As a parent of four, I may have an advantage over other fledgling fiction writers. All too often, I find myself dispensing advice (not-to-subtly masquerading as lectures) that, when played back inside my head, strikes me as wonderful wisdom for me to keep in mind for my fiction writing career. Topping the list is this:
Anything worth having requires hard work.
I was struck the other day with the realization that my children really don't give a damn about money. I provide them with ample opportunity to earn it, but so far all of my efforts have yielded a startling lack of action on their part. While the exact causes remain debatable, I realized that, when I was young, if I wanted to see a movie or take home a new video game, I had to earn the money for it. Satisfaction required work. But no longer. Want a movie? Why, there are a few thousand waiting on Netflix. New game? The Web and every app store is brimming with free titles. Entertainment is constant. Never faced with boredom, the need to engage imagination is rare. And in comparison with all of this easy, interactive engagement, daily chores, schoolwork, and regular interpersonal communication is cumbersome drudgery in comparison. The real danger here is that, in the world of digital entertainment, a sense of master comes easy. Thirty minutes with a new game, an hour tops, is all that's needed to become "epic." My children all possess a sense of mastery, but they are masters of meaningless things with no real world applicability. I fear that someday soon they will be faced with needing real skills, and when the world sees fit to separate the doers from the talkers, my children will be found lacking. (Not to sound like a geezer before my time, but I see this as a broad generational problem, not just one particular to my kids.) Mastery doesn't come in an hour or a week. It builds slowly over months and years. And if you don't find satisfaction in the long slog toward mastery as well as satisfaction in reaching key mileposts, then you're in for a very disappointing future.
Early writers often see the pursuit of fiction with children's eyes. Because publishing is now so easy, it somehow follows that mastery and success should also be easy. And why not? In 2011, with only a handful of titles out, I sold $64.85 of self-published content. In 2012, I added some more titles and sold $248.58, and this time I had evidence that not all of the sales went to friends and family. Like the ebook "revolution" as a whole, I was on a tear, showing 300% year-over-year growth. At that rate, I should just about hit $1,000 in 2013. Yes, I'm ashamed to say that I did do the calculator math to see the projections for ten years out.
Well, with two days left in 2013, year-to-date stands at $221.08. Despite how that sounds, I'm not whining. I don't tolerate it from my kids, and I'm not going to indulge myself. I only state this as a fact.
Perhaps it's no coincidence that ebook sales for the industry essentially went flat this year, but blaming that would be looking for a scapegoat. The truth is that I work a day job, have four kids, my wife is in school, and that leaves precious little time for producing fiction. The indie authors who are seeing 4X income jumps are the ones investing 4X as much time and producing 4X as many books. Not short stories. Not novellas. Books. In series. I haven't done that (yet), and the numbers show as much.
The point is that there is no instant gratification, not for anything worthwhile. I tell my kids that they need to a) identify a goal, b) create a plan to achieve that goal, and c) consistently tune their methods for goal achievement. The same is true for myself as an indie author.
Early in 2013, I set out an impossible list of fiction projects to accomplish, and I finished a few of them. Turns out that audiobooks take a wicked long time to edit and produce. Who knew? I finished second draft on my first young adult (YA) novel, only to find out that YA is not a high-volume genre in the indie world. That's not going to dissuade me from completing the project, but it probably will knock the series back from three books to two. I keep having ideas for short stories fall out of my head and into my "ideas" document, but this one document is now over 15,000 words long, and every time I add to it, I get frustrated knowing that all of those great concepts will probably never get developed because it would be economically imprudent to devote the necessary fiction writing hours to them.
No, the smart thing is to follow the market while trying to remain true to my own interests and passions. If all I cared about was trying to slavishly follow dollars, I'd be watching the Kindle Top 100 list and copying whatever the current 50 Shades of Hunger Games and Jack Reacher thing might be. Copycats can make good money...for a while. Or I could simply write in the romance and/or erotica genres, which vastly outsell all other market segments. Unfortunately, I've read a few romance novels, just to check out the feel of them, and it's simply not my bag.
