Dancing to Dirges

Depressing and happy things Tim says, sometimes while drunk

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Trade School Paperback

I've been thinking a lot about the business of writing and what it means to be a writer. One of the things that I struggle with is the time it takes to learn to do this thing correctly. I have a degree in Creative Writing, but it took years and years of post-collegiate failure, trial and error, and stress to really learn how to write a book. And while I've sold six novels so far, I still feel like I have a long way to go.

The thing that I find frustrating is that there isn't a lot of guidance. I learn a lot by talking to fellow writers, comparing notes with my friends and generally by word of mouth. But mostly it's just random knowledge that I've managed to accrete over the last eleven years.

And that's a terrible way to learn your life's work. There's no reason it has to be this way. And I think I have a solution.

What this business needs is a trade school. A serious, two year program that teaches you how to plot, how to write characters, how to write dialogue, how to outline a novel. And more than that, it needs to teach you how to write a cover letter, how to write a pitch letter, a synopsis, a blurb... There would need to be a separate course on agents, editors and publishers, and one on marketing and the pure business side of writing.

There are courses in place, scattered across the country and with different philosophies and focuses (foci?), that teach most of these things. But none of it is unified. Plus most of it requires a random time commitment (six weeks this summer, a week next year, three weeks a month from now) all in far flung places that necessitate a disruption of your normal life. It's a luxury to be able to attend these things, a luxury that is generally unavailable if you're making the pauper's wages most writers are making (more on that later). So it's practically impossible to attend all of them, so most people pick and choose and end up with an incomplete education. If you learn some small bit of the business here, and some other bit of it over there, and the rest you're just trying to make up as you go along, you're not going to be much of a writer. Or, at least, you're not going to be as much of a writer as you could be.

There is one problem. The money for this doesn't exist. Most trade schools prosper because they're teaching a task that, once you graduate, you will be able to make a living performing. And that's not the case with writing. With only a few exceptions, most of us are making bad money, and we're doing it without insurance and with the (literal financial) support of our family. We're hobbyists.

I have thoughts about that, too, but I'll go into them later. For now, simply understand that we've wasted too much time treating writing like it's a sacred task, and it's not. It's a business of art, and there are things you can learn that will make you a better writer. Things I wish I'd learned at the start, rather than fumbling my way into discovering.

And I think that if we build a cadre of writers who can efficiently produce books that *readers* want to read, we might be able to take care of that hobbyist problem, too.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

New books, new series, new deals

I'm pleased to announce that I've agreed to a three book deal with Titan Books. The titles as they currently stand are:

The Pagan Night
The Iron Hound
The Winter Vow

Nothing's set yet, but I expect the first of these will be out in 2015.


Monday, September 23, 2013

Introducing The Quiet Front

An American warmage with a demon woven into his soul. A secret mission into Nazi-occupied France, where every order is a lie, and every sacrifice only adds to the butcher's debt. And a Russian agent, leading them deeper into a web of deceit and murder, until the only escape is death itself...

I present The Quiet Front, first in a series of tales about an alternate war in Europe, a war fought between old gods and new, horrible technologies. What sacrifices would the greatest generation have made if the cost was not in flesh and blood, but in the souls of the dead?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Followup on that Wisdom

Today is the last day to download the two stories I released for free earlier this week. If you want to have a chance at winning a free critique of your work (honesty is the only currency I can offer you) then you need to get on that action. I'm just saying. The links are right here:

Memory Analog

Memories of Copper and Blood

I have contacted the first winner of the weekly critiques, and will hopefully be providing them a critique by the end of this week. If you didn't win this week, don't despair. I'll be accumulating the submissions and selecting the best from the lot each week. The earlier you enter the more chances you'll have of winning so, once again, get on that action.

Finally, and this may seem a little harsh, but I can see how many downloads there have been of the stories, and I can compare that to the number of submissions I've received. I included the critique requirement on this offer because I wanted to establish a threshold of effort on your part. That's important because writing is difficult. Not just the act of writing, which is difficult enough, but the business of writing. The environment of the writing life is not easy, not for the writer, or the editor, or the various people associated with the business along the line. The verb you are going to see most often used in this business is 'Rejected'. The mental state you're going to most often face is disappointment. Unless you are rarely gifted or even more rarely lucky, you are going to expend a great deal of effort on things that will eventually fail. Sometimes spectacularly.

