September 23, 2019 / 3 Comments

Getting Paid To Do It

A funny title, yeah, but I freely admit I’m kinda lifting it from a somewhat-similarly themed book by Peter Lefcourt and Laura J Shapiro.

Look, nobody likes talking about this sort of stuff. It makes us all feel a bit uneasy, because our Puritan ancestors beat this sort of thing into us so hard we’re all still feeling it 400 years later. “Money is the root of all evil! Hard work is its own reward! Money won’t buy you happiness!” I’ll be honest—I’m aware of all of this, this kinda societal indoctrination—and I’m still feeling kinda weird sitting here writing about it.

A lot of folks are talking about this right now and I think that’s good. Different facets of this topic keep coming up to the surface every few months it seems, and a few versions have been bouncing around the internet just the past week or two. It’s like the little dodecahedron inside a Magic 8-Ball, and every time we swirl it a new face pops up in the window and says something along the lines of IF YOU WERE A REAL ARTIST THE MONEY WOULDN’T MATTER

So let’s toss the Magic 8-Ball aside for now (you know we’re just going to pick it up again—they’re always so tempting) and try to have an honest talk about art and money. Because there’s a number of folks on both sides of the artist/audience line that have kinda… skewed views on, well, doing it for money.

One thing we don’t talk about is the fact that a lot of the art that gets created is inevitably shaped by financial factors. I know a ton of artists. Comic artists, painters, sculptors, actors, singers, and yeah a ton of writers of all types.  Fiction writers of pretty much any genre you can think of, screenwriters, playwrights… I’m even really good friends with a published poet.

A truly stunning thing these folks all have in common is that they’re real people. Just like the people you see on the street and work with. Artists have all sorts of bills to pay. Rents and mortgages. Utilities. Credit cards. Car repairs. Groceries. Medical bills (with and without coverage). A fair number of them have kids! I don’t, but I’m guessing  kids cost at least as much as cats, money-wise, so… wow.  So, like everybody else, artists have to make some of our decisions based on how much is in the bank.

Now, to be very clear right up front, I’m not saying any of my friends or acquaintances don’t care about art. These people love what they do, they care how things turn out, they want the things they create to be amazing.  And they turn out some amazing stuff and they (deservedly) make money off it.

Which is something a lot of people don’t get. This isn’t a binary thing. I can care about the art AND think about the money. Cause the truth is, if I’m going to do this—especially as any sort of job or career—money’s going to be a factor in my decision making process. It’s unavoidable. We can talk about the muse all you want, but at the end of the day, artists have to pay the bills just like everybody else.

There’s a Richard Matheson quote many of you have heard me mangle at some point or another– “Writing is art,  publishing is the business of selling as many copies of that art as possible.”  The minute I’m dealing with publishing—traditional publishing, self publishing, hybrid, small press, whatever—I’m talking about business. and business means money is changing hands and certain expectations need to be met.

Money’s a huge factor in self publishing because… well, I’m the publisher. That’s the money side of the equation. Copyedits, layouts, cover art, marketing—it all costs money if I want it done right.  And if this is about the art, I want to do it right, don’t I? Which means I’m probably starting my self-publishing venture at a loss.

Even when things are going great in traditional publishing, money’s a factor.  I’ve gone to an editor with three or four things I’d like to write and they’ve said “Well… we’ll pay you X for this one, or 5X for that one.” I ask you, kind reader, if you had the choice between a six month job that pays you $10/hour or a six month job that pays $50/hour, and they’re both jobs you’re interested in… which one are you going to pick?

I know which one I picked when I got stuck with that choice. This is my job. This is how I earn money for all those bills and expenses. So I made a choice and I got to write a story I really wanted to write and get paid for it. And the other one… I didn’t write.”But isn’t that what Kickstarters and Patreon are for? So you can just make any art you want?” says random internet user twenty two, cleverly countering me.

Well… sort of.  I don’t have a Patreon, but, I feel reasonably sure if I started one I could get a couple folks backing me for a buck or two. People who want to see me write more books and stories they like in the genres they like.

