Category Archives: Damage Control

When Disaster Strikes – Getting My Momentum Back

I’ve blogged on the Fictorians before about the infection that nearly killed me in 2014. What I may not have mentioned that outside of that scary situation and hospital stay, it really wrecked my writing momentum. This was February 2014. If we rewind back to mid-2013, I went into the most productive period of my writing at that point. From July 2013 to January 14, I wrote two novels. I wrote what became my debut novel SLEEPER PROTOCOL and another shorter novel that’s my tribute to Elmore Leonard called SUPER SYNC. In that six month period, I also wrote a few short stories and my overall total of words written was probably somewhere near 180,000. This was an incredible time and I really felt like I was getting into a higher gear when everything came crashing down.

After my illness, I barely wrote anything new for a year. Yes, I sold and went through subsequent edits on both SLEEPER PROTOCOL and an earlier novel RUNS IN THE FAMILY, so I was “writing” but I wasn’t writing anything new, which we all know are two entirely different things. But, in that period from April 2015 to January 2016 came the impetus for the sequel VENDETTA PROTOCOL and I decided to try my hand at a prequel to RUNS IN THE FAMILY. Writing was slow and arduous. There were several times when I wanted to simply give up. I was going to publish a novel, after all. I ultimately decided that I wasn’t going to be happy with one book on that shelf by my deathbed. It was time to write more, so in January 2016, I decided that it was time to get off my ass and write. I’d been incredibly productive before then, and I believed I could get back to, or surpass, my productivity. It just required self-discipline to get into the chair and write and a little faith that I would get better, both mentally and physically.

It was slow going at first, but I outlined an alternate history novel. From there, I went into the draft of VENDETTA PROTOCOL with the goal of writing it in three months. SLEEPER PROTOCOL took me 7 weeks and I figured I would need about double the time. Turns out, I wrote VENDETTA PROTOCOL in 9 weeks. Because I could feel myself getting faster and I trusted myself as a writer. Was it perfect? Hell, no. But I was getting it out of my head. I turned around from that draft and wrote a novella LANCER ONE. After that, I was asked to submit to a military science fiction anthology, so I wrote a 9,000 word story “Stand On It.” At the end of 2016, I started work on the alternate history novel I’d outlined in February-March. I worked on that draft into February of 2017.

Not long after I finished that project, my military science fiction anthology story turned into a novel titled PEACEMAKER. I wrote that novel in less than three months. During that time, I was asked on short notice to provide a story for the upcoming X-PRIZE: Avatars anthology. I had to turn it around in two weeks – I did it in a week. All of that “new writing” ended back in June of this year. I’ve been editing ever since. The results are crazy.

PEACEMAKER get worldwide release on August 25th. VENDETTA PROTOCOL gets an ebook release on September 13th and a print version following. The novella LANCER ONE is due out in October. The first anthology A FISTFUL OF CREDITS was released in June and is selling like hotcakes. The X-PRIZE anthology is due later this year.

Two weeks ago, I turned in the alternate history project to my editor/mentor. It’s the most difficult book I’ve written to date. I’ve now laid out a plan for the rest of 2017 and it’s ambitious as hell. I can get it done, though. My momentum is back. How did I do it?

Go back a few paragraphs. For me, it’s about putting my butt in the chair and writing. Yes, I plot and outline, but I’m also thinking about the books and projects all the time. I take a lot of notes. Some of them work, others don’t. The best ideas I don’t have to write down because they stay with me. Once I’m committed to writing the project, I let go of my inner critic – that little bastard that likes to click the backspace button more than he types. I write because I know that I can fix it later. I get the story out of my head. If it comes in short or over the desired word count, I go back and fix it. All of that is faith in myself. Will I make mistakes? Yes. Can I fix them? Yes. I’ve taken very strongly to the belief that I can fix anything in editing. The result is my productivity is higher than ever.

Let go. Have faith. Write.

The Call of the Small Publisher

Beware! All small publishers aren’t created equal, and most of them will do absolutely nothing for you except waste your time and tie up your rights.

First of all, there was a time when a small publisher could really help a writer. But this was before the Internet and before services widely used by small publishers weren’t readily available to writers.

Nowadays all services that are available to small publishers are available to writers in one form or another, everything from editing to interior and cover design to printing to promotion to distribution. As a writer, you can become the publisher. You don’t have to rely on someone else to control your writing destiny.

Now, if you talk to enough people you will hear plenty of positive and negative stories about small publishers, and this includes print and e-publishers.

I have been with three small publishers over the last fifteen years. I needed the first small publisher because it was when the Internet was still in its infantile stage, and self-publishing had so many negative connotations.

