Monday, January 30, 2012

Needs - Making The Jump To Full Time Writing Part 3

I wrote a screenplay called The Scenic Route, in which a not-very-bright robber expressed his relationship with money. He and his gang have just discovered that the take on their robbery isn't nearly as big as they thought it would be, and they are all terribly disappointed. But Luther -- the gang leader -- is an optimist....

LUTHER: What difference does it make? If you didn't tell me how much there was, I wouldn't know. It looks like a lot.

(He looks again at Brenda, who shrugs.)

LUTHER: Fuck it. Come on. Come ON.

(He kneels down and messes up the neat piles of money. He scoops and shapes a mound, and the takes out two big fistfuls, and gestures for Brenda to come and join them.)

LUTHER: You too. Grab a fistful. A big one. Yeah. Hold on to it.

(Sol and Lucy take up a fistful of money. Brenda just settles down beside the money and looks.)

LUTHER: Feels good, doesn't it.

LUCY: Yeah.

BRENDA: Is this why you don't fold your money?

LUTHER: Exactly. It's no good folded. You've got to feel it. Let it breathe.

(Brenda reaches out and ruffles the money, takes some, rubs it between her fingers. Sol and Lucy push the money around, play with it. Luther just holds on to his.)

LUTHER: New rule. We don't count the money. There's only two amounts of money. Either there's enough, or there isn't.

BRENDA: Honey, there's no such thing as enough money.

LUTHER: Sure there is. Look at it. You want to buy a pack of smokes? It's enough. Tank of gas? It's plenty. You want to buy a race horse, it's probably not enough. At least not for a good one.

BRENDA: What do you want with a race horse?

LUTHER: Nothing. It would just be neat if we could, you know?

Luther is an exaggeration of some of our foibles. He has a hopeless life. He knows he is not bright (and actually underestimates himself much of the time) and holds no hope beyond a fistful of money he can clutch right now.

He is rather like most writers, and most Americans. We seldom stop to count the money -- other than for fun. Instead we tend to focus on what it would be cool to have right now. So a thousand dollars or a million dollars or 100 million all seem kind of the same.

But Luther does have one thing that many of us don't have: He knows what he needs.

Luther doesn't need a racehorse, so he doesn't need to know how much money he has or how much more he needs to acquire. He knows he has more than enough for a tank of gas and pack of smokes. And when that runs out, he can always steal more. And if he gets caught? He'll get fed at the state's expense. Why should he need to count his money?

Another difference between Luther and most writers is that Luther has no interest in changing his life. (At least not yet, and certainly not in regards to money.) If you are reading a post called "Making The Jump To Full Time Writing" odds are you DO want to make a major change in your life, and it does have to do iwth money.

And odds are also that, when you think about making the jump to being a full time writer, you're thinking things like "If I can make $XXXX a month, I can quit the job." (XXXX = how much you make at the job + safety buffer.)

This is the wrong place to start.

You're making two mistakes when you think that way:
  • You're not thinking about what you need, but about what you have, which are two different things.
  • If you're thinking about changing your life, why are you basing it on keeping your life the same?

Have you ever noticed how your needs grow and shrink with your income? If you make more money, it just kind of disappears. And it's not that you're wasting money. Sometimes it's just that if you don't have money, you put off dental work, and you get by. We adjust our needs to suit our income.

If you really want to be happy, imho, it's a good idea to first stop thinking about money, and instead start thinking about what you want out of life. Once you have identified it, you can start looking for information on how to get it and how much it will cost. And once you've done that, you may discover that you can afford to make your life better well before you can quit the day job.

So here's the exercise:

You've got this wealthy Aunt Una. You have no idea how much money she has, but she is thrilled with the idea that you have a dream, and she wants to fund you. Except... she feels that money distracts artists and dreamers, so she won't give you cash. Instead, she'll just pay your bills, perhaps behind your back. You may have a little cash allowance for incidentals, but mostly you have credit cards and you never see the bill.

Now, before you go running off like Minnie the Moocher and buying diamond cars with platinum wheels, remember that there is a catch: Aunt Una doesn't have a unlimited amount of money, and she won't say how much she has. All she'll say is that you are the only one drawing on the account, so there is no point in competing to empty it first. But she assures you she had enough to cover what you need.

So... sit down and think about the life you want. Try to stay away from budget thoughts. Don't think "I will need $400 a month for my wine budget" but rather, "I'd like to drink better wine." Identify what you want, and then worry about pricing it later. (Besides, Aunt Una is really good at getting things wholesale.)

Think about things that have nothing to do with money too. If you don't have your day job, are you going to get bored and lonely? Do you hate to do certain jobs, and you want to hire help? Would the ideal writing life involve having an assistant? Would you like to move? Would you like to have the electrical service in your house upgraded? If you have 2000 cable channels, would you have time to write?

What is your ideal day? Would you like to have an office? Would you like to hang out at a club, or a cafe? Would you like to indulge in hobbies or other activities?

Heck, if you are Minnie the Moocher, think about that diamond car. Maybe the risk of running out of cash is worth it to you.

Get a good idea of that lifestyle in your mind. Think about it over time. Think about tradeoffs. Indulge in the diamond car fantasies, and then peel it back and think about more modest levels of happiness. Just don't think about money.

Now, there is one other thing you should keep tabs on while doing this: Does it make you nervous that you don't know when it will end? If Aunt Una was kind of a flake, and you think she may not have nearly the money she claims to have, could you be happy, or would you always be worrying about it? Would it make you feel better if she was willing to let you know how long your good fortune would last, once you had established the lifestyle you wanted -- so you could adjust if you were spending too much? Or what if she were willing to put a specific amount into an emergency fund, which would be yours as cash if the rest of the money ran out? Kind of a golden parachute -- would you feel safer if you knew exactly how much that was?

Because security is a part of your happiness. You've got to figure out what you need to be happy, and also what what makes you nervous. (Don't worry yet about how much it would cost to feel more secure, just get an idea of how bad your nerves affect you.)

After you think about that for a while -- like a week or so at least (although you can go back and revisit it) -- then you can start putting a dollar value on your happiness. I'll talk about that next week.

In the meantime, here's Cab Calloway and Minnie The Moocher:

See you in the funny papers.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

ROW 80 Update And Some Pix

Here is the A Round Of Words in 80 Days update for Sunday, January 28. Also a little bit of art at the bottom to let you know what I was doing on my Wed-Fri "weekend." (Which, unfortunately, wasn't much this week.)

Wednesday Day 24 - 76 minutes. I played with drawing widgets. I like having 200 x 200 pixel artwork for the blog (kind of like the ROW80 log to the left), so every now and then I'll just pick a concept and play with it. Today I decided to do a Scarlet Pimpernel, while watching an episode of Leverage. It took almost exactly the length of the show -- about 45 minutes. I also created another quick thriller cover.

Thursday Day 25 - 70 minutes. More drawing. Playing with cartoon silhouette figures. I need practice, though, so you won't see these here.

Friday Day 26 - I took the day off, did some other things. This weekend is also going to be very busy, so I am going to do a little reviewing, so I can maybe get a jump start tomorrow.

Saturday Day 27 - 113 minutes. Not as much work as I'd like, but it was choice! I did an hour of exploratory writing on the break into act three -- that is, the moment where Mick realizes just what's going on, and he and Casey confirm his suspicions. However I still didn't have a vivid idea of the ending itself. I had some rich ideas. So tonight, I did a little more exploratory writing from the middle to get my mind off things... and when I was done I came up with a zinger of an idea for what the ultimate evil plan is, and how it is revealed. I still am a little hazy on how we get to that scene, but I have a feeling I'll be ripping it up a bit with that.

What I've Been Drawing

As I mentioned above, I didn't do as much art as I would like, and some of it is simply not ready to post. But here are the two things I was playing with on Wednesday.

The first is a very quick mock cover concept. Again, not for anything I have in mind. I don't write thrillers, but they are so easy to do a concept for. Once again I was playing with textures, only this time I was looking for a metallic sheen. All I did for the background was create a gradation from light iron blue to dark iron blue, on the diagonal across the whole image. Then on another layer, I did a reverse of the gradation. I used a grunge brush to punch holes in the top layer so the bottom layer showed through.