Which is kinda the catch. These folks would be sponsoring me because they want to see more of this weird cross-genre stuff I write. I back maybe a dozen people on Patreon, and I can honestly say that there isn’t one of them where I said “the past is irrelevant—I want to see what completely different thing they do next!”  I’m not against them doing new things, but the simple truth is I sponsored all of them because I liked their work and thought “I hope they’ll keep doing this.” I bet most of you are the same way with anyone you back.  If I thanked my hypothetical patrons tomorrow and announced that now I can finally write the Mediterranean romance trilogy I’ve always dreamed of… well, I wouldn’t be too shocked if that patron count dropped a bit over the next month  or so.  Sure, some folks would stay, absolutely. But most of them… they’re understandably going to move on and find something they like.

Same with a Kickstarter—it’s for one specific thing. If I tell you I’m doing a Kickstarter for X, I can’t change my mind and deliver Y. So it’s soooort of artistic freedom.  I can try something and hope people want to back it.  But I’m not really deciding what I get to do. I’m throwing options out there and letting other people choose for me.Sooooooo yeah. Financial considerations, again.

And, to be very clear–I’m NOT saying Kickstarter or Patreon are bad things. They’re fantastic things. They let a lot of artists do a lot of work they otherwise wouldn’t get to do. But using them doesn’t mean these artists are suddenly free of any and all financial constraints on their art.

There are costs to making art.  Always are, always have been.  And a lot of artists never recoup those costs. And waaaayy too many people think they shouldn’t. Think they’re bad artists for even wanting to make money. Or asking for money. Where the hell do I get off, hoping for some sort of compensation for that thing I spent six months of my life working on?

”Well, I don’t mind suffering a bit for my art and giving up a few hours of sleep!” says random internet user number seventeen. That’s cool. You do you. But the simple truth is, if that’s my path it’s eventually going to affect my health, which will mean medical expenses, which brings us back to… money. And probably time, too. Which means it cuts into the art.

And let’s have a moment of frank honesty. There are some folks who loudly insist “the money doesn’t matter” because… well, they’re not making any money. So this becomes kind of a well-padded moral armor for them. “I haven’t failed or been rejected— I just care more about the ART than about your filthy lucre.”

Look, the point I’m trying to make is… don’t be any of these people.  Don’t berate artists for wanting to make a living. Don’t mock them for having financial concerns. Don’t come up with elaborate justifications not to pay them for their work (83% of which always seem to be some twisted logic to justify piracy).

If I’m an artist… I shouldn’t be ashamed that I took a job because I needed the money. Or because it just paid more. It doesn’t make me any less of an artist.  Artists all through history took paid gigs and commissions to put food on the table, and they still did some of their best work with them. Likewise, I shouldn’t feel bad about walking away from a job because, one way or another, I couldn’t afford to do it (financially or time-wise). Yeah, even if it’s something I may have really wanted to do. We’ve all had to pass on fun projects because, in the end, they were going to hurt way more than help.

And being an artist shouldn’t mean hurting myself.

Anyway… that’s my clumsy, scattershot thoughts on money.

Next time… well, we talked about getting paid to do it. So I guess next time we should address if you’re getting it or not.

Until then, go write.

            A couple folks have asked me questions related to marketing over the past few weeks, so I thought it’d be worth going over a couple things about this.
            There’s a wonderful Richard Matheson quote that Jonathan Maberry related to me a few years back.  If you’ve gone to either of the SoCal Writers Coffeehouses and listened to us speak (well, Jonathan speaks, I kinda babble on a lot until I run out of breath), you’ve probably heard it three or four times.  Writing is art, publishing is the business of selling as many copies of that art as possible.
            Marketing, big surprise, is part of publishing.  It’s a very necessary part of publishing, whether I’m doing it myself, with a small press, or I’m the favorite author at a Big Five imprint.  It’s how people discover I’ve got something to sell.
            Marketing can take a lot of forms.  It’s everything from me posting the new cover on Twitter to your book being plastered on the side of a bus.  It’s the copy on the back of the book and me summing it up in two lines for you at a convention.
            But the sole point of it, in all these examples, is to sell books.
            And sometimes… this can create some conflicts with the art side.

            As we move forward here, I’m sure some folks may try to read into this.  It isn’t a subtweet or an angry rant.  I’m not calling anyone out or absolving anyone of blame or any of that.  I’m just tossing out some facts.  Publishing is a business, and if I want to be successful in that business (and avoid a ton of stress), it helps to understand how it works.

