Category Archives: Choice

Reframing Failure

A few years back, I had a conversation about horses that changed how I viewed my writing career. A dear friend of mine was telling me a story about when she was teaching her son how to ride a horse. She had grown up on a West Texas ranch and wanted to pass that legacy on to the next generation. One day he was thrown by the animal and landed hard. My friend went to her son to ensure that he hadn’t been seriously hurt. Once she had confirmed that he would be okay, she stood over him in the dust and heat of the Texan summer. Her boy was on the verge of tears, but she didn’t try to sooth him. Instead, she told him that he needed to choose if he really wanted to know how to ride. If he didn’t, he could sit and cry, and that would be fine. But “cowboys don’t cry,” and if he really wanted that life he would need to show her how tough he really was. He’d need to stand up and go show that animal that he wasn’t afraid of it. He needed to take back his power, right now or not at all.

There’s a reason that the phrase “get back in the saddle” is a cliché for starting again after a failure. If you’ve never ridden a horse, you can’t know what it feels like to have a thousand pounds of animal underneath you. To feel the shifting of muscle and sway of the saddle as your mount walks. Or know the sensation of speed and power as the horse runs. As a rider, you are only in control as much as the mount’s training or your own skill allows you to be. All the while, you are aware that falling or being thrown can be a bone breaking, paralyzing, or mortal experience. For new riders, it’s frightening. And for good reason.

Most humans are programmed to avoid painful situations. Sometimes it’s something we’ve already experienced, and others it is simply the anticipation of harm that warns us away. While this instinct helps us survive, it doesn’t allow us to grow. We only develop as individuals if we are challenged, pushed to leave our comfort zones, and are forced to adapt. In doing so, however, we risk mental, emotional, or physical hardship. And no one gets through life unscathed.

Little did my friend know that when she told me that story, I was struggling with my own fall, just of a less literal nature. I had recently been rejected by an agent that I had queried a few weeks before. It wasn’t even a personalized rejection, but rather a form letter that was addressed to “Dear Author”. I was embarrassed, angry with myself, and ashamed of my failure. I was still lying in the dirt, hurt and wallowing. However, I needed to make a decision.

I wasn’t considering quitting writing. Storytelling was and still is my passion. I had been warned that rejection letters were inevitable and that I would need to develop a thick skin to being told “thank you, but no.” However, rejection letters have a powerful effect on us writers because they feed the part of our brain teeming with doubt. I was trying to decide what that particular rejection meant for me and my story. Did I still believe in these characters? Did I still believe that the work represented the best of my skills? Was the problem something in my query letter or my manuscript? I didn’t know and so was paralyzed by indecision.

My friend’s story reminded me that I was letting the letter have power over my actions and needed to show it, and myself, that I wasn’t afraid of it anymore.

And so, I decided to reframe my problem. Quite literally. I went to the store and spent about five dollars on a plain, black, plastic picture frame. I printed out the first page of the rejection and hung it on the wall in my office. I stepped back, looked at my framed failure, and told myself aloud that this was a step in the process. I would fail again. I would succeed. I’d hang each on my wall because I owned them, they did not own me.

In the years since, I’ve added many more black frames to my wall. However, I’ve also added a few silver frames, my wins. There aren’t many silvers in comparison to the blacks, but they would not exist at all had I not decided to move past my fear and self-pity to keep pushing myself to grow. Each time I look at that wall, I am reminded of what those failures taught me, and that I have persevered. Despite the failures, I am still writing, still submitting, and still growing. With enough hard work and determination, I will have my writing career. I just need to keep dusting myself off after each and every failure and choosing what I really want.

My Year In Review: Guest Post by Doug Dandridge

My Year In Review

I had planned for 2016 to be my best year yet, moving forward with all my writing projects, and doing the ground work to build a larger readership. As some of you may know, I do this writing gig fulltime, it is my job. As this year closes out, I have sold about 200,000 books, eBooks, paperbacks and audiobooks. I was hoping to pass the half million dollar gross income level as an independent for the four years I had been doing it. I was planning on releasing seven books, as well as finishing off an effort I was hoping to interest Baen books in. Unfortunately, things don’t always work as planned.

