Monday 25 March 2013

Thank you, and silent running

Thanks for all the support during #DABWAHA. Though I'm not progressing to the third round, that does have some positive aspects overall:

1) We did get some nice voting total numbers going for the m/m category. The m/m community seems a lot more mobilised and ready to get active than many m/f sub-categories. That was really cool to watch. I think, now that Abigail Roux has unleashed her minions, we'll see some huge-a** numbers. So, kudos to you, and everybody who voted on their partner's computer, kindle, cafe hotspot, and smartphone. Well done you.

2) I don't have to write a Silvio extra. Now, that may sound cruel or petty, but one of the reasons why I've been so quiet is that, after laying waste to London and taking almost three weeks off (not hanging out on forums much, not really responding to many emails, and staying off reviews), I've found my groove again and am writing (first time in six weeks or so that I'm making serious numbers). While most of that is currently going into the incredibly research-heavy Birds book, I'm also working on the Scorpion sequel (and will get skinned alive if I'm not delivering a decent draft by end-May, which is in two months). Lastly, LA Witt is leaving London tomorrow, and I expect her to be jetlagged for a day or two and then start writing again. We have a half-written cop story that needs finishing, and now we're both in the frame of mind to actually do that, so I expect to be working on three full-sized novels between here and end-May. Considering I have a day job and other activities going and am rarely a very fast writer (unless I'm co-writing), that's a huge amount of work, and writing about Silvio, tempting as it is, will have to take a backseat while I'm wrapping up the novels that people want and that I need to finish or I'll lose them, or the series suffers weak momentum. So, not having to add a fourth project to my already wobbly work pile is a huge relief, actually.

Essentially, the DABWAHA campaign cost me some time (it's HARD to concentrate and stay off the internet when you're nominated, in my case for the first time), but it's good that it's over now and I don't have to put in any more time or effort, because my plate is full, and that's not even covering dessert or snacks. That's one of the reasons why I'd really like to quit my day job, because my time is spoken for when I do my writing, and all promo/interviews/emails/comments is cut from that small block of time I have for writing, and I've always held it that the proof of the writer is in the writing, whereas the rest is just extra.

Which brings me to another thing. I've pretty much managed to stay off reviews (apart from a number shown to me or that I knew would be extremely positive), and I do wonder if my recent surge in wordcount is related to that. I used to beat myself up over reviews, read them daily, used them to procrastinate, but I'm no longer doing that--I stay deliberately away. It's a bit weird to see how deeply ingrained it was, and the old reflexes are still there, but I'm managing pretty well, all told.

For the record: I'm immensely grateful to people who do review my stuff--THANK YOU! And reviews certainly help selling books, especially if they are posted on Amazon or review blogs. (Goodreads seems to have less of an impact.)

While my brain has several modes ("writing", "day job", "depression", "kick-ass optimism", "critical analysis/editing"), I'm trying to keep my brain now in "writing" mode, which is "silent running", to take a term from submarines (the German term "Schleichfahrt" is actually much cooler). I'm largely under the surface, doing my thing, and out of sight, out of mind, for the most part. This can get eerie for people who know me as "out there all the time", but is really my productive mode, which is essentially incompatible with my "loud/out-there mode".

I will eventually come back with a novel, and hopefully three, even though one of them might not see the light of day for a long time, as I'll be seeking agent representation for it. (May work, may not work, but I promised the Dude I'll try.)

That's not to say you won't get a Silvio story, it just means not yet. That character isn't done with me, but similarly, you deserve better than a half-arsed thing I put on the page while my brain is being eaten by three novels at the same time. 

Thursday 21 March 2013

The voting has begun & update

I've been remiss about updating everybody on all the things that are going on - mostly because I stayed away from the internet a lot and then returned and despaired over the big pile that had accumulated. ANYWAY. Voting for DABWAHA has started, so do vote for your favourites:

In positive news, yesterday I've handed in Scorpion to be proofed and laid out, so all of that is on track. I'm hoping to really get into the sequel in the next few days (my hope focuses largely on the weekend, when I don't have a noisy team around me at work and should actually be somewhat rested - though Saturday is a birthday party and Sunday I'm meeting friends, so I guess it all might not be as productive as I'm hoping right now). Essentially, I'll try and look at outlining again, because right now, much of it is a muddle and the book doesn't have enough momentum to be written without one, so I'm back to the drawing board and trying to make use of the roughly 15k words I had before the book stalled (one of those where I got critique way too early and then decided writing something else would be easier than facing the terror f re-writing and re-drafting everything).

Right now, I'm mulling a few options, for example, to use a multi-POV, but somehow, the whole thing has always been about Kendras, and though he's not the most riveting POV I could imagine, he still has the farthest to go/to develop, so I think I'll stick with the single POV for the moment. Mostly, though I need to see some good progress, like a 5k writing session and a twist or turn that I love that that I didn't see coming. In any case, I'll sit down and try to make it happen, but first, I'm meeting a couple m/m peeps at Brick Lane for a curry and a chat, tomorrow I have evil dayjob-related work to catch up on, and the weekend is booked. Hopefully I can still cram in an hour or two. Above all, I need to seriously re-write those 15k, and especially the first scene, so expect me to ramble on about the process some more. This is the first time a second book has been such as bull to wrestle. 