            Also, I know there’s a fine line between marketing and publicity and I always mess it up, so please forgive me if I weave back and forth across that line once or thrice here.  I don’t think I’m ever going to end up in the other lane, but we may hear those bumpy lane divider once or thrice.
            Okay, so, if marketing is getting people to buy my book, how do I do that?  I can tell them the genre and see if it’s something they like.  Maybe the type of characters I use.  I can point out other books like it, or other storylines it may tie into.  I can even offer little summaries or excerpts to tease potential readers with.  Doesn’t this sound like a creepy/sexy/amazing/funny story?  You saw the dragon, right?  You know you like dragons.  And this one’s got a lightsaber.  Trust me, The Jedi of Krynn is the book you’ve been waiting your whole life for.
            But seriously…
            One of the big challenges here—the conflict between art and business—is how much do we tell?  How do we find that fine line between getting the sale and keeping the book enjoyable?  Tell too much and now all the book’s punch is already out there.  Don’t tell enough and… well, maybe nobody reads it at all.
            Do I mention every character in the book, even if some are supposed to be surprises?  Should I mention the big twist?  Should I hint at it?  Heck, sometimes even just naming the genre can be a bit of a spoiler.  And every spoiler saps a little bit of the story’s power… which lessens the chances for word-of-mouth sales.  Now my cool novel is just kind of a bland book with no real surprises in it.
            Sometimes what seem like simples questions can cause marketing headaches.  For example…
            (Some minor MCU spoilers coming at you)
            Does Ant Man & The Wasp tie into Avengers: Infinity War
            Simple question, right?  But how do you answer it?  If I say no, there’s a bunch of people who might skip it. Plus, I’m lying, which people will then call me out for and complain about.  If I say yes, people complain because… well, 99.5% of the film doesn’t tie in at all.  And that last half a percent… well, if I’m saying yes, I’m kinda spoiling that super-powerful reveal, aren’t I?  There really isn’t a good way to answer it.
            Of course, even not answering it at all can cause problems, because then people will speculate around that sort of “negative space” left by the non-answer.  They’ll read into things, make assumptions, and develop expectations.  And these expectations will either be correct, in which case…  well, they’re acting like spoilers again.  Or they’re incorrect, and now people are upset because the expectations they went in with aren’t being met, no matter what the actual story is (or how good it is).
            There’s another angle here, too.  One you’ve probably heard before.  People like series.  They like them a lot, if you look at sales records. To be honest, publishers like them, too.  Editors love to see a new book with series potential.  And spin off potential.  And tie-in potential.
            But here’s another catch.  People want to know how all this stuff fits together.  They want to know if something is canon or set on Earth-23 or Earth 15 but stillcanon or does this involve Wakko before or after his cybernetic upgrades?  Because let’s face it—there’s no point reading any of the stories before he became bionic, right?  Why even bother?
            So when things don’t fall into a neat A-B-C, 1-2-3pattern, it’s not unusual for marketing to just… well, kind of wing it.  Like, okay, how would you number the Star Wars films (or all the novelizations and spin off books)?  By the order they came out?  That won’t make much sense.  By the order they fit in the story?  That means A New Hope: Episode IV is actually movie six.   And how does that work if they do a new prequel story?  Do we re-number everything?  Do we just number some things but not others?  I saw the novelization of Rogue One listed once as Star Wars: Book 18, and I have no clue what that’s supposed to mean.
            Sure, we could leave them unnumbered but… well, that could cost sales, too.  Some folks don’t like reading a series until it’s done, and if I don’t say it’s a trilogy or whatever, well… maybe they’ll never pick it up at all.  So I probably need some kind of designation if I want these to sell, right?
            Or do I?
            Plus… sometimes explaining where things fit in can be a spoiler.  We thought this story was in the future, but it’s actually in the past.  We thought it was here on Earth but it’s actually on the mirror-universe world of Urth.  And that puts us back at… well, what do we tell?  How do we keep the book enjoyable while also getting people to buy it?
            It’s a mess.  Seriously.  And everyone’s clawing their way through trying to find a balance that preserves the art but still serves the business.  Everyone knows you can’t pick one over the other, but every single book (or movie or television show) becomes a new attempt at finding that balance point.  The guidelines we use for my book won’t work for yours. 
            And it doesn’t help when some folks, deliberately or not, muddle things even more.  We’ll play up the mention of that character or the appearance of that plot thread. I’ve seen things described as romances because of one thin subplot, or spiritual because someone prays at some point (I won’t tell you what they were praying for…)  I’ve mentioned before how for a while any book or movie with a somehow-superhuman character was billed as a superhero story.  These are the things that make people grumble about marketing, and make marketing folks grumble about people who just follow buzzwords.
            I just thought it was worth tossing this out.  Mostly because a few folks have complained long and hard about the marketing for Dead Moon.  I’ve tried to address some of these things for, oh, eight or nine months nowbut… well, as I’ve been saying, some complaints are inevitable, no matter what. 
            But also partly because, like I said in the beginning, this is stuff worth knowing and thinking about.
            And I’m sure there will be some more thoughts down in the comments.
            Next time—like, tomorrow—some thoughts on dialogue.
            Until then, go write.
January 5, 2017

