An Industry of Change

Of the many disconnected things that I follow on youtube, from ASMR artists (called ASMRtists for a one-syllable shortening), to blogs about Atheism, to musicians, to a hula-hoop phenom, I had come to follow a channel called Meytalll, from Meytal Cohen, an youtube drumming sensation. Mixed within the videos of watercolor tutorials and massage techniques, a TEDx talk featuring Meytal came up. Of course I had to listen.

What she had to say touched heavily on the world of self-publishing and the world of independent writers, even though she was talking about music and the music industry.

“…that I needed the credibility of a big label to come in and say she’s legit. …coming from youtube you are exposed to so much criticism that the idea that I wasn’t a real artist almost made me sign a terrible record deal that would have taken all of my rights and would have given me very little in return.”

Sounds familiar to a lot of what I read on the publishing industry.

Now of course Meytal did not sign that deal, voting to remain independent and finding success along the way. It tells of how much that the internet is allowing for the opportunity to change creative industries. It is tearing down barriers that have been making millionaires of those not directly involved in the creative process, and have determined for their own benefit, the doorways into any industry. People are finding that they don’t need the industry to eek out a living.

As independent creative individuals, many of us have decided to shun the industry to retain our creative freedom. No. Not all of us become millionaires. Many (probably most), like myself, barely make enough off of their work to even classify as a 2nd income. Largely this is due to the gates still being guarded by those who are losing their ability to control what they once did. But as independents, we choose what we do, how we do it, and when we do it. Three-quarters of the projects I work on would not be even allowed were I to have found success in any one of my current published works.

If Gravity found success, I would be cornered into producing only sci-fi.

If The Good Teacher was successful, twisted, thrillers would be the focus. I wouldn’t be writing book 4 of Gravity.

If The Dangerous Life of Agnes Pyle took off, it would be young adult supernatural adventures.

I would not be writing a children’s book about a young adventurous paleontologist and a time portal letting dinos into this world.

I would not be releasing a short story about a woman who is hunting for dragon eggs in a world where dragons rule.

I would not be rewriting my old web-serial formerly called “The Vigil,” a dark, twisted, crime noir.

My project about a man lost in Alaska after surviving a wolf attack and saving a deer would not be in my list…

Were I dependent vs independent, I would be choosing projects (or have them chosen for me) based on what has the highest probability to line pockets rather than now where I write to satisfy my own creative desires.

Could any and all of these projects been made better if they were vetted by those in the industry? Maybe; maybe not. But there is a huge risk it wouldn’t be entirely my own if they were vetted.

Being independent isn’t about being mega-successful. Yes, that is everyone’s desire: success doing something they love. Being independent is about the art. Meytal is an inspiration to that fact. We do not need a record company or a publishing house to validate our credibility as artists. We need only the art.

And our own persistence.

The industry will change. Whether they like it or not.

And it’ll be for the better.

Here’s the full talk:

A Week of Words

I’ve written every day since 2/2 this year. My per day average was just a smidge over 1500 words. All of this was thanks to the little rule I implemented.

Then yesterday happened.

I wrote 0. Nothing. Nada. Part of me wants so badly to piss on myself about it, to tell me that I suck because I didn’t write yesterday.

Here’s the thing though, I didn’t sit down in front of a computer at all. I had no reason to. I have to be OK with that. I followed my rule. Part of this deal that I made with myself with regards to this little rule was that I had to have two conditions be a part of it:

  1. I did not hold myself to a total daily word count goal.
  2. If I did not sit in front of a computer at all, it meant that I did not write.

There’s a struggle though in that like many writers, I want to stick myself with a “must write every day” or a “need to write at least x number of words” each day I write. Problem is, I’ve been down those paths before. They lead to the inevitable mental anguish of not meeting with goals. Or I become overwhelmed, exhausted by trying to keep up. The first day I don’t write because like yesterday, my day was filled with family fun, and I get down on myself. Then that trickles into the next day. Then is spirals.

We need to accept that we falter, either by our own fault or from the fact that life must be lived. Other responsibilities, including having genuine fun with friends and family (aka having experiences) will get in the way. We have to be OK with that. We cannot blame ourselves.

That is why this rule was such a breakthrough with me. It allowed me to write, but it also excused me if I didn’t. Only got in front of the computer once? Then 100 words is all I wrote. Didn’t get in front of the machine at all? Nothing then. 100 words is not so challenging that it cannot be done. There were a number of times it took me a fair few minutes to get there. Often I found though that I wanted to keep going, because that 100 words loosened the detritus that was clouding my creativity.