Then I decided it looked... sharp. A little dangerous. Icy. And I needed a contrasting color for the type, so I just came up with a "blood" oriented thriller title. Then I played with the font. The texture on the font is a "satin" blending effect, and there's a drop shadow to make it stand out.

This is the easiest kind of cover to do, you know?

The other thing I did is less slick, and more work, but still fun. I've been looking at the decorative elements in old books. Some illustrated caps, some just bars and boxes for the beginning or ending of a chapter -- full of plants or wiggles and curls. Sometimes they'll have an animal or something. I like to do these little 200 x 200 pixel illos, because it's a nice size to add to a blog page.

One of the motifs I came across reminded me of a pimpernel, and I decided to play with that. The Scarlet Pimpernel, as you may know, is the mysterious hero of a series of adventure romance novels by Baroness Orczy. His calling card was a sketch of the pimpernel, a common wayside flower with five petals, remotely related to roses. The real thing has pointier petals which are not folded or anything like that, but this is more like the stylized versions you see in deco elements in old books.

Frankly, it makes me hungry for strawberries. I also love using the dots for background shading like they did in a lot of the old printer decorations. Oddly, that's easier to do with a pen than it is with a graphics tablet.

See you in the funny papers.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Friday Favorites: Black Orchids by Rex Stout

Rex Stout wrote a lot of novellas featuring Nero Wolfe. They were usually collected, three to a book, and titled things like "Homicide Trinity" and "Trio for Blunt Instruments." They were the exact right length for a light puzzle mystery with a lot of great character interaction.

Novellas were popular in the old days. Every pulp magazine had one if not several. (Sometimes serialized, sometimes billed as "A Whole Novel In This Issue!") They didn't survive into the paperback era well, though. I only noticed two ways by the time I was around in the sixties: one was the "Dell Doubles" where two short novels would be bound, back to back, and the other were these Nero Wolfe stories.

I believe Black Orchids was the first of the Nero Wolfe novella collections -- billed as a "Nero Wolfe Double!" because it only includes two stories. It was the very first Nero Wolfe story I'd ever read, long long ago, and it had all the elements which made me fall in love with the series.

It is, in many ways, like a TV series. It's all about the characters, and their foibles, and struggles. In particular the conflict between the narrator Archie Goodwin, who is the real hero of the stories -- a smartass tough guy who is Wolfe's secretary, body guard and errand boy -- who is something of an irresistible force, and Nero Wolfe himself, whom Archie describes on the first page thusly:

"Wolfe himself could have got a job in a physics laboratory as an Immovable Object if the detective business ever played out."

Wolfe is brilliant, but agoraphobic and possibly a little obsessive-complusive. He hates to have his routines disrupted, and has set up his life so that they never will be. He owns an entire brownstone in New York City, and has a brilliant chef working in his kitchen, and a green house on the roof where he raises orchids. Wolfe is also a masterful bully who gets his way every time, and sometimes it's a wonder to watch him manage it when the whole world is trying to foil him.

Archie is the one person who can disrupt Wolfe's routine, and that's actually his primary duty -- to cajole, sass and manipulate Wolfe into taking on cases and making an income to support his lifestyle. Of course, even when Wolfe takes on a case, he won't leave the house except under extreme duress, so that's the other part of Archie's job -- to run around collecting information, and as often as not, cajoling, sassing and manipulating people into coming to see Wolfe. Sometimes Archie has to manipulate both the witness AND Wolfe into meeting.

I think the ending of the first novella in the book, Black Orchids, is the weakest part, but it's not bad. The truth is that the solution and unmasking doesn't really matter. The driving question of the story is how Wolfe will get his way, and how Archie will get his job done, in spite of opposition by the police and others, and the piling on of complicating problems they have to juggle.

The second story in the book, Cordially Invited To Death (I think originally called Invitation to Murder) is a little more pure puzzle/whodunnit, but still a good read. (I can't tell you if the ending is good or not, because, unlike the ending of the first one, I actually remembered the key clue, so I was expecting it.)

I am right now writing another Mick and Casey story, and one of the things that struck me as I read Black Orchids, is how much influence Archie's narrative voice had on me. Even though Mick and Archie are quite different characters, I think it was Archie who gave me the feel for the "reporting voice" of a pro, who also had a dry sense of humor about the world around him.

That is what appeals to me about Archie's voice; while it is often sarcastic and witty, underneath it is always meticulous, detailed reporting. That's his job. He can report conversations verbatim, without notes. He is observant enough to give Wolfe a clear picture of what happened elsewhere -- even though Archie may not have full grasp of the significance. Wolfe can always count on Archie to report everything there is to report, so Wolfe can figure out the crime.

A friend of mine once came across a meme: if you could have the life of any character in literature, who would you choose? I tend to ignore those kinds of memes because I don't really want to be anyone else... but that one I knew right away: Nero Wolfe. Never have to leave the house, have great food, time to commit to favorite hobbies, and best of all, I'd be living with Archie Goodwin! What's not to want?

See you in the funny papers.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

ROW80 Update


So here's what happens. Every time.

I say "I'm cutting back on blogging." And then I start blogging. What the falooza? Am I a rational human being? Do I have any self-control?

Obviously the answer is no.

More thoughts on this below the update:

Sunday, Day 21 - 98 minutes. More organizational work than I intended to do. I think I'm mentally avoiding one of the upcoming scenes, but I can't tell which one because I'm mentally avoiding it.

Monday, Day 22 - 61 minutes. Some nice new material, done very late at night after spending way too much time hijacking my own money post for the blog here.

Tuesday, Day 23 - 34 minutes. I sat down to get myself organized and several blog posts just poured out of me. Hmmm. Actually, I admit, I think they are kind of fun, and it may become a new feature for the blog: conversations among my imaginary selves. It reminds me a bit of what Lawrence Block does all the time, a dialog between himself and a class full of imaginary students. I now see why he does it. It's fun because, you know, it's scene writing. And it's also a good way to clarify points. It's not quite as much fun as when Creative Me and Sensible Me get down to it. (Hmmm, maybe I should trot them out for more blog posts.) This is more Young Anxious Me and Unflappable Old Hack Me.

I'll post those later. But in the meantime, doing that and other things delayed me from writing until very late AGAIN. I did get about 500 good new words done in that half hour I worked.

The Down Side of Contentment

One of the things I didn't talk about much in the Money Post (but is sort of the gist of the whole "Writing as a Job" series) is getting your life to where you want it now, rather than wait for that big score or retirement or that day when pigs fly.

Part of achieving that is having very simple needs.

I remember when I was a kid I had some kind of lesson that would fall on the day before pay day, and on the way home, my mom and I would search the car completely, under the seats, between the cushions, to find enough pennies and nickles and quarters to split a Big Mac. Later when I was in community college, riding the bus back and forth among all sorts of small jobs and classes -- I'd pass a certain Chinese restaurant with the very best egg rolls in the whole world. They were cabbage, shrimp and peanut butter, and served with this fabulous apple-based duck sauce. They were also very big, and an order of them and a bowl of rice made a great meal.

And I, poor schlubbette, would dream of being able to have a Big Mac or a Yat Wah eggroll whenever I wanted. That would be the good life.

I got to that point while still in college.

And lo, I learned that having a Big Mac or a Yat Wah eggroll whenever you want actually is the good life.

I mean, okay, getting rid of bad stuff from your life is more important, and Yat Wah went out of business decades ago, and I have expanded my portfolio of desires since then. But I haven't particularly upgraded them. (We have three, count 'em, three real dim sum houses in town, and no less than two very authentic Sichuan restaurants. And I can find just about any book I ever could want on Amazon.)

So when the crick doesn't rise and the situation at day job doesn't deteriorate into internecine war again, I'm a pretty darned contented little schlubbette.

I Was Warned about this as a young writer. Writers need to be hungry. Writers need to have some deep need which is not met, driving them on. I haven't really believed that because any time I've felt dissatisfied with life, (or wretched, or frightened or desperate) I've been really distracted from my writing.

But honestly? I'm thinking my problem with productivity right now is that I'm too satisfied. I have instant gratification of every single thing I want. If an idle question crosses my mind, I can instantly look it up. Trying to remember the lyrics of the song stuck in my head? Look that up too. If I want Yat Wah eggrolls, I can actually make them myself, but that isn't quite instant gratification, since it would require shopping and stinking up the house with deep-frying.