Here We Go Again…

            Hope you had a fantastic New Year, everyone.  Welcome to 2017.  Or, as history will probably call it, America’s make-or-break year.
            As I often do at the start of each year, I wanted to blab on for a minute or three about what I hope to accomplish with this little collection of rants and ravings.  And I think one of the best ways to accomplish that is to start off by telling a quick story…
            Another friend of mine—a very accomplished professional writer—talks about some advice he got once from Richard Matheson.  To paraphrase, writing is an art.  Publishingis the business of selling as many copies of that art as possible.  If I want to be a successful writer, I need to understand that difference.
            What does that have to do with my rants?
            This page isn’t about “when you’re done.”  I’m always coming across pages and groups where people want to know what to do with their finished manuscript.  How do I get an agent?  How do I promote myself?  How do I get a publisher?  Should I self-publish?  Should I be networking more?  How do I get blurbs?
            None of that here.  That’s all publishing stuff.
            Not to sound harsh, but this page also isn’t for inspirational ideas, mindless encouragement, or a joyous celebration of art.  I’m not really big on the we-can-all-succeed mindset (I used to say “special snowflake,” but that’s become a stupider, crueler term lately, so I don’t feel very comfortable with it anymore).  I’m also not a fan of those folks who see writing as some bohemian form of expression where there are no wrong answers or directions.  If that’s the kind of “advice” you’re looking for… wow, this is so not the place you want to be.
            And, I also don’t use this page for self-promotion.  I may mention stuff that’s new or noteworthy, but that’s about it.  No sales or contests or interviews (well, not with me, anyway).  There’s some links on the side, yeah, but those are almost more for credentials purposes than sales.
            (Although if you want to buy something, I’d never object…)
            So, with all that out of the way… what are all these little rants for?
            Well, it struck me about ten years ago that there weren’t many places online to find actual help with writing.  Not useful help, anyway.  Yeah, all that “when you’re done” stuff I mentioned is important, but the writing is the first big step.  Nothing else matters until that step is done.  If I don’t have a decent piece of art, there’s nothing to do on the publishing half of the equation.  It doesn’t matter how much work I put into self-promotion.
            I look around and I saw—and still see—a lot of folks making mistakes with their writing.  Sometimes it’s from inexperience.  Sometimes it’s wishful thinking.  Sometimes it’s from following bad advice.  And a few times…
            Okay, sometimes I have no clue where some people are getting their information from.
            This is the time when we all make a lot of resolutions.  We’re going to quit smoking, drink less, eat better, exercise more, travel more… and maybe write more.  Maybe finally get that manuscript finished and out to some publishers.
            Now, sadly, we all know the truth behind a lot of these resolutions.  Most people don’t follow through on them.  In fact, a lot of gyms and weight loss programs make a ton of money off people who sign up for a one year membership in January and then more or less give up in… February.
            I’ve already seen a ton of folks making promises to themselves.  To finish a screenplay or a book.  Maybe two books.  That’s mine.  To finally get two books done in one year.
