Stories are a Timeless, Magical Gift

The inspiration I’m given to write does not belong to me. It comes from the same source that created me, you, and everyone you love. It comes from Being itself. I’ve always had qualms about selling the fruits of that inspiration. It’s taken years of contemplation, waffling, and facing fear – yes, fear. Fear that by giving away my stories I will be seen as lacking dedication to the literary craft. Fear that making my stories free will somehow hurt other writers who want and need to make money from their art. Fear that even if the stories are free, no one will read them.

 

I don’t want to be a best seller. Writing isn’t about self-aggrandizement. It is pure gift, and gifts by their definition are outside of commerce. After years of contemplation, I finally realized that the “price” of free says nothing about the purity of my intent when I write. I can give you a gift, and still be dedicated to my craft. My only goal is to keep learning to be a better writer. I’d love for you to join me on the journey.

I’m sorry if you are a writer who feels this hurts you. I respect the effort you put into your creations. I pay for your books – happily. If you are a writer who is following the same path I am, and I read your story, I will click your Donate button. The nature of the gift demands reciprocity. Money (sadly) is still the easiest way to make the return, and to show appreciation.

If no one reads my stories, even free, that is not mine to carry or change. Words move those they are meant to move, and it is not within my control to decide how many people or who or even when my words reach them. That said, empirical evidence on Wattpad and Smashwords indicates people are reading my free offerings. I am working to get price-matching to trickle into Amazon, but even though that hasn’t happened yet, I feel a great soul-contentment to have every one of my published works available for free – as a gift – on Smashwords.

You can find links to free downloads for all of my books on my publishing website: http://www.oddskybooks.com

As always,

-aniko

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Prolific Publishing for Success and Money: Or What I Learned By Trying

Had I Found the Blueprint for Success?

Last year, I read every book on writing and marketing that I could find. I subscribed to a handful of webinars, ‘attended’ email training sessions, and became a rabid devotee of any author with great branding and a promise of how I could succeed in publishing. Even though most of what I heard was not new to me, I felt like I had discovered a blueprint to success. All I had to do was publish prolifically, be helpful, and give away samples of my writing. Although the adjective “prolific” made me a little nervous, I decided to give the approach a try.

The journey hasn’t been all s’mores and champagne for me.

Attribution http://www.123rf.com/profile_bowie15 via  123RF Stock Photo

Attribution http://www.123rf.com/profile_bowie15 via 123RF Stock Photo

Initial Doubts Blasted by One Strong Outlier

I felt the first doubts about the method when I tried reading several works produced in the paradigm I was eager to emulate. It struck me that while some of these authors are doing well for themselves from a monetary standpoint, and were often quite the social media darlings, I didn’t feel their writing was good. The stories were competent in the way that food at a national restaurant chain is predictable: it won’t make you sick, but it won’t inspire you, either.

There are outliers, of course, and not everyone who publishes abundantly writes formulaic books. My friend Hunter Shea is very prolific, and offhand I can think of at least three new books he released in fairly quick succession (THE MONTUAK MONSTER, ISLAND OF THE FORBIDDEN, and HELL HOLE). Hunter’s work is consistently high-quality and fun to read, but for each one of his books that I enjoyed, there were at least two by other prolific authors that fell flat and ended up on my “didn’t finish” pile.

Despite my doubts, and with Hunter as a positive example, I remained determined to try publishing frequently. I started by drawing up a five year writing plan. In it, I scheduled myself to produce four new works a year. Each publication would have a free introductory “hook,” and at least one of the four publications would be novella-length or longer. I’d churn out works like my name was Krispy Kreme and the stories were 2AM hot donuts! Such was the plan, in any case.

What Happened When I Tried

I did manage two releases in six months (MIXED MEDIA and SPILLWAYS), but I discovered that having an excellent editor means I’m called on my authorial laziness, plot sloppiness, and continuity misfires. To be blunt: I do a lot of rewriting during edits. Getting MIXED MEDIA and SPILLWAYS right was a time consuming process, but I stayed on schedule – barely. At this point, I should reveal that both of those works were already drafted and “just” needed editing.

