Monday, August 31, 2009

My History on writing

So how did I get into writing in the first place? 

I started writing when I was 15. My Sophomore English teacher gave us an assignment to write a short story. As usual, I procrastinated the assignment and threw together some drivel about how bleak the world around me was during those first few minutes awake. The dreary shadows, the somber mood, how much better it would be if I wasn't alive... you know, happy normal teenager stuff.

It wasn't anything special in my mind, but I after reading to the class, my teacher was nearly in tears and asked to see me after class. At first I thought she was going to turn me in to the School Counselor, but it turned out that she loved it. She praised my story and reccomended that I join the Creative Writing Club. Fearing repercussions for getting beat up for going to that geek-filled club (I was a nerd at best) I turned her down initially.

Once I realized the girl to boy ration in the club however, I finally relented and started showing up once a week to share in student's writing. I ended up enjoying it quite a bit and by my Junior year I had decided to write a novel. I came up with the basic outline and first eight chapters over the next year in between numerous short stories. 

I was clearly very naive about what made good literature, and the glad-handing nature of the writing club didn't help either. Students who don't know how to write themselves hardly make good critics. Most important was us having fun and we all kept writing and sharing. I developed a love for listening to new ideas, and telling stories of my own. I started writing everyday, keeping a free-write journal as well as scouring all the books I could find about the craft. I would carry around a notepad and pen everywhere I went to jot down notes whenever an idea would pop into my mind. 

Unfortunately, life took a different turn after leaving high school and I stopped writing shortly afterwards. My voracious reading habit slowed significantly the more children we had. 15 years and four children later I was barely reading a couple novels a year. The trigger for me was when my oldest daughter started reading what I would consider her first "grown-up" book, Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. Not wanting to be outdone by an 11 year old, I beat her to the punch by reading all 4 books in that series before she could. 

Reading up on Stephanie's bio online got me thinking. Here is a housewife with small children, lives in my area (Phoenix), and wrote a book in three months while juggling normal family life. 

I was impressed. So much impressed that I couldn't stop thinking about all the dreams and goals I had made in my youth. A little research later and I knew getting something published and making out like Meyer did would be near-impossible, but I still wanted to write. I needed to finish telling my story. I wanted to see my book in hardback whether I was the only one who bought it or not. 

The time was right, I pulled out my old manuscript, and promptly gagged when I read what I had written so long ago. It was horrible, and someday I'll post up the original manuscript. Suffice it to say that about the only thing staying is a couple of the names of the characters and some basic plots. Past that, the baby's been thrown out as well as the kitchen sink and I'm starting from scratch.

I look forward to the upcoming months. I know it will be a lot of hard work, but the end result will be worth it. I'd love to hear anyone else's experiences with writing or comments on my blog!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Initial Thoughts on Self Publishing:

Do I think I can really publish my book?  Hell yeah I can!  With today's myriad of self-publishing methods, especially the POD (Print on Demand) services, I can publish my book quite easily. Only problem is, I might be the only one who purchases it! In this blog posting I'll talk briefly about the two main methods of getting your book published. These will be high-level overviews that I plan on expanding in future posts. These are initial thoughts in regard to the subject. I hope to come back to them later so I can see how my ideas have changed either internally or externally in regards to self-publishing.

Traditional methods of publishing generally require you to: 
1. Find an agent.
2. Said agent finds an editor to buy the book. 
3. Editor makes tons of changes to the book.
4. You get setup on a schedule, sometimes a year and a half later, for when your book will be published.
5. Books get printed, shipped and you sit back and let the money roll in.  Usually there's a bottle of Remy Martin's and a couple cubans involved.

Did I get it all correct? 

Well almost, this is an oversimplified method of the publishing process, but the more I research traditional publishing, it's becoming more and more clear that unless you're already an established author, the chances of you getting them to even pick up your book and making enough money from advances to live on is pretty damned slim.  

Your involvement as an author doesn't stop once they send you a check and the book hits the printers. There's still marketing which as a new author is almost entirely left on your shoulders if you want your book to be a success. I'll get into that later in another blog post.

A growing trend for new authors is to make a name for themselves first by self-publishing their own book. Sure there's a little more up-front work involved with finding your own printer, and choosing layouts for your cover, but you also have much more control over the entire process. Most publishers won't even allow you to choose your book cover, after all the work of writing the book, how frustrating can it be to hand off nearly all the creative rights to your masterpiece?

