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Sketches

The sequel to Old Green World has been percolating in my head for a few months, and now I’m starting to draft it. It’s called Your Green Eyes. It’s nice to have a world defined already.

This feels like “storyboarding” as much as “drafting.” In the first book, I tried to keep all the variables of structure — theme, language, plot, character — in play as I went, and tried to make my first words my best words. That led to much constipation, and I ended up re-writing it all anyway. This time, I’m focused on getting the skeleton on the page, capturing the action and flow, and letting the process move forward. It’s great when something I like gets on the page, and that happens as often as not, but if there’s some flat stuff in between, that’s no big deal. It can be smarter later.

I’m also doing sketches so that the ideas have some other media to play inside before getting trapped in language.

Sketch from Your Green Eyes. Kov, Cas, and the tow-headed ginger boy sit in front of the stew pot on the fire. The view is from the tavern. It's early summer, the evening beginning to cool.
A sketch from Your Green Eyes. Niall in the forest with the Dragon. Only Niall would have the audacity to talk to the Dragon.

So what’s happening with Old Green World? I’ll have some news about that next month.

Provisional Hypotheses About Self-Publishing

I’m self-publishing this book. I didn’t come to self-publishing as some waypoint in the process: it started the process. I decided to self-publish, and then I decided to write a book.

A couple of years ago, I got my hands on Guy Kawasaki’s APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur.  APE is packed with good information about the logistics of self-publishing: the importance of a good editor and designer, what Ingram is, how one properly chains oneself to Amazon, etc.

More importantly for me, though, it opened with a clear summary of why one would want to self-publish, or why one wouldn’t. Book production, distribution, and marketing, Kawasaki argues, are services, and a writer negotiates a contract with a publisher to gain the benefit of those services. Those services aren’t trivial — publishing a book well requires skilled work from several people. Those services aren’t rarefied any more, though. Anyone can access them if she or he’s willing to take on the cost, work, and coordination.

A contract with a publisher is a connection to centralized services — a boon. However, one gets that boon by playing the game and having it granted. If she self-publishes — if she takes her ball home — she’s now responsible, but the game can be run by her rules. Kawasaki’s pitch is that self-publishing is a revolution, but his argument’s actually a more balanced view. Everyone has access to the tools. That’s all. It’s a choice to DIY or find a contractor.

It did a lot for me to internalize that. I’ve written stories since I was a kid, but nothing about the world of published work felt accessible. I mostly needed a shift in perspective. Putting out a book doesn’t have to be a battle with the publishing industry to get your art recognized. It doesn’t have to be a competition with hundreds of other aspiring authors to break in or out or through or whatever. It can just be a project. I’ve done plenty of projects.

So, I put together a project. I wrote and rewrote the book. I hired an editor, and we refined the book some more. In a couple of weeks, it will be copyedited to a burnished hue. I have a book designer to make the cover and layout slick. I figured out how to get something on a Kindle, and how to get Amazon to produce paperbacks. I’ve got the “A” and “P” of APE down fairly well.

The “E” is a little tough, though. The “Entrepreneur” role in APE is pretty much just “marketer.” A lot of people write about marketing one’s self-published work. There may be more material about marketing a self-published work out there than about authoring or publishing it. Which makes some sense: there’s a lot of crap being pushed to the Kindle Store, and a self-published author is just a voice in the screaming chaos. Getting someone to actually notice is a tough problem.

Unfortunately, the advice for marketing hasn’t really clicked for me. The key points seem to be: 1.) Give away the book with discount ebook wholesalers. 2.) Create an “engaging personal brand” by, apparently, using Twitter a lot.

This part of the self-publishing process seems to be the least understood by the new culture of self-publishers. It also seems to rely on a shaky premise of broadcasting: one floods the market (as best one can, since it’s already flooded) with her name and work until some tipping point is reached, at which point one becomes the Wool guy. This feels like underpants gnome logic to me.

I’ve been entranced by thoughts of an alternative model. What if the goal isn’t to be the Wool guy? What if the goal is to be… a local band?

star_wars_as_rock_band_by_microkey-d4yehqv

I live in Austin. Everyone is in a band (or in an improv troupe). I have plenty of friends who are authoring, performing and publishing their own music all the time. They play gigs. They put out albums. They post stuff on BandCamp and SoundCloud, but it’s to support a local audience — other Austinites, or maybe other specific aficionados. They build small, loyal followings. They create, and people get to experience the creation. It works.

One might argue that musicians have shed themselves of an illusion under which authors still labor: the illusion of the big break. Maybe authors still dream of being J.K. Rowling — or, at least, the Wool guy — while musicians are reconciled to the unreality of being Taylor Swift. I don’t know.

