Saturday, May 15, 2021

The Value of a State-of-the-Business Examination


Scott D. Parker

It all started with a question and it ended up with a complete evaluation of my writing and publishing life.

One of my longtime book club friends--we're going on our twelfth year together--has a side business and it is not going as well as he envisioned. He explained why and then turned his attention to me. "How's the publishing game?  It's been a few years now, are you encouraged by how it's proceeding?"

What began as a reply to his email turned into a 3,300-word (and counting) evaluation of my writing life, my publishing life, where I am now, and where I want to go. With the day job and the family stuff, I don't have a ton of free time on my hands so the exercise stretched out the entire week. Not coincidentally, 1 May is my Writer's New Year's Day, a commemoration of my decision back on 1 May 2013 to start writing with purpose.

What followed was a technique I've used for years: a written dialogue. This is one where I ask questions of myself and then I answer them. And, since I'm literally talking with myself, I get to be brutally honest. Who else is gonna read this, right? 

Am I encouraged? That is an interesting way to ask how it's going. I've been pondering it for a few days and I have a two-part response: No, not really, but, at the same time, I have not been giving it the attention it deserves if I want to see results.

The Analysis Begins

Thus, by answering with a qualified 'no,' I started analyzing the parts of the business I can control. It goes back to one of my favorite phrases about publishing: Control the Controllables. I can control my writing, how much time I devote to it, and what I write. This is absent all talk of sales. I truly cannot control that. Neither can you. No one can. But we can control what we write. For me, it boiled down to time and speed. I can write fast and I can start a writing session on-the-run (so I don't have to build up speed) so the words the flow out usually are not a problem. 

Time proved the key factor. Despite me working from home, I realized I began 'sleeping in' on weekdays. When I had a commute, I used to wake at 5am. I kept that routine at the start of the working-from-home phase, but over the past year, my wakeup time slid later and later. Throw in the morning Bible reading and the amount of time I have to write in the pre-day-job quiet of the house ended up being 30-45 minutes. Sure, those minutes and words add up, but they are not truly as productive as I used to be.

Thus, to rectify my writing time, to control the controllables, I started waking earlier. Consequently, I also went to bed earlier. Give and take, right? I’ll be continuing that next week and the week after.

What is the Roadmap?

That’s the simple part. The larger thing is publishing schedule. I examined my available manuscripts. Including my current WIP, I have a dozen books either completely finished or close enough for a thorough edit. Why are these books not already in the pipeline? To that question, I had no answer. Laziness? Chalk it up to ‘not enough time in the week’? Hogwash. If I’m an indie author, then I make the time to publish what I write. I haven’t been. But I will be. 

Thus, I made a publishing schedule for the next 2.5 years. I’m still fine tuning it and allowing for me to slip in newly written manuscripts—I’m pretty jazzed on the current WIP and its sequels—but I have a roadmap. It’s what traditional publishers do, right? Same should be for me. And you, if you’re an indie. The next book I’ll publish is my Harry Truman book this summer.

Fixing the Online Stuff

Armed with a new publishing schedule, I examined my online life, specifically the websites. I have my blogspot blog which dates back over fourteen years and I don’t want to ditch it. I have my author website that needs a refresh. And I have my new project that’ll I’ll tease here for a summer launch, probably around the time of the Truman book’s publication. I’ve already stopped updating one website and will disband it this month. No need mentioning it here. It’s for the dustbin. 

Another aspect of online life is engagement. While I’m decent at it, I’m not as engaged as I want to be. Expect to see a little bit more of myself online on Twitter and Facebook.

The biggest online challenge is to create an online store. It’’ll be a way to sell direct to readers that’ll be as seamless as other online stores, enable me to increase my outreach, and pocket a little extra cash. The tools for this are present, I just need to implement them.

So, after a week’s worth of reassessment and the creation of a new roadmap, I have a better handle on my writing and the business of writing. What began as an email response with a somewhat dour answer has turned into a happy exercise and a renewed sense of purpose. I’m now ready to reply to my friend, but I won’t be copying the entire 3,300-word piece. I’ll just tell him to read this post. 

Do you have any of these State of the Business type things in your writing business? 

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Beau on Burner


This week, Beau takes a look at Robert Ford's BURNER

It’s terrifying how quickly everything can be taken away from you. Iris learns this agonizing lesson in the blink of an eye. Her future dreams. Her past life. Everything gone in a storm of pain. But this pain is only the beginning.

