Going Big, Going Home, and Missing the Point: The Casual Hatred of Fun

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Yesterday I tweeted this:

It’s not the first time I’ve tweeted that particular book cover, but it had been a while and it crossed my social media again, so I thought I’d make this point again: Don’t hold back. Have fun with your premise. People like fun.

A number of people have expressed doubt that this is a real book, but it is: The Angel Wore Fangs. If it sounds like a fun read, grab yourself a copy. Book seven of a series!

Now, you can glance at the stats on that tweet to see that it sort of blew up, 3700 RTs at the time I write this, and it’s only now slowing down. And my mentions have been flooded with quote tweets from people adding “Wow” or laughing smileys or whatever.

But some people have responded like fools.

First of all, if your first response to that back cover blurb is something along the lines of “And NY publishers won’t publish my books!” as though all mainstream publishing cares about is cheap trash when heartfelt human stories languish in rejection piles, I would suggest you’re learning the wrong lesson.

Simple fact: publishing is large and complex, putting out books for a variety of tastes. If an aspiring author is not writing light-hearted gonzo paranormal romance, the success of such a book has nothing to do with the lack of success Aspiring’s book has achieved. They’re in different markets, aiming for readers in a specific mood.

Instead of moaning, these Aspirings ought to be trying to learn something from it, like “Be fun.” And if “fun” is not your thing, then how about “people like fun.”

Even worse are the people who seem to think the author isn’t in on the joke. They call the description things like “train wreck” and talk as though the author is just piling random obsessions into a story without realizing it will make it funny. Guys, the author is in on the joke. Click the Amazon link above and read her bio. Assuming that she’s not making conscious choices about this is sexist bullshit. Unfortunately, it’s all too common, especially when the woman is writing paranormal romance.

My official stand on that blurb is that I think it’s amazing and hilarious and I’m a little envious. It makes me wish I were a romance fan because then I could write in the genre; the romance readership is HUGE. Instead, I’ve written nine novels, and not one of them has a decent romance in it. I’m stuck with the muse I’ve got.

What did make me happy, though, were the folks who took that blurb as inspiration. Reading that wild description seemed to give them permission to go a little wild with their own stories. At one point, someone tweeted that she wished she could have written that story herself, although it would have been “browner and queer-er.” I had to jump in to encourage her to do just that.

I spent much of last night and this morning skimming through my mentions, looking for people who seemed to need an encouraging word. I hope they go on to write their own.

And I’m sure that I helped Ms. Hill sell a few books. Hopefully, she’ll get a bunch of new readers out of it. (If you’re wondering, all those retweets have done nothing to sell my own books, but I wouldn’t expect them to.)

Anyway, I guess I should sum things up this way: “Fun! People like it.”

Discard Your Hair Shirts: Writers and Professional Jealousy

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You’ve already seen this is you’re part of my Patreon, but here it is for everyone else.

It’s pretty common lately to see writers telling each other to stop being jealous of other writers’ achievements. “Don’t pay attention to them; pay attention to yourself.” is the common wisdom.

Now, I’m not going to argue that people shouldn’t focus on the things they can control; that’s solid advice. But just because professional jealousy can be expressed in toxic ways doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to tell people their thoughts and feelings are bad and wrong.

Professional jealousy is perfectly normal.

Everyone feels it from time to time. Everyone has to learn to manage that twinge when they hear about another writer finding a great agent, landing a publishing deal, making a best-seller list, whatever.

That’s the key. Not “Stop doing jealousy.” It’s “Jealousy is normal; how will you deal with it?”

Let’s break it down.

1. You feel jealous of a friend’s success

* Let’s say a friend has reached some milestone in their career that eludes you, and you’re burning with jealousy. What should you do?
* Do not tell your friend you are jealous. Your emotional responses are for you to deal with. It’s not your friend’s job to manage it.
* Acknowledge your jealousy. If their milestone is not a goal you are aiming for, try to shrug it off. If they’ve reached a milestone that you hope to reach someday, tell yourself you will work harder and smarter so you can maybe manage it, too.
* Then let your jealousy go. Experience it, but don’t hold on.
* Congratulate your friend. Something good has happened to them, and you should acknowledge that sincerely without making it about you.
* Talk to a neutral third party if you can not let your jealous go. Say the words “I’m happy for [friend] but it hurts that I can not manage to do the same.” With luck, your neutral third party will commiserate and you’ll feel better.
* It doesn’t have to be fair. Your friend’s success might be due to hard work and clever marketing on their part, but then again, maybe not. Life isn’t fair. But that’s not your friend’s fault, so don’t burden them with it. Just keep writing.

