Joining the payhip bandwagon

In case you dislike the other options for ebook purchasing, I’ve given you one more option: Payhip. You can buy directly from me instead of going through other ebook retailers. I’m gradually uploading things, and the first ones I did was my short story collection, Merry Christmas from the Heartbreakers, and Marco and the Red Granny, my novella about arts, patronage, aliens, and gladiatorial combat on the moon.

  Marco and the Red Granny

    Merry Christmas from the Heartbreakers

Anthology Sale!

I am thrilled to announce I made a story sale to John Joseph Adams for the extremely amusing anthology, Help Fund My Robot Army!  This book features stories written entirely in the form of Kickstarter (or other crowdfunding) campaigns, inspired by the Keffy R.M. Kehrli story of the same title (and format.) My story is “SAVE THE PHOTOPHOBIC HEMOGLOBIVORES WITH THE SANGUINE RESERVE!” *

See the rest of the ToC here.


* Thanks to Fran Wilde for helping me make the title sexier.

Boskone and professionalism

Yesterday afternoon I got home from Boskone. Had a stressful travel day, landed, and ran off to see Book of Mormon in Durham. It was awesome; I’ve been waiting nearly two years to see this show and it delivered.

Boskone was definitely worth the trip, despite the blizzard and the shortened con because I had to run home for the show. I got some good time with other authors, some editors, Stonecoast friends and mentors, and met some new fans. Panels were great, but one moment stood out: I had a “funny pose” panel (a-la Jim C. Hines) – which was amazingly fun – at 7pm on Saturday. At 730, Boskone held a big book launch party, and Orbit (my publisher) kindly sent in a box of Ghost Train to New Orleans. I was delighted and promised I’d get to the party right after the posing panel to push the books and sign them if people wanted me to. When I got there at 8pm they told me the very good and very bad news that my book had been one of the fastest moving titles (YAY) and thus they were all gone so there was nothing for me to sign, no fans to meet (BOO). Some people did find me later and have me sign their copy. (YAY)

But one thing came out of the con that has me thinking: I want to talk professionalism: When we talk about being a pro, it often means doing work even when we don’t want to, and being polite to others in your field so you’re not mocked as being a sexist asshat, but another aspect of being a pro hit me this weekend: no matter what level in your career that you are in, you go to cons to connect with people. Readers, writers, editors, agents, fans, dealers, what have you. Even if you’re a veteran there just to see old friends, the mere act of being in public reminds readers who you are, the panels increase your visibility, the signings and readings reconnect you with the fans and tell them I’m still writing.

But for the non veterans, for the new writers, or baby published writers like me, it can be hard. When I’ve talked about this in the past, I’ve always talked about approaching writers/editors/agents as getting over a shyness problem. But yesterday I realized it goes deeper than that. It’s our JOB to do this. Networking is part of the job, just like putting your butt in the chair is. And if you can’t do that part of your job, you might suffer.

Charlaine Harris was at the con. During a panel, my friend Kristabelle asked Harris a craft question and Harris jumped on it, delighted to talk about writing. Apparently not a lot of people ask her craft questions. “Well heck, maybe she’d like to be on ISBW,” I thought, and immediately got scared. Ask Charlaine Harris? That’s terrifying. She’s famous and important. I have little to no connection with her, I didn’t know anyone who could introduce us. I would have to essentially cold call (cold approach?) her in the middle of the con for an interview. Saturday night, I saw her having a drink with her agent at the bar, and thought, “when I finish this glass of wine I’ll be relaxed enough to ask her. And they might be done by then so I won’t have that “I’m interrupting” problem.” I forgot I was drinking on an empty stomach, and by the time the wine was gone, I was not in a professional space to approach an author I’ve never spoken to, and the next time I looked, she was gone anyway.

I could easily blame a number of things- the wine hit too hard, I should have eaten dinner, I didn’t want to interrupt her chat with her agent, blah blah. But the truth was, I was too scared to do my fucking job. And that can’t continue.

It’s not about being brave, it’s about doing the job. And I think (hope) if I approach networking and interviewing and the like with the mindset of “time make the donuts” then I might do this a little better.

(I’m sorry I didn’t score a Charlaine Harris interview for you.)

(15 days till Ghost Train to New Orleans!)

