To NaNo or Not to NaNo

That’s the 50,000 word question. More specifically (yet in less than 50,000 words), I mean to ask whether or not to participate in this year’s National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo. In general I’m positive on NaNoWriMo. If you’ve never written a novel but always wanted to, I highly recommend it. Either it will give you the kick in the pants to actually put in the effort, or it will force you to admit that after all these years, you don’t really like to write after all.

But I’m in a very different situation.

I’ve already written a novel. (BTW, that’s it on the right-hand column. Go buy a copy so that I can eat lunch.) In fact, I’ve already written three novels, and I’m rapidly closing in on the end of my fourth. I don’t need NaNoWriMo to find out if I can finally write that book.

What’s more, I have a pretty full writing schedule right now, and a number of my required tasks should realistically take priority over starting a new draft. First, I really do need to finish the draft of Debts of my Fathers. My original plan schedule had been to finish it in July, but as I’ve said elsewhere, I hit a snag. Second, I have first-reader comments back on Ships of My Fathers, and I need to make another editing pass on that, polish it, send it to my proofreader, and then start pushing it through the publishing process – something I had planned to do this calendar year. And third, I still have to do the edits to Hell Bent and get it out the door to first readers. Those tasks could probably eat up most of my writing time for the rest of the year.

Plus, this November is going to have less free time for me than previous years. I’m looking for a new job (mad C++ skills if anyone has a spot), and my wife may have to do some travelling this coming month. Add to that the ongoing demands of special needs kids, some teaching that I do, and a decent social life, and it’s going to be hard to make the time to do NaNoWriMo on top of all the rest of the writing-related work on the three projects already in progress.

And yet…

NaNoWriMo is an adrenaline rush for mad creativity junkies like me. It’s a blast. It’s some of the most fun I’ve had out of the bedroom. Hell, considering that I’ve done some of it on my laptop in bed, I suppose it also counts as some of the most fun I’ve had there too. There’s something about it that just sucks me in and squeezes those creative juices into a tangy fiction cocktail with just enough sweetness to cover the raw grain alcohol underneath. It’s heady stuff, and it’s hard to walk past it without at least taking a sniff.

I actually have a project in mind. By my original schedule, I was going to start it in October. It’s the sequel to Hell Bent, and my plan was to do the first-pass edits to that novel in September, so that in October I would be fully steeped in the character and universe and ready to go. As it is, I still haven’t done those edits yet. And of course, I was going to do the Ships of My Fathers work first while the draft of Debts of My Fathers was still fresh, allowing me to go back and drop in any details to the earlier work that were needed to set up the sequel.

Which brings me right back to where I was before: needing to be the responsible professional and do the scheduled work first.

So, right now I’m all over the map and completely undecided. With a day to go, I honestly have no idea whether I’ll be doing NaNoWriMo or not.

I guess we’ll see what happens Thursday morning.


This blog is now officially one year old. My first post was little more than “Hey! This is my blog!” and a brief introduction. I didn’t have any grand plans then. I can’t say my plans are that grand now either, but at least I’ve got some momentum.

And momentum is exactly what I was lacking a year ago. I had been piddling around with my writing for years… well, decades really. I felt I had a lot of stories to tell, and I thought my writing was rising to a professional level, but I was not getting anywhere. Of course, I wasn’t trying that hard, either. I had a couple of leads on agents, but I wasn’t sure how I wanted to proceed. For that matter, I wasn’t sure I even wanted to proceed.

You see, somewhere in that tentative agent hunt, one of those agents had asked an important question: why do I want to be published? This was different than the age-old question of why do I want to write, and notably, it was a question I had never asked myself. At the time it was asked, my only answer was that it seemed to be the next logical step, but writing and publishing are very different tasks, and just because I enjoyed one was no reason to think I would enjoy the other.

The other lurking question was whether to pursue traditional publishing at all or head out into the lands of self-publishing on my own. “No unagented submissions” was the rule of the day, and even getting an agent was a dicey proposition. Meanwhile, a legion of scam artists were eager to pounce on my dreams and turn them into debts and disaster.  And the self-publishing evangelists were making claims that seemed too good to be true.

