This is Sci-Fi Awesomeness, You Dig…?

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Some good things and bad things so far to start this year. The good? Three book sales in 2022 to continue what turned out to be a pretty good holiday bump – I finished 2021 with a Canadian sale on top of a UK and a couple USAs, topping out at 98 sales for the year. There was a German paperback ad click-thru that went south – the click-thru actually got removed from my campaign data for the first time (usually KDP just leaves a cancellation or refund posted as a sale in that database). I blame the couple times a posted sale has been stymied on folks in France or Germany not realizing, despite the information on Amazon, that the book is in English – what else could explain a cancel, at least for a paperback? Anyway, the at-least-one-sale-per-month streak continues!

And now I’m approaching phase one for TC2 publication: the book cover. Which isn’t phase one as much as phase two, or a rebooted phase one, the attentive reader will know the story. Anyway, the first of next month – a mere three weeks away! – and it will be go-time to get the cover done and out of the way before it becomes all about editing the manuscript. Which I’ve been banging away at religiously – a chapter per day on average with only the rare day off. I’m at Chapter 36, page 411 of 492. So, at this point, the end finally seems within reach. Otherwise, I go months and months with the sense that the manuscript just keeps getting longer and more bloated and for fuck’s sake I swear sometimes it seems like the thing is a thousand page monster.

The struggles. The tortures. Who cares? It’s just a matter of time as long as I keep hammering. And having the timeline for working with Looseleaf putting pressure on things is all good as far as I’m concerned. Garbage in, garbage out is almost how it works, I’d say, when you hand over your writing for the third party professional to take swings at. It better be the best I can do or it’s just going to bog the process down. Another apt analogy would be house painting. It’s all about the preparation or you’ll be wasting time and energy trying to catch up to yourself, being inefficient and sloppy and producing shoddy work. When if you just prepare as best you can, the prep being most of the work, you can fly through the painting itself and maximize your chances of the best outcome.

Momentum, however, only seems to arrive quite late in the game, I must say. At least for me. There is something about having to get enough drafts completed before the manuscript begins to tighten and strengthen and really begin to project an identity and a style. Let alone any flair. Yes, it has to do with trimming, but I think trimming gets too much press, so to say. For me, it has more to do with rewriting; that is, literally overhauling entire passages to better get across what too often exists on the page as a mere kernel of an idea. The idea itself is priceless, without question, but only after however many drafts, in this case the fourth, can I seem to start investing the writerly qualities that to me infuse the tale with properly evocative imagery, compelling dialogue, engaging action, all that. It’s all imagery to me, whether a character is doing something or talking or thinking. But I can’t get there very well when I’m busy architecting the story and the character arcs – all the mechanics of getting things from here to there – from the ground up. Is it the same struggle for any of you folks?

Why is writing fiction this way? Why does it take so many run throughs? What the f*ck is happening in my brain – any writer’s brain – that we can’t get it down “correctly” the first time? Thankfully, I don’t look at this as my job to figure out. It interests me why this is, certainly, but what drives me is the “how” of things. How to get it there. Get it where? To the finish line. Or, since I know that if I picked up TC1 I’d be compelled to “fix” this, that and the other thing – to full-on edit it again – I have to focus upon the sense that it has mostly finished itself.

Any art-crafter worth their salt will express a similar intuition, namely, that a project tells you when it’s done. That isn’t to say you or somebody else couldn’t somehow keep improving it. Especially with the passage of time we tend to regard our work as having needed this or that and it’s difficult to regard it as the best it can be. But after the manuscript has told you it’s done, that come what may (and for better or for worse) the thing has realized itself, it’s best to leave it alone. Let it succeed upon its merits. Or allow it to suck wind because of its faults. Because you’ve reached the point of so-called diminished returns. That is, there’s a stage where you can expend immense amounts of energy and time and accomplish very little noticeable improvements and meanwhile risk wrecking or dismantling what’s fresh and already good enough about your work.

