Friday, July 19, 2013

On Topic - What's the point?

I have decided that I have more to say on the matter [of] today.

To be completely honest, the thought of writing novels doesn't excite me nearly as much as it once did. As I've said before, I think I've proven (at least to myself) that I can do it ... but just because we can do something doesn't necessarily mean we should, right?

Do I want to write? Yes, without a doubt. I love creating characters and worlds, putting both through the ringer and seeing what comes out the other end. It is an enjoyable experience. If that's all that were involved, if it were a weekend hobby for my own personal pleasure and I could safely and sanely treat it as such, I don't think I'd feel the way I do right now.

Problem is, it's not a hobby. Calling it a hobby is actually kind of demeaning. Writing is work, and a hobby should be fun. Writing is for others, and a hobby should be for yourself. Writing novels implies that there is some kind of audience involved who would presumably consume them, and this last bit has been lacking.

Do I write shitty books? Perhaps, perhaps not. I prefer to think not, but that may be a little ego showing through. The Ninth Avatar is not equivalent to Heroseed, after all. Thomas Redpool and Scions of the Shade show progress, considerable improvement in my ability to craft characters and pace and write proper endings. I have open projects, I have uncompleted manuscripts; I have the desire to write. But ... why?

I've given some serious thought to writing something else. Not short stories, they're not my thing and in fact I don't even enjoy reading them. The little snippets I wrote for "daily dime" years ago were barely five minutes of work (and it shows). What else is there to write other than novels, though? Screenplays? Other sorts of scripts for video games, storyboarding for graphic novels or comic books?

No, my problem isn't finding something to write or to write about, it's what's the fucking point?

I'm raging against the brick wall of indifference here. People rarely read to begin with, and I'm trying to get them to take a chance on an obscure author with very little credibility and not a ton of content to offer. Nobody cares. It's the same reason I don't tweet or post on Facebook very often, the same reason I don't blog very often. It very, very quickly feels like a waste of my time that would be better spent actually accomplishing something.

Now, this may sound overly harsh. Friends and family may be piping up with "I care!" and that's fantastic, but friends and family do not constitute (and cannot replace) an audience. You guys would probably read my poetry if I posted it and clap just the same, but I wouldn't expose you to such horrid drivel as that.

So, bitching about being ignored by the public-at-large aside, what am I ultimately left with? The desire to do something that accomplishes nothing. I want to write but I don't want to write. I want to create worlds and characters that are fun and exciting and create an emotional reaction in a reader, but without a reader it feels unrelentingly pointless.

It's like getting in your car but having nowhere to go. All I've been doing lately is the equivalent of practicing parallel parking and 3-point turns (two of the most rarely used driving techniques known to man). I know how to "drive," but where am I supposed to actually "go?"

I'm sure if you've been reading the blog (or if you go back and check some of the most recent posts) you'll see one theme over and over again: discouragement. I am so discouraged right now when it comes to writing novels that it's almost funny. I haven't really been talking to anyone about this either, just been bottling it up for a year or more, occasionally letting a bit or two slip out on the blog or the occasional offhand comment. I try to avoid being obsessively negative, at least outwardly. Inwardly I'm probably one of the most negative, irascible jerks you'll ever meet (or at least I can be). I'm a negative optimist. I'm a negamist.

The worst thing is that with writing I can't escape that negativity. It's there, staring me in the face, every time I think about it or want to write about it or want to talk to someone about it. I have no good news to report, I have no progress to report, I have nothing to show for all the work I've done over the last 8 years with regard to writing novels. All of the learning, networking, and typing I've done have amounted to precisely jack shit. I have no idea what's going on at Trapdoor Books, but I know for certain at this moment that none of it involves me. Thomas Redpool was self-published, which is a great and terrible thing, and it looks very much like Scions is about to go the same route (provided that I can get a cover designed). Chances are that subsequent projects will follow in their footsteps simply because I don't feel that "getting published" has changed or will change anything.

Writing novels isn't fun and exciting anymore, it's only discouraging. One man's opinion, but I sorely wish there was something else that I could write that would actually be interesting and consumable, and it looks like "code" is the only thing that applies. Doesn't quite tell a story, doesn't provide nearly the flexibility and freedom of a fantasy novel, but at least I won't forget how to type.

