Inside VioletWar.com

One of the things that I’m always conscientious about is providing an image that is both professional and creative at the same time. While I enjoy writing and sharing posts with you on my blog, it’s not the same as what I write for VioletWar.com. There, I can be more personal because people are investing their time to read more about my fiction efforts and my process for writing stories set in that world. Here, I’ve often taken a more professional approach and, in many ways, that has paid off a thousand fold.

Still, this blog is just one aspect of “me.” VioletWar.com is another. There, not only have I been able to share more news about THE QUEEN OF CROWS and what reviews it has gotten, but I’ve also recently started a journal there. It’s been a really fun creative outlet for me and something that supports my efforts for that world. At the same time, it’s beginning to get more personal than I had expected. I’m pretty private, but for whatever reason I’m having a blast just being me.

So, if you’re mildly curious about the world I have built and the novel I’ve been working on, that’s the place to drop by and explore. If not, stay tuned because I’ll definitely be blogging more about topical subjects that are meaningful to both you and me.

Thanks for reading!

A Noise Detox

If you’ve been following my blog, you may have read some of my posts about writing and depression. One of the things I talk about there, is that writing is a solitary activity that is part and parcel to a writer’s ability to focus on what they’re doing. As you know, depression can be caused by too much solitary activity. However, I’ve found that whatever angsty “thing” I just went through, it was caused by the precise opposite to that — too much connectivity.

For me, I need those moments of solitary confinement even when I’m not writing because it allows my head to be clear. For a while there, it seemed like my mind was in a literal fog and I couldn’t figure out why. Worse, I felt that my writing was suffering as well. What was once fun and enjoyable turned into a literal chore. I choked up. I had stage fright. I over-analyzed and psychoanalyzed every verb, every comma, every first word of every, single sentence and I couldn’t figure out why.

ShhhhhSo I started to detach during my off time and I turned to my favorite video games instead. Slowly, but surely, I figured out what was happening to me. (Thank you, Square Enix.) I had been so inundated with a constant stream of noise that I felt I had to either read (or respond to) each individual pixel of internet dirt. As a result, I didn’t have the chance to focus on “me” or “my work.” I was too busy focusing on things that were triggering my emotions. Mind you, several things had already pushed me in that “I’m frustrated” direction already. The noise did not help.

Noise, for me, is probably different than it is for you. I have certain topics that send me off into an instantaneous rant, turning me into an ugly troll. With warts. And smelly feet. I have other topics that are like little race cars. When I see them, I feel compelled to stick on the top of their hoods and ride them all the way through to the end. Mind you, none of the subjects I’m talking to you about here have anything to do with work or my writing. And that, truly, was the reason why I needed to disconnect. The constant bombardment of ads, news, factoids, gossip, etc. throughout my day forced me to face myself in the mirror and ask myself what I could ignore. What could I stop worrying about. What did I need to listen to versus what did I feel obligated to listen to.

For the past, few weeks I’ve been going through what I call a “noise detox.” I’ve turned off and tuned out of almost everything, only to embrace the great outdoors and hobbies I’ve abandoned. This experience has been wonderful and exhilarating. It has also opened my eyes to what truly matters to me, and I can tell you that the “noise” does not. (The same goes for drama, in general. Although, I like drama when it’s performed on the stage.)

Instead of giving in to the noise and its destructive tendencies, I am traveling sideways and shielding myself with sunlight and oxygen and my imagination. Otherwise, I can’t hear the music of my words. I don’t know if any of you have experienced something similar, but this has definitely been one of those times where I have learned my lesson well.

Guest Post: 3 Science Fiction Writing Exercises at Apex

This month, I decided to offer a few writing exercises for those of you who want to work on your science fiction stories. This post is especially timely for me, because I’m working on a new novella for a setting that has a lot of different features within it. It’s not a post-apocalyptic setting, but rather one that has elements of religion, politics, breaking technology, alien races, etc.

