Monday, February 27, 2017

Understanding Competition in a Sea of Resources

I hated getting a ribbon when I didn’t deserve it. Not because I’m pragmatic or humble or don’t like meaningless praise, but because I didn’t want to go up on stage and smile like an idiot when everyone damn well knew what that blue ribbon actually meant. In speech and debate, I hated getting sixth place, because it meant I would have to go up there as the face of a loser where as if I had gotten seventh or lower, I could have embraced my anonymity.

As I’ve matured, I’ve started to recognize that sometimes ranking at all is an achievement and I may have judged my talents more harshly in my binary sense of things.

Growing up, I wished that people had taught more about how to be competitive. Even though I wouldn’t have necessarily taken their advice—being the stubborn little egomaniac I am—I felt at a huge disadvantage when I went from a community with endless resources—Teton County being one of the wealthiest in the country—to a city in which you had to fight tooth and nail to even hear about an opportunity.

So when I read on Facebook a quote claiming, “A flower does not think about competing to the flower next to it, it just blooms,” I had to jump right to my soap box.

Cute, but inaccurate. Scientifically and metaphorically.

How well a plant does, how beautifully it blooms, is directly influenced by the amount of resources it has. In a controlled environment, it could have enough nutrients, sunlight, and water that it really doesn’t matter how close the one next to it is, but in nature, plants are constantly competing for resources and if the guy next to him is consuming most of them, he’s not going to do very well.

Socially, our communities are finding ways to make necessary (and not so necessary) resources available to all. In fact, we have an excess of food and means to grow even more; the real problem is distributing it. The U.S. can’t just give out corn to the third world countries without destroying their economy—the jobs of the farmers and their self-reliance. It’s difficult to incentivize people to improve their lives if you place a safety net under them, which is why communism wasn’t as successful as people had hoped.

You find this becoming more of an issue the further ahead we get as a civilization. Every single human deserves food, right? Of course! But that’s easy to say when we have enough. First world countries are used to having plenty of resources at their disposal and it starts to beg the question of how much should survival be earned and how much should we be entitled to it?

I find myself envious of the risk taking and work ethic of authors with poor backgrounds. I’m not an idiot; I don’t wish to be poor(er) and I recognize that I can push myself even without having hunger at my heels. My point is, some of the most admirable writers I know did extraordinary things because they would starve if they hadn’t. They have bills to pay, mouths to feed. They couldn’t sit on a manuscript for fifteen years for fear that it wasn’t perfect. They had to get it out there.

Certainly this mentality can produce half-baked crap, but it can also push people harder—to work faster, to think more critically, to really evaluate why it isn’t working and what they can do differently. Those with a financial padding can hide away and think and think and think to never actually put ourselves forward.

There are occasions where the blooming of others won’t affect you in the slightest. I call writing a passive competition because your critique partners’ successes is highly unlikely to affect yours. Unlike in acting, where the guy you’re auditioning with can’t get the part if you do, the likelihood of the people you’ve met being someone who actually agent-blocked you—their manuscript getting picked up instead of yours—is highly improbable.

Should we be worried about what other people are doing? In some ways, yes. Envy and competition pushes ourselves to be better human beings. Should we let it eat away at our happiness? Well no, and that’s what the point of the post really meant.

Jealousy is a natural and even sometimes beneficial feeling, but like everything, it needs its limits. If you’re feeling inspired to get a move on because those around you are doing so, go with it. Let that frustration and dissatisfaction move you to be a better person. But if you find that you’re never good enough, you’re not enjoying your own beautiful life because you’re too obsessed with others, there is something to be said for not worrying about what you’re neighbors are doing and focus on yourself.

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Friday, February 24, 2017

The Whole Thing About Sensitivity Readers

In response to the criticism towards the new young adult books The Continent and Carve the Mark, many people asked, “How could these novels go through so many eyes and not recognize the racist undertones?”

These novels fell under a backlash of criticism by Advanced Readers before they even hit the shelves. The portrayal of non-white races seemed to perpetuate assumptions about non-white cultures, presenting them as brutish and uncivilized. As publishers debated this response and what to do about them in the future, word got out that they were considering what is being called Sensitivity Readers, hired to scan certain books for potential racist or sexist overtones.

But some authors questioned, “Is this really necessary?”

As I strengthened my online presence, I started to become aware of just how white the mainstream publishing business actually is, the self-publishing world filled with not only a great deal more diversity of authors, but American novels showing completely new sides of American culture. With more non-white writers in my sight, it began to question things that I presumed as norm.

At one point, I read a thread about what word writers thought was overused in book titles. One of the top ones? “THOT.”

“What the hell is THOT?” I asked.

After that discussion, I did start to notice “That Hoe Over There”  in a lot of indie books. Other titles and atypical vernacular stand out to me too, not “fitting in” with the standards of protocol that you can be naturally desensitized to. More colloquial phrases that were avoided to not alienate other writers. Longer phrases that are more upfront about the book being about… what it’s actually about. I see plenty of indies writing about cheating and romanticizing less than ideal circumstances among relationships, but the “THOT” books tend to glamorize these things without the bashful shame I've come to expect.

