Dec 30, 2011

The First Failure

Once Humanism for Parents was published and I had done enough research on the novel to begin, I hit a wall. The problem was that I had no confidence in my own ability to write fiction. It just isn't the same as non-fiction. I'm a terse, to-the-point kind of writer and making shit up isn't really my way. On the other hand, the plot had developed quite a bit and I thought I had a great story on hand. It had completely changed from the time I started to the point where the original idea for the book had turned into a small amount of backdrop.

As I started talking to people about the story and the book I ended up finding a couple who aspired to be fiction writers, but they lacked that great story that would inspire them. We agreed to form a team where I would provide the plot, the research, and the back-story, and they would do the actual writing. It was perfect.

In order to share information anytime, anywhere, I added a wiki to my spiritualhumanism site (password protected :) and gave them access. Then I documented the past life and a profile for each of the main characters and started outlining chapter details. I also had to detail a timeline. Getting a feasible timeline for a historical novel seemed important and it was no small feat given the period of 30AD to 70AD. I broke each chapter into a summary, a general plot, and key points to get across. I left all the details to the couple, as I didn't want to stifle their creativity.

We had meetings after work (one of them worked with me) every couple of weeks for a while. They kept challenging me on the plot and on the motivation of the protagonist. This period was exciting as we were making progress and the novel, even though nothing had been written yet, was improving with each challenge and response.

After a few months of this, they finally had the first chapter for me to review. We sat down over drinks and they handed me the chapter. My adrenalin shot up at the mere thought of having the first chapter of this book in my hands. Feeling the paper somehow made it real. It had already been over two years since I had started and I knew it could be a real winner. I started to open it and one of them stopped me and said, “Before you start, we have to tell you that we aren’t going to continue.” I sat there with my eyes jumping back and forth between them wondering if they were kidding or not. Their eyes said “not.”

They explained that as interesting as the story was, they just weren’t into it and the chapter had proven very difficult to write because of that. Since they didn’t feel the excitement that I did, they felt they had to stop now rather than later. I didn't even bother to open the chapter.

What now?

Dec 20, 2011

Finding the Write Space

Finding the time and space to write can be a challenge for any creative endeavor. But space can have an impact on our energy, which in turn, impacts writing. The Chinese understood this, even 3,000 years ago with the development of feng shui. They applied it to their sacred spaces. So, how do I create positive energy for my sacred space? My writing space?

As a budding young writer, my first space for writing was my bedroom. I would lock my door, find my diary key and pull it out. Unlocking the diary and opening those pages created the atmosphere I needed to write. It was my safe space away from my siblings, parents, and friends. The time was sacred to me, like a prayer. I would hold the kind of conversation in my diary that I was not free to have at any other time, in any other space. Even when I had my own place and no longer needed to shut out the rest of my family, the habit continued. Everywhere I moved I kept a night stand with my journal and a few pens available for writing time. That time of day when the work is done and my mind is quiet. 

But my bedroom does not seem sufficient for the more professional kind of writing that extends beyond my journals. I want my own sacred space for writing poetry, children's books, and homework. My desk is cluttered with bills and papers. So more often than not, my dining room table must suffice. Yet, I feel that it is time to make a bigger committment.

Over the summer, I began working out in the morning. The sunrise and exercise seemed to clear my mind and I would write poems during my slow walk past the trees back to my home. I would repeat them over to myself and write them down as soon as I got home. And while cleaning recently, I realized I was writing in my head. Thinking while completing mundane tasks, fills my need to get things done. There is a freedom in it. The body is occupied and the mind is free to ramble as it pleases. I would stop in the middle of my tasks and jot a few quick notes for myself that I would expand on later. 

I still do not have an answer for my sacred writing space. However, the awareness I have earned over the last few months has given me clues. I need to have a notebook and some writing utensils. Otherwise what I need is a clear mind and the freedom to move. And ultimately, I can get those any time I choose. 

Playing Around with Social Media

During this time of experimentation, I also wanted to learn about how to deal with more of the social networking aspects of marketing. Having worked in the computer science industry for over 20 years, I knew about the technologies, but I hadn't really used many of them myself. The results were interesting.

On the blogging side, I created a  site that could be accessed from my web site and contained my thoughts on humanism, parenting, and related topics and observations. I kept it going for a couple of years while the Humanism for Parents book was being launched. It enjoyed marginal success and taught me how to make use of a blog. I considered this a successful experiment.

Twitter, on the other hand, was a completely different story. With it's limit on names, I ended up with a twitter identity of spiritualhumani, which happened to be where it cut off, but wasn't bad, so I left it. I ended up finding a program from a cohort of mine that promoted more twitter followers (by using the assumption that 30% of people who are followed follow the follower back again - it would programatically follow 1000 people, wait for a set of them to follow me and then un-follow them - sad, but true). In this way, I had many hundreds of followers, but I had no real idea if they cared about the topic or not. Moreover, my account was now following 1000 somewhat-random people at any point and I certainly didn't care about most of what they had to say (especially those who felt it necessary to tell me when they went to the bathroom and other mundane events in their lives). Eventually, I felt this avenue was a one-way communication to people who had too much time on their hands. The experiment was successful only in that it taught me that I didn't think it was a feasible marketing route - at least for my target audience.