So there you go, now you know what's truly on my mind and why I'm not producing word count or hyping up my next project. Maybe in a few months I'll look back on this post and shake my head, utter some choice curse words and hit the delete button. A guy can dream, can't he? In the meantime, I'll be continuing to focus elsewhere with all this shit in the back of my mind gnawing at me.

Still here!

Copyright Square-Enix 2013!
You know, reading over the tone and topics of my past posts is pretty entertaining sometimes.

I'm still here, still thinking about writing far more than I'm actually doing it. But that's okay, I have the distinct feeling that writing isn't done with me (and therefore I'm not done with it).

I've had some other things going on (no this is not an I'm busy excuse). Last year I got into Final Fantasy XIV, an MMO that has quite the story in itself but has also nearly turned into a great game. I say "nearly" because the game isn't "out" yet as far as actual release; it's still in beta but I've been participating in that (and I played v1 of it last year, read up on the sordid past if you want to know the details). Pic on the left here is my avatar. Yes I play a sexy elf girl; I figure if I'm going to watch a character run around and kick ass for hours at a time, it might as well be something I want to look at. Don't judge.

More recently, Dynasty Warriors 8 was released. If you've been reading this blog for a while then you know how nuts I go over Dynasty Warriors. In the 3 days I've had it so far I've probably only played 4-5 hours of one single Story Mode so I'm not actually all that nuts over this one. I'm reserving judgement until I've played a lot more, but my initial feelings are that they actually focused too much on the gameplay and skimped on other aspects (the story, more specifically the presentation of said story). The lack of narration between battles is a huge omission, for example, and I've read that if you turn off subtitles in the settings then you get absolutely no explanation between battles (just a map with a bunch of floating heads and arrows). I'm so confused by this that I barely know where to start. Even so, the gameplay elements are indeed the best so far in the series (which is interesting considering DW7 was pretty damn fantastic in nearly all aspects).

Things are also progressing at the day job; I'm making a full-on transition from one role to another which brings a lot of additional responsibilities on my time that I'm trying to figure out how best to accommodate. Eventually it will mean more money; more immediately it will mean less frustration (or frustration of a different kind). The old post I made about "writing code" is becoming a lot more apt now than it was back then, as these days I'm buried in PHP as often as not, and that's a very good thing considering the alternatives.

That's all I've got for now, but I'll leave you with a good view from FFXIV. The visuals on this game really are quite impressive, and they're only going to get better.

Click for larger version

Friday, May 10, 2013

Attention (...don't call it a comeback)

Not-writing is frustrating. Not-blogging-because-I-haven't-been-writing is a symptom of that, but one that's easily overcome.

I think I've made it pretty apparent with the sparse posts that I haven't had a lot to say. Nothing profound, relevant, or useful anyhow. Well fuck profundity, fuck relevance, and fuck usefulness; this is a blog, not a paid service. I can waste your time with my pontificating all I like.

Well... no, perhaps not.

I just prefer not to air my dirty laundry, publicly complain, or demand sympathy from strangers over what amounts to little more than a money-making hobby (regardless of how much I wish it were more of a lifestyle). At the very least I try to leave these things ambiguous (if you've read my past posts then you'll know what I mean). I avoid these things because it's pathetic, or at least it feels pathetic.

I think writers by their very nature are plagued by doubts and confidence woes, and I've harped on this the past so I'll spare you the warm-and-fuzzy. We probably all feel like we need to prove we can do it. To someone, to ourselves, to "the world" whatever that really means. We want to plant our flag in the unconquered territory and scream loudly, "MINE!"

More to the point, it's difficult to talk when you feel like you're just talking to yourself. It feels like no one cares, or at least that no one is interested, and that's a high hurdle to jump with the aforementioned natural doubts and confidence woes. Add on top of that that books, as a whole, are not (and haven't been) the most popular form of entertainment. Therefore, writing isn't a lucrative business. If people aren't reading you, not only does it feel like a personal failure to attract their attention but there's an easy excuse to lean on that does little more than make writing feel like a waste of time and effort.

I think I've proven to myself that I can write. Otherwise I would have stopped a long time ago; I wouldn't have written three books and dived into a fourth. That's not the issue, or not where the challenge lies anyway. It's not the propensity, or the capability, or even the "talent" to do something that drives us to do it. It's the desire to reach an end result, to fulfill a dream, to satisfy a goal.

For me, as with this blog, it's having something to say that prompts a reaction. Something that gets attention because it deserves attention.