The answer inside a turkey sandwich

There are things we know we are supposed to do. Floss. Get enough sleep. Eat regular meals. Eat healthy meals. Exercise.

And yet, inertia and incorrect priorities always make us sacrifice the important things. We eat crap and wonder why we feel sluggish. We sleep 6 hours a night and wonder why we are slow and snappish. We don’t floss and wonder why we bleed and get lectures at the dentist office.

And when we feel rather bad or low or like we’re the worst writers in the world, it’s often good to look away from the writing and see if you have covered all of the important things. If it’s been 8 or more hours since your last meal, or you got 4 hours of sleep, or you’ve got a cold coming on, those are all things other than your manuscript that can bring you down. We don’t like to admit it. We don’t like to think that the key to our novel lies inside a turkey sandwich. But our emotions are volatile little toddlers that can explode unexpectedly for reasons we don’t quite understand. And we take it out on unsuspecting things, like our work, or loved ones, or other drivers on the road.

So: you wake up. You’re convinced you’re shit. The world will chew up and spit out your prose. If you ever finish what you’re working on. But you won’t. Because you’re shit.

Hold up: how did you sleep last night? Have you had breakfast yet? Take the dog for a walk. (I do realize that suggesting this on the eve of a huge cold front about to freeze the eastern US solid is bad, but this post is technically evergreen.) Get a shower, get your head on straight. Hug your kids, tell your significant other that you’re grateful for them. THEN look at your work.

It’s possible it’s still shit, sure. I’m not saying all writing is magically better once you eat some eggs. But your attitude about approaching it will be better, and your endurance with writing and editing will be greater. We have to take care of ourselves if we want to accomplish anything.

(That said, you want to explain to me that medical doctors who prove time and again that the brain needs 7-9 hours of sleep a night, often pull 24 hour shifts?)

Fear- The Ugly Cry

This is not one of those inspirational posts that talks with sanitized optimism and comfort about golly gee we all have fear and it’s important to overcome it. No, I’m going to talk about my own fear, my specific and ugly fear, and show you all the snot and the blotchy face and the sobbing. I’m baring my soul so I can have the cathartic experience and perhaps move on.

I’m afraid of starting new projects. I think I’ve gotten to a placid feeling in my life of having plenty of projects due – book contracts or school assignments or story requests – that I have gotten lazy. Nine years ago I had no audience, no readers, and I thought, hey, let’s do this podcasting thing. A project that had no money, no reward, just This Might Be Fun. And it was.

I don’t think like that anymore.

In my own defense, if I have a contract, it takes precedence. I shouldn’t blow off school work when I get a wild idea. But you know what? Right now I’m between contracts. I’m about to graduate from school. I have limitless potential. And I’m fucking terrified.

  • I’m afraid of failure.
  • I’m afraid of succeeding and not knowing how to handle it.
  • I’m afraid there are more eyes on me than ever and I’m open to more criticism.
  • I’m afraid of starting something and fizzling out and slinking away, ashamed. That’s probably the biggest one, the fear of my own lack of motivation.

I know that everything I say on I Should Be Writing is true – that you have to put fears in the Happy Box, that you have to strangle the Inner Editor, that you have to understand that failure, rejection, criticism, none of those will kill you. You can look at authors and other creatives who have tanked their careers (I often marvel at Hollywood in this case) and then five or ten years later rise from the ashes like the phoenix, stronger and better and more popular than ever.

But that stuff is hard to internalize. I feel its truth when I’m saying it on the show, but during the dark times, when I’m not podcasting, when i’m sitting here going AH GAWD I AM A FRAUD AND EVERYONE WILL FIGURE IT OUT ANY TIME NOW, that’s when I’m not on the mic, and I’m not saying the truths, and it’s when I need to hear it the most.

So this is my baring of the soul, the open look at the ugly cry. The truth is I’m so damn afraid of every project I have in mind. It is still hard to look at feedback and critique as helpful instead of “THIS IS DRIVEL QUIT NOW AND GO BACK TO MAKING COFFEE FOR A LIVING.” It’s hard to look at failed projects and think, “OK, what did I learn from this?” instead of “FAILURE MEANS I SUCK AND SHOULD QUIT.”

My subconscious always speaks in all caps. Little punctuation. I know it’s annoying, shit, I live with it every day.