Long term, my personal slush pile couldn’t be my only source of material. I needed to be able to produce new works at a rate commensurate with my publication goals. To this end, I decided that I would experiment with writing a new work in a compressed timeframe. I blasted out the rough draft in a few weeks, which is amazing given that the only time I have to write is my hour-long bus ride to work. It wasn’t any worse of a first draft than most, but it was also not dazzling. I employed no challenging points of view, nor did I craft within a non-standard form. When the overarching goal was to publish at a frenetic pace, literary merit felt like a “nice to have” rather than an imperative. Under those conditions, my writing devolved to chain restaurant quality. I won’t publish a work that isn’t my best, and I’ve spent multiple editorial cycles improving the story. It is finally worthy of my readers, but getting it that way meant I missed my publication deadline for this piece by two months. So much for writing a “fast” story!

It was an interesting experiment. I think that if I were a full-time writer, I could have better luck with making quicker production turnaround, but my boundary conditions are decidedly not those of a full-time writer. For now, I’m done with attempting a frenetic publishing pace. I can’t honor my literary calling when the focus is on growing my shelf space rather than on the joy of creation.

Author Fatigue is One Thing, But What About Readers?

In a blog post Ania Ahlborn points out another possible downside of rapid-fire publication: reader fatigue. I can’t think of anything more fatiguing than reading masses of sub-par novels… well, other than writing masses of sub-par novels! I love that authors I enjoy have multiple books, but sometimes a year or more will pass between when I read those works. This, for me, is even true with series. There are so many voices to experience, and because my reading time is just as scant as my writing time, I’m apt to drift between genres and temporarily abandon even my favorite author.

Conclusion

I’m glad I tried the approach of fast publishing. I am pleased with the works I produced last year. SPILLWAYS, in particular, contains my best writing, with stories that challenged me as a writer. It is also my least read work – so far. I think that is partly because I am waiting to do a strategic campaign to advertise it, but it might also be a symptom of reader fatigue. If you are curious, you can read MOON SICK, the first story in the collection for free. All you need to do is sign up for my author newsletter at http://www.oddskybooks.com/odd-literati. After you subscribe, you’ll receive a follow-up email with a link to download the story in the format of your choice.


What about you? Have you tried writing at a multi-book per year pace? Do you read everything by your favorite prolific authors as soon as the books hit Amazon’s Whispernet (or the newstands)?

Marvelous Journey

I have big plans to share my writing with you! Over the next five years, I will produce seven fiction releases. The works include literary short stories and a series of  dark sci-fi novels. I’m looking forward to taking you to new and magical places. My favorite authors – Italo Calvino, Elizabeth Hand, Iris Murdoch – shared adventure and joy with me, and I want to honor them by passing it on.

Marvelous Journey

Marvelous Journey (Attribution Kata Links at 123rf.com)

My publication schedule is aggressive. I don’t write full time, and I don’t have writing minions to do my authorial bidding. I have so much (everything!) to learn about the mechanics of producing books. I want to attend book festivals, meet readers, and build authentic relationships with them. I want to help other writers by sharing what I learn – including how they can avoid the embarrassing mistakes I know I’ll make. I want to do all of that, plus keep writing new stories. It’s a lot to attempt, but it’s also an invitation to take a marvelous journey. There will be moments of discomfort, and of exhausted incomprehension. Sometimes I may wonder where I am going, and then I will need to lean on my own definition of success to be my guide. Everything I do will have to pass one simple test: does it help me become the author-publisher I want to be, and will it add value to your life? If either half of that proposition is not true, then I need to rethink my approach.

My journey of a thousand publications begins with one short story. I chose a project small enough to not feel overwhelming, but one that requires many of the same skills needed for the more daunting story collections and novels. It will be my crash-course in ebook formatting and cover design. Later this year, I’m releasing Stolen Climates as paperback. Not only is that a great opportunity for me to tackle the process of print formatting, but it also meets the needs of readers who asked for a physical edition. I can’t wait to get started on this marvelous journey!

 

-aniko

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My SASE, an SOS Answered

Mad to write, mad to not write?

