August 11, 2023 / 2 Comments

The Spot X Used to Mark

I don’t like to talk about non-writing related things here on the ranty writing blog. In the sense of I like talking about writing (the art) as opposed to writing (the career). It’s why I rarely talk about publishing, marketing, agents, publicity, any of those after-issues. I’m a big believer that there’s not much point in me worrying about any of the career stuff until I’ve actually done the art stuff. Like I talked about a few weeks back, if you’re here, you’re 100% interested in the art, but not necessarily in the career.

But these are interesting times, and as I find myself navigating a path through them, I figured I might as well drop a bird crumb or three. Or beat the whole loaf into crumbs and just dump it out here. We’ll see which one turns out to be the better approach…

In case you missed it, the human embodiment of the Dunning-Krueger Effect spent an ungodly amount of money to buy a company he had absolutely no idea how to run. What followed next was kind of like a car crash I was once in. Another car slammed us into the side of the freeway, our car kind of bounced off the concrete wall, but momentum and a jammed steering wheel guided us back into side of the freeway again, where we bounced off again, slammed into the wall again, and continued doing this for maybe a full minute/ three or four impacts before the car finally came to rest a few hundred yards down the freeway. And no, the other driver never stopped, just shot off down the 405, looking for another car crash to cause.

So that’s what Twitter’s been like for the past couple of months.

Really, even before the Muskrat, things weren’t looking great. In general, the social media landscape’s been looking more and more like some bombed out no-man’s land during World War One. Algorithms have made sites less and less usable, while a complete lack of algorithms have made other sites less appealing. At this point, the only thing social media shows you is ads and the only thing you can easily find is outrage.

Where does this leave us all now?

Not in a great place.

I’m hardly the first to say it, but I think the age of social media may be over. It’s crumbling fast, at the very least. Yeah, there are a few places that have tried to step up and fill the gap, but none of them are moving at a good speed, either in growth or management. Bluesky’s probably my favorite right now, but it’s still got huge issues. Plus, if they shift to the federated idea, I think that pretty much kills them right there.

Yeah, federation’s just weird. It feels like a buzzword too many techbros are leaping at, even though it pretty much boils down to “social media, but with less reach.” It also feels a lot like “look, we invented subreddits!”

Anyway…

Hopefully it’s clear this really sucks for artists of all types. For a while now publishers (of all types) have kind of been leaning on artists to get their own message out. After all, through social media we can reach everyone pretty much everywhere, right? So… reach! New book coming out, book signing this weekend, anthology story in November, con appearance next month!

BUT… we all hate it when artists just say “buy my stuff” again and again. And most artists hate doing it. That’s why we’re usually just trying to… well, be ourselves. Show you other stuff we’re interested in. Movies, cooking, photography, LEGO, exercise, toys, pets, whatever. I think most people appreciate that honesty, even if it’s not something they might not be interested in themselves.

(like, for example. two writers I know from the fleshworld talk a lot on social media about Magic the Gathering, a game I know absolutely nothing about past “you play it with cards.” But I love their passion for it. It doesn’t matter that I’ve got no clue about it– I can enjoy their love of it)

Worth noting—I’ve never heard of an author not getting a deal because of a small social media following. I don’t think any publisher’s ever said “Wow, it’s the most amazing thing I’ve read this year and we think we can easily move 100K copies BUT you’ve only got 200 followers on Twitter. So sorry. Please try again later.”

I have, however, heard more than a few stories where blame for a book’s failure is quiiiiiiietly shifted to the author. They should’ve promoted more. They should’ve talked about it more. Clearly their fault. Nothing we could’ve done that would’ve changed things.

And the key thing here is it’s been shown time and time and time again that big social media numbers really don’t, in any way, translate to sales. There are famous examples of people with millions of followers who can’t even sell 500 copies of a book. I mentioned a while back how Nathan-freakin’-Fillion tweeted how much he liked the first two Ex-Heroes books and it barely bumped the needle on sales.