            But why?  Do I just want to write a screenplay because I’ve always wanted to try it?  Or am I hoping this could lead to a career in the film industry?  Am I looking to write a novel just for myself, or am I maybe looking to…well, make some money off of it?  And if so, am I looking at this as a nice hobby that will pay for some LEGO models, or is this something I’m hoping will be a career?  Like a paying-all-the-bills career?
            As I talked about earlier, when I first started this page a good chunk of the actual writing advice I could find was kind of… questionable.  Always follow this structure.  Always write at least 1000 words a day.  Don’t worry about spelling or editing.  Never use common wordsNever use saidName every character.  It all just seemed to be either something people were pulling out of the air or they were repeating something that had gone through twenty rounds of the telephone game.
            So what I’ve been trying to do here is to fill a gap.  To offer some useful help for people who’d like to improve their writing and move it toward something they could actually sell to a much larger audience and maybe not just… well, a hundred people they know between Facebook and Twitter.
            This means there’ll be some harsh facts now and then.  Yeah, facts, not opinions.  Also some very firm rules.  Some people will argue with these (some people always do) because some of those facts and rules are going to go against the way they’ve chosen to see things in the writing-publishing world.  Others will be upset because some of the things I say might indicate they’re not quite as far along their career path as they thought.  Or maybe they’re not on it at all. 
            I apologize in advance if this ends up being you.  It’s nothing personal—it’s just the facts as I see them after almost (gasp) thirty-seven years of trying to do this professionally.  If it makes you feel better, there are very, very few screw-ups you can make that I didn’t beat you to ages ago.  And I learned from them and want to help you get past them.
            I’ll also offer up some much gentler tips and advice.  Some of these suggestions will work for you.  Some won’t.  Part of my job as a professional writer is to figure out what does and doesn’t work for me.  I’ve spent years doing it.  If you want to be a professional, it’s part of your job, too.
            And if writing’s just something you like to dabble with on weeknights because you enjoy it… cool.  Nothing wrong with that.  Maybe you’ll find some stuff here that makes it even more fun for you.  Or maybe you’ll just show up to laugh at those of us in the publishing rat race.  That’s cool, too.
            So…that’s the basic idea behind this page.  There may be two or three deviations over the course of a year, but mostly… that’s it.  And, hey, if there’s something specific you’d like to see me blab on about, please feel free to ask.  I’m always open to suggestions, and I try to get to them within three or four weeks (depending on how many things I’ve already got planned out).
           Oh, and if you’re in Southern California, this weekend is both the Los Angeles and San Diego Writers Coffeehouses.  San Diego is at Mysterious Galaxy and hosted by the amazing Jonathan Maberry.  Los Angeles is at Dark Delicacies and hosted by the not as amazing… well, me.  Both of them are noon to three, open to absolutely anyone of any skill level, and they’re completely free.  No sign ups, no lists, nothing.  Just show up and join in.
            Next time… I’d like to talk to you about that little village near Castle Frankenstein.
            Until then, go write.
October 23, 2015 / 4 Comments