To say I was stuck would be an exaggeration of my forward motion, but that had changed two weeks earlier. I was having lunch with a friend, and we were both bemoaning our lack of progress. He was trying to make the jump “above the line” in films, and I was trying to move forward on some kind of writing career. We had both been stuck for years, and we didn’t see anything obvious that was about to yank us forward.

And that’s when I said it. “I don’t want to be having this same conversation in two years.

It’s not pithy enough to be a Nike slogan, but it had the same effect. I dusted off this domain – registered but idle for years – and started blogging. I finished the edits to Beneath the Sky. I finished the draft to Hell Bent. I wrote the draft to Ships of My Fathers. When the new year came around, I finally answered my questions about publishing and made the decision to self-publish Beneath the Sky.  In May I did exactly that. Since then I’ve done first pass edits to Ships of My Fathers and launched into the draft of its sequel, Debts of My Fathers.

I’d like to say it’s been one steady roll of successes, but I’ve had my stumbles along the way. Publishing Beneath the Sky took longer than I had hoped, and I feel like I rushed the cover. The draft to Debts of My Fathers stalled over the summer due to distractions from a house full of special-needs kids and some problems with how the third act was shaping up. I’ve resolved those now, and I’m heading back in to finish it up. But now I’m two months behind where I wanted to be.

Still, I’m eager to keep moving and confident that when next September rolls around, I won’t be having that same stuck-in-the-mud conversation. Tasks that I’m still hoping to finish off this year include: finishing Debts of my Fathers, polishing and publishing Ships of my Fathers, getting Hell Bent into the hands of my beta readers, and writing the first draft to the sequel to Hell Bent, tentatively titled Stone Killer.

As for the blog, I have a few changes in mind. Some of them are cosmetic, but a few are content-focused. I will probably be dropping my intermittent blog entries on making gold in World of Warcraft – though for the record, I did punch through the one million gold mark this summer. (Fanfare?  Cheers?  Golf clap??)  Instead of talking about gaming, I’m going to take a stab at writing more short fiction. This is something I have not done regularly since the 1990’s, but I want to give it another shot. The SF/F essays will continue, and I will likely continue to talk some about writing and publishing. The book reviews will keep coming along as fast (er, I mean, as slow…) as I read them, but I’m thinking about adding some columns on movies as well.  Podcasting is still a possibility, but it’s iffy.

I hope to have two or three more books in print by the time this blogiversary rolls around next year, but other than that, I have no idea where this is all headed. As always, I’m making it up as I go.

Avoiding the Genre Trap

I want to write more than one genre of fiction. For that matter, I want to write some non-fiction as well. But a lot of writers end up writing in only one genre, the literary equivalent of type-casting. How does that happen, and how can I avoid it?

For starters, it happens to fewer authors than it appears. Quite a few of them write in multiple genres already, but they do so under different names. When their name is invested with a genre identity, like Anne Rice and the supernatural, it makes some sense to go with a different name for a different subject, such as the kinky erotica of Anne Rampling. This isn’t always the author’s choice, as it has often been forced by publishers, but a number of them have crossed genres under the guise of a new name.

But regardless of the name, there is still a real temptation to keep writing the same kind of thing. After all, if you crank out a great SF trilogy, you get pretty good at writing SF. While the nuts and bolts of writing SF would serve you well in fantasy or mystery, it would not be quite as simple. I suppose it’s the difference between building a second lawnmower vs. cobbling together a leaf blower. It’s simply easier to crank out the same old thing over and over.

Easier yes, but not as much fun, I would think. Having already done some genre jumping, I find I enjoy the mental muscles it exercises.

Then there’s the bird-in-the-hand issue of selling books before they’re written.  I’ve heard more than one author talk about how different things are once they’re selling books via a proposal. Once they’re a proven commodity, they can sell a book based on an outline a few chapters and then live on the advance while they actually write it. But publishers seem to want exactly what sold well last year, just newer. So, if your last SF novel was a success, they’ll want another successful SF novel.

One author described how his advances became something of a trap, because he felt he could no longer afford to branch out and try a different genre or experiment with some of his stranger ideas. While it might make a fabulous novel, even a commercially successful one, he knew he could never sell something that different on a proposal. So he stuck with what he knew, living from one advance to the next.

Most of all that, of course, is second or third hand information, but I confess that this is one of the things that pushed me towards self-publishing. I did not want to find myself in the position of writing a particular book simply because it was a lot like the last one. That’s hardly the only reason I went that way, but it did enter into my thinking.