Back then, subsidy publishers were rip-off traps that raped writers young and old. They charged outrageous prices for their services and offered little help after they finished printing your book. You were left to swim or drown. Most writers drowned, never recouping their initial investment. Many of these companies are still in business in one form or another.

My first publisher represented a dozen or so writers and helped when they could, but they had a limited budget. Most of the footwork and promotion was up to me. I understood my part and did what I could to promote my book. Things were going along slowly, but smoothly. Then, the publisher ended up biting the dust, and that was it. I was back to square one.

My second publisher was someone I respected greatly. He had been in the business for a long time, and had connections with a lot of different people in the industry. But publishing is a grind. It burns out those with the best intentions. He ended up giving all his authors back their rights and closed shop. To his credit, he helped me a lot with my writing and was the first person to suggest I start my own publishing company. The company would publish one author—me. I should have taken his advice.

Unfortunately, I was offered a three year deal from a larger small publisher, one that represented several hundred authors in one form or another. They gave me a small advance that was used for a three minute video to promote the book. When I signed the contract I knew they were a lot different from my previous two publishers. Their contract was much longer, and contained clauses that would make it difficult to leave if I wanted to sever my relationship early.

Things started off well. They were polite and attentive, answering all my questions. But in the back of my mind there were things I didn’t like about them. I almost didn’t sign with them, and looking back at it I should have followed my gut and passed on their offer.

First of all, their acquisition editor confused me with another author. That was the first warning. Then, they didn’t care what size the book was or what was on the front cover. They were like ‘that’s up to you.’ Then came the price they would charge for the book, and my discount rate. I thought both were too high for an unknown author.

Lastly came the advice they gave me for any future books. They suggested that I make them a certain length so they would be easier to package. After a few months, I realized I was going to make zilch from this deal unless I really busted my butt. They were going to make money no matter what happened.

That’s when it hit me! Why bust my butt for a small percentage when I can bust my butt and reap the lion’s share.

Now I have to admit that I had no idea about cover design, interior design, blurbs, price points, discounts, promotional pieces, giveaways, reviews, ISBNs, and a bunch of other information that my publisher knew.

But you know what? All that information is readily available on the internet. There are many good people out there who are willing to help you. Of course, you have to beware of the many sharks too, but it is like any business. There will always be good with the bad.

Next, look at the life expectancy of many small publishers, both traditional and on-line. Notice how many of them are out of business after a short while. A lot of them! They will never have the passion that you have for your work. no matter what they say. Many of them are like a lot of agents—they will suck your blood dry, and then when there is nothing left, they’ll move onto the next victim. I mean writer.

If you can start your own publishing company this is the best time to do it. There is a ton of information out there. If you’re still a little nervous about taking the plunge, team up with another writer. You can share the cost, the hours, the ups and downs.

But remember, it’s a business and you should treat it like a business. The more you put into it, the better chance you will get something positive out of it. But be realistic. Most likely, you will never get rich. You probably won’t even make a living or you will make a marginal living.

As writers, we all want to make money, but if you’re in the business just for the cash, do something else. You can make a lot more money in other lines of work.

Lastly, I want to give two references that everyone should read if they even have an inkling of becoming a publisher or if they just want to become a better writer.

One of these people I know well, and I consider him a friend. He’s smart and at times inspirational. The other is someone that I don’t know. But the guy is friggin’ brilliant. Every article I read from him gives me hope and makes me want to write and publish.

The first gentlemen is Harvey Stanbrough. You can find him at HarveyStanbrough.com. The second gentlemen is Dean Wesley Smith. You can find him at deanwesleysmith.com.

Guest Bio:
Glen M Glenn is an entrepreneur and a fiction writer. His books Last of the Firstborn, Dark Ritual and Sheepland will be coming out later this year. You can check his website out at glenmglenn.com.

 

What “Rejection” Really Means

A Guest Post by David Farland

For the last few weeks I’ve been scurrying to finish up judging on a large contest. I’ve had to “reject” thousands of stories. I hate the word “reject,” because it doesn’t really express what I want to say.

Very often I will read the opening to a story and it is obviously the first work of a very young writer. It may have a multitude of problems—from simple typos, to a lack of understanding as to how to set a scene, to clunky dialog. I know that I can’t accept the story for publication, but at the same time, I wish that I could shout some encouragement to the budding writer, much the way that my mentor Algis Budrys did to a young Stephen King.

I think that people need encouragement. It may be the only thing that will spur a young writer to greater effort.

So what does the word “rejection” mean to you as a writer? I think it’s simply: “Try harder.”

