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

Write and publish with love and fury.

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, , , , ,

Cyber Monday? Cyber Week Deals are the norm now. Here are two for book lovers.

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Cyber Week…it’s a huge, stressful rush, isn’t it? And for good reasons. There are deals to be had and the retail environment has changed. A lot of people don’t have a lot of money to spend on Christmas gifts. Many of us work two or three jobs to cobble together one low-paying job. The loss leaders and door buster items lure people to grab a sleeping bag and hang out all night outside of Best Buy (hoping to avoid getting crushed or murdered over a waffle iron.)

So here are a couple of big deals from me:

Many are only dimly aware that I wrote a lot of books besides This Plague of Days. (Love it. It’s awesome, but wait, there’s more!)

For a few days, I’m putting all the ebooks I’ve written except TPOD (crime novels, non-fiction, the short story collections) on sale for just:

99 cents! 

To get to my Amazon author page, please click any of the links on the right from THIS PAGE.

If that’s not cheap enough for you, how about free?

I’m revising my novel on Wattpad in front of God and everybody so you can see it new and fresh as I upload it chapter by chapter. Click the cover below to get started on an amazing trip into the paranormal with a girl from Iowa. Armageddon awaits. Expect twists, jokes, secret armies, magic spells, swordplay and lessons on how to survive the end of the world. We’re probably doomed anyway, but…well…you’ll find it surprisingly upbeat.

Don’t miss this. It can’t last long because it will go up for sale by Christmas.

Cool? Cool.

Happy Monday and Merry December, everybody!

 

Have a look at the beginning of my new series, free on Wattpad.

CLICK THE COVER to have a look at the beginning of my new series, free on Wattpad.

Filed under: Books, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

As a writer, what’s optional? What’s necessary? What’s real?

1. I think charity, political action and social justice is important. Let’s not lose sight of what’s important.

(For instance, I’m trying to help a guy find a kidney.) 

This post is about doing what’s necessary and managing our time better as writers and publishers. Don’t click away. It’ll be fun. You’re going to like this post a lot, trust me, but before we proceed, please consider that at least one good kidney is what’s really necessary. Please sign your donor card. Follow @RSawatsky and retweet him. #DudeNeedsAKidney! Spread the word to change and save lives. Thank you.

We now return to your regularly scheduled programming…

Organ donation matters to all of us but Amazon and Hachette’s machinations really don’t much. I try not to get too caught up in industry debates that don’t affect me and hurt my productivity if I give them too much energy. I’ve commented on Amazon versus Hachette, but I don’t live and breathe that debate because I feel no agency in changing the outcome. Amazon and Hachette are gonna do what they’re gonna do.

Meanwhile, I’m publishing my fifteenth book at the end of the month. (That averages out to five a year, so clearly I’m a slacker.) My point is, it’s better that I spend time telling stories instead of scurrying around the ankles of giants.  

2. If you can’t afford to pay an editor, you can swap services, use your writing group or crowdsource. Finding a good editor is hard. Harnessing the hive mind, if you have enough solid people on your side, is easier in some ways. If you can afford to hire an editor, don’t stop there. You probably still need to crowdsource to get a lot of eyes on your manuscript before you release it. More proofreaders in your beta team now mean fewer problems later.

Beware of people who approach you about editing your next book. Better not to answer them. Best to depend on the team you develop and choose. Finding help gets easier as you go along. Don’t despair and take the time you need. Also, there’s zero shame in taking that job you need to pay for the professional assistance you need. You’re a full-time author if you put in a lot of hours, no matter what job is listed on your tax form.

3. I got a bill. As a result, I have never been so focussed as I am now on the famous 80/20 rule. That which does not advance my writing career in some tangible way is a waste of my time and I am ruthless. Priorities are: family and friends, exercise, writing, a certain degree of social interaction and the pursuit of happiness along career lines.

I write and exercise early in the day to make sure that gets done. Everything has a schedule and I am plugged into it.

Why exercise? Because we’re sitters and sitting is the new smoking. Self-care puts the oxygen mask on yourself before assisting other passengers in need. Do that or we’re all gonna die.

4. Experiments are conducted. That which works, stays. That which does not is jettisoned. Bookbub and BookGorilla and Freebooksy are still in. I try smaller services sequentially (separating promotions) to see if they have an effect on daily sales. They don’t (for now) so they’re out. I’ll revisit them periodically to see if they’ve grown their subscriber lists substantially, especially if they’re free services.

