You must sometimes wonder if fantasy authors, like rock stars and sports heroes and famous actors, have unbelievably gorgeous wives and children.
The answer, of course, is yes.
It’s been a busy year for me. I started 2013 as CEO of a charity that no longer exists, chasing a career as a publisher and fundraiser. I end the year as a part-time employee of an author-services company I helped start, with high hopes of becoming a full-time writer again in 2014.
It’s been a strange year.
I founded the Consortium in 2010. It was the cooperative of artists who helped me publish my first book, and over two and a half years we recruited 34 artists, hosted two major art shows, and published 30 titles.
And then, just like Al Capone, we were brought down by our accountant. We’d hired a discount guy in the early days (when we were dead broke), and we paid for it in the end. Despite his repeated assurances, he never delivered our application for charitable status to the IRS.
We finally fired him and switched to more reliable agents in 2012, but after reviewing all the papers, they told us we’d waited too long and missed too many opportunities. It was possible to carry on, but it would cost a fortune and probably involve years of legal uncertainty.
So, as much as we hated to, we folded the business. I’d been the first employee in April 2012, and I received my last paycheck in March 2013. We formally dissolved the company at the same time.
Of course, it’s never that easy. We’re still working on closing the books, managing paperwork from the state of Oklahoma, and wrangling with the IRS. With any luck, we’ll get it all settled in the early part of next year.
I also spent most of 2013 experimenting with traditional publishing. That experiment started late in 2012, when I delivered the first Godlanders book to 47North in November.
Based on all my experience with indie publishing, I really mostly thought of the book as finished when I turned it in. Legacy publishing doesn’t work that way. I spent just as much time working on the book in December as I had in October.
We finally finished that book sometime in January, and in February I dove right into the sequel (which was due in May). I wasn’t anticipating any problem with that timeline, but between the pain of dissolving the Consortium and the challenge of expanding a brand new fantasy universe, it turned out to be the hardest book I’ve written since high school.
It was due in May, as I said before. I delivered it in June and, once again, kept right on working on it into late August.
Then book three was due in November. Yeesh.
We were also seeing the sales of book one by then. It had been released in May and, frankly, it bombed. It has limped along since then, but it clearly never caught the attention of all my Dragonprince fans.
So we started analyzing the problems with that book even as I was trying to focus on finishing out the later books. We came up with an aggressive plan to rebrand them all (new titles, covers, and product descriptions) to coincide with the release of book two in January.
So that’s looming large now. I’ve delivered book three (and next week I’ll start doing the follow-up work on it), but now all my attention is focused on the launch of the sequel in a few weeks here.
Most importantly, I’m done. I still have another month or two of clean-up, but I’ve completed my three-book contract with 47North. That series will definitely continue someday, but for now (and probably all of 2014), I’m really looking forward to turning my attention back to Hathor and the dragons.
And I cannot possibly discuss 2013 without talking about Draft2Digital. If you’re not already familiar with Draft2Digital, it’s an internet company built on the software that I used to format, publish, and monitor sales on all my books.
That software was originally developed as a favor just for me, but over the years I became increasingly convinced it would be a thing of real value to indie publishers everywhere.
Of course, it took a lot of work to convert it from a bunch of command-line code connected directly to my Google Docs account into something convenient, clean, and flexible enough for public use.I recruited the people to do just that early in 2012, and the four of us worked feverishly to get it done by the end of the year.
That was 2012. In August of that year, Draft2Digital hired its first employee. In December we launched a beta site and advertised it with a single post on a single writer’s forum.
So we started 2013 with one employee and maybe nine active users. We end it with six employees and 1,900 active users. We have nearly 20,000 titles in our catalog, in our first year we’ve seen over 2.4 million paid sales of our users’ books.
I mentioned in the introduction that I’m one of those employees. They hired me in July to help manage distributor relations, and recently promoted me to Director of User Experience. It’s my job to understand how authors and publishers use our website, to figure out how we can improve that experience, and to design the new features that will make our service even more valuable as we grow.
It’s been a wild year. I feel like I somehow crammed a decade’s worth of life into 2013. I’ve had some victories and some failures, but most of all, I’ve had experiences.
