Brandon Sanderson Thinks You Shouldn’t Give Up On Writing

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On this page for NaNoWriMo pep talks, Brandon Sanderson wants you to know that you shouldn’t give up on your dreams of being a writer because you never know if the book you just finished, or submitted, or self-published, might be the one to break out. Maybe it’ll get you that publishing deal or climb that bestseller list. You never know!

I agree with him up to a point. You shouldn’t give up on writing, unless you have something better to do. Perseverance is a fine quality until it isn’t, and it’s hard to know where to divide the line.

Because I was in a similar place once. I had a day job I hated, answering phones for a doctor’s office, and we were so understaffed that calls were 20-30 deep all the time, and people who have waited on hold are rarely polite when they finally get someone. I spoke to addicts who’d been denied a refill of their narcotics. I spoke to people in terrible pain who were denied relief because of the fear of addiction. I spoke to a man whose wife was vomiting feces. I spoke to women who had just had miscarriages. I spoke to the parent of a chronically ill teenager who had run away with her boyfriend and left all her medications behind.

It was an endless succession of other people’s pain.

I was sick of working a job I hated, of not having any money, of not having time with my family, and with the constant failure and rejection from the writing end of things.

And I was ashamed. I’d pursued the writing dream for a long time, and had nothing to show for it but a family I could barely support.

So I decided I was going to quit writing, go back to school, and get a new career. I took GRE study guides out of the library and said things like “There’s got to be a better life!” to my co-workers.

However, I’d already written CHILD OF FIRE, then called HARVEST OF FIRE, and I’d spent part of the summer on the query letter. We didn’t have much money, but I could afford postage. The weekend before Labor Day, I started sending out queries. By February, I had an offer from Del Rey.

From there, my story and Sanderson’s… let’s just say they diverge. He went on to become a bestseller and I’m doing whatever the fuck I’m doing. Still, he has followup advice here about marketing yourself and quitting your day job, and I don’t want to disagree with him. I do want to point out that not every writer can follow his path (and they shouldn’t try).

But it’s interesting information.

Randomness for 1/10

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1) A random comic generator. NSFW.

2) Things said by and to a two-year-old, as graphic design posters.

3) Was 2014 the Year of the Video Essay? Who knew? How to make a great video essay: Video (naturally)

4) A long run down a concrete luge in New Zealand. Video.

5) Artist adds cute illustrations to photos on Instagram. So cool.

6) Google maps for fantasy spaces. Cute.

7) Questions posed to librarians before the internet.

Christmas Kindness

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I debated writing about this, but what the hell. Here goes.

We don’t have very much money. This isn’t a lament or an accusation, just a fact. My family lives without a lot of the things that other people have (car, home, cell phones, cable TV, etc) and that’s largely a conscious choice. We homeschool. We write and paint. We are at home a lot and together, eating meals at the table and spending time together, not eating in our car as we drive from one thing to another.

Still, even though these are the choices we’ve made, sometimes they’re still tough. Very tough. Case in point: grocery shopping. For the last six or seven years, we have pulled a child’s red wagon the eight blocks or so from our apartment to the supermarket, locked it to a bike rack, shopped, then put the bags in the wagon and pulled it home.

It’s not an activity that ever made me feel like an up-and-comer, let me tell you. Worse was when the cheap plastic tread on the wheels split and fell apart, leaving the wagon to rattle on its white “rims”.

So when my wife announced that she was going to take over the shopping, I was glad and embarrassed. If I were more successful, we’d have more fun money for a car or something.[1]

And I started to learn about the staff at the supermarket. I’m not really one for talking to strangers, but she’s an extrovert and will talk to just about anyone willing chat back. So I heard about the staff and what they’re doing, and I had a few conversations with them when I’d stop in for something quick. “Where’s your wife? Tell her this tell her that tell her I said hello.” She even told them about my new book, something I would have never done.

What I’m saying is, she’s the nicest person I’ve ever known, and she’s very comfortable connecting with people.

To get to the point of this story, when she was shopping on Christmas Eve, the supermarket staff were unusually attentive, checking in with her and asking if she was ready to check out. When she went to check out, she was doing her usual thing, facing the register and chatting while she sorted the food.

Then she realized the whole staff had gathered around, and they invited her to turn around, and she realized they had all chipped in and bought her a gift.

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And assembled it, too.

It really meant a lot to her, that gesture of kindness from people who had no reason to offer it except that it was Christmas and they wanted to make her happy. And they did.

It’s been a subdued holiday season with a few big distractions[2] but this was a moment that really made things special.

[1] Yeah, I know about Uber, Flexcar, and the rest. I’m not looking for advice on how we could spend our money better.

[2] Which means I have a new book out.

Looking at numbers, part 2

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Part 1 is here and it talks about the numbers without giving specifics, but this post will.

No, not sales numbers. Clicks. And not clicks for something I’m trying to sell. This is a situation where “click” = “something people already paid for.”

Obviously, I’m talking about Kickstarter backers getting copies of my new book, plus.

