, the fight for dominance is between what we can gain from all the other sales platforms versus what losses we attribute to Amazon’s exclusivity and Kindle Unlimited. So far, my experiments on other platforms have convinced me they really need to develop better discovery tools. When I have to use two searches to find my own books? Ye gods! Apple sucks at discovery.

I’ve said this so many times in this space: I look forward to the other platforms developing better sales strategies and discovery tools. I want to upload my books with some confidence that Amazon’s competitors will do better for me than Kindle Unlimited’s lousy pay. When one alternative book sales platform, an innovator and leader, can show me the effort is there, I’ll be shouting their praises on this blog.

8. What’s next for indies in 2015? I suspect a new platform will emerge or one of Amazon’s competitors will offer a strong alternative. I’m not betting on Smashwords to do it. I’m thinking Alibaba.

9. What else is new(ish)? I’m not impressed by interactive books at all. I want to choose my own music to read by and all that tech takes me out of the reading experience, especially if they perfect it. That’s crap.

Early adopters and smarter indies will diversify with audiobooks and translations. Indies will found more partnerships to put out more books. Author collectives will pool resources for closer “coopetition.” I’m in one cooperative for a book project with eight authors in 2015, for instance. Working together, we’ll be a huge marketing force. Cooperatives can work in lots of ways. Most of us can’t afford even a cheap virtual assistant, but several authors working together could.

You will also see more pen names crop up as indies, desperate to chase hotter genres, will abandon what they thought they wanted to write for what might pay better. Some will sell their souls chasing that kite. Others will discover that good writing is always about the writing, not the subject matter. They may even grow to love the genre they feel was forced upon them.

Direct sales are a good idea for the few with a huge mailing list, but it won’t come to fruition for any but a few in 2015. Now’s the time to build your mailing list. Several years ago was a much better time to do that, so whip out that time machine, kill Hitler, then zip forward and build your mailing list in 2008. No time machine? Set up your Mailchimp account, put a pop up plug-in for a sign up on your blog and offer readers something really sweet to get them to sign up. It’s very difficult to get people to give up their email addresses, so make that lure with extra fudge.

Those of us who have ignored print sales will capitulate and get print editions up beside the ebooks. I’m finally printing Murders Among Dead Trees and Hollywood Jesus this week and there’s more to come in print. I typically only move a few print copies here and there, though Self-help for Stoners sold 72 copies in print in December. If nothing else, the print price makes our ebook prices look better.

10. Indies will not run to traditional publishing any more than they have in the past. Despite the hoopla, ebook growth has not stopped. It’s slowed from a pace it couldn’t possibly sustain. Amid the growing pains of any new tech experience and the cyclical shifts and bumps that are inherent in any young industry, we’re still better off keeping 70% of the profits and retaining our rights forever. As bad as things appear for us, unless it’s a sweetheart deal no one else is getting and you’re allergic to entrepreneurship, staying independent is still better than most alternatives.

That said, I think there will be more hybrid deals. I’ll be in an anthology in 2015, but the publisher is friendly and forward-thinking. These hybrid deals will be short term with small stakes and indies will generally accept them to boost their self-published works. Traditional publishers will dump their non-compete clauses, too. In fact, that’s already happening as some houses already recognize new deals won’t happen if they insist on draconian contract clauses. Non-compete clauses aren’t compatible with the current landscape, as challenging as it can be. More indies want to make a living from writing and, through ebooks, have been doing so at a greater rate than their traditionally published counterparts. Yes, things kind of suck for indie authors right now, but accepting abysmal terms from a trad house that pays pennies on net, would definitely suck.

Am I optimistic for 2015?

No, that’s not in my nature. But optimism and pessimism don’t really matter. Assessment, adaptability and strategy matter on the marketing side of this business or any other.

On the writing side?

I have to keep writing. It keeps me out of jail. I’ll keep writing no matter what. You will, too. We have an infection and that writing rash sure is itchy, isn’t it? 

~ Robert Chazz Chute is a suspense and dark fantasy novelist who is funnier and nicer than he seems in this post. Blame the headache. 

HaUNTING (6)

Filed under: author platform, ebooks, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sanity: Another reason to write more books

Do you ever feel like you’re reaching for success and someone is slapping your hand? Does every Monday feel like Thwart Day?