As the year dawned, I had just returned from a workshop cruise in December (Sail To Success), and had taken a belt test for Kempo Karate. I had been feeling my best in years, and I was planning on putting out five thousand words a day, which would put me at almost two million words. I really didn’t think I would do that, but a million seemed like a possibility. Then, in January, I started losing energy. Every morning I woke up feeling like I had fought a battle the night before. I kept on writing, but not at the level I wanted, and the workouts went out the window. In March my primary care physician told me she thought I had sleep apnea. Now, since I go to the VA, this didn’t mean I would get immediate treatment. It took two months to get the sleep study, followed by another sleep study, and four months after my primary told me her thoughts I finally got my CPAP. It has made a world of difference, and I started working out again. Still not at one hundred percent, but I can see it coming.

Now that that’s out of the way, what did I do with my year? To start off I put out a book I had on my hard drive for five years, just so I could get something out. The first of the second trilogy of The Deep Dark Well series, it did well enough. I also put out a collection of short stories set in the Exodus Universe, a little under 70,000 words, and sold about five thousand copies in the first three months, about what the first, shorter volume had done. The production company that does my audiobooks put out Exodus: Empires at War: Book 5: Ranger, which did okay, though I’m not sure if sales were enough to convince them to do book 6. Time will tell. In May I put out Exodus: Empires at War: Book 10: Search and Destroy. While the book sold well, it was probably my weakest reviewed novel since the first of the series, many people thinking it was just a placeholder novel, which it kind of was. That taught me something about series, something I will avoid in future efforts. In August I put out Book 11: Day of Infamy, which met with much better reviews. I had planned to have that book out by the end of June, but the sleep apnea interfered. I started to work on Exodus: Machine War: Book 3 and finally got it out the door on November 20th. I have also put out some short stories for anthologies, and did some of the planning on future series. Not my most productive year, but still enough to make more than twice what I made in a year at my old day job.

I attended three conventions this year, starting with Pensacon, where I was merely a visitor and spent some time with my Superstar Friends. In July I went to Libertycon in Chattanooga, where I sat on two panels and moderated a third. Good practice. Dragoncon in September, and this year I was able to get two panels, one on the writer’s track, and a really fun one in the scifi lit track called starship showdown. I have been told I will get even more next year, and I am planning on putting in an application as a Dragoncon guest. We can always dream. And I was invited back to Sail To Success this year as a Student/Instructor, at a hefty discount, so I can give my take on Indie Publishing on two panels. Add to that, I have been invited to next year’s Florida Writer’s Association con as a faculty member.

The year didn’t go as planned, but I still was able to work my dream job and make a good living at it. Hopefully I will do better this next year, and if I don’t? No problem, I will still be happy.

 

Doug’s Bio:

Bio – Doug Dandridge

Doug had been writing since 1997, and had garnered almost three hundred rejections from publishers and magazines before trying his hand at self-publishing on December 31, 2011. A little over a year later he quit his day job with the State of Florida, and has been a full-time author ever since. Doug has published thirty-one books on Amazon, and has sold over two hundred thousand copies of his work. His Exodus books, with eleven volumes in the main series, plus five in the two spinoff series, have sold over a hundred and seventy thousand books. They have consistently hit the top five in Space Opera in the UK, as well as top ten status in the US. Doug likes to say that he does not write great literature, but entertainment, and his fans agree enough to keep buying his work. He has well over three thousand reviews on both Amazon (4.6 star average) and Goodreads (4.12 star average).

Doug attended Florida State University (BS, Psychology) and the University of Alabama (MA, Clinical Psychology). He served four years in the Army as an Infantryman and Senior Custodial Agent, followed up with two years in the National Guard. A lifelong reader of the fantastic, he had an early love for the classics of science fiction and fantasy, including HG Wells, Jules Verne and the comics of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. He writes fast moving, technically complex novels which appeal to a hardcore fan base. He has plans for several future series, including several space operas, a couple of classic fantasies, some alternate history, and even a post-apocalyptic tale. He puts out about five books a year, and still has time to attend several conventions, including Dragon Con and Liberty Con. This year he added board member of Tallahassee Writers Association to his resume’.

Always Be Film Friendly: Blue Beetles vs Vietnam Jeeps

After four years spent studying for an engineering degree, I was left with one final semester to fill with a handful of electives. Wanting a change of pace, I signed up for a class in cinematography. It fulfilled the requirements for my degree while also allowing me to stretch my creative muscles in a new way. Looking back, I’m very glad that I did. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy the class, but getting a glimpse into how our colleagues in film live and think has helped me with my own writing.

book-to-movieLeveraging your IP into a film or miniseries adaptation is one of the best ways to make money as a writer. Not only can you get the income from licensing your rights, but having a major motion picture or miniseries made will give your works access to a much larger audience. The phrase “based on a bestselling series” is good for both sides of the business. It attracts attention to the movie, but it will also give a healthy boost to your book sales leading up to the release.