 

I never heard back from that publisher. Not a rejection. Not an acceptance. My self-addressed and stamped envelope was not returned to me. My manuscript inspired complete apathy, and somewhere around four months of waiting I felt sorry for myself. At five months I was angry at the publisher and myself for following the rules and not submitting simultaneously. At six months I realized that this is not a process I choose to repeat. Like most major realizations, the sorts that end in divorce, dropping out of graduate school, or fleeing the country, my decision left me without a plan. Should I keep writing? Was it possible for me to stop, to be a “normal” person who manages to be just fine, thanks, without getting up before dawn and making up entire worlds? Should I continue to submit to traditional publishers, and know that I’d be over forty when I finally finish the rude rounds of silence? Should I curse my muse, whom I call Cerridwen, scream into the cold winds that stream from behind her doorway to the North? Was it my fault that the winter was harsh and cold, was it my angst that brought Cerridwen’s icy attentions far South?

I realize I don’t control the weather, well, mostly I admit that I don’t.

Still, there was a symmetry between the harsh winter and my state of mind. I was freezing in the rejection of my call. I stopped writing in the fourth month of my self-pity. I wasn’t happier, although I did enjoy sleeping later. I picked up where I left off with my novel, but it was too difficult, and I spent the fifth month trying to understand what happens next. I dragged out everything I’d ever written. Stacks of short stories, a couple of longer (but not quite novella) pieces, the ream of paper that is the novel the publisher couldn’t be bothered to reject. I was shocked at how prolific I had been, despite having a full time job and only grabbing an hour here or there throughout most of the work week. I started reading those old works.

And something better than a self-addressed, stamped envelope was returned to me: my willingness to live my gift.

I became willing to return to the craft that my God chose for me. I regained acceptance of my role as conduit for the words my terrifying, inspiring Muse sends. I rejected the soul-death of refusing the call.

One of my earlier stories playfully investigated the theme of art as communication, and posited that without an audience (even just one person), that no work of art was truly complete. It was written in 2008, years before I ever thought of publishing. I read it, and fell in love with the faith I’d once had in the power of art. I read it and was surprised at how much my writing has improved in the intervening years and writing workshops, but that’s fodder for a whole other post. I read it and realized I wanted to publish it.

I’m happy to announce that the story is with my editor, Jacinda Little. Over the next three years, I will release everything in my gigantic stack of proliferate scribbling that is worthy of readers. This includes the novels.

I realize that this post is a complete flip-flop on my last one. I changed my mind. I learn and I grow and I’m being honest with you about where I am now, and why.

While I’m admitting my flip-floppery, I’m also not planning to do that writers retreat. I loved the idea of it, but I loved it for the wrong reason; I loved it because it would be a way to make myself feel legitimate as a writer. REAL writers have big publishers and books in stores! REAL writers go on retreats! I wanted to be a REAL writer, just as much as I wanted an excuse to run away and take naps and eat a lot of bread and sit on a porch and watch the sunlight sift through leaves and tap out inspired words when the spirit took me. I’m calling myself on my own BS. The spirit is always with me. I don’t need a rental house to find it. I just need the willingness to accept what is given. I need to stop focusing on comparing myself to other writers who are more successful in ways that are not a part of my path. I need to stop feeling like I’m somehow less REAL as a writer because of who publishes the work or how exotic the locale of the places wherein my words are written. Humility is what I need. Humility, and the help of people who don’t even know they’ve helped me. Thomas MertonMari Biella, and Dan Holloway: these people are you. This, too, is another post, but know that each of you carried a message I needed at exactly the moment I needed it. Thank you for sharing your words and your thoughts, for they are what helped me rehabilitate my warped ideas of what it means to be a REAL writer.

As ever,

-aniko

 

Edit – 04.03.14 Three days after I posted this, I received my SASE. It contained a form rejection, and no comments. The story of the SASE is stronger without this addition, but this post isn’t a story, and I can’t honor your time to read and comment if I don’t also honor the truth. 

I remain very, very happy with the path I’ve chosen, and note that it is actually delightful to get a letter addressed by me in the mail. 🙂 I think my handwriting is friendly. It had to catch me by surprise before I could see it objectively, but I’m glad I did.

 

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