A lot of fine works get rejected. The bestselling works in nearly every genre experienced rejection. Lord of the Rings was rejected by several American publishers. Dune was rejected by all of them. Gone with the Wind made its rounds through every major publisher. Harry Potter was rejected by all of the biggest houses, and Twilight was rejected by a dozen agents before it got picked up—yet all of these novels became the bestsellers in their fields.

So does that mean that these were all bad novels? Of course not. It means that the author didn’t find an editor with a matching taste, a matching vision, right at the first.

Very often when I read a manuscript that is close to being publishable, I think, It’s a shame that the author didn’t try a little harder to . . . That’s what “rejected” means to me.

I was talking to international bestselling author Laurell K. Hamilton last week, and asked her to confirm a rumor that I’d heard. With her first novel, she received over 200 rejections before she made a sale. She said, “When people tell me that they’ve been rejected five or ten or twenty times, I just tell them that ‘I don’t want to hear about it.’”

Laurell has the perfect attitude toward rejection. Try harder.

davidfarland_storydoctor

How Bad Can It Get?

If you have a writing career that ultimately spans decades, it will inevitably fluctuate with highs and lows—and so will the exultation and despair that follows such fluctuations. Contracts and literary agents may come and go. Publishing companies can dissolve and your rights lost in a morass of legalese and bankruptcy. The “Mid-List Author Death Spiral,” as it’s called, is a phenomenon well-known to several of my author acquaintances. And this is beyond the usual barrage of rejections we all have to cope with. Unless you’re prepared to go quietly into that good night, you will have to find ways to bounce back from setbacks like these—or else you won’t.

In the mid-1990s, I was one of those young writers desperate for industry validation, ripening me into the perfect fruit for the illegitimate predators out there. These were the days when the Web was in its infancy. There were no valuable websites like Writer Beware, Preditors and Editors, and the Association of Author Representatives out there waving red flags about snake-oil peddlers and con artists. Of course I was delighted when the Deering Literary Agency agreed to represent me. All they wanted was $800 to do it. I studied the contract closely, consulted a lawyer, but everything seemed legit—except for the fee. Young (erm, naïve is the more proper word) and desperate as I was, despite being broke, despite the warning bells, I went through with it.

A year passed with no word. Eventually the Deerings (an entire family of con artists) came back to me asking for another $500 for another year’s representation. More warning bells, more phone calls, but like I said, they were con artists and knew exactly what to say to get me to fork it over. So I did.

Six months later, they called me with contract offer. Joy! Exultation!

The contract offer was from Commonwealth Publications, of Edmonton, Alberta. Hmm, never heard of them before. The sample covers they sent sucked, comparable to a middle-school art class. I mean, terrible, not even by the talented art students. Warning bells, warning bells. Calls to agent—who are these people?—much reassurance. And what’s this clause they’re calling “joint venture,” wherein they require the author to contribute $3,850 to “share the publishing costs”? Oh, well, that’s a pioneering new publishing model. Authors share the costs but get a much higher royalty percentage.

So, despite the warning bells, I borrowed the money (remember, I was broke) and handed it over. This was about 1995. I was 25 years old.

I’m going to abbreviate this long, wrenching tale and say that my book, an epic fantasy titled The Ivory Star, was published in the spring of 1997, a year behind schedule. Dozens of other Commonwealth authors never even saw their book published.

Three months after publication, Commonwealth Publications evaporated. Their owner/CEO, Donald Phelan, looted the company of millions of dollars and fled to the Bahamas, leaving his company to implode and all the authors to drown in a pile of steaming excrement.

I never saw a dime of royalties.

One silver lining: the authors formed a class-action lawsuit, sued in Canadian court, and received our rights back, plus a judgment of $10 million. None of this judgment was ever paid because Commonwealth possessed no real assets, and Donald Phelan agreed to the settlement only on the condition that he not be named personally as a defendant. He was able to take the money and run, leaving authors holding the empty sack.

And about the time Commonwealth was imploding, the Deerings had decided to launch their own version of the same scam. Dorothy, Charles, and Daniel Deering formed a company called Sovereign Publishing and started bilking more naïve, desperate authors out of “representation fees” and then “selling” those books to Sovereign Publishing, which then garnered another round of “joint venture fees.” Unlike Commonwealth, however, Sovereign never published a single book, because the FBI came sniffing around.

The good news? The Deerings were all convicted of various types of fraud, and spent several years each in federal prison.

The bad news? They’re out of the pen now, and I suspect working on similar schemes, heedless of the dreams they crush.

FBI agent Jim Fischer has written a book about the case called Ten Percent of Nothing. There’s also plenty of information on Commonwealth and the Deerings on the website Writer Beware.

But there’s one more kick to the solar plexus in this Insult to Injury Extravaganza.