Therefore, it is in your best interest as a writer to be “film friendly.” But what does that mean in practical terms? While there are many aspects to consider, I want to focus on what I see as the four key points I took away from the class.

First, while there are many elements of story that an author needs to balance when writing, there are a few that top the list when it comes to translating a work from page to film. Chief amongst these are strong characters, vivid setting descriptions, compelling plots, and powerful dialog. Focusing on these skills will not only make your writing better, they will also make your property more attractive as an adaptation.

As an example, look at how Jim Butcher structured the early part of his series, The Dresden Files. Though each book built upon the events of the previous volumes, they were also fairly episodic and self-contained. They showcased strong characters that would catch and hold the reader’s attention. These characters and the world they lived in were described in concise, yet catchy ways. The books had all the hooks needed for a reader to jump in at any point in the first five or six volumes without getting lost.

These stylistic choices were also very good for the SciFi Channel when they adapted the series to television. One book became one episode without too much lost in translation. The strength of the characters inspired the actors and the descriptions were able to guide and influence the visuals of the series.

Second, an author needs to consider what details will be lost in the translation to film. In prose, we have the advantage of being able to use all five senses and deep penetration to convey the character’s experiences to the reader. However, films generally rely on sight and hearing with limited character depth. That’s precisely why the book is almost always “better” than the movie. The reader experiences more than the viewer.

harrydresden-profileHowever, film has significant advantages in its ability to employ complex visual elements. As authors, we rely on the power of our language to inspire our audience’s imaginations. Film, on the other hand, relies on the skill of the special effects, costuming, and set design teams as well as the training of the actors. When you write a book, be sure to feed those teams with strong, iconic visuals. Furthermore, a five second panning shot can show the thousands of tiny details that would take an author five pages to describe. You get the same effect without having to worry about slowing down pacing.

Harry Dresden was designed to be very visually striking. Nearly seven-foot-tall, big billowy duster coat, glowing staff, and both the ability and inclination to throw fire at all his problems? That man will stand out in a crowd! Consider also the fantastic scenery of the Never-Never, the ominous cloaks of the Wardens, and the horrifying creatures Harry faces.All these elements provide fodder for the creative teams of the TV series to work with.

Additionally, we authors need to balance the “wow” factor of our stories with the movie’s potential budget and physical limitations. As writers, we don’t need to think twice about scenes set in busy cities (a gigantic logistical pain in the ass), on the high seas (you’d be surprised at how expensive it is to shoot on water), or having massive armies clash for the fate of the world (where are you going to find all those extras anyways?). Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying to avoid anything that would be expensive or challenging to film. Each of those examples have been done, after all. Just be aware that production price will be considered when making an offer on your IP. If you can pack the same “wow” factor into a smaller budget, your work will be that much more appealing.

illinois-chicago-dresden-files-harryThough many of Dresden’s spells were fantastic, they were also remarkably low budget. Making the pentacle necklace glow? Not hard. Blasts of fire would take more skill, but can be done in a number of film editing softwares. As can Bob’s glowing campfire sparks.

The very best example comes from a sequence in Fool Moon. At one point, Dresden takes a don’t-notice-me potion and the world goes all sepia. Only people who notice him appear in full color. There are many ways that Butcher could have written that scene, but the one he chose was excellent for film. Super easy to execute while also being very visually appealing.

Finally, authors need to be willing to compromise with their artistic vision. The book may be ours, but the film adaptation is a collaborative work. After all screen writers, directors, and actors are all artists too and deserve to have the freedom to ply their craft. Secondly, there are certain practicalities to filming that cannot be ignored, but that the author might not even be aware exist. A good adapter will account for these changes will still honoring the original work.

blue-beetleFor example, the directors of the Dresden Files TV series chose to eliminate the beloved Blue Beetle in favor of a Vietnam era jeep. While the Blue Beetle provided good comic relief in the books, it would have been an extremely difficult set piece to shoot. The director’s camera angles would have been severely limited by how small and enclosed the vehicle was. The only way to get around this problem would be to have multiple Beetles – the first for exterior shots, and a second that was partially disassembled accommodate to the cameras for the interior shots.

Instead, they chose to use a Vietnam era jeep as Harry’s vehicle of choice. Jeeps are wide open and extremely camera friendly. Need an interior shot? Remove the fabric roof. Exterior shot? Put it back on. Even better, the jeep honored the spirit of the original piece. In the books, Harry drove the Beetle because it was cheap, easy to maintain and repair, and a low enough tech level that his magic wouldn’t do too much damage. All the same things can be said for the jeep. Personally, I think the screen writers made an excellent choice with the swap.

