Archive for January 2012

Is Marketing Work, Play, or Both?

Dave Heumann gave me a solid compliment on Google+, pertaining to what I post and how it effects marketing. It was something I had scratched the surface of, but had not verbalized as well as he did.

Dave wrote: “I think you strike a good balance between posts that are more conversational/social and ones that are geared more towards getting your ideas and writing out there.”

I've seen this—I don't want to say “often”—but enough to make it stick in my mind. Writers, photographers, musicians, artists. Some of them have a tendency to use social networks entirely socially, talking about their lives, their day, their family; or to use social networks entirely for their work, only  for self promotion.

This post is a warning to anyone who falls exclusively into one or the other category.

Are you a social poster?

Are you a work poster?

It's a trick question. The right answer is “I am both!”

There's an advantage to each. Both have their own purpose. Both are forms of marketing, but each in very different ways.

A social poster has the advantage of getting to know people. A social poster can make friends by sharing interesting posts pertaining to their lives, or life in general. By commenting on other peoples' posts, social posters can further the bond created through interaction.

A work poster has the advantage of getting his work out there, letting people know he's A) a writer and B) has a book for sale. A work poster makes his work visible. “I'm here, come and get me!” Readers can only buy what they know is there, and a work poster puts the work in their hands via links.

A work poster, who isn't already famous, yet relies only on word of mouth and name recognition to carry him, and so ignores social interaction, isn't going very far. He links to his novel and says “read this”. He's got a great engine, but no gas in the tank, and the spark plugs are in backwards. 

There's nothing personal or interactive about plugging your latest book or blog, and so there's no reason for anyone to click your links. Many potential readers will ignore a passive work poster, hiding them from their feeds.

Then there's the writer who interacts socially all day long, but never mentions their book or blog. Their friends would likely buy their book, or read their blog, if only they knew about it. 

People are busy, it's not enough to tell someone once about your book or blog and be done with it. Marketing through a social network requires a bit of both social interaction and link dropping.

Interaction is vital to internet marketing. If you're not already famous and have your own inertia, and don't have gobs of money to pay someone else to market your work for you, there's really only one thing you can do. You've got to meet people. 

You can sell a book more easily to someone who recognizes your name than to someone who has never heard of you before. Call it building name recognition, call it buliding brand, it all boils down to the same thing.

Marketing this way is slow exposure. It's a recognition of peoples' lives. We're all busy, even if what we're doing isn't important in the grand scheme of things, so understand that people may not see your post every day, or they may see it but not have the time to click on it, or not be ready to buy it—yet.

Keep it coming. Just like you need a long exposure to capture the stars at night, you need a long exposure to capture a reader's attention. It takes consistency, but not force.

We writers have to marry the two approaches. We have to show interest in something other than ourselves, and still give others an opportunity to be interested in us.


Only posting socially, your writing gets buried and goes unheard of and unnoticed.


Only posting work, no one relates to what you're doing. No one cares.

Do 'em both.

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Readers versus Publishers?

Are readers and agents looking for different things?

The rule of thumb when submitting to an agent, or straight to a publisher, is that to even be accepted the manuscript must be perfect. No errors and perfect grammar, pacing, characterization, plot, setting, etc. It seems story comes second to mad language skillz.

Or so I've heard. I've never actually gotten beyond the arduous query process. You know, the part where you have to write a better query letter than novel. I was never much good at getting noticed by the pretty girls people who mattered.

Publishers want something original, they don't want to see the same old thing. That's something else I've heard at various times. But they don't practice what they preach. It's apparently easier to publish something that has already proven to sell, than it is to publish something “original”. Original is code for “this is not the readers' comfort zone”.

Agents, but more so publishers, take few chances. Once in a while they will, but only  once in a while. And the marketing department must okay it. The marketing department must okay everything!

So to attract the attention of an agent or publisher it helps to A) know someone inside the business; B) write a phenomenal query letter; C) write what they know will sell.

But what about readers? What do readers want/expect/hope for?

Perfection seems to work for agents and publishers, but readers don't seem to care. I mean, if Amanda Hocking can be a big hit among readers, you know they're not holding writers up to the same standard as an agent or editor would.

Readers are more likely to take a risk on something original because they're only paying a few dollars to do so, instead of the thousands needed for a publisher to fund a single book. There is little risk for readers to step outside of their comfort zones for one book.

