Products or quality entertainment: what are we creating?

Ah, Dean Wesley Smith, so much food for thought while challenging paradigms.

Anyway, he pointed out in a recent blog post that writers get really fixated on creating a product. We want to crank out books like bottle caps on a conveyor belt. More is better, we’re told. Make it a great product so customers will keep coming back.

Then I read an interesting thread on the Writer’s Cafe on kboards. People were talking about the low quality of these books being cranked out. Particularly the short stories or secret series prologues that are given out as bait for getting people to subscribe to mailing lists. They’re referred to as reader magnets.

One person said:

Most readers don’t want free or cheap books so much as they want entertaining books. Most of these reader magnets are marketing tools that offer little appeal to the reader.

Value is such a nebulous term as to be almost meaningless, but I think the shortest answer is this: the reader magnet should be your absolute best work. What I see, instead, is authors giving readers a blah free story, then wonder why readers don’t come back for more (often accompanied by a proclamation lamenting “freebie hoarders”).

Sturgeon’s law states that 90% of everything is crap (tongue in cheek, of course), but I’d suspect that rate is more like 99% for the reader magnets I see. Your magnet has to be a pro-quality product that you could charge money for, and I don’t see that with most of them. If we are being honest, most of them are written because some person on a forum or book said we needed one, and it was just a little thing to tick off on the massive to do list. This is generally not a recipe for compelling fiction.

Source


Between that little discussion about good quality books, and Dean’s observation about how authors fixate on product over story, it’s given me a lot to think about. Do I want to be an author who cranks out Products? Or do I want to be an author who takes care to craft a really engaging, entertaining story that is a fun, fantastic escape?

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Baby dragons, by Sandara. Quality art from a quality artist.

As a reader, I respect the heck out of my own readers. I want to give them a great experience when they crack one of my books. It’s why I took down the Spacetime books. If I couldn’t stand to read them, what reader would? They weren’t a good experience.

So, what do you think? Would you rather read a Product? Or a book that an author had worked very hard to make Quality Entertainment?

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Response to DWS: Dangers of not trusting the creative voice

A few days ago, Dean Wesley Smith, a career writer who has written hundreds of books, wrote a blog post about how to be creative while writing. Namely, how it works and how to destroy it.


Outlining… Absolutely the quickest way to make sure the creative voice won’t even show up. Why should it bother? Your critical voice has already figured out what the book will be, so the creative voice just goes off and pouts, leaving you the hard work of writing from critical voice. And having no fun.

Knowing Your Ending… This, to the creative voice, is exactly like you picking up a book, flipping to the last pages, reading the ending, then thinking the book will be interesting to read. This comes from fear, brought on by the critical voice being afraid of “wasting” your time and so on. You know, stuff parents said to you in the real world. If you need to figure out the ending because of fear, you will lose your creative voice almost instantly and the project will lose excitement and mostly just die.

Writing is Hard Work… No creative voice wants to show up with that belief system. That is all a myth and remember, the creative voice is like a two-year-old in nature. It doesn’t want to do anything it is forced to do. So when you keep repeating over and over to make your ego feel better that writing is hard work to be suffered over, your creative voice says screw that and leaves. And then writing from critical voice does become hard work and your books are dull.

….

Solution:

1… Stop caring so much about the final product, just do the best you can.

2… Write one draft, clean with cycling in creative voice, and release with a promise to yourself you won’t touch it again.

3… Have fun. Make writing fun again. Make it play.

Source


 

I know a lot of writers dislike Dean Wesley Smith because he comes off as so opinionated. But you know what? He’s 67 and he’s been at this writer thing for longer than I’ve been alive. For longer than most of my friends, even. Not to mention that he and his wife self publish all their own books and have for years. He’s done things that none of my newbie author friends have ever thought of (like selling signed paperbacks to the voracious book market on eBay.)

There are basically two kinds of writers. Those who outline everything, and those who “write by the seat of their pants”, that is, those who rely exclusively on the “creative voice” DWS mentions above.

