Success, Writing, and Other People (And How to Cope)

Upon hearing that you’re a writer, people will, almost invariably, ask if you’re successful. They ask in different ways.

Sometimes it’s, “Do you have anything published?” Or “Did you get a big book deal?”

Sometimes it’s, “How many books have you sold?”

It’s stressful, to say the least, especially since creative types (like us writers) are prone to insecurity and imposter syndrome.

But success is subjective.

One person’s idea of success is different from another’s. Where one person might see becoming a New York Times bestseller with three movies in the works as the only measure of success, another might see publishing a book at all as a measure of success. One person might need millions of followers, whereas another might want a small group of engaged followers.

And those differences are important.

Knowing what success actually means to you is the a pretty big step toward achieving it.

If you want a high follow count, if you want a close network of fellow writers, if you want to release a book before your 60th birthday, if you want to release three books in a year, if you want to sell millions, or if writing a book is what matters to you, then that’s your measure of success.

And that should be your focus.

For someone with extreme anxiety, publishing a book that has your heart and soul carved into the pages, putting yourself out there in written form, is a daunting task and a worthy goal.

Whereas someone without anxiety disorders might not see that as the challenging part.

To someone burdened by ADHD, finishing a book might be the challenge, and thus the point at which to feel successful, whereas a person with an average attention span might not see that as quite so big of a challenge.

So, you need to figure out your measure of your own success.

And when someone inevitably asks if you’re successful, focus on that.

Most people who aren’t writers don’t know it’s such a stressful question, but they also don’t usually know everything that writing entails. (Or even half of it.) So, enlighten them, all while focusing what you say on the goals you have set for yourself.

For example, if your goal, your measure of success, is to land a book deal and you’re deep in the query trenches, tell them you’re looking for an agent, but finding one that’s accepting submissions like your book is challenging.

Or tell them about all the various side materials you have to put together before you can even submit to agents. Query letters, cover letters (because yeah, there are differences), one page synopses, three page synopses, single sentence summaries that include the ending, five year marketing plans, and all the other hoops writers have to jump through to get a book deal.

Talk about the research that has to be done to find agents to submit your book to, finding agents that work with your genre, subgenre, and age group who are actually taking submissions.

Talk about the unbelievably low acceptance rates, especially if you’re submitting directly to publishers (which adds extra layers of research because a lot won’t accept from authors to begin with and those who do accept maybe 1-2% of submissions).

Find your individual measure of success, and then stick to it, even when people ask about it.

If they measure success by becoming the next J.K. Rowling, explain how unlikely that is and tell them why your sights are set where they are.

Writing is a very personalized journey, and so is success.

Embrace it.


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How to Write like a Reader

Sometimes, as writers, we ignore one of the greatest resources at our disposal: our own experiences as readers.

A vast well of knowledge resides within us, but sometimes we get caught up trying to figure out the rules and completely forget about that.

Our pet peeves as readers should guide us as writers.

Examples from my own personal pet peeves (and thus, my personal guides for my own books):

Blurb vs Review Quotes

I can’t stand a back cover full of review quotes. I want to see the blurb when I turn a book over, not some quote calling it “derisive” or “nebulous.”

Kindly fuck off with that shit.

I want to turn the book over and see what it’s about.

So when I publish, I put the blurb on the back cover. I might have a pull quote somewhere on there, but the blurb is front and center. (Well, back and center because it’s the back of the book.)

Series Numbers

I don’t typically write series (my current, almost completed wip being the exception), but from my experience as a reader, I will have Book One or Book Two or Book Whatever Number The Series Reaches on the cover and spine. There have been so many times that I’ve picked up a book and learned after reaching the end of it that there are 4 or 7 more books.

It’s infuriating.

So as a writer, I won’t do that to my readers.

Inconsistent Characters for Convenience

I hate when characters make stupid decisions that don’t line up with their personalities but are convenient for the plot. So as a writer, I won’t do that.

Head Hopping

I love books with multiple POVs, so I often write them. But I hate when the point of view changes without warning/within the same scene or chapter. Even worse… within the same paragraph.