The first time I stepped off a subway station and came face to face with a giant poster of a beautiful white women, an epiphany struck me. Coming from white-landia originally, I logically respected that we aren’t representing lots of people in the media, but after getting out of a cramped subway car filled with a vast sampling of all walks of life, my skin feeling grimy and the air stinking of dirt, I looked up at that poster and was smacked in the face with how it feels to be standing in a reality so different from what is portrayed as ideal. That model, clean skinned and pale with just the right amount of blush, looked so far away from my position in life, I felt hopelessness overwhelm me. Just for a moment, gone in a flash because I am full of myself, but I guess that was the first time I truly empathized with feeling like you can never have a fantasy life.

One of the reasons I am pursuing traditional publication over self-publishing is my desire to have other people’s opinions. Sure, you can get that in self-publishing, but it’s expensive (your wallet) and more difficult without experience of vetting and networking behind you. While dealing with a company that has already hired and worked with someone for years and years, you have a better faith than picking up a freelancer and trusting that their “hundreds of books” were actually done well. I have spent my life trying to understand other people’s perspectives, but at the end of the day, you don’t know what you don’t know, and the extra opinions are exactly what I want.

As someone who would like more racial diversity in literature, I still find myself struggling with decisions, afraid that I’m revealing some of my ignorance, or even just making the problems worse by perpetuating an issue. I have no interest in looking like some dumbass showing off how open minded they are either, a white knight (pun intended) mechanically showing off my goodness, but not even trying to incorporate more diversity just continues a problem I think many of us, regardless of our position in life, should tackle.

I joke with men who try to write for women that there is no such thing as a women who isn’t a stereotype. You give her any sort of flaw and immediately you’re “saying something.” Making her lazy? It’s a commentary on lazy housewives. Making her driven? It’s a stereotype of the super women. The best way to solve it is, of course, having more than one female. And also, writing from the heart, dropping his own censorship and fears and presenting a character in the way he really sees her… but that’s a complex solution for another blog. But the point is, I recommend to them to not worry too much about looking sexist because people can accuse you of it no matter what you do. Just try to be real, whatever that means to you. Stifling yourself will cause more issues than it solves.

I see that problem when writing about any outside perspectives. When I was in L.A., I had to write a play for a repertory group, a select number of actors. I started it with only the numbers and genders in mind, but got to know the cast over the time I worked on it. There was a black actor who I liked a lot, who was young, eager, dedicated, and I felt got pushed aside partially due to his kind and accepting demeanor, but also suspicious his small roles in the company might have to do with “not looking the part.”

When casting, I gave him the best role in the production. The part I would have wanted, if it was me. The villain of course, a charming demon tricking people into committing sin. I didn't think much of it, but it was during the dress rehearsal, I had a techie turn to me and ask, “Did you give him that part because he was the black guy?” Or actually, I think she said, “You made him the demon because he was the black guy.” I told her she was an idiot. We laughed.

But honestly, I don't think any of the parts could have not been racist by virtue of how we perceive flaws in “outsiders.” They were all deeply flawed in some way, and a lot of their mistakes, while very human, could be construed as depicting a negative overall view. The main character was a draft dodger in the Vietnam War with PTSD—portraying a black man as a cowardly war veteran? I had the religious zealot, the teenage girl who got pregnant and the abusive boyfriend who got her there. I had the bartender who kills her sister in the fit of rage. Even the young woman who has to raise her brother due to absent parents could be saying something if someone wanted to accuse me of it. None of these things are limited to a certain kind of race, but when creating a screwed-up person of an alternative heritage (or gender) who is used to being villainized, it's hard not to assume it was intentional. Even by a white techie.

Now, the cast was already richly diverse anyway, and none of the parts had been written with a specific race in mind. In earnest, all the characters were originally imagined as white, as my tendency. And I think that’s pretty important to recognize: sometimes you will be accused of racism even when the evolution would allow for no subconscious execution of inner beliefs.

Should we let that affect us?

I actually don’t know. Which is exactly my point. I don't have to decide on my own.

I’ve been working on the mythology for a larger series, one in which I intentionally made the gods, stolen from our world, racially diverse. For them, I rolled their races using the U.S. census to give me a reasonable sampling so as to naturalize it. Their ethnicity was defined purely by chance. But I found my cast still pretty white washed, and my main villain rolled as the only Asian character.

I like her, actually. A lot. I knew little about the character when rolling for race, even imagined her as male in her generic form. She started as a representation of the “God of Justice” I kept seeing in my Dungeon and Dragon’s groups, the one who paladins worshiped, supposed to be the pure god of the light, but typically ended up more like the god of capitalistic pseudo-heroes, one who legitimizes and empowers greedy behavior and power mongering. Our paladins were often bullies and really pushed the boundaries of morality which their god tended to encourage, or at least ignored.