Since the bulk of the marketing will be on your shoulders anyway, you're really not spending more energy there than you would with traditional publishing methods. There are many websites springing up with information on the process to self publish, one of the ones I like the best is from the How Stuff Works website, I love those guys! A blog I found is one woman's journey into self-publishing. 

The options you have while self-publishing can take any form of involvement you desire as well. You can hand off almost your entire book to services like Lulu (while still retaining full-creative control), or do your homework and hire out only the parts that you need that you can't do yourself. Very flexible, and you can customize exactly how involved you want to be in the process.  

The How Stuff Works site I linked earlier follows the story of one man who self-published and ended up doing quite well for himself, very inspirational story. Some authors choose to remain self-published, as they end up getting (usually) a bigger slice of the profits, others might use it as a marketing ploy to get a big-name publisher to pick them up. Either way, you've made a name for yourself if the book (and your marketing) is a success, and next time you might be able to just sit back on your piles of cash!

So my thoughts? I really like the self-publishing method. I haven't fully formed my thoughts on the changes to the publishing industry, but the my initial reactions is "there has go to be a better way." Since I'll end up doing the majority of the marketing on my own as a new author anyway, I feel it better to test the waters with a more customized solution for my book. 

Print on Demand machine products like the Espresso Book Machine might make it incredibly easy for authors to not have to keep stocks of books at distributers or in their garage. Have one of these machines sitting at your local mall and any customer might be able to pull up your book, insert some cash, and 4 minutes later they have your book in their hands. Another option, and one I'm particularly fond of, is e-books, like the Kindle (which I own btw) or places like Smashwords. I foresee a day short-coming where students will be carrying around an e-book reader instead of 60 lbs of books, that will be an awesome day indeed!

Since I've always concidered myself a "Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves" type of guy, I'm personally looking forward to being a self-published author. The jackass part of me wants to thumb my nose at the big-business publishing industry, but we'll see what I do if they wave that paycheck in front of my face.

So what are your thoughts?  Any recently self-published authors want to share their experiences? What about someone who made the jump from self-published to paid to write?

Monday, August 24, 2009

What are my goals?

A long time ago, in a High School far, far, away, I had a dream.

I dreamt of being a full-time author, making my living holed away in a cabin perched atop a small mountain purchased with my mountains of cash that I received from selling my 19 bestsellers by the time I was in my 30's.

Well, life has a way of changing your perspective. Here I am IN my 30's, spent the last 12 years working in the IT industry supporting Windows servers. We live in an abnormally small house by today's standards, 4 kids in grade school, and the only time I see piles of cash around my house is when the kids spill the Monopoly game on the floor.

Today my dreams have changed. I dream of being able to afford my children's college. I hope that I'm putting away enough so that I can actually retire when I'm in my mid 60's, and not having to work well into my 70's like I do today.

But changing dreams can be a good thing. When I was 15 and had my first aspirations as an author I didn't have a full understanding of the world around me. As I gain wisdom in my few years I realize that life isn't all about being hid away from the world as a reclusive author. Rather I'd prefer to be abreast of the latest happenings on the internet, updating a blog, posting on Twitter and watching my fans grow on Facebook. Course I'm still not an author, but I am working on that.

As far as my goals for this site, they're pretty basic. I just want to update a couple times a week. I hope to keep a log of my frustrations, hits, misses, successes and thoughts about the path to becoming a published author. If it's entertaining for the reader, so much the better. I'd love to get some other authors or hopefuls to follow me and we can work on our goals together. Being social is the norm nowadays. I think it can truly help us grow and support each other in our endeavors.

As far at the goal for my book: I plan on being a published author. I realize that's rather vague, but I'm being realistic and not setting my sights on a bestseller, but I want to dip my foot in the water and come out unscathed.

As long as I can complete it, learn from my mistakes, and come out a better person I think it will be time well spent. If I can encourage or assist another would-be author along the way, so much the better.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

What are my qualifications?

Quite honestly, none.

I don't have an English degree, I never studied literature in college. I skimmed my way through High School English with C'd and D's and even flunked first semester English my senior year. I had to take correspondence course to pass and graduate.