The other thing I’m doing to avoid the genre trap is to write as much as I can and to do it in multiple genres. Certainly, I’m going to write some series books, but they won’t all be in the same genre, and some of them will definitely end so that others can begin. Right now I have three book projects strongly underway, with several others taking shape in the shadows.

Two of those are the first two books in a new SF/space opera series, set in the same universe as Beneath the Sky. These will follow the tale of a boy learning the truth about his parents and will eventually lead him into conflict with Father Chessman, a minor character from Beneath the Sky. The first of these, Ships of My Fathers, should be out this fall.

The other book that’s well in hand is the start of an urban fantasy series set in a Pittsburgh but stretches into other realms, ranging from Hell to the city of Fae. It’s less about the mighty magical powers coursing through the world and more about living in the nitty-gritty reality of that society. The first of these, Hell Bent, should be out early next year.

As for the other stuff that’s forming in the wings, I have a military SF series taking shape (also in the Beneath the Sky universe), two solo SF novels addressing more existential questions, a vampire series set in Japan, an epic fantasy of aging heroes, a mystery or two, and even some sketchy plots around romance and erotica. And then there’s the epic seventeen-novel future history that I’ll likely never write, as well as the many free-floating ideas that haven’t settled into a home yet.

If I go as far afield as romance, I’ll probably use a pen name, but I’d like to keep all of my SF and fantasy under my original name. There are enough successes like Elizabeth Moon and C.J. Cherryh who have spanned that pair of genres to prove it can be done. Whether mystery would go out under this name is an open question.

All I know is that I don’t want to end up writing book 17 of a series I’ve grown to hate, but perhaps I’m overly claustrophobic on that front. Maybe someone else would snuggle right on into that situation and be happy as a clam.

What about you? If you write, is your chosen genre a cozy sweater or a bear trap?

Lucky 7 Meme

I was tagged in a Lucky 7 meme by Jo Eberhardt, which challenged me and six others to post something from our current work in progress.

Specifically, the challenge states:

Go to the 7th or 77th page of your WIP.
Go to the 7th line of the page.
Copy the next 7 paragraphs (exactly as typed).
Tag 7 other authors and let them know they’re it.

I actually had to think about it a bit. Part of this is my reluctance to discuss work in progress, but it was also that I technically have three works in progress:

  • Ships of My Fathers, a space opera in the same universe as Beneath the Sky, is in the hands of beta readers.
  • Hell Bent, an urban fantasy “about a reporter who goes to hell”, is sitting in first draft form waiting for me to go the first pass revisions.
  • And finally, Debts of My Fathers, the sequel to Ships of My Fathers, is being written right now during June and July.

I thought about picking and choosing, but I figured that Debts of My Fathers was the most in progress of them all. I got the challenge when I was on page 62, so I put it off a few days until I passed page 77. (And just to show how much I was over-thinking this, I questioned whether to pick page 77 of the word document, or skip forward to page 78, since the cover sheet shouldn’t count.)

Anyway, here’s what I’ve got:

Foshey glanced around. “Is he here? Surely, he didn’t miss his son’s big night.”
“I’m afraid so,” Michael replied.
“Whatever was his excuse?”
“He died last year.”
“Oh, dear me… I just blundered right over that. I’m so sorry. I hope it wasn’t anything left over from the Caspians.”
“No, a simple accident, could have happened to anyone.”
Foshey took a step closer and sat on the seat next to Michael. “Still, I was in his debt, and now I suppose I’m in yours. What are you up to these days? Is there anything I can do to help?”

It doesn’t look like much, but those of you who have read Beneath the Sky will have already met Xavier Foshey (briefly in chapter 8) and might appreciate that this particular conversation could be… um… IMPORTANT. (You should thank me for not using the blink tag for emphasis.)

As for picking seven authors, I’m a little stuck. I can’t say I really know seven other authors well enough to tag this way. Or at the very least, I’m not sure I’m known by seven others well enough for them to be tagged by me. But here goes:

1. Allyson Whipple
2. Christine Rose
3. Steven Brust
4. Muffy Morrigan
5. Rhonda Eudaly

Ok, here’s where I start shooting for the moon…
6. Jim Butcher, because I want to see what Harry Dresden is doing now that he’s *SPOILER*
7. Jack McDevitt, because I want to see what Alex and Chase have gotten themselves into now, especially since we know that *SPOILER* may be returning to them soon.

