Friday, 27 December 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013 and some thoughts about writing

In 2011, my first time doing this self-inflected literary marathon saw me cross the finish line of fifty thousand in eighteen days. My second time in 2012 had me completing my 50 grand in 26 days. 2013? I started at 9am on Friday, November 1 (I took that particular day off work) and finished on Monday, November 11 at approximately 10:30pm. That worked out to an average of 4,552 words per day for eleven days. In the few days before I finished, I got another idea. So, I goofed off for a week then started another separate fifty. But, admittedly, my heart wasn't completely in it and I only did ten thousand. After all, I had already completed the marathon, why do a second one?

NaNoWriMo 2013: By the numbers
* 310,095 participants
* 3,520,123,164 total words
* 11,352 words per person (on average)
* 42,221 winners (14%)

Okay, as a personal challenge - Bingo! - way to go me. But in the grand scheme of things? Let's be honest now, it ain't worth diddly-squat.

It ain't worth diddly-squat? Then what's the point? It's interesting to see if you can be disciplined enough to sit down and do what's required every day until you finish. As I said last year, if I go out to run the marathon, my goal is to complete it. Let's face it; fat chance (Or is it FFC?) I'm going to come in first. And like a lot of things we do in life, the goal is to finish, not necessarily be number one. Wait. I am number one in the room where I'm currently typing this. Any need to add I'm all by myself? I'm a legend in my own mind.

Now what?
Do you have any idea of how many people are out there writing and publishing stuff? Holy cow. There are zillions and I mean zillions. I've been mulling this over for quite some time now trying to figure out what the next step could and should be. Write? You mean like write stuff down and other people read it? Hey, how odd is that?

I guess that's the attraction of writing a blog. It's instant gratification for anybody with that strange urge to jot down their thoughts and share them with the world. (Narcissism, anyone?) Then again, if you're curious like me, you take a peek once in a while at the number of pageviews and come to the (realistic) conclusion that the one person who stayed on a page longer than ten seconds was probably your mother. How do you spell bounce rate? (my blog: Blogging: What the heck are we all doing?)

Geesh, do we all have some starry eyed dream of making the New York Times best seller list? The author Elizabeth Gilbert was a guest recently on The Colbert Report. Her book Eat, Pray, Love has sold over ten million copies. The other week, I talked with the author of several self-published eBooks and she told me she has sold a thousand copies. What chance does anybody have? We pick up the newspaper and read in the headlines of how somebody won a million bucks in the lottery. Great. Terrific. However, I can't help thinking that nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine people lost. For every successful author with millions of sales, how many authors publish out of a labour of love and never recoup their expenses?

Why would anybody read anything I write?
Seriously. There are now over seven billion people on the planet and a lot of them, and oh I do so mean a lot of them, are writing and directly or indirectly vying for my attention. How do I select what I read? There is the randomness factor: what pops up in Facebook or Twitter; something I may see on TV or see in a newspaper; or a recommendation from family or friend. Nevertheless there is oh so much I just ignore. I have no idea of who the author is of a blog, an article, or a book. I don't have the time. I can't read everything so I try, I desperately try to weed things down to a manageable list of potentially good reads. I only have one life with a finite amount of time so I should darn well try to make every moment count.

In the past year, I read Deception Point by Dan Brown and The Camel Club by David Baldacci, both books read (Ah, how do I put this delicately?) within the confines of the bathroom. Why those books? Respected authors. Recommended by colleagues at work. The type of storyline (mystery, action-adventure) which seems to appeal to my sensibilities. And of course, while electronic publications are good while sitting at my computer, a paper book retains the characteristic of portability. Hmmm, I suppose I could take my laptop to the can. Oh, I'm sorry. TMI? (Back in 2011, the blogger Pauline Gaines asked some of her fellow bloggers to reveal their "blogger space." I sent a picture of my laptop balanced on the toilet seat. I have a weird sense of humour.

What else? In the fall of 2012, I bought a copy of 50 Shades of Grey. I got about a third of the way into it and couldn't finish it. I started off determined to read the whole book to find out what the hubbub was all about then got completely bored with the whole thing. It wasn't the sex or erotica; I have read some of the greats. It wasn't the BDSM; I have also read some of the best. It failed quite simply to capture my imagination. I find it odd to think that E. L. James doesn't strike me (or the critics) as being a very good writer and yet, at last count, the series has sold over 90 million copies and been translated into 52 languages. Go figure. I am reminded of an interview conducted by Time Magazine with the author James Patterson. (see my blog: Writing: James Patterson)

Q: What do you say to critics like author Stephen King who say you are not a great prose stylist?