So all of this should be inconsequential! Social media collapsing really shouldn’t be the giant source of stress that it is for so many creative folks. But we keep doing it because… everyone expects us to. And we all have this nagging worry that if we don’t do it maybe sales will go down. Maybe my feeble attempts at keeping your attention really are where a third of my sales come from. Which would be sad on numerous levels. For all of us.

Plus… I made a joke about this a while back and Chuck Wendig actually just did a whole post about it over on his site. Most artists are exhausted by all of this. This whole collapse and trying to find a new place and… all of it. Seriously. I mean, we need to use social media—to some extent—as a business tool. So imagine having to move your whole office to another building. The office you’d spent years getting settled into and arranging, where everyone knew where you were and all your clients and associates knew right where to find you. But now you have to move.

So you pack everything up, move it all, get everything unboxed, start moving it all around, figuring where everything’s going to go, you give everyone your new phone number and new address and WHOA hang on, turns out this place has a ton of security issues. Sooooo pack it all up again, move again, get it all unboxed again, give everyone your new-new phone number and address and HOLY CRAP this new place is also owned by a narcissistic billionaire? Okay… pack it all up again, find another place, set it all up again…

And of course, every time you do this you lose something. A few photos. A little memory. There’s one or two people you forget to tell you’re moving. Five or six people who just can’t find that new address. Another five or six who refuse to drive to that part of town.

Again, that’s what the past few months have been like for most artists. Exhausting.

Which leads us to… what can we do?

Well, first off, a lot of it’s going to depend on you and what you can tolerate. What you want to be part of. What you want to support.

Past that…

I think, personally, if you like an author, an artist, a franchise, a toyline, whatever… you should probably bookmark their site now. Not their Twitter page or Instagram account—their site. Every writer and artist I know is trying to let everyone know where they’re going, but there are so many barriers in the way. We’re all scattering and some people are going to get lost. So ignore all the random platforms and just go straight to their little corner of the web. I guarantee you they’ve got something out there, even if it’s just 83% placeholder. So bookmark it, try to check it now and then. Like in the olden times, when the internet was just stone tablets that we threw at each other.

If said artist tells you they’re going somewhere… try to follow them. I screenshotted so many Bluesky addresses before I got an invite. All those folks saying “find me over here.” And when I finally got a code… I found as many of them as I could. Newsletters? Probably not a bad idea to sign up for those, too, if that’s your thing. Do you need a Bluesky invite? Seriously, I’ll just drop codes here if it helps people get away from Twitter. Because none of us can depend on it anymore. For anything.

I don’t know. This is feeling rambly. I have so many thoughts, and I’m also worried nobody’s ever going to read them. Because social media’s collapsed and I have no way to tell you I’ve put up a new post here on the ranty writing blog.

I guess we’ll all just have to see what happens.

Next time, I think I’d like to talk about how little time it took Usain Bolt to win an Olympic gold medal. Unless you’d like to talk about something else? Feel free to leave any thoughts, suggestions, or comments down below

And until then… go write.

February 10, 2022

How Long Did It Take…

I’d already planned this week’s topic and then the writing discourse, as some call it, veered toward length anyway. So call it happy coincidence. Or serendipity.

Okay, granted, they were talking about how long a manuscript should be, and we’ve talked about that here before. It’s old news, right? This week, when I’m talking about length, I wanted to talk about time. How long some of this takes.

I’ve blathered on before about how easy it is to follow your favorite writers on social media these days. So many of them are active to some degree on one platform or another. And they toss out advice and updates about their work. Plus, we can find authors at our own level, people who are going through the same struggles and frustrations.

Not surprisingly, we end up comparing ourselves to these other folks. Yeah, there’s dozens of reasons not to, but we can’t help ourselves. It’s human nature. We’re curious how we measure up. Has she written more than me? Does he write faster than me? How did their career take off so much faster than mine?

And a lot of the time, the answers to these questions are a bit intimidating. Maybe even discouraging. I mean, I’ve been working on this book for over a year now and she just pumped one out in eight weeks? What the hell? I know other writers aren’t my competition but seriously… how am I supposed to compete with that?