So for the sake of my readers, when I change POV in a book, I start a new chapter and put the characters name below the chapter number, because that’s how I prefer to read it.

There are so many little things that we’ve learned as readers that can make us better writers or improve the reading experience as a whole for our readers.

So, next time you’re faced with a decision about your cover or your formatting or whatever, switch from writer brain to reader brain.

Do whatever wouldn’t piss you off as a reader.


Check out my gritty, literary sci-fi and fantasy books here.

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Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Writing

Being an author has a pretty steep learning curve. There are a lot of lessons to learn, and thanks to hindsight, they seem obvious after the fact.

So, today, I wanted to share a few of those things with you to ease the learning process.

Regardless of your publishing path (traditional vs. self), you’ll have to do marketing.

When I started writing, I assumed that traditional publishers would do all the marketing. Then, I started querying and found that many publishers required marketing plans to be submitted along with the query. (One asked for a five year plan, even though most traditional publishers give a book a two year shelf life.)

So clearly, some of the marketing falls to the author. And if you’re self-publishing, it all falls to you.

(Btw, this marketing effort includes your author platform. More on that in a minute.)

Self-publishing is a valid publishing avenue (but it is exactly what you make it).

Treating self-publishing as a “trash bin” when you get frustrated with querying actually perpetuates the stigma of self-publishing.

Please, PLEASE, don’t do that.

Self-publishing is a viable publishing avenue, and it will treat you exactly as well as you treat it. If you do your research, if you put in the effort, you can produce a quality product that readers (and you) will love.

And if you work on your marketing and advertising, you can sell a decent amount of books.

Your author platform is vital.

It connects you with readers, often for little-to-no money. There are a lot of ways to build it, and a lot of different platforms you can work with.

Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, a website, a blog, Tumblr, Reddit, Snapchat, YouTube, TikTok, Goodreads, All Author, the list goes on and on. It seems like there are a million different social media options.

You don’t have to be on every platform. That’s way too much pressure, and you’ll be spreading yourself too thin.

Start with one or two that you’re comfortable with and build those. When you feel like you have a handle on that, branch onto another.

Post about what you’re reading and why you like it. Post about your projects and how you write or plot.

And be sure to start a newsletter. Send it out regularly (whether that’s every other month, monthly, weekly, whatever) and make sure your readers know when to expect it. You can get a bit more personal here, showing more behind the scenes stuff to engage readers.

The earlier you start your author platform, the better.

It takes time (a fuck ton of time) to build an author platform. The more (real, active) people you can count among your audience, the better your book release will be. And if you’re looking to go traditional, a good audience is a bragging point for your query or marketing plan.

Be you.

Who you are, your author voice, is what will make your books stand out. Make sure that comes through on whatever platforms you choose.

There’s a market for everything.

Please, stop worrying about whether anyone will like your idea. The world is vast and full of different types of people with different interests.

Even if your idea is a niche, there’s an audience out there for it. You just have to find them.

Chaos or organization, it doesn’t matter. Write the way that works for you.

Everyone is different. Everyone learns differently, and everyone communicates differently. So please, give yourself the freedom to write the way you need to, whether that means intensive planning or no planning at all.

Don’t pay publishers.

Publishers that charge you hundreds or thousands of dollars are scams. Plain and simple. Run far away from them.

Trust me.

I’ve dealt with them, and it’s fucking terrible.

Don’t pay reviewers.

Book reviewers might get a free book in exchange for an honest review if they’re an ARC reader or if they’re working with a book tour company. But if they message you saying that they’ll review and promote your book for a fee, don’t mess with them.

Even setting morals aside, a lot of sites will remove paid reviews, and that renders the money wasted. (I’m pretty sure Amazon is one of those.)


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The Real Cause Of The Self-Publishing Stigma

It’s no secret that self-publishing gets a bad reputation. There’s this belief among people who don’t know better or people who’ve been burned by a self-published book or two that authors only self-publish if they aren’t good enough to land a book deal with a big agent or traditional publisher.