Nevertheless, with writing (as opposed to, I would suggest, painting), the work can unfortunately always somehow be more deftly edited. It sucks. Like I said, it’s inevitable that I if I picked up TC1 right now and flipped it open, I’d find something f*cking obvious as hell that needed a fix. Be it a maddening typo or a wonky sentence or an anemic word choice, what have you, I could tweak it. But, hands off at this point. I’m convinced that things do reach a stage where they are out of the art-crafter’s full possession. You remain responsible for everything good, bad and ugly about your work but after a time you don’t own it, as such. The world owns it. The people who bought it and read it and liked it or hated it or were indifferent own it. It’s theirs. And only partly yours ever again.

Some of what I’m discussing comes down to the mysteries of the creative process while others come down to the practicalities of time and money. And sometimes it’s the practicalities that save the day. What did somebody tell Springsteen when he was prepared to keep working on Born to Run? “Save it for the next album.” Because the business, the economics of things forced the band on the road to promote the album. And I’m telling you that it is a cosmic relief, of sorts, to have the cosmos force you to take your hands off and let the baby be born. No, wait, you tell yourself, it just needs this one more thing…. No, it doesn’t. It has to sink or swim now, fly or fall, what have you, let’s mix all the metaphors that work. The birth is over, the umbilical cord is cut, it’s an autonomous being, breathing on its own and the adjudications to come, whatever they are, will have to stand.

If I had to rank the process of bringing a novel to life and to market in order of my own enjoyment and sense of fulfillment, top to bottom?

  1. Sales. Enjoyment and fulfillment sky high – there is nothing better than the thrill of a sale and the subsequent twenty-four hours of feeling validated, legitimized and individuated.
  2. Collaborating with a professional editor. Enjoyment low but fulfillment high.
  3. Collaborating on book cover design. Enjoyment very high (when it works) but fulfillment moderate – the compromise is always palpable. That said, the cover communicates immediate energy, it is the outward, world-facing personality and for better or worse it establishes the book’s identity. The cover has a life of its own until the writing and the story and the authorship can take over, if ever. Hence, its importance cannot be overestimated in the beginning of a book’s life.
  4. Collaborating on interior formatting. Enjoyment high, fulfillment high. Akin to the cover, if the book’s insides are pleasing and engaging and apt enough and fortunate enough in terms of sales to get beyond its first iteration, then the interior can be become less an essential aspect. If TC1, say, were issued in a smaller trim size, the cover were changed and the interior were reformatted in a new edition, then it all comes down to the writing, thereby demonstrating an uncommon level of success and durability. But in its first and perhaps only iteration, the interior formatting is very important to communicating professionalism.
  5. Writing the first draft. Enjoyment moderate, fulfillment high. It can be fun, in its way, to be the conduit for an inspiration. Meanwhile, it hurts, too, to crank out a first draft but not as much as the second and third and so on.
  6. Distribution. Setting up the title on KDP and Ingramspark is mostly tedious and I’m never quite certain that I couldn’t have better situated the book in terms of keywords and synopsis and all that. Even the trim size is something I’m not ever one-hundred-percent convinced upon. Pricing is something that used to torture me, but I’ve come to terms with it.
  7. Marketing. Ugh. That’s all there is to say about it. Enjoyment zero, fulfillment zero. It costs money and time and energy better spent working on the next book.
  8. Getting reviews and ratings. Enjoyment wildly variable, obviously, depending upon the obvious. Fulfillment moderate even when the review is great.
  9. Self-editing the 4th draft. Enjoyment low, bordering upon nil, but fulfillment moderate to high, depending upon how much writerly vibe I’ve been capable of expressing and how vital and engaging and jazzy the characters have managed to make themselves.
  10. Self-editing the 5th draft. I’m not there yet for TC2. And note that this draft places lower than the fourth. But it has to do with my sense that I’m at the end of my self-editing talents. That is, yes, I’m still managing to improve things, but at this point I’m conscious of being in need of a professionally distanced eye. So, there’s some inevitable frustration and impatience with plowing through, yet again, on my own.
  11. Self-editing the 3rd draft. Only slightly closer to tolerable than the second draft because the writing can’t have gotten any worse in comparison.
  12. Self-editing the 2nd draft. Enjoyment practically nil and fulfillment likewise. This is because encountering the rawness and wonkiness and weakness in one’s writing at this stage is horribly painful to endure. You wonder how you can write so terribly!