Point is that when we are seeking to make ourselves better, we inevitably will hit roadblocks. Those roadblocks will often throw us off our track. How we react to these roadblocks will tell of how serious we are. Hacks and tricks will only work in those cases where not only are we serious about our goals, but also those tricks bypass, or even utilize a bad habit to feed their success (like my 100 words hack seems to have done for me). And by all means, have the rules in place that allow for stumbling, or continuing old, bad habits without poopooing yourself about them. You’ll get there.

100 Words

That’s it. 100 words. In the grand scheme of my life, that is about 2 to 5 minutes of my time. I waste plenty more than that in the course of a day. Everything from playing games on my phone to blindly surfing the internet. I waste a ton of time.

So yesterday I made a deal with myself: whenever I would go to sit in front of a computer, for any reason, I have to write 100 words of fiction BEFORE doing anything else. It worked. I still wasted plenty of time with nonsense, but over 700 words ended up in Gravity book 4 before I went to bed. And all of it without having to delay going to bed just to get a word count goal.

Once or twice I didn’t abide by the rule, being as it is new, but I still got over 700 words for all of the times I did follow it.

This all came from me trying to work around, or hack, my habits. I know that I usually waste a ton of valuable time not writing. This was a way to give permission to slack. No holds barred. Want to waste time blindly scrolling through social media? Go for it!… AFTER 100 words. And that is any time I step up from the computer and walk out of the room.

Strangely too, despite this, I did get anxious a few times. A couple of times I really needed to do something on the computer other than screw around and having that rule staring me in the face was not welcoming. Funny enough though, no more than 5 minutes passed and I was in the clear.

Now I don’t know how long that this is going to work. Eventually, even today, I might find myself forgetting to do it. The point in all of this though is finding ways to maximize efficiency without making it a chore. It’s about changing things, but in ways we can all handle. Not having a word goal beyond 100 words in a shot is easier than some of the loftier goals I made in the past. If I am on the computer only 1 time for the day, it’s only 100 or so words that I will achieve. If I am not on the computer at all: 0. And I am fine with that. I have to be. It’s about just getting a little better and making progress without feeling like I am interrupting something else (or feeling guilty because I waste time on something else).

Eventually, the habit will take and instead of 100 words, I might write 500, 1000, or 5000 words before I turn away. But the minimum will always be 100. And maybe, just maybe, it’ll be the kick I needed.

What We Are Watching

My wife and I watch a variety of shows together. There’s things that one of us watches that the other does not, but a lot of what we watch, we watch together. And since no one really cares, I thought I’d make a list with brief reviews of each. They are in no particular order.

On Now

  • The Real O’Neal’s (ABC)
    This comedy about a gay kid (Kenny) coming out to his Christian family followed by the parents’ announcing they’ve decided to divorce is fun. No one has their shit together in this show and it results in a lot of hilarity. Kenny’s narration and day-dream sequences add to the fun. Plus this show had the best description of Chicago whether and how people behave in it than any show we’ve seen.
  • The Goldbergs (ABC)
    Taking place near where my wife and I are from (Philly), and the show’s kids going where my cousins went to school, this was an obvious choice to watch. Another hugely loving, yet dysfunctional family as told through the eyes of the young Adam Goldberg (a recurring joke due to the feud between the two Adam Goldbergs in real life, this show is fun, with all of the references to what was great in the 80’s. We’ve had a lot of big laugh-out-loud moments from this one.
  • This Is Us (NBC)
    This is an emotionally heavy show. But we love it. It is an extremely well written show about three siblings (one pair of twins and an adopted third) all born on the same day. The show flashes back and forth between their childhood with their father and modern times as they struggle through life and each other. I cannot tell much as there are some great twists in this show, but it can be heart-wrenching.
  • Superstore (NBC)
    Probably our favorite comedy right now. This show is Walmart (called Cloud 9 in the show)… both employees and customers. It’s just brilliant.
  • The Mick (FOX)
    Starring Kaitlin Olson of Always Sunny fame, this is a new show about a hugely disreputable and trashy Mickey who is left to care for her wealthy, stuck-up, crazy niece and nephews after her sister and brother-in-law flee the country leaving their children behind. Mickey is a terrible person with good intentions (counter to Kaitlin’s Always Sunny persona, Sweet Dea, who is terrible with no good intentions). It’s been fun so far with a lot of WTF moments.
  • The Last Man on Earth (FOX)
    Phil “Tandy” Miller is not really the last man on Earth, but he is certainly the weirdest. This comedy is fun following the few survivors of a mass virus that kills somewhere around 99.999999% of life on the planet. Phil tries to be the group’s leader, but falls on his own personality quirks and pathological lies.