And let's not forget that I'm finding all my old favorite books, and suddenly I'm enjoying reading again like I haven't done in ages.

It's a problem you should have.

(Don't worry. I'll deal with it.)

See you in the funny papers.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Money - Making the Jump to Full Time Writing, Part 2

Personal finance is a huge topic. And when it comes to quitting the day job and becoming a full time writer, it gets very complicated.

I decided to write a slightly different post than I originally intended because of a discussion going on over on The Passive Voice blog. And I realized that the reason it is so hard to talk about money around writers is because there are so many different goals, and so many different experiences, and levels of experience.

Trying to answer the questions that came up over there, AND trying to set up the topic for regular readers of my blog who don't really give a hoot about any of the arguments about valuation of literary properties may be too big of a task for one blog post. Or even a bunch of posts. I hope I don't lose you all....

Financial independence. That's the goal right?

When you get right down to it, when we talk about writing full time, what we really want to do is quit the day job and stop worrying about bills.

Not everybody cares if you achieve this through financial independence. A lot of writers just want to make a living from writing and are perfectly happy with all the struggling and hard work. They're fine with writing being a real job. They just want that job to be viable.

But that's where writers get into trouble. Because writing isn't a salaried position. The economic model isn't even like manufacturing widgets. You aren't making shoes, which will be made, sold, worn and thrown out. Instead, you are creating a capital asset. You write a book, and then it is sold multiple times.

In other words, it's not a product, it's an asset.

Traditional publishing in the past twenty years has broken the relationship writers have with this ongoing income. Writers write a book, sell it, and then write another and sell it, just like shoes. The publisher wears the shoes and gets the good out of them and throws them out. Writers seldom see any ongoing income from a book.

So writers have a tendency to see books like shoes. They think of the money they get up front as the value of the work. And they think of books as expiring when Barnes and Noble's ordering systems get tired of them.

But books are not shoes. Books are more like savings bonds. Sure if you receive a savings bond from Aunt Edna for your birthday, you can sell it at a discount for ready cash, and buy those really spiffy headphones you wanted instead. But that does not lead to financial independence, or being able to quit your day job.

Publishers and agents may try to convince writers that books are like shoes, but they themselves know better, and once they get your book they treat it very differently. For them, the name of the game is acquiring and keeping assets. The individual deals don't matter, they may be good or bad, but the winner in the end is the one with the greatest asset holdings.

Think about how publishers handle the asset once they've got it:

Do they, like bankers with mortgages, package it up and resell it? No, they don't. If a book were the kind of asset where the price is set by what the market will bear (which is a commodity) they would be doing that. But the value of a book is not in the buying and selling. That's a suckers game and they played the author for a sucker in acquiring it, but they're not going to fall for the same schtick themselves.

The value in an asset like a book is in holding it.

You may think your book will no longer be valuable after ten years. If that were so, then why are publishers in a mad scramble to lock up rights in perpetuity? Just try to get your rights back to old out-of-print books. Just try to get a real reversion clause into a contract these days. They won't do it.

Publishers know that it doesn't matter if that book isn't earning much -- it's still an income stream.

Writers get distracted by short term things like the size of the advance, and whether a book hits a best seller list. And yet a publisher is more likely to give you a bigger advance than let go of rights in perpetuity, and they won't let you get back rights to books which never made a best seller list.

If you want to write full time then the first step is to really understand what you've got.

Now, last week, I said you should not count on your writing to rescue you from the day job. It may sound like what I'm saying now goes against that, but actually I'm talking about why you shouldn't see it as a rescue. Your day job provides wages. Writing does not. Writing is an investment, and investments take a heck of a lot of input before things start paying off. It is very much like a retirement account.

How an investment account works is this: you acquire capital -- assets and cash -- and they pay interest, dividends and royalties. That part is income. If the value of your stocks rise, you might sell off a little to "take profits." That can be considered income too -- although you should be careful with that one. The thing you don't want is to lose capital. That's a rule of living off investments, never dip into capital.

That means you do not sell off the assets and spend the money. Your savings won't get anywhere if every time you put money in, you take it out again.

Writers have a fantastic advantage over your everyday schlub. Your everyday schlub can't spare the money to save or invest much, so they seldom have assets. But you, Writer Boy and Writer Girl, you have a freaking drawer full of assets. You have a fully funded IRA in your head!

And yet so many of us are willing to simply cash that out for quick gains. And if they can't get the cash -- because they can't find a buyer, they declare it worthless and throw it in the trash.

And when writers are smart about money they tend to focus on being better at selling off the asset. But they still think they are stuck with what the market wil bear, so they tend to take bad deals because it's what is being offered. Meanwhile, publishers don't buy and sell. They just buy.

I was going to talk about investing strategy here, but someone over on Passive Voice wanted specific examples, so I'm going to start with talking about my own situation.

First a little background financially:

I am not rich. Long ago I decided that I wasn't interested in having a lot of money. And I sure didn't want to stop writing just to get money. What I wanted was a sustainable life I could live from now until forever, which involved plenty of free time, plenty of time to write, and a satisfying day job which I liked. My goal is to be financially independent, but not at the expense of my lifestyle. I could be hit by a bus tomorrow, so I live the way I want now.

So before I even consider writing, I deal with my life and money. I have a lifestyle which is easy to maintain on a low income. I've got a healthy IRA, a work-sponsored annuity, a very healthy emergency fund, and my only debt is a low interest mortgage. I'm good for retirement, and I'm now working on early retirement.

And when I look at my writing income, I look at it exactly as I do my IRA.

Around ten years ago or more, I took a look at what was going on in traditional publishing in my genre -- the traditional mystery -- and I saw that it was not financially viable. Advances were appallingly low. But the real issue for me was that you had no opportunity to struggle through on that low income to success later. Every new series I found and loved would be gone within a few books because Barnes and Noble's ordering system didn't like midlist books.

This was particularly devastating for traditional mystery, because the readership in my genre likes LONG series. Most of us like to jump into a series at the fifth or sixth book. Or later. The value of the early books doesn't really take off until the series has gone that far.

So I stepped out of the pool, because it didn't make financial sense at all. I went off and did script reading and screenwriting. I still wrote fiction, but only short fiction for publication. But I really prefer to write mysteries, so I came back to the fold a couple of years ago. I had one mystery in the can, and I was working on another, when indie publishing came along. I thought I was going to save my mysteries for commercial publication, but I started playing with my unpublishable quirky stuff first.

Then I ran the numbers and decided that even an utter failure at self-publishing was better than selling my assets off to publishers.

Have a look:

[Note: I made an entry error in first version of this post -- I said it probably took me 500 hours to write the book, and 500 more to do the rewriting and marketing and such. I meant to say 500 hours total. So I first said I would be better off working the day job, and giving the book away free. With corrected numbers that conclusion is different.]

Have Gun, Will Play might have sold commercially, but the western aspect really turned most publishing professionals off. Odds are it would have taken a heck of a long time and effort to get people to look at it, and when I did finally sell it, I would have been required to revise the heck out of it. I don't remember how long it took me to write it, but since I've been timing myself, I will guess it took 250 hours to write and polish it to my satisfaction. I would expect to put in 250 more on the revisions and marketing and all that.

The average first book advance is $5000. That's ten bucks an hour wages. At the time I was making maybe $17 an hour at the day job. Given that the book was exactly what I wanted after 250 hours of work, I would have had nearly the same result by working the extra 250 hours at the day job and just giving my book away free.

And nowadays I make more money, but the advance is the same, so I would be better off working the day job.

But hey, you can look on a first book as a loss leader. So forget wages. Let's just look at the value of the cash.

Hmmm, before I do that, I have to pay taxes and the agent out of that money. And the publisher will expect me to spend some of that money doing promotional work. So the cash I would get for that book would really be closer to 3000, or even nil. But you know what? I'm going to be generous to the old school thinking and assume that I beat the system and ended up with a full $5000 from the sale of that book.

Remember my goal is to have enough capital to retire early, so I'm going to buy an asset with that money. I'm going to buy half a 30-year treasury bill. T-Bills are not terribly high returns, but they are just about the safest investment, and a good standard for the kind of assets you want in a retirement account. So that's a good baseline to measure an investment by.