The thing that separates successful writers from aspiring writers is perseverance. Failure itself is inevitable, to some degree, for every one of us. The difference between the names you see on the bookshelf the names of your friends who have been in the same writing group for the last ten years and have stopped submitting to magazines but still talk a good game is the willingness to fail, to fail spectacularly, and to keep at it. To keep writing, to take criticism without taking offense, to overcome their pet weaknesses and professional hacks, and get up that fucking hill. That's all it is.

So. All of you who have downloaded the stories but not submitted critiques. Get off your ass. This is a good opportunity you've been given. If it's too hard to put the time aside to create an intelligent critique, or you're scared of having a professional give his honest opinion about your work, stop trying. Stop telling yourself you want to be a writer, and settle into the business of hobbyist. Because this is probably the easiest thing the writing world is going to ask of you. Stop putting it off.

Get up that fucking hill.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Free stories and wisdom!

Ten years ago (and a couple days, I missed the actual anniversary) I made my first professional fiction sale. It was to Chiaroscuro Magazine, a lovely market out of Canada that is still producing some of the finest, darkest fiction you're likely to find. The email came while I was at my first Worldcon. All in all, it was a good weekend, and a good way to start a career.

When the story came out a few months later, I did something interesting, something brave, especially for someone as socially averse as I am. I sent a link to the story to my three favorite writers at the time (Corey Doctorow, Peter Watts and Richard Morgan) and said 'Hey, listen, don't panic. I'm a real, professional writer, and this story is my first professional sale. I love your work, and I was hoping you'd take a few minutes out of your day to read this, and let me know what you think.'

Crazy, right? To my never ending shock and gratitude, all three of them responded. They all had good things to say, and poignant things to say ("this should have been a book") and were all three gracious and kind in a way that I never expected. Since then I have been amazed at the unrelenting kindness of this industry, the sheer grace with which newer writers are accepted into the fold and ushered forward by their elders.

In memory of this event, I'm doing two things. I hope you'll take advantage of both of them.

First, I am offering two stories for free on Kindle Direct. The first is Memory Analog, the short story that started my career. The second story is Memories of Copper and Blood, a novella set in my Wraithbound Universe. These stories will be available for free for the next five days to download on any Kindle device. If you don't have a Kindle, you can download their free app and read them on anything that runs on alternating current.

My hope is that you'll read both stories and see some kind of progression. Maybe you'll see things that I'm not doing as well, or things that I've changed that you wish I hadn't. Maybe you'll decide that I really should stick to novels. Even better, maybe you'll see things that I can improve. We never stop growing as writers.

The second thing I'm doing is a little risky for me, because it's a time commitment. But I was deeply moved by the sacrifice of time given by those three writers ten years ago. I need to pay that forward. Hopefully to you, dear reader.

For the next ten weeks, I will be offering free critiques, one a week. I can't commit to reading anything longer than, say, 20k words, though that limit is fuzzy. I have to warn you that if you submit something to be read, know that I will be completely honest with you. I hold myself to some pretty high standards, and I will hold you to nothing lower. That doesn't mean I'm going to tear your story apart, but I'm not here to simply encourage you. Writing is a fire that you pass through.

Here's how this is going to work. If you want a chance at these critiques, go download those two stories and offer a critique of your own. Send it to my Gmail account, at j.timothy.akers and keep it fairly short. I'll review the critiques and each week I'll offer one of the submitters a critique in kind. I'll be looking for critiques that are insightful and honest. Don't simply praise the work, that's not going to get you on to the next round.

But wait, you say. Aren't the people who need your help the most the ones who aren't necessarily going to be able to provide good critiques? Maybe. But I honestly believe that you need to learn how to be a good reader before you can be a good writer, and that's something I can't teach.

So. Read the stories. Write me a critique. Send it to the email address above. Wait forever for my response. Do not send me your story for critique along with your critique of my work. Let me say that again:

Do not send me your story for critique along with your critique of my work. I'll just delete them.

I don't know what kind of response I'm going to get from this. If it's overwhelming, it may take me a little while to get started. But I'll try to churn through them and each week, contact one of you for your story.

I hope this works out. I hope you get something out it. I hope I can help you half as much as I've been helped by others.