Some background:

Because I had to get ebooks to almost 1200 people, I couldn’t send a flood of emails, especially ones with attachments over 5 or 10MB. That would have gotten me blacklisted by a bunch of ISPs (don’t ask me how I know that).

So I set up a newsletter program that would automate the emails, spreading them out over many hours. I also uploaded the ebooks to a folder on my website so I could send download links instead of attachments.

Finally, I did my best to make things as simple as possible. The email subject line was “The Great Way ebooks are here!” to be totally unambiguous. The list of books included cover pics. The download links were alone in their own section with a single line of text for each of the links. This is what it looked like (behind the cut) for people who backed at $25 or above. Backers at $12 had two fewer covers. Continue reading

Bad Book Marketing Ideas

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Cracked has an article on outrageous stunts people have pulled to get their books out in the world, and it’s way way worse than the endless streams of promo tweets most people adopt.

Weirdest of all are the people who think public stunts will get them a publisher. That shit is just sad.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to crash a motorized hang glider into the Space Needle, then shoot myself.

Randomness for 12/10

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1) Man mounts paper coffee cup on his car, tweets people’s responses.

2) How does a 150 ft oil drilling rig disappear into a lake that’s only ten feet deep? h/t @CEMurphy

3) Is everything good about Minecraft gone? This piece echoes my earlier post about buying my son an Xbox, and I agree that Minecraft has changed as third parties set up their own servers. My son plays a game that’s a lot like The Hunger Games, and doesn’t build nearly as much as he used to. He still builds, but there’s a lot of PvP, too.

4) Typeset in the Future: ALIEN edition.

5) Dutch real estate broker installs mini-rollercoaster into home to give prospective buyers a tour. Video. As stunts go, this one is terrific.

6) Ugly Christmas sweaters are the new thing, so why not turn them into men’s suits? (That’s a rhetorical question.)

7) Ben Edelman, Harvard Business School Professor, Goes to War Over $4 Worth of Chinese Food. You can be very very wrong while being right.

Are you looking for Harry Connolly, the photographer?

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Sorry, but he’s not me, even though I get a lot of hits from people looking for him. I’m an author who lives on the west coast. He’s the photographer in Baltimore.

Here’s a Linked In page for him.

Here’s a Google+ page, with contact info.

Here’s a CV for him, with his email address.

Anyway, I get a lot of his traffic (and my fantasy novels get mixed up with his photography books all over the web) so I thought I’d make it easy for folks.

The Rapist’s Respectable Public Face

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There’s been a lot of talk on the internets lately about the allegations against Bill Cosby, and how that secret truth conflicts with his public persona, especially the persona he offered on The Cosby Show. I want to chime in, briefly, to say this is the most common thing in the world.

(Digression: if my assertion that the allegations are true makes you uncomfortable or prompts an argument, please don’t bother. I don’t live my life by standards like “Innocent until proven guilty” or “Beyond a reasonable doubt.” Those are checks on state power to do things that would be illegal for average citizens, things like kidnapping and imprisoning them for ten years, or forcing them to work without pay, or taking their money without their permission, or–in some states–killing them. I don’t have the authority to execute, arrest, fine, or demand community service from anyone; at best, I can think mean things and refuse to watch someone’s TV show. The burden of proof for that is “common sense” and at this point so many women have come forward that it would be absurd to pretend our doubts are reasonable.)

Anyway, as James Poniewozik says in Time, Cosby deliberately tied his real life persona to his own agenda and personality. We were meant to conflate the two because Cliff Huxtable was made for that.

But even if we pretend that Cosby was actually playing himself and not a sitcom character, there’s no reason to be shocked that a likable, seemingly decent man is actually a rapist. Most rapists seem like normal good guys. The ones who write PUA books recommending pressure and sexual assault to get a woman into bed are easy to spot, but most seem like normal, everyday people. They’re family, co-workers, and friends.

“My buddy wouldn’t do that,” is their first line of defense. Respectability is camouflage. And when you’re hanging out with that friend, they laugh along with your joke about what you do when your dishwasher stops working and quietly believe you’re just like them.

The thing about Cosby isn’t that there’s such a disconnect between his public and private life, it’s that it’s so common.

Randomness for 11/11

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1) An entire Tumblr dedicated to the question of whether MilSF author Myke Cole lays eggs.

2) Stan Lee responds to people who ask him when he’s going to retire. Video.

3) Dewitos: Doritos-flavored Mountain Dew.

4) Seventeen-year-old wins science competition by building an efficient algae biofuel lab in her bedroom. I hope this kid becomes a billionaire.

5) Do you get your hair cut at a barber? How to talk your barber about the haircut you want. Includes a helpful video.

6) Museum of selfies.

7) The novel then steps back in time to explain how Rico went from being just another one of Heinlein’s incurious teenaged dullards to an enthusiastic war criminal. In the process, it paints an interesting picture of the world Rico lives in, as well as of the contents of Heinlein’s id. James Nicoll reviews Starship Troopers.