Monday, March 19, 2012

The Nitty Gritties Writing and Money

I think about money a lot. I don't think this will come as a surprise to anyone. I mean, the main character in my series is a thief whose main goal in life is to earn a million gold bounty, so clearly money interests me. Admitting this interest, however, is sort of like admitting I have an embarrassing personal grooming habit, because money is one of the few remaining things you do not talk about in polite society.

The older I get though, the more I realize that this aversion is a huge disservice. Few things can ruin your life faster or more completely than money. This is especially true for writers who, as John Scalzi points out in his own excellent post about writers and money, seem to be unusually and universally bad at dealing with money. This (admittedly anecdotal) failing is further aggravated by the byzantine feast-and-famine nature of writing money combined with the fact that most new writers have no idea what to expect when they sell their first book because, you know, people don't talk about it.

Thankfully, though, this is no longer totally true. While it can still be pretty hard to get an accurate picture of what to expect money-wise as a writer, both in terms of amounts and how money actually comes in (both of which I consider pretty vital information if you're looking to make publishing your new career), a few brave souls have bucked convention by sharing their own experiences. Today I'm throwing my had into the ring as well, so if you've ever wondered about the nitty gritty of just how authors make their money, or if it's possible to make a living writing, keep reading! We're about to talk about the Benjamins (or, you know, your denomination of choice).

Saturday, March 17, 2012


First off, in case you didn't see the FB link, the Orbit art department made me some awesome wallpapers out of the new covers! So if you want to invite Eli into your home, you can put one of these bad boys up. Just be sure to count the silver afterward...

Oh Eli, don't fall!

Also! We have some Miranda and Gin art from the awesomely talented Minna Sundberg (ShadowUmbre on DA)! Because there was a serious lack of ghosthounds up in here.

Miranda is serious business even when she's hanging out. You can see the DA post here, so please leave any comments for the artist over there.

Poor Gin looks grumpy, we should have drawn him in a pig. :D

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Wasting Time, a clarification

As someone who talks about writing efficiency, I also talk a lot about wasting time. Namely how I use planning to prevent losing time to stupid stuff. Time is limited enough as it is, especially for people who write on the margins of their lives, stealing an hour here or an afternoon there. I always try to emphasize that time is our most precious commodity, the one thing we can never get back, and we should treat it with respect by using it wisely. That said, I got an email tonight that made me realize I should perhaps add a caveat to my general hatred of waste.

When I'm writing, even when I have my plot all planned out, I sometimes I go off course. Something that looked go on paper might not work once I get it into the novel, and as a result I can end up scrapping a paragraph, or a scene, or a whole chapter as I go back and start over on the right track. From an efficiency point of view, this can seem like a horrible waste. That scene is never going to be in the book. The time spent writing it will only bloat my spread sheet, dragging down my words per hour. But even so, I never count backtracking as waste, because every word I write makes me a better writer.

I read once that an author has to write a million words before they know what they're doing. I fully agree, but what that saying leaves out is that no small percentage of those million words will be ones that never make it into the final draft. I have whole or nearly completed books that I spent months of my life working on that will never see the light of day, but even those I refuse to count as wastes or failures, because the stories I tell now are built on a foundation of the words I threw away.

The hardest lesson I've learned so far as a writer is that failure teaches more than success, but only when you stop being scared of failing long enough to start learning from it. After all, the novel that never gets published teaches you to write the one that does. The wrong word makes you find the right one. Cutting, rewriting, doubling back, these are not waste. This is writing, and sometimes it's only by falling on our faces that we find the way forward.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


First off, another big thank you to Stefan at Far Beyond Reality for hosting an omnibus give away! I have the winner's book right here beside my chair, all wrapped up and ready to go. Congratulations again, and don't forget you can still enter Fantasy Book Critic's omnibus giveaway if you haven't won one yet!

Back when I was in high school, my guidance councilor had us do one of those exercises where you write down all your goals for the future and when you want to achieve them. It was supposed to encourage us to make something of ourselves, but most people just goofed off (I recall a great deal of my senior class wanting to be doom lords and world conquerors). But I took the exercise seriously and wrote out this huge and ridiculously detailed road map for the rest of my life, which for some reason ended at 30 (hey, I was 17 at the time, I don't think I believed there was life after 30).

I still have this list. I'm not quite sure why I kept it, it was just one of those things that gets put in a box over and over, and every time you clean you think about throwing it away, but you never do, and then suddenly enough years have passed where it's become this relic from your childhood, so you take really good care of it, etc. etc. Looking back over the list now, I was a pretty ambitious kid. I mean, 2 PhDs by 25? I didn't even write down what they were PhDs for, just PhDs.

So yeah, the ambitions of youth. But the big thing? My huge, end of life goal for the immeasurably distant future of 30? Make a living as a professional fantasy author.