But that isn’t the case.

At least, not normally.

And therein lies the problem.

Self-publishing is a grueling, labor-intensive, valid publishing avenue, but there are some authors out there who abuse it and give it a bad reputation.

They look down on self-publishing, deeming it unworthy, a last resort. As such, when they get frustrated with the unbelievably long and grueling process of querying agents and traditional publishers, they just toss their story up on whatever self-publishing platform they can, with little to no research into what it takes to make a book presentable to the public. (Then get mad and diss self-publishing when their lack of forethought and preparation results in low sales or bad reviews.)

Janky formatting, no editing, hand-drawn covers (even if you’re a fantastic artist, hand-drawn art does not a book cover make)…

And readers notice.

They see these books and worry that spending more of their hard-earned money on other indie authors might get them the same subpar products.

But that isn’t the case.

Most indie authors care greatly for their books and spend as much, if not more, time getting them ready for publication than they do writing them. Many indie authors spend literal tons of money on editing and cover design and formatting, on ISBNs and copyright registrations and websites, on classes and books to study their craft.

The vast majority of indie authors chose self-publishing. For the freedom it offers in publishing schedules, genre mash-up opportunities, creative license, and so many other things. For the ability to control exactly what they’re putting out into the world, because traditional publishers get the last say on everything.

Self-publishing isn’t a last resort.

Any who believe it to be are woefully under-informed, because this is a path to be chosen, a path that requires a great deal of extra effort in a lot of very different fields.

But there’s one more cause for the bad reputation.

The authors who get their work good *enough* and just throw it out there. Some bank (literally) on advertising with a good hook to sell the books anyway and some just don’t care.

And though they make up only a small portion of indie authors, they do some damage. Readers remember when they get burned. They remember, and they tell their friends.

So please, before you self-publish, do your research. Take the time to decide if this is the right path for you. Take the time to improve your work before publishing.

If you won’t do it for you, then do it for the indie authors out there busting ass to turn out the best work they possibly can.


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3 Reasons Why Writers Should Never Stop Learning

Learning new things is important. It seems like such a simple thing to say, but it isn’t something we always prioritize.

So many people stop challenging themselves, stop learning new things. They get comfortable and think themselves exempt from continuing to learn and improve. And that’s a good way to stagnate.

And as writers, it’s especially important to keep learning because…

You never know what you might need to know.

Writing is a strange process in that any piece of information could come in handy at some point.

Your first book might require knowledge on the healing process from a stab wound to the gut or how long someone could live without water. Your next might require learning how bears show affection or what appliances were common in turn of the century kitchens. Another might require knowledge of food storage that requires no electricity, how to make candles, or even the exact speed of light.

Depending on the book and the characters (their hobbies, their jobs, their interests), there’s no limit to what you could conceivably need to learn.

(Btw, all of the things listed above are things I’ve either researched for a book or knew ahead of time and used in a book.)

You can never know everything.

There’s just so much to learn. Every new thing you learn can potentially open up more questions.

Which could provide perspective for your book or potentially inspire another.

People who don’t think they need to keep learning just aren’t aware of how much they don’t know.

It turns out that people who think they know everything and have nothing more to learn… really know very little. They haven’t learned enough to see what they’ve done wrong and thus think themselves the best.

And no one wants to be that person.

So, keep learning.

Keep improving.

Because if you stagnate, your books might.


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Write as weird as you want.

Sometimes, our ideas carry us away. That’s why we do this, right?

But other times, we let doubt get in the way.

When writing fantasy and science fiction, we question whether or not we can expect people to believe something, whether it’s realistic. All these strange and fantastical things in our heads just seem too big, too different.

But it’s fantasy. It’s science fiction.

Anything can be realistic if you make the world support it.

And honestly, there are some truly weird things in our world that people don’t question, or maybe barely question. (Vulture bees making honey from meat. People keeping the baby teeth of their children.)

Anything can be realistic for a fictional world if you shape the world to make it work. The history of these fictional worlds can support any tradition. The evolution of these worlds can produce any species we want.