I haven’t even mentioned passing 200,000 sales of my own books. Or the car that caught on fire in the middle of a road trip. Or the bitterly cold Bedlam game I watched with my dad in Stillwater. Or my lawsuit. Or the writer’s conference I attended in Manhattan. Or spending an afternoon with Patrick Rothfuss.
It’s been amazing. Exhausting, true, but amazing. And as I look toward 2014, I realize the most amazing thing of all:
It’s only getting better.
I do forget from time to time
That I’m a poet in my heart.
I hone my craft. I work and train
Until my words become a job;
Until taletelling’s commonplace
And then I lose sometimes the why.
But then I watch my children laugh
Or my wife takes my hand in hers
Or I climb in a plane and soar
And watch a sunrise over clouds.
I do forget from time to time…
But poetry remembers me.
My friend and fellow fantasy author (and now collaborator) Joshua Unruh asked me to write about my next project as part of a chain blog. He spent a lot of his own post talking about writing in my world, so it would be rude for me to ignore his request. But, then, I’ve struggled so much with my “next project” that this has felt like a really difficult post to write.
The thing is…long before Josh tagged me, I already knew that this was the post I needed to write. And it’s been difficult that whole time. That’s why I haven’t said a word here for two months now (and why that last word was some nonsense about cookies).
Here’s the thing: One year ago, I quit my day job to be a full-time writer. I spent five months completing my masters degree and capping off an epic fantasy series that I’ve been working on since I was a teenager. Every bit of that was a dream come true.
Then I published The Dragonprince’s Heir, and in the time since then I have wanted to do anything but write.
Those words are painful to say. It’s especially painful to share with you, my strongest supporters.
There are a lot of reasons. There was a vocal negative reaction to The Dragonprince’s Heir, but that’s probably the smallest reason of them all. I’m used to criticism, and I’m not under the impression that anything I write right now is pure gold. I’m still learning, still developing as an artist, so the books I’m writing now are just stepping stones to the really good stuff I’m going to work on next year.
I believe that now, and I hope to keep believing it with every passing year until I run out of them entirely.
No, most of what’s getting in my way is stress and obligation. See, I didn’t just quit my job last year. I also started an indie publishing company and hired a couple editors and a marketing guy. You probably know them all by name. They’re all fellow authors and good friends of mine, and it was our plan to put together a flood of awesome fantasy for you guys that would leave you begging for even more (and, in the process, fund Consortium Books to hire and train even more authors).
I had boring day-job work to do. Not for my old government bosses, this time, but for my own organization. There was so much work to do, and now several families’ livelihoods depending (at least partially) on my business acumen. That’s a lot of pressure (and not a small amount of tedious paperwork).
On top of that, for lots of very good reasons, I signed a three-book publishing deal with Amazon’s 47North. I owed them the first novel in a new trilogy on November 1, but when I started hiring people in June and planning our schedule, November looked a long way off. As it turned out, I just had time to deal with the first, most urgent mountain of corporate paperwork before I had to dive into the 47North project with a desperate urgency just to hit my deadline.
And, of course, after I turned that in I found myself facing a new mountain of chores that had piled up while I was frantically writing. And then, when I realized they still needed me for consulting on promotional materials and reviewing edits and revising the manuscript, I discovered there was still a surprising amount of work to do on the novel I’d just delivered.
Somewhere in there I had a root canal, watched dad campaign for and then unfairly lose a bid for State Representative, caught pneumonia for six weeks or so, and survived two major holidays with all the family commitments those entail.
That’s how I’ve spent my dream-come-true so far: exhausted, overwhelmed, and behind schedule.
So! The challenge for this blog post was to tell you about my current writing project. The sad fact is, it’s the same one I blogged about last July (and promised by the end of summer). I’m working on a novella set in the world of the Dragonprince, featuring Daven and taking place immediately after the events of The Dragonswarm. Six months now, and I’ve got a little over 6,000 words written.
I’m actually really excited about the story. It’s Daven in all his power fighting a vicious (and frighteningly clever) dragon brood out in the eastern plains. It’s full of exciting action and tense drama and some surprising revelations with regard to the dragon bond.