Furthermore, readers aren't paid to edit, but pay to enjoy reading. They expect enjoyment, so they tend to want to enjoy what's before them. Unless the book is terrible, most readers won't care one way or the other if it's not the best writing  they've ever read. They're less concerned with they're/their/there than “Does Mary find the killer before it's too late?”

Granted, Amanda Hocking doesn't write like she just crawled out of second grade, but I doubt she'd have gotten published if she hadn't first proven herself as an indie author. So readers obviously expect the writing to be legible. But they don't seem to expect, or even want, what publishers and agents want.

Whatever magic involved in the success of a self-published author isn't quite the same magic involved in the success of a traditionally published author. Agents and editors look at the writing from a professional/market point of view, but it's there their  market. It's not yours or mine (assuming you're not an agent or acquisition editor). Readers focus on something else.

But what? What is more important to the self-published author than being perfect? What can possibly be better than months checking and rechecking a manuscript for errors in spelling and character development?


Story is often overlooked in our grammar-intensive writing culture, but story really is the most important thing. The prose has to be well written, but it doesn't have to be perfect. You don't have to aspire to be the next Stephen King. Readers don't seem to be paying attention to style so much as story.

Story is where it's at!

Story is what an agent or editor will look at and say, “This won't sell,” while a reader looks at the same story and says, “Dude, I've got to tell my friend about this!” 

After all, it's not the reader's job to care how well it's written. Most readers really only care if Mary found the killer before it was too late.

For self-publishers hawking fiction, it's far better to be a story teller than a grammarian.

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Overdone Story Ideas?

Below is a link to a website listing overdone story ideas.

The Fantasy Novelist's Exam:

I don't totally disagree with many of the “cliches” on this list. I think some are obvious, but others leave me scratching my head. There aren't a lot of ways to write a story and everything has been done before. Maybe these things are done more than others, but I have to ask, so what?

75 things not to do when writing a fantasy novel. I'm under the impression this list was made, at least partly, to be funny (or fun). Some of the advice must have been said in jest, for it doesn't seem to make sense otherwise. It does make me laugh at times.

“Is your book basically a rip-off of The Lord of the Rings?”

Some things make sense, like #70's advice: Does your main villain punish insignificant mistakes with death?

Or #71: Is your story about a crack team of warriors that take along a bard who is useless in a fight, though he plays a mean lute?

Obviously #71 would be outright theft of another's work (haven't you read “The Chronicles of Prydain”?) And #70 makes sense for the simple fact that if a villain did that, he'd soon run out of henchmen...except....except....

What if the villain is making a point to someone much more important to him, that if he messes up, death!

Other things make far less sense to me. #2: Is your main character a young farmhand with mysterious parentage?

That's a basic story idea, and it's been done quite a bit (“The Princess Bride”, “The Chronicles of Prydain”, “Star Wars”), but there's something about reoccurring stories which readers like. 

Generally, readers want what is familiar, what they've read before. As well as that, most readers aren't voracious in the sense that they've read everything there is to read. A writer can get away with the farmhand opening simply because most readers won't have read it five hundred times before. And if a writer can bring his own unique flair to the tale, he can pretty well fool those who have.

Also, if you're a writer and write a lot of stories....certainly one of them will begin this way. Your character may not be a farmhand, but in some basic form the idea will exist. You'll have a character living a ho-hum existence, not expecting anything out of the ordinary to happen (but perhaps hoping for the unusual), then be thrown into an adventure and find he has just what it takes to win the day, or at least survive, yet learn something. 

Uh, isn't that MOST stories?

Writers break these rules all the time, and readers gobble it up. These rules are meant more for editors than for readers. But the irony (or the idiocy) is that editors are more likely to take something filled with well-done cliches than well-done originality, for the simple fact that the cliches have at least proven to sell.

“Harry Potter” is in no way original. The entire series falls back on many fantasy cliches, but J. K. Rowling had the ability to combine them in new ways, to create new forms. Perhaps all she accomplished was to make it harder for future writers to use the same cliches, but I still don't believe it's impossible.

Nothing is original, everything is a cliché.

But the kicker is this: I read through this list, and most of what is on it seem like great ideas. I'd love to read about these things. I enjoy stories about these things. But the writing has to be good, and the writer has to at least provide his own personal elements, so as not to simply retell another story.

