22 November 2012 by Published in: Writing 22 comments

I had a friend tell me the other day that he was going to start writing books.

As far as I know, or can tell, he’s never read one. If he has, it had pictures in it. Perhaps I’m exaggerating. But not really.

I asked why he felt compelled to throw his hat in the ring in a business that was extremely competitive, and in which one’s chances of making any sort of real money were between slim and none. What special perspective did he bring that would be vital for an audience to hear? What stories had he been cooking up, waiting for the right moment to spring on a delighted world? How much studying of his favorite authors had he done? How much time invested in mastering niggling details like remedial grammar, or punctuation, or any facet of craft?

The answers weren’t good. As far as I could tell, he decided he wanted to be an author after reading some accounts of how easy it was now to publish your own book.

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BREAKING NEWS: A fabulous new interview with Alan McDermott. Worth a few minutes of your time.

NEWS: A brilliant new book review for JET by Kate’s Reads and The Kindle Book Review! Nice!

NEWS: And another great book review for JET by Wren Deloro. Wow!

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Which seems to me to be the wrong reason to publish – that it’s easy. Many things in life are easy. Eating too much pie. Foregoing a shower. Having that last few cocktails instead of going home. It may well be easy to upload a document to Amazon and have it available for purchase, but does that make it a good idea to do so?

Perhaps I’m overly pedantic, but if you’re confused over the use of your and you’re, or its and it’s, if you think definitely is spelled with an “a” somewhere in it, and your idea of great writers are names that you commonly see in airport bins, then does the world really need you to rush your unique literary contribution to the presses? Not that you don’t have a right to invest little or no time in actually being able to tell a story via the written word with anything more of a command of your mother tongue than a ten year old might display, but is it really such a great idea? Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I have always believed that one should actually take the time to learn about something before walking onto the stage with experts who have been working at it for, oh, decades, and hoping that one’s chutzpah and charisma will carry the day.

I know that’s an unpopular notion among indies. In our world, we’re supposed to be as supportive as sponsors at a twelve-step meeting, and coo and gush at each other like obese aunts over a newborn.

But folks. The giddy buzz of seeing one’s work on Amazon quickly fades to anger and recriminations when the lousy reviews hit and sales go through the floor. Because the world doesn’t reward most with a high five and an offer of a lotion job in reward for some paltry half-baked effort. Now while it’s true that there are lots of readers at all different levels, and plenty of authors at all those same levels, the world is not made of marshmallows and ponies, and everyone can’t be a winner. Most won’t be, for one very simple reason: they didn’t invest the time to get good at what they’re trying to succeed at. Because most people don’t like to pay to be entertained by performers who are about as inept as the audience is.

None of which I said. Instead, I used words like “awesome” and “excited.” Because in a way it’s like your five-seven friend with the gimp announcing that he’s going out for the NBA, having become an expert at basketball by watching lots of it on TV. Do you want to be the one to have to break the news, or do you let the world do it instead?

Being a coward, I chose the latter. And far be it for me to pretend to know what is good and what isn’t. Or rather, what will be popular and what won’t. That’s anyone’s guess, and maybe he’ll knock one out of the park with his debut effort, which he’s assured me he’ll crank out in no time, and not waste any money having edited – his reasoning being that after he’s sold a few thousand dollars worth, then he’ll have some change to throw at an editor – but only a cheap one. No way is he going to get ripped off and pay, oh, say, what a 16-year old at McDees might see on an hourly basis to the editor who is going to be responsible for his work. Likewise, he’s not going to blow money on formatting, and certainly not going to get taken to the cleaners by some fancy-pants cover artist when he can Photoshop with the best of ‘em.

Fortunately, I have it on good assurance from reading several platinum-level “How I lied my way to the top” books that this is an easy gig. We’re all right on the cusp. Everyone’s a winner, just waiting to happen. And the time very well could be now!

I wouldn’t just tell you what you want to hear ’cause you’re kind of cute.

Okay, maybe I would. But let’s not get too hung up on the details here.

In self-promotion news, JET IV – Reckoning, is now in the can, and will be edited and ready to go live sometime in the first 10 days of December. Whether I get the next in the Assassin series done in time for Xmas is anyone’s guess. A lot will depend on the muse, and my boozing schedule, which is likely to get serious over the holidays – which in Mexico, start around September and last through June. Nobody said this was easy. Don’t hate me. Or if you do, lie. I’m okay with lying about how great I am. I actually celebrate it.

And go buy one of my books. JET is selling like mice in a snakehouse. Might wanna start there. It’s been described as Fifty Shades meets Harry Potter with some Twilight and Wool tossed in, but without the vampires, sorcerers, sweaters or sex. Which actually makes it sound pretty lame, so never mind. Just read it. As a recent reviewer said, “Imagine the emotional stability and coherence of a Charlie Sheen or a James McAfee with the self-aware maturity of a Kardashian.”

Okay, so that wasn’t about me. But it could have been. I think that’s the point here.

Never mind.

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Comments

  1. Fri 23rd Nov 2012 at 2:36 am

    You handled it well.