With great trepidation (in case my old English teachers find out where I live) I can proudly say that I never once read a single novel that was assigned to me for English class in High School. (I should go back and read them now though).

"But Tom," you say "how could you possibly have passed your classes if you didn't even read the books?"

And I'd respond "I got lucky."
I'm one of those that can get better than average results by just taking a test. I look for patterns in the questions and answers and base my educated guesses off those. Half the time I'm able to find the answer to question #4 contained in the text of question #19. Half-assing it through school seemed to be a passion of mine and I performed admirably.
I did publish a few articles in the local small-town paper when I was in high school. So I can say I was published...but only barely.

I took some college classes for an IT degree (I'm currently employed as a Systems Engineer at a major IT firm.) But like in High School, college didn't appeal to me, I really did give it the "college" try but I never felt comfortable. See my bio post for more information.

So I have no formal education in writing, English, or publishing. I've never done any for a career, so what makes me think I can write a novel? Well, I think anyone can. As I've been reading up on the writing profession, I see some common threads: first off was tell everyone you're a writer; second was write as much as you can so you'll get better; and third was everyone has a story to tell.
I believe I have a story to tell too. It's been mulling over in my head for nearly two decades now and I think it's about time I got it down on paper and did something with it. I'm not afraid of learning new skills. I know my grammar, typing, punctuation, and organizational skills are very lacking but I'm hoping that with daily diligence and lots of practice, I'll get better each day.
My main motivation in this regard are fulfilling a life goal (you know those lists we all make when we're teenagers?) of being published. I believe marrying a french lingerie model was on there too, but I can't let Victoria's Secret detract me from life goals, can I? Of course I'd also love it if this launched into a new career for me, but I'm worrying about spewing out hundreds of pages, let's see how much work it is first.
Here's for dreams!

Monday, August 17, 2009

A little bit about the blog.

So I started a blog.

This isn't the first time, oh no.

I've never been good about sticking to blogging in the past. Usually things come up, I get bored, start playing World of Warcraft again. I've got every excuse in the book why I gave up on my three or four blogs in the past, but none of them matter now.

This one has to work. I promised myself. This time, I'm a writer.

As I'll get into in future posts, writing nowadays is half writing, and half marketing. This blog will hopefully become my portal for marketing my name, my brand, to whoever is looking.

I'm also a rabid researcher. I can spend hours scouring the internet, browsing bookstores, talking to friends, reading posts and other blogs to find information on what I want.

Since I'm a new writer, and greatly under-qualified at that (check my other posts), I have to do a ton of research on all aspects of writing. From the basics of grammar, increasing my vocabulary, the mechanics of writing the actual novel, and even which hardware and software to use while doing so, I have to start from ground zero.

This is where the blog will come into play. I'm a big believer that the best way to learn something is to teach it, and while I don't fancy myself as much of a teacher, the act of researching, collecting and organizing my thoughts, and posting in a blog will help me learn what I need to know better than if I just surfed the net or read about it in a book. By spending the time researching and writing this blog, I also hope to provide a trove of information for other aspiring authors, and maybe even entice some already-published ones to come and comment to help build up a community.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I'm a writer!

I had to write that, I was told to write that.

Apparently I can't become a writer without stating it.

I'm a writer. So I did it.

So I've been reading some books about writing and many of them say the same things: if you want to be a writer, tell everyone you know that you ARE a writer. If you tell grandma, your parents, the guy down the street, and the mailman that you're a writer, you're building up a network of people that are now expecting you to actually follow-through with your promise.
Now I'm too embarrassed to go running down the street yelling at the top of my lungs that I'm a writer, (I might do it naked though, cause if I'm going to embarrass myself I might as well go all the way). So this blog is going to have to suffice. It's more of a journal to document my trials, tribulations, wins and losses as I write the great-American novel. At some point I will broadcast to friends and family about this blog, but for now I hope that it stays under the radar until I've gotten more into the groove of blogging and organizing my thoughts better. My main goal with it is to just detail a couple times a week  the trials and tribulations of the project I'm undertaking. I'll talk later about what else I hope the blog can be, but for now it's a good journal.
It's the journal of my journey that I will leave open on the table rather than hiding away.
If it becomes entertaining watching me wriggle and writhe in pain, then I'm glad. It'll be a good release for me and a good chuckle for you. So sit back, grab a latte if you can afford it these days, and we'll get started.