Here’s one of the exercises from the article:

Create an Alien – Whether you create something that’s humanoid or the size of an amoeba, designing an alien can be a lot of fun and help spark a few story ideas. There are a number of different methods that you can work with to add a bit of chance to the results. One approach you could take would be to write several types of adjectives on small pieces of paper. Toss them in a shoebox and then randomly pull out a string of descriptions. Another method would be to pick an environment, like a Martian desert, and design an alien based on how they’d survive within it. If your goal is to create an alien for a dark fiction setting, you could try creating a cute alien first and then twisting it into something predatory. After you have your creation in hand, you can then explore several different options to flesh out your alien. You could determine how they reproduce, if there are any other types of aliens within that species, what type of pets they might have or food they might eat, etc. — SOURCE: Three Science Fiction Writing Exercises at Apex Book Company

If you’re interested in chiming in, be sure to drop by Apex Book Company and the blog. They’ve also got some great books to put on your summer reading list, too!

Don’t Give Up

The following message is dedicated to any writer who has ever felt discouraged and depressed.

Hey, you! Listen up. Yeah, you. Why the long face? Oh, I get it. You’re depressed because either:

a) you don’t have any readers
b) your book isn’t selling
c) you haven’t been published
d) your peers are surpassing you
e) you have no idea how you’re going to make ends meet
f) you’re frustrated as hell with the publishing industry
g) your work keeps getting rejected
h) your contracts aren’t coming through

Yeah, me too. I’ve been there. What? Your situation is more depressing than that? No kidding! So it’s:

a) you’ve been plagiarized
b) your work has been pirated
c) your frustrated as hell with e-books
d) you don’t want to sell books, you just want to write
e) you want to pull your hair out because contracts are too effing frustrating
f) you’re not getting paid for what you’re worth
g) you hear the words “online marketing” and you want to vomit
h) none of the above but something as equally annoying

Oh, I’m right there with you. I’ve been in all of those places, too.

No, I may not have the same experiences as you do. I’m not any best-sellers’ list that you’ve heard of and I haven’t been published through a traditional publisher yet. Though, I have several publications under my belt and I have collaborated on dozens of projects, some of which I had to either remain anonymous on or will never see the light of day. Regardless of where you are in your career, we do share something in coming. They’re called feelings. I’ve gone through a lot and will probably go through more as I continue writing. Quite frankly, almost every author does.

What’s that? This doesn’t apply to you? Well, then you’re damn lucky. Most — if not all — of the authors I’ve ever talked to go through highs and lows. If you ever wonder why authors toot their own horn, it’s often a misguided attempt to either consciously or unconsciously fend off that sinking feeling that their work doesn’t matter.

I say, “Screw that.” Your work does matter. Does it suck that you have fewer readers than the number of calories in a McDonald’s Big Mac? Is it terrible that your book sold fewer copies than the distribution amount of your local free newspaper?

Let me ask you a different question: Did you like what you wrote? No, really. Do you like yourself “as” an author? Did you do the best damn job you could ever do and you’re happy with the results?

Then why should you care about anyone else is doing? You cannot control whether or not people are going to like your book after it is published. You can only pour your efforts into the work before you submit it, and even then one editor’s bane is another editor’s treasure.

Regardless of how happy you are with your own work, it’s your relationship with the words on the page that matters the most. If you’re happy with your writing, why does it matter what anyone else thinks? Keep in mind, I am talking about reality here. Sometimes stories do need a little help from an editor or a critique group. That’s what they’re there for.

Now, I know many of you need to eat and you can’t live off of unpaid manuscripts. I’m right there with you. That’s why I have a day job (and a very good one at that). That’s my choice. What choices have you made? Can you live with those decisions?

Well, if you can’t — then make a different choice. If you can, suck it up and get back to that computer! Your next story will not get written if you keep whining about how bad things are. Channel that energy into your characters and turn that frustration into a work of art.

After all, this is why we are writers. We live to tell a story. The business side of it adds a layer of confusion, frustration, joy and (hopefully) a monetary reward for telling those stories, but in the long run that’s neither here nor there. We are storytellers.