If I can spend an afternoon at some kind of author event and if I’ve just reached one new reader and touched their hearts? I’ve wasted that afternoon. 

I’m not playing small ball, anymore. I don’t hang out hoping for individual conversions. I make alliances with my fellow author army for mass mind invasions. I experiment with keywords and categorization. I give sermons to the masses. Scalable stuff. I don’t want twelve disciples. I want a vast cult of love that spreads among strangers by word of mouth in airport lounges and through the matrix as fast as the newly converted can warble at each other excitedly about my last book and my next book. I am a happy infection.

Don’t get me wrong. I love every reader who gets me. I’m not trying to sound harsh. I’m trying to maximize my time because I’m not immortal (yet.) Only the willing are drafted. I’m prepared to sell my books and ideas but it’s an invitation, not a hard sell that makes me hate myself and lose psychic energy.

If I have to spend time convincing them to take my book into their hands? They aren’t ready for me. They’re ready for James Patterson. Godspeed.

5. It’s best to hire someone to do your graphic design. I always recommend Kit Foster of KitFosterDesign.com. He is awesome and if you employ his talents you’ll undoubtedly sell more books.

If you can’t do that (due to financial emergency or scheduling issues), kdrenegade and picmonkey are options that work best together. There are many editing programs. Whatever we do won’t be as good as what a professional can do for us, but it might do until we can redo those covers with the pros.

Do do your best or you’ll rue your doo doo book covers.

6. Book formatters can make your work look great and elevate your art with their art and sensibility. Pay them if you can afford to do so. Otherwise, let’s not be quite so hard on amateur formatting attempts as long as it’s functional.

For instance, book formatters will insist that your print book must begin on the right. The people who care about this are book formatters. They can be hypercritical of details no one else notices. Also, unlike the formatting experts, I prefer seeing the title at the top of each screen of an ebook. I tend to read ten books at a time and the header they disparage as unprofessional reminds me which book I’m looking at instantly. (Did I mention I don’t have a lot of time to spare? Yeah.)

If you don’t care about certain details, you can do it yourself without expense or worry you’re doing too much that is wrong. Experts love to tell you you’re wrong. Non-experts, too. Especially non-experts.

There is much to obsess over. This is not one of those things. Prioritize what matters to you.

7. I blog when I have something to say. Otherwise, I write books.

Chasing the dragon by posting to a blog twice daily (or more) in an effort to boost blog traffic is so 2004.

8. YouTube videos of cats freaking out = a gravity well from which no one escapes. Don’t go there. If you do, you’ll write one less book this year.

You can’t feed your cat by watching cats on YouTube unless you film your own cat to make money on YouTube. You didn’t think all those crazy situations caught on video were accidents, did you? No. That’s a conscious plan to monetize cute (and steal your writing time.)

9. Don’t complain. Never explain. 

Someone at Thanksgiving dinner and on Christmas Day is caught up in outdated misconceptions of what you do. This is an energy suck. Do you really want to have that same conversation about how ebooks aren’t real books, the smell of paper blah-de-blah and your publishing venture is not legit unless a trad publisher pays you a pittance and abuses you with ferocious contract terms? 

Don’t get sucked in. Instead, agree with the Uncle Bozo. Tell him he’s absolutely right. He hasn’t changed his mind about anything ever, anyway, so stop butting foreheads. Your aspirations don’t matter and books don’t pay. Tell him what he wants to hear.

Then tell him, “Fortunately, you can remedy that.” Thank him for his concern as you say, “I’ve got my books in the trunk of the car. You can buy them right now! Thanks again! Be right back!” Don’t wait for his reply.

Bring them all. Before he can protest, tell him you have change for big bills. (With Square, you can also take his credit card.) Refuse to leave until those boxes are empty and his trunk is full. His choice is to buy your stuff or admit he was being a prick and trying to make you feel bad about your aspirations.

Uncle Bozo will never bother you again.

10. Look to others’ successes to figure out how to proceed and what practices to copy.

Don’t waste a minute worrying that everyone else is playing this game better and getting luckier and selling more books than you.

They are all doing much better (often succeeding by accident while you try guile!) They’re all doing great and thinking about buying a boat. You suck. I suck, too. I know! I know! But worry doesn’t help that. Writing the next book helps that.