Facebook I had been using for a while, but mostly to keep in touch with my family & friends. As I expanded it's use to include a multitude of "friends," it became less useful. That was mostly because it became information overload and I don't really have the time to monitor the noise for the gems (not unlike twitter). I found myself looking at particular people's post (mostly family), but otherwise ignoring it and only posting occasionally. On the other hand, I continue to keep friends on it in the hopes that they can, eventually, help me sell books. I have really enjoyed the Google+ concept of circles since it allows me to watch the users I care about without all the noise. They are so clever at Google :)

I've also used LinkedIn for work for years and will continue to build my network there - and will make use of it when the time comes for selling books.

Lulu and self-publishing

After completing my first draft of the non-fiction book now titled Humanism for Parents and releasing it for review, I started looking around at how to publish it. Since the intent was to learn about the publishing industry and I didn't want the hassle, or filters, of an agent, editor, and traditional publisher, I decided to self publish.

Self publishers had been around for a while at that point and were just starting to mature. There are different business models and some of them seemed more like a scam than anything realistic. Generally if they wanted me to pay a lot up-front, I avoided them. There are some very respectable services that do require some amount up-front, but then there is a corresponding gain in the lower print rates (so you make more on each book, but have to pay something up-front to even get started). Some of those that charge up-front also include services (e.g. editing, cover design, etc.) that account for that cost.

However, I really wanted to do it myself and I didn't want to pay much, if anything, up-front. So, I selected They charge nothing up-front and you are allowed to edit the book and make changes as much as you want (up to actually releasing it for the public). They also offered a number of services that I didn't use and some I did. For example, I really liked their publishing packages that include an ISBN number and releasing the book to the major distribution channels like Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Google Books, and others. They also have international distribution options.

All-in-all, it worked out quite well. The one downside of this route is that the book cost is kind of high and there aren't a lot of options for discounts. The Humanism for Parents book ended up just under a hundred pages and cost about $12. I was able to buy books for my own distribution at a significant discount - in bulk it was down at the $4 range.

So, I ended up publishing this one to the public and it continues to sell some each month. I also published a genealogy book and a book of letters to my kids, both of which were private publications. I highly recommend this type of publishing in certain circumstances.

Dec 14, 2011

What Now?

After making the decision to write the historical novel, I realized that I knew almost nothing about the publishing industry. For me the best way to learn something is to go do it. So, while I was busy reading scholarly works on Jewish history, Roman history, and the founding of Christianity, I started turning some other work I had done into a non-fiction book...

I had raised three children in a humanistic way, had produced a web site about humanism, and was performing non-religious weddings. I therefore decided to combine all of this into a book on humanism for parents. At one point while raising my four kids, I had looked for a book like this and couldn't find anything other than some short articles on the subject.

Ultimately, I produced a book called Humanism for Parents - Parenting without Religion and then self-published the book through Lulu. I included a standard ISBN and delivery through Amazon and others and a digital (eBook) form. I also did a formal press release and some targeted emails, both through PRWeb.

This resulted in a number of magazine articles about the book, some book reviews, a radio interview and a number of speaking events.

I can't say that I learned how to get a book published the traditional route, but I did learn a fair bit about the industry. My goal for the book, other than industry knowledge, was to break even financially and to (eventually) sell a thousand copies. I've certainly done the prior and am working towards the latter with roughly 650 sold so far.

Dec 7, 2011

Becoming a "real" Writer

Since I, apparently, wasn't going to get any help writing this novel, I decided to take the plunge and try to do it myself. I still had major confidence problems about my ability to write fiction, but I ignored those (as best I could).

I started reading books on writing fiction. They were pretty consistent in how they said to just get started; that most [hopeful] writers fail because they try too hard to figure it all out up-front and they never really get to the writing. They also said, once you really get a story going, that the characters would write the story. WTF! How could the characters write the story? The author has to write it.

I also spent many months reading the scholarly non-fiction works on the topic trying to figure out a sequence of events that made sense for the time frame. And then, finally, I began writing. The first few chapters were, shall I say, stilted, but I was getting through them and I could see, even during those first 60 pages, my writing improving.

Then I was at a point where my protagonist, an ex-Senator of Rome who knew a great deal about the Jewish people, was arriving in Rome for an extended stay. I wondered what should happen at this point and it was obvious that the Senate would invite him to come give an open speech to the senate about the situation in Judea. So, I had to write an entire scene that I wasn't expecting to write and had to formulate a speech to the Roman senate. That scene wasn't in my plans or outline anywhere.

After I finished the scene, I remember thinking this is what they meant by the characters writing the story - the fictional situation in the book presented, to me, what needed to happen. On the tails of that thought was the thought that I was becoming a "real" writer.

From that point forward, I let the details of the story develop more on their own and trusted the ideas I had for what needed to happen. Of course that was all while trying keep with the history of the times. It was also within the framework and plot that I had already established and documented. It helped a great deal to be intimate with the story before writing it. It also helped that I had done profiles and a history for the main characters. Moreover, that I had become so familiar with them that they felt like friends. Once all that was in place, letting the situation and the characters (past and personality) drive the story felt natural.