To Self-Publish or not Self-Publish?

It’s funny how much changes in the matter of a year.

This time last year, the Apple iPad had yet to be released. We all wondered just how revolutionary a product it would be.

Initially, people seemed underwhelmed. But if you followed bookish type people on Twitter, you started to see an increasing ripple of excitement. Maybe a healthy dose of fear and uncertainty as well.

While products like Kindle and Sony’s eReader had been out for some time, this was the first time a product was released that was capable not only of being an ebook reader but also of being able to display colour media. For some, this created intense excitement. Some of the products released to date have taken true advantage of the iPad’s abilities. Has anyone seen the official Bram Stoker Family edition of Dracula? Or War of the Worlds? How about Alice in Wonderland?

In the darker days of self-publishing, writers went to horrible expense to get their product into the hands of the public. And most of the time when they did, it was substandard in its print quality.

Not only that, but there was the stigma of being self-published. It was seen as an act of desperation to get a substandard product that wouldn’t be published by any sane Publishing House into the public arena.

But the current eReader products, including iPad, seem to be quickly changing that. And funny enough, the major product category at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show was, yup, you guessed it, tablets.

As a self-publisher, you now have multiple options for releasing your product to the public, and most of them at a very low cost (ok, if you’re willing to work at it, you can do it yourself for only the cost of your time).

There is Amazon, Kobo, iBook Store, Smashwords, & so many others. You can produce the book in several formats and sell it through your own website. In short, you now have access to a marketplace of thousands (millions?) of people as opposed to those you can hand a copy from the trunk of your car.

In this new paradigm of self-publishing, it is seen more as a choice of control as opposed to being a substandard product. Numerous authors are moving to ebooks as a method of being able to create their own artwork and pocket a larger percentage of the product’s sales.

In the modern publishing market, authors are largely left to their own devices to market their books. This is the message that comes across time and again when speaking to those in the industry. So as an author, if you’re going to have to have a huge platform online and in bookstores to promote your work for sale, why see only two or three percent of the sales as opposed to seventy to one-hundred percent?

I think what appeals to me the most about self-publishing is that I control every aspect of the book. In traditional publishing, you put all this work into crafting the words, just to have someone else decide on the font, cover art, bio, author pic, etc. As someone who is very visual, I think I would completely lose my mind if I had no say in my cover.

There is something immensely satisfying in the idea of creating the words, creating the images, choosing all physical aspects of the work and then seeing it out into the world for release. Every sale is like a victory of the hard work of the author.

But there’s an ego thing with being traditionally published. Being able to walk into a bookstore and see my book on the shelves (without me having gone in there previously with self-pubbed copies) is very appealing and a form of validation that I’ll have to do serious soul searching to decide if I can live without.

So what do you think? Is self-publishing rising from the less reputable position it’s held for years? What would your choice be?

Writing like it’s a game of Chess

In the writing community there is often a question of whether you are one of two types of writer; a Plotter or a Pantser.

Both are self-explanatory.

  • The Plotter – Spends a significant amount of time planning before writing anything that can truly be considered “the story.” Instead, they lay groundwork first. Usually a Plotter will have a rough outline of every chapter, a character worksheet for every major character (as well as some less significant) and will know exactly what the themes of their story will be.
  • The Pantser – Is the antithesis of the Plotter. They start with the vaguest of ideas and run with it, hoping that as the story is written it will find it’s way to perfection.

If I had to assign myself a category, I would fall more into the Pantser vicinity. Truthfully though, that isn’t exactly how I write. What has worked for me is a combination of the two. We could call this a Balanced Approach or something, but the other day the truest analogy came to me – Chess.

First, I want to get something out of the way. That is my definition of Idea and Concept. I apologise if what I’m about to say differs from the rest of the world, but know that anytime I mention these two things on my blog, this is what I mean.

  • Idea – Is something tangible and sounds like the beginning of a synopsis ie. A boy and his dog go fishing. While they are fishing, the boy is kidnapped by robbers fleeing from authorities. The dog is instrumental in helping to track down his beloved master. We have a clear idea of our story and where it is going to go. There’s very little in the way of detail, but we have a launching point. At this time, we could even begin to infer the themes of the story – friendship, loyalty etc.
  • Concept – This is a simple notion that could lead to an idea. ie. A world populated by evil dragons. This is just a concept. There’s no story here. With a concept we need to ask more questions and prod deeper in order to turn the concept into an Idea.

Why define those off the hop? Because the Chess analogy (and process of writing) only works if you have an Idea. Sorry Pantsers, but a mere concept needs a touch more planning.