When I’m feeling low, I can’t even look at successes without seeing downsides. I’ve written every day for 393 days? Well, somewhere around July I stopped hitting my big daily wordcount goal (which was something like 600 a day) and went back to hitting minimum 250. Sometimes I do more, but I haven’t been able to work up a good streak of writing over 500 words a day. I won an award? Well, that was for potential. I can easily not live up to THAT expectation. I got a book deal? Great, but those books are done and finished. What is in the future for me?

The absolute worst part of the fear is that when I speak them or write them down, they sound illogical and whining.

I don’t feel like I have the right to have these fears.

I did have a well-received book, I did win an award, I am about to graduate with my MFA. My career is going great. The answers to these fears are clear and obvious.

Airing these fears makes me feel ashamed. But I don’t feel as if I can work through them if I let them fester, so here they are.

I’m afraid nearly all the time. I hold back creatively nearly all the time.

It feels hypocritical since I give advice to deal with this stuff. But that’s one reason I give the advice; the problems of writers are so obvious to me because I feel them all the time. I don’t know if it will make you feel any better, knowing you’re not alone if you feel this way. It could make you feel worse since you might hope that these things go away once you get a book deal/the book comes out/you win an award. For me, they didn’t.

You know when you’re walking down the street and you stumble and flail like an idiot, and you look around and see no one saw, you have that sense of relief that kind of washes over the embarrassment? That’s being a new writer and writing something that doesn’t work. Doing a project that no one cares about. Getting a rejection. Yeah, you stumbled, and that can be disappointing, even disheartening but who cares? No one saw.* Try again. Next time you won’t be as likely to stumble.

The thing is, when you have eyes on you and you stumble, well, it’s a little more embarrassing.

If only we all had the humor and strength to deal with it as well as Jennifer Lawrence did.

And so, now that more eyes are on me, I’m terrified of stumbling; I have held back. And my cold logical stern mind says yeah, but if you don’t walk anywhere, you don’t go anywhere. You take the risk of stumbling when you take that step. And the rewards are worth that risk, dammit.

So there is my ugly cry. I’m afraid of new things. And I’m airing this on New Year’s Day to be cathartic and hopefully push me into realizing that these fears, while very real, are also very stupid, and I need to just create and get it done and over with, and move on. 2004 Mur would be appalled if she saw how I hold back today. We don’t want to appall our past selves.

Now, to create.

Happy New Year!

* And if you’re thinking, “THE EDITOR SAW, MUR!” I promise you, it’s rare the editor formed any opinion about you when they rejected you. They probably didn’t even register your name, unless they’ve seen it many times before. And EVEN THEN you’re still a new writer, and all new writers are expected to submit and be rejected. It’s part of the process. You see it as huge,** that the editor is singling you out to reject you, while you’re just a part of the process to them. You can see this as a positive or a negative. I try really hard to see it as a positive.
** And it is huge. I remember the sting of rejection, and still experience it. But there’s the sting of rejection and the humiliation of public failure, two different feelings, two horrible things.

Guest post: Should I Be Writing?

Freelance writer, novelist, award-winning screenwriter, poker player, poet, biker, roustabout, Travis Heermann is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and the author of the Ronin Trilogy, The Wild Boys, and Rogues of the Black Fury, plus short fiction pieces in anthologies and magazines such as Fiction River: How to Save the World, Weird Tales, Historical Lovecraft, and Shivers VII. As a freelance writer, he has produced a metric ton of role-playing game work both in print and online, including Legend of Five Rings, d20 System, and the MMORPG, EVE Online. He teaches science fiction literature at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and speculative fiction writing at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver.

Back in January, I wrote a guest post hereabouts on defeating the Procrastininjas. Now I’m going to talk about one of the most powerful Procrastininja clans.

One of the fundamental questions for any writer trying to make a go of it today is this: how do I balance writing time with promoting?

Since I went into this writing gig full-time in the Summer of 2012, my biggest struggle has been finding the balance between time spent writing and time spent promoting.

First of all, I hate marketing. I hate being inundated by it, day in, day out, being unable to go outdoors and not see marketing messages slathered all over every tree, board, building, and light post. I hate the intellectual numbness it inculcates, and I hate the way it so often assumes people are stupid, thus creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. And I hate the way it feeds and reinforces the blind consumerism that lays waste to vast swaths of our planet. I digress, but only just a little.