Waiting for the Next Season

  • iZombie (CW)
    I cannot speak about how much fun this show is. It is one of those shows that you can tell that the cast is having a ton of fun too (like the next show I will mention too). It tells the story of Olivia “Liv,” a once promising surgeon who gets turned into a zombie and must feed on brains that she gets from now working in the morgue. The trick… a zombie temporarily gains the memories and personality of the person whose brain is eaten. So of course Liv decides to pose as a psychic to help solve murders. It is great fun.
  • Jane the Virgin (CW)
    Like iZombie, this just shows that the cast are having a blast. Told in tele-novella style (Spanish soap opera) complete with narrator, this show not only has plot-twist after plot-twist, but the comedy never stops. It is a fun one to watch.
  • Jessica Jones (Netflix)
    Marvel has been making hit after hit and this is no exception. Telling the obscure comic story of Jessica Jones, a super-powered young girl who fell victim to Killgrave (the Purple Man) who enslaved her through his mind control before she eventually broke free, but suffered severe PTSD from the experience. Now she works as a cocky private investigator while trying to avoid Killgrave at all costs. Kristen Ritter is awesome. Can’t wait for the next season, then her appearance in “The Defenders.”
  • You’re the Worst (FX)
    Two horrible people who are just made for each other. It follows a cocky, self-absorbed, English novelist who can’t gain any popularity and the equally cocky and self-absorbed record executive as they figure out how to coexist while inventing as many ways to not acknowledge they love each other and have “feelings” other than bitterness and disgust for everything. It is a fun comedy.
  • Stranger Things (Netflix)
    This was the runaway Netflix sci-fi show that took the world by storm. This is up there in my top 5 shows of all time and I know that it is one of my wife’s all-time favorites as well. Just watch it and see for yourself. Such a spectacular example of good television.

And two shows we wished we didn’t watch, or just eventually gave up on

  • The OA (Netflix)
    As my wife and I describe it: “dimensional travel through interpretive dance while pretending to eat birds.” It started with some unbelievable promise, but it floundered. It went south halfway through and kept going at full speed. Huge disappointment.
  • Once Upon a Time (ABC)
    Once upon a time this was our favorite show. This last season put the final nail in the coffin though as a show that went on too long. It started to go south with the Frozen story line, died with the time travel episode (a plot trope that is WAY overdone and usually ends up terrible), briefly came back to life in a coma for a while, then just flat out died. I dove out of watching it two episodes into the new season (season 6) and my wife hung in a few episodes longer, but from what she describes, it tripped and fell flat on its face.

There’s a long list of shows we’ve watched over the years that are no longer on because they’ve been cancelled or naturally came to an end, but I won’t list them. I also know there are a LOT of shows that we haven’t seen that would be fantastic, either way, for now the list above is it.

Upon Reflection

I change my mind a lot. Back and forth I go often spinning wheels in the metaphorical mud of life. Too often this back and forth ends up pushing me into a position where my creative work suffers. There is a lot that I want to do. Check that, there’s a lot that I wish that I really wanted to do.

What I mean by that last statement is that there is a lot of things that I wish I was interested enough in doing. Need a further explanation? I will give you an example: political writing. I have a political opinion. I have theories of what would work and what wouldn’t. I’ve talked about wanting to write politically on a separate blog. Unfortunately for my desires, my interests in doing so are only whenever I am seeing some affront to my political opinion. Outside of that, my interests poopoo the idea of even bothering to delve deep enough to make holding a blog about it worthwhile.

It’s like wanting to be an astronaut. It’s a fanciful idea, but the effort that I would have to put into it far outweigh my interest.

So remember that time I said I wanted to start a political blog? Yeah, forget that. Honestly I have been more preoccupied relearning how to draw (I am surprised at how much skill I retained despite 20 years not really putting effort in), writing creatively, and building my atheism blog, things I do have the interest to put the energy into. Although I might fly into a political essay now and then, depending on the topic I will let this be my forum. Otherwise it will be for me.