My first three books said I was unclear, dissatisfied, and disgruntled with the answers religion had to offer. Starka may end The Ninth Avatar with a new ecumenical outlook, but my view of mankind is anything but one of a unified peaceful coexistence. Thomas Redpool Goes To Hell all but says everything you believe is crap, and yet you revel in it as if believing in it is some great accomplishment. Scions of the Shade drives home that you/we are all slaves to religion; true or false, right or wrong, it is present and constant in all our lives whether we believe in it or not.

Now that I've put most (if not all) of that behind me, what do I have to say? My "writing style" (if I can be so bold as to claim that I have one) is all about making my characters' lives harder. For a long time I think I used religion for this; it certainly made my life harder for quite a few years.

Did I have these things in mind as I wrote them? Probably, but buried beneath denial and resentment. I didn't write because I had a bone to pick, but unconsciously my characters became the voice that I didn't want to have. The jury will always be out on whether this is a good or bad thing, since my books have garnered neither sales nor following nor recognition. But, funnily enough, I really don't care about any of those things and never have. All I care about is an emotional reaction, but the right attitude only goes so far.

(Especially when no one is watching.)

Writing a novel is a lot like performing an amazing feat where you can't tell if the audience is listening, watching, or asleep. Attention is why writers do what they do. It's why pretty much anyone of any creative area does what they do. And it's not that "they want attention" in the sense of fame and notoriety (though I'm sure we'd all be happy with some of that) or because they're "attention whores," but they want their efforts to attract attention. They want to know that what they're doing has meaning to someone other than themselves.

What do I have left to write about? Do I have anything to say? Will it attract attention?

I guess we'll find out, because I'm not giving up. (Not yet anyway.)

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Nothing nice to say

I've been out of the scene. Haven't been following blogs, haven't been reading articles, haven't really been reading. Still.

On a technicality, of the editing kind, I can barely say I've been writing... though it shouldn't really count in light of the fact that I just haven't felt strongly about it really all year.

A lot of things continue to bother me, and it's not just my run-of-the-mill motivational struggles. Honestly, it's facing down the lack of interest that I'm finding insurmountable at the moment. People not wanting to read what I write makes me want to give up. I know that sounds petty, whiny, and immature, but there you have it. I don't want to produce if there is no consumption. "Writing for myself" is something I could do without being passionate or serious, without calling myself an author.

Personal turmoil aside, I think this hiatus is going to last a bit longer, however I will finish editing Scions of the Shade and either self-publish or give a half-hearted attempt to querying it--possibly just to pass the time. The problem is that it doesn't help if I recede further rather than try harder, but there's no convincing evidence that either course of action will bring back the passion I used to feel when I believed in this.

So that's where I am right now. Someone else has been blogging, which spurred me to post something of my own (however inane or whiny it might be). No big insights here at the moment. Wagons still circled, but luckily we're not running out of food. How's that for mixing metaphors.

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Monday, July 9, 2012

Promoting your book via Social Media == Cargo Culting

We've all heard the stories, seen the tweets, the Facebook pages with a million "likes." We want that. We want a huge following behind our books. We want fans eager to consume our next project the second it becomes available. We want forum discussions and blog posts postulating things about the worlds and characters we create. We want entire deviantart accounts devoted to fan art with our books as inspiration. We want gold-shitting unicorns and toy rockets.

In short, we want the world to notice us in spite of the improbability of this actually occurring, and it seems the general consensus on how to do that is to use social media channels. Other people have done it and been successful, so our attempts should be just as successful, right?

That, my friends, is Cargo Culting. From the article:
The term "cargo cult" has been used metaphorically to describe an attempt to recreate successful outcomes by replicating circumstances associated with those outcomes, although those circumstances are either unrelated to the causes of outcomes or insufficient to produce them by themselves.
(For some reason, the concept makes me think of that movie The Gods Must Be Crazy. I haven't seen it in probably twenty years, so I can't even remember what it's about except the vague recollection of natives getting dropped on by western civilization. Probably isn't even a relevant reference.)

A lot of the philosophy behind social media's popularity as a marketing channel is the Snowball Effect. You like something > one of your friends sees that you like something and they like it > one of their friends ... You get the idea. It sounds fantastic on paper, and this is "word of mouth" in action. So why doesn't it work?