The believability of an idea isn’t the problem.

The real problem is deeper.

We question ourselves and our ability to pull these things off.

We’re making up entire worlds, entire people, entire timelines. We’re doing things that are truly amazing.

A planet with rivers that flow up into the air may as well happen. Maybe it’s a hollow planet, and those rivers are inside it? Maybe there’s a gravitational anomaly caused by a malfunction in a lab? Who knows? You just have to put in the time and the effort to explain it. And then stand by it.

What we’re doing is meant to be fun, but that doesn’t always mean it’ll be easy.

And sometimes, we’re the ones making it harder for ourselves. We doubt our ideas at every turn, cutting ourselves off at the knees.

Stop worrying about whether it’s realistic to have an animal the size of a whale fly through the sky. In our world, no. But in your world? In the world you’re building?

Go for it.

Give it some sort of mechanical support or engine. Enhance it with magic.

Make it work.

That thing you have in your head that you’re doubting might be the thing that a reader loves the most about your book.

Just build the supports for it into the framework of the world and have a little faith in yourself.


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Writing Strengths and Weaknesses: The Art of Double-Edged Swords

Sometimes, we build our characters up in our heads. We get so enamored with them, with all their beauty and powers, that maybe they get a little overpowered.

Which might make for a too-easy victory.

I tend to do the opposite, falling for their weaknesses, the things that make them human and relatable, and breaking them down maybe a little too much.

But luckily, this little trick cuts both ways.

A character’s strength can also be their weakness, and vice versa.

It all comes down to the situation, how they perceive themselves, and their ability to harness (or combat) aspects of their personality.

Personalities and psyches are strange, complicated things, and life is no simple matter. A person with a generous spirit may give too much and wear themselves out. A person who tends toward extreme caution may save the life of a friend by warning them of dangers otherwise unthought of by a normal person.

So, if you’re struggling to flesh out your character, take the big defining features of their personality, and look at those things in different lights. Twist them up and drop them into new circumstances.

In case it sounds like I’m talking in circles (because making strengths into weaknesses and weaknesses into strengths can kinda become a circle), here are a couple examples.

In A Heart of Salt & Silver, I played with this a lot. So much so that it made it into the title. Salt and silver are the things that can kill demons/demi-demons (Ness) and silver kills werewolves (Nolan) thus, a heart made of those things is just saying that they’re their own worst enemies. Which… they definitely are.

Nolan is a werewolf, a veteran of several wars, and an former slave. Now, he goes out of his way to help others, to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves.

Sounds like a pretty solid strength, right?

What could go wrong?

Maybe running out in the middle of a meal with the woman you love to go galivanting into gods know what sort of conflict isn’t the best thing, but it fits with that “strength,” that hero complex. She’ll understand, right?

Unless she has virtually no self-worth to begin with and that desertion ritual happens over and over… and over… and over.

It becomes a weakness pretty quickly in that light, breaking a relationship into pieces.

As for Ness and her complete lack of self-worth… She sees herself as less than human. She’s half demon, so she’s not quite human, but she isn’t less than anything. She’s actually insanely powerful. But she thinks herself some beast that doesn’t deserve to exist.

She doesn’t think anyone could ever want her around or ever find value for her.

Pretty obvious weakness, right?

It certainly is in most circumstances, and it definitely played a role in splitting up her relationship with Nolan.

But it means that she considers her actions from perspectives other than her own, considering what others want or need and tempering the violent emotions that can so easily overthrow the fragile self-control of demons and demi-demons.

Which makes it a twisted kind of strength.

The way she copes with that weakness makes her a better person to be around.

So, when writing your characters, don’t forget that their defining traits can be used for and against them, depending on the situation.


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How to Survive (And Succeed in) Camp NaNoWriMo

It’s almost here. Do you have a goal set? Are you intimidated by the whole thing?

If so, you’re definitely not alone.

Goals have this way of either putting us on edge or spurring us into action. Or both.

But there are some ways to make it easier on yourself to meet your goal.