It also sets the stage for the collaborative novellas Joshua was talking about in his post. A Darkness in the East is the first chapter in a five-piece collection called The Dragonprince’s Arrows. Among them, those stories will reveal how Daven came to have an army of dragonriders behind him and introduce some of the more interesting riders.
Unlike the one I’m still working on, those stories are already written. Or…drafted, anyway. Joshua and Jessie agreed to collaborate with me on them, so I’ll get to introduce you to Joshua’s break-neck plot and Jessie’s endearing characters, all wrapped up in the huge and fascinating setting that is Daven’s dragonswarm.
In other words, the next big thing is huge. It’s awesome, and I can’t wait to share it with you. I just have to get over myself first, get out of my own way, and learn how to write for fun again.
Wish me luck. I’ll let you know the moment the story’s done.
If you like Mexican food and you live in Oklahoma City (or near enough to visit), I’m about to make your life better. If you live more than…oh, let’s say three or four hours away, I’m just going to make you intensely jealous.
As you know by now, I’ve spent the last two months in a frantic writing frenzy. When I’m writing under deadline (just like writing with a day job), the key becomes to get as much work done as possible in my alone time. This time around, that largely happened in the wee hours when everyone else was blissfully asleep.
But I have long made a habit of taking advantage of mealtimes for that purpose, too. That was particularly important when I had a day job and writing at work posed a questionable risk to my ownership of my work. For that very reason, I wrote most of Gods Tomorrow on long lunch breaks at Buffalo Wild Wings.
This time around, I’m in a different part of town (although, come to think of it, I spent a decent chunk of time at Buffalo Wild Wings, too). Still, my new favorite is a Mexican place in Midtown called 1492. I’ve been in two or three times a week for months now. I’ll order a soft drink and some entree (usually a half-order of chicken fajita nachos, which comes with some of their excellent guacamole), then enjoy free refills on their chips and salsa while I sit and write for hours.
My chief judgment of a Mexican restaurant falls on their salsa. I always eat a lot of salsa, and anyone who can make a good salsa can handle Mexican cuisine. I’m a tough judge to please, though, because I’m picky about textures. I don’t much like a super chunky blend. I like a smooth, even flavor, rich in spice but not overwhelmed by one strong flavor (like the jalapeno bite at Ted’s, the Texas chili at Abuelo’s, or the vinegar at Chilis).
See? Super picky. But 1492 makes my ideal salsa. I love it every time. And, as I said, anyone who does good salsa can do the rest. Their guacamole is excellent. I’ve also had tamales, enchiladas, tacos, and quesadillas. All delicious. When we take our kids, we always get a big bowl of the yellow queso, and it always gets scraped clean.
They call themselves a place for “New World Latin Cuisine,” which is the fanciest euphemism for “Tex Mex” I’ve ever heard. Located as they are in Midtown (1207 N. Walker, OKC, OK 73103), they can get crowded weekdays over lunch and weekends in the evening, but I’ve gone more than once for Saturday lunch and stayed til almost dinner time without ever having to feel guilty for taking up a table.
Of course, that’s a big deal to me. Restaurants are not designed to accommodate free-loading novelists, but I have never felt rushed or unwelcome, even when the words were really flowing and my visits stretched dangerously close to criminal loitering.
The prices are reasonable for mid-tier Mexican–you can expect something in the same range as On the Border, Poblanos, or Abuelo’s.
If you live in the Oklahoma City area, I have to recommend a visit to 1492. And when you’re there, tell them international bestselling fantasy author Aaron Pogue sent you. They’ll have no idea what you’re talking about, but maybe if enough people do that, I’ll start getting free guacamole or something. That would be delicious.
FTC Notice: I have not been paid or otherwise endorsed in any way for this recommendation. However, maybe if we all work together, we can turn that around. What do you say?
Here are some highlights:
Most of my books are now available on Kobo!
That means you can get DRM-free ePubs even if you’re not living the in the US. (I hadn’t realized Barnes and Noble made that restriction). We’re working on getting all the Consortium Books library up there, and will have it shortly.
Draft2Digital (my new e-book publishing platform) is…functional! Sort of!