Monday 18 March 2013

After the holiday

I've taken off nearly 2 weeks to show LA Witt and her husband London. We've seen a huge amount of stuff that I haven't seen in the nearly 8 years that I've lived here (Cutty Sark, National Maritime Museum, Tower of London, Churchill War Rooms, Hunterian Museum, Stonehenge, Roman Baths in Bath and SalisburyC cathedral) and some reliable crowd pleasers that I have (British Museum, Templar Church, St Bartholomew's, Museum of London, Natural History Museum, Science Museum). Also my usual book haunts and cafes. Essentially, we got up early, grabbed food and walked a lot. A LOT. Resulting, despite all the food and coffee breaks, in quite significant weightloss - that's how extreme we got.

Today is the first day I'm shifting down. It's the dude's birthday, so he got a new phone and new leather wallet and a Templar helmet-shaped penholder. We went into the town center and also finally addressed a couple health issues (we both have weak lower backs), and plunked down the cash for a memory foam mattress, which should get delivered next week. Dude then insisted I get a Swiss (aka: exercise) ball to sit on as a write, and I bought that one. Between ourselves, we managed to inflate it. One day I'll be able to stop bouncing on it as a listen to music, but that day isn't today.

Then I've been nominated for the DABWAHA tournament, where I start in the same category as Abigail Roux and Anne Tenino, which means there's no way Dark Soul is going to win, but that's okay. (I'm just breaking the rules; I'm supposed to trash-talk, but that's probably the one thing I don't like about professional boxers - though it sells tickets. It would also feel weird to trash-talk friends and authors of my publishing house.)

All that sight-seeing has refreshed my brain for writing, which is important. It's also led to some re-thinking with regards to how I measure success versus approval. See, I've blogged before on the difference about "critically acclaimed work" and "selling work" in our genre. It's nice to have extremely high ratings for a book, but my best work (Skybound, hands down, which seems to be universally loved by the - few - people who read it) barely sells at all, whereas sales of lighter, sexier reads are huge (well, huge by my standards).

(BTW, that's not meant to guilt-trip anybody - I'm just speaking about my experience here.)

That confirms a suspicion I've had for a couple years, but now I have cold, hard numbers to back it up. My best-selling stuff has sometimes extremely mixed reviews on Goodreads. Books that sell 40-50 copies a day on Amazon alone might even draw a lot of hate and derision, whereas books that have sold less than 500 copies in six months or more (say, one copy a day) get all the five-star ratings.

One suspicion is that Goodreads is great to connect to new readers and your target audience, but ratings there seem little correlated with actual sales. That's kicking some social media truisms out of the window. Essentially, Goodreads matters a lot less to sales than many book gurus seem to think. It's a place to connect, a great platform to be visible, but sales seem largely divorced from it.

Another suspicion is that obsessing over reviews is counter-productive in the clearest sense of the word. Negative reviews kill any desire to write. I know that makes me a thin-skinned speshul snowflake, but the line between happy and productive author on one hand and depressed, self-hating couch potato watching TV or sleeping on the other is often drawn by a reviewer. I'd never tell reviewers to shut up (essentially, a book is out of my hand when it's published, and no book pleases everybody - and if it does, it sells for shit), but I seem happier and more productive if I'm unaware what people are saying about my work. It took LA Witt plucking the phone out of my hand to realise that - she's totally right. No point ruining my writing session, my mood and my day by allowing negativity to hurt my desire to write. Essentially, I'm only answerable to the Muse and the story and then the editor. Beyond that, it's out of my hands.

So, the best I can do is to stay away from reviews. Checking reviews is also a huge time-sink, so not reading reviews from now on sounds like a big win-win. Of course I'll stay active in my various groups. I like the people there too much to just "vanish".

Which leaves me with some thoughts about career-planning. Luckily, I can write the light books that sell and the heavy books that don't but Must Be Written and Take So Much Time To Write It's Laughable. And I enjoy both, or I wouldn't be writing them. As I'm entering contented, financially stable middle age, my outlook and overall "mood" is much lighter and much more optimistic, which enables me to write more light-heartedly. The years of teenage angst are over, thank gods.

My main goal remains to quit my day job so I can do more writing, and that means I have to write books that sell enough to support me on a level that allows travel and US/UK conferences and no financial anxiety (nothing kills my writing faster than money-based dread).

Right now, my total monthly royalties are about 1/4-1/5th of what they have to be to even entertain that thought. And once I've hit that goal, the big issue is to maintain that cashflow - for 30 years, or the rest of my working life. I think I can realistically hit the level in 3-4 years, but that's a damn long time in the industry, and gods know what indie publishing looks like by then. So, there's the known unknowns, and the unknown unknowns, and the latter are really the scary part.

So I'm thinking about branching out, hitting the mainstream the old-fashioned way (agent, Big Six publisher), writing the dark and the light as the Muse demands. There will be non-m/m books from me, there will be mainstream books, there will be experiments that sell "fuck all", as Brits like saying, and crowd pleasers that do and pay my mortgage (and entertain me in a total "free-for-all" way). I'm a trickster among writers - I can't say what I'll do next, and my range encompasses the grim and the gritty and the fun and easy (tricksters aren't always fun - they can be scary as hell). Not everything I carry around in my head is deep and demanding - I sometimes just like to have fun. Sometimes that laughter might be dark and painful, other days, it's that belly-splitting silliness that clears out the brain and lungs.

But what I do know is that reviews give me performance anxiety, and I can't find a better way to deal with that fear and doubt and self-hatred than to stay entirely away from reviews. If I want to feel awesome as a writer, I'll read some of my favourite Amazon five-star reviews. But from now on, I'm filtering my reality to protect the Muse and that fragile spark of "hell yes, let's WRITE!" It's not against reviewers at all, it's just something that works for me and is the best I can do. I may yet have a relapse, of course. It'll take discipline to break such a long-established habit.