I guess that’s it.

Un-Marketing My Book

One thing that’s been drilled into my head since I got into writing – long before indie publishing – was that writers are increasingly responsible for their own marketing. The major publishers will do virtually nothing for you unless your name is King, Rowling, or Clancy, and as an indie, it’s all up to me anyway. But while I understand that indie publishing means treating my writing like a business, all this marketing stuff never rang true for me. Why? Because it never seemed to matter to me as a reader.

I think about the last hundred books or so that I bought/read and my reasons for choosing them. The vast majority of these were because I already liked the author’s work, and in many cases the book was the next one in an ongoing series. A few others reached my in-pile because a friend recommended them to me. Some got there because I met the author and became interested in what they had to say. A few got there because one of those authors recommended it. And finally, I grabbed a few simply because the cover caught my eye, and the blurb on the back sounded interesting. Not one book got there because of a Twitter thread, a Facebook page, or a teaser video on YouTube.

I’m not unique in this. I recently read the results of a survey in which they asked people why they purchased their most recent book purchase. Alas, my google skills are not up to the task of finding it again, but I remember the gist of it. The top two answers were 1) because it was the next book in the series, and 2) because they liked the author’s other work. Those two answers accounted for about 70% of the responses for their most recent purchase. The next answer was that the book had been recommended by a friend, and it scored close to 20%. The last 10-15% were a mix of “saw it in the bookstore”, “read a review”, and so on.

One of the lessons to take from that is that the best marketing you can is to get another book out to your existing readers. After all, if 70% of what your readers will buy is going to be from authors they already know, then give them something new of yours to buy.

Of course, that only works once you have readers in the first place. How do you get those readers? That’s what that last 30% of the survey was about. The biggest among them was recommendations by friends, a.k.a. word of mouth. There’s not a lot I can do about that except try to be worthy of a recommendation. The first book is out the door and is as good as it’s ever going to be, so I can’t actively do much more about that. However, I can put out another one. If they didn’t like the first book enough to gush fanatically, maybe the next one will strike the right spot.

As for some of other reasons, “saw it in a bookstore” is a little out of my reach. This is one area where traditional publishers really can flex their marketing muscle. They pay bookstores to place certain titles in prominent locations or arrange them face-out instead of spine-out on the shelves. While you should be able to order my book at a bookstore, it won’t be sitting around in the impulse-buy section.

However, the online stores of Amazon and Barnes & Noble have some programmatic recommendations, i.e. “people who bought this also liked these…” If one of your books pops up there with an eye-catching cover, you can reap same benefit as those bookstore placements. A click-and-scan is about as good as a pick-up-and-gander. But how can I maximize that? How can I have more chances at that kind of thing? Perhaps the most effective way is to have more books out and available, since that puts more covers into the eyeball hunt.

Sensing a pattern?

Yeah, both my gut and my research tells me that the best use of my marketing time and energy is in getting more books out there rather than in trying to promote this first title. Once I have three, five, or even ten titles out, it might make more sense to invest the energy into all those flashy marketing schemes. It would require about the same effort then as it would now, but later on I’ll have a shot at selling them five or ten books instead of just one. Then I can hope to hook them for the long term, while now about all I can hope for is to become that guy who wrote that book… hmmm, I wonder whatever happened to him?

Now, I am going to do some activities that qualify as marketing, but not so much for their supposed marketing power. Instead, I’m going to do them because they’re FUN!

I like to blog, particularly about geeky things like SF/F and even some gaming. That’s going to keep going. In fact, it’s going to be hard to shut me up about it. Ostensibly, it does have a marketing purpose in that it lets readers connect with the author as well as provide a hub for news and sales links. But it also gives me a place to blather on about ray guns and FTL drives. I may do a few “guest blog” spots for other blogs, but that’s about all I’m going to do beyond my original focus.