That’s how the God of Justice I imagined was: someone who was supposed to be good, but typically just rationalized vindictive behavior by power-hungry individuals. Lawful Good meant closed-minded and unforgiving. In one case, a paladin player had advocated genocide of those with "evil" alignments.

When my god rolled as Asian, this tough-love and driven character immediately connected with the “Tiger Mom” stereotype, and my initial instinct was to say, “No, she can’t have family because she’ll never get back to them…”

Ah. But wait.

A good person who’s personal motive sours their perspective? What better than a mother who merely wants to get back to her child? Of course she doesn’t see the creations as people. Of course she uses them to her own devices. She has one goal that, really, most of us would relate to.

She stood as a brilliant contrast to the main character of another book I’ve been working on; a mother who had abandoned her husband and child to go and try and be a writer. I hate the character as I write her, even though she is one of the few people I directly started from a foundation of self—a parallel universe in which I had pursued family over character and then regretted it, rather than the other way around. Amelia, my Asian god, started nothing like me, but I related to her far more than I ever did to Ronny, my asshole writer. The one thing that could ruin being transported to a whole new world? Leaving my child behind. I have maternal instincts like nothing else, and I too could see myself blinded by my need to get back to my family.

But there’s some issues. Amelia is the goddess of the “paladins,” a powerful warrior race; that was the idea from the jump. One of the things that makes them so powerful—I decided later—was her strict creation of them. Unlike the other gods who start to play around and see what they can make, she creates them with a purpose. They are designated by the greenish tint to their skin and hair, the color of the material that is used to create life. The other gods typically tried to replicate humans as well as they could, but Amelia didn’t bother. Why would she?

So they really are a striking race known mostly for their abilities in fighting. Made by the only Asian god. You can see my conundrum. Is this racist even though some of the elements evolved completely outside the input of my subconscious or conscious racial bias? Is it racist if I took an race-based association straight from my life and used it to inform and craft realism and relatability into a character? The Goddess of Justice/Wraith seeking her child is far more interesting than the God of Justice/Wraith making a race of warriors for the hell of it, after all. Amelia is more likable than that helmeted guy I was picturing before.

Now here’s the sad thing: I could easily remove any racist traces by just… making her white. Or I could sit here and carefully question each decision and try to avoid any stereotypes that I know I’m committing. Is she allowed to play the violin? I chose that as her “art” (all gods were originally brought to this world due to their success as artists) because I am extra obsessed with my violin right now, but there are quite a few Asian people who you’ll see in symphonies and orchestras (and I very well may have given her the violin for that very reason, I don't know), so is that something I need to avoid?

I could spend all my time working around it and over thinking it. Or, I could do as I normally do, and write whatever feels right then see how people react. I could show my perspective of the world, stop worrying about the criticism until the later drafts, tweaking it with the newfound knowledge of what is actually problematic.

Amelia is the most developed and beloved character so far. I’ve always had a thing for villains anyway, but she has become a lot more than just that faceless jackass god who never seemed bothered with his paladins blackmailing peasants. I like her, and for me to go about changing her just because I might be propagating a problematic view seems like I'm jumping the gun. People might have no problem with what I'm saying. She might be very different in 200 pages from now. Perhaps it is better to just wait and see what actually happens.

In all honesty, if my problematic world view comes out in my pages, the issue probably won’t be the obvious. I mean, if I really understood the issue, I wouldn't worry about how to deal with it. Most offense comes when the viewer is reminded how few people understand their problems, how no one will get it when they do finally act out and try to stand up for themselves.

The men who say the most hurtful or awful things to me often genuinely claim, “I didn’t mean to do that!” Yeah. I know. That’s the issue. If someone approaches me sadistically, I’m pretty good at defending myself, but when someone who just wants my attention has no idea how his actions affect me, it makes it pretty hard to let them in on the secret without them getting defensive, without me looking like an overly sensitive bitch. It’s the fun, no-win game of being too indirect versus “overreacting.”

You don’t know what you don’t know. It wasn’t up until last year that I fully understood that the need to remain emotionally strong isn’t just in guys’ heads. I didn’t hear stories about how a girlfriend would look at him in disgust when he finally opened up to her crying, how she told him she left him because she “had no respect” for him. I started to listen to story after story about how women have proved that being emotional is unattractive. All I knew prior was that I struggled to knock down some artificial barrier between me and guys, that my first boyfriend ripped his hand out of mind to lean forward and cry at UP! I didn’t understand why he was doing it. I didn’t believe that any girl would have been disgusted to see that. I believed it was solely due to his irrational need to prove masculinity. I didn't know what it was like until someone actually told me.

Just like men eye me with skepticism when I tell them the stupid shit I’ve had said to me in the name of getting laid, my first reaction to being told that women actually lost attraction for a man who cried was, “Bullshit.” You’re exaggerating. You’re just prematurely afraid of it.

Why? Because I never saw it myself. If I have done it, I hadn’t caught myself. And no one ever revealed this very common phenomenon to me until I was 26 years old. It was my brother who first mentioned it and only in passing. And I always considered him sort of a natural wall. That’s what I always thought. Guys didn’t express their emotions because they didn’t like me enough. We weren't good enough friends. They didn't get the catharsis of expressing themselves. I didn’t realize that maybe it’s because of shitty experiences that taught them not to trust me.