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What happens when an artist has fun. Big Bad Wolf by Ninjatic

When I started writing, I always found that outlining killed my inspiration. I’ve since found methods of outlining that kind of work, but they still give rise to stories that are … well, only passable. I mean, they were okay, but they weren’t my best work. I had the idea that the stories could have risen to amazing heights, but … that takes a genius place in my brain, and I can’t hit that genius place while coldly outlining.

This has always quietly baffled me. When I was writing fanfiction, at most, the only outlining I would do was to write a list of “cool stuff I wanted to happen” so I didn’t forget to put it in. And I cranked out some storylines that were pure genius. Even now, years later, people still track me down to tell me how much they loved my old fanfics.

Then I started writing books for publication, which I dutifully outlined. And they just … weren’t as good. The sparkle wasn’t there, somehow. So I went back to fanfics, just writing with no outline, only a brief list of things I wanted to happen. And the genius returned.

So … I don’t know if DWS’s advice up there applies to everyone. But for me, writing with very little outline, just following the conflicts and the characters’ reactions to them, is where the sparkle and the genius lies. I’m going to toss out the outline for my next book and just write into the dark. I know my characters and their arcs, and I know my bad guys and what they’re trying to do. Beyond that, I think I’m capable of setting them loose and watching the feathers fly. If I can do it with fanfics, I can do it with original characters, too.

Rejection isn’t so bad

Well, my urban fantasy book that was on submission with a small press got an official rejection. They cited issues that I was aware of and was planning to fix in another draft, anyway.

In a way, I’m hugely relieved. The longer I waited to hear back from the publisher, the more I realized how much control I was relinquishing. I couldn’t pick my own cover artist. I couldn’t set price promotions. I’ve been indie so long, going under the yoke of a publisher was just too hard for me. Maybe I’m too much of a rebel.

Anyway, one of the issues they cited was the worldbuilding. It was flabby and didn’t make sense.

soon

In my previous post, I talked about the fanfic series I’m turning into original fiction. (Hey, if Cinder, Mortal Instruments, the Vorkosigan Saga, the Temeraire books, and Firebird all started life as fanfiction … I can do it, too!)

Anyway, my husband latched onto it, and we’ve been doing spectacular amounts of worldbuilding. He asked me, “What about the metaplot?” So we’ve been building that. We’ve actually built back across world borders into the urban fantasy universe, explaining the villains there, and how they’re going to interact with the characters in both series. Our going idea is to write, say, five books in each series, and then have one book that has the big Cosmic Crossover event and finishes up both storylines.

It’s crazy ambitious, but I’ve written far more bonkers things before.

Anyway, all this worldbuilding definitely fixes the issues the publisher has. I’m going to have to rewrite the entire book, I think, but I’ve done it before.

My biggest problem is that all my friends tend to read and write fairytale fantasy romance featuring female protagonists. I’m going to have to fish around to find a male audience who will follow male characters being awesome and not having much romance. I think my action movie history is showing.

 

Superhero fiction: a writing experiment

Last year, I wrote a novella and two novels back to back. But you wouldn’t know it, because they were fanfics. I’m hugely proud of them … but they have a very limited audience.

So I started wondering how hard it would be to change the names and make them into fantasy. After all, most of the setting and a lot of the characters are my own.

So I’ve been undergoing the labyrinthine task of changing a story from fanfiction to original fiction. Can we say I underestimated how difficult it was going to be? With fanfic, your readers already know the setting and characters. With original fiction, they don’t, and you have to establish them. Doing that without dropping a slab of exposition on the reader has been massively difficult. Fortunately I have a group of patient beta readers who can look at it and go, “Nope, it’s not there yet.”

As I’m chewing on this massive revision, I look at authors like Kathy Tyers for inspiration. Her Firebird series is renamed Star Wars fanfiction. Supposedly there’s a plot line in there about “what if Jesus came to the Jedi?” But what I got out of it was, “When a Jedi Psychic finds his Empire royal soulmate, things get hot.” They use crystal swords instead of lightsabers and use psychic powers instead of the Force. If you didn’t know it was Star Wars, you might not ever pick up on it. It’s just Romance In Space. It’s skillfully done. That’s the kind of thing I want to pull off, here.