You’re going to write that next book, anyway, no matter what the “market conditions” are. So go do that. No bullshit.

And stop checking your sales dashboard stats for green arrows ten times a day!

~ This post was briefly titled, “As an authorpreneur…” Then I changed it to “As an writer…” and it went out like that. Oh, for God’s sake! We now return to our regularly scheduled self-loathing….

 

Filed under: author platform, publishing, Rant, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

You are not an idiot Part II

“Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”

~ H. L. Mencken

“Still! Don’t be that guy!”

~ Robert Chazz Chute

This part is about writing.

If you’re as cynical (or perhaps as realistic) as H.L. Mencken, you’ll dumb down your books to appeal to a wider audience. As Chris Rock observed, “Most people are B and C students.” A critic once told Sly Stallone his movies were for dumb people. Sly’s brilliant answer? “That’s okay. There are lots of them.”

It would be snobby to suggest every book should be “literature”, whatever that means. I like lots of dumb things. (For instance, I’ve seen every ninja movie ever made.) What I write, a lot of people would call “pulp.” They wouldn’t be wrong, either. (Check this link to The Vintage Library to read what pulp was really about. It’s not the pejorative some critics think it is!)

I’m not demanding that anyone write “up” or “down” to their audience. I’m not in the tell-you-what-to-do business. I’m in the brain-tickle business. I will tell you a quick story, though.

I just got a positive review of This Plague of Days by a person who identified themselves as autistic. My protagonist for those books is on the spectrum and, for that reader at least, the hero passed muster. That review is very precious to me for obvious reasons. I wouldn’t have received it if I didn’t reach a little.

This Plague of Days plays with language and expectations. It’s got a lot of Latin proverbs and a tiny bit of poetry amid the evolving carnage. It’s soft sci-fi with zombies and vampires and family dynamics amid disaster. The plot ventures into dark fantasy. Though readers may come in with low expectations because it’s essentially an end of the world dystopian saga about ordinary people facing infected monsters, the narrative never assumes the reader is an idiot. Escapist ≠ dumb.

The problem with stretching out and reaching as a writer is that someone, as a reviewer, will slap your hand for trying too hard. It’s true that some readers won’t read as closely as you’d like. They won’t “get it.” But few one-star reviews are worthy of serious consideration anyway, right?

Those who do grok it will love your work more.

What can I tell you about aiming higher versus what H.L. Mencken would consider “playing it safe”?

This is my 1336th post on this blog. Sift through and you’ll find I’ve frequently implored my fellow writers to “Follow the Art.” By that I mean, write what serves the story.

Today, I’m asking that when you write, be you. Be unique. Whether your goal is to write something fun and silly or earth shattering in its literary aspirations, be real. Whatever we do, our goal is to entertain. I write to entertain myself first, though. If readers dig my trip, cool. I try not to let reviews influence my game.

I’m taking the question away from a debate about whether to aim lower to achieve higher commercial success. I’m suggesting, as always, that we follow the Art. Be you because there’s only one of you. Don’t try to write like other people. Please don’t envy other writers’ success because envy is irrelevant. Please write what only you could write. Ultimately, it’s not about what seems smart and what’s really dumb. It’s about story.

All stories say something about the world and the writer who is the lens to that world.

Be a true lens that delivers clarity. The sights we point to may please the eye and ear and heart. Often the mind, but not necessarily. Lots of Charles Bukowski’s work is pretty dumb, but his lens was honest and I love his stuff. Though I admire their capacity for terrible vengeance, ninjas don’t say much about today’s world. They don’t say much at all. However, American Ninja 2 is still more fun for me than trying to stuff Ulysses in my head. Ooh! And Sho Kusugi in Pray for Death? Genius! Especially the execution with the buzz saw.

Robert Chazz Chute Bio Picture~ Hi. I’m Chazz. I write my variety of suspense. You can find all that stuff on Amazon here.

And now, some of it’s on Kobo.

 

 

 

 

Filed under: author platform, publishing, What about Chazz?, What about you?, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The book marketing tool! (That’s a five dressed up as a nine?)

Every marketing guru will tell you to build your mailing list because that’s where the money is. They’re not wrong and I’m no marketing guru, but here are some deeper considerations, past the hype:

1. It’s gotten much harder to build that mailing list. The tools are there. I use Mailchimp on my author site (AllThatChazz.com.) Aweber is another good mailing list management tool. It’s lovely to be able to announce your latest book launch to a huge mailing list of eager fans. It’s also much more rare than the marketing gurus pretend. Everybody’s got a mailing list and they aren’t all equally special.