Being a self-employed artist must also make me a businessman by necessity. I have a product to sell. As I’m a writer, my product is Story. Story is conveyed in a number of ways, but mostly still by physical books and packets of 1s and 0s. I want people who like to read to buy my Stories so that I can eat. In the case of my current project, I want readers to help fund the creation of OTHER people’s stories (but we’ll get to that in a moment).

The bottom line is: if no one ever hears my name, no one will ever buy my Stories. With how publishing has evolved in the last few decades, the overwhelmingly vast majority, teeming hordes of writers, must market themselves to get their work into the hands of readers who will pay them money.

This requires marketing. And thus, my love-hate relationship.  My feelings about marketing make it a very steep hill to climb when I think of adding my own trickle of marketing to the immense, crashing ocean of it already out there. Most of the time it feels like screaming into 180dB noise.

Are there any authors in the U.S. who do not have to market and promote themselves to maintain a living? Sure, and they can probably be counted on your fingers and toes.

Let’s take two authors, of similar quality, with similar publishing contracts, with books of equal mass appeal. Those who succumb to their innate resistance and eschew marketing and promotion are much more likely to swirl away and be lost in the constant upswell of new talent (and for some, “talent” is a euphemism). The thing with hot up-and-comers is that they produce an equal number of forgotten down-and-outers.

So. Heavy sigh. Whether we want a traditional contract or readers for our indie-published work, we have to market ourselves. It’s part of the job description.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes it is immensely easier to go and do some marketing busy work than it is to face the blank page. Even when the Story is flowing, it can be a hair-pulling, leather-chewing, smashing-your-pinky-in-the-car-door load of anguish.

There are some who say that the best form of marketing is simply to write another book, another short story. There are other writers who are marketing machines, blasting away with tremendous loads of ammunition—and they seem to get results.

These are opposite ends of the spectrum. So who’s right? Most people would agree that there has to be a middle ground.

The first half of 2013 resulted in paltry little fiction output. I was running a successful Kickstarter and taking care of its results, teaching a university class in science fiction literature, and I was beating the bushes at a number of marketing approaches. And all this on top of family and friend interaction. I was dissatisfied with my fiction output, which left me crabby, surly, curmudgeonly. So I changed the balance of time. My girlfriend found she liked it when I disappeared to write for great stretches of time. I was around less, but we all liked it when I was in a better mood.

Finding a good middle ground is a constant struggle for me, but here’s something that helped me find the balance. It was introduced to me by other writers, and I have found it a useful tool.

The WIBBOW test. Would I Be Better Off Writing?

When I apply this very simple test (created by Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith) to whatever I am doing that is NOT writing, unhelpful activities get highlighted quickly. This includes things like trying to set up book signings, convention appearances, social media (egad, what a time sink!), sending out piles of review requests, everything that is not the composition or revision of new fiction. Not all of these things have passed the WIBBOW test, but they were all part of the learning process that has helped me weed out what does and does not contribute to my mental well-being.

If finding balance is a daily struggle for you, try the WIBBOW test.

So what about this guest blog post? Does it pass the WIBBOW test?

In the case of this guest blog post, which Mur has been kind enough to host, I happen to be working on a fantastic anthology project as the editor. I’m really excited about Cars, Cards & Carbines, so I’m delighted to be putting the word out. If a high-octane, multi-genre, speculative fiction anthology—in which Mighty Mur is one of the lead authors—gets your fuel pumping, please give this a look. The Kickstarter campaign ends on December 19, 2013.

So does shifting my creative gears temporarily into not only editing, but also putting together and running a Kickstarter campaign pass the WIBBOW test?

Yes. Putting oneself in the shoes of an editor is an eye-opening experience in many ways, not least of which results in becoming a better writer. The chance to work with the lead authors we have on board has also been a tremendous experience. So the chance to put this anthology together required a crowd-funding campaign, which requires marketing. All of these things pass the test, regardless of whether the campaign funds successfully.

So the bottom line is this: if you’re not writing, does what you’re doing have value for your career, make you a better writer, increase your network of resources and contacts, make you feel more fulfilled, or help pay your rent?

If so, keep doing it. If not, get your butt back to the blank page.

Keeping track of wordcount. NaNoWriMo participants, take note!

I caught a neat thing on MediaBistro the other day: a writing pacemaker.