So the point I wanted to make is that… well, art’s a little subjective. It’s not like a construction project where we can say we broke ground last May and people are moving in this month. A lot of the starting and stopping points of art can be a little fuzzy. And some people… well, play with that fuzz. So to speak.

Like, we’ve talked before about how long it takes to write a book. Some folks consider the starting point when they started outlining. Some consider it when the idea first struck them. And others say they started writing when they typed Chapter One.

Let’s consider my first published novel– Ex-Heroes. When did I start writing it? Well, I made up a lot of the characters before I hit high school, so that was the early ‘80s. I jotted down my first rough notes in the summer of 2006, but I didn’t start actively working on it until mid-2008. So when did I start? Depending on how you want to look at it, we could say it took twenty-five years or about six months to write.

That’s not even considering most traditionally-published novels go through an editing process that can be a few months, and it might be even more months before the book’s actually out there in the world. So when are we saying the book’s done? When I turn it in? When the publishers edits are done? When the layouts are locked and it goes to print?

Or how about this one–a common yardstick people like to look at. How long was it from when you started writing until your first novel? But again, both of those points are kind of debatable. Yeah, I sold Ex-Heroes in late 2008, but it didn’t actually come out until early 2010. And there were a couple novels before it, but they didn’t sell. The first full novel that I actually completed was started in early ‘93 and finished in 2001… but then I spent about three years editing and rewriting. So when was my “first” novel?

And when did I start writing? When I was eight and blocking out original Star Wars stories in my Kenner Death Star playset? When I started using my mom’s massive electric typewriter? When I first started submitting stuff? When I started writing the first novel I actually finished? When I quit my film job to start writing full time? When I quit that job to start writing fiction full time? Any of these is a valid starting point, but they cover about thirty years.

Hopefully you see what I’m getting at. I can easily—and truthfully—say I started writing anytime between 1979 and 2010 and give solid justifications for why that’s the point I chose. Likewise, I can manipulate how long it took to go from “starting to work” to “first sold novel” and make it look really fast or really slow. I mean, we’ve talked once or thrice about the overnight success with a decade or more of work behind them.

And there’s a lot of reasons people might give these different figures. It could be a marketing thing. It might just be what they think counts as actual “writing.” Maybe it’s a deliberate attempt to fudge the numbers to try to make themselves look more impressive. It might be how some MFA professor taught them to do it and they’ve never shaken that particular habit.

My point is… don’t worry about these numbers. I shouldn’t worry abut how long it took to write my book. I don’t have to freak out because it feels like my career hasn’t taken off yet. My speed is my speed. Yeah, we’re all going to compare ourselves to other people’s numbers, but just remember… those numbers may have a bit of range to them.

Next time…

Actually, before I talk about next time—if you happen to be of the reviewing type and have access to NetGalley, my new novel The Broken Room is now there and can be requested. For the rest of you… holy crap, only eighteen more days!

Anyway, next time let’s talk about… the unknown.

(cue spooky music)

Until then, go write.
November 29, 2021 / 5 Comments

Cyber Monday IX: The Consumering

I’m not that big on Cyber Monday anymore because it really tends to just direct a lot of traffic toward Amazon. But it’s that time of year where people have too much eggnog and all the skeletons come out of the closet. Uncle Jack hates to admit it, but artists only get to make art because they get paid.  Artists get paid when people buy their art.

So I’m going to ask you to buy some books. And for two or three of them, I may have to direct you to Amazon. For everything else, you should just be going to your local bookstore and asking for a copy. They’re very cool, they could use the business, and this way you’re not one of those conformists sheeple falling for that Cyber Monday capitalist nonsense. You’ll get to brag about that until Valentine’s Day, easy.

So here’s a list of my books and a few short story collections. Please put them on your wish list or get them as gifts for friends and family members.

