Before I became an author I thought of fiction writers as either genius or insane. When I started writing my first novel I quickly discovered that I was correct.
And I’m no genius.
As an author I get asked a lot (A LOT) where I get my ideas from. And as an author of suspense I get asked a lot (A LOT) how I can conjure such macabre material from my mind. I usually give some pat answer about having an active imagination or wanting my readers to see the world for what it really is. I talk about telling the truth through my writing.
And all that is true . . . but it’s not the whole story.
What I don’t tell those inquiring minds is a dirty little secret that fiction writers keep well protected.
The truth is that fiction writers are all slightly off center. A little insane.
I say fiction writers because I don’t want to unjustly lump my non-fiction brothers and sisters into that group. And fiction writing is an animal all its own. (A disclaimer is necessary at this point. I’m sure there are fiction writers who don’t fall into this category and I apologize for generalizing here but really, c’mon, admit it, we’re all a little wonky).
Think about it. We create worlds that don’t really exist. Towns, buildings, and people to inhabit those places. We give those people personalities and lives and histories and then we converse with them in our heads. Sometimes we talk out loud to them. We spend time with people who don’t really exist. We grow to care about them. We hear voices in our heads. At times, we obsess over those voices and people behind them. And at times, we let those people tell their own story.
The American Psychiatric Association has diagnoses for all those behaviors. No kidding.
But we live with it because we say it’s part of our imagination, our creativity. We’re okay with being a little insane.
Regular folk (I say “regular” for lack of a better term) don’t understand the mindset of a fiction author. They can’t. And it’s probably for the best. If they knew what really went on in our heads, if they could hear those voices, if they knew the fine line we walk, I truly believe they’d have every single one of us committed.
Of course, maybe things are topsy turvy and fiction writers are the normal ones. Maybe everyone else is insane.
Then again, maybe that, too, is part of the delirium.
It’s no surprise that social media is all the rage. For authors, it’s expected that we’ll be engaged in different types of social media, interacting with readers, sharing ourselves, passing along information, and generally spending a lot of time at the keyboard NOT working on our books.
Myself, I have several social media outlets I frequent: this blog, Facebook (two pages), and Twitter.
And, honestly, there are times when I just get tired of it. There are days when I don’t have anything interesting or pithy to say. Days when I don’t feel like sharing anything. Days when I sit and stare at that question on Facebook, “What’s on your mind?” and I say “Absolutely nothing. Nothing is on my mind. Is that okay?”
Don’t get me wrong. I like social media. I think it’s interesting. I think it’s a great way to connect with readers en masse, something authors of the past rarely had an opportunity to do.
I’ve just been thinking that I need to reboot. I need to focus my efforts, concentrate on one or two outlets, and let the other ones go.
So here’s my question for you . . . which outlet do you frequent most? Blogs, Twitter, or Facebook? If I had to focus on one to get the most bang for my buch which one do you think should I go with?
I have my own ideas about which one I’d LIKE to focus on but that may not be the most popular one.
HERE’S A BONUS: If you leave a comment you’ll be entered in a contest to win a copy of one of my short stories (Mirror Image or The Last Hunt) or one of my short non-fiction books (Writing Time! or Writing unBlock!) Yes, I’m bribing you. Unashamedly, too. I need your opinion!
Every September and March I develop an unusual twitch. It’s called stress. Anxiety. It’s called royalty statement time.
Every six months I get a royalty statement and on that statement are the sales numbers for each of my books. Both for the period and total.
Mostly, I hate those statements.
Two of the most-asked questions I get as a writer are: Where do you get your ideas? and What are your sales like?
Mostly, I hate those questions.
Writers get into writing because we love to write (duh!), because we love the creativity of it and we love sharing our stories with others. But there’s this other side to writing that whether we want to acknowledge it or not, doesn’t go away. Numbers.
Writing is an art but it’s also a business and while craft and style and creativity rule in our minds, sales numbers rule in the minds of a lot of other people. That’s a reality. Publishers look at sales numbers and more times than not those numbers drive how much money goes into marketing the book, how many resources get alloted to it, and whether or not they offer another contract. It’s a tough business, but it is just that . . . a business.
Every author wants to see his or her book putting up big numbers. In some weird way it seems like confirmation that yes, he is talented, people do enjoy his books, and the publisher did indeed make a good decision to publish his work. In a lot of ways big sales numbers = success.
The questions then arise about what qualifies as “big” numbers, how many books sold do publishers look for, what’s the measure of success? And the answers will vary from publisher to publisher. There’s really no standard.
As an author I care about the numbers. I do because I want to keep writing. But I try my hardest to fight the tendency to put the worth of my writing and even myself on the amount of books sold. There are just too man factors involved in why a book sells well or not.
As an author I want to focus on crafting the best story I can with the most worthwhile message. I want to impact lives, get people thinking, entertain, and yes, sometimes, scare the poo out of a reader.
Most of the time I think I’m somewhat successful at that. But I must admit, when the royalty statement comes I usually get all tense, go somewhere private, and open the letter. Then I walk around the rest of the evening muttering to myself about how I’m wasting my time, how it isn’t worth all the effort involved, how I’d be better off using my time getting a real part-time job. It takes me at least a few days to talk myself off that cliff and get back to writing.