Just Read It

I love Chuck Palahniuk. When grabbing his work, I can be sure that I will enjoy what I am about to read. From “Fight Club,” to “Invisible Monsters,” to “Beautiful You,” I have rarely been disappointed. There’s good reason he’s been one of my favorite writers, and an inspiration to how I approach my own writing. He reminds me not to be so goddamned precious about what I write. You can tell by what he writes that he has fun with it. And that above all is what I strive for (besides a career): fun.

But this isn’t about that. This is about something entirely different.

Many years ago I picked up “Haunted.” Like all of the other novels from Chuck that I had read prior to “Haunted,” I expected I would enjoy it. Maybe be grossed out, but enjoy it nonetheless.

Not the case.

I couldn’t read it. I tried. Several times. It was bad. Not gross bad. I got past the scene where a character had to bite through his own intestines to save himself from drowning (happened very early on). The rest of the book was just bad. I couldn’t get into it. In fact, it was so bad that I had trouble picking up the next CP book. I eventually did and count “Haunted” as a one-off flop, but the point I am about to make in this essay remains.

Chuck Palahniuk is an established, traditionally published writer. Now he can be considered a niche writer as his style and choice in topics are not something I would call mainstream, but he has mainstream popularity. Regardless of his standing, I trusted his work. I trusted that I would enjoy all of it. Not the case.

It was another lesson that Chuck taught me indirectly: not everything you write is going to be a hit, even for your own audience. Even for people who would otherwise laud praise onto you.

So we come to the point of independent writers: writers who have either failed to get a contract with a publishing house or who, like myself, simply refuse to even bother with that route. My point about these writers (yes, including me) is that there is no reason to declare these writers any less worthy of being read than any successful traditionally published writer. One can assert that there are fewer tools available to the indie-writer that may impact the quality of the work, but I’ve also written to how that is more or less subjective. A great editor can do a shit job just as much as a shit writer can produce a pop hit. Covers can do a book justice or have little to do with the content inside.

I was sure that I would enjoy “Haunted” and that anything Chuck produced was gold up to that moment. I was wrong.

I had no idea that a small novel “The God of Small Things” by Arundhati Roy, an unknown writer by my reckoning, would haunt me to this day.

I wouldn’t think that books like “Fifty Shades of Grey” or “Twilight” would find massive success despite what I call terrible writing, but they did.

When first reading Hugh Howey, I did not expect that I would find another favorite author and consummate inspiration.

The point is that until you open the first page of a book, you cannot understand the journey you are about to take. No matter the writer. No matter anything but the words inside and your own willingness to take that ride.

Don’t judge a book by its cover, or the house it’s published by. Just read it and find out for yourself.

An Experiment

I am still quite a newbie in the independent publishing world. As such, my sales stink, my marketing skills are paltry, and my readership is poor to non-existent. For these few years, with the exception of permanently free titles, all of my books are available exclusively through Amazon. I publish only through the Amazon KDP program, and all of them are committed to the Amazon KDP Select.

Is that the right thing to do?

Absolutely have no idea. But more and more I am leaning towards it not being the right decision. So I am dropping from KDP Select.

Being an independent writer with little reputation allows me to make this move with little to no concern over what might happen. Worst case: I have 0 sales vs minimal to no sales. The loss at this point will be so insignificant that I would not even notice.

Were I to begin having massive success between now and the dates I have listed below for each title, I might have to reconsider what I am going to do. Until that moment, the following dates below is when my books each will drop from KDP Select and become available through more retailers and versions including iBooks, Kobo, and nook.

Change of Seasons – February 11

Of Earth and Ice (part 1) – March 7

The Good Teacher – March 11

Remember the Yorktown (Gravity book 1) – March 13

Awakening of a Predator (Gravity book 2) – March 13

Leaving it Behind – March 13

Movement of Pawns (Gravity book 3) – March 29

The Dangerous Life of Agnes Pyle – March 30

Any book that I publish between now and then will be added directly to all retailers. That will probably only be two short stories, but either way, that is the plan.

Like any experiment, I will give this some time to monitor how this impacts me on Amazon and in general. With luck, the wider distribution will have a favorable impact moving me closer to my ultimate goals. We’ll see.

My Growing Distrust of Amazon

Don’t get me wrong: I love Amazon. I have a Kindle, Kindle Fire, Fire TV, and a prime account. Most of what my wife and I purchase online is through Amazon. As a retailer, they are difficult to beat.

I also self-publish exclusively through Amazon (exception being permanently free ebooks)… and that is where I am finding myself growing in distrust.