The return on a 30-year t-bill right now is about 3 percent or a little higher. The return I'd get on a $5000 investment would be $150-175 a year.

Now let's look at what I've have to do as an indie publisher to make the equivalent return from the asset that is my book.

At the cheapie $2.99 price tag, I'd have to sell about 80 books a year to make that return. If I priced it at $4.99, I'd only have to sell around 50.

I can hear non-investors getting antsy. "But but but, what about the $5000? With a t-bill you get it back after the thirty years, and you may not be able to do that with a book!"

The point of investing is not to buy and sell. The point of investing is to create income streams. When a T-bill matures, you don't go spend the money, you roll it right back into another bond.

"But a T-bill has a guaranteed yield!"

That's right. But that's why it's got a relatively low yield. It doesn't appreciate like stocks, and books, do.

Because of the way bookselling has worked over the past couple of years many writers don't realize that books appreciate in value. The past couple of decades of books have been forcibly expired by the book distributors -- who do better with rapid turnover. But though the history of publishing, books have always been steady, long-term sellers as long as the writer keeps writing. While later books might hold steady, earlier books tend to appreciate in value as time goes on. That's the nature of the beast. When someone discovers your twentieth book, they go back and read your earlier ones.

If you don't believe that, just remember what I pointed out earlier: if backlists aren't of value, why are publishers hanging on to them with such ferocity?

There are a lot of different approaches to money, and the ins and outs of every deal are going to have much much more to consider than the relative value of investment instruments. However, when you are valuing your assets, it is extremely important to understand that they are assets. You can treat them as commodities, and manufactured goods, but you are putting yourself at a disadvantage when you do.

Next week I want to talk about how you figure out what you're going to need (financially) in order to quit the day job. It's probably both more and less than you think.

See you in the funny papers.

A Guest Post, Price Experiment and Happy New Year!

It's Chinese New Year -- the Year of the Water Dragon. I would like to wish you all 恭禧發財!

Gong Xi Fa Cai
(GONG shi FA sigh)

That means "Good luck and get rich!" And in that spirit, I'm going to start talking about money tomorrow. A conversation on The Passive Voice blog has caused me to revamp the post -- I was going to start in more slowly about attitude and lifestyle, but given that people are arguing apples and snowmobiles over there, I think I should start off with the difference between assets and wages. (Hint, wages are an expense, even when they are paid to you.)

Check out the discussion on The Passive Voice post titled "How Much Is Your Fiction Worth?" And then check out tomorrow's post.

Guest Post On Character Development at Pat Stoltey's Blog

I have a guest post up at Pat Stoltey's blog on how I came up with George and Karla. It's shorter than I usually write, but I hope it's still interesting.

High Price Experiment Ends Early

The high price experiment has been a failure at Amazon and Smashwords, and a semi-success at Barnes & Noble. Furthermore, Sony and Kobo went and discounted books they weren't supposed to, which other vendors partly matched, so it really wasn't much of a test anyway.

I decided to heck with it. I don't like those prices, and I want to start the new year with my prices where I think they should be. My approximate favored pricing scheme is this:

  • 99 cents for shorts and novelettes
  • 2.99 for novellas
  • 3.95 for short novels (under 60k)
  • 4.95 for full novels
  • 5.95 for door stoppers (100k and over)

It will take a while for the prices to trickle through all vendors, but Amazon jumped on it immediately.

See you in the funny papers.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

ROW80 Sunday Update

This portion of the week got eaten up by kerfuffle. This past week, though, was really the first week on this new schedule in terms of the Day Job. I still had some commitments backed up on me. (For instance I have a guest post coming up Monday at Pat Stoltey's blog -- a look at character generation and where George and Karla came from.)

And along comes Saturday, just as fast as last week. I decided that what I really needed to do on that first Saturday session each week was not to get the book in order, but to get ME in order. (Notes on what I figured out are below the update.)

A Round Of Words In Eighty Days Update:

Wednesday, Day 17 - 15 minutes. I did a little sketching, but spent most of the evening writing a guest post which was late. (I had a number of rough drafts but NONE of them interested me, so I did something from scratch. Let's see if the host likes it.)

Thursday, Day 18 - 60 minutes. Foodling with pictures. Not much, though, because I wanted to get some blog posts done. I feel like I'm not blogging well, though.

Friday, Day 19 - 61 minutes. I didn't do art or design work. I blogged some, and I decided to put that on the clock on my Wed-Fri non-writing times. I also got some things ready for a guest post, and I did some brainstorming.

But I'm going to spend the rest of the night reading.

Saturday, Day 20 - 101 minutes. Got my head together, but it was late before I really got writing. Then I had to sort out a bit of a mess in the story that I left as I finished up last week. But all is going well. Mick gets an idea, and heads for the newspaper office. I am debating whether he and Casey will get yet another small job -- and what that will lead to.

The things I realized this afternoon:

1.) I have a new big goal. Not one that affects the challenge, but the one over-arching goal for the all of it. I want to write a whole rough draft novel every quarter.

I may not be able to achieve that this year. It depends on how fuzzy my brain is and now many distractions. But I think I can move my habits toward that goal.

I have two things in mind to help get here:

  • Finish the draft of Devil In A Blue Bustle by March 11
  • Leave at least an entire quarter for prepping the draft for publication.

Item two can help with item one. This is for both obvious and unobvious reasons. Taking more time in prepping the manuscript allows you to "dare to be bad" as DWS says. But more important, once the manuscript is ready, I have a tendency to crowd out other things as I rush to get the dang thing formatted and write blurbs and edit and all that. If I force myself to wait, those things become less urgent and less distracting. I can force them to stay in their little fenced in Wednesday Through Friday territory, and keep my regular schedule with writing the rest of the week.

With my new schedule, I can keep myself from being distracted, and I can write faster. At least in theory.

2.) My blogging brain is falling apart. I noticed this earlier, actually. Lately when I sit down to write a blog post, especially if it's about something that really matters to me -- like craft posts -- I blather incoherently. (No, I haven't been posting those. If you have noticed any incoherence lately, that was after much rewriting. I am rather unhappy with how my Stuart Kaminsky post turned out, for instance.)

My problem, I think, is focus. I am focused on fiction writing, and I can only seem to do a good job with non-fiction when I'm reacting to a question or statement. (That's what I do all day long at the day job, so I find it really easy to come up with an extemporaneous post on subjects people ask about. If I need to, I'll put out a call for questions.)

The result of this is that I've had an easier time posting about the writing business than I have with writing about craft and story -- even though I'm bored with the writing business, and craft and story are closer to my heart.

So as much as I want to go back to a full posting schedule, I'm going to stick to a twice a week (other than updates) posting schedule for a while longer. On Tuesdays, I'll keep up my "writing as a job" posts, and on Fridays I'll do a review or a craft discussion. I will fold my art posts into the Sunday updates for a while.

When I get past this point, I want to post on four subjects: Art/Branding, Writing Life/Business, Writing Craft, Reviews/Interviews. Not going to happen yet, though.

So watch Tuesday for the post about money, and then Wednesday to see how this great new vision affects my writing week.

See you in the funny papers.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Rescuing Books On Goodreads (Urgent)

(UPDATE! A Goodreads librarian on KB is saying that the books published by the KDP program -- that is, self-published on Amazon -- will not be affected. However, Goodreads IS marking KDP books as in need of rescue. It might be good to wait for the rescue until next week at least. -- but it would still be a good idea to set up that page on your own blog.)

One of the many reasons you might want to be on a site like Kindleboards is that the writer's grapevine is fast and furious. Even though I stopped hanging out there, I pause back to check to see if anything exciting is going on in the indie world.

Today I discovered that Goodreads is going to delete a whole bunch of books as of Jan 30 (but you can "rescue" your books by entering new data).

This has caused much panic, paranoia and anger, because Goodreads has only said that they will delete all books which have their data entered from Amazon. And they don't say why.

I'm going to go out on a limb, and guess that Amazon just accused them of data theft, and they are no longer allowed to get data from Amazon. I suspect this because they require you to swear you got the data legally. They wouldn't say that if they weren't suddenly paranoid about being accused of stealing the data.