2. You feel jealous of a stranger’s success.

* Do not tell the stranger you are jealous. That’s weird.
* Acknowledge your jealousy. We all have milestones we want to achieve, and it hurts to fall short. That’s natural.
* Let it go. If you can’t, talk to a neutral third party. Say the same words as above.
* It doesn’t matter if it’s unfair. It doesn’t matter if you think the successful stranger’s work is trite, stuff, precious, derivative, or whatever. It doesn’t matter if you think they suck.

3. You can’t let go.

If you get to the point that you can’t interact politely with your friends and colleagues because of your jealousy, you should find someone qualified to help. It’s no different from any emotion that causes you to act inappropriately.

4. You can use jealousy constructively.

No, really. It’s possible, despite the way some people talk about it. We can use it to goad ourselves into working harder, or daring to try risky things. It can also spur us to venture into new areas, like self-marketing or online crit groups or who knows what.

But what we can’t do is use jealousy to squelch the perfectly natural urge to judge our success by the successes of those around us, or to see their success as a target we would like to reach someday.

So stop telling people not to be jealous.

It doesn’t work anyway, because humans have emotions and emotions can’t be reasoned with. It’s not even a bad emotion. It just sometimes spurs bad behavior.

Better to use your jealousy as motivation.

And yeah, I get jealous all the time. I just don’t make a big deal of it.

It’s how you spend your free time: the power of small decisions

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One of my friends said something really smart on Sunday, and I thought I’d share it.

She and her partner live in Denver, and my son (who is 14) is planning to spend two weeks with them to pick their brains about Photoshop, After Effects, and a number of other programs they use. They make their living using all sorts of fancy software that I don’t know anything about, so he has a lot to learn in those two weeks.

ANYWAY. What she said, which I have to paraphrase because it was during an extended conversation, was: “What matters is how you spend your free time.”

To which I say: Yep.

Her story is that she was in college some years ago, learning software as part of her design class. I think it was Photoshop, but there was some cross-talk. Anyway, it was relatively new, and she and her friend were so fascinated by it that they spent their free time on a deep dive into the program, learning all the things it could do. In not time, the professor realized that she and her friend were more capable of teaching the software and asked them to do so. When she graduated, they offered her a teaching position.

It wasn’t because she was so good in class; it was because she was so engaged outside of it. The same is true of any kind of challenging field. If you want to be great in the arts, you have to cut out time from your daily life to practice and improve. That’s time you could be spending watching TV, going to the gym, sleeping in, playing video games, or making money.

If you click on the Tweet below, you’ll get a thread by comics writer Gail Simone on this very subject.

[Update: she deleted the whole thread. The gist was that people determined to be writers have to make the time to practice.]

I’ve tried to explain this to my son, because he acts like his great ambition is to be the best Overwatch player ever. It’s gotten to the point that I’m tempted to take away his computer games for good, even though he and I built a gaming computer for him just this past January. (Personally, I try to avoid most games because they’re addictive, and I’m vulnerable to that.) Choosing to spend all his free time playing video games is essentially choosing to be a regular joe with a joe job, and the US culture and economy squashes people like that now. If he’s going to be squashed, he ought to have the satisfaction of making art (or something!)

And what of myself? Thinking about spending down time always makes me audit myself, and I have to confess that I’ve been obsessing over Twitter and the election these past few months. It seems like my duty as a citizen to be as informed as possible, but how much of my time and energy do I REALLY need to devote to this? How much can I push off onto other citizens?

Clearly, I need to cut back and focus more on my work. The book I’m revising is complex and I need to get it to my agent so she can sell it. But Twitter is soooo tempting, almost like a video game.

And that’s the power of tiny decisions. Not the big stuff, like Where should I go to college or Should I quit my current job for that new one? No, the really important decisions are the huge clusters of tiny ones that we all make every day. Should I work on my book, or should I watch this tv show/go to the gym/hit the pub/etc?

Obviously no one can spend every spare moment of their lives writing (nor should they) but if you never choose writing over those other things that’s a clear statement of priorities.

[Added later: See also: Twelve Years from Hobbyist to Pro]

Randomness for 10/17

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1) Portugal’s Example: What Happened After It Decriminalized All Drugs, From Weed to Heroin.

2) The Man Who Invented Bookselling As We Know It.

3) Self-Destructive Beverages: a Guide.

4) Creating unconscious emotional responses with shapes. Video.

5) This house could be yours (if you’re looking for a shrine to terrible awful horrifying bad taste).

6) Carrie Fisher’s Legacy as a Script Doctor.

7) How to be Persuasive: Seven Secrets of a Hostage Negotiator

Baby’s First Audio Book

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Today I finished listening to my first audio book.