After romance, mystery tends to be the biggest genre, but I've never had a good head for mysteries. Perhaps I'm just not that clever. Then comes thriller/suspense. I enjoy thrillers, but doing a thriller right demands a mastery of pacing that I don't feel I yet possess. THEN we come to fantasy, which is followed by science fiction. Horror arrives much farther down the list, and it's now so small that it didn't even register in the above 2012 graphic. I'm a speculative fiction writer, which encompasses the fantasy, sci-fi, and horror genres, and so far everything I've published has fallen into the latter two categories. I love writing this stuff, but it doesn't improve my odds at finding a larger market and more sales.
So here's my plan for 2014: Rather than spreadsheet out all of the things great and small I want to accomplish, complete with dates, lengths, and everything else, I'm only going to make a short to-do list.
1. Write the first draft of (working title) The Dragonette, Book 1. This is my fantasy-pirate collaboration with my friend, Baron. I pounded out the first 50,000 words of this during NaNoWriMo last month. I estimate about another 100,000 words to tackle in the first quarter of 2014. This was inspired by a Wikipedia article I stumbled across about a 14th century badass named Jeanne de Clisson (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeanne_de_Clisson). After a few months of planning and writing, our story now bears little resemblance to the source material, but I think it's a great tale set in a fascinating world. Figuring at least three drafts, I'm pushing to get this Book 1 of 5 published by the end of the year and the next two books in the series out during 2015.
2. Final draft and release of (working title) Winston Chase and the Alpha Machine, Book 1. This becomes my top priority after finishing first draft on The Dragonette 1.
3. Completion and publication of my second short story collection, Specula Two. Honestly, if I didn't have most of the material done already, I wouldn't be looking to do this project for at least another year or two. Sales of Specula One haven't done much, but I attribute that to the fact that most people don't read short fiction. Again, I've been putting hours in the wrong places.
4. Publication of both Specula volumes in audio. I'll be releasing the stories within each volume as individual titles, although I don't expect much sell-through on these.
5. A side project. Can't really say what this is yet, but I want to have a little wiggle room for something else that catches my eye as the year goes on.
Given the results of 2013 and what I learned about my own current capacities to balance fiction and non-fiction writing on a daily basis during NaNoWriMo, I have every belief that my ability to complete the above five items next year (without going bankrupt) will boil down to the one other bit of advice I give my kids on a daily basis:
In an age of social media, boundless games, and every other diversion imaginable, I am increasingly of the opinion that the one quality that will differentiate those who achieve personal success and those who don't in this century in the ability to focus and, not to put too fine a point on it, get shit done. Much as I hammer on my kids about this, I only do so because I struggle so much with it myself. The ability to self-impose structure and linear discipline in a world that grows more unstructured and decentralized by the day is more important than any degree or IQ or particular skill set. This is the real challenge of NaNoWriMo. It's not about being able to write 50,000 words in a month. Writing words is easy. But the discipline to do the planning, have a workable concept in place, and, most of all, the ability to not be distracted and keep writing for those two or three hours every day? That's hard. In the end, I suspect that focus -- and the ability to keep it up for years on end -- is what separates a professional from a wanna-be.
So this is my challenge for 2014. It's not about word counts, genres, marketing, titles, past regrets, or future hopes. It's really about improving focus. I owe it to my kids to set a good example for them. I owe it to my wife so we can have more and better quality time together. I owe it to myself so that I can remain on track to achieve my goals. And I owe it to you, my reader, because you support me with your time and dollars, and you deserve to enjoy some great stories. This next year, I promise to work as hard and smart as I possibly can to get you those stories.
William has been working in the tech field since 1991, when he began his long journey through working for a manufacturer's rep, being a distributor, moving into retail and corporate sales, shifting into journalism, and gradually transitioning into content marketing. In 1997, he sold his first articles to local computer magazines. By 1998, he was a full-time tech freelancer and now produces content for several of the industry's top companies.