2. You need a really great giveaway to entice someone to subscribe to a mailing list: free fiction, a useful white paper or some other shiny thing. I offer free mentions on the All That Chazz podcasts, but through Facebook, Twitter, my blogs, Triberr, enthusiastic readers and my rebel writer allies, I’ve got a much wider reach.

3. If people are subscribing to the mailing list just for free stuff, will they keep that subscription after they’ve scooped up said free stuff? Periodically prune your mailing list by asking if your subscribers are still into you. Wise list owners seem to ask if you wish to continue receiving mailings annually.

You can check open rates and find out when interest has waned. A huge mailing list boosts the ego. However, if they’re mostly disinterested and cruising on momentum, that big list can cost you money and, worse, it won’t help. Better to have a smaller list of people who can’t wait for your next mailing.

4. Are your blog readers more interested in your latest blog post than your pestering through the mailing list? I’d rather be a destination blog than an obligation blog. By that I mean, it’s great when people make a point to come here or follow my posts.

Mailing list subscriptions are often ignored or deleted. Test your mailings and ask your subscribers what sort of material they want. It may be that all they really want is to know what your next book is and when and where they can buy it.

5. Subscriptions get deleted or ignored, especially when they come too fast and too furiously. Sure, you’ll mark it to read for later, but when the email is rolling in too often, it’s easier to delete it.

6. I’m currently following many blogs officially. Unofficially, with as many as 200 emails a day or more, I tend to stick with reading destination blogs. In other words, there are certain blogs I feel I have to check out and I don’t need a subscription service to remind me to go look.

7. If you’re producing material for a mailing list and for your blog, too, you’re doubling your effort. True, we all hope email subscribers are more invested in what we do. However, the folks who come to ChazzWrites just because they’re into what I do (which is to generally inform in a more entertaining fashion than I’m doing today)? They might be much more invested than those on the mailing list. Mailing lists aren’t quite as hot as advertised.

So my suggestions are:

Keep in touch with mailing list subscribers, but don’t overwhelm them.

I’m far behind on Seth Godin’s blog, but at least his posts are pithy and short. I’ll never get to some I’m subscribed to. If that describes you, save time and unsubscribe. Deleting posts each day as they come in is a time suck.

Content is king. Yeah, yeah, sure.

Lots of bloggers repeat that mantra, but they all think their content is great so it’s kind of an empty slogan. All I can add is, don’t post unless you have something to say. If you’re straining for a topic, you’re working too hard. Rest it. You’ll get more hits the more you post, until it feels to the reader like too much good content too often or too much drivel. Blogging is a high wire act, isn’t it? (And if all your content is that good every day, sell it as a book, instead.)

Take the opportunity to promote someone else’s excellent content instead banging your own drum.

Not feeling inspired for a blog post? No problem. Write your books instead or reblog. Point to other great content. You don’t have to be brilliant every day if you’re an excellent curator. Scoopit is another tool you can use to curate content and build a following.

Ease back on the throttle sometimes.

We talk a ton about getting out there and marketing books like mad and spreading the literary word. However, lots of readers appreciate us more if we know when to shut up.

I’m shutting up.

~ Chazz is preparing to release This Plague of Days, Season 3, on Father’s Day. The full TPOD compendium will launch then, too. Find out more about the zombie apocalypse with the young, autistic hero at ThisPlagueOfDays.com. It’s much more than a single zombie apocalypse. It’s your future.

 

Filed under: author platform, book marketing, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Top Ten: Renew your readers’ interest between books

As I finish revisions to the finale of This Plague of Days, I’m entering that crazy time between the writing and the publishing. We all go through it. There’s still editing and proofreading to do and you aren’t done until you’re sick of it and not even then. But I am excited!

Today, I had my first back and forth with Kit Foster, my graphic designer. We talked cover designs. Out of context, my description of what I had in mind was pretty dumb or nigh-impossible, but through the magic of his art, Kit will transform that raw material into something awesome that makes browsers into buyers.

But how do you keep the sales going between books?

Sales always drop off. They call Day 30 after your book launch “The Cliff” because you lose attention from readers as you disappear from the bright, shiny new thing list. Interest can be buoyed and sustained, however. You don’t have to try all the strategies from this list (or any), but I do suggest you try at least one. Experiment and let me know what works for you.