First up, you could pre-order The Broken Roomat your favorite local bookstore, in hardcover or paperback. It comes out in early March, so really this is a gift for yourself. And kind of for me, because those preorders really impress publishers and help out a lot. I think we’re going to be having a cover reveal any day now…

Terminus is part of the Threshold universe of stories. It’s about a bunch of people who end up at a strange, uncharted island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Chase is running away from things, Anne is running towards them, and Murdoch is slowly coming to realize he probably shouldn’t’ve stopped running. They all start to explore said strange island, their paths begin to cross, and the end of the world begins to unfold around them. It’s currently available in ebook and audiobook (read by the always-fantastic Ray Porter). No paper, I’m afraid, but I may have news about this next year…

Dead Moon is about a woman who runs away to the Moon and finds… well, zombies on the Moon. And some other things, too. It’s spooky and fun and I’m quite proud of it. It’s another one that’s in ebook and audio, but no paper (sorry)

Paradox Bound is my New York Times-bestselling story about infatuation, road trips, American history, a pretty cool train and some pretty creepy antagonists. F.Paul Wilson said it was like Doctor Who crossed with National Treasure, and if that doesn’t get you interested I don’t know what will. There’s an audiobook, ebook, paperbacks, and you might even find a hardcover here or there if you’re lucky. Call your local bookstoreand ask if they’ve got one.

Somebody once described The Fold as a horror-suspense novel disguised as a sci-fi-mystery, and I’ve always liked that. It’s available in pretty much every format you can imagine, and it’s also part of the unconnected “series” of Threshold books.

Several of you found your way here because of my odd little sci-fi-urban-horror-mystery novel–14. Alas, the paperback has lone since gone out of print, but there’s still an ebook and a phenomenal audiobook narrated by Ray Porter (the first project we did together). And there might be more versions in the year to come, but we’ll talk about those when we can… 

Another big bunch of you are here because of the Ex-Heroesseries. Superheroes fighting zombies in post-apocalyptic Los Angeles (and a few other places).  Ex-Heroes, Ex-Patriots, Ex-Communication, Ex-Purgatory, and Ex-Isle. All of these are available in a number of formats and a number of languages.

My mashup novel, The Eerie Adventures of the Lycanthrope Robinson Crusoe, is finally available as an audiobook. Bad news… it also only has audio and ebook versions at the moment. Sorry. Hoping to fix that soon, but I really think the audiobook might be a better format for this one.

I also have a short story collection called Dead Men Can’t Complain.  It’s got a bunch of stories I’ve had published over the years in various anthologies and journals, plus a few original ones.  It’s an Audible exclusive, and it’s read by Ray Porter and Ralph Lister.

You can pick up The Junkie Quatrain as either an ebook or an audiobook (still no paper, sorry). It’s my attempt at a “fast zombies” tale, a short series of interconnected stories I’ve described as Rashomon meets 28 Days Later. It also features a recurring character of mine, Quilt, who keeps showing up in different stories in one way or another… 

Thus ends my shameless Cyber Monday appeal to you.  Again, so very sorry we had to do this, but it really does make the marketing folks happy and they’ve always been really good to me. Also, please check out this year’s list of some of the great books I’ve read by other, much better authors.

And please don’t forget my Black Friday offer if you happen to be one of the folks who may need it.

We now resume your regular internet shopping. Browse responsibly. Clear your history on a regular basis. Especially you, Doug. No, sweet jebus, don’t click on that—that’s not really from PayPal.

And we’ll be back to regular writing stuff on Thursday.

November 27, 2021

Small Business Saturday

Hey there! As I have several times in the past, I thought I’d take a moment at the holidays to mention some of the books I’ve read and enjoyed this year by much more talented authors. If you’re still wondering about what to get that certain someone, you could go hit your local bookstore, browse around a bit, and maybe find a few things from this list they might enjoy.

Or maybe you’ll just find something on your own. That’s the fun of browsing in real-world bookstores.

So, in no real order…

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir – we’ll start with an easy one. If you haven’t somehow heard, Andy’s latest is (surprise) just fantastic. The tale of an (accidentally) lone astronaut’s desperate attempt to save the Earth. It’s fun, it’s fast, it’s incredibly smart while being ridiculously accessible. Absolutely anyone will enjoy it. Yeah, even that grouchy uncle who doesn’ tlike sci-fi stuff.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab—I’m a sucker for stories about memory and identity, and this book approaches it from the opposite side. What if it wasn’t your memory but everyone else’s. What if no one could ever remember you? What if they forgot you the moment they couldn’t see you? What kind of life would this be? And what if that life never, ever ended… ?