Man, that should really sound more exciting than it does. As of yesterday afternoon, we can now add new book projects, input all the basic sales data, upload a source document (Word or Google Docs), and then generate a beautifully-formatted e-book. We haven’t integrated the tools to publish that book to our various vendors yet, but I’ve done proof of concept and tying all the pieces together shouldn’t be too hard.
I just signed a three-book deal with Amazon’s sci-fi fantasy publishing imprint, 47North! (Yes, these all get exclamation marks. If they didn’t deserve exclamation marks, they wouldn’t be news.)
That was actually last Wednesday, but Amazon has agreed to publish and promote three books in the World of Auric superhero-fantasy series. I’m really looking forward to experiencing the (somewhat) traditional publishing process, and especially to the promotional partnership Amazon can provide.
And while I was writing this post, I was contacted by an anime production group interested in developing the Dragonprince’s Heir into a feature film, or possibly a series!
I have no idea how much interest you would have in seeing that, but I find the idea fascinating. And, of course, it gives me an opportunity to find new readers in another market altogether. That some exciting stuff!
And, finally, I recently approved our next title from Consortium Books, Myth Reaver: Downfall, by Joshua Unruh!
It’s neo-noir Viking fantasy, which means it’s huge and dramatic and all kinds of grim. If any of that sounds at all interesting to you, you’ll probably love the book. It’s epic in scale and tone, and perfectly executed. I’m so proud to have been a part of this story’s development.
I really wanted to mention this one sooner, but I saved it to the end because it comes with an offer! Draft2Digital will be building us an Advance Reading Copy of Myth Reaver: Downfall sometime tomorrow, and Josh offered to let me share copies with my readers.
I’ll probably make a separate post about that tomorrow (if I can find the time), but if you’ve read this far, you can get a head start. Leave a comment below asking for an ARC of some grim Viking fantasy, and I’ll make sure you get one.
Now…I guess I’d better get back to work!
I’ve spent most of July being a businessman. I’ve been shopping group insurance coverage for my editors and me, trying to find someone reliable to handle payroll and corporate taxes, and running board meetings.
Most of the writing I’ve done recently has been on a formal business plan. Fun.
But it’s all to the good. You might remember how glad I was to stop working out of Starbucks and start working out of an office. That office was a tiny, temporary space just to get me a desk. Now that we have editors on staff and are working to hire a whole handful of new folks, we need more space.
And we’ve found the perfect space. It’s a two-story open retail space in the midtown/arts district. We’ve drawn up plans that include a public art gallery, a little bookstore for our products, a wide open work area for our Writers and Programmers, a raised studio with direct sunlight for our Painters and Photographers, and (eventually) a dedicated recording studio for our Musicians.
It’s gorgeous. It’s also a huge financial commitment. So I’ve been very busy crunching numbers and making best guesses (and worst-case scenarios) and planning for the future. I had to convince my board of directors that we could (and should) afford the place, and now I have to convince the building owners to take us on as tenants.
It was an interesting board meeting. Once we’d finished the agenda items, it settled into more of a casual discussion as one of the directors asked me how I planned to handle the conflicting job responsibilities of producing new novels and running the company.
I smiled sweetly and explained that I’m still producing new novels in my free time. I’m a full-time CEO, and it’s everything I can do to manage that job.
This experience is so far from anything I ever expected for my life. It’s incredible. It’s stressful and tedious at times and often incredibly uncreative, but it’s also big. It’s important. I’m not just telling stories; I’m building a new media empire.
That’s not to say I’m done telling stories. Hah! I am still producing new novels in my free time. I’ve been hard at work on a short story in the World of Auric, a dragonrider novella featuring Daven, and a brand new epic novel (which I hope to get written this fall) featuring Daven’s son Damion.
I’m also hard at work as publisher and coach. In just the last week I’ve helped workshop Courtney’s sequel to Rethana’s Surrender, Joshua’s epic viking fantasy Myth Reaver: Downfall, and Jessie’s adventure fantasy, The City of Orphans. And then there are the dragonrider collaborations. But that’s a story for another time.