Well, two reasons, really. The first is that most of the things you "like" are already popular. These are the things that get attention because people have already heard of them. Fifty Shades of Gray probably gets hundreds of likes per hour day, but it's already a huge smash. It doesn't need your "likes." You know what does? Quality fiction such as Michael Sullivan's Riyria Revelations. I say quality because these epic fantasy novels are not Twilight fanfic. I'm not kidding.

The other reason is actually simpler: no one cares what you like. Sure, you can recommend things to like-minded people, and they may pick them up, but chances are they've already heard of such things and just needed a little push, but people are generally wary about the entertainment they consume. They want to feel like they found that band or that book, that it belongs to them, and they get upset when it gets popular. Okay, so maybe only hipsters feel this way, but my point is that people don't really want to be directly told what to consume. (They want to be indirectly told, which is why advertising exists in the first place)

The simple fact is that creating a Twitter account, Facebook page, and custom website for your book are fine things to do, but you can't expect them to (on their own) garner you readers. It's great to have a presence, but you've got to build that presence and make people notice you.

Back to cargo culting. The reason social media is so popular as a marketing channel is because it's free. Word of mouth is free, and they're generally thought of as the same thing. But are they? I know a company who recently used a "tweeting service" to generate buzz. This service employs either bots or some type of computer-savvy immigrants willing to work for low wages (usually both) to tweet, retweet, like, and generally give the impression of popularity. Did/does it work? No. It absolutely does not work. It is cargo culting. It is assuming that just because a popular book has a facebook page and twitter account, having those will make your book popular. As documented by the thousands of Indie authors who still have day jobs, this just isn't true. At all.

To further clarify the illusion, have a look at this article: The Great Social Media Flim-Flam
(this paragraph sums it up best)
"If you’re a writer and you follow a bunch of other writers [which we all do], you will be fed a steady stream of commentary on how many words they wrote that day or how difficult it is to start writing without yet having their morning coffee. Or they’ll link you to yet-another blog post on the importance of persistence and not giving up. (Do writers not post on any other topic?) Is this helpful to pushing your book? On the less friendly side, you have the other writers who push their books in your face constantly and don’t bother with the chit-chat (takes up precious character space to say “hi.”) Do they really think endlessly hyping their books is going to intrigue me? With all the posts on all the writers’ sites that talk about how estranging that sort of self-serving behavior is, are they not reading those comments? Do they just not care? Are they selling books this way?"
My Twitter feed is so full of other authors that I barely deem it worth checking anymore. I don't know these people, they follow me because they did a search for people who have "writer" or "author" in their bio and followed me. Did they check out my books or my website? No, probably have no idea what kind of books I even write based on what some of them write. And I get new followers here and there without even posting on a regular basis. They just find me, follow me, and hope for the best.

The Indie author market is not so saturated that we can afford to all buy each others' books and live comfortably off of that. Still, I have an idea I may employ to see if it will actually make a dent in all this silence and confusion that is Promoting Your Book On The Internet.

But, seriously, take another look at Susan's post. Look at the [horrible] pie chart:

Only 11.8% of readers, according to Publishers Weekly, discover books via their various social networks. Blogs are just as low. The point of her article is why should we be putting so much time into something with such a low return on investment? and I couldn't agree more. I think social media as a marketing tool is ridiculous, and whoever had the idea in the first place should have been laughed out of the room.

So, then, how do we market books? Well, that's a work in progress and I think it always will be. People are doing some interesting things with Goodreads, and all that, but I think the simple truth we have to face is that people don't read books. It's incredibly rare that I meet a person who gives half a shit about books, much less reads them, who isn't planning on writing one themselves. We're all busy watching Netflix, or going to see Avengers for the twentieth time. Books are competing with more accessible forms of entertainment, and no one is spending money to market them because books don't really fly off the shelves like they used to.

Should we give up? Of course not, but we're going to have to figure something else out. Social media isn't it. I think, if we can just get people excited about reading again, we'd have more readers who'd buy more books. Easier said than done, but based on the pie chart the highest possible value comes from personal recommendations.

Maybe, just maybe, if we authors can get over ourselves and our fears enough to humbly approach those we know who read and recommend them our own books, they'll read. If they read, they might enjoy. If they enjoy, they might review or tell their friends (with their mouths, not their facebooks and twitters). This isn't a dig at anyone for "not supporting me," rather it's an earnest plea that if you do know an author, there is one very easy way to support them. If you read, read. If you review, review.

If you do neither, maybe it's about time you started.

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