I just had one of those days that drains energy. I read a review from a guy who apparently thinks I believe in the supernatural because I often write about it. (Fiction, people! Fiction!) A cop stopped me today. He was unnecessarily dickish. That put me in a dark mood. I haven’t been feeling great so I had to go for some medical tests. A nurse was in a panic over my paperwork and apparently trying to panic me, too. I’ve got a big birthday coming up which I’m not excited about. I feel pressure. Sometimes, despite my big plans, it seems time is running out and the news for indie authors seems to be all whoa and woe at the moment.

Therefore, it’s not time to give up.

It’s time to put the hammer down (because I was thinking of doing terrible things with that hammer) and remember what’s working. To review:

This Plague of Days OMNIBUS (Large)

I got this letter today:

“This Plague of Days, Omnibus Edition was awarded an Honorable Mention for Writer’s Digest’s Self-Published e-Book Awards in Genre.”

Whoo. Also? Hoo!

Check out the Top 100 Kindle Short from my coauthor Holly Pop

Check out the Top 100 Kindle Short from my coauthor Holly Pop

I’m collaborating with several authors and a publisher in 2015. The first was Holly (Pop) Papandreas, author of Ouija

We wrote The Haunting Lessons. In this fun and dark fantasy, a girl from Iowa discovers she has amazing capabilities. The world is a richer and more dangerous place than she ever imagined. Parts of it may remind you of This Plague of Days, but the tone is lighter and the pace is lightning quick. Don’t miss out on 81 lessons to survive Armageddon. I like you and I want you to live.

Just released for Christmas reading!

Just released for Christmas reading!

My friend and author of Butterfly Stitching, Sher Kruse, has invited me to participate in a non-fiction anthology.

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More on that in 2015.

I’ll be contributing to a horror anthology for a publisher and working with another author friend of mine on a secret book project to take paranormal readers by storm. I also have big plans for several books in the Ghosts and Demons Series, a big standalone book and more Hit Man books.

It’s been a big building year for me. I put together six books in 2014, so Mom and Dad will have to take back those accusations that I’m too lazy to live. 

PLAYBOOK COVER FINAL
It’s so fun and gritty and fast, I’m very happy with Hollywood Jesus, the third adventure in the Hit Man Series. The John Leguizamo joke alone makes it for me!

"Perhaps the most underrated crime novel of all time." ~ Robert Chazz Chute

“Perhaps the most underrated crime novel of all time.” ~ Robert Chazz Chute

 

And, maybe best of all, I wrote my criminal autobiography!

That's one adorable bear holding that bloody knife.

That’s one adorable bear holding that bloody knife.

And I’m part of the Horror Within Box Set with some very heavy hitters in horror fiction.

Horror Within Box Set

In other words, it’s been a productive year. It seems I have a lot to live for, after all. I can’t wait to get more of my ebooks into print, too. So stay busy. It will keep you out of trouble. Works for me. When you’re feeling down, write another book. That’s what I do. I’m all nerves a lot of the time, obviously. Writing soothes me and keep me from acting on impulses to hammer things.

Writing works that way for many people. Writing or reading, I hope you find escape, as I do, in imagination.
Merry Christmas.

If you had mixed feelings about 2014, let’s make 2015 better, hm?

Filed under: author platform, Horror, publishing, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What Birdman got right (and what it says about writing books)

If you haven’t seen Birdman, starring Michael Keaton and Edward Norton, you’ll find no spoilers here. It’s a very unusual film and there is a lot to love in it, not least of which is the cinematography. It’s also one of those rare films I’ll need to see again before I can figure out how much I like it.  Today, I want to talk about what I loved (and how it might apply to writers and books.)

1. The movie is a tutorial in acting without self-consciousness.

Many of us are too self-conscious to try something bold in our writing. That’s too bad, I think. I like bold choices in books. The expected is too ordinary and easy. The expected is…expected. You’ll also love the instruction on the power of motivation, emotion and brevity.

2. The film is comfortable with ambiguity.

As much as I enjoyed the summer romp that was Guardians of the Galaxy, there was no need to discuss it by the time we got to the parking lot. Birdman leaves so much ambiguity, you’ll find a lot of people arguing over clues in the film. What happened and what did it all mean? That could irritate you, or you could decide it’s finally a film worthy of discussion.