    I’ve learned not to be the person who speaks too honestly when it comes to other people. Quick example why.

    Back six or seven years ago, I relaunched my company website. I had spent weeks on it and was quite proud. While I knew it wasn’t perfect, I also knew it was pretty good.

    So, I go and ask four different people for their honest opinion. Three of them knick-picked all kinds of things. Really depressed the shit out of me, because they were things that were impossible to do. (Long story why, and not pertinent to the story. Just trust me.)

    But the fourth, he answered thusly: “Wow, Stan. I can tell you spent a lot of time on this, and I’ve got to say, it’s a great start.”

    Totally made my day, and it helped encourage me to keep improving the site. So these days, I try to tell people — no matter how far short their effort falls — great start.

    Now some jerks out there will criticize me for this and say we should always be honest, but the fact is that I think we should always cheer on and encourage those who are trying. Those who are on the field pursuing their dreams instead of not even making the attempt.

    The reality for your friend, as you know, is he will soon slam into a brick wall. And it’s from there that we’ll find out what kind of metal he’s made of. And there’s always a chance he may stick with it, study the craft, and work on his skills. And then maybe, twenty or thirty years from now, we’ll be talking about his talent. (This probably isn’t the case given that he doesn’t like to read, but the chance is still real, in my opinion.)

    Great post, as always. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving.

    Reply
  2. Fri 23rd Nov 2012 at 8:54 am

    Russell,

    FWIW, I think you made the right call. Like you, I find it irritating when a friend of family member says, “Yeah, I’m gonna write a book when I can make a little time.”

    Folks that have never done it (especially if they aren’t readers or book lovers) seem naturally dismissive of the effort involved. But it’s generally ignorance, not malice. I decided some time back that it’s counterproductive to get riled at people for ignorance. If they’re you’re friends in other ways, just give them words of encouragement and move on.

    Who knows, they might actually turn out something worth reading, and then you can shower them with accolades. May I suggest this one offered regularly by friends upon reading my first book.

    “I’m pleasantly surprised.”

    As best I can tell, this is code for, “I”m flabbergasted this doesn’t suck — at least not too badly.”

    High praise, indeed!

    Great post & happy holidays.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 23rd Nov 2012 at 12:53 pm

      Nobody ever got thanked for telling someone their baby is ugly.

      Reply
      • Old Git  –  Sun 25th Nov 2012 at 11:51 am

        Actually I used to get paid for doing just that (and strangling the ugly little sods in their cribs). Okay, so the thank yous were a bit thin on the ground, now I think about it. Perhaps they were ungrateful that I cut 129k from their 130k masterpiece – who knows?

        Reply
  3. Mark
    Fri 23rd Nov 2012 at 2:12 pm

    If he would have asked my advice, I’d have told him to write 2000 words per day for at least 18 months without expecting significant money.

    After that, the sky is the limit. Works for me.

    Reply
  4. Fri 23rd Nov 2012 at 6:16 pm

    Everybody thinks they have a story to tell. Their lives are so interesting. To be fair that may be the case to them but not to the rest of us. I have 3 books out propping up the pile from the bottom. I may not be Hemingway but I can at least entertain a little. Now of course I’m asked to read pieces of books friends/strangers and the milkman have started.

    How I bought a caravan and started touring isn’t riveting believe me especially if there’s a blow by blow account of the pints sunk in various pubs. But the stories may get better with time if punctuation is added so readers don’t expire from lack of breath. I can’t be the one to discourage someone so I try to suggest they finish 6 chapters, yes, those are pieces of the book broken into little chunks, and take it to a writers circle for evaluation.

    I may be a writer, but passing the ‘book’ is something I’m learning to do.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 23rd Nov 2012 at 6:29 pm

      I’m with you. Everyone should pursue their dream, and far be it for me to dissuade them, but I can’t help but think that if the dream just came to you a few days ago after reading about how easily some schlub made a million selling books he wrote over a three day drunk, that’s probably not sufficient preparation to produce something most would buy. I think the writer’s circle idea is a great one, as is the idea of tossing one’s work once done. I probably flushed a million words before publishing my first book. I can’t tell you how glad I am that I didn’t inflict those upon an innocent world. My experience has been that telling a story in a compelling way is hard to do in a novel fashion, and requires skills that only come with considerable practice. Talent will certainly take you to a point, but it’s the hard work that makes one succeed, IMO.

      Reply
  5. yoon
    Fri 23rd Nov 2012 at 9:13 pm

    I think I’ll rite a book now that reeding and riting don’t matter none no more. I expected you to use words like “awesome” and “fantastic” and “excited” and “can’t wait” and such.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 23rd Nov 2012 at 9:25 pm

      I think you have the right idea. Or better yet, hire someone to write it for you, and then buy a ton of reviews. A surefire winner!

      Reply
      • yoon  –  Fri 23rd Nov 2012 at 9:35 pm

        No awesome or fantastic or any of those? You don’t sound adequately enthusiastic about it. Hmph. I was just gonna plagiarise your books.

