Some Tough Love for Barnes & Noble

Some Tough Love for Barnes & NobleBookstores are my lifeblood, both as a reader and as an author. Their survival, therefore, is something I’m keenly interested in and that’s why I found this post on Reddit to be particularly interesting: How Barnes & Noble is killing itself, partially quoted here to save you a click:

“Zero sympathy for sitting on their laurels and refusing to innovate for a decade. Now it’s too late. I only have sympathy for the workers, it’s terrible for them.

But B&N has a horrendously lazy business model. They stopped innovating after adding coffee and their tablet (both great ideas).

But off the top of my head:

Where is there official YouTube channel? Where’s the podcast? They have enough clout to do long form interviews with any author in the world. But they didn’t. Where’s their free online workshops for aspiring writers? Nowhere.

Why didn’t they attempt to have their own knock-off awards ceremony for writers? Best debut novels and all that. They don’t even need to have a ceremony, just a letter in the mail and the books in a curated space in the store. Do you know how many authors would kill for the tiniest amount of recognition and publicity?”

The post has more detail and it’s an interesting breakdown so I encourage you to look into it if you’re interested in the business of bookselling.

The key takeaway is that bookstores are a business, and need to turn a profit to survive. Book stores (and authors!) must continue to innovate their craft to meet the changing needs and interest of their readers. Blaming Amazon is lazy, and also patently untrue. Barnes & Noble has only itself to blame for its success or lack thereof.

Write For Your Readers

I wanted to wait a few days to simmer on Charlie Stross’ ‘Why I barely read SF these days’ blog post. He makes some solid points as to it’s hard to write good science fiction and I encourage anyone who’s trying to create their own sci-fi universe to take note. That said, I wanted to respond to it because my first thought about his post was ‘Is it still okay to write sci-fi, if this is how people feel about it?’

I thought about that for a long time, and then something occurred to me that set my mind at ease. I’m passing it along in case you had the same question:

It’s okay if Charlie Stross doesn’t like my stories. I’m not writing them for him. 

Let’s face it: Charlie Stross is an immensely talented author and writer, but he isn’t my ideal reader (see this blog post for more info on who an ‘ideal reader’ is). My idea readers are boys and girls ages 11-13, of various ethnic and economic backgrounds. I remember many happy hours at that age, discovering new worlds and ideas. When I started to write Mesh, I wanted to write a book that kids could enjoy in the same way.

Not everyone will enjoy Mesh, and that’s okay. I wouldn’t expect Mr. Stross to enjoy my reading, just like I wouldn’t expect a child to enjoy ‘The Laundry Files.’ As ambitious as it would be to say ‘I want to write a story for every sci-fi fan,’ that’s silly. That’s saying ‘I want to be the Budweiser of sci-fi’ and we can all imagine how bland a story that might be.

That isn’t to say that his advice isn’t useful for us. Stross gave me a great way to look at world-building in sci-fi and I plan to take it with me as I continue to edit Mesh: “Worldbuilding is like underwear: it needs to be there, but it shouldn’t be on display.” You may find gems of your own that help you develop your storytelling craft and I hope that you do.

Another gem to pass along is the idea behind the picture to the right (->): don’t write for yourself, unless you plan to be the only one that reads it. 99% of storytelling’s fun comes when your words translate into a picture in someone else’s head. Don’t rob yourself of that. Tell stories that others can relate to.

In closing, take Charlie Stross’ essay with as many grains of salt as you need, and then move on. Nobody gatekeeps your awesomeness, except you.

Don’t Hate. Create. – Part II

Hannibal from the A Team may love it when a plan comes together, but he never told us what to do when that doesn’t happen. As I said before, there are powerful emotions at work when your new creative project fails to launch. What do you do with all that energy and passion? Let’s break the recovery process down into some simple action steps:

Success is Not a Linear Path

Hollywood is obsessed with this idea that success starts out with a simple idea and then through a single path – usually a montage – all the stars align and everyone falls in love with you. This is false. Success doesn’t work that way. Not even in Hollywood.

If you aren’t familiar with this reality, you may feel like the negative reactions you’re getting are personally directed toward you. You may be tempted to react angrily. After all, you have an idea and you want to share it with people. Why all the hate?

It’s important to decouple yourself from your idea. Ideas come and go. Projects come and go. I remember Robert Downey Jr. talking with someone after The Judge came out, and it wasn’t doing well. His only comment was, ‘well, it stings … but then you’re onto the next project.’ If Iron Man can accept his setbacks without a meltdown, what’s our excuse?

Don’t take it personally. Brush yourself off. Realize that your path is not linear. Start creating again.

Make sense? Let’s keep going: Continue reading

Don’t Hate. Create.

Maybe it’s me getting older and wiser, but I’m starting to understand more about where to spend my energy as an artist.