And then six months later we do it all again.
But it’s worth it. Not because of the meager financial reward, but because of the readers I know are being impacted. It’s worth it for everything that isn’t financial, that doesn’t depend on numbers. It’s worth it because of the people. And really, isn’t that the way everything in life should be?
Okay, couple things I have to point out that you’ll want to check out:
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I’m a big tipper.
If a server does a good job, I reward him/her with a big tip. Hey, I’ve never been a waiter but I do consider myself in the service industry . . . twice. My full-time job is in home care physical therapy. We serve patients. Customer care, the patient experience, is everything and very important to me. I’m also an author and serve readers with hopefully good stories and a positive experience. So I can empathize with servers. They have a tough job trying to please their customers.
For them to earn a big tip doesn’t mean they have to be infallible. Their service does not have to be perfect. I’m not overly demanding and my expectations are not overly high. I just want to have a comfortable, enjoyable experience.
A little while ago I read a book about marketing and the author talked about asking your readers for a $20 tip. That’s right, twenty bucks. Now before you assume where this is going and stop reading, let me explain.
Imagine yourself as a waiter or waitress. You do your best to serve each table, you stay attentive, fill their drinks, answer their questions, take their food back when it’s not hot enough or tastes funny. You bust your butt to make sure they’re having a nice time. Then they get up to leave and say, “Hey, thanks for the great time. You did an excellent job.” But there’s no tip.
Or imagine the same scenario, same thank you, but when you get back to the table there’s a $20 bill laying there.
The author of this book went on to say that the $20 tip you can give any author is a positive review on Amazon (and other sites). And surprisingly, those reviews mean more than you think they do, not only to the author but toward future awareness and sales.
So here’s my request, not just for me but for every author. If you read a book and enjoy it, if it moves you, excites you, entertains you, please do that author a favor and leave her a positive review on Amazon. Trust me, she’ll appreciate the $20 tip and it only costs you a few short minutes of your time.
I don’t recommend very many books on this blog, not because I don’t read many books worth recommending, but just because that isn’t what this blog is about. But sometimes I feel compelled to, for a variety of reasons.
And as an author, strangely, there are few authors I truly admire. Oh, there are writers out there way more talented than me, that’s not what I’m getting at. I mean authors who because of what they write, how they write it, and who they are, have captured my admiration. Athol Dickson is one of those authors.
A couple weeks ago I posted about Athol Dickson’s new book, January Justice. I’ve read the book and like with all of Athol’s books, highly recommend it. I first discovered Athol at the prompting of my wife after she read They Shall See God. I then read River Rising and it literally made me see Jesus in a whole new way (there’s one line in the book that will blow you away). Athol’s writing is fluid and almost magical. He has a distinct voice that, as a fellow author, I appreciate.
You can find January Justice here. Please check it out.
And now for even better stuff . . . we’re giving away THREE KINDLE COPIES OF JANUARY JUSTICE. To enter just leave a comment to this post (entries will be taken until midnight Thursday). If you don’t have a Kindle, shame on you, but don’t worry, you can still win. Amazon has Kindle apps for just about every kind of reading device including smart phones and your PC or Mac.
And I hope the interview below allows you to get to know Athol a little better.
So tell me about your new murder mystery, January Justice.
The back cover pretty well tells the story: Reeling from his wife’s unsolved murder, Malcolm Cutter is just going through the motions as a chauffeur and bodyguard for Hollywood’s rich and famous. Then a pair of Guatemalan tough guys offer him a job. It’s an open question whether they’re patriotic revolutionaries or vicious terrorists. Either way, Cutter doesn’t much care until he gets a bomb through his window, a gangland beating on the streets of L.A., and three bullets in the chest. Now there’s another murder on Cutter’s Mind. His own.
January Justice is the first in a new series will follows Malcolm Cutter as he works as a chauffeur/crime sleuth and looks for his wife’s murderer on the side.
When did you decide to become a writer?
I didn’t really make a decision to become a writer, so much as it just happened. I was working as a partner in an architectural firm, and spending most of my days dealing with handling business issues instead of having fun designing buildings, which was not what I had in mind when I went into architecture. I wanted some kind of creative release, and I’ve always loved to read murder mysteries, so I decided to try my hand at writing one. A couple of years later, I met a newspaper editor who had good connections in the publishing world. He volunteered to read my novel, and to my surprise, he thought it was pretty good. He gave me my first professional editorial advice, and after I made the changes he suggested, he sent the manuscript to some friends of his. The next thing I knew, I had an offer from a publisher.
It was all sort of accidental, so I never really thought of writing as anything more than a hobby. But I enjoyed it, and I had a publisher, so I kept writing. Then one of my novels won an award and I flew to Denver to receive it. When they stood me up on stage and praised the book and gave me a round of applause, I remember thinking that somehow, I had become a writer. That was the first time it sank in.
Do you have specific habits when you write?
I write toward a specific goal every day. Sometimes it’s a certain number of words, and sometimes it’s the completion of a scene, but one way or the other I give myself that goal and I keep writing until I get there.
Are you an early bird or night owl?
I’m a morning person, usually up by five or five thirty, and working no later than seven.