Trouble is, when you take the kind of stories I’ve been writing and turn it original, it comes out as superhero fantasy. Small-town superheroes with moderate powers who get way, way over their heads with foes beyond their strength. So I started looking up superhero fantasy on Amazon.

First off, there’s not really much there. Second, it all looks like this.

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It’s either licensed novels, comic book anthologies, or indie offerings that … aren’t really that great. In my sniffing around, I found the Gender-Swapped Iron Man Saga, the X-Men Fanfic Saga, the Hey Guys My Hero Is Cool books, and Look Guys Aliens books. I even read the middle-grade Don’t Tell My Parents I’m A Supervillain. The first half was great. The second half devolved into “Spot who’s carrying the idiot ball in this scene!”

Nobody really does small-town heroes who do anything but do the regular plot of “look I have powers! Look, I have to save the world now!” It’s kind of discouraging. Either nobody reads this genre, or nobody writes anything good for it. (I’m leaning toward the latter, because I saw lots of reviews from people who said that they adore the genre and will read anything in it.)

So, I’m going to take a shot at contributing to the badly underdeveloped superhero genre and see how it goes. You know, once the thing is in a readable state.

Meanwhile, it has crossover potential with the other urban fantasy series I was planning, so we’ll be reworking the worldbuilding on that, too. So much fun!

Spring cleaning writer challenge and Joke de-recommendations

I was tagged by Jennette in the Spring Cleaning Writer’s Challenge. I thought it sounded like fun, so here we go! Mostly, it’s an excuse to talk about what we’ve been working on.

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1. Dust bunnies and plot bunnies: Reorganize your writing goals or make new ones.

My writing is kind of in limbo at the moment. I submitted a book to a publisher, and until I hear back yay or nay, I don’t know whether to dive into book 2 or wait to do revisions on book 1.

I did have two stories published in anthologies recently! I contributed a sci-fi story to an anthology themed around battles on Mars, and I contributed a story to a humorous fantasy anthology exploring how telepathy would be uncomfortable and full of too much information.

I also took a good, hard look at the four fanfics I recently finished. Aside from the characters, the worldbuilding and minor characters are mine, as well as the major conflicts and character arcs. So I’m in the process of changing the names and heavily revising them to turn them into fantasy. The premise is: Atlantis was a continent that sank centuries ago, leaving a chain of islands inhabited by people who salvage technology from the ruins. The heroes all have minor magic powers, and get mixed up with an Atlantean flying construct that they accidentally wind up being the crew of. Then they have to fight bad guys with it. It’s awesome.

2. Which stage am I at?

According to Deborah O’Caroll’s metaphor:
a. Remodeling layouts (planning the story)
b. Painting the walls in colorful hues (writing)
c. Polishing the windows and scrubbing the floors and putting flowers in vases (editing)
d. Blueprints (not to the cleaning or remodeling yet… just drawing up plans for the very beginning inklings of a story)
e. Some combination of those things (cleaning out a closet)

Definitely the “polishing and scrubbing” part (editing). Editing all the things. The nice thing with these fanfics is that they’re completely finished, so I can go back to the beginning and put in all kinds of nice foreshadowing.

3. Treasure from the back of the closet: Snippet Love.

From my not-properly-named urban fantasy book, currently waiting in the slush pile at a publisher’s:


Indal’s ears were forward, like a friendly dog that had been out for a run. But as I stepped toward him, the ears flattened and his lips curled back from his fangs. Those teeth were like white knives. A growl rolled out of him that froze me in my tracks. He crouched, the muscles tensing as he prepared to spring.

I tossed the Hot Pocket.

The werewolf flinched backward. The Hot Pocket rolled across the leaves. He did a nervous sideways step and sniffed in its direction. It must have smelled good, because he stepped closer and sniffed it again. Then he ate it in two snapping bites, like he was starving. He returned his attention to me, licking his chops, ears forward again, probably hoping I had more.