Here are some ideas to extend your influence with all your books.

1. Write more than one book because your next book helps promote the last one. At a book event, authors talk about the next book, but readers talk about the last book.

2. Write more books. The bigger the stable, the more horses you have in the race, cross-promoting each other.

3. Write (slightly) shorter books. Sadly, my next tome (after TPOD) will (again!) be more than 100,000 words. I’m writing huge books. Many will see this as over-delivering and they’ll love it. It can also intimidate those less invested. The main problem is it makes you appear less prolific even if you’re very productive. It’s #2’s horse and stable issue.

I’m not saying you should shortchange anyone, but keep it reasonable. Few reviewers complain about a quick read. If you’ve got that much to say in a single book and you can’t make it shorter, make it a series.

The complete series for This Plague of Days will be over 300,000 words. The first draft took ten months and then I doubled its size in another eight months. Down the line, I’ll put out more books by keeping them down around 60,000 – 70,000 words.

My crime novels took 3 months each, for instance, from concept to completion. That length is what I’ll be aiming for in the future. Feeling more productive and hitting more milestones also feeds my excitement between books and keeps energy high. Less time between books also gives readers less time to forget about you.

4. Write in one genre. If you can dominate one list, you’ll be more effective in focussed marketing efforts and provide consistent branding. (I should have done this, but it’s not how my mind works.)

5. Collaborate. Writing with another author can expand your influence to each other’s audience and, if you work it correctly with the right person, you’ll get more done faster. Some people think writing with a partner is more work for half the money, but actually you have more people helping with the load, increasing productivity. The guys at Self-Publishing Podcast have proved it over and over, so there you go.

6. Cooperate. Soon, a new horror anthology will be released and I’m in it. My bit will be a sampler of Episode 1 of This Plague of Days. In joining forces with other authors, we’ll co-promote and raise each other up.

7. Have more to give away. I serialized the first two seasons of This Plague of Days. In the run up to the launch of Season 3 and the stand alone (This Plague of Days, The Complete Series), I’m using KDP Select to give away episodes as samples. Those giveaways always bump up my sales in between books when I would otherwise be in the doldrums. I’m a big believer in pulse sales to help new readers find me.

8. Diversify. To sell more between books, have more to sell in different media. There’s interest in turning This Plague of Days into a TV series. (It helps that I wrote the story like an HBO or Netflix dramatic series in the first place.) However, I’d love to see it as a graphic novel, too. I want to sell it as an audiobook. Each iteration feeds the potential for another opportunity.

9. Repackage. Converting This Plague of Days from serialized episodes into seasons, and then into one, big book that stands alone? That’s one example of repackaging. It’ll also give a new crew of readers what they wanted since quite a few people seem to misunderstand the cliffhangers and twists of a serial or they hate serials on principle. (I don’t know what that principle is, but I recognize it and I’m listening.)

Taking different books and selling them as one bundle is another way to go. (I’ll be doing this with the Hit Man Series by turning three books into a bundled trilogy with a new and better name for the whole.)

10. Stay in touch with readers between books. I don’t have a large mailing list, but I do connect with a lot of readers on Facebook and through podcasts. I also have a blog dedicated to This Plague of Days.

Recently, when I needed to add more beta readers to my team, I went to Facebook first because I knew I’d find people who are already into what I’m doing. I’ve got three new, enthusiastic volunteers now.

Staying in touch with readers keeps projects alive for authors, too. When I get another tweet or email asking when the next book is coming out, it helps drive me to get to the keyboard as fast as I can to oil the roller coaster. I know my readers and I can’t wait to make them scream.

Filed under: author platform, book marketing, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

“Writing a book by committee is a great idea in every way!” said everyone but the writer.

Imagine all the people from all the classes you’ve ever taken in one room. Each group has its own character, but today we’re going to focus on the outliers and oddball characters with whom you’ve gone to school. I’m not talking about those who stand out for their smarts and sweetness. I’m talking about the girl who, just before the last bell rang, reminded the teacher about extra homework for the class just before the long weekend. Remember the annoying guy who always had another question or inane comment to add long after a subject was beaten to death? And don’t forget the person who was really stupid, but for some reason thought he should speak a lot. Worse, he was smug about it.