So let’s get to it. Chess? Yup.

When you sit down to a game of chess, you have an idea of what to do; you know the rules, the way each piece moves and you know the ultimate goals – protect your king while taking your opponent’s. What you don’t know at the start of the game is how it will proceed. Your opponent throws in an element of the unknown. Sure, you may have read books on classic chess openings and counters, but until the moves start playing out, you don’t know what you’re going to use and how.

Starting a book if you’re a chess writer (for fun I’m going to call them Chessters) is much the same. You have an Idea and you have some knowledge of how a story is structured. You also know that your ultimate goal is to type “The End.” In this way, you’re much like the Chess player. You have tools and some idea of where things are going to go, but there is still an element of the unknown. The chess player has his opponent, you have the story itself.

See, in the heat of a chess game, you start thinking a couple of moves ahead. You start to lay the groundwork for your success. However, you also remain flexible because your opponent may do something unexpected.

Writing as a Chesster is the same. You plan a couple scenes ahead, based on where you are. Not more than three or four. With each passing scene you write, you add another scene to your advance plan. This way, if you strike a chord while writing that will change everything you’ve planned ahead, you’re really only trashing a handful of scenes, not a whole book.

Now you might be thinking this still sounds kind of like you’re still flying by the seat of your pants. But that’s where you’re wrong. Writing this way still means some planning. It’s just that the planning takes place during, and in response to, the writing itself.

Another way to think of it is this;

  • A Planner takes a trip. They have a map with their entire route planned from point A-Z with rest stops clearly marked.
  • A Pantser takes a trip. They have no map, just a notion they want to go somewhere, and they hope there’ll be signs along the way and they’ll make those turns when they see the sign.
  • A Chesster takes a trip. They have an idea of where they want to go. But instead of planning the whole journey, they plan to their first rest stop. Once there, they crack out the map and consider where their next stop will be. But wait, they passed a Taco Bell on the way to this first stop and now that they’re hungry, they want Mexican. How can they get to a Mexican restaurant in the next leg of the trip. Once that’s figured out, they get into the car and get under way.

Writing this way allows me to be spontaneous and surprised by where my story takes me. On the other hand, because I’ve always planned a few steps ahead, I don’t feel like I’m just spinning my wheels. It’s a compromise, one I’ve come to find works very well for me.

This is how I write and because I plan too much to be a pantser but not enough to be a planner, this is the analogy I’ve come up with. Feel free to use it, or come up with your own.

Happy New Year

So we have survived another year.

What will 2010 be remembered for? Recessions? Job Loss? History will one day tell us, but I don’t think we need to wait to say people are eager to leave 2010 behind and greet the new year.

With New Year’s eve comes the inevitable question of a resolution.

What is it that we want to accomplish in the new year? What challenges do we want to set for ourselves.

This usually results in the banal answers of “lose weight,” “exercise more,” “eat a healthier diet,” etc.

Like most other authors, my goal this year is to write better, to increase my writing output and complete my novel.

But I also want to do something different.

So here’s my plan. I will finish the first draft of The Veil by the end of February. My edits on The Veil will be completed by the end of August.

But during the editing phase, I want to work on something new and different. I want to create more of a multimedia work, something that combines words and imagery. Do I know what it will be? Nope. I just have the desire to branch out and do something different. My intention is to also use this website as the place where that work is published.

Of course, I have all the other resolutions to do as well. I need to lose weight, eat better and get exercising.

What are some of your resolutions?

What do you hope 2011 has to offer you?

And most importantly, do you think you’ll accomplish your resolutions?

Classic Books that You (I) Should Read

One of the wonderful people I follow on Twitter is Madeleine Rex. She’s 15, has completed first drafts of two novels and is an accomplished book reviewer. Yeah, she makes me humble.

Anyway, she posted this on her website, Wordbird, and challenged others to take a stab at it. So here’s my go. She got this list from Bookish in a Box. I’ll use the same format that she did:

Books I’ve read once are in BOLD

I’ve never read any of these twice, so I’ll leave her formatting for that out.

Books I’ve started but not finished will be in ITALICS

Books I own will have a * next to them.

So here goes….

1. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
2. The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien*
3. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
4. Harry Potter series – JK Rowling*
5. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
6. The Bible*
7. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
8. Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell*
9. His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman*
10. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
11. Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
12. Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
13. Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
14. Complete Works of Shakespeare*
15. Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
16. The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien*
17. Birdsong – Sebastian Faulk
18. Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
19. The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
20. Middlemarch – George Eliot
21. Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
22. The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald
24. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
25. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
26. Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
27. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28. Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
29. Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll*
30. The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
31. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
32. David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
33. Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis*
34. Emma -Jane Austen
35. Persuasion – Jane Austen
36. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – CS Lewis*
37. The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
38. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
39. Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden*
40. Winnie the Pooh – A.A. Milne*
41. Animal Farm – George Orwell
42. The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown*
43. One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44. A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving
45. The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
46. Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
47. Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
48. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
49. Lord of the Flies – William Golding
50. Atonement – Ian McEwan
51. Life of Pi – Yann Martel*
52. Dune – Frank Herbert*
53. Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
54. Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
55. A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
56. The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57. A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
58. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon*
60. Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
62. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
63. The Secret History – Donna Tartt
64. The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold*
65. Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
66. On The Road – Jack Kerouac
67. Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
68. Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
69. Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
70. Moby Dick – Herman Melville
71. Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
72. Dracula – Bram Stoker*
73. The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
74. Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
75. Ulysses – James Joyce*
76. The Inferno – Dante*
77. Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
78. Germinal – Emile Zola
79. Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
80. Possession – AS Byatt
81. A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
82. Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
83. The Color Purple – Alice Walker
84. The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguri
85. Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
86. A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
87. Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White
88. The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom*
89. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle*
90. The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
91. Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
92. The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery*
93. The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
94. Watership Down – Richard Adams
95. A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
96. A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
97. The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
98. Hamlet – William Shakespeare
99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl*
100. Les Miserables – Victor Hugo*

So I’ve read 16/100 (Ugh, not so good)

I started, but never finished 7/100

I own 25/100

Wow, I have some work to do πŸ™

Thanks to Madeleine for passing along the list. I’ll throw out the same challenge she did; How many have you read?

LEGO? Japanese Toys? Cartoons? I Thought this was a Writing Blog…

There comes a time in a blogger’s life when s/he must ask that essential, universal, question; Why am I here?

No, not so much in the existential way, rather the concrete why bother to have a blog and if I do bother, what will it contain, kind of way.

So here I’ve been, asking the question. Perhaps Shakespeare would have said, “To blog or not to blog, that is the question.” And it’s been the question I’ve wrestled with lately.

When I started this blog, I was fresh from a high of starting to feel like a writer. I delved right into articles about the writing craft and my series on the Hero’s Journey. Thing is, I didn’t have a lot of fun.

Why was that?

Because it was work. Because it took time and energy away from the thing I really wanted to be writing, The Veil.

So, once my series on the Hero’s Journey was done, I pretty much left this place alone. I’ve posted maybe once a month the past two or three months. The simple fact was, I couldn’t think of what to write. I’ve been so focused on trying to get to the end of The Veil that spending time and energy here seemed like a waste.

Until the other day.

Yesterday, to be more precise.

Because I saw something so cool, so fun, I just wanted to post it on my blog. Which is when it occurred to me. All the things I love, all the anime, toys, bobbles and carry-overs from my childhood are the things that make me the writer I am. When I sit down to watch a movie, an anime or even play an RPG, it influences me. For that time, I am lost and inspired and my imagination is freed from the daily grind of putting food on the table and being a good father and husband. In those moments of complete geek-tastic euphoria, my mind finds pathways in my story that I never did just staring at the computer screen.

So that’s what this blog is going to be about; the things that excite me. You’ll see toys, anime, movies, books, all the things that I love, enjoy and get excited about.

I’m sorry if that’s not why you’re here or what you want to see.

But that’s where I am right now, and it’s what this blog needs to be.

I will write posts about the things I discover about writing.

I will write posts about what I’m doing during the writing, editing and, let’s hope, the efforts to get my work published.

I hope you’ll hang around. I hope you’ll bear with my childish indulgences. I hope as time goes on, I’ll write something that will make it worth your time.

Aim for the Top! GUNBUSTER!!!

And now for a little desk inspiration for you Mecha fanatics.

Revoltech is a series of figures made by Kaiyodo of Japan. What makes the figures stand out is their large amount of articulation, and usually a large assortment of accessories. The figure you see above is number 101.Β  You can see a full list of the available figures on Wikipedia.

What is this glorious figure? Why, it’s the powerful mecha, Gunbuster!

In 1988, Gainax created a six part OVA series entitle Aim for the Top! Gunbuster. One of the factoids that makes this important is that it marked the directorial debut of Hideaki Anno, who would go on to create a little series called Neon Genesis Evangelion (One of my faves. You’ll see me gush about it eventually).

What I love about this figure is all the details. You can recreate virtually every major moment of the OVA with the pose-ability and accessories this figure comes with. And it’s only $27! I might, might, have to give this to myself for Christmas.