A: I am not a great prose stylist. I'm a storyteller. There are thousands of people who don't like what I do. Fortunately, there are millions who do.

Nuff said. At the end of the day, the question is whether you have an audience or not. Quality will determine if your work is valued hundreds of years from now (Shakespeare? Bach?), but for the moment 90 million copies would be good for one's pocketbook.

Being recognised
Heather Thompson of the web site Dooce.Com is one of the more popular "mommy bloggers" of the Net. Her target audience is moms with kids and therefore, I do not "get her". Alexa summarizes the site with: Talking a lot about poop, boobs, her dog, and her daughter. She must be doing something right as her Alexa score currently sits at 28,632. Mine is at just under four million but has been hovering around five and a half million. As you can see, I'm not that popular. The social media pundits could rattle off a list of things I could do to increase my score but I think the big thing is that I don't really have a name for myself; I don't have a brand.

How to develop my name? How to create a brand?

Early in 2013, I set myself a goal: publish a book in 2014. Originally, my goal was to do this by the time I turned 65 (2017), but I decided to take a stab at it now.


But I realised from my own reading habits, nobody is going to buy my book. Why? Who cares? My name is completely unknown and why would anybody bother to take a chance on an unknown when there are so many well known writers? And good ones I might add.

Aside: This is completely ignoring whether what I write is any good. Heck, some of the best authors in the world have toiled in obscurity and died unknown. Quality isn't necessarily a measure of financial success.

I have written a number of short stories over the past few years. It occurred to me that if I could get them published in a magazine (print or online), it would be a way of getting my name out there. I started researching this and created a list of publications. I made some submissions. Rejection. Rejection again. But, I wasn't going to give up. I had read the book "On Writing" by Stephen King in which he discusses his career and the craft of writing. I've never forgotten how he said he had so many rejection slips pinned up on a board that he finally had to stop using a pin and started using a knife.

Consequently, I steeled myself to be rejected and wasn't going to get disappointed early. I like this old saying: "If you throw enough Jell-o, eventually some of it will stick to the wall."

I also remembered some good advice to writers submitting work: always be polite. Consequently, for every rejection, I always write back to the editor: "Thank you for taking the time to both read and respond. All the best to you in your world."

The advice was never lose your cool and burn your bridges. Besides, what one editor hates, the next one may like.

Here's a funny or odd story. I send a story to two magazines. The first editor rejects my story and says there isn't enough charactisation. The second editor rejects the story and says that there is too much characterisation and not enough action. What? And now, the story is published in a third online magazine. Go figure. I am realising that an editor is just another reader. E. L. James has sold 90 million copies of her books and yet many people haven't read the books and even though those who have don't like them. The lesson I took away from the above situation with the two editors is to not give up.

After a number of rejections, I decided to try having somebody edit my stories. Maybe my stories could use a little polishing; maybe this person could give me some suggestions. I had read that the greats use editors as an unbiased third party, somebody who will see things the author doesn't. So, I paid somebody to edit my stories. Good? Bad? The rejections continued.

I find this curious. At first, I thought the editor of a magazine would edit my work. It seems that a magazine is expecting my story to be in its best shape, meaning it has already been edited. I now wonder if my early rejections could have been avoided if I had gotten my stories edited from the beginning. However, I now have had three stories published which were not edited before I sent them and in looking at the published version, were untouched by the magazine's editor. Does this mean my stories didn't need editing? Does this mean the editor of the magazine doesn't do editing or doesn't care or is sloppy? I don't know. But in reviewing the edits, I can say that the process is a good idea. I'm not perfect and an unbiased eye does see things I don't. I get a little cross-eyed re-reading my own work over and over again.

Finally, somebody accepted one of my stories. They sent me a contract. (Most do not.) I read it over and was surprised. I had done my homework and magazines generally want first serial rights. This means the author gives the magazine the rights to exclusively publish the story for a set period of time, three months or six months, or possibly a year. After this period, all rights revert back to the author.

This oddball contract wanted me to assign full rights to my story to them in perpetuity. I said no. I'm not that desperate to be published. I have heard stories of people giving up the rights to their own work then watching somebody else profit from their labour. There's no way I'm doing that.