I know now to be extra cautious when a man opens up to me, to make sure he knows that I am not disgusted, that I am there for him, to watch my actions because even if, “I didn’t mean to do that!” it can still affect him if I react unintentionally poorly. I pay attention to how I portray my men’s emotional state in my manuscripts and notice the ways I have picked at their possible insecurities, perpetuated obnoxious expectations.

At the end of my book, after all is said and done, the battle has been won and their finally facing freedom, my male character sits with a broken leg and bloody face before the girl tells him… they have to go back for their shit. He starts crying.

I debated for a long time whether or not to take it out. Is this funny? Or is this embarrassing? It wasn't until after realizing how men feel like they have to keep it in, I had my decision made for me.

The idea of sensitivity readers is simple: have a someone scan through a book for racially on sexually insensitive things. Or, in other words, get someone else to read through your work and tell you how it makes them feel. There’s quite a bit of balking at it in this climate. What about censorship?! Why do I always have to worry about other people’s over sensitivity?

Well, you know what? You don’t. Honestly, sometimes people are overly sensitive or dramatic. I know I am. Sometimes they’re not asking themselves about your perspective, too focused on their own. You can spend all your life worrying about what other people will think, yet never make everyone happy, so there is something to be said for saying what you believe regardless of the reaction.

But that’s just what criticism is about in general. Someone says something. Someone else says something else. You say your own thing. You take all that into consideration and you decide if and what you want to do about it.

“Sensitivity readers” is a terrible name because it does spike the fear of having to walk on eggshells for someone who just can’t control their emotions. However, as a writer, I see absolutely no reason to not have one, outside of how you divvy resources. Paying a reader to give feedback on something that you and your publishers don’t know a lot about—like a having an FBI agent read through your novel about an FBI agent—is common enough, but of course you need to be sensible about if that’s really a good expense.

But from a creative standpoint? I want to know this shit. Even if I don’t agree with it, being fairly warned of a possible reaction is useful. It’s why you have beta-readers period. It’s why you have critique partners. Hell, it’s why you have editors. Whether or not it’s how we both see a word differently or how we both see life in total, that’s one of the predominant reasons for literature in the first place. You start to realize that you’re not so much a “realist” seeing everything how it really is, you’re not just an objective computer, but you are a human and you see the world in a certain light different from others. You have your experiences, they have theirs, and those affect us. And that's what makes literature interesting.

In some cases, authors messing up and writing something that furthers problematic thinking is exactly what brings it to the forefront, so there might be something to be said for letting people write offensive crap and making the world aware that that thinking still exists. But from a personal standpoint, my thoughts are always evolving, my perspective changing, I’m learning, and even just a basic curiosity makes me want to hear how what I say and do affects other people.

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Monday, February 20, 2017

Following Instructions

I woke this morning a little distraught. The good news is being emotional is a sign of healing. After about two years of the void that I had been caught in, moodiness comes as a breath of fresh air.

I noticed my memories returning, the ability to connect past images with current stimuli was lost to me for some time. I noticed myself not only laughing more, but, more importantly, laughing at my own jokes. I have begun to do things to amuse myself, reach out to my friends more often, and just over all feel the weight of nothingness slowly slipping off.

But I haven’t been sleeping well, having odd nightmares, waking up before I was ready, feeling groggy and getting exhausted at three and then seven. Mood is obviously tied directly into your survival basics, meaning that if you can take a moment to breathe properly, eat right, sleep right, and exercise, you typically end up feeling better. So they claim, and so I’ve found in my limited experience.

A part of my distress is guilt, a feeling that weighs on me the vast majority of the time and tends to be circular. I didn’t do something I was supposed to, wasn’t as productive as I’d want to be, and make myself so miserable about it that I really don’t feel good enough to do it the next day.

So I need to get my sleep right. I need to feel good and do good. How do I do that?

The problem with problems is that most advice is overly simplified. How do you get your sleep cycle back into sync? Well, according to the internet, do nothing!

As in, two hours before bedtime, do not use artificial lighting, exercise, eat, and make sure to stay out of your bed.

Yeah. I’ll get right on it.

Today I have some irons to check up on, something about a potential job that I feel I’m worrying more about than what is rational, and so there’s a good chance that if I can get some of things nagging thoughts under wraps, I’ll sleep better tonight. Also, upon doing more research, there are more limitations to the limitations of sleep; namely don’t use “blue light” found in electronics and energy saving bulbs—though fluorescent lighting gives me a headache—and tossing and turning just trains yourself to have disturbed sleep, so instead of staring up at the ceiling, get up. Overall, it seems I just need to spend way less time in bed period.

In an apartment the size of a closet, this is harder to do, but not impossible.