Audrey had the perfect life. Great husband, beautiful daughter, lots of money. Except her husband isn’t the man she thought he was. Her dead husband’s burner phone was bad. The Polaroids were worse. But the secrets she uncovers next set her entire world on fire.

Two women’s lives intersect because of one man’s actions. The transformation is pristine, and beautiful, and filled with pain. Sometimes the scars are on the inside.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Writers' Room Wednesday: Juggle

For this week's Writers' Room Wednesday, let's learn about juggling projects.

We take you to Untiled Female Driven Podcast, already in progress:  UFDPodcast

uggling Projects: Murder The Little Guys

Untitled Female Driven Podcast

Juggling Projects: Murder The Little Guys 

EPISODE 18: UFDP answers a listener's question on how to juggle multiple projects at the same time and wrangle demanding producers. It's not easy!

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Spotify Link

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

The Inverse Ratio Reading Effect

As I approach the very end of the new book I've been working on for a few years, I see that it's going to be yet another book I've done in the 45,000-word range. When it comes to anything longer than short stories, I don't seem to be able to do anything else.  I highly doubt I'll ever write anything as long as 300 pages, and if I do, it will take me forever.  Regardless, this new one will be as tight and compact as I can make it, though there has to come a point where you stop editing because you start to wonder whether you're doing more damage to the book than good.  With that new edit, those additional changes, are you squeezing the lifeblood out of your story?  I always have to remind myself that at a certain point, editing may be bringing diminishing returns.  You notice those things that perhaps could be improved on that no reader is going to notice.  Still, every change I make, I have to say, does seem for the better.

I was wondering what it is about this length book that I like so much, I mean apart from the fact that it just seems to be the length that feels workable to me. Word count, at the end of a writing day, seems almost irrelevant.  If I start going too fast, producing too many words (which for me would be like 750 readable words in a day), I start to worry.  Is this book going to be too long and is it going to drag for the reader? Without question, whatever was said here can be said more effectively in half or maybe a quarter of the words, and the reader will get the same impact or the description they need but get through the passage faster.  

Several posts back, I talked about the 2014 Argentinian novel Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin.  As I said then, it is for my money a just about perfect book at 183 absolutely riveting pages -- part ecological horror story, part parental nightmare, a psychological thriller.  I love it.  And because Schweblin has a new novel out called Little Eyes (which I haven't read yet), she's done some interviews recently.  In one of them, which I just came across, the interviewer asks her, "Do you tend to gravitate towards a particular type of book?"  And her answer summed up exactly what I've long been thinking, although not as clearly as Schweblin put it, about why I keep producing books the short length they are.

Schweblin says, "I'm a big fan of the novella: they are so intense and accurate and precise.  I have the feeling that if you write a novella, your main wish is that the reader is going to read it in the two or three hours it would take, without even going to the kitchen to get a glass of water.”

I did not get up for a glass of water, or anything else, when I read Fever Dream; I actually did read that book in one three-hour sitting.  And everything she lays out here about what makes the novella so compelling is dead-on accurate, as I see it. You can shoot for a compression and a precision and an intensity perhaps not possible in a work that runs longer and has a wider scope.  And you do, ideally, want to hold the reader in your grip from first page to last without pause, something not likely to happen with a book 250 plus pages. You might say you're shooting for the inverse ratio reading effect: the longer you spent writing the book, the less time you want the reader to spend with it.  It took 2 years to write and the reader read it in one two-hour sitting. That is perfect!

That it may take just as long to write something so short as it does to write a novel that's long is a little depressing, but what can you do?  I guess you can look at the rare creatures who stick to writing short stories and see that for many of them it takes the same amount of time to do what they do and complete a collection as it does for some novelists to churn out a brick.  Every day you write, you find yourself in the zone delimited between your ambitions and your limitations.


Sunday, May 9, 2021

Breathing Easier This Mother's Day

The best present I’m getting this Mother’s Day is my fully vaccinated status. I hit the two-weeks-after-the-second-dose mark on Friday. And then sat blissfully mask free in the stands at a high school lacrosse game, still spaced safely apart but able to breathe unencumbered.

So here’s a thank you to the ones who made that—and today’s many Mother’s Day brunches—possible. Scientists. Doctors and nurses. Technicians. Vaccination site volunteers. The countless people who lifted us all forward. Even if they’re not moms, they’ve mothered us all. Thank you.