I like going to SF/F conventions. I have made a lot of friends in those communities, and it’s a great opportunity to geek out with fellow fans face to face. I mean, where else are you going to have a random conversation about who would win the epic Enterprise vs. Galactica showdown? (FWIW, I say it’s the Enterprise for the simple reason that Galactica has no FTL sensors.) But there are valid marketing reasons as well. If I ever end up on a panel, people who’ve never heard of me will get a chance to hear me blather on about Cylon spirituality or the cost of using magic. Plus, there’s also all those people arguing over whether a hockey stick made for a good wizard staff in the TV version of the Dresden files.

I should say, though, that these con folks are not merely my fellow fanatics and… ahem, cult members. They are also what you might call mavens. If you’ve read The Tipping Point, you’ll recognize maven as one of the roles various people play in the viral spread of ideas. In the word of mouth network, mavens are the domain experts. If they like something, their recommendation carries a lot of weight. Getting an idea (or a book) in front of them is worthwhile.

But even without that, I’d still be going. I’ve been attending SF/F cons for twenty years, and with or without my books, I plan on going for twenty more.

And then there’s some stuff that just looks fun.  One final bit of fun marketing I might try is something I saw another author talking about this morning.  The idea is to take snippets of dialog from the book – the lines that really stick – and turn them into little postcard images. She then posts them to a Tumblr blog.

It reminds me a bit of an old Heinlein collection called “The Notebooks of Lazarus Long”, a beautifully illuminated collection of snappy quotes from the various Lazarus Long books. (Note, the original is long-since out of print, and a newer book of the same title is not at all the same thing, but I did see a copy of the original on Ebay just now for less than $40.) Since I often use fictional quotes as chapter heads, I could see this as a fun exercise. Maybe toss in a few bits from SomeECards as well. If I do this, I’ll be sure to link to it from here.

But other than those three things (blogging, cons, and quotes), I’m just going to keep up with the writing. I have two more books going through the edit process. One is in the same universe as Beneath the Sky, but it’s not a sequel. Instead, it’s book one of what feels like a five-book series. It’s tentatively titled Ships of My Fathers. The other is an urban fantasy about a reporter living in a cross-realm version of our own Pittsburgh, dealing with demons, wizards, and the occasional fae. It’s tentatively titled Hell Bent and is the first in an open-ended series. My goal is to get at least one of those out to readers this year, probably starting with Ships of my Fathers. I also hope to write the sequels to both of those to get out the door next year.

So, I’ll see you around, and I hope you enjoy my un-marketing.

2012: The Open Road Before Me

Yep, it’s goal setting time! I don’t generally do resolutions as they tend towards wishy-washy half-promises that evaporate by February. I prefer goals, since they’re less about making abstract changes and more about achieving concrete objectives. So, I thought I would share my writing goals for 2012.

The short of it is this: My goal is to publish two books this year, write two more, and keep up with the bloggy stuff.

Now let’s try that a bit slower.


I have decided, for now at least, that I’m going to pursue the self/indie-publishing route rather than traditional publishing. I’ll say a lot more about that in a later post, probably next week, but for 2012 and probably 2013, that’s the course I’m taking.

My first novel, Beneath the Sky, is pretty much ready. (I would argue that it’s not really my first novel, but that, again, is a whole’nuther post.) It still needs my copy edit pass, and then I’m seriously considering hiring a copy editor I know to give it a professional combing. You know, catch all the their-there-they’re stuff.

However, even then, it will be ready as a manuscript, not as a book. I need to do the formatting for Kindle, Nook, iPad, etc., as well as for print books. Yes, I intend to go with both e-book and physical book versions. That’s not as much work as you might think since it’s really only three formats: Kindle, e-Pub (which Smashwords will translate and push for you), and whatever format CreateSpace wants.

I will also need to do the cover. In a previous life, I was a half-decent artist and a pretty good graphic designer. However, I haven’t painted anything in over a year, and even that was a year of not painting much. As much as I’ve focused on my writing lately, my painting has been quite stalled. (Ironically, it was my frustration with a book cover commission that did a lot to sap my passion for painting.) So, I’m a little undecided on this. I could whip out my artistic toolbox and see if I can muster something up, or I could go to one of my artist friends and ask them to paint something for me. I can provide sketches. I just don’t know if my current skill set can make those sketches look good.

As a side note, if you’re interested, here are a few of my pieces from that former life:  Night StormAging ImmortalThe Offering (a little racy), and Priestess of Tides (more than a little racy).