Now put all those people you didn’t like in school and put them in charge of your work in progress.

That pressure behind your eardrums is your brain trying to escape.

This scenario isn’t entirely theoretical.

Recently, I listened to two different podcasts about two of the most successful television shows that exist. These were true fans…but:

1. On several points, they seemed determined to be confused about plot points even though the answers were readily available on screen, if only they’d looked.

2. Several weenies missed subtleties that weren’t really that subtle. It’s not the fault of the show’s writers if you aren’t paying attention. If you’re missing something, stop tweeting while you watch The Walking Dead

3. Someone objected to issues within the shows that are non-issues. e.g. Is Leonard’s mom on The Big Bang Theory really a licensed psychiatrist? If true, she’s terrible! Answer: it’s a comedy and you aren’t supposed to like that character and it’s a comedy and it’s a comedy and oh, for the love of Thor! Stop!

4. These dedicated amateurs had one or two good suggestions (I’m guessing by accident.) The rest of their requests for changes were objectively terrible, like dumping beloved characters that made the shows work, for instance.

There’s a reason we don’t write by committee.

It’s good that writing is a lonely job. You don’t get book ideas and plot points from other people. The elements develop organically, rising up from character and logic and by answering the question, “What’s next?” And then answering it again and again until you stop writing or die. The writing grows from the act of writing.

Input is helpful after you’ve done the work, sure, but don’t even ask a trusted friend what to do when you’re still in the second draft. He doesn’t know. How can he? You wouldn’t ask if you should turn left or right when all he knows is that you’re somewhere in New Mexico.

“Is this the right direction? Should the Mom die in the middle of the book?” A good friend will tell you to keep writing and hang up on you so you can get back to it. Finish something before you show it to anyone. You’re in command. Steer your ship solo. Lots of people will have their say later.

Everyone has an opinion on everything, even more so when they know less about the subject.

Once upon a time at a writing conference, an author asked me about the book I was writing. I gave him the broad strokes and he said, without hesitation, that my second act was “wrong”. If there’s a high school suicide in the first act, then the main character has to be torn up about it.

“Not if he hated the suicidal kid’s guts to begin with,” I replied. 

“Dude!” he said without a microbe of doubt, “High school kids don’t act that way. They shouldn’t act that way!”

“In my book they do.”

Summarily dismissed, I slunk away and have since dedicated my life to hating Stephen King with the fiery heat of a thousand suns. (No! I’m kidding! The offending author was not Stephen King. I love Steve! Him, I would have believed.)

Here’s the crux:

There are few rules in writing, but one I’m sure of is this, “If it plays, it plays.” You can make anything work in context. You can sell anything if the story sells it.

My luckless hit man is a funny guy in big trouble.

My luckless hit man is a funny guy in big trouble.

People doubted me, but I created a sympathetic hit man named Jesus (in second-person throughout, no less.) I create a lot of anti-heroes and no, I don’t care if readers love and agree with all my characters. Loving and agreeing with characters is overrated. Interesting is more important than loving.

Many of my stories don’t yield an easy happy ending but give unexpected, yet satisfying endings instead. I rarely do happily ever after, but you’ll often find transcendence there.

My main character in This Plague of Days is on the autistic spectrum and hardly ever speaks (and when he does, it’s often in Latin phrases.) When Doubting Tommy asks, “How the heck are you going to make that work?”, the answer is, “Watch me.”

My mission isn’t to write something easy that entertains. My mission is to write something different that entertains. Too much consultation, especially early on, would squelch my process. We don’t write by committee because committees are how most things don’t get done. Committees are where good ideas go to die. Committees are where you’ll find three reasonable, intelligent and helpful people compromising with one insane fascist to arrive at something closer to crazy than good.

Choose your beta readers, editors and allies carefully and don’t show them anything too early in your process. The book is only yours as long as you’re writing it. After that, it goes out to the world and it’s up to thousands of readers to decide if your vision pleases them. 

Make sure that, whatever you write, it pleases you.

~ The latest All That Chazz podcast is up at AllThatChazz.com. You’ll also find helpful affiliate links to my books there so you can buy them, which is quite a happy coincidence, isn’t it? Thanks. For a topic sort of related to this one, you can also get the latest update on Season 3 of This Plague of Days here.

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

Writers: Are you in the echo chamber?