Realistic goals

The most important thing you can do to save your sanity is to make realistic goals, otherwise you’ll just intimidate yourself and shoot yourself in the foot before you even get started.

Think back and figure up what your average is for writing. Then, total that up for the month, and add a realistic amount if you want to push yourself. If you want to push yourself to maintain your average on a daily basis, come up with the total and set that as your goal.

Find your down time

Every household has a natural lull. For some, it’s right after kids go to bed. For some, it’s early in the morning before anyone else gets up for the day.

Figure out when that lull is and use it to your advantage. Set that time aside as your writing time.

Prioritize

Treat this like a priority. This may mean giving up an hour of tv a day. It may mean spending less time on social media.

But if you make your writing a priority, it gets easier to keep up with.

Do one or two small, high impact chores first

Sometimes, getting something stereotypically considered “productive” out of the way first helps assuage the guilt and anxiety of taking the time for yourself. (Guilt and anxiety that you should probably work on tackling, because you don’t need to feel guilty about taking time to pursue your passions, but that’s a topic for another day.)

So, choose a quick, high impact chore, and do it first. Load the dishwasher, clean the counter in the bathroom. Something quick that makes a much larger difference in terms of mental state than we typically give it credit for.

Breathe

This is meant to be a fun endeavor. If you fall behind, try not to sweat it because at the end of the day, you’re still making progress with something you’re enjoying.

Join a group

There are many writing groups out there who do special chats, threads, or posts geared toward helping writers survive the NaNo process and spur people on to meet their goals.

My favorites are World Indie Warriors (Website, Facebook Members Group, Facebook Page, Instagram) and The Writer Community (Instagram, Website).

Writing doesn’t have to be a solitary process. Having writer friends to vent to or celebrate with can make all the difference.


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How to Write Guns in Your Books

Sometimes, the bad guy just needs a hole put through them, care of: a bullet. It’s an unavoidable reality in some genres. (Post-apocalyptic/apocalytpic, dystopian, suspense, crime thrillers, etc.)

But if you haven’t been around them, guns can seem like a whole other world.

And they kinda are.

But I have a few tips/things to consider to help you write guns into your books without eliciting eye rolls and groans from people who know about guns.

So let’s start simply.

And also with the disclaimer that this should be used for writing purposes. Not for actual violence in the real world.

You don’t need to get uber specific.

Unless you’re writing military fiction, most readers aren’t going to give a shit what the exact model and history of the gun is. Unless it’s relative to the story, you probably don’t need to talk about the Winchester house and the ghosts it’s meant to confuse. You don’t need the serial number or the production history, either.

In most instances, you can supply the caliber and type of gun and be just fine. (9mm pistol, for example)

If your character is comfortable with guns, setting aside the amount of research you need to do, they’ll probably refer to them by caliber. If they have a couple guns in that caliber, they’ll likely refer to them by brand.

So, “The Beretta,” or “The .45.”

Mobility

Everyone knows the scene in the movies where the quirky character has to disarm themselves and pulls one weapon after another out of pockets and holsters and boots.

But if you’re not going for comedy, if you want any realism at all, you need to consider how mobile your character needs to be.

If they’re going to be stationary, set up within a guard post or something, go ahead and give them an armory if you want.

But.

Carrying a shotgun, a rifle, two pistols, two revolvers, a machete, and a couple other knives is not only overkill, but it’s massively impractical and the weight will add up.

Good luck moving without banging weapons together.

Good luck switching between those weapons quickly.

And good fucking luck reloading (since all your pockets are going to be covered up by guns).

Which brings me to…

Weight of ammo

That shit isn’t weightless. Bullets may be light, but they add up.

So, if you decide to have a character that carries ridiculous amounts of ammo, it will bog them down. Even more so if it’s loaded into a ton of magazines for easy reloading.

Given a reasonable magazine capacity of 10 (more if you get a banana clip or a drum for an assault rifle), those will add up, too.

And who has that many pockets?

Certainly not a female.

For the sake of some realism, here’s an article with ammo weights, easily found with a quick google search.