No matter how much time we spend living inside our own heads, no matter how hard we work to develop thick skin, no matter how dedicated we are to our own artistic vision…the most important thing in the world to a professional writer is someone else’s opinion.
If you’ve enjoyed any of my books, please leave a review. It makes more of a difference than you might imagine. One of the biggest things you can do to support me as a writer (right after “Buying my books” and “Recommending them to your friends”) is leaving a review at Amazon.com.
Published book reviews are a phenomenally powerful marketing tool whether they’re in a national paper, a book review blog, or just customer comments at Amazon. And reader recommendations (also known as “word of mouth”) are an even more powerful force.
Harnessing those forces can be a huge challenge. I’ve tried to spark a fire with my recent offer of Advance Reading Copies for my upcoming novel, and as you can see I’ve now blogged on two separate sites and posted a personal plea on one my Books page begging readers for review.
At my publisher’s site, we’ve just posted a standing request for reliable book reviews. That’s right: Consortium Books is willing to give away free copies of every book they publish to any applicants who can prove themselves to be reliable reviewers. That’s how important reviews are.
And today I want to share one with you. It’s for an upcoming novel by my friend and fellow Consortium Writer, Courtney Cantrell. Next Tuesday, the same day we’re releasing The Dragonprince’s Heir, Consortium Books will also be releasing the first book in Courtney’s epic fantasy series, Schism’s Daughter (Legends of the Light-Walkers, #1).
Schism’s Daughter is incredible. You’re going to love it. I read the book years ago, and it was a lot of the reason I came back to fantasy writing. If it hadn’t been for Courtney showing me what real fantasy could be like–rich, grown-up, exciting, and moving–the Dragonprince Trilogy might never have seen the light of day.
If you like epic fantasy, you will love this book. If you like anything you’ve read by me, this book is even better. Courtney Cantrell has a special kind of magic when it comes to high fantasy, and she has worked wonders here.
Read this book. You’ll be glad you did.
I love this book, and I want to see it succeed. I also love my fans who showed up in such great numbers to request a review copy of The Dragonprince’s Heir, so I told Courtney I’d send you guys her way if she would share a copy of Schism’s Daughter with you.
She agreed, and it’s the same offer I made: The first 100 people to leave a comment with a valid email address get free ARCs. So pop over to Courtney’s blog before the end of the day today and get a sneak peek at the next great epic fantasy from Consortium Books.
On Friday, I dropped in to explain with great fear and trembling that I would have just three days to write 20,000 words.
I sort of exaggerated the dilemma, because I was only counting Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. I left on Friday and Saturday, because I was heading to Arkansas for those two days to visit with my family there (and give a little talk on self-publishing to the Fiction Writers of Central Arkansas association).
That trip gave me six hours in the car both ways, and of course while I was in Arkansas–even with birthday parties and fancy dinners and writers’ associations–I had some time to myself. I should have called it five days, not three.
But, then, I know myself. With less than a week to write 20,000 words, I still only managed 2,000 words on Friday and Saturday. So, pretty much as anticipated, I showed up to work Sunday morning with 18,000 words to write in three days.
That was more than a little terrifying. I stared at my laptop in panic. I double-checked my word count (it hadn’t changed). I skimmed back through the last couple pages, hoping to ride some narrative momentum straight into a productive day of writing.
I went to get a cup of coffee.
I sat back down at the laptop, went through the whole process again, and went to get another cup of coffee.
Nothing was happening. I went for a walk around the empty office. Not a casual stroll–an aggressive, angry power-walk to get the blood pumping. I put in a good half hour, then came back to my laptop, opened the story, and just stared.
Finally I gave up. I went to Facebook and quipped. I went to Twitter and caught up on industry news and clever misattributed quotes. I did some administrative cleanup at all my many blogs.
Oh, hey! You can now email me from the handy-dandy Contact form!
And then–four hours in, utterly broken, and deeply ashamed of myself that I couldn’t even write one word, let alone 18,000–I went slinking back to my Google Docs.
But instead of opening the treacherous story tab (“GT: Faith – Editing Copy”), I opened the one next to it (“Prewriting Package for Ghost Targets: Faith”). I scrolled down to the plot outline/scene list and stared at a bunch of empty spots or brief, one-line descriptions. I frowned at one of those, shifted it down a spot, and fleshed it out.