        Reply
        • Russell Blake  –  Fri 23rd Nov 2012 at 9:58 pm

          If you are going to plagiarize, always pick a bestseller. That’s my awesome, fantastic advice. I can’t wait.

          Reply
  6. Sun 25th Nov 2012 at 2:28 pm

    Good post.

    Reminds me of an anecdote Stephen King tells – he was at a cocktail party and a physician came up to him and said, “I think I’ll take some time off next summer and write a novel,” to which King replied, “I think I’ll take some time off next summer and practice some medicine.”

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sun 25th Nov 2012 at 5:42 pm

      Can’t get no respect. Oh well. At least there are the babes and the cash. Hmmm. That either. Feh.

      Reply
      • Dani J Caile  –  Sat 29th Dec 2012 at 3:35 pm

        babes? cash? Where? oh yeah, right….:-) …publisher?…(not open for submissions…)

        Reply
  7. Robert Jones
    Wed 28th Nov 2012 at 1:18 pm

    Hi Russell,

    I hear you, rather loudly. I’ve had many people during my art career come to me for critiques. And now that I’ve put in a fair amount of time learning about writing, even a few people who didn’t want to put in their own time to research have thrust their work in front of me. I’ll always find something positive to say about anyone making an honest effort, and try to tell them where they can find the tools to do it better. I’ve had a lot of dream-squashers in my life so I try like hell to be encouraging to others.

    That being said, I’ve had people who watched a few Disney specials (the ones where an animator whips out a drawing of Mickey Mouse in 2.5 seconds) come tell me drawing is the easiest thing in the world. I’ve also had people come to me with a rough manuscript, ask me what was wrong with it, then take my helpful suggestions to an editor, or agent, the following week. One guy that I helped for a few weeks actually got a writing gig with a small company somewhere a while back. Guess that says I did my homework. But what’s this guy going to do for his next idea?

    As a creative person, I like to help others because I remember what it was like trying to make something of my abilities with absolutely no help in a time before the internet existed. Since then, however, I’ve had to make some rules to not be overly helpful. Encouraging, yes. My best advice, certainly. The rest is up to them to sink or swim on their own merits.

    Every fad has large groups of people jumping on the bandwagon. Over the next five years, give or take, the only people still throwing books into the self-publishing pot will be those who are either making steady money, or those who have a real longing to write. Sure, there will always be those tossing their stories out there without getting any real time at the wheel. There will even be that one or two who make their fortunes without spending a lot of time at learning craft. But those will be the lucky few. Always have been, always will be.

    I’m reminded of my first year at a graphic arts school that always filled up their first year classes with hopeful artists. The teachers all said by the end of the year, two-thirds of the students would drop out. They always did once they discovered just how much time and work went into learning the techniques of craft.

    I guess they too saw those Disney specials and thought it would be easy. Most would-be indy writers will predictably go the same route. Meantime, let those who come to the table sample the wine. Some might even develop a taste for it…provided they are willing to do the homework.

    Reply
  8. Thu 29th Nov 2012 at 8:57 pm

    Dead nuts RB. I’m re-writing my first book now. I can’t believe how bad it was – and I almost published it. It takes time to learn this craft. I read many indie books. Some by authors that complain about sales due to Amazon algorithms etc. But, the real problem is their book was not ready for prime time. I have made this mistake in the past. It is important to understand quality or you can not achieve it. Now, I plan to get feedback from 10 beta readers b4 I publish…

    Reply
  9. Fri 30th Nov 2012 at 11:29 am

    Russell,
    How do you write so much? Jet 4! I can’t read them as fast as you put them out!
    I’ve written four books this year and I’m plain wrung out.
    You have written how many – six-eight?
    I thought four would be good, but it looks like I’m still slow are getting them out.
    Enjoyed the Jet story so far.
    And Silver Justice was excellent.
    Happy Holidays in Mexico. One day we will have to gather for cocktails down there, in-between writing novels of course!
    T I WADE

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 30th Nov 2012 at 3:03 pm

      That’s eight for the year, I believe. I have to take a week off waiting for new glasses to use on the computer. Vision is a bit blurry. But between all of them, that’s 18 novels in 18 months. I will not be doing that again. It’s insane, and not recommended.

      Next year, 4 to 5. That’s it. Which will seem like a vacation after the last 18 months.

      I think that’s probably some sort of record. I wonder if I get free therapy or something for it? Hrmph…

      Reply
      • Robert Jones  –  Sat 01st Dec 2012 at 12:53 pm

        Holy eye strain, Batman…no wonder you need glasses. That’s an insane amount of writing. Very surprised at the quality though. I predict that slowing down next year will bring even more focus to the quality, and your best work will be yet to come. I for one will be looking forward to seeing how it all comes together for you :)

        Reply
  10. Sun 02nd Dec 2012 at 6:20 pm

    Excellent point. A friend of mine started reading my book until it occurred to him that he should write his own. Since he has never finished reading a book, or his GCSEs for that matter, I just smiled politely and told him to “go for it”.

    Excellent blog.

    Reply
  11. tixExpepayMip
    Sun 12th May 2013 at 5:16 pm

    Nice question

    Reply

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