Certain gun for a certain job

So, let’s say you’re brand new to guns. Some things to consider:

Shotguns are typically better up close. Bird shot and buck shot are comprised of lots of little balls that spread out. The closer the target, the more of those little balls will hit.

Pistols are good up close (up to 25 yards), but headshots are not as easy as movies make them out to be, even less so if the target is moving. Center mass (torso) is much better and just as effective, unless your character is shooting zombies.

Revolvers are also a close range thing, but not as practical as pistols simply because they hold fewer rounds.

Rifles are good for long range, but you should get the scope sighted in. They can be pretty unwieldy in close quarters and have a big ass barrel that can be batted away or grabbed and controlled.

Automatic weapons are hard/next to impossible to come by legally. I don’t know of anywhere off the top of my head that allows civilians to have them, at least not in the United States.

Machine guns are incredibly heavy, not that carrying them is a great option. You can do it in Fallout, but that doesn’t make it a good idea. A submachine gun kinda solves that problem. In either case, they burn through ammo fast. (Obviously.)

Larger caliber bullets hit harder, but typically don’t go as far as fast and will tumble at a distance.

Smaller rounds travel faster, farther, and are typically more accurate. But they don’t have as much stopping power.

So consider the gun and ammo your character needs for the situation you’ve dropped them into.

Recoil

A light gun with a high caliber ammo is going to kick. A lot.

A gun with some weight to it will have less recoil.

A .22 rifle has virtually no recoil.

Higher gauge rifles can and will kick and split the skin on your face if you hold your face too close to the scope.

You need to consider your character’s proficiency with weapons and their upper body strength when choosing their weapon.

How common?

This isn’t so much of a problem if the character has ready access. But in a post-apocalyptic situation, you should probably stick to common rounds.

9mm, .22, LR, 12 gauge, .308, and .223 are the most common.

If you’re wanting to circumvent this by having your character fire reloaded bullets, note that some guns will not fire reloaded rounds. They’ll jam up every time.

Some are even machined to prevent the use of reloaded rounds, ostensibly for quality control and safety, but if you’re into conspiracy theories about capitalism and market manipulation, it could also be to make sure people have to keep buying ammo.

Now, go forth and write your books a little more accurately.

This is by no means a comprehensive guide. As I stated at the outset, firearms are their own world.

If you’re planning to write a character that knows a lot about them or uses them frequently, you should do some serious research.

But I hope this was a good jumping off point.


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Why You Should Just Start Writing Already

There’s this fear among new writers that they just aren’t good enough to write the books they have ideas for.

Some want to start with short stories to ease into writing. And if that helps you, go for it. But short stories are a different skill set altogether.

But for most, it isn’t that short stories are the best introduction to writing. It’s just fear.

And I get it.

Writing a book is a daunting task.

But here’s why you should just write the book already.

You have to start somewhere.

If you never start, you’ll never finish. That book will not write itself, believe it or not.

And all the intricate subplots and character arcs that make the book “too complex for a new writer” might fade from memory before you ever actually sit down to write.

And let’s face it, you won’t get better if you don’t practice.

That story idea might be the least complicated story you ever come up with, and it may be the perfect way to practice for the more complex ones that come later.

Some writers say that you don’t get good until about… ten books in.

Because you haven’t practiced enough yet.

That doesn’t mean the first book will be hopeless.

Editing and rewriting are major parts of writing a book. Everyone’s first draft sucks, and the part that comes after writing the rough draft actually takes far longer.

But that’s the part that helps you learn.

Critique partners, alpha readers, and beta readers can help point out your strengths and weaknesses, that way you know what you actually need to work on.

Then, you do more editing.

And more.

And more.

Then, you enlist a professional editor, and they show you what you’ve missed.

So, your current skill level is not the skill level you’ll finish your book at. You’ll grow and get better, and by the time your book is done (not just written, but done), it’ll be what you want it to be, regardless of your current skills.

But you have to start writing.

Because that’s how you’ll improve and more importantly, how you’ll find your voice, the thing that keeps people coming back to your books again and again.


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