Thanks for your time. Here are the links to the stories. Remember, the first rule of publishing is patience. The second rule is something that we'll have to get back to you on, after the editorial meeting next month.

Memories of Copper and Blood

Memory Analog

Friday, September 13, 2013

Things End Sometimes

This is one of those times.

I'm going to have to pack it in on the full-time writer thing. The industry is terribly slow, and while I'm happy with what I have out there, the process of getting it in front of editors and from there to readers has just taken too long. It's been a good year and half, and I've gotten a lot done. I worked hard. But it wasn't good enough.

I'm still going to keep writing, but my days of high word counts are behind me for a while. I'll keep at it on the weekends, and nights, but I don't want to get back to that place where all I'm doing is dayjob/eat/write/sleep. That wasn't healthy.

Thanks for all your support, those of you who bought books and spread the word. Maybe I'll get back to this place at some point in the future. That's the kind of hope I have to hold out.

Now, do me a favor. Go read a book. A good one.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Indie Experiment

I will admit, dear reader, that I am one of those people who has looked down on indie publishing for years and years. And by indie, I mean self. I assumed it was the realm of writers who lacked the talent to make it in the world of legitimate publishing, who decried the gatekeepers and networks and claimed there was an inner circle of publishers who kept their brilliant writing from the public market because... well... just because. I assumed these people simply couldn't see the failing of their own work, and were willing to pay good money to see their names in print.

I had a harsh view.

Over the years, that view has evolved. Mostly because I've seen friends get fucked over by the publishing industry, I've seen truly great books fail, and I've seen mediocre books rise to the top on little more than buzz and packaging. I've come to accept that book quality simply doesn't equal publishing success. I could see, clearly, that there were many variables in the publishing process. Any one of those variables could sink a good book. Some of the best writers I know are struggling to stay in the mid-list.

This got me to thinking about indie publishing. After all, there have been a number of success stories out of the selfie world. Not just blockbuster success, like Wool or 50 Shades, but people who are simply supplementing their income or making good mid-list kind of numbers by producing their own stuff. And following the end of the Veridon series, I had a number of short stories that hadn't been seen in the US, all of which served as the foundation for Heart of Veridon. There was some small demand to see these stories. I also had a novella that hadn't landed in any of the short story markets. The rejections had all been nice, but it was an odd length to place. So I decided to do a little experiment. I decided to publish these things myself.

Formatting took time, as did layout. These are not things I'm naturally inclined to do, and there's a lot of nuance in laying a book out that most folks probably don't recognize. I wrote up some author's notes for the Veridon stories, then added two science fiction stories that had also seen little distribution in the US. I called the final produce Bones of Veridon.

I have to pause to talk about covers. I was fortunate enough to get some help from a friend who owns her own studio, who did an amazing job with my covers. We were able to get covers for both of the works that really evoked the stories without being too fancy. If you need a cover, I would happily recommend Mez. She's brilliant.

So, I got Bones of Veridon out there and made some sales. I was encouraged. Not 'hey, my money problems are solved!' levels of encouragement, but units moved. I did twice weekly bumps on my various social feeds, and that always sold a couple books. I went ahead and put the novella out. That didn't go as well, not by a long shot. There was no established fan base. Plus I dropped that title too close to Bones of Veridon. The people who might have been interested were still gorging on Bones, I think. But I'm learning. The next one will be better timed, and hopefully different enough to draw in people from outside my usual readership.

This doesn't mean that I've given up on traditional publishing. Not by a long shot. I have one series out to editors, and another pitch that I'm writing for a YA title. I think traditional publishing is still the backbone of the genre, and will be for a long time to come. But I also think that indie publishing is a viable outlet, and one that every author should at least look into. Unless you're one of the big names who can hand literally anything they write over to one of the houses and start a bidding war, some of your work isn't going to fit into the traditional expectations of the editors and agents who guide this industry. That doesn't mean it's bad, or unworthy of publication. Independent publication lets you experiment with things that the more risk-averse industry types won't go near. It lets you expand your reach as an author, and establish a little more control over your own career. Plus it's terribly satisfying to get stories into the hands of readers.

That's what this entire business is about, right? Telling stories? And if you have a good story, there's no reason you shouldn't be allowed to tell it. So write, and publish, and let the readers decide.

I'd be a fool if I didn't include links to those titles I put out, right? So here they are:

Bones of Veridon

Memories of Copper and Blood