I love my writing community here. I’ve learned a lot from others and, as indies, we share a lot of information. We’re a generous bunch with each other. I appreciate your comments and participation on my little writing and publishing blog. Because I’m a sweet bunny pooping love everywhere, I have to tell you something with love:

Writers talk to other writers too much. We must talk to readers more.

Let’s make this go down easy by using an example from another industry.

When massage therapists try to figure out their businesses, they ask their peers and senior massage therapists for their opinions. They want to drink from the well of experience. It’s a good notion that frequently goes awry. Their peers are often as clueless as they are and senior therapists either don’t have the same problems or their advice is out of date. Take pricing, for example. They’ll set fees based on what they’d pay. But many massage therapists would never pay for massage. They don’t have enough money or they swap treatments with other therapists. Massage treatment is for people with real jobs and insurance coverage, not us.

Stick with me and hold my hand, because this is about to get uncomfortable.

Writers need to listen to readers more.

Sadly, writers often don’t have much money to spare so we use libraries or search for free a lot. Most of us buy books when we can, but with budgets as tight as they are, we’re often not your audience. As a result, many of our industry’s book prices are artificially depressed. We’re asking the wrong audience what we should do. (I’ve taken this advice. I just raised prices on some of my books and generally, the trend will be up.)

A veteran writer who’s “made it” (whatever that means) often doesn’t know all the variables that contributed to his or her success. If someone coasted to indie success from a high in traditional publishing, they can’t tell you much about the current scene. Precious few people attribute any of their success to luck. It had to be their sheer brilliance. However, many of us are brilliant and we’re still eating boot soup.

So, what not to do?

If you don’t tweet others at all, you may as well be on Mars.

If you rarely check your direct messages, you’re in the bubble.

If you only check your mentions on Twitter, you’re screaming into the echo chamber.

If you follow three people and two of those are your other Twitter accounts, you’re only hearing yourself plus you’re a raging narcissist (and not in a good way).

If you only have conversations with people who don’t buy books, you’re surveying the wrong people.

If you only speak to people who “buy” free books, you’re engaging the wrong audience. (Readers who buy with money instead of a click are often suspicious if your book is priced too low, for instance.)

If you don’t take new information in and seriously consider change, you’re for slavery. (Your own.)

If you do have conversations with readers from time to time and you talk about them, you’re on a smoother path.

If you don’t cultivate supportive friends, you’ll be alone, surrounded by fiends and without a fire ax or holy water.

If you only attend conventions with other writers instead of fans, you’ll have a great time talking to people who agree with you: “Wow, it sure is hard to connect to new readers!”

If you never get out and talk to real people in the real world and only connect with people on a safe and cyber basis, who will you learn to hate so you can kill them in your next novel?

If somebody says, “I prefer paper books,” and you reflexively say, “How Amish of you! Ebooks are the only future!”, that was kind of funny, but you should be listening instead of cracking that same joke open again. It’s rotten on the inside.

If you say all this social engagement is too hard and it takes away from your writing time, I’m sorry. I thought you were writing to be read. Get a calendar or time management software. At least tweet or email during commercials.

If you immediately dismiss everyone with whom you disagree, you’ll never learn the secret to…well, anything really. Plus, you’ll come across as a jerk.

I’m not suggesting you allow me or readers or reviewers or anyone else to run your life. I am saying that if you recognize yourself in this list and it gives you that squirmy squirts feeling, adapt accordingly. Listen.

You should listen to me. I’m a writer.

Filed under: author platform, getting it done, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, Rant, readers, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Breaking Bad and making better storytelling choices

Season One has five episodes. Get each one for 99 cents or get all of Season One at a discount for $3.99.

When you’re in the trenches (and by that I mean when you’re at your keyboard) you must stay true to your vision. There are artistic choices to be made that will challenge some readers’ expectations. Choose more conflict and damn the torpedoes.

For instance, at the beginning of This Plague of Days, the protagonist’s sister, Anna Spencer, isn’t particularly likeable. She’s not over the top, but she is a hormonal teenager whose brother is on the autism spectrum. She calls him Ears because he has big ears. She loves her brother, but she can be mean. She’s jealous of the extra attention he gets because of his challenges. She treats him the same way many siblings treat each other in their formative years. If you’ve ever had a sister, or been one, you’ll recognize her turmoil as she matures. Now add the plague apocalypse (and later, scary, infected cannibals) and you’ve got tense family relationships facing a storm of trouble raining down evil doers and crazy cakes.

