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Stop doing what you think you’re supposed to!

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I’ve written two novels and a novella so far and I am currently working on editing a fourth book.  This new book (What it means to be a man) is a little unusual though because it’s a blend of non-fiction essay style Q&A intertwined with a fictional story.  The idea came to me because I wanted to write the fictional story but I found that it mirrored my real life (specifically my marriage) so I wanted to stir some real life juice from my relationship into the mix.  I’m really excited about it because I love both the real life parts and the fictional parts, but I’m also a little nervous about it because it’s a departure from the norm.

When it comes to publishing there seems to be this idea of writing in your genre, sticking to a single style and building an audience that way, but to tell the truth every time I think about doing that it gives me an existential crisis.  Who am I (style wise)?  What kind of writer do I want to be?  What if an audience would be unwilling to follow me on my journey though the different landscapes of what I want to try?

I started my fifth book (Nil) after I wrote my first draft of the one I’m currently editing (What it means to be a man) and I started out writing it in a pretty traditional way, I had an idea for a fictional story and I wrote it the way I had written the first two books.  But halfway through I started to lose steam and then the whole thing started to depress the crap out of me because I hated its guts.  So after flailing uselessly and trying to restructure it and being seriously depressed over the whole damn thing I eventually gave myself permission to walk away and a weight lifted.

I went back and focused on What it means to be a man and writing a few short stories and started thinking about diving into my travel memoirs from ten years ago to see if that is something worth pursuing (I even struggled through Eat, Pray, Love to try and see what a popular travel memoir looks like).  But then, today, as I was writing some of the non-fiction for What it means to be a man I had a brainstorm.  I found a way to fix the dreaded Nil.  It will require a lot of research and some serious exploration of the concepts of the book, but it could be really cool.  It could be really cool, but what it wouldn’t be is a traditional novel.

Cue the worry about building an audience and marketing etc…

So I bounce into the land of concern over doing the expected and then I think: stop being fettered by what you’re supposed to do!  My biggest passion in stories is the intersection of the fantastic into everyday life.  And what is more of an intersection then merging non-fiction with fiction?  I love the idea of exploring story concepts in real life so why shouldn’t I think that other people might love it too?  I love exploring new and unusual formats, styles and genres, so why shouldn’t I?  I’m not saying I’m doing something completely crazy or totally unique here, but it’s just that it doesn’t follow the format of a traditional novel (of which I have already written two).

But I don’t want to be tied down to traditional concepts of novels just because I think I’m supposed to.  There are plenty of people who have successful careers writing whatever moves them, so why should I be any different?  I find the idea of being tied to one format of book very limiting and on the flip side I am intensely excited to think of all the ways I could branch out and approach a story differently!

So if you are ever stuck on a story, or stuck in a rut, why not consider ways you could alter the style, genre or narrative of the story to embrace your passions and find a new direction?  Because finding your own way of writing and trying new things is so important and you shouldn’t be limited to what you think you’re supposed to do!

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Traditional or Self-publishing?

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I was at a panel discussion last weekend on publishing and the writing industry and there were two experts there.  One was from Harper Collins and the other was from a small, self-publishing company.  At one point they had a brief interchange about their respective industries and it seemed as though it was about to get heated.  The self-publishing expert was talking about how self-publishing is the future and the internet was changing everything.  From what I gathered he believed that giants of the industry like Harper Collins were failing because they couldn’t acclimatize themselves to the new pace of the internet.  The Harper Collins guy, on the other hand, seemed to think they could change with the times as well as maintaining the old standards of publishing.

I wanted to hear more about the burgeoning debate.  It was interesting because it seems to be the carbon copy of the debate that is raging currently in the advertising industry.

The internet has changed everything, that much people can agree on.  Gone are the days of Mad Men (or whatever the publishing company equivalent is), now we are connected, fast and hip (is hip even a cool word anymore?).  The ad industry debate seems to centre around whether TV commercials are the ‘thing’ anymore, just like the publishing industry is asking if paper books are going to stick around or if e-books and self-publishing are the absolute future.  The Harper Collins dude seemed to think paper books and big publishing is here to stay.  Apparently he found a fact stating that people have better retention when reading on paper than on a screen, but he also admitted our brains were changing to match the pace of our technology and therefore our tastes and desires were changing.

So which is it?  Will the Goliaths of the industry be crushed under the weight of the internet?  Will paper books evaporate from our society to be replaced by their more convenient electronic counterparts?  Will the structure of the publishing industry crumble leaving nothing but literary chaos?

I don’t know.

Things change, it’s inevitable.  The giants of the industry will change or die.  So the only question is, what’s my preference?

Fact:  I don’t really read indie books (that I know of).

Not because I don’t want to, mostly because I just haven’t and frankly, I kind of like the idea of someone vetting the piece before it comes into my hands.  Sure people in big publishing miss out on great works all the time because a lot of it’s about what will sell, but on the other hand you have a lot of people in big publishing who are very passionate about good writing.  I like to know that a piece has been through a couple of sets of discerning eyes before I read it.  That maybe a bit snobby I guess and perhaps it means I’m missing out on some awesome stuff, but there it is.

From what I can understand about self-publishing, it seems like it’s just as much of a crapshoot as big publishing.  It’s all about self-promotion and, although you may have an absolutely fantastic book on your hands, if you can’t promote yourself on the internet as a self-publisher, you are likely to languish in obscurity while some sub-par book in the hands of a promo-guru rockets to the top sales on Amazon.  So it’s basically the same shit, different pile (to be vulgar).  Either you’re going through the laborious process of finding an agent and getting published, or you’re coughing up a bunch of dough and going through the laborious process of trying to self promote via twitter, FB & blogging.

So for my own journey, I’m going to try traditional.  I like it.  I like getting feedback from people who read thousands of manuscripts a year and reject most of them.  I don’t like the idea of trying to layout my own book in some self publishing program and design cover art (I really really suck at drawing).  I like the idea of having an agent with good connections trying to get me published (if I can actually get an agent in the first place).  I don’t like the idea of shelling out my hard earned pennies to pay for printing and all the other costs associated with self publishing.  I like tweeting and blogging, but I don’t want to have to do it like a maniac because that’s my only plan to get my book out there into people’s hands.

I don’t know the future, but I do know what path I want to take and for now, in this one small way, I guess I am a bit traditional after all.

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This is a post for www.writesofluid.com’s blog writing challenge.  One blog post a day for all of June!  Check it out at the website or on twitter: @sofluid or #wpad!