On the other side, I want to get my eating habits under control. I struggle with a hatred of food, and find eating to be a painful chore. Most of the time I am queasy, fatigued, and picky, making it easy to blow off eating all together. I am suspicious that my chronic thirst and perhaps flatter teeth makes chewing unpleasant which affects the whole shebang, but also have begun to wonder if the allergic reaction I had two years ago upon changing to high protein diet isn’t a factor.

My egomaniac of a doctor told me not only, “OH! You really CAN’T breathe!” but to walk it off. He didn’t seem remotely interested in the cause, believing the problem I’d suffered from for many weeks would just magically go away on its own. The jerk I had been dating in that time, who had never heard my real voice, also looked at me like I was a liar when I told him I couldn’t sign karaoke due to an inability to project. So on my own, like always, I speculated that my change in diet had caused the problem, and after the recommended, “Wait two weeks and come back if doesn’t go away,” I just changed my diet on my own and my throat opened back up. People wonder why I have trust issues.

I never figured out what the allergy was, but after talking to a (new) doctor about my problems, she suggested a mouth moisturizer that seems to help with my appetite, but give me a headache. With the moisturizer, I realized the “dryness” feeling was lower in my throat, and could possibly be a tightness or swelling rather than dehydration.

Anxiety and depression can cause an decrease in appetite, which is also circular. Don’t eat, feel worse, feel worse, don’t eat. Unfortunately, it’s not just a lack of desire to eat, but my stomach’s constant threat that it will puke it back up if I even try, so I have to be careful about what I attempt to jam down there.

Snacking, routine meal times, and exercise can increase appetite, so I’m going to buy a few snack items to keep on hand, which supposedly might make me actually eat more at mealtime.

It’s obviously important for me to get rid of this feeling of dread that follows me around. Anxiety is exhausting, painful, and obviously is the root cause of at least some of my problems. Even though after a bad experience with yet another doctor tapping her head to tell me it’s all in my mind makes me hope that there is something horribly wrong with me (That’ll show her), I recognize that my emotions screw with my body to a pretty strong degree.

I decided to log off; using the internet as a distraction only exacerbates my anger. I cleared my browser of Reddit and logged out of Facebook and Twitter, and hope to use alternative methods of distraction—even though, once again, trying to distract yourself while anxious often brings thoughts back to the negative.

The funny thing is, even as I try to think of ways to be positive, my mind turns to the last times I attempted to do so. I posted a blog about how I hoped to ban negativity and a Facebook stranger who had been mildly hitting on me for some time sent me a PM telling me what to do and how to solve my problems. It’s not that this in itself is a bad thing. Many fans will send me emails and PMs in response to what I’ve said, and they often offer personal experiences and advice and it doesn’t bother me at all. Some of the things you guys have said to me really helped me to feel not so alone, and even did help me progress. It’s not doctors who found my headaches were caused by my posture while writing, it was you guys.

My upset is more about his dismissive nature was akin to most men who have sexual attraction for me (see above jerk) and it pulls back my memories into the sexual harassment I have endured, the feeling of helplessness at trying to be compassionate towards someone who thinks he’s far superior than you… while still needing your approval. And the feeling of guilt when you decide you don’t owe him anything and people try to explain how your “condescension and rudeness” was why you got harassed in the first place. There’s no winning, and when you ultimately come to the decision that you just “won’t engage” with anyone, par the patronizing advice of someone who clearly believes unwanted attention is your fault, you are reminded of the distinct possibility that the family you envisioned yourself having might never happen for you. You might be alone with your cat and your dog.

Fine. Not that that’s not a big deal—or rather, it’s not an end all—but you’re also reminded how the publishing process is going (or isn’t) and the fact that your career won’t happen for you either.

Then what do you have? Travel? Need more money for that? Helping people? Yes, but need money for that too, bare minimum to sustain you while you give your time. There are things you can do with your life even if you do end up alone, but then again, you’ve read that isolation is a big reason why you want to spend all your time in bed.

Scared to deal with people, isolate yourself. Isolate yourself, be less productive. The only reason to be by yourself is to be more productive!

As I read up on solutions to my problems, I am reminded how long I have suffered with these things, how many times before I have attempted to do something about them, and how much antipathy and derision I was met with.  People love to second guess you. People love to tell you how to fix your life. You reach out in hopes of finding someone who can teach you how to cope and all you get in return is overly simplified advice that triggers upsetting memories on how solving your problems can make things go wrong.

Today, of course, I’m doing something that came from a place that I can trust: my own advice. I am focusing on taking it step-by-step, one thing at a time, and trying not to worry about the future. What can I do today? What do I need to do right now? Don’t focus on things you can’t solve. Don’t try and cram your day full of responsibilities and be devastated when you don’t meet your own expectations.

What’s one thing you can do right now to make you happy?

Pee. But that’s nothing new. Tests came back with no help. People laugh when you think it’s abnormal to piss 20 times a day a still be thirsty (I mean, where do I think it goes?)

No. Just pee. Go to the bathroom. Get dressed. Get breakfast. That’s all I need to worry about right now. Shut the hell up and go just go pee.

That’s my motto.