I admit: all of this is a black box to me. When I was a kid, I acted and I got paid. That’s as far as I took it. Understanding all the pieces and parts to a major creative enterprise like a feature film, that was beyond me. I don’t get the luxury of that ignorance today and neither does any other indie artist.

We’re forced by necessity to be intensely focused on all the moving parts of a successful, monetized project. Fair or unfair, that’s our reality. It’s hard to get it right. Easy to get it wrong. We’re all figuring stuff out for ourselves.

And here’s the other part: We’re all passionate. In exchanges with other artists, and creative people, I’ve become aware how passionate people are and how that passion manifests itself. Some (I’m looking at you, @Scalzi and @HamillHimself) are bright shining stars that beckon.

Others are warning lights, saying ‘Watch out … I’m trouble.’  We’ve all had exchanges like that. Sometimes we’re the offender. Sometimes the offendee. As easy as it would be to poke fun, I don’t want to do that. I can’t point fingers. I’ve been that guy. I can’t judge too much. It’s bad for recovery … When You Point a Finger at Someone, There Are Three More Pointing Back at You and all that.

When an exchange goes south, it becomes an interesting personal exercise for me. What can this exchange teach me about how I interact with other people as I find new readers? As I mentioned, I still have a lot to learn. Many others do, too, apparently. Let’s distill our thoughts into one simple idea: Don’t hate. Create. The rest of this blog post is about unpacking those three words.

Continue reading

Author DIY: Build Your Own Free E-Book Delivery Tool

Author DIY: Build Your Own Free E-Book Delivery ToolEnjoy lifehacks? Enjoy making your life easier? Read on, because I just spent a number of hours over the past few weeks putting this all together.

Like any other author, I want to make introducing myself as easy as possible. Free book giveaways are a risk-free way for new readers to get to know you and your work.

How do you do that without killing yourself responding to emails all day? There are systems out there that do this for authors with budget. However, what about writers like us?

With that in mind, I put this free e-book delivery tool together for myself. Because I like to share, I’m giving it to you so that you’ll have more time to write, too.

This is involved, so read it through and understand all the concepts first. Then grab a cup of coffee and settle in. You’re going to spend three or four hours setting this all up. Rest assured, once you’re done, you’ll have a kickbutt automated system for giving away free stuff to your readers and it didn’t cost you a dime.

Ready? Let’s go!

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Just Because You Haven’t Doesn’t Mean You Can’t – Sniper Rifle Motivation

Do me a favor?

Just Because You Haven't Doesn't Mean You Can't - Sniper Rifle Motivation

Remind me to do something the next time I’m feeling down about myself I start acting insecure about my work, I want you to tell me to go re-read the Wikipedia page on Ronnie Barrett.

You may not recognize his name, but you know his work. In 1982, Barrett began work on what would eventually become the .50 cal M82 sniper rifle. What’s interesting is that Barrett was a photographer with no background in manufacturing or engineering. However, he had an interest in making a semi-automatic .50 rifle and set to work.

The journey was not all sunshine and roses, as you’ll note on Wikipedia: Continue reading

A Special Message for You

A Special Message for You

Hi there … I feel like we got off on a bad foot.

Do you have a dream?
Did you try to make it into reality?
Was it easy or hard for you to do?

That’s where I’m at in my journey. Instead of letting my baggage bury me, I’m trying to stand on it and find my way out. Sometimes I get it wrong, but not because I don’t want to get it right. Maybe this can be the moment where I make a friend. Fingers crossed … Continue reading

Awesome Author Ideas: Support Yourself While You Write

Awesome Author Ideas: Support Yourself While You Write

I don’t know about you, but people have funny ideas about authors and how much they make. From time to time, I’m confronted by the myth that money isn’t something I think about, or that as an author, money just flows into my pocket like rain.

Nonsense. Authors have to pay the rent just like everyone else. Just read ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King. Be entertained by his tales, living in a trailer in Maine having to choose between paying for his children’s medicine and fixing the car. Or read Scalzi’s essay “Being Poor.” Yeah, we know about being broke. We know all about that.

The question remains: *how* do you keep the lights on while you pursue The Great American Novel? Writing is a tough go after a ten-hour shift at the Amazon fulfillment center. What kind of job lets you support yourself, while leaving you enough energy to create?

Inspired by this Reddit post, I want to talk about some ways you can make money while you write. Please feel free to suggest your own and I’ll be happy to add them to an edited version of this blog post: Continue reading

What ‘The Last Jedi’ Teaches Us About Story

What 'The Last Jedi' Teaches Us About Story“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”

That’s the quote I kept thinking of as I watched The Last Jedi. Someone must have been channeling Friedrich Nietzsche because the meaning of his famous quote is woven throughout the 2.5 hours of cinema paradiso that is Star Wars VIII. Continue reading