Well, that was as far as my plan had gone. I was scanning the nearby trees for a branch I could grab, when the wolf made a funny sound. He moaned and licked his nose several times. He shook his head, pawed at his jaws, then slowly sank onto his side.

Xironi hadn’t moved from her place behind the tree. “What was in that Hot Pocket?”

I thought of the giant pill. “A sampler of all his new meds.”

She heaved a sigh of relief and exasperation. “One of those bottles was a tranquilizer.”

The wolf body began to shudder and shrink back into human form. Indal’s eyes were closed—I think he was already unconscious. His face was human before the rest of him was. I stood between him and Xironi, just in case he woke up and wanted fresh meat. But the drugs had knocked him out.

I exhaled, the tension in my muscles relaxing. “That worked well.”

Xironi walked up to stand beside me in her tiny nightgown. “You turned a Hot Pocket into a medication grenade.”

“I did have to bake it first,” I agreed.


3.5. Bonus: Do some actual spring cleaning of your writer self. (And share a picture!)

I’m sitting here sick and wondering how I’m going to clean house today, so no photos, please. :-p


I’m going to tag Bethany Jennings, H.L. Burke, and Janeen Ippolito!

Rules:

1. Link back to the person who tagged you
2. Share the picture
3. Answer the questions (naturally…) or even pick and choose which ones you answer
3.5. Tag 3 other writers and inform them that you tagged them (via comment/message/email or hey, even carrier-pigeon or smoke signal; I’m not picky)

Questions:

1. Dust-bunnies and Plot-bunnies: Reorganize Your Writing Goals (Or Make New Ones)

2. Which Stage Are You At? Expound!

a. Remodeling layouts (planning the story)
b. Painting the walls in colorful hues (writing)
c. Polishing the windows and scrubbing the floors and putting flowers in vases (editing)
d. Blueprints (not to the cleaning or remodeling yet… just drawing up plans for the very beginning inklings of a story)
e. Some combination of those things (cleaning out a closet)

3. Treasure From the Back of the Closet (Share one to three snippets you love!)

3.5. Bonus: Do Some Actual Spring Cleaning of Your Writer Self! (And share a picture!)


And now, for the second meme. RJ Conte did an April Fools joke on her blog where she de-recommended her own books. Like, humorously listing off why you don’t want to read them. I thought it was hilarious, so here’s my own books with the same treatment.

Turned: A werewolf love story. A couple of rich people get bitten by werewolves and become homeless. And they don’t even kiss! What kind of shifter romance is this?

The Bramblewood Werebear. A girl travels across the country to marry a rich dude who forgot to mention that he turns into a bear. And he’s feuding with werewolves. Again, no kissing! What a lame shifter romance this is!

werefox-artistic1fullsizeOutfoxing the Wolf. A werewolf prince uses a poor girl in an alchemy experiment and turns her into a werefox. They fall in love. Do they kiss? I don’t remember! What a terrible author I am, if I can’t remember things like that!

Malevolent. A guy who might be undead and has no emotions falls in love with a sick girl who is determined to prove that he’s a vampire. This book has a necromancer in it, and necromancers are evil, so DO NOT READ.

Malcontent. The guy and the girl now accidentally share a soul, whoops, how’d that happen? There’s a lot of gooshy romantic stuff that happens. And zombie dogs. And cats. Making animals into zombies is cruelty to animals! Not recommended! It’s probably that necromancer’s fault, anyway. Warning: kissing.

Malicious. The hero gets turned into a monster and the girl has to save him. There’s a small zombie apocalypse. This book is scary and dark and zombies are scary. Also there’s pretty hot kissing. Do not read under any circumstances.

Fire and Ice Cream. People only want to read cozy mysteries if they’re about witches! Who wants to read about a detective who can turn into a small dragon that breathes ice? Nobody, that’s who!

A stitch of honor. A short story about a space captain who knits scarves for his dying crew. This story is practically guaranteed to make you cry, so DON’T READ IT.

A kitsune and a dragon escape from a zoo. Nobody knows what a kitsune is, anyway.