3. Birdman is working on several levels.

You can take it for what it is or you can take it for what it might be and, no doubt about it, this is a story that demands some patience from its audience if they decide to try to decode it. I like books that are doing one thing while you think they’re doing something else. That’s the rich depth I look for in my reading and writing, no matter how superficial an entertainment you might expect. (For instance, shocker: This Plague of Days is less about zombies and more about you.)

4. Birdman is Art (capital A) that defines its audience.

If you’re an optimist, you’re going to want to interpret the story one way. If you’re a pessimist, you may have less fun in the movie but you’ll enjoy the discussion over coffee after the movie.

5. Pop culture references.

The movie is front loaded with some contemporary references that are pretty funny. The movie isn’t afraid to define itself by a particular time with those pop culture references. Publishers have long run screaming from books with such references for fear readers won’t get it and the book will be dated too fast. Here’s what I’ve found (especially from feedback about my crime novels): Lots of readers love pop culture references and readers don’t scare off so easily when you’re showing them a good time. Will it get dated? No. That’s just a label and what you call a thing is not the thing. (Don’t buy that? Okay. How about this: eventually, everything is a period piece.)

6. The movie talks a lot about what it means to make Art and struggle with commerce.

What we all do as artists is kind of a brave thing to do. Maybe not storming-the-beaches-at-Normandy brave, but we’re taking risks and putting ourselves out there. It’s nice to see that affirmed somewhere instead of mocking entertainment as an effete thing to do when you could be out drinking and brawling or doing nothing. I believe Art matters. So does Birdman.

7. The movie criticizes and acknowledges the power of social media.

That’s surprisingly evenhanded and grounds for more discussion about what matters and how to get to what matters. Many of us are divided on the power of Twitter and the distracting lure of YouTube. I don’t think the answer is an either/or binary, so, through the ranting, the movie has a very thoughtful core.

8. Any artist will appreciate the critique of the role of the critic: how easy, risk-free and shallow it can be.

I heard a couple of professional critics mock this aspect of Birdman. Clearly, they weren’t listening closely or their egos got in the way. Whatever else you may dislike about this film, if you’ve written a book, you’ll love that exchange.

9. Birdman is, in part, about legacy and relevance and striving.

We can all relate to that, can’t we? If you can’t, get out. You’re taking a squat in my church.

10. By turns, Birdman looks like a French art film somebody dragged you to in college, one of those movies only film students pretend to like while they’re really thinking about Star Wars.

Then Birdman does something different. In other words, if it were a book, it would be cross-genre. It’s a film that isn’t easy to categorize and define. Therefore, it’s harder to sell. They made it anyway.

Filmgoers have been crying out for films that are refreshing and different. Audiences have been moaning at Hollywood for years, “Oh, for God’s sake, give us something besides another empty sequel and come up with an original thought!” Well, you asked for it and Birdman is what the answer to that request looks like.

You know what? I take it back. Now that I’ve written this list, I can see it now. I did like Birdman a lot. I think I might love it.

 

Filed under: movies, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

#NaNoWriMo: How to make writing a novel easier than it looks

I write drafts for my novels at a rate of 1,000 words per hour. I can string more of those hours together if I plan ahead with a general outline, but I usually pants it rather than plot it. 

I think of my writing time in terms of word count and hours. Here’s why:

When I wrote This Plague of Days, I didn’t think in terms of hours then. I didn’t budget my time or work to a word count like it was a job. I just put my head down and wrote and revised many times, stealing time here and there without a real schedule. I can’t tell you how long it took to write that epic saga because I went through so many revisions. Also, because my approach was haphazard, I wrote slower then. Though I worked from an outline, the project took longer than it could have.

I was buying into the meme that slow cooker writing was the only way, despite Stephen King’s suggestion that three months ought to do it (and look at the size of his books!) If I wrote that series now, the first draft would take about 300 hours of actual writing time. That’s less impressive than saying it took me years to write TPOD, but it’s more accurate.

(By the way, I just found out the This Plague of Days, Omnibus Edition has advanced to the second round in the Writer’s Digest Self-published Ebook Awards! Yay!)

When someone says it took them two years to write their first novel, that’s not true.

Two years equals 17,531.62 hours, including time spent sleeping, showering, goofing off, playing with children and pets and holding down a job, and procrastinating etc. Authors can write as fast or as slow as they’d like and each process is unique. However, there is no direct correlation between speed of production and quality. In fact, for the first draft, quality is nigh irrelevant.