Today is my 30th birthday. Really, I made my goal three years ago, but it's as true now as it was then, though it still doesn't quite feel real. Even three years on, I get the violent urge to giggle in disbelief every time I realize "Holy shit, I am paying my mortgage with sword fights." But I do. I made it. Life goal, crossed off!

Now, as I enter the uncharted, "Here Be Monsters" part of my life, my biggest concern isn't knowing where I'm going, but what my new goal is. I sold my book, I've published one series and sold another, and I make a living as an author full time. That's pretty much everything on the list. So, now what? What comes after you "make it?"

Oh sure, there are plenty of big, shiny goals after your book hits the shelves: making a national list, becoming a #1 NYT Bestseller, seeing one of my books get made into a movie, winning a Nebula or a Hugo, but all of these are determined by other people. If all it took was hard work and a great idea to become a huge bestseller, then we'd have a lot more of them. I don't want to tie my big new goal to things I can't control, where success or failure has as much to do with luck as effort and talent. So, instead, I've picked something I can control, a milestone no less lofty but completely my own, and it goes like this:

Write 150 books by the time I turn 60.

That's 5 books a year for 30 years. Of course, I get to subtract 8 from that for the books I've already written, but still, 150 books! That's multiple bookshelves of my own work (assuming they're still putting books on shelves in 2042). Is it a ridiculous goal? Of course! But no less crazy or unlikely than getting a book published in the first place. Less, because this goal depends entirely on me. It'll be a lot of work, but I think I can make it. I'm already on track to write six books this year, maybe 7 if I don't get hung up. And if I make it to 60, I'll reevaluate. Maybe I'll set another goal, 300 books by 90!

I've spent most of my thinking life running toward the goal of being an author. I might have made it, but the race isn't over. It can never be over. We always have to have something to run toward, or we stop running. I for one mean to run this thing as hard, as fast, and as well as I can. And that, I think, is a very worthy goal indeed. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

More reviews and Tweet questions #2!

Some really lovely reviews/contests have been coming in!

Also, I have been darting about the internet writing things both about writing and about my own books! Here's a round up: 
Ok, enough business, let's do some questions!

@Mathew_Braun asks How do you write characters whose experiences and background are different than your own?
This is actually something I struggle a lot with. As I mentioned in my Nico post for Orbit, I had a lot of trouble with Nico because of exactly this reason. Nico is shy, I am emphatically not. She's also quiet, I talk more than Eli (not really, but that apple didn't fall far from the tree, if you get me). The experiences and backgrounds are less trouble for me than the character themselves. Experience and background are really just the stimulus, it's the character's reaction to that stimulus where things get really hairy.

Writing characters who are not only different from me, but different in ways I have trouble understanding, is something I think I'll struggle with for the rest of my life. But it's a good sort of struggle, the growing kind. With Nico, I had to slow down, listen, and do a LOT of rewriting before I got her down. It was a slow, messy approach, but that's the rough part of trying to make your characters people. People tend to be messy, and just like with friends you don't understand, sometimes you've got to slow down and talk to your characters before they'll come clean, or talk at all. In the end, though, you get a diverse and deep cast that can hold you through several books, and that's worth a lot of effort.

Jessi in the email box asks How much control do you have over your covers?
There are two answers to this - a bunch and almost none. My publisher, the ever amazing Orbit Books, actively solicits my input on every part of the Eli books. However, publishers are in business to make money, and while they work with me a lot, in the end, they choose the cover they think will sell the most copies. I'm happy they do this, because I also want to sell many copies so I don't have to go out and get a real job again. The cover they choose might not always be the one I envisioned in my dreams, but it's almost always good, and if I have serious issues, the art department listens and does their best to compromise with me. I've never had a cover I flat out hated (thank god), but I will admit I like the new covers a LOT more than the old ones.

They just look so much more "this is a fantasy series" to me.

Of course, this is just the experience of one publisher and one author. Every house works differently. I've known some authors who were involved every step of the design and others who didn't see their cover until it was up on Amazon. Most authors fall somewhere in the middle, but if you're a new author (or a hope to be new author) and you have strong opinions about your cover, make them clear (in a polite way) right from the start, and then get ready to compromise. 

As the author, you do have some measure of final veto power, and that can be tempting to use, especially if you hate your cover. Before you fire the nuke, though, consider, no one wants your book to do better than your publisher. If they have a cover, they picked it for a reason. They paid money for that cover. Digging in your heels and saying NO helps no one. Instead, try to figure out how the cover can be changed to make it less odious. Publishing is a small town, and no one benefits from burned bridges. 

Well, I hope that was entertaining! As always, if you have a question about Eli/publishing/writing you'd like me to answer, please send it to me via Twitter or through my contact form. I look forward to seeing it!

Thank you for reading, and as always, thank you for helping to make Eli a success!

Yours sincerely,