So I’m asking you to suck it up. Put aside your worries and tell your damn story. After you’re done with that one — tell another one!

I know it sucks and I know how heartbreaking the business side can be. But don’t give up. Just don’t. Forget about how many readers you have now and think about the disappointed readers you might have some day. In this business, anything can happen. You just keep on telling those stories and worry about the rest later.

If you read this post and felt inspired to write, I ask that you either leave a comment or write your own blog post to help other writers who are discouraged and need a little motivation. We’ve all been there. You never know, one day we might need a little positive vibeage, too.

Guest Post: Three Reasons To Self Publish (And A Big One Not To!)

Today’s guest post about self-publishing is brought to you by author and game designer Jess Hartley. Jess is a professional writer who is experimenting with different options to expand her readership and engage existing fans.

Due to recent trends in technology and on-line marketing options, it is easier for a writer to self-publish today than ever before. Whether entirely on their own, or with the help of a plethora of book printers and retailers that specialize in small print runs, Print on Demand (PoD) technology or electronic publishing, almost anyone can set out to publish their Great American Novel and have physical copies in their hands in a matter of weeks, if not days. Some publishers brand self-publishing as the demon-child of the mainstream publishing industry, an evil to be avoided at all costs. Others (often those who are trying to encourage authors to print books through their services) rave about the mainstream publishing industry as archaic and tout their avenues as the easiest and fastest ways to get published.

So, who’s right?

The answer is found, as it often is, somewhere in the middle.

There are times and circumstances where producing your own material is the best choice. And situations where it may seem like the best choice, but really isn’t.

Self-published work may be right for you if:

You’re writing for a very niche market.

If you are interested in creating either fiction or non-fiction materials for a very specific community or small interest group to which you already have established ties, self-publishing might be a good choice for you. If, for example, my parents wanted to write a book about calling and cueing square dances, they probably won’t be able to sell it to a mainstream publisher. The niche market for their book would be just too small for most publishers to consider. However, since they’re already well-established in that niche, and have both the contacts and opportunity to market such a book to its most likely audience, it might be a good opportunity for them to do so as a self-published project.

Histories of a local area, or other projects specific to a certain town, landmark or attraction may be a great idea for that area, but not marketable anywhere else. A friend of mine recently published a book on ghost hunting in SE Arizona, which is selling like hotcakes through her ghost tours and local shops, but would be of little interest to someone from Michigan who’d never been to the area.

Your work is not in a form that is easily marketable.

Poetry, flash fiction, novellas and short stories suffer from similar challenges when it comes to publishing. While there are certainly some publishers who produce these types of works commercially, the competition for a space on their pages is fierce. Many anthology publishers are seeking increasingly more “big name” authors to include in their collections, in hopes of boosting sales, which has caused lesser-known authors to seek out different markets. Unfortunately, several poetry, flash fiction and short story markets pay at or below professional rates (if they pay at all.)

If you’re writing for one of these genres, it’s a good idea to do your research and find out what is and isn’t working in the current market to apply that to your own publications. If five, long-time poetry magazines have folded in the last year, creating a cookie-cutter publication of that sort may be a challenging business model for you. Before you self-publish, find out what’s working and what’s not, and learn from others’ mistakes and losses to avoid suffering from them yourself.

You already have an established readership or distribution model.

Even for those who write in the traditional publishing industry, the restrictions on commercially-produced projects keep us from being able to release what, when and how we would like to. The bigger a publisher is, the more concern they have to have with the profitability of any given project, and the more likely they are to have to “think big” in terms of print runs, marketing, and overhead.

Self-published materials can get into an established audience’s hands faster and with less restrictions than if an author were to go the traditional route. Additionally, when you self-publish you can customize your project to your reader’s desires with a lot more flexibility than if that same project was published through a large publisher. As a self-publisher, your “share” of the profit can (but is not always) be larger. However, this approach really works best if you’ve got a readership or distribution model already in place.