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Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Problem with Too Frequent Release Days

Richard Bachman was created out of necessity. Though Stephen King cites many reasons for his early pen name, one of the more pragmatic ones was the fact that publishers said he couldn’t publish more than one book a year, and the famously prolific writer felt inhibited.

Why though?

Today you’ll see very much the opposite attitude. With the popularity of self-publishing, most successful indie authors will claim that frequent release days and having a large number of books out is key to staying at the forefront, keeping readers’ attention, and making money. Most self-publishers don’t start to see sales until they have a couple of books out and many have readers breathing down their necks for the next installment. If they were to only produce a book a year, they would have hell to pay.

Of course there’s the issue of time. Traditional published books have a lot of vetting to go through. You submit to an agent who submits to editors who approach their boards. You have many eyes that need to read it that also have other things to look at. Outside of the exhaustive editing and back and forth, there’s negotiations, contracts, and other things that need to be done.

Even for self-publishers that do go through extensive editing themselves with freelance editors, beta-readers, and the whole shebang, they have more freedom to produce work quickly. They have one project to focus on and can find people who are able and willing to work on their time frame.

And, of course, there are many self-publishers that sacrifice editing for speed. Despite what people say, I see a tremendous difference in traditionally published books (by larger publishers at least) than indies. Of course, I also rarely buy a first printing, so that factors into it as well, but claims that trad books have has many errors as a well-edited self-published work doesn’t seem true for me. Even my favorite indie novel had a few mistakes here or there, but I don’t recall seeing them in my favorite trad. (Which, again to be fair, is older with more printings.)

There’s a lot of disagreement about quality over quantity, yet in contrast to what I say above, I don’t believe that time taken is constantly correlational to quality put out. Not only can you overwork something, not only does magic come from freeing yourself, but everyone truly does work differently and prematurely judging someone’s quality based on time taken seems to be confirmation bias—a catharsis from jealousy. It’s possible I’m projecting though, because I know very well that I feel a pang of remorse every time someone is more productive than me,  however those that straight out attack people from producing quickly tend to have rich histories of insecurities it seems. I mean, that’s what causes blunt attacks in the first place, especially on the internet.

But getting the theoretical out of the way, it comes down to the question of, outside of quality, is there a reason to space out your book launches? Even as a fast writer, or say, you have a lot of irons in the fire so that they end up coming out all at the same time, should you do like the big guns and keep them to different years?

Well, one major benefit I see is that you’re not competing with yourself for awards, though indies are notoriously out of the running for most of those currently. For the big guns, however, when each book is published in a different year, they have a second chance to win something, and it might turn out that all books become award-winning while only one could be if launched in the same time frame.

I also do believe in the curse of overexposure. The hatred of Twilight came from having it shoved down people’s throats despite a great deal of the populace not understanding it’s thrall. I liked the books and even I started to get annoyed when the bookstore had it on every table to walk out and see a wall-sized poster of the movie hanging from the ceiling. I liked Batman better than Superman because Superman’s merchandise was a lot more prevalent when I was younger, then Spiderman better than the Bat for the same reason. Something about seeing it everywhere can make it less special.

But there’s also something else that didn’t occur to me before: Gestation period with the public.

The reason I bring this up is because I have an indie author I love and stalk. She first friended me at the start of her career, and I was at the forefront of her growth over the years. She is successful in a mild sense, not seeing numbers that would seem like a big deal to someone who hasn’t tried it himself, but impressive compared to her peers.

I loved her first cover, which she subsequently changed. I loved her first title which later evolved as well. I loved her first plotline, and I really, really wanted to love her book.

But there were some issues. When I tried to read it, some cringeworthy lines put me off. They were badly phrased, or too meta. She slips in casually the illustration of the height differences—great!—but then crams his hair color and other descriptions into that same sentence where it doesn’t belong. “I am showing you what he looks like now.” The jokes were ruined by explanations, and the pacing was just a little weird, though I can’t put my finger on why. As a friendly audience member, I still struggled with it.

Some people say typos don’t matter if the story is good, but I think it’s the opposite. If you have a wonderful story, little errors ruin it far worse than if it was just okay. Her book needed a little more work, just some more smoothing out, but it could have been brilliant.

For her first few releases, I followed along. Sequels to that first novel came in a timely fashion, and though somehow I missed Book 2, she grabbed my attention with Book 3, and it was easy enough to find the other.

That’s when things started to get confusing.

She began to write nonrelated stories in a totally different genre. She would be talking about “the sequel” which I started to confuse a standalone for. The summary had me baffled—how did they get here?—until I figured out that she had launched the two books around the same time. Then, even after I understood which book was what, I still associated the standalone as the sequel when I knew better.

She also would throw out new stories in the first novel’s setting as promotional tactics for her newsletter. It started to become cluttered. What was the first book? Which ones were in which series?

As time went on, her books became shorter and produced faster, cutting up a three-hundred page story into 5 sixty paged stories. This made zero sense to me outside of trying to make more money. Why split a book then launch it in with a week’s difference?