Just today I read an article from a writer who was spurned by going exclusively to Amazon through KDP. (Found the article through The Passive Voice.) The writer gave an account of sales drops and page-read incomes that colleagues were having and how his own experience appeared to mirror similar issues. His main complaint: transparency. In other words, he and other writers could find no information on how Amazon calculated much of anything in what they do. Also noted was the behavior that Amazon was touting their own imprinted writers over indies. Yes, for those who don’t know, Amazon is both a great place for self-published indie writers as well as a publisher not unlike Simon & Schuster.

There are a growing number of writers making similar posts, having issues with how Amazon is behaving towards self-published writers.

Amazon is a business.

I am a business. Although writing is not anything close to a full or even part-time job, it is a business.

Problem is, like the writers above, I can’t figure out how to double-check or verify if anything that Amazon is doing is completely above board. This isn’t really saying that they are being devious, but it is saying that I have no way of knowing one way or the other.

 

But where my problem really lies is in an old clichéd phrase: “don’t keep all of your eggs in one basket.”

Amazon is growing. Not only as its own publisher, but as a self-publishing haven. More and more and more books and writers are all throwing themselves at the Amazon pool. The pool is getting larger and larger with more fishermen competing for the same number of fish. And Amazon of course is outfitting writers under its own publishing wing with tools to outcast the others.

If I were selling at large numbers, one of two things would likely happen:

  1. Amazon itself would approach me for a deal
  2. Another publishing house would approach me for a deal.

I am little ol’ Jeremy though. I have to find a way to grow my own name. Gone are the days where Amazon’s algorithms will work in favor of someone like me. I am at least a year or two too late for that. Now their algorithms will work in favor of big sellers and especially their own brand.

So… rather than be stubborn and badger people constantly to buy my books hoping that one day my numbers will creep up enough to get noticed, I need another plan. Because I can’t trust Amazon for that anymore.

Into 2017

I always say that I am not going to make any resolutions for the new year, but as every new year comes (with my birthday happening only days later) I find that I am examining the prior year and resolving to change things. With 2016 having been especially tough on my family and I, my goals revolve around building stronger foundations to battle against adversity.

So here we go, here are my “resolutions” or targeted goals for 2017. First some writing, then some general goals.

  • Try to write every day.
    This one has been tough for me in the past for a number of reasons. Probably chief among them has been my pursuit of perfection. Every word I write I try to make worth keeping. Insane, I know. Most often, this hinders my writing. If I can reduce my dependence on perfection (which is a worthy pursuit, but something one will never achieve) then I believe I can make this one work. And that brings me to the next goal:
  • Just write.
    This is that goal against the pursuit of perfection. I love writing. I have fun with it. Even if I never gain genuine success as a writer enabling me to quit my job and focus exclusively on writing, I will continue to write. So why worry so much about how perfect or flawed whatever I write is?
  • Publish 4 (or more) titles this year.
    This one will be tough, but is possible. I have one title about ready, but the other 3 will take some work. I believe I can do it. This will help build my catalog.
  • Improve my marketing presence.
    This one I’ve already worked on some. It includes getting my current titles into the correct categories and assign the right keywords to improve their SEO (I hate even using that term). I have a good base of stories out there now, people just need to find them and they need to garner enough interest that not only does someone find them, but they are interested in actually reading them.
  • Read more.
    ‘nuff said.
  • Create a life where I chase the process rather than the result.
    Look up stoicism for a glimpse of what I mean by this.
  • Continue to switch over to paleo/primal eating regiment.
    I’ve already done some of the basic steps, increasing fat intake and significantly reducing my carb intake from what it was. Because of that I’ve lost 15 lbs. That with the holidays and being sick enough (shingles, car accident, tooth problems, etc) and enough going on to be unable to get to the gym for over a month. The gym itself isn’t a goal considering the only thing stopping me was illness combined with a hectic month.
  • Reduce the amount I rely on social media.
    I did really good for weeks this past year almost completely ignoring all things social media. I need to be able to use it for marketing, but beyond that, it isn’t necessary in my life. But here I am always using it as a tool for entertaining myself. I need to get back away from that.

By no means am I expecting an instantaneous transition to these traits, but rather I am expecting to make slow, steady, progressive movements towards these goals. As long as I can keep moving towards them, if I haven’t achieved them all by the end of 2017, at least I know I am getting there… so long as I keep momentum.

Here’s to a new year! 2017 should be better. Let’s make it so.