This may actually be a good thing (depending on how the new system is implemented). If you set up book pages on your own site, you can use that as the source, which means people can have links to all possible purchase points. And that means maybe you can have a little more control over how your book appears on the site. (The question will be whether you can update and correct mistakes, or if you have to a 'librarian' to do it -- which was always a problem with Goodreads. Maybe it's good that not just any user can edit data, but the author should automatically be considered a "librarian" for the work.)

If you have books on Goodreads, you can check to see if they need rescuing by going to your author page and clicking on the link to each book. It will have a banner over the books that need fixing. Click on that and write down all the data you're going to need to re-enter the book.

They will want the following information:

  • Book Title (required)
  • Author Name (required)
  • Source URL (required)
  • Cover Image
  • Description (I notice this field is not available for all books)
  • Format (hardback, mmpb, ebook, etc.)
  • Publisher
  • Publication Date

As far as I can tell, that "Source URL" must be a NON-Amazon link, and it should be the verifiable sourse for your info. You could just use Smashwords or B&N, but I'm going to make my own page for it all. This is something we all should have anyway -- a central repository for all the info, including all those links for all those different stores. It would be a good idea to have a different page for each book, but just one detailed catalog page would do.

Or you could just let them delete it, and re-enter it anew later later. I think, though, that if you want to keep all the ratings and review data, you may have to rescue it by the deadline.

Me, I'm going to use this as incentive to update my blankety-blank webpage.

See you in the funny papers.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Friday Favorites - Bullet For A Star

Sometimes I think that if Stuart M. Kaminsky had been super human, I might never have become a writer.

See, Mr. Kaminsky wrote stories that I really wanted to read. And my motivation for writing was because I couldn't find enough stories that I really wanted to read. So if he had only been able to write even faster than he did (and he was prolific) maybe I wouldn't have needed to be a writer.

But he didn't write any faster than he did, and he didn't write the stories that were in my head, so in the end, he had the opposite affect: he didn't turn me into a writer, but he sure as heck accellerated the process.

He made me want more.

Kaminsky was a Mystery Writers of America Grand Master, won an Edgar and was nominated for nearly every other mystery award. He had a madcap absurdity, and a gentle pathos to everything he wrote, whether it was comedy or drama. Even his police procedurals, set in the harsh world of Chicago, and the harsher world of Soviet Moscow, had a redemptive sweetness to them.

Much as I liked his police procedurals, and other series, my first love is and always has been Toby Peters -- a down and out private investigator in Hollywood in the 1940's. Toby was his first fiction series, and his longest, at 24 books. I have all of them and I tried to limit myself to re-reading only three in a year as I waited for the next one to come out.

And they've been out of print and hard to find, and that has sorrowed me deeply....

Until this month, when I discovered that Mysterious Press/Open Road is releasing the first sixteen or so books in ebook format. And even though I already own them all in paper, and even though the price is a little on the high side at $9.99, I'll be re-buying them all over time.

And I'll be reviewing them as I read them. Because I want you to know how cool these books are.

Bullet For A Star

The Toby Peters saga begins in 1940. Errol Flynn is being blackmailed, and the studio needs somebody to handle the pay off quietly and cleanly. They call on Toby, an aging PI with a bad back and a smashed nose, to handle the transaction. Toby, who was fired from his job as a Warner security guard at the studio several years earlier, is out of cash and happy to get the job. However, the job doesn't go so well, but that's par for the course for Toby. Getting beat up, shot, framed for murder, beat up again, framed for another murder... that's pretty much Toby's daily life.

This first book in the series is a little different from the rest as it is a little more hard-boiled, thought it is still a pastiche. It involves one moderately explicit sex scene, and not as much silliness as the other books. Even so, it is a good set up for the series, because it really does lay the foundation for everything that makes you love Toby.

When we first meet him, Toby Peters seems like a complete loner. He's on his own, on the edge, with nothing more to his name than what's in his pockets, and nobody to fall back on when he (frequently) falls. He's a tough guy, but not a mean one. As a matter of fact, there is a gentleness to Toby that makes him a lot less of a loner than he seems. The fact is, over the course of the book, you find out he has an unexpectedly strong network of family and friends, many of whom want nothing to do with him -- an angry, alienated bully of a big brother, and Toby's ex-wife in particular -- and yet there is a thread of affection which keeps them all in orbit.

This sets up the fact that Toby is a patient guy, who has a lot of affection for his fellow human beings, even those who are greater misfits than himself. And as the series wears on, that affection is like a magnet drawing people into his life.

Aside from the pleasure of the characters, though, this series is also a beautifully researched historical novel too. Kaminsky, before he took to fiction, was a film historian. He wrote one of the great books of academic theory about film and popular culture, American Film Genres. The books all take place at a very specific time and day in history, and Kaminsky gives us great details, down to what was on the radio, and what was in the papers (via Toby's dry ironic hard-boiled narration).

Toby also crosses paths with lots of real characters from Hollywood history, some not so well known, so it can be hard to pick out all the real ones from those he makes up. In this one Peter Lorre gives him advice on the case, and Frank Capra reacts unexpectedly to Toby crashing through the set of Meet John Doe. Bogie helps him track down a suspect on a location shoot for High Sierra, and several scenes take place on the set for the Maltese Falcon -- which ws being built for filming at the time.

The most fun thing about this specificity, though, is that the stories in the series are continuous: at the end of this story, Toby gets a call from Judy Garland, who showed up for a publicity shoot on the dismantled set for the Wizard of Oz, only to find a dead ex-Munchkin. And at the end of Murder On The Yellow Brick Road, Toby gets a call from the Marx Brothers....

If you like humor and adventure, combined with a little dramatic weight and sentiment, you'll love Toby. I really can't recommend these books highly enough. You can get Bullet For A Star at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple's iBookstore and other vendors.

Next Friday I'll talk about Black Orchids -- the first Nero Wolfe I read.

See you in the funny papers.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

New Books Finally At Barnes and Noble

This morning The Man Who Did Too Much finally hit Barnes and Noble. , and Apple's iBookstore. However, they haven't got the book description up yet. (You can see that here.)

It was already available at Smashwords,, as well as Amazon's international stores: UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain.

The short story collection 5 Twists hit B&N a little while ago, and is now up at Apple. It's also available at Smashwords,, as well as Amazon's international stores: UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wednesday Progress Report

Not nearly as much success to report as I'd like, but I am still very happy with the work I'm doing. This book is filling out nicely. I am still trying to juggle a few too many other things, and I need to identify them and get them out of the way.

A Round Of Words In 80 Days Update:

Sunday Day 14 - 85 minutes. Still not sure I didn't have a bug of some sort. Or the super cold dry weather is doing a number on me. However, I did get "widows and orphans" and small caps done on the paper book layout (even if I still haven't done the end material.) I really need to upload that thing tomorrow.

The layout work, though, was off the clock, because it's a writing day. Though it began slowly, I did get a reasonable writing session in tonight, and I brought the old vision into focus with the new one. I believe I have set myself up for a great session tomorrow.

Monday Day 15 - 149 minutes. Some very good work done today, even though I had to stop and make chicken wings, and then eat too many of them -- and that took about three and a half hours out of my day. (I watched four episodes of Leverage, back to back, while doing this.) The story is definitely moving along at an appropriate pace for a novel, as Mick and Casey get conned into doing a whole lot of manual labor in their attempts to do a little forensic investigation.

Tuesday Day 16 - 103 minutes. The new material is going well, but I've had to tear out some threads and reweave a couple of times. I have several bits of information which I have to trickle in and I'm trying to figure out the best place. I'm not sure if I should just delay some of it. I think I need to start skipping things, and write it forward, and then drop those items in later.

In the meantime, I guess Amazon hasn't stopped doing price matching for free books after all: Waiter, There's a Clue In My Soup! is now free again at Amazon, as well as at other vendors. (They don't usually match it for other countries, unfortunately -- but you can get it free at Smashwords.) For Mick and Casey fans, there are two of their short stories in this collection.

I'll talk about that book more when I update my "high price experiment" (which isn't going well, because Sony keeps discounting Have Gun, Will Play, and so Amazon won't raise it to full price. However it does seem to be going well at Barnes & Noble.