An unscrupulous few of Commonwealth’s former employees banded together, cooked up a scheme, and bought up the company’s stock of books for pennies on the dollar when all of the company’s assets were sold at auction to cover some of its debts. With this warehouse full of almost-free books, these people formed another “publishing company” called Picasso Publications, and attempted to present themselves as the publisher of these titles and sell the books on Amazon. Authors were never contacted nor informed of this move. As soon as wind of this spread and Amazon shut them down, Picasso evaporated just like Commonwealth did, and an unknown number of books along with them.

Whew. Long story, wasn’t it?

Try living through it.

But this is just the prelude. I still haven’t reached the point of my essay.

After three years in total of this sort of emotional pummeling, when it finally all unraveled, I had stopped writing. I just couldn’t do it anymore. As far as I was concerned, my career was a smoking wreck with a flaming oil slick trailing behind. The self-flagellation never quite reached the clinical level, but only because I found other outlets for my grief and shame.

I plunged myself into other creative avenues, such as minitature wargames, roleplaying games, video games. The storytelling urge that had turned me into a writer made me a pretty good GM. I painted hundreds of miniatures. Orc armies, dark elf armies, Norman armies, troll armies, samurai armies, Viking armies, space marine armies. I got pretty damn good at it over a couple of years.

For about two years, I didn’t write a word.

But then something happened. Not all at once, but more like someone slowly turning up the volume knob on that voice in my head that had started saying, “You should be writing,” the urge to write again slunk back like a coyote hovering around the campfire of my consciousness. Eventually I decided to feed the damn thing.

So I started on a new project. A samurai novel. I threw myself into research, into nights at the library, into reading history books and encyclopedias, and into watching more samurai films. The story I was writing became Heart of the Ronin, the first book of my Ronin Trilogy.

And over the course of the next decade, this decision—to write again—turned my life around.

With my shiny new chapters in hand, I attended my very first writing conference in 1999. At that conference, I met real agents, real editors. Lo and behold, they were just people! Kind people! Friendly people! People interested in what I was working on! One of the agents took the time to offer me some feedback on my samurai novel project, and even though she ultimately declined to represent me, I still feel very much indebted to her for that guiding hand. For the first time, I had the professional validation I had been lacking.

Writing the story that became the Ronin Trilogy led me to throw my life out the window and start over. I moved to Japan and lived there for three years. During this time, I found representation with a real literary agent, one of the big NYC ones, who sold Heart of the Ronin to Gale-Cengage’s Five Star imprint. After a decade since the Commonwealth/Deering cesspit, my career train was back on the tracks.

I returned to the U.S. then and went to grad school, like I had always wanted to. I started going to conventions and networking with agents, editors, and other writers. I wrote more books and sold them to small presses. I attended the Odyssey Writing Workshop in 2009. My train was starting to roll out of the station. Nowadays I feel like it’s moving at a slow but steady pace, with opportunities to pick up some speed popping up occasionally.

I have more books to write, and I’ll be damned if I ever suffer another setback like what Commonwealth and the Deerings did to me.

What I would like the Conscientious Reader to take away from all this is a number of points.

Lesson 1: Money always flows to the writer, never, ever, ever the other way around. Not to agents, not to publishers, not to anthologies or magazines.

Lesson 2: Trust your instincts. If something stinks, best pay attention and start digging. These days, the internet is a powerful research tool that I didn’t have twenty years ago.

Lesson 3: If you’re a writer whose Muse has scarpered off to grace someone else’s lap, whose desire to write is just gone, the urge to do so will return. Doesn’t matter if you’ve experienced your own train wrecks of whatever scale. The Writer Instinct may be retreat into a dark, little hole, but it’s still there, waiting for the coast-is-clear. And if it doesn’t?

Your heart would certainly be safer if it stayed away.

But writers don’t believe in playing it safe. We’re already insane, and we embrace it.

If it’s gone for now, trust that it will come back, and it just might change your life.

About the Author: Travis Heermann

Heermann-6death-wind-front-coverTravis Heermann’s latest novel Death Wind, co-authored with jim pinto, was published in September 2016, by WordFire Press.

Freelance writer, novelist, award-winning screenwriter, editor, poker player, poet, biker, he is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and the author of The Ronin Trilogy, The Wild Boys, and Rogues of the Black Fury, plus short fiction pieces in anthologies and magazines such as Apex Magazine, Perihelion SF, Fiction River, Historical Lovecraft, and Cemetery Dance’s Shivers VII. As a freelance writer, he has produced a metric ton of role-playing game work both in print and online, including content for the Firefly Roleplaying Game, Legend of Five Rings, d20 System, and EVE Online.

He recently returned to the U.S. from New Zealand with a couple of lovely ladies and toting more Middle Earth souvenirs than is reasonable.

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