Something Published
I continued submitting and finally, the magic day came. An online publication accepted one of my stories. Woo-hoo! Break out the champagne. Okay, maybe not. After all, what did it mean exactly? A little exposure, certainly no money, and another step to who knows where. I still had a lot of stories to submit and I was sure there were still a lot of magazines to submit to.

In October, in order to compile a bigger list of target magazines, I paid the $50 annual fee to join, a web site devoted to publishing.

Wikipedia: Duotrope
Duotrope is an online resource for writers. It provides a searchable database of more than 4,700 writer's markets and provides writers with a personal database on which they can list their stories, submissions, and sales. ... Beginning January 1, 2013, Duotrope became a subscription-based service, at a rate of $5.00 per month or $50.00 per year.

Where am I? I have a spreadsheet where I track all of this. Right at the moment, I have made 109 submissions with 83 responses; 26 still outstanding. Out of the 83 responses, there are 67 rejections (81%), 16 acceptances (19%); and out of the 16 acceptances, 7 are currently published and online. (my blog: Publications)

Am I bragging? Sort of. An independent 3rd party thought my work was good enough to be published. All right! *fist pump* But I'm being realistic about this. I didn't make any money as most of these publications are free and offer no payment to writers. I have to consider this as a lost leader: the first tentative steps to developing a name for myself. Of course, there are zillions of names out there so even this is a bit of a crap shoot. Even though I have checked the Alexa score of each online publication site, I know that they're not generating the same number of pageviews as the big name sites. Even here, this is a baby step. Getting a story accepted by The New Yorker Magazine or The Atlantic would be a feather in one's cap but fat chance of that happening. I have submitted to the big-name science fiction magazines like Asimov and Strange Horizons and can at least say I've been rejected by the greats.

Oh, and one important point about submitting a story. You have to be patient. Like really really patient. It can take months for an editor to get back to you and ofttimes all you get is something like, "Thank you for your submission but it doesn't match our needs at this time." Seldom do you get any comments, just a polite no. I have, however, gotten a few comments but have found them to not necessarily be insightful. Too much characterisation? Too little characterisation? It's all a great mystery as to what strikes one person's fancy but leaves the next person cold.

Where to go from here?
I realise I have more than enough short stories for not one but a couple of compilations. However, I keep coming back to the question: Who would buy my book? I am completely unknown. I'm not offended by this and I'm not disappointed. I think of my own reading habits and I admit quite readily that if I pick up an unknown book by an unknown author it is only be pure chance. Getting somebody to buy a book has to have a better marketing campaign than "pure chance".

As I said, I have done NaNoWriMo for the third time in a row. For some odd reason, this year's effort ended up more complete than the two previous efforts. I found myself an editor and I am paying her to go over the manuscript. Will I publish it? Beats me. But doing so now would be the equivalent of buying a lottery ticket. I have no name. I see no reason why anybody would buy anything I write. I need to get my name out there and that seems like it will be a slow process.

Slow? I know the old saying "slow and steady wins the race" and maybe I'm being impatient, but this sometimes seems to be glacial, not slow. Should I do something that might hopefully go viral? Like Anthony Weiner, I could tweet a picture of my junk. Nah, I should do something considered good not bad. Donate a kidney to a person in need? Hmmm, what do I do if they need another organ like a heart?

In any case, it's all an adventure. I just have to be realistic. Besides, I may set the whole thing aside tomorrow to go off on another tangent. I've been thinking of shaving my head and becoming a monk in Thailand. (Not)


my blog: Publications

my blog: NaNoWriMo 2012: 50 in 26. Now what? - Dec 3/2013
The biggest and I mean the biggest stumbling block: Not enough time? Fingers cramped? Your spouse is threatening divorce if you don't stop this nonsense? No, it's something a tad more fundamental. It's losing faith in what you're doing. Why am I writing something that nobody is going to read? Why am I doing something that nobody cares about? Hell, I don't care about it.

my blog: Dean Wesley Smith: Dean of Star Trek - Mar 9/2011
This gentleman is a professional writer. You might not recognise his name, but he earns his living from writing. I read a number of his blog postings on writing before I attempted NaNoWriMo the first time and I must say that this guy knows his stuff. For anybody making a foray into writing, this guy is a must read.

my blog: Book Review: On Writing by Stephen King - Dec 27/2010
[This book] is a work in three parts: his early formative years when he first got started in writing, his advice on writing and finally, his accident, its outcome and how the future looks for one Stephen King, author.


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