Not something that will kickstart your writing if you slack off – man, there’s a golden ticket idea – but instead you input into Susanna’s Pacemaker your wordcount goal, your deadline (if you don’t have a deadline, it’s a good idea to make an internal deadline, by the way), and couple more options, and then you see a graph or table with your daily wordcount goal listed.

The tool is interestingly flexible; it asks you if you want to keep the wordcount steady every day or increase your wordcount a little bit daily as you go. It also takes weekends into account: are weekends days you want to take off, or will you binge write because you’re not at work? You can even ask for a “random” wordcount goal, and it will give you some days with a goal of 64, and other days with a goal of 1300. I wouldn’t recommend that for a project, but in theory it’s kind of neat.

It also has an “intensity” option, which has no description but I figured out means you can write steady and then binge at the end (low intensity) or write more every day and end up with a couple of days with 0 wordcount goal (high intensity.)

Me, I’m a slow and steady girl so I have a simple 45 degree angled graph. If I were a weekend binge writer, it would look like this. (The “write MUCH more” weekend option seems broken though, as it has me writing 4 words per week day, and 3000+ on Saturday and Sunday. I don’t think I could hold a story in my head writing 4 words a day.)

Susanna's Pacemaker: Binge writing at the start, then tapering off.

Susanna’s Pacemaker: Binge writing at the start, then tapering off.

I think what’s lacking here is a place to input your personal wordcount so that you can see how well you’re following your graph. If you write more words, it would be neat to see your dot above the projected graph for the day (and if you slack, the dot in the lower area would be good to shame.

Pacemaker is a neat tool, but I probably won’t use it because the Scrivener wordcount function is so robust now.

Scrivener wordcount

If you’re using Scrivener, I highly recommend this tool, as it helps you track your goal and automatically adjusts your word goal for the day based on how many words you have left to write. If I write 2000 words today, tomorrow’s graph will show that my daily target has dropped to 836.

Admittedly, I only know the Mac keyboard shortcut for calling up this tool – Shift+Command+T. From there you can hit “Options” to fill in all your information like wordcount goals and deadline.  You can learn more about this tool, and many other Scrivener tips, at Super Producer Patrick Hester’s blog.

There are other tools for when you want to spent time and effort keeping track of wordcounts and not writing, like I’m doing right now. One of my favorites is from Writertopia. They have several very simple tools to put your wordcount on your site, and all they ask is a link back. That’s WRITERTOPIA. They’re awesome.

We have the no frills picometer:

But if you feel like a writing potato, and who doesn’t, from time to time, you can go for the larger and more creative one.

The best part about the writing potato is s/he has moods:

There are eight moods in all; I won’t spoil them for you.

The toolbox page at Writertopia has all the information on how to put this on your site. It’s super ultra mega easy. All of the tools default to a goal of 50,000 words, but changing the goal is simple, and they explain the tiny tweak you must do to customize it.

Here’s the difference in the image tags: (included for reference)

And (included for reference)

Then of course if you’re doing NaNoWriMo, that site has its own dynamic tool that grabs your wordcount from the server. This won’t work any other time of the year, but since we are near NaNoWriMo season, it makes sense to include it for you crazy 1,667-words-a-day kids. Like the Writertopia widget, you just put a little image tag on your site: (included for reference)

(Huh. On editing this and reloading the page, I noticed that the image changes every time. Clever!)

Unlike Writertopia, you don’t need to update the image every time you write. So if you’re doing NaNoWriMo, this is the best tool. It’s also extremely versatile, where you can view your wordcount as a simple line, a calendar listing your writing days, a word war with another writer, or a word war with your region vs another region.

So there you have it, folks. I have spent a great deal of writing time procrastinating by researching these tools for you, SO YOU WON’T HAVE TO.

Now go write or something.

COMING SOON- I’m downloading a bunch of iOS and Amazon apps to track wordcount, I’ll review them here soon.

Help Fund My Robot Army!

I was thrilled this summer to get an invite to be in an anthology edited by John Joseph Adams, using a theme that is dear to my heart: Kickstarter. Author Keffy Kehrli wrote a story for Lightspeed magazine that was entirely in Kickstarter terms, and JJA liked the idea so much he wanted to do a whole book based on it. And of course he had to fund it via Kickstarter.

It’s already funded, but consider it a pre-order, or helping reach stretch goals.