Of course, I’m not that fast of a reader. I typically read about four books a month, sometimes only one, theoretically up to 30, but I think 20 has been my record. So for me, a week’s difference is even off my radar. If I immediately read it upon launch, I still probably would get done just in time for the next. Most commonly though, I would pick it up long after buying it, and by that point, it would just be an inconvenience to immediately have to download all of the sequels. Worse if I was so into it that I read those 60 pages in two hours. I can read a 300 page book in day, having to download five different copies to do so irritates me.

It took me a while to decide to buy her books, and it was really only after I realized how serious she was about being an enduring writer that I started to become more loyal to buying her books just because they were her books, but the truth is, I don’t get to reading them before she has a bunch of others out.

The thing is, the more she produces, the more confused I get. She’s constantly changing covers and titles. She’s constantly coming out with new series, standalones, short stories, and honestly, they lack the love and affection of the first book. Not just on her side, but mine. I started to feel endeared to her characters because she talked about them so much, but now their stories are getting lost. I don’t see a launch until I find that book six of a series I had no idea existed is coming out. By that point, a part of me is like, “Who cares? You don’t seem to.”

In the case of self-publishers who are successful, I think the genre also has to be examined. Erotica and fluffy romance are hot sellers. People typically pick them up to get a jolt of feel goods and often don’t mind that they’re short, sweet, and to the point. Hell, I will forgive bad writing in a fluffy romance novel before any other genre, as long as it hits the sweet spot. But for novels, including romance novels, that aren’t solely based on sexy scenes, rather character development, setting, plot—the ones that I really love—I have higher expectations. If you’re not some trashy means to get me off, I am reading it to be emerged in another world… which requires more time to not only live it, but ruminate on it. If I read it in an hour, it’s gone before I could commit. If it takes me an entire day (week, month), I become more connected.

Anticipation can be a wonderful feeling. Waiting for the next book to come out keeps the story in your mind. The authors who are successful by producing sixty novellas/short stories in a year typically are just writing one-offs you don’t really expect to be deeply satisfying. You don’t expect to remember the characters because, really, it’s just about the sex or to appease your drama-mongering gossip lust. Not the actual story.

I liked her first novel for the plot and the characters, and I did get more intrigued the more dedicated she seemed to her career. But her goals to produce fast doesn’t seem to be yielding the results she wants, and honestly they appear to be alienating me. Some of her tactics are coming off as money grubbing instead of thinking about the enjoyment of the reader, and I do start to become skeptical of quality even before I begin to pick them up.

If you decide to go into self-publishing, the question of how often to launch a new book is a big one. Is it better to stagger them out? Is it better to keep new material coming?

I don’t have the answer, but I will say this:

Don’t worry about releasing so frequently just to keep your readers happy. They might complain, but interest in books takes years to grow, and the more you centralize your focus, the more you’ll stick in people’s memories. Anticipation is kind of fun. Making a big deal out of launch dates is kind of fun. Taking months before the release to advertise is important. Showing people that you care about each and every book will make them care even more.

And try to stick with the decisions you make. Don’t constantly be re-releasing. Don’t keep changing the titles and covers. Don’t constantly rewrite the thing. Don’t keep putting it out in pieces and then releasing it as a whole. Consider future issues like if you do want to do print-on-demand one day and take that into consideration before you reveal it to the public. Prioritize making a good impression over making money. Be true to your deadlines once you’ve announced them.

But at the end of the day, just do what it takes to tell a good story.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

What I’m Doing for Love Day

Last year, I began to realize that my perfunctory lifestyle was causing days to meld together. My mind was deteriorating through the stress and negativity, my memories blanking, consumed by depression. As I dug for any semblance of joy, tried to force myself to remember something fun, it wasn't until I found myself walking through a store and catching a whiff of something that it occurred to me what was missing from my life. It was a scent I could not put my finger on, but that brought back a surge of the past through the void.

Celebration and tradition helps create memories and separate out the drudgery of the day to day experience. I lived a pretty monkish means, not seeing the point in doing something just for the sake of pomp and circumstance, until I realized that living everyday with bare walls, shoveling down only the necessary bits of food, and just focusing on survival and artistic work was not what makes a life. I was struggling to even create anything during that time, and spent a good deal of my energy just lying in bed on the internet.

There were external factors outside of just my lack of enthusiasm elsewhere, but it was when I understood the power of association, the effect of arbitrary connections, I took the first step in my recovery and decided to treat holidays more seriously. Go big, go bold, and create a memory.

So for my New Year’s Resolution, I vowed to celebrate every major holiday, despite my lack of natural interest in that sort of thing. Of course, even at the time, right from the jump my first thought was what to do for Valentine’s Day. A holiday meant for love when I could barely stomach the thought of it?

Get a date with someone? That didn’t sound fun, and the entire point is to enjoy yourself, right? Going on some blind date seems counterproductive. I doubted severely that I would find the love of my life within that time, plus there was a part of me who didn’t have any interest in seeking romance ever again, so doing the traditional aspects of V-Day seemed unreasonable.