Bottle Demon by Stephen Blackmoore—every year Stephen writes a new book about necromancer Eric Carter and every year it ends up on this list. This most recent one is, hands down, his most amazing, and probably the most emotional, too, as Carter deals with an army of golems, an irate djinn, and the completely mysterious and unexpected resurrection of… well, himself.

King Bullet by Richard Kadrey—if you’re one of those people who waits for the end of a series to start reading, well, I guess this is a good day. Kadrey brings the Sandman Slim books to a close with one last Stark adventure and a truly magnificent ending that feels perfectly fitting while also being somehow completely unexpected.

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland—I’ve read a lot of zombie books out of a very broad genre, but this book manages to be fresh and very fun, picturing an alternate world where the American Civil War is disrupted by a mass zombie outbreak, and young women of color are trained to be bodyguards against the undead for “proper” women. I liked it so much I recommended this one for our Last Bookstore dystopian book club.

The History of What Comes Next by Sylvain Neuvel—a wonderful tale about aliens and their very long-game plan to shape the Earth’s assorted space programs to prepare us for… something. It’s one of those books that’ll teach you a lot of history even as it entertains you.

Madi by Duncan Jones, Alex deCampi, and too many fantastic artists to list here—this graphic novel is set in the same world as Jones’s films Moon and Mute, and asks what happens when a government super-cyborg decides to retire, especially when their body’s loaded up with proprietary software and hardware that requires ongoing maintenance and updates. It’s kind of like the weirdly fun baby that came out of a threeway between The Transporter, Crank, and The Bionic Woman.

Hard Reboot by Django Wexler—it’s a love story about a pair of women trying to rebuild a giant robot so it can compete on the giant robot pit-fighting circuit. Seriously, what more do you need to know?

Reclaimed by Madeleine Roux—remember what I said about memory and identity? Seriously, it’s like Madeleine wrote this book just for me. A group of people agree to be test subjects for a procedure that can erase traumatic experiences from your memory. But how much of who you are is defined by those experiences? What kind of person are you changed into once they’re gone? And how would you go about fixing that change…?

The Book of Accidents by Chuck Wendig—this is a beautiful, brutal book, and it’s almost tough to recommend because it hit a lot of nerves for me, personally, that are probably going to be raw forever. That said, it’s a wonderful book about choices and consequences and how they make us who we are.

All Systems Red by Martha Wells– people have been telling me about the Murderbot books for ages, so I’m really late to this party. You may already know this but if you somehow didn’t… wow, what a fun read. The story of a security android that figures out how to hack its own code, inadvertently becoming an independent being and now stuck guarding a group of scientists on a survey mission.

Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle –another one I’m really late on but goddamn. This was one of the first books I read in 2021 and it’s still hands down the best. There just aren’t enough adjectives to describe how fantastic this book is and on how many levels. Lovecraftian horror grounded in real-world horror and it’s just brutally beautiful.

And those are my personal favorites for the year. I may add to this list over the next week or two, depending on how my current reads go. Please feel free to add any of your own must-reads down in the comments. I’d also shamelessly remind you that you can find a lot of my own books at your favorite local bookstore, like The Fold, Paradox Bound, or the Ex-Heroes books.

I’ll also take this moment to remind you of my Black Friday offer, just in case you missed it earlier. Please feel free to get in touch if you think it might help you out. And please—it’s not about if someone needs it more than you. It’s just about if you need some help.

Oh, and if you happen to be at SDCC Special Edition this weekend, I’m going to be hosting the Writer’s Coffeehouse on Sunday at 11:30, room 32AB. Ninety minutes of random tips and facts from me as I try to answer all your questions about publishing, writing, and anywhere those two might overlap.

Happy holidays. Probably back to all our usual stuff next week.

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