It was the unabridged Fellowship of the Ring, read by Rob Inglis, and I enjoyed it. A lot.

I didn’t expect to. When the audio book for Child of Fire came out, I found it impossible to listen to it. The narrator’s voice was fine–excellent, even–but it was completely different from the voice I heard in my head when I was writing it, and the dissonance was unbearable.

And the format itself seemed utterly wrong for me. I love to drive but I don’t have a car so I never do. I don’t have a phone to carry with me when I walk. My apartment is tiny, so when would I be able to listen at home? Besides, no skimming? No reading quickly through the exciting stuff?

Hmf, I said.

Then I heard a piece on NPR where a woman said she listened to Rob Inglis’s reading of LOTR every year, and I found it at the library. The first book was 19.25 hours long on 16 CDs! [1] And I just happened to get my copy of Obduction from Kickstarter.

A quiet, Myst-style game and an audio book through the headphones seemed like a perfect combination.

And I loved it.

The game was done before the audio book and I’ve been having trouble squeezing time to listen, but all the things I thought would be bugs turned out to be features. As annoyed as I was when I read Tolkien’s description of hiking through rough terrain (was this really the sort of challenge you want to devote page space to?) being forced to listen to it had the opposite effect. I could visualize the scene. I didn’t feel impatient because I couldn’t skim ahead to the next plot point. Taking away that small measure of control was surprisingly relaxing.

Anyway, I have never enjoyed Fellowship of the Ring quite so much before (although I still say Fuck Tom Bombadil) and I’m wondering how I can find 17-odd hours for the next book. I can’t. It just won’t fit into my life, but I wish it did.

Until I get a car, maybe.

[Update] I forgot to mention that the third book in my Great Way series comes out today in audio book. If you subscribe to Audible, you can listen free. If you bought the Kindle version from Amazon, the audio version is startlingly affordable. The series begins here.

[1] Don’t laugh. I’ve just had to order a new CD player online, because our old one is going wonky and my wife doesn’t want to have to fuck with a computer to play her music while she paints.

Publishing Career Firsts: A Royalty Payment for a Novel

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I signed with my agent in 2007, landed a publishing contract in 2008, and published my first novel, CHILD OF FIRE, in September 2009. That’s almost exactly seven years ago.

Since then, I published two more books with Del Rey, wrote and published a game tie-in novel for Evil Hat, and self-published six more novels and collections.

Yesterday, I earned my first royalty from a publisher for one of my novels.

My agent’s foreign rights division cleverly sold my self-published trilogy, The Great Way, to German publisher Blanvalet. Along with the on-signing payment for that deal (delayed due to international tax paperwork, and my struggles with same) they sent the royalty payment for The Way into Chaos — or, I should say, “Die Pforte Der Shatten“, which if translated would probably be a far more commercial title than I chose.

Not that this was my first foreign rights sale. Child of Fire and the other Twenty Palaces books have been published in Russian, German, French, Polish, and some others I’m forgetting. However I don’t recall getting any payment beyond the advance.

But wait! you ask. If I have six self-published novels, haven’t I been getting royalty payments from Amazon, et al?

Nope. No matter what terminology they prefer, Amazon takes a commission from sales, they don’t pay royalties.

Anyway, seven years to this milestone! The amount is almost but not quite enough to cover a week’s groceries, but I’ll take it.

Publishing is weird.

The Way into Audio

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Back in 2013, when I was looking at stretch goals for for my Kickstarter project, a number of people asked for audio books. I didn’t go that route, mainly because I don’t know much about them. I don’t listen to them and I don’t know much about how they’re made except that it’s expensive and it sounds terrible if it’s done badly. Frankly, on top of everything else, it was too much.

At the time I said I hoped that an actual audio book publisher would step forward. And they did:

In case that iframe doesn’t show: The audio book is up for pre-order through Amazon. And also on Audible.com / Audible UK.

The release date is August 9. Book 2 releases later in August and Book 3 in September.

Also! The books will have “Whispersync”, which means that, if you also buy the Kindle edition from Amazon, you can switch back and forth between ebook/audio book without losing your place. Which is a pretty cool thing that I knew nothing about before now. Also, owning the Kindle edition lets you buy the audio book at a reduced price. Check it out.

If you’re one of the folks who was hoping for an audio book, here you go.

Can I get these Polish cover designers to do ALL my books?

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The Polish edition of Child of Fire is out, and look at how amazing it is.

If that image doesn’t show, you can also find the cover at this link.

In a time when covers (especially urban fantasy covers) seem to share all the same design elements, this is genuinely exciting.

BTW, I originally found the cover on Goodreads, but I couldn’t find a simple way to share it without being scolded to linking to my own work, so Amazon it is.