Then I added a scene above it, to describe the one I was currently working on. And that generated a new scene, which bumped the one below it even further down. Then I skipped past that one and added a new scene after. I spent more than a hour adding fewer than 500 words.
And when I was done, I had a story to tell. I clicked over to the story tab, and started writing. By the time I went home last night (early enough to watch some TV with the wife and get a full night’s sleep), I’d written 8,000 words.
One day gone. Two days left, and 10,000 words yet to write. That’s still triple the daily output necessary to win NaNoWriMo, but hey, I did 8,000 yesterday. I think I can manage it.
Now I’m off to give it a try.
I started writing books when I was…let’s say twelve. I first wrote Taming Fire while I was in college (ten years ago now), but I didn’t really hit my stride as a writer until 2007. In 2007, I finally finished two novels (my second and third). It felt awfully good to finish up two books at once, but those two had been slowly coalescing for most of five years.
So at that point, I was ready to accept that my “pace” for writing novels was about 2-3 years per title. To put that in a perspective that’ll be useful later in this article, those two novels combined came to 180,000 words. So I was writing about 36,000 words a year.
For that matter, the original version of Taming Fire (what you know as Taming Fire and The Dragonswarm), ran 140,000 words, and I wrote it in four years. That’s 35,000 words a year. See? I had a consistent, stable pace.
Then in November of 2007 somebody convinced me to try out a project called National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for short). The goal of NaNoWriMo is to complete a short novel (50,000 words) within November’s 30 days.
The rules are totally unenforced, but they say you have to start at the beginning of a new project, you have to write 50,000 words on that one project, and you can only count words written between 12:00am on November 1 and 11:59pm on November 30.
That’s it. You don’t have to finish the novel. You don’t have to edit it. (In fact, they strongly encourage you not to.) Quality isn’t at issue. It’s all about setting an aggressive pace.
I’d been trying for years to get my dad to write, and my sister had expressed an interest, and I was still on a high from finishing those two books in the summer, so I decided to do it. I got Dad and Heather to join, and we dove in.
I knew just how ridiculous 50,000 words in a month was (from my established pace of 36,000 in a year), but it couldn’t hurt to try, right? Even if we failed miserably, we’d have the beginnings of a novel to build on later.
To my surprise, it wasn’t ridiculous at all. That first year, we all three won (meaning we hit 50,000 words before the 30th). And I did better than that. I wrote all the way to the end of my novel…at 118,000 words.
Yeah. That changed my perspective a little bit. It was actually a pretty good story, too.
I’ve never recreated that NaNoWriMo experience. November’s always a busy time, and my life has gotten hectic, and (the real heart of the issue) I didn’t really have anything left to prove after that. So I’ve limped through or I’ve muddled the rules or I’ve just skipped NaNoWriMo altogether in the years since.
But I still use “NaNoWriMo” as a yardstick for writing. To complete 50,000 words in November, you need to average 1,667 words a day. I usually prefer to schedule my writing around weekdays, and leave myself the weekends to either decompress or catch up, so that requires 2,333 words a day Monday-Friday.
(To put it in that context, my phenomenal first NaNoWriMo novel averaged 3,933 words a day.)
Last week I talked about my due dates and the crazy ambitious schedule I’ve been wrestling with this semester. In the two months since I quit my day job, I’ve written
That’s 85,000 words in two months, or 1,393 words a day. Oh, but I’m not done. I probably mentioned this last week, but if I’m going to pass all my classes (and graduate), I have to turn in 40,000 words on Faith for Writing the Novel at the end of the semester.
Another way of saying that is that I have to write 20,000 words between now and 10:00am on Wednesday, May 2.
And since I’m heading to Little Rock in a couple hours to visit Dad and Heather over the weekend, another way of saying that is that I have to write 20,000 words in three days. So…remember that first NaNoWriMo novel that I wrote unbelievably quickly? I have to double the rate of that one if I’m going to pass this class.
Don’t worry. I’ll do it. I’m amazing. But still…I really shouldn’t be using up time hanging around here. So…see you sometime next week!