So, while I think I understand the basic process, I’ve never done it before and don’t realistically know how long it’s going to take me. However, as a ballpark, I’m going to aim for three months, so hopefully I’ll have something to show for my efforts in April.

As for the second book, Hell Bent, I have more work to do on the manuscript itself. It’s not yet ready for the beta readers, but that task is coming up soon, well before Beneath the Sky is likely to see paper or Kindle. Then, once I have some reader feedback, I’ll be fixing all the holes and lame characters that they find, and then… well, it will need to simmer a bit. But then hopefully it will just need another copy edit pass (possibly a professional one), and then formatting, cover, etc. In short, it will need all the things I discovered Beneath the Sky needed but didn’t know in January. My goal is to get this one out in the latter part of the year, maybe as early as July, but to be safe I’m giving myself until October.


So, I’ve written two drafts in the last fourteen months, and that span included a stretch of about nine months when I wasn’t writing any fiction at all. I hope to avoid another nasty stretch like that and crank out two new drafts in 2012. As I’m trying to alternate between SF and fantasy, the first one this year will be fantasy. In fact, it is likely to be a sequel to Hell Bent, since that was written intentionally as the first book in a series. Of course, before I set finger to key on that one, I’ll need to have gotten good enough feedback from the beta readers of Hell Bent to feel confident that a sequel is in order. I hope to write that one sometime in the spring to early summer, probably after I get Beneath the Sky out the door.

Then, somewhere in there, I need to do a first pass edit on my just-completed-last-week draft of Ships of my Fathers. There are two reasons for this. First, I want to keep the pipeline full so that I can do a similar 2+2 goal next year, and second, because I want to get the beta reader feedback to see if Ships of my Fathers is worth a sequel. Why? Well…

The second draft I’m planning to write in 2012 is a sequel to Ships of my Fathers. Much like Hell Bent, it was written intentionally to be the first of a series. However, while I can see Hell Bent leading to any number of books, Ships of my Fathers is much more likely to be limited to a 4-6 book run. Hell Bent can easily be “the continuing adventures of…” whereas Ships of my Fathers is headed to a very specific destination. Once it gets there, it’s either “live happily ever after” or “let me toil eternally in anguish for my mistakes”, and no one wants to read that. Or at the very least, I don’t want to write it.

This might be leading me to a soft fur-lined trap of bouncing back and forth between these two series for 5+ years, but that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. On the other hand, if I can pull off 2+2 for a year or two, maybe I can up the ante to 3+3 and splice in some extra variety. But for now, I’m shooting for 2+2 to keep the pipeline flowing for the next year.


I’m reasonably happy with what I’ve been doing with the blog so far, and I’m likely to keep the same kind of schedule, namely an essay on Monday, a writing/publishing article on Wednesday, and a book review on Friday. Other things will pop in randomly, but that’s the basic idea. However, I do plan on two relatively minor changes.

First, the Monday essay is going to see a few multi-part essays. When I started brainstorming ideas to write on, I ran into several that I really wanted to expound on but would require far too much text for a single blog entry. Well, too much for an entry I expected anyone to actually read. So, I held off on them until now. After all, I didn’t want to start the blog with “A Study of the Interstellar Migration of Butterflies, parts 1 through 22”.

Second, as I get more into the publishing game, the Wednesday column is going to turn a bit more personal as I share the gory details of the process, especially this first time through. Later, I’ll probably shift more to talking about the actual writing stuff. That may very well bore readers to tears, but I’m afraid it’s inevitable: if you give a writer a blog, sooner or later he starts blathering about voice, pacing, and the superiority of the Oxford comma.

Note: my original concept for this blog was to do it as a podcast, likely a weekly one, where the Monday, Wednesday, and Friday entries were simply different sections of the podcast, probably coming in at the 20-40 minute range. However, some hiccups with recording and sound editing kept the blog on hold for over a year before I finally set the podcast idea aside, at least temporarily. I don’t expect to pick it up again this year, but you never know. However, even if I did add it as a podcast, I would almost certainly keep the text portions as they are.

So that’s it for 2012. Hopefully, I’ll be greeting 2013 with success. At the very least, I’ll be greeting it with a big raspberry for all those Mayan calendar doofuses… doofusses… doofi… hell, why doesn’t the dictionary ever conjugate the one word you really need?