Category Archives: The Writing Life
My publishers at ChiZine did a reddit AMA to talk about life at a Canadian publishing house. They have some useful advice if you’re looking to publish a book or if you want to see what the super-sexy life of editing and bookselling is like. (Spoiler: It is neither super nor sexy. But there is scotch.)
I was sorry to see the end of Ad-Astra. I had a great time on the panels and the ChiZine reading I took part in — pretty funny to see six authors try to read in an hour, but we pulled it off with time to spare! It was lovely to see some old friends and meet some new ones and just to generally soak in the amazing creativity that was everywhere — the events, the costumes, the questions and answers, the readings, the games, the dealer booths, etc. I’ve actually been trying to do less events as I focus on my writing and family, but damn, Ad-Astra kind of made me want to do more!
The airport part drained me, though. The pic above is from the underworld of Pearson airport, where I found myself wandering aimlessly for a time while searching for a flight. I felt like Sisyphus….
Late in The Apocalypse Ark, there’s this real twist where….
Yeah, this is probably the point I should talk about spoilers.
I have a spoilers story I always like to tell people.
A couple of years back, I was watching a season of The Walking Dead on Netflix. I have two children, a full-time career in the media, and I try to write when I can, so I don’t tend to watch things when they first come out. I usually get around to it a year or three later. So I was catching up on the episodes of The Walking Dead that everyone else in the newsroom had already watched.
You can see where this is going.
I mentioned to the photo editor that I had just started Season 2, which focuses in large part on the survivor group’s attempts to find a girl who was separated from the others by walkers early in the season.
“Oh, that moment where she drives the ice cream truck into the house had me crying!” she said.
OK, that’s not really what she said. I’m not going to tell you what she said, because spoilers. Some of you may not have seen it yet, like I hadn’t when she told me what really happened with the missing girl.
A great deal of the season’s drama arises out of the characters’ search for the missing girl. Where is she? Will she ever be found? Did the walkers get her? Etc. The whole season, as I watched the drama build, I could only think: “She’s in the ice cream truck. Just listen for that unholy jingle and track her down.” Well, that’s not exactly what I was thinking, but you know what I mean. All the anticipation and excitement and anxiety and everything else of the season was lost for me because of that one slip by a colleague.
Of course, when I mentioned that to my other colleagues, they thought the situation was quite funny and now they openly discuss plot twists and turns around me whenever they can. It’s enough to make me watch House of Cards instead. There are no surprises there, right?
Anyway, this is a long-winded way of saying I have a new book out and please don’t give away the secrets. No spoilers! Unless the person you’re talking to wasn’t going to buy the book anyway. Then they deserve to have their day ruined.
I recently received a payment cheque from the Canada Council’s Public Lending Right program, which compensates Canadian authors for the free public access to their books in libraries across the country. I always love receiving this cheque, for a few reasons. One, I always forget it’s coming, so it’s an awesome surprise! Two, it comes after Christmas, when I need it the most. Three, it keeps me writing.
The third reason is perhaps the most important one. The stated goal of the PLR program is to pay authors for works they’ve already written and that other people get to read for free, courtesy of our great library system. But it’s more than just compensation: it’s also an investment. Those cheques that get sent out at the beginning of every year help writers across the country keep writing. The books we’re getting paid for? Those books are already done and published. The PLR money we get for them helps buy us time to write our next books. Every spring, I get a cheque in the mail that makes me think, “To the writing cave!”
So thanks, PLR and Canada Council! And thanks to all you readers who keep buying books and checking them out of libraries! Without you, I’d just be a crazy person locked in a room arguing with imaginary people.
I just received some more photos from my time at the Surrey International Writers Conference. Thanks to photographer Sandra Vander Schaaf for the great shots! I didn’t even see her taking these pics, so they’re nice candid moments from the conference. Check her out if you need some photos of your own — looks like she takes a pretty good author shot.
Thanks to everyone at the Surrey International Writers Conference for putting on such a great event! It was truly one of the best conferences I’ve attended. Great list of presenters and topics, excellent staff who took care of everything — and an absolutely amazing community. I was inspired by all of you!
If we chatted at all during the conference, do keep in touch. I had a great time hanging out with you!
Pic courtesy of @geekyscientist, who caught me explaining how putting the Gaudi church in your books makes everything better.
I’m currently finishing the edits to my third Cross book, The Apocalypse Ark, and I realized I never read the book aloud to myself before sending it off to the publisher. How do I know this? Because of all the editor’s notes that say “You just said this in the line above.”
I woke to find myself in an open grave, my clothes still wet with blood.
“Not again,” I sighed.
I looked up at the edge of the grave and saw a man standing there. No, not a man.
“I don’t know what this is about, but I’m sure I can explain,” I said.
Da Vinci rubbed his hands together and grinned. His teeth were like the blades of a saw.
“That’s what you said the last time,” he said.
I sat up and noticed my clothes were still wet with blood. So I hadn’t been dead that long.
“You couldn’t even spring for a coffin?” I asked.
“Coffins are for people, but you’re not a person, are you?” Da Vinci said. He grinned, showing off teeth like the blades of a saw.
“Let’s get on with it then,” I sighed.
OK, I’m exaggerating a little here. Also, Da Vinci isn’t in this book, although I do have plans for him.
It’s not uncommon for things like this to happen as you go through the drafts. When I write my first drafts, I tend to burn through them pretty quickly these days. First drafts are mainly for plot and character — the actual story of the work. My main goal with the first draft is to finish the book, not polish it, so I have something to work with. It’s also important mentally to have a complete book by a certain stage in the writing process, so you don’t fall into the Whirlpool of the Endless Draft. Seriously. That whirlpool really sucks about two years into a book. So my first drafts can be a little sloppy.