There is a danger, though, in using rehashed material. If you're falling back on Tolkien or C. S. Lewis to help you find things to write about, how can you be sure the parts of your story which should be original are? Is your dialogue different? Is the plot different? Will the conflict vary?

I'm tempted to write a story about a child who grows up to avenge her fallen people just to prove I can do it with at least some originality...oh, wait, I am writing that story. The Czar Chronicles series I've begun is just that. In my own little way.

I guess we'll see if it's any different from “Conan The Barbarian” or any of the other stories containing a revenge element.

It's a good thing stories aren't made of one single element, but several or even dozens.

I suppose if you used all 75 of these “don'ts” in your story you could be in trouble. But dare to use some of them, and dare to own them. Don't just copy, make them yours.

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Final Drafts Require Deliberateness

After so many years of writing, I've gained a lot of experience, but one thing still eludes me. The finer details of prose. What goes into choosing the best words for a scene, a paragraph, a sentence? What makes a piece of dialogue sound brilliant?

In the past I would have said brevity, and left the rest to intuition, but brevity isn't the whole story. Brevity brings me to the door, but it doesn't always give me the key. There's something more.

And relying only on intuition, I don't think I'm choosing the right words deliberately.

Obviously it's pointless to be deliberate in the rough draft, as it would slow me (and most other writers) down. Deliberation is for the final draft, yet this is the point in the process I've had the least experience with.

The English language offers a vast variety of possible combinations. There are numerous ways to write a single line, let alone an entire page or chapter.

So to just write the story doesn't seem to be enough. The story must be good. It must be on par with the best writing I'm capable of—at least for the moment. I owe that to readers. Attention to detail and conscious deliberateness seem vital.

I know the most efficient method is to break the story down into its parts, taking a little bit at a time. If I were to cut down a forest, I would not do it randomly. I would do it methodically. So too must I edit my stories. This doesn't “explain” what to do, though it tells me how.

What I very well may need is practice. In the past I've always stopped short of the final process. I've given up before then, moving on to another story, something fresher, something that needed broad strokes to complete.

Well, if practice is what I need, practice is what I'll get!

And in my experience, working through the process usually lent me the answers I've sought after.

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Fasting, Writing, and Mind Games

I enjoy fasting. Nothing very long (my longest fast was 72 hours), just small daily fasts that last into the middle of the afternoon. Fasting provides a jolt of energy and good feeling. 

Too much food makes me feel lethargic, depressed, anxious. I don't know the exact science of it (ketosis plays a role), but I rarely feel these feelings during a fast, though I have an occasional physical symptom.

One thing fasting does is change my conscious state of mind. I become wired, extra sensitive, more aware. This hasn't always been the best state of mind for creativity, or at least focused creativity needed to sit and write (though I'm writing right now). 

Fasting may help me avoid depression and anxiety, but I'm in no way “relaxed” during a fast in the sense that I'm calm and easy-going. When I fast, I could run circles around my non-fasting self.

When I write I like to be relaxed. If I have something going on, or I'm overly stressed or distracted, I have a very difficult time getting the words out, if I can write at all.

Fasting is all of those “negative” feelings. It's both stressful and distracting, and because I'm doing it on purpose, it's also “going on”. But when I push through it and write anyway, I find that this need for everything to be just so is merely a mind game I play with myself. 

When I stop playing the game, the writing happens despite what else I'm doing.

I think it all comes down to perfection. It's similar to writing 10,000 words in a day. If I don't trust myself, and instead allow perfectionism to sabotage my goal, then I can never write that much. I've held myself back.

Fasting is the same way. I want everything to be perfect, but when I'm fasting I can't have that ideal. It's not possible. I've learned something valuable about myself.

I can write despite distractions, despite stress. If fasting teaches me anything, it teaches me that. I'm writing this right now, and I'm fasting. I haven't eaten in fourteen hours or so. Maybe longer. Yet, because I'm not clinging to an ideal of perfectionism, I'm having no problem letting my words out.

It's mind over matter. It's mind over distraction and stress. It's a sense of “I can do this, and nothing will hold me back.”

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The Road and Its End

I took four days off from writing. It was nice to get away, and it's just as nice to be back. In that time I made some goals, broadened my perspective and focus (I'm not so zeroed in on my novel now that I can't see the forest for the trees), and regenerated my power cells.