Celebrate it as being single? That seems contradictory, sort of like how I think you have to have some interest in God if you’re going to be a devote atheist; religion must be important to you if you make your lack of belief a big part of your identity. Which isn’t problematic, but rather than shifting the attention to something I don’t particular care about—being single—I want to spend the day celebrating something I do.

I wish my cat was in the city, or my best friends, or my parents. I think I might have a job working with dogs, but I doubt they’ll call me today. Spending the day with animals would be great, but then again, it’s supposed to be a holiday, so I told myself no projects. This blog is the only thing I’m allowed to do.

I’m not sure how to entertain myself when I’m not working on something. I had this thought some time back, wondering if I took a day off, really, truly off, and did whatever I wanted to do, what would it be?

Nothing. Because that’s what depression does. It makes you forget how to enjoy yourself. And that’s the problem.

It's about love, I said. So what do I love? Open up the definition, find something meaningful.

Today I’m going to call my loved ones and see who answers. I’m going to wear red, buy myself something sugary, and watch my favorite movies and T.V. shows. 

But this holiday is actually looking up. I'm less stressed about money, have been making some friends, and going along on my resolutions and projects. I feel a lot better today than I have in a while, and I think I should take that energy and do something fun. Fun for the sake of fun. Fun for the sake of having a life. Not worrying about the productivity or the purpose, just celebrating for the hell of it.

No matter where you are or who’s in your life, take this day to make yourself, and those around you, happy. Do something you enjoy. Celebrate the things you love, the people you love, and do something nice. Even if this holiday just stinks of swarmy insincerity for you, even if it’s not your bag, even if it just reminds you of disappointment or heartbreak, take it from me, use this arbitrary moment to remind yourself that it’s the little pleasures in life that make it worth living. Do one thing to show that love comes in many shapes and sizes, even if it’s just a love for Rick and Morty, chocolate, or your dog.

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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Don’t Do the Right Thing

I met an older woman recently who was sort of like looking into the future for me. I mean, we were very different in many ways, but something about her regrets in life stuck with me.

She was a good, Jewish woman who married a good Jewish man and had good Jewish kids. The marriage was almost arranged, though not officially, by her rabbi father. She did what she was supposed to, followed all of the rules, and…

Her husband left her with two young kids and never paid child support. Her kids blamed her and sided with the father most of their young lives, even though he rarely ever reached out to them.

Surprisingly, she’s not much of a complainer, more of a self-blamer. Should I have done this? Should I have done that?

I say it’s important not to shame your younger self for her decisions, partially because every time I see someone claiming their 20 year old self was just an idiot, they’re still making the same mistakes today, but it’s “different.” The other thing is, of course, you can’t do much about your past, and so it’s not like you’re going to solve it by hating yourself for it. You can learn from it, but it’s best not to grind the memories in there.

As for “learning” from it, I’ve come to find that anytime I think to myself, “That was a mistake! The next time I should do this!” The opportunity will come up again, I take an alternative path and realize how much that one could have gone just as wrong. In many cases, there are no right answers, and, I believe, if you made a sensible decision based on the information you had at the time, it wasn’t necessarily a mistake or failure. Mostly, I say that due to my anxiety and thinking that if I had all the answers prevents me from ever acting, and that prevents me from living life, so it’s actually pretty important for me to be fair to myself about results that didn’t go my way.

Despite not being remotely Jewish, or married, or even sure what marital expectations are on me in this day and age, I realized that her frustration on doing what she was supposed to was the same foundation to my morale.

I don’t count very many things as failures. Not getting into grad school was an understandable result of applying to highly competitive departments. My script wasn’t one of ten picked from 3,000? Doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Same goes for manuscripts to agents. I know how many they have to choose from, so it doesn’t mean that my work is terrible when it was ignored.

The times I do feel like a failure? It’s when I tried, really tried, and did everything I was supposed to—successfully did everything I was supposed to—and it still didn’t work. It’s when I realized the failings was due to uncontrollable forces. Luck, bad timing, other people. When it went so wrong no matter how much I really worked to make it succeed.

I was actually far more successful when I didn’t try that hard. I just threw things into the wind and saw what landed. I wasn’t as great as I wanted, not really respected or credible, not entirely in love with what I had created, but I got things done.

After spending nearly five years on this manuscript, it’s a little harder to keep going with other projects. I made it the best that it could be by myself, and if and when it doesn’t garner any traction, my morale is going to take a little bit of a hit. I intentionally told myself a year of submitting to agents because I don’t believe in putting all your eggs in one basket. I have other manuscripts, though not nearly as pristine, with better strengths in areas this one lacks. But they need work, and it’s almost like starting over from scratch again, only to know that all the effort you put into it might be for naught.

But perhaps it’s best not to over think it, over work it until the color’s sucked from it. I’ve done better with things that I put out because the deadline was up than anything I took my time with.

It’s not a bad idea to listen to advice or learn from the example of others, but just because you did what you’re “supposed to” does not mean that it’s going to turn out well in the end. I guess the best you can hope for is that you had fun doing it, then it won’t go to waste.

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