Yeah, That’s True, Except…

            Okay, this is late.  A week and a day.  Do you want excuses?  I was away at New York Comic Con and then came home to layouts I needed to go over, on top of all the things I just needed to get caught up on. 
            So, that ate up some time.  Sorry.
            Anyway, I’ve mentioned this idea before, but a few recent blog posts and comments I’ve seen made me want to bring it up again.  If we’re going to talk about writing, we need to agree that any such discussion is going to get broken down into either rules or advice.  Or drinking, but that’s not relevant right now.
            Right now, I’d like to talk about the rules.
            Rules are things that all of us, as writers, have to learn.  No questions.  I need to learn what words mean and how to spell them.  I must have a firm understanding of grammar.  A solid grasp of structure is required.  Characters have to hit certain benchmarks. You may notice these things come up again and again when discussing good writing.  There’s a reason for that, and it’s not that professional writers and publishers and editors are all jerks.  Learning the rules means study and practice and failure and more study and more practice and more failure. 
            Why do I bring this up?
            See, I brought up the rules because they’re a good lead in to what I actually wanted to talk about.  Exceptions.  Those cases where the rules don’t apply. Some people love exceptions.  They approach them two different ways, but usually to get the same result.
            Allow me to explain.
            The thing about rules, as so many people have said, is that I have to learn them so I can understand when and where and how to break them.  Because all the rules are breakable.  Never doubt that.  Pick any rule I mention above, or any other rule I’ve ever blabbered on about here.  Mention it in the comments and I’m sure some of the other folks here can give a dozen examples
            Now, some folks think if the rules can be broken anyway, well, why should I bother learning them?  Richard Matheson and Daniel Keyes wrote stories with lots of spelling mistakes. Cormac McCarthy and Peter Stenson don’t use much punctuation.  If they don’t need to do all this, why should I bother learning it?
            Y’see, this mentality means I’m looking at the exceptions, not at the rule.  Yeah, I can point to a handful of stories that break the rules, but I can also point to tens of thousands that don’t.  More importantly, I can point to hundreds of thousands that broke them and were rejected for it.
            Here’s another way to think of this.  Driving a car means following the speed limit.  The exact numbers vary from state-to state, but we all acknowledge that driving in a school zone requires that I travel at a certain speed. So does going through a residential area or traveling on a freeway.  Makes sense, yes?
            An experienced driver knows there are situations where I can flex those rules, though.  There are times I can go a little faster through school zones or residential areas and not worry about it.  In all honesty, I’ve driven over seventy on the highway next to a police officer and only gotten a raised eyebrow.  A lot of you probably have similar stories.
            And yet… none of us are assuming traffic laws and speed limits no longer apply to us.  We just know how to work within the framework of the laws and when we can step outside of it.  We know the rules and we know how and when to break them.
            Contrast that with the guy who goes roaring through a residential area at 70mph in the middle of the day… and then gets annoyed with the officer who pulls him over.  He’s assuming he’s the exception.  He’s doing the same thing I did, but… he’s really not, is he?
            I can’t start with the assumption that I’m the exception.  That the rules or requirements don’t apply to me.  I’m always going to be bound by the same rules as every other writer, and I’m going to be expected to follow them.  Until I show that I know how to break them.  If I don’t know what I’m doing or why, I’m just a monkey pounding on a typewriter, unable to explain how or why I did something and also probably unable to do it again.
            Also, monkeys do not get paid well.
            Now, there’s another mentality I’ve encountered a lot of online.  This is that other way of viewing exceptions that I was talking about.   They’re the folks who use the exception to the rule as a means of dismissing the rule as a whole.  For example, you say every writer needs editing.  Except, I say, Yakko published his book without editing and it did very well.  Ipso facto, writers do not need to edit.  That rule’s out the window and can be ignored. I could probably give a dozen examples of this without trying, I just don’t feel like writing them all out.  Besides, you’ve probably seen them, too.  Everything I mentioned as a rule up above—and dozens more—there’s someone, somewhere right now arguing that’s a stupid rule that this exception proves doesn’t matter.
            Now, to be clear again, I’m not saying these exceptions don’t exist. That’d be silly—they clearly do.  But it’s important to understand that they are the exception. They’re the unusual rarity, not the common thing.  That’s why we’ve heard of them.  Just because there were a hundred news stories about a writer who turned in a handwritten manuscript on yellow legal pads and got it accepted does not mean the publishing industry prefers handwritten manuscripts or legal pads.  We’re only hearing about it because it’s such an oddball thing to happen.
            Now, I try to point out such things when I can, and I think I’ve been pretty open all along on the ranty blog that exceptions do happen.  But I don’t really push them. Honestly, if I had to offer or explain every exception to every rule, this blog probably never would’ve made it past the second or third post.  And each one would be the equivalent of thirty or forty pages long.  This is kind of a teaching 101 thing.  As I said above, you learn the rules, then you learn the exceptions to the rules. 
            Y’see, Timmy, exceptions don’t disprove the rule—they prove it.  Always.  If not editing or handwritten legal pad manuscripts actually demonstrated that these rules don’t matter, then shouldn’t we be seeing hundreds of examples?  Maybe thousands?
            And yet, we don’t.  The majority of our examples are still people following those basic rules.  And flexing them here and there where they can.
            So why do some people do this?  Why do they convince people to ignore the rules?  We could probably debate that for a while.  Regardless, it’s kind of like looking at a thousand cancer patients, finding that one person who spontaneously went into remission, and then loudly declaring no one needs chemo or to get those growths removed—cancer cures itself!  First, it’s just plain wrong. Second, it belittles the 999 other people who are all struggling to do things the right way and undermines the folks trying to help them.
            Exceptions are great.  They’re why all of us can do so much as writers.  But exceptions can’t be my excuse not to learn.  All these rules have developed over the decades for a reason, and they apply to all of us.
            No exceptions.
            Next time, I’d like to take a quick minute to reveal something.
            Until then… go write.