I’ve started putting together marketing ideas that mimic a local band model, and it feels a lot more realistic. I’ll have a launch party, and hopefully some readings in town. I’ll ask some meetups if they’d like a guest speaker. I’ll try to get the book into some local bookstores on consignment. Of course, I’ll post on the Twitter and the Facebook and blog some, but the Web is a support, not the whole plan.

All these ideas are provisional hypotheses. They may fail grandly. But, if this is really about “artisanal publishing” (another term Kawasaki uses), it seems to make sense to look at other artisans and take lessons from how they sell their work to a community.

I wrote an edited book

Today I sent back Old Green World to my fantastic editor Sandra, edits incorporated and all that. After the final copyedit, I’m ready to call it “finished,” though I’m realizing it’s also hard to say exactly when one finishes a book.

The book is a lot tighter. Editing is magic. Editing is lovely. I even have a style guide now that I can use for the next book. (I’ve started the next book.)

I’m planning to send out advance reader copies in March. The book will be available on Amazon in April or May, depending on when the cover and logistics work all finish up.

If you would like to read a free advance reader PDF in March, sign up for the email list. It’s there on the left, or on the top, or in the menu, or whatever. (Thanks a lot, responsive design.)

Maybe it’s not so hard to say when a book is finished. I think it’s finished. I did a little dance in the gym foyer today, to the tune of The Outfield’s “Your Love,” to celebrate.

I wrote a book

I sent my book manuscript to the editor this past weekend, and to the cover artist too. I’m pretty excited about that. I started the book in January of 2013, although of course there were lots of ideas before then. Maybe it’s hard to say exactly when you start a book.

It’s called Old Green World. It’s science fiction, although people who define their science fiction strictly might call it fantasy. There isn’t much science. There’s a lot of faux philosophy and melodrama and romance to it, and swords. A lot of subconscious stuff, too, which is hard to put into a genre.

In The Paris Review, they had an interview with Matthew Weiner, who is the Mad Men man. He said some stuff about “not questioning the communicative power” of the subconscious when writing, that it has a gravity all its own that doesn’t need explanation. Here’s hoping that works, because I relied on that a lot.

On Facebook, folks have been posting top 10 inspirational books for their lives. I feel like that would be really tough, because I have trouble remembering books, or most other things that I’ve encountered in life. I figured I’d focus on 10 books that were influential for this book as I was writing it. In no particular order:

  1. The World Without Us, Alan Weisman
  2. The Collected Works of Scott McClanahan Vol. 1
  3. Dune, Frank Herbert
  4. A Canticle for Liebowitz, Walter M. Miller Jr.
  5. We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson
  6. The Visitors, Patrick O’Keeffe
  7. Stone Butch Blues, Leslie Feinberg
  8. On the Beach, Nevil Shute
  9. The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
  10. Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler

Like all good science fantasy books, it was also influenced by my biweekly Dungeons and Dragons campaign.

I’m planning to self-publish the book. Right now, I’m learning about the self-publishing process and how one should build a self-sustaining social media community platform for oneself. It sounds like a lot of work. I think I was supposed to start doing it several months ago.

No time like the present. When my book is out, you should buy it! It’s totally dope.

Exoplanet

There’s a planet and it is very far from here. It is an exoplanet. It is an exoplanet with people, people who look kind of like us, maybe bald and maybe with strange eyes, but certainly they are not giant bugs or anything. They live a nice life, they have cities, but they coexist with their environment nicely, and they have given up their bronze age dogma as a species, so that doesn’t interfere with decision making. They are socialists, and they have a reasonable population, and they milk an animal that is their rough equivalent of a cow or a goat, and they make a very nice cheese with it. They serve that with a small bowl of their rice equivalent with one of their egg equivalents on top, and serve it with a steeped beverage that is their tea equivalent. They have that mid-morning, which we would consider a bit late because their days are longer. And it’s lovely, it’s a lovely meal.

And maybe someone serving that meal is a bit melancholy because her sister and she are not talking, they have had a bit of a spat, it’s over their mother, the mother is ill, she is very old, and generally these creatures are of good health, but we all age. The mother won’t rest, she has her own cow equivalents and goat equivalents and chicken equivalents and garden, which is just a garden, and she wants to tend to them herself. The sisters both agree that isn’t a good idea, but they have different approaches, this sister wants to have a hand come out and help, let the mother keep her pride, but the other sister says, just get rid of all the equivalents, she doesn’t need them any more, we’ll feed her and she’s going to have an accident. Actually, one of us should take her in. Actually, you should take her in.

And even though they live in peace, and they have plenty of unpoisoned food to eat, and their atmosphere isn’t rising in temperature to a point of uninhabitability, and even though their population is small and relatively enlightened, even though they have enjoyed three centuries of life without war and have devoted themselves to the musical and visual and performative and literary arts, even though all this is true, sometimes it’s hard to count the blessings, sometimes it’s hard to see beyond the power of the problem right in front of you: you, your sister, your dying mother, your suffering equivalent.