In later drafts, I tend to hop around the book working on the parts that need work, or that I feel like working on that day. So I don’t always move through the book in a linear fashion, starting at the beginning and working my way patiently through to the end. In fact, sometimes I resemble a drunken university student who’s just discovered Wikipedia the night before an essay is due: I’m cutting and pasting like mad. So it’s inevitable that mistakes, repeated words and the like creep in. Plus, most writers just have stylistic tics they’re not even aware of — until an editor points them out.
The way to catch all these problems is to read the book aloud. For whatever reason, you can sometimes hear things that you can’t see when you’re staring at the words. So I usually read each book to myself before I send it off to my publisher. Pro tip: Try to do this at home, as you get funny looks on public transit when you do it there, and people tend to hit those security strips. No one appreciates the arts anymore.
I realized I’d never done this with The Apocalypse Ark, so it was a bit embarrassing to get the edits back and find all these basic beginner problems. I’m going to blame my children, because what’s the point of having children if you can’t blame them for everything that goes wrong in your life? And I’m pretty sure that for every time Cross sighs in the book, I’ve sighed at my kids in real life.
In a way, it’s turned into a valuable lesson for me. It’s not only a reminder to be more diligent in my editing, but it’s also highlighted some of my writing tics for me. That’s just good stuff to know at any point in the writing process.
Also, now I’m kind of wondering how and why Da Vinci threw Cross into an open grave. Hmm….
There have been some interesting pieces circulating online recently about the writer’s life and selling books. It turns out authors aren’t automatically showered with money for their first book, which everybody in the country then goes on to read. Who knew?
NPR has an insightful article about the actual numbers of the books business — insightful and slightly depressing. “When it comes to book sales, what counts as success may surprise you” says that the vast majority of writers are essentially doing it as a hobby, as it’s nearly impossible to make a living as a writer these days. (Yes, yes, I know there are exceptions. But they are the exceptions, not the rule.) I say it’s only slightly depressing because most writers already know this.
“A sensational sale would be about 25,000 copies,” says literary agent Jane Dystel. “Even 15,000 would be a strong enough sale to get the publisher’s attention for the author for a second book.”
But if that second book doesn’t sell, says Dystel, odds are you won’t get another chance. And that brings us to the Authors Guild survey. Just over 1,400 full- and part-time writers took part in the survey, the Guild’s first since 2009. There has been a 30 percent decline in author income since then and more than half of the respondents earned less than $11,670 (the 2014 federal poverty level) from their writing related income.
I should point out that in Canada, 15,000 copies would be a sensational sale.
The Bookseller highlighted this issue in a story about the Man Booker long list, which revealed that some writers who made the long list have sold only a few hundred copies.
And author Kameron Hurley talked about numbers in her piece “The Cold Publishing Equations: Books Sold + Marketability + Love.” Hurley points out most books sell only a few hundred to a few thousand copies — and then those authors tend to get dropped by their publishers. Hurley says that as long as you’re writing and building an audience, then you’re doing OK as a writer.
The average book sells 3000 copies in its lifetime (Publishers Weekly, 2006).
Yes. It’s not missing a zero.
Take a breath and read that again.
But wait, there’s more!
The average traditionally published book which sells 3,000 in its entire lifetime in print only sells about 250-300 copies its first year.
But I’m going indie! you say. My odds are better!
No, grasshopper. Your odds are worse.
The average digital only author-published book sells 250 copies in its lifetime.
It’s not missing a zero.
It’s enough to get a writer down on the best of days, and it often does. But I like what Shawna Lemay says over on her Calm Things blog:
You don’t have to be a writer. No one is making you. You do it because you love it in some weird and fragile and cool angsty way. You do it because it reminds you why you are alive, and you want to share that with someone who might enjoy your odd and particular way of looking at the world.
I’ve had this conversation with a couple of my writer friends lately, about how for most of us, your book comes out and there’s a bit of fanfare, mainly the fanfare you drum up for yourself on social media etc. You launch your book and that’s always nice. Some people will buy it, say decent things at some point in the near future. You’re lucky if you get one good review, and not too many horrible ones. Actually, you’re lucky if anyone reviews you at all. So you’ll get a little self-created moment in the sun and within two to three weeks, your book is just another of the millions and billions of books out there floating around in the world. As “Polly” says, ‘almost all books tank.’ Which is totally fine.
As for me? Hey, I’m happy to be able to write and publish books for readers like you. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do, ever since I was a kid. Writing and telling stories is in my DNA. The number of copies sold, the money earned, all that stuff, it’s gravy and it’s nice when it happens. I was pretty thrilled when I became an Amazon bestseller! But it’s not why I write. I figure if I leave the world with one character or one story that people will remember, then all the hours at the keyboard and all the sacrifices will have been worth it.
Thanks for reading.
I think I’ve talked a few times on this blog about how much Roger Zelazny‘s writing has meant to me. I don’t know how many times I’ve reread the Chronicles of Amber in my life — the only other books that come close are Steven Brust‘s Jhereg series, which have a similar feel. And maybe Lord of the Rings, which I read dozens of times in my early school years, although LOTR mostly has nostalgia value for me now. When I first started writing, I wanted to create unique, visionary worlds like Zelazny had, and I really wanted to blend genre fiction with literary style in the same manner. Not easy feats at all, as it turns out. But you do what you can.
I never expected to be compared to Zelazny, any more than I ever expected to be compared to Neil Gaiman. So it’s been a complete surprise and honour when that’s happened in reviews and such. And it was also a complete surprise and honour when a reader sent me a pic of two books she’d recently ordered — The Warhol Gang, which I wrote a few years back, and Doorways in the Sand, by Roger Zelazny. Thanks, Shara!
If my childhood self could see this pic, I think I know what he would say.