I’ve long suspected the Jim Butcher was heavily inspired by television techniques when he wrote the Dresden Files. I can’t say if that comes from him being a fan or if he has had formal training somewhere along the line. Either way, his strong characters, episodic early volumes, and striking visual descriptions made it easy for the SciFi Channel to adapt his books into a series. Additionally, his talent for “wow” inspiring magic that could be made real through relatively low budget special effects helped breathe life and wonder into the series. Finally, his willingness to step back and allow others to make creative decisions on the show allowed them to bring their expertise and experience to the project. All in all, I found both the books and series to be very enjoyable, if for very different reasons.

Paid to Play: Writing Licensed Fan Fiction in Kindle Worlds

We’ve all heard that writing fan fiction is something that professional writers don’t do. Fan fiction has a stigma attached to it of being vastly amateur and a waste of time for aspiring authors who should be cutting their teeth on their own works. The truth of the matter is that fan fiction has a very large fan base and can provide a great opportunity for new writers to hone their abilities. Yet, being paid for writing fan fiction has always been reserved for authors who sign literary contracts to write “media tie-ins.” The media tie-in was essentially the sole professional version of fan fiction until Kindle Worlds came along.

Kindle Worlds is a project from Amazon that allows authors to write licensed fan fiction in any of the licensed world. Authors can earn royalties (typically 30%) from their works in a licensed world. Works can be any length from short story to full novels. The only “catch” is that Amazon and that licensed world own your story in perpetuity. Licensed worlds include the worlds of bestselling authors Hugh Howey, Bella Andre, and Kurt Vonnegut. Other worlds include television properties (Vampire Diaries, Wayward Pines, Veronica Mars) and comic book properties (G.I.Joe: A Real American Hero, Quantum and Woody, XO Man-o-War). All an author has to do is have an idea, check the Kindle Worlds quality/content guidelines for that licensed world, write a story, and publish it. It’s licensed fan fiction, and I can say from experience, a huge opportunity.

A few years ago at the World Science Fiction Convention in San Antonio, I met Hugh Howey. We had a great conversation then, and ever since via infrequent emails. I first heard about Kindle Worlds from Hugh. Roughly about the time that I finished the second of his Silo Saga novels (SHIFT), I had an idea for a story in his universe. Knowing that the universe was available through the Kindle Worlds program, I worked up a story and promptly hesitated. On the cusp of submitting the story, I chickened out and emailed Hugh for advice. He told me to publish the story, and I did. I’ve published several short stories via Kindle, but none has sold like my Silo Sage novelette “Vessel.” It’s been out for a couple of years and has never left the Top 200 in Kindle Worlds Science Fiction and Fantasy, topping out at #3. The story has done nicely, putting some extra money in my account while generating name recognition. I never thought about name recognition as a by-product for Kindle Worlds until I had an idea for another story in a different universe.

As a kid, the cartoon series G.I.Joe: A Real American Hero was my favorite series of all time. When I saw that its universe was part of Kindle Worlds, I was amazed and thrilled. In the Kindle Worlds stories, there are some really good ones including those by bestselling author Carrie Vaughn and my friends Peter Wacks and Aaron Michael Ritchey. On a getaway weekend to Breckenridge a couple of years ago, I had an idea for a story in that universe and wrote it inside of a week. After some read-throughs and edits, I used the Kindle Worlds cover builder, formatted the book, and set it live. What happened next is surreal. About 24 hours after I set the title live, I had a Twitter notification on my account (@TheWriterIke). I’d been mentioned in a tweet from Amazon Kindle Worlds that reached almost 35,000 subscribers. They’d also tagged one of the major G.I.Joe toy collector groups, and they then retweeted it to another 6,000 subscribers. The story hit #7 in all of Kindle Worlds within the next few hours. I gained fifty or so Twitter followers. Like “Vessel,” my short story “Friends In High Places” has continued to do very well, and the fact that it’s licensed fan fiction is something I’m very proud of.

I believe firmly that writers should seek payment for our work. Exposure doesn’t pay the bills. Kindle Worlds is a perfect opportunity to play in someone else’s world while earning royalties and gaining exposure. Check them out at KindleWorlds.Amazon.Com and see if there is a licensed world you’re familiar with. Then, if the muse whispers in your ear, sit down and write the best story you possibly can. You never know what might happen with it.