On Friday, I'll be posting about Stuart Kaminsky and his Toby Peters books, probably my most favoritest books of all time.

See you in the funny papers.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Making The Jump To Full-Time Writing, Part 1

Many of us start writing as a spare time hobby. And for some people it will remain a hobby -- something to do for fun when the mood strikes. That's a perfectly valid way to write, and one of the great things about both the internet and the new world of indie publishing: it gives the hobbyist an outlet for that work. (And I will probably write more about that later.)

This series of posts, though, is for those of us who see writing as something we'd like to do full time - regardless of whether it's a hobby or not.

It could be a job or small business which supports us financially, or it could be an artistic avocation (related to a religious vocation) which takes up all our time when we don't have to do something else. While an avocational writer might prefer to win the lottery and not worry about the market, most aim to make a living at writing so they don't have the distractions of a day job.

Money and Time

When we think about making the transition from working a day job, to being a full time writer, we tend to focus on The Bills. That is, we think about how much money we have to make at writing in order to afford quitting the day job.

Financial considerations are a big issue, and I'll talk more about those next week, but for this post I'll keep it simple:

Generally, in order to make the kind of money needed to quit the day job, you have to have been writing full time for a while -- which you can't do while working the day job.

Which is a conundrum -- or as I like to think of it, a chasm. You can't make the leap without the money, you can't make the money without the leap.

This gap is very wide in traditional publishing -- where you not only have to be writing at full professional level long before you make a sale, but you will also have to wait a very looooong time after that before getting paid. And that is crushing to the soul when you realize it.

It wasn't always that bad, though: In the grand old days writers could develop their skills and habits and still make some money by writing short fiction for magazines and newspapers -- and that provided a buffer to get across the chasm before you make the transition to full time writing.

And now days, indie publishing can also provide a buffer. It may not be a big one, but you can get your work out there earlier, and you get paid faster, even if it is low amounts. You can build your momentum slowly, scaling the business as you go. You don't have to leap. You can hike. (See Dean Wesley Smith's post about this. Though he tends to encourage a flat out run, you don't need to go quite as fast as he does.)

However, this post isn't about money.

There is something else you have to think about before you make that transition: you have to think about your time and habits. If the structure of your life is built on your day job, that structure will collapse when the job is gone. It happens to both freelancers and retirees all the time. It's something that you need to plan for.

Ways to Deal With The Life Structure Problem

There are two general approaches to preparing for a major life change:

One way to deal with this is to simply throw yourself at your non-writing to get it out of the way as fast as possible. The goal here is not to think about writing, but only about quitting that day job. Throw yourself into becoming financially independent, and then worry about building a new life afterwards. This is what is proposed by the self-help book Your Money Or Your Life. There is a lot to be said for this book. It's particularly useful for folks who are already in a high paying profession, and don't have time to write now. Those people make enough money to have a hope of retiring early, and the demands of their profession interfere with creative work too much anyway.

This concept has two problems: It assumes that you can stop writing, and it assumes that if you manage to stop, you can start again. You will essentially be starting from scratch when you finally get back to writing, and it may not go as well as you hoped. Life is short. You could have a heart attack doing all that work before you ever get to your dreams.

Me, I loved Your Money Or Your Life, but it was out of the question for me because I can't set aside my writing. So using a plan like theirs was a non-starter. I have, however, paused my writing for shorter periods of time to take care of issues in my life. I also put a lot of energy into finances whenever I did, so that I would have something of a buffer when I came out the other side. So at least thinking about that solution was helpful.

The second way to deal with the structural change that comes with full self-employment, is to build an alternative structure that isn't dependent on the day job. It's harder because it requires you to split your attention. The two posts I did about writing as a part time job were all about managing that split in attention. (Read it: Part 1, Part 2. )

However those posts were about surviving with that split over a long time, with no end in sight. And yes, that is important, because it make take you a very long time to make that transition. But if you are actually going to make that shift, you have to do more than survive. You have to actually shift yourself.

The key, I think, is to find the right job and overall work situation.

I like academia for several reasons, but one big one is the seasonal nature of it: whether you like it or not, you will have semester breaks, and maybe summers off. While that kind of stop-and-go schedule isn't ideal for developing your writing habits, it does do one thing: it gives you a chance to use that time to develop "day job-free" zones in your life. And not just weekends -- actual extended periods of time.

Long breaks are like a dress rehearsal for quitting the job. And you may very well find, at first, that all you succeed in doing is demonstrating that making the switch is not easy.

If you can subsist on a part time job -- or at least have the kind of job which you can wean your hours down from beyond full-time, to part-time, to consulting work -- that is ideal, because you can work on creating that writing schedule and structure more formally.

This helps not only with physically having time to do the work, but you can start thinking of your day job as the one you're moonlighting at.

And if you're young and you have energy, you could potentially push your writing up to full time before you actually have to give up that day job.

Now, One Big Warning....

One trap many writers fall into is that once you realize it's possible to make a living at writing, you start thinking of it as a way out of your troubles. Instead of being annoyed at your day job because it interferes with your writing, you start clinging to your writing as a white knight which will rescue you from your day job.

If you find yourself doing that, stop yourself right now. Don't think that way. Just don't. It will kill you.

Writing is too slow and too unpredictable to rescue you from anything. Even if you happen to achieve some wonderful success in your first year or two... that is likely to fade. Especially if you were so busy with marketing and other premature success efforts that you didn't prepare to handle the aftermath.

Instead, say this to yourself regularly:

"Writing will not rescue me. I must rescue my writing. If I want to write full time, I need to find a way to sustain myself and my writing with the resources I have now -- perhaps until retirement."

Novel Dares

A little over ten years ago, I maneuvered my work situation to about half time. The new schedule was to start in January, and as the end of the old year wound down, some Clarion folks I knew online started talking about doing a novel dare. Most Clarion novel dares were more intense than even NaNoWriMo -- often 2000-3000 words a day to finish a novel in a month. But that December, someone proposed a slower dare -- 1000 words a day for 60 days.

Hmmm, thought I, 1000 words a day is something I should be doing every day anyway. And if the whole point of reducing my hours (and taking an income hit) was to make time to write, I really need to put my (lack of) money where my mouth is. So I joined.

Though life has intervened multiple times since then, and laid me very low, that was the start of that new life structure that really worked for me. I do think that if indie publishing had been viable at that time -- the way it is now -- that would have provided the foundation I needed to move to full time writing much sooner.

Furthermore, if I'd had a steady but small income trickling in from indie writing, I could have powered through those tough times a little better. Some of those tough times were due entirely to the changes I was seeing in the publishing industry -- as I saw so many authors I liked lose their careers, or quit because they couldn't afford their "success" any more. It's discouraging to work so hard and then see your only option is something you simply don't want to be part of.

But no matter what your situation, or what you're battling, the very best way to build a structure in your life for writing, a structure which will survive any changes, is with a long term sustainable daily challenge. This will help even if the changes in your life are not voluntary.

I started this blog two years ago to have my own ongoing challenge which would not end. I needed it to build my structure and get me through. And that's why I am so pleased to find like-minded people in this A Round Of Words in 80 Days challenge.

The Most Important Element of a Writing Dare: Reporting

The reason your day job makes for such a strong structure in your life is because you have to show up. Some days, you may not do as well at the job. Some days, you may even call in sick. But you have to call in. The power is not in the doing, but in the showing up and calling in.

I notice a lot of writers in the ROW80 challenge who skip updates, or who make their goals vague and so their updates can't really say if they achieved them. Look, folks, go ahead and set low goals. Change them as your time situation changes. Heck, change them as your interest changes, but make those goals quantifiable, and whatever you do...


Even if you don't achieve anything, even if you fail utterly, always always always make that report. The report is the structure you need to hang your habits on. No report, no structure, no goals, no habits, no nothing.

And if you're going to successfully make any kind of transition, it starts with that structure.

As I said at the top: the thing you're going to need when you change your life is a structure that fits that new life. Building that structure is more important at first than actually meeting goals.

You don't have to join an outside challenge or dare, or even create your own public dare. You can do it privately, in a journal. But whatever you do, you've got to show up every day, or you've got to call in.