And that’s it! A list of my books and stories and why you should avoid them!

Why villains need horror

I had a bit of a revelation a few months ago.

I don’t consider myself a horror writer. In fact, I can only read straight horror about once a year, at Halloween. And even then, I only do psychological thrillers. (Turn of the Screw is still excellent.)

Then somebody remarked about my fanfics, how the mind control aspects that one character dealt with ‘was such excellent horror’. It had never crossed my mind that this was horror. I was writing about the abuse of technology, and using it to make for some really excellent conflict.

Then I read Mike Duran’s Christian Horror: On the compatibility of a Christian Worldview and the Horror Genre. It was really eye-opening for me. Basically, horror is just sin, and the punishment of sin. In horror movies, there’s always a monster or a killer to overcome. Werewolves, zombies, and vampires are all staples of horror because they are a corruption of humanity.

While I don’t like to read a straight up horror novel, having some horror elements is like adding extra spice. You say you have a hero who animates zombies? Or a hero who is a werewolf and wrestling with his monstrous nature? Tell me more!

Kids books often have an element of horror. How about that moment in the first Harry Potter book when Quirrell unwraps his turban?

quirrell

Oh yeah, deliciously horrifying. Or how about any of N.D. Wilson’s villains? In Outlaws of Time, the bad guy has interdimensional graveyards where he buries the bodies of people he has killed multiple times, and he visits them often. It’s creepy and awful.

But then, the villain isn’t a threat without some kind of horror. Look at every Marvel villain ever made. There’s an element of horror to everything they do and represent. They want to do truly awful things on a large scale, which is why the heroes have to stop them.

In my last story, I essentially did the chest-bursting scene from Alien. It was to underscore just how bad the villain was. It also turned another villain into an anti-hero. It was gross and awful, but it was also a huge turning point. The horror was necessary to drive the characters into the final confrontation.

So, what happens is, I find myself subconsciously studying horror. Not because I enjoy it, so much, but because it’s how you make your villains scary. You don’t want to overdo it, of course, but … if your villain’s not scary, then he’s not a good villain.

My husband and I have been watching an anime called My Hero Academia. Basically it’s Hogwarts for teen superheroes. It has all the interpersonal conflicts and cool power combos that I love seeing from my superhero fiction.

But the villains, in particular, are outright horrifying. There’s this one guy who is covered in severed hands. If he touches you with one of them, he disintegrates you. But when he gets upset, he loses control and starts scratching his neck like a tweaker. He’s scary as heck and also weirdly fascinating. Again, the horror element comes into play. It’s both the frightening appearance, and the kind of threat he represents.

badtouch

So … I’ve been pondering my own relationship with the horror genre. I do enjoy many aspects of it. I mean, how else can you paint evil as evil? I don’t think I can ever write anything that is straight horror, because I tend to laugh at it. But a little bit used here and there? It becomes a delicious spice to add to the main dish of the rest of the story.

The power of perseverance

I just finished writing a fanfic that was 71k words long. That’s about 300 pages. And my brain is totally fried.

Last year, I read the most amazing book. It’s called the Compound Effect by Darren Hardy. Basically, it details how little actions added up over time amount to a huge result. It doesn’t matter if you’re saving money, trying to build muscle, or writing a book. Doing a little bit each day toward that goal pays off.

When I sat down to write this fanfic, I was terrified. For one thing, it would be military science fiction, a genre I’ve read but never attempted to write. I would have to write battles and strategies and politics. For a writer who mostly messes about in the romance genres, this was incredibly daunting. But the game I was adapting had really hooked me with the things it left understated, and I wanted to explore them. I had readers who were hoping I’d take them on this crazy journey and improve on the game’s story. So I spent two weeks worldbuilding, and dove in.

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Yep, that’s a Sonic game.

Worldbuilding for a fanfic? Yep. When it comes to the Sonic the Hedgehog universe, the official worldbuilding is really squishy. There’s lots of hand-waving and stuff that is just outright never explained. So I had to figure out exactly how I wanted to explain EVERYTHING.