Quality comes with subsequent drafts.

I find most of the jokes in the second revision and the plot problems to be fixed become clearer by the third revision.

Take NaNoWriMo, for example…

I’m planning 55,000 words for my current WIP. That means 55 hours for the first draft this month. As my current schedule allows, I’ll be done well before the NaNoWriMo deadline as long as I continue to protect my writing time.

Fifty-five hours sounds much less intimidating and more realistic, doesn’t it? What’s one work week to you? Forty-four hours? I approach my writing like a job. It’s a job I love, but there’s no waiting around for inspiration to come to me. I hunt inspiration down. Inspiration and efficiencies are habits learned by writing more and doing so consistently.

Sometimes the best laid plans go awry.

For my crime novel, Intense Violence, Bizarre Themes, I’d planned on looking for the exit to the book around 50,000 words and topping out at 55,000 words. It took me an extra 17,000 words to wrap it up neatly at 67,000 words. Still, 67 hours to a first draft sounds like much less drama than saying it took me a month. That’s just 16.7 hours per week to come up with a first draft. (For a while in the ’90s, that’s about as much time as I committed to watching television.)

I’d give you a measurement of editing and revision times if I had them, but that varies too widely depending on the book. For instance, I’m putting my time travel novel on hold because I’m not happy enough with it yet to release it. I’ll come back to it in 2015. However, I expect to have my current WIP out in time for Christmas (assuming I still love it when I’m done.) 

Write as slow as you want to or as fast as you can. It doesn’t have to be a job. Hobbies are good, too, so write at the pace you choose.

My point is, we don’t have to be drama kings and queens about the writing process. When you hear of writers putting out a lot of books fast, that’s not really quite as hard as many would lead you to believe. Writing is a time management issue first. The other skills required come into play after we commit to investing the hours.

But it can’t be good because it was written too fast!

Writers who cherish writing slowly have my utmost respect until they insist others write at their pace (and many people write much faster than I do.)

On the Road, Casino Royale, The Gambler, A Clockwork Orange, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and As I Lay Dying were written in less than six weeks. I wonder if any of those famous books were actually written in less time than that if the authors had tracked their hours.

Fast writers manage fear because they think about each book project in terms of a formula:

Word count goals + hours x perspiration (divided by distraction)

Prolific writers manage their time, that’s all. No drama. Inspiration usually arrives at the keyboard at about the same time we do.

Write. Revise. Edit. Enjoy throughout. (Now don’t tell anyone how easy it is to get to big word counts or they might start to think that writers aren’t special snowflakes!)

~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute and I just published my 15th book. Imagine how many more I could have written if I hadn’t been sucked into the vortex of “Must See TV” back in the day. 

Filed under: My fiction, publishing, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The very nearly here, not quite yet, Post-review World

Once upon a time an author named Hale stalked a book reviewer, wrote about it in The Guardian and…well, things got crazy. I haven’t weighed in on this because you’ve no doubt read plenty about this debacle. Besides, I didn’t have anything new to say. I still don’t have anything new to say about that particular incident. It was a bad idea to respond to a negative review and there’s no need to pile on.

I do understand the urge. Oh, yes, every writer knows that urge to respond and demand an apology or…something. Instead, I stay indoors, never go anywhere, and write scary, funny books. It’s a better use of my time and the right thing to do.

So let’s talk about reviews more generally.

We all want them. We can’t promote our books effectively without a minimum number of happy reviews. But there are problems:

1. If you get a lot of happy reviews, someone who didn’t like your book will accuse you of having lots of friends and family shilling for you. Ha! I wish! It’s very difficult to get any reviews on anything and I don’t speak to my family. The point is, some people (I have no idea how many) think five-star reviews shouldn’t be trusted. However, if you didn’t have any five-star reviews, those same people would slay you for it. Crazy, huh?

2. Some people can’t help themselves. They condemn authors for their books and pedophiles for their despicable actions with nigh equal vehemence. Well…I assume so, anyway. I mean, I’ve read some vitriolic reviews where, once you dial it up to eleven, there’s no place to go, is there? But (silver lining) no one really takes one-star reviews seriously anymore, either. They are, with few exceptions, troglodytic. We read them for sick entertainment value, not for direction as to what to read.