Next week I'll talk a little about the money side of all this. But before that, I've got a challenge update (and you'll note that even though we only post updates twice a week, I actually have daily progress reports within each update. I don't go to bed any night until I have updated that post).

And Friday I want to talk about a favorite series which has just hit ebook format: Stuart Kaminsky's mystery series about Hollywood P.I., Toby Peters. The ebooks are a little overpriced, but even though I have all the books in paper, I will re-buy them for Kindle. That's how important these books are to me.

See you in the funny papers.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Monday Art - What I'm Working On

One of the sad things about ebooks is that it has to look reasonably good as a thumbnail.

And this goes against everything you get trained in if you learned to do art for print. Art for print is all about looking good in high-rez. For one thing, if you draw something too small, and then scale it up, it looks awful -- all pixelated.

And this is something you learn very strictly not to do -- not even to think about it. Except....

With ebooks, the most important images are the small, low-rez ones. That's what everybody's going to see all the time. It's either going to be the 100 x 150 thumbnail, or the somewhat larger image on the product page, usually around 200 x 300.

And here's the thing that makes it sad -- textures are in. And textures really don't scale. If they look good at a high resolution, they disappear completely in thumbnail. Or they become muddy and strange.

Now, when I say "texture" I don't mean it quite the way we do in out in the real world. Among ordinary humans, the word "texture" means a tactile surface -- bumpy or smooth or something you can feel. But in digital art, texture has come to an image where the surface has a pattern or color variations. It may appear to be stained or faded or discolored, or marbled like stone, or with woodgrain. It's basically just a surface.

(That's the reason we started calling it a "texture." In the early days of 3-D animation, the objects were smooth, and so to get the appearance of a texture, you would draw a picture that looked textured, and you'd apply it to the surface.)

Textures are really in vogue right now. You'll see scrapes and smudges even on "conservative" things like ads for banks and insurance companies. You'll see some really spiffy ones on modern print books. They add a lot of quick visual interest to plain, abstract designs. But like I said, they don't scale.

So I've decided to play around with creating textures which would scale. And I've decided the way to start is by going against the rules and starting out by creating the texture small -- at 200 pixels by 300 pixels, then upscaling them to 600 x 900 to do the details that matter most at a higher resolution. Because I started small, the main gist of the texture stays visible when it is then reduced back down to 100 x 150.

The two blue images here show one example. On the left is a close up of the higher rez version of the image, and on the right is the thumbnail of the whole image.

It's dark because I was experimenting with text, and it looks good with white or very light text on it. However, because I did it in layers -- with the texture itself in grayscale, and a blending layer to add the color, I can make it lighter or darker or a different color (or a number of different colors) to suit the mood. With some settings it looks icy, others it looks like stone. With the right red it can look bloody. I could also invert it so that the streaks in the foreground are dark, and the smudgy background is light.

The other cool thing about a texture is that it can be applied to something else. You may have seen it on some modern thriller covers. A scraped up grunge texture might be applied to a silhouette of a gun, for instance. Here you see a mock cover made using that design above. I dulled the texture so the text and the silhouette would stand out.

This, I think, could be a very nice technique for making memorable but quick short story covers. Once the texture is done, it's very quick to play with it, and knock out a whole bunch of covers like the one on the right. (I'm tempted, actually, to offer to do such covers in return for proofing.)

I'm thinking I may replace my cover for Harsh Climate with something like it. While that's one of my spiffier covers, it doesn't necessarily suit the book that well, and I don't want to use photos or stock on anything I use any more.

The textures I did here, I knocked out in Photoshop with some grunge brushes. Next week I think I'll play with Painter for some less "canned" effects.

See you in the funny papers.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

ROW80 Update and Posting Schedule

As I mentioned earlier, I'm splitting my weeks, and doing art and layout Wednesday through Friday. Even though these are workdays at the day job, I'm thinking of them as my "weekend" when I take time off to do relaxing things at home.

And so far this is working really well for these artsy weekends. I'm very relaxed, and I'm getting some things done that I've wanted to get done. I'm going to add "blogging" as one of the tasks for Wed-Fri -- though at the moment I'm not doing it on the clock.

Blogging during this time will allow me to get the blog back on a schedule. I have three subjects I generally want to get to:

Mondays: Covers and Art. I'll talk about what I'm doing, and also about interesting covers and related topics.
Tuesdays: Writing Life and Business. I want to continue the series on writing habits, money issues, life and business stuff.
Fridays: Authors and Craft. As more and more backlists become available for Kindle, I really want to talk in depth about some of the books and authors who influenced my writing, and also about some craft issues that come up.

In the meantime, here is the Round Of Words In 80 Days Update:

Wednesday, Day 10 - 94 minutes. I watched TV on my computer and practiced drawing textures which would re-size from 100 pixels to 600 pixels. Then I did some layout for the paper version of The Man Who Did Too Much. I have completely forgotten all the little conversion hooks I did for Have Gun, Will Play -- so I reinvented the wheel for about a half hour, taking notes as I went. This time for sure!

Thursday, Day 11 - 55 minutes. Did some sketching and more work on layout. Should have done more, but didn't. (Actually, I did put some extra energy into editing yesterday's blog post.)

Tomorrow, possible snow day. (But most likely not.)

Friday, Day 12 - 85 minutes. Mainly layout. I'm definitely behind on getting the paper version of The Man Who Did Too Much done. Got it all in and formatted, but still have checking "widows and orphans" and such, and also have to decide what the "end matter" is going to be. I'll use the same author blurb as the ebook, but do I want an "other books" list? Pictures? Book covers? Excerpt?

Saturday, Day13 - 90 Minutes. Woke up with the worst sinus headache I've ever had in my life. I've mentioned my migraines, but I seldom get pain with those -- I just get stupid and blind. This was what I imagine other people with migraines must suffer. So the headache left me with an incredibly slow start for the day. The Tylenol eventually kicked in, but my first session was little more than some brainstorming (off the clock), and the evening session was a partial read-through. I am actually pleased with the results of both sessions.

More Thoughts on Writing Schedules

Call this an addendum to the Writing as a Second Job posts.

So now I begin a four day block of writing time. No, it won't all be writing time. It never is. It does, however, approximate what writing full time would be like: Saturday is shopping day. Sunday is socializing and going to the pictures day. Monday will usually be to myself. Tuesday will have appointments.

This is how it will ever be. Get three more days into that week, you'll undoubtedly find three more varieties of kerfuffle to commit to them. Which is okay. There still should be plenty of time to write. The problem is attention management.

For instance, Saturdays. Saturdays have not changed in this new schedule. They usually go thusly:

1.) Get up, wake up (usually in that order) get self and day sorted out (make shopping list, brush hair, comb teeth, remember my name, etc.). 1-2 hours.
2.) Head to Taco Bell with full writing kit. (This includes an ancient netbook, steno pads, pencils, my iPod Touch and my Kindle. Also 5 x 7 cards for sketching, just in case.) 2 hours.
3.) Shopping and errands. 2-3 hours.
4.) Cook. 2 hours. (I'm a serious cook.)

The remainder of the evening is spent this way (times highly variable):

5.) Screw around
6.) Set to work.... Ooooooo, shiny internet!
7.) No, really, set to work.... Urgent email about video with cute cats.
8.) Detailed political conversation, or major breaking news story.
9.) Actually setting to work.
10.) Oh, shoot, it's 2am and I've got to type in my blog update.

That's how every Saturday goes... but that doesn't mean it's not productive. That exact same scenario can be very productive or not at all productive. It depends largely on what happens in items 2 and 9. (And also 6 and 7.)

The thing about this new schedule is that so much will depend on that Saturday Taco Bell session. That's the moment when I transition into my full writing week -- and my mind won't be there after having been on a break. If I can set things up to hit the ground running, I can get momentum up for the week.

(And given this morning's headache, which completely derailed the first session, you can see how it can be completely derailed.)

Headaches aside, I can think of two strategies for hitting the ground running:

1.) Do a review of what I'm writing on Friday night. That's not always going to happen. There's a reason Friday is not a writing day. And maybe, as long as I'm doing this divided schedule thing, I should respect that and not mix tasks.

2.) Use the Taco Bell session to set my head into the week's writing. Set up for a proper night session and beyond.