And who I wanted to kill off. Since this is a story about an apocalyptic war, basically.

Writing this story was terrifying and exhilarating. I’d read over the previous day’s work each day, and go, wow, this actually doesn’t suck.

Sometimes I’d bog down. But I don’t want to write another battle! my brain would whine. I would argue, But this time there’s AIRSHIPS. Don’t you want to write AIRSHIPS?

The compounding effect kicked in. Even on my worst days, when I was crawling through the story, bleeding emotion all over the page as another character died or was maimed, the words added up. It helped that my characters were keeping secrets all over the place. Anne R Allen wrote a blog post about how important it is for characters to have secrets. And boy, does it keep the story rolling and the readers reading. I’ve had almost 2k hits on this fanfic already, and I’ve only posted 8 chapters so far.

This week, I wrote The End. It was such a relief. Naturally, I’ve spent the last two days doubting that the story is actually any good. I think all writers go through this rebound period after finishing a massive project. 300 pages in two months. I think it’s a new personal record.

But dang it, I persevered. And the story is done, or at least the first draft is.

I’m on social media with a lot of other writers. One of my favorite writers mentioned having Imposter Syndrome very badly, wondering if she’s too old to write her books. It broke my heart. For one thing, she’s not much older than I am. I wanted to wave this 71k fanfic at her. “Look at this!” I would say. “You think you’re an imposter? I just wrote 300 pages about talking animals fighting a war against machines and magic where a sentient rock was the villain!”

Joking aside, just leverage the compound effect. It’s perseverance. A little bit every day adds up. Be like Nehemiah in the Bible, putting one more brick in that wall, even while your enemies laugh that if a fox jumped on your wall, it would fall down. Your enemies are in your head. Keep your sword nearby and keep putting bricks in that wall.

Choosing a word for the year

I don’t think I ever picked a word for last year. I was looking over my resolutions post from last year, and I seem to remember that it was something like Fun or Moving Forward.

This year, my word is Steadfast. It goes along with this Bible verse:

Hebrews 10: 35-36: Do not, therefore, fling away your [fearless] confidence, for it has a glorious and great reward. For you have need of patient endurance [to bear up under difficult circumstances without compromising], so that when you have carried out the will of God, you may receive and enjoy to the full what is promised. 

This year, I’m going to keep on keeping on.

Last year, I was trying to take my art in new directions, trying out streaming with my husband, trying out new school things for the kids. Over the course of the year, what I discovered is that simplicity works best. When it comes to school, a pile of workbooks and read alouds has been great for us. I’ve found some holes in my kids’ education, and we’ve been fixing those this year. It’s been great to have that focus.

Streaming fell by the wayside when we found out that we don’t have the hours and hours of free time necessary to make streaming work. We’ve just been playing games together for fun. Same effect, less stress.

Books published last year were books 2 and 3 of the Puzzle Box trilogy, and the first book of a paranormal cozy mystery with dragons. I also made the decision to unpublish the Spacetime books and completely redo them from scratch. I was still learning when I wrote them, and they were pretty much an unreadable mess.

I also wrote two book-length fanfics toward the end of the year. I just couldn’t get the stories out of my head, and I was very pleased at the way they turned out. It also showed me that it’s better to write for fun than to try to write for money. I’ve been so money-focused for so long that I lost track of the fun. And my writing wasn’t very fun to read. So this year, I’m going to try to balance my writing with more fun. I want to dare to dream and experiment and write crazy things.

I do have the new first Spacetime book in revisions, as well as the second dragon cozy. I’m looking forward to publishing those in the early part of this year, before summer, probably. After that, I want to take a crack at writing a stand-alone fairytale fantasy. Kind of Sleeping Beauty meets Howl’s Moving Castle. Since it’s barely in the concept stage right now, I have no idea if that will be out this year or next. I’ve observed that fairytale fantasies tend to balloon to massive length their authors didn’t intend.

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Howl’s Moving Castle from the Studio Ghibli film

If you followed my blog last year, you saw all these little discoveries and growing pains. I want to thank you deeply for coming back and reading my strange little scribblings. I now have more blog followers than I’ve ever had before, and I’m excited and humbled to see you all.