3. Some people put spoilers in reviews without warning. That’s not a review anymore. That’s a spoiler and it’s a shitty thing to do. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean others won’t and spoiling a work that was years in the making in one ill-considered paragraph? Yes, that’s bad. What’s worse is Amazon lets it happen and allows those spoilers to remain posted without warning.

4. Likewise, authors have been libelled in reviews. Once again, Amazon does nothing if you complain. Unacceptable, and yet we are, at the moment, powerless. It’s the Internet. We’re supposed to shrug and hope the happy reviews drown out the unhappy ones (and eventually, mostly, they do.)

There’s a study somewhere that shows how unreliable reviews can be in an odd way. If the first review that goes up is negative, ensuing reviews tend to be more negative than they would have been otherwise. That’s less about the book, I suppose, and more piling on, hoping to be seen in agreement with whoever spoke up first. Weird.

5. Here’s where it gets weirder: Authors shouldn’t respond to reviews. Goodreads doesn’t even want authors to thank anyone for a nice review. That strikes me as forcing authors to be rude, but it’s their site policy so I abide by it.

Pretty much everyone accepts the No Response to a Bad Review Policy as a given, but no one knows who established this all-encompassing edict. Other industries routinely respond to reviews, hoping to ease their unsatisfied customers’ fury. We don’t. The argument goes that reviews aren’t for authors (true) but we aren’t even supposed to respond when reviews are misleading. We’re supposed to, as Hugh Howey so aptly put it once, “enjoy the burn.”

But wait. If we’re writers who should be thick-skinned and stoic since we put something out in the world…aren’t reviewers putting stuff out in the world, too? How come their writing is exempt from criticism but mine isn’t? Hm. No. Stop thinking about it. Nothing good can come from following the logical conclusion of that reasoning.

I am not arguing for responding to reviews.

The system is broken when reviews allow spoilers, libel authors or when so many people seem to distrust reviews.

Someone at The Passive Voice recommended we tell people, “If you liked it, please tell a friend,” in lieu of reviews. I kind of like that, but that’s what reviews were supposed to be anyway, right? Telling people what you liked so they can share the experience of an interesting, entertaining or enlightening book. I encourage people happy with my books to review them on Amazon. A review anywhere else (except perhaps a busy book blog) doesn’t really get more people to my books.

When I worked in magazines, we rarely gave negative book reviews (or the negative reviews were significantly shorter) because the point was to direct readers to the good stuff. The prevailing opinion was, the good stuff is too hard to find to waste time talking about the stuff we don’t like. I feel the same way. I may find commonality with reviews that tell me what they liked and why. What they dislike often seems more idiosyncratic (and some reviewers can’t seem to bring themselves to like much of anything.)

Maybe hoping for organic discovery through old-fashioned social networks is the way to go. But not quite yet. The apparatus for book discovery is broken. I still need happy reviews to get a Bookbub promotion going. That’s one of the few book promotion services that seems to have muscle and mojo behind it. I also suspect people don’t talk about books enough. I’m unwilling to rely on chats over fences with neighbors to spread word of my literary heights efficiently. Podcasts might be a better answer.

So what to do?

Stop stressing about reviews. Beat up a punching bag. (Reminder from Mom: human beings are not punching bags.)

If necessary, stop reading reviews. Read more books. Write more reviews.

Keep asking for reviews because, hey, that’s all we can do for now.

Don’t stalk book bloggers or book reviewers. Do not go near their homes or places of employment. And if you do (which you definitely shouldn’t!) don’t tell anyone. Jeez!

Cry quietly and not in public.

Treasure the many good reviewers who don’t mistake snark and disrespect for intelligence.

Read your four and five-star reviews obsessively to get your energy and esteem up. Read the negative reviews once, if you feel you’ll have something to gain from them (a murder plot, perhaps?) But never read them twice. That’s just masochism and revenge fantasies.

But there’s a better reason not to respond to negative reviews:

It takes time and energy that you could use to write your next book. And frankly, if someone hates your book, they won’t change their mind. If you try to use your best politician’s smile and the it’s-all-part-of-the-game clap on the shoulder, they won’t buy it. They know. You hate them. They hate your book and therefore they hate you. People will tell you this is wrong. Shit’s about to get real.