Readers who only read Episode One might not care for Anna much.

Impatient readers will never get to see how badass she gets. (I’m revising Season Two now and she’s nicer, but still working her way to badass.) If they quit reading at Episode One, they’ll never find out how circumstances and time transform her into an interesting, brave and responsible woman. Anna Spencer has an arc. All my characters have arcs and their own stories to tell. To have those stories, and the complexity I insist upon as a storyteller, the characters can’t begin as static, happy stereotypes.

This Plague of Days has nuance. Some characters you think are good now may surprise you with what they’re willing to do later. Characters you assume are bad may have altruistic motives that aren’t clear up front. Some writers say we shouldn’t even write “characters”. We should write people in all their complexity. The people you write about have to transform, and I don’t mean from likeable and nice to slightly more so.

Think how ineffective Breaking Bad would be if you didn’t watch Walter White’s transformation through the show’s seasons.

He starts off as a nebbish who reached for the brass ring and fell short. A cancer diagnosis turns him from an ordinary Chemistry teacher into a cold and calculating drug kingpin desperate for respect and safety. The cool thing about Breaking Bad is, today’s solution is always tomorrow’s problem. His character arc is entirely logical each step of the way. Throw in a fatal flaw and a few reversals and he ends up in an insane place that is believable over time. 

If Walter White had started out evil, you don’t get grim fun and complexity. You get another stupid, failed TV show (starring cast members who used to be on Baywatch) cancelled and forgotten after half a season.

Another example: Points of view must change.

In This Plague of Days, I made choices to introduce more family strain. This Plague of Days isn’t just about viruses, zombies, fires and firepower. It’s about people under pressure.

The mom is a Christian. The father is an atheist.

Faced with mortality, the mom becomes a Christian with doubts and the dad becomes an atheist with doubts. I believe in readers and I follow the story wherever it leads (i.e. toward more conflict.)

Issues of atheism versus faith are not presented all at once. This isn’t a college seminar. Near the beginning of Season One, the atheist has his say. That may repel some readers who won’t stick around for his confession, feelings of abandonment and transcendence. Too bad those same readers won’t hear the mom’s counterpoint, either. Impatient readers might seize on one aspect in the early going (for or against God, depending on when they stop reading.) I feel it’s an honest, necessary exploration woven into the fabric of a much larger story. (Not that it should matter, I’ve been a believer and an atheist but not at the same time.) I’m not pushing an agenda. I’m pushing for brain tickles. If you want to be pulled into warm marshmallow, read Chicken Soup for Something or Other. I write suspense. Not everything is for everybody.

Readers will draw their own conclusions about religion (or ignore that small aspect of the story completely.) Zombies turn some people to God. For others, zombies turns them away from faith. Put a wife and husband at the edge of the end of the world and I guarantee religion’s going to come up. It’s not my job to make up anyone’s mind. It’s my job to tickle brains and make the debate honest and interesting while the struggle for survival gets harder. Context is everything.

Don’t pander. Follow the Art and the Conflict

People will draw conclusions about you from what you write. Don’t be afraid of that or your story will suffer. You’re a writer, so we already know you’re brave and have an unreasonably high estimation and expectation of the human race. Live up to that commitment with every chapter.

Respecting the reader doesn’t mean that you try to make them like everything they read. However, most readers stay longer with stories that challenge them, make them think and make them laugh. Don’t let it come out as an info dump or a teaching moment. Let it come out naturally. Don’t make your story a seminar on your beliefs. Do let characters have strong, conflicting points of view. Have a spine, but don’t force conclusions. Let the reader do that work for themselves. Always leave room for doubt.

For the Readers

I guarantee, when you read This Plague of Days, you’ll read things you’ve never read before. You’ll learn things you probably didn’t know. (I did!) And you don’t have to agree to anything. It’s a book. It’s not a threat to the tenets of your existence.  

A fun book is a ride at the carnival, an exorcism of fears, a voyeuristic pleasure, an extended brain tickle and a happy distraction, first class on the Crazy Train. All aboard to the end of the line.

Filed under: publishing, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Confession to readers: I love sound-sex

Stephen Fry invites us to enjoy literature more.

Filed under: readers, , , , , , , , ,

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

All the dark fantasy fun of the first three books in the Ghosts & Demons Series for one low price.

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

You never know what's real.

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.

Write to live

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