Today, though I couldn't get much writing done, I went to Taco Bell anyway, before shopping and errands, and wrote down some ideas about certain clues. In other words, I had the session anyway, and I did make progress, even if I didn't get where I needed to be. The evening session turned into what I planned to do at Taco Bell. But I do feel I've made a transition into the writing week, and that helps.

Monday I'll talk a little about an experiment I'm working with on the art side, in trying to come up with scalable textures -- abstract textures which look good at 100 pixels as well as at 600 or more pixels. Not sure I have good images, but I might throw in some sketches as well for visual interest.

And Tuesday I'm starting a series about the transition to full-time writing.

See you in the funny papers.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Great Post About Writing as Investment from DWS

Next week, when I talk about making the transition to full-time writing, I was going to talk about money and personal finance at the end of the week. I was going to explain the differences between wages and investment and passive income and how to plan some security into something insecure.

Dean Wesley Smith must have been thinking along the same lines. He posted about Investing In Your Own Future and compared your writing output to a 401k investment plan. He does a wonderful break down of the numbers in a way that reminds me of the Miracle of Compounding. Only in this case, instead of the interest compounding, it's your body of work.

You can never understand the economics of publishing if you can't wrap your head around the concepts he's talking about.

This is a must read.

See you in the funny papers.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Workday Writing - Writing as a Second Job, Part 2

Last time I talked about the practice of writing on weekends and holidays, what problems I've found with it, but also why I'm doing something like it for this quarterly dare anyway.

This time I'm going to talk about two concepts - Daily Writing and Workday Writing.

Daily Writing

Daily Writing is what we usually do when we get serious about writing. If writing is your calling, and your profession, then you have to do it every single dang day of your life.

The advantage of daily writing is obvious: you form good habits and you build up a good sized body of work fast. And though there is a down side, this is one of the most important things for you do start with. Never a day without a line, as the poet said.

The thing to remember is that it's more than a habit. This is the thing that makes writing a part of your identity. You write, and you keep writing. And your mind always comes back to writing. It's via this daily writing that you make the transition from a wannabe who thinks about writing all the time to the writer who does write all the time.

In addition to that, slow steady progress can help you build momentum. Trying to write in powerful bursts can wear you out, and kill momentum (unless you're just creating short term momentum to help power through something specific -- like the last chapters of a book).

The disadvantages are easy to see:

1.) It's hard to do. Even if you love writing and can't wait to get to it every day, it can be far beyond frustrating when you're exhausted and life gets in your way. It can be heart-breaking to push and push and be prevented and prevented. And with daily writing, you will come face-to-face with your goals every day. More chances to feel defeated.

However, most of the time you can deal with that. It's just a matter of moderating your expectations. (That is, lowering them.) And, of course, learning to not waste time cursing the horse every time it bucks you off. Just get back on and get back on and get back on again. Life is one ornery bronco, and it's going to buck you off. No getting around it.

2.) You can burn out. If you are successful in training yourself to always go right back to writing after every disruption, you can wear yourself out. You can also push your life out of your life. This can be great for getting up some momentum, but it's bad for your life and sanity. (There is a reason it goes back at least as far as the Bible that you should take a day off once in a while.)

An issue closely related to burn out is losing the fun. If you push yourself hard enough, you can turn anything into a chore. While at some point you will have to learn to put the fun back into it, it can be helpful to learn how to keep working, even when it isn't fun. This is a skill and a hurtle you must cross sometime. But once you've got that under control, you need to go back to learning how to keep writing fun.

3.) It can interfere with your performance of your day job and life functions. As with item two, if you succeed in focusing your life energy on writing every day, you may have a hard time changing gears and concentrating on anything else. This is cool for you as a writer, but it also could make you a driving hazard on the road, and cause your boss to lose faith in you as a worker, and your family to leave you. (Also, don't forget to shower.)

Workday Writing

One solution to the problem of writing yourself right off the rails with a daily habit is to make writing a part of your ordinary work days, like a second job, or taking night classes. Do the work as a part of a routine, so it becomes a daily habit, but keep it within limits. Do something different on weekend or vacation days. Make those days for reading or blogging or doing publishing errands...or just living the rest of your life.

Workday writing has a lesser version of many of the problems with daily writing, but as long as this routine has you writing during the majority of your days, it will still have the advantages. You'll still create a habit, and still create steady progress.

The big disadvantage is that you may be writing on the days where you have the least time, and you are the most tired. Your only solution may be to keep the fun in it. You may have to forget lessons and duties. And you may have to play with your schedule to find the best time for you. Some people find it's easiest if they get up early, when the world is asleep. Or stay up late. Others find that lunch hour writing sprints can be very productive.

Every Day, But Not Every Moment

One compromise between daily writing and workday writing is to write every day... but don't try to do more on weekends or vacations. Do exactly the same as you would do on a work day. Then, when you're done with it, get on with life and vacation.

That compromise has been the method that works best for me, overall. Yes, I still struggle with doing too much or too little on certain days, as conditions change.

As you find the right schedule for yourself, there are always two things to remember: everybody is different, and even more important, everybody changes. As you develop as a writer, your needs will change. And your goals will too.

The goal I keep in mind is the transition to being a full time writer. Aside from financial considerations, one big issue is working around the Day Job.

The Day Job (and the time and energy it takes) is kind of an elephant in the room. It's this big thing that tends to suck up all the time, energy and resources, and we tend to build our lives around it. And we keep building until it becomes the structure everything -- including or writing habits -- is dependent on. So when its gone, very often it takes all your carefully constructed habits with it. You need to consider more than finances when it comes to quitting your day job for a life of writing.

Next week I'll talk about that. In the meantime....

See you in the funny papers.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

ROW80 Update - Rearranged Goals

A Round of Words in 80 Days round up:

Sunday, Day 7 - 76 minutes. Beginning to decompress. That was the problem with the previous book, it was in a state which really required a lot of close attention. And this book seemed similar, because it started life as a tightly plotted novella -- but it's beginning to let out the corset and feel like a novel. Mick and Casey stories have a natural flow to them anyway. I think the Starling and Marquette stories will too, next time.

It really helps reading Rex Stout and other really well established mystery series, though (even modern ones like Archer Mayor) to feel the relaxed pace, and how a mystery is often about the parts you skip in other kinds of books.

Monday, Day 8 - 122 minutes. In keeping with my new goal set, I worked on art and design work today, since this turned out to be more of a day at the day job than it was supposed to be. (It's the first day of the semester, so I "stopped in" to put out fires. Turned out to take a whole lot longer than I expected.)

Tuesday, Day 9 - 71 minutes. I had too much other kerfuffle today and didn't get to writing until late. I did more outlining than writing, partly because there are a couple of directions I could go, and I don't want to burn my steps on some of the clues. But I am finding the relaxed rhythm of Mick's voice allows me to slow down easily and still have fun.

Shifting My Schedule - New Goals

As I mentioned in previous posts: my work schedule has changed, and I'm kind of excited about it. In the past, this sort of shift hasn't helped, but I think this is a very good time to try it this way again. As I mentioned in the "Weekend Writing" post, my day job work week is all shoved together at the end of the week now. Which leaves my writing week in a four day block.

For the sake of my sanity, I am going to split my week, so that I don't write on Wednesday through Friday. I will, however, do other things. Particularly art and layout work. Maybe some editing or other formatting work. Normally that work is off the clock to keep it from crowding out the writing work -- however, since there is a separation by calendar going on, I'm going to put this work on the clock. An hour a day Wed-Thur-Fri.

So here are the new goals:

  • Saturday to Tuesday: 120 minutes a day, writing.
  • Wednesday to Friday: 60 minutes as day, art and layout.

That comes to 11 hours a week, which is actually a slightly higher goal than I was going for. So for the total, let's round it off to: 7000 minutes!

This is going to be a bear this week, though (and perhaps other weeks ) because Wednesday is my looong day, and I really would like to get to the stuff I only just started tonight -- but I doubt I will be able to. It's frustrating.

Last time I posted about the disadvantages (and advantages) of what I'm doing now -- Weekend Writing -- and Friday I'll post about the opposite method of managing your writing time: Workday Writing (with a nod to Every Day Writing). Then next week I'll talk about the bigger issue -- making the transition to full time writing, and why habits matter as much as money.

See you in the funny papers.