I also want to blog more regularly–once a week, if possible. And good pithy topics. It’s hard to be pithy once a week, but it’s a good goal to have. Let’s see if I can’t knock the chupacabra blog post off the #1 spot for the year.

My top blog posts of 2017

As we hit a new year, it’s fun to look back and see what bonkers things people came to my blog to read. As usual, the Google image search sent lots of people here for my chupacabra pictures. But aside from that, here’s what else got hits:

#1. Stuff about the chupacabra, or Texas blue dogs

#2. Shouting into the void

#3. Shut up and take my money – a conversation about book piracy

#4. Marketing (and how nobody knows how to do it)

#5. 14 things I learned from urban fantasy

#6. The real reason that Christians don’t read fantasy

#7. Five worldbuilding tricks I learned from the show GRIMM

#8. Waterfall City vs. Theed, Naboo

#9. 23 books reviewed in a minute

As usual, my clickbait headlines did really well, as did anything with interesting pictures, like the angry post comparing Star Wars episode 1 with James Gurney’s Dinotopia. (I later realized that Disney’s Atlantis ripped off his second book, The World Beneath. But I don’t want to watch that movie again to prove it.)

I’ll do some more posts soon about what I learned in publishing and marketing this year. 2017 was a year of revelations, and it’ll be fun to boil them down.

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Sunrise of Baishi Mountain, from InterfaceLift

A tale of two communities

I’ve had this weird, Twilight Zone experience. It’s living on the fence between two similar yet completely different communities.

On one hand, I have my professional writer groups on Facebook. This is a group of hard-working writers. We give critiques. We discuss pricing and marketing. We band together to promote each other’s work. Sometimes we even read each other’s books.

We’re all writing speculative fiction (science fiction and fantasy), but the details wildly vary. Some people are writing dystopian civilizations. Some people are writing high fantasy with elves and dragons. Other people are writing urban fantasy, where the elves and dragons live in Los Angeles.

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Highwayman Centaur by Coldevey. I thought this was the coolest idea I’d ever seen.

On the other hand, I have my Sonic the Hedgehog fanfiction and art community. This is a group of laid-back young people who are doing this for fun. We write, but there’s no drive to sell anything. We read each other’s work because it’s fun. We draw pics, not for money, but because we like to draw.

And the fun thing is, we’re all writing and drawing the same characters. We might place the characters in space, or in a jungle, or in a city, but it’s the same characters every time. It makes every single story or artwork instantly accessible to everyone in the community.

As I flip back and forth between the driven, hardcore people and the relaxed people having fun, I’m really noticing the difference. And I keep asking myself, why? Why is it this way? Is it because the professionals are trying to create a product to sell?

I haven’t cracked this yet, although I’m definitely thinking about it. Participating in a fandom is like having a book series that you can write additional novels for. You’re welcome to it, and there’s lots of people who will read what you write and tell you what they think of it. You’ll never make any money off it, but it’s sure fun.

When you’re a professional, out there creating new products, you’re on your own. Nobody else knows these characters except you. Nobody else cares about the world except you. The only way you’ll ever get to the wide, warm community stage is to write long series over many years. Collect readers like a snowball rolling downhill. Eventually, people will read and interact with your world. But in the beginning, when your world is only one or two books, there’s nothing there yet.

I think a lot of writers burn out early on. They want the big warm community, and they’re not going to get it by only having a few books. They’ve got to craft a world (something speculative fiction authors excel at!), and it’s going to take years. Maybe people don’t realize this when they start out. Everybody wants to be To Kill a Mockingbird. But not everybody is Harper Lee and will hit it out of the park on their first book.

So, I guess the difference between the fanfic community and the professional community is that the fanfic is focused on one intellectual property. And the professional community, EVERYBODY has a small, unpopular IP that they’re trying to build. It’s a much tougher world over there. But the people who stick it out and write a ton of books (GOOD books) are the snowballs who roll the farthest and grow the biggest.