While some creators may thrive on marketing their wares book-by-book, it can be very challenging (and depressing) to learn that folks who have never heard of you and don’t know anything about your writing are rarely interested in paying money to read your work. If the writer has used a traditional printing paradigm (i.e. you pay the printer then hope to sell enough books to earn back your investment and make a profit) it can be a very expensive lesson to learn.

If, on the other hand, you have an established readership, self-published materials can be a great way to provide additional content to them, especially work that wouldn’t be feasible to produce through traditional means. My recent fiction effort, The Shattered Glass Project, is an experiment in this sort of model–providing established readers with the opportunity to directly support and be involved with the creation process.

A short story read only by those who are willing to invest as its being created? A series of poems written from the perspective of an established character? A game “ransomed” and released when a certain fund-raising level has been met? A novella that acts as a prologue for an upcoming novel? All of these can and have been done successfully by writers with established readers who are hungry for more material.

Self-Publishing is probably NOT the right choice for you if:

You believe that self-publishing is a way to avoid all the challenges of the traditional publishing industry.

There are a lot of challenges that writers face when seeking mainstream publication. Even after you’ve finished your novel, edited and revised it, buffed it to a high polish and written that dreaded query letter, you still have to find an agent or publisher who loves it enough to invest time and/or money in it. From agents blogs, the average offer rate seems to be somewhere under one percent – that is to say, out of every 100 queries or pitches received, 99% of them will receive some form of rejection. And once a writer has found representation, there’s still no guarantee that the agent/writer team will be able to place the book with a publisher.

It’s no wonder that many authors think that self-publishing is the answer to their prayers. Someone who receives 100 rejections on the novel they’ve spent years writing and which represents the pinnacle of their creative expertise, often finds it much easier to think that something’s wrong with the industry, than with their work. When self-publishing companies and printers say things like “we can have your book ready in a week, guaranteed,” it’s an intoxicating siren-song to those who have struggled for months or years to get someone in the mainstream industry to give them so much as an approving word.

But easy is not always best.

While agents and editors may seem like stumbling blocks to publication when you’re receiving rejections, they serve as a filter to catch and weed out the large portion of submitted materials which are simply not ready for commercial publication yet. Those who, rather than working to improve their creation to publishable levels, seek to do an “end run” around these obstacles, may get to see their words in print (usually at a hefty cost to their own pocket book.)

But their true goal – becoming a creator of publishable works, and a professional writer — is unlikely to be obtained in this fashion. Producing a product yourself–one which you either have to sell personally, or which is only available by special order through mainstream bookstores–is not a substitute for being published through a traditional publisher. And, it isn’t the “foot-in-the-door” to other publishing opportunities that many self-publishing companies market it as. Traditional industry professionals don’t usually see self-publishing as “published”. They see it as “couldn’t get anyone else to take my work, so I paid to have it printed myself.”

Learn what is right for you.

Your greatest chances for success with a self-publishing project come when you are realistic about the challenges and opportunities that self-producing your work brings with it. Don’t turn to self-publishing because you’re frustrated with mainstream publishing and think it will be faster/easier/more profitable to do your own project. Learn what does and doesn’t work as self-produced material, and use those to determine if self-publishing is right for you.

About Jess Hartley

For the last ten years, Jess Hartley has worked as a novelist and freelance writer, editor and game developer.

She has created game material and fiction for White Wolf Publishing, 12 to Midnight Games, Mind Storm Labs’ and Margaret Weis Productions on the Supernatural RPG line.

On an independent basis, Jess also writes “One Geek to Another,” a weekly etiquette and advice column for modern geeks, and authored “Conventions for the Aspiring Game Professional, an e-book designed to help those who are interested in working in the industry. She also guest-hosts “Out of Character,” a weekly gaming podcast that is part of the Pulp Gamer Network.

Her current independent efforts include The Shattered Glass Project, a fae fiction experiment based on a reader-sustained, patronage model.

Jess lives in Arizona, with her family and a menagerie of other interesting creatures, where she participates in a plethora of strange and curious pastimes which often make her neighbors and acquaintances scratch their heads in confusion.

To learn more about Jess, visit her website at www.jesshartley.com.

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