Yes, you’ll read lots of crap about how writers should separate themselves from their books. It’s a book, not a baby. Except it is. It’s the product of your mind and anyone who hates the book is calling you feeble in the brain. Be real. People tell you to be thick-skinned, but nobody really is. Many of the most successful writers, actors and entertainers on the planet confess that they remember every word of every bad review. You’d have to be a robot sociopath to be so far above the fray when someone criticizes something you put so much of yourself into.

However…when you write more books and get some success, it does hurt less. You become less invested in each book because you know you will write many. Just like having children, if you make enough of them, a few start to look expendable. (It’s a joke, for Thor’s sake. Relax.) 

Anyway, when the happy reviews drown out the negative reviews, that one-star review starts to look silly. You can also take some solace in knowing that if a reviewer hates you enough, they won’t feel the need to come back for more and you’ll be rid of them…if they actually read books before they review them, of course. Oh, yeah. There’s another reason so many people don’t trust reviews anymore. Sigh.

So, to sum up:

Write books and pretend you don’t bleed.

Don’t be a dick. Be nice. Play nice. Pretend you’re nice. Fake it and kill offenders in your next book. (I did.) Cover your tracks so they’ll never recognize themselves.

Pretend you’re happy all the time, especially when you’re not. Rant to a friend if you must. (Mental note: get a friend.)

Try to keep some perspective. You won’t, but it’s true that a review is merely one person’s opinion. It is not a scary diagnosis from a stone-faced internist.

We’re in the entertainment business. Entertain. Seek out entertainment. Don’t be so damn serious.

Remember that no matter how good your book is, someone will say they don’t like it. Don’t let them discourage you from following your star and writing, though. If that happened, then a bad review would really matter.

Until a new way to discover genius books is found, this is the way we live now.

Keep having fun. Don’t forget, this is supposed to be fun.

~ I forget sometimes.

 

 

Filed under: reviews, web reviews, Writers, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Reviews Part 1: This publishing train isn’t going where I thought it was going

I read a review of a friend’s book that bothered me. The reviewer objected to his use of the second person. It’s actually a common objection and, in my view, kind of a silly one. The common objection is the reader couldn’t “get past” all that “you, you, you.” And yet the ubiquitous use of “I, I, I” in first person narration is no problem.

What bothered me more is that reviewer seemed to address the author in a way that made the negative review more personal. “I’m sorry, NAME OF AUTHOR, but nobody does it.”

Nobody does it? Really?

I do in my crime novels and it’s part of the psychology of the hit man’s character. Jay McInerney did so famously in Bright Lights, Big City. There are plenty of novels that challenge convention.

But I’ve blogged about the use of second person before and I don’t want to repeat myself. The above is a reiteration for new visitors to this blog.

And here’s what this post is really about:

Convention. Art challenges it.

This is not to argue that anything is Art simply because it’s weird. “Weird” is a word that stands in for, “outside the reader’s experience.” This is to say that I enjoy books that are uncommon, that challenge the status quo, that defy expectations. This Plague of Days has a subtext of psychology and philosophy underlying the action. Its design is unusual and that’s done on purpose. 

That was the other thing I objected to when I read some reviews of my friend’s book. The writing was executed in such a way that it played with readers’ expectations. It was well done though it left some readers off-balance. Then a couple of reviewers complained that they didn’t know if it was the author’s skill that accomplished that feat or if he merely missed the mark.

I have an answer for them:

The author knew exactly what he was doing. He did it on purpose and it took skill. It takes a lot of skill to propel a narrative across the expanse of a book. They are entitled to their opinion, of course, but perhaps a more careful reading by the reviewers was in order. All the elements were there and it wasn’t the author’s fault that a couple of readers missed it. I was irritated that a couple of people took the time to review my pal’s book, but they didn’t seem to pay attention in the first place. Worse, despite staying with his story to the end, they opted to question his intelligence in their reviews.

A fluke doesn’t keep going for 250 pages. Writers know this. Perhaps that’s one reason why our reviews tend to be kinder.

In Part II of this essay, I’ll discuss why it’s becoming more difficult to sell books the way some of us used to write them. My suspicion is that next time, perhaps my friend won’t write such a brilliant book and, sadly, he’ll probably sell more of them.

That’s a down note to end a post on, isn’t it? It’ll probably get worse in Part II.

Filed under: author platform, Rant, readers, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , ,

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

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

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