So I'm going to focus more on blogging.

Build my friends and circles.

Give Twitter the time of day.

Write at least one short story.

Dig one of my old novellas out of the closet, er, flash drive, and see what I can do with it.

Work on my highly secretive non-fiction (it's philosophical and far from done).

And read through the completed third draft of “Rising” and figure out where to go next.


Goals are very important to me. I'm an avid goal setter. I've always got at least one list of goals lying around, usually something pertaining to writing or exercise. There are times when I throw the goals out the window and live spontaneously, and sometimes my goals are as simple as “write, exercise, meditate”, but I've always got some sort of direction to go in.

My father was a goal setter, and he was the one who got me hooked on them. I remember listening to his Zig Ziglar tapes as a ten-year-old. My dad didn't give me much else in my life, but he taught me how to plan, how to reach higher, how to do better. That's the one lesson he drove into me. He taught me that I can always do better than I've done in the past.

My father is living proof that simply setting goals and wanting to do better isn't enough to actually be better. For all the goals he set when I was a child, he rarely accomplished any of them. I've discovered that I have similar problems with reaching the goals I set, though for different reasons.

So why do people like me fizzle out before the finish line? And does it even matter that we do?

Philosophically, the answer may lie in Zen and Taoist thought. Taoist sages “preached” a spontaneous lifestyle. Taoism can seem at times to be anti-goal setting (though this isn't necessarily true).

Zen is very similar. In Zen, unlike other Buddhist sects, the idea that one can “work to achieve” nirvana is pure bologna. Zen teaches that nirvana cannot be sought after, that to do so would be like catching the moon in the still waters of a pond. Impossible.

Goals have value, but not in what they help us achieve. Their value lies in the road we travel as we follow each goal.

The value of an exercise goal isn't looking good and being healthy, but the active process. It's the running, the weight lifting, the swimming. It's not the gold medals or six-pack abs.

So does it even matter that goals are achieved, if setting them guides us and keeps us in the moment? Life is about “doing things”, not “having done things”. Can overlooking the path of a goal for its conclusion work? Can it sustain us? Is it effective?

When I see successful, goal-oriented people, I don't see people who reached for the stars, but people who were caught up in what they were doing.

In Eastern philosophy, the end of any goal is a natural side effect of living that goal.

But not everyone finds success. This is where I see the true wisdom of what Taoism and Zen teach me. Life is full of random chance. Even talented people never have the opportunity to do the one thing in life they want to do. There's a time and place for all things.

I set goals, but I'm not a perfectionist about the goals themselves. I'm rarely concerned with completing them. The fun is in the doing. I realize that some of my goals will never be completed, and some will not be completed for many years. This is beyond my control because many of my goals depend on other people as much as they depend on me.

For instance, I want to make a living writing stories, but this depends on people buying my stories. I can do everything right, write the best story, meet the best people, and still fail. That's life. But that doesn't mean I won't live to write. I choose to write instead of doctoring, soldiering, or building.

I know one thing about my father. He was very concerned with the end result. He was an excellent artist, but he never drew to draw, he drew to make money. His heart was in the money, not in the beautiful works of art he created with nothing more than a graphite pencil and a mushy eraser.

I'm much more concerned with the road than the end. I see every end as a dead-end, and am in no great hurry to leave the road I enjoy, for then I'd have to find another path.

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Concept Art

Each of the following were drawn and colored by Camille Pedraja. She's a fantastic pencil artist, as you can see!

I think having the characters drawn like this gave me a sense of direction. They were more than just creatures on the page to me after that. They were more realistic, more alive. Writing and art go together quite well.

There is more cover art to come, of course. Miss Pedraja and I are still working on the design for the first novel, Rising. I thought about using the same piece for each novel, but how boring would that get?


A black and white rendition of the three main characters. From left to right: Zen Mar, Clara Blackstone, and Amina Fay.


 In color. (Zen actually makes fun of Clara a few time throughout the first book for the dresses she wears.)

 An outline for Blackstone, the witch.

Blackstone, finished.

Cover art for at least one of the novels (right now it's slated for novel #2: Sacrifice)

All rights belong to Camille Pedraja. Be nice; don't steal these for your personal use.

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