What about the bad stuff already in the New Year that I mentioned? Well, I reached out to an author who will remain nameless with whom I’ve been corresponding on and off for some six years or so and received a response that was rife with unjustified (in my opinion, of course) insensitivity, impatience and very disappointing disagreeableness. Or at least indifference. After I’d made a point of mentioning that I was looking forward to this person’s new book that I’d preordered. I won’t publish the correspondence, and I didn’t even include it in my private, non-blogged journal version. It hurt, the chilliness and the frankly disrespectful disconnect. I honestly lost sleep over it, composing my own retaliatory correction, let’s call it. Which I had to convince myself would be not only fruitless to send but would merely further the discomfiture of the whole experience. Let it go. And, needless to say, I cancelled my preorder. Better to talk with your wallet, if possible, I always say. I feel a bit of a fool, seeing as the record shows that I probably assumed a much greater give back from this person than was the case over the years. I don’t make this kind of mistake. But the exception proves the rule. And it reminds me not to build my guides up too much, especially since nobody has ever given me permission, as it were, to regard them as such. Meanwhile, to quote Nick Cave’s mum, head high and f*ck ‘em all. So be it.

I’m proceeding, then, with complete confidence that 2022 will be a watershed year in terms of my authorpreneurship. Even if TC2 flops and I have to decide whether my career as a novelist has reached its vanishing point – hey, it’s possible – it will at least be a significant, life-changing event, a pivot point. Because the way things are going isn’t cutting it, I’ll just put it that way. It’s as if I’m stuck a bit on dead center. Not with my work, but rather with how my work fits into the world-of-action. The reception to it feels too much as if the consensus is still out.

Meanwhile, I’m not in this to lose tens of thousands of dollars to indie publish novels. This hasn’t for a moment been a vanity project or a game or a dalliance. An experiment and an adventure, yes. But I’m no dilletante. I’m a professional. The economics matter. My writing must earn out, as they say. Not immediately, I get it (that would be unreasonable) but book sales have to communicate a significant upswing to justify the continued expenditures.

This isn’t to tempt fate. When I say 2022 is a watershed year, it simply must be. I write for writing’s sake. I put everything into it. My heart and soul. And I dare say that, indeed, we require so very little, as art-crafters, that it won’t take much for me to regard TC2 as having been worth it and to keep me going. I can see myself diving into TC3, in fact, the minute I’m done editing this book.

To begin this year’s blogging, then, here’s to everyone who enjoyed TC1. And here’s to everyone prepared to take a chance on TC2. At this point, immersed within the final stretch of the fourth draft, I’ve started liking the manuscript again. It has been a while, believe me. The book cover will be done, heaven help me, by the end of February. The line editing will begin in the middle of March and be finished by the middle of April. Interior formatting is scheduled to be completed May 9th with final proofreading fixes finished within two weeks after that. Soon enough, then – the end of May – boom, boom, boom, Empire & Oracle: Time Crime Book 2, will drop!

P.S. A shout-out to Crafsman for his excellently deft SF tale, posted over year ago (but only recently discovered by me) and presented within the context of a proposed video game, that really could also be a lesson in what makes a compelling SF character and plot. Less is more? Well, it points out that it generally isn’t outsized levels of originality that we’re looking for; rather, it’s mythic resonance. Storytelling. Character development. Conflict. Drama. This is sci-fi awesomeness, you dig…? How can you not like this?