How to Train Your Inner Critic

Ray Liotta
Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

I used to ride horses. I know, right? Let me just say that these creatures are beautiful. And when the horse and rider are one, the experience can be magical. But horses are also dumb—and incredibly powerful. Not a great combination, if you ask me. If a horse doesn’t want you on its back, it will throw you. And there is nothing you can do about it. Ask a rodeo cowboy. We’re talking half a ton of raw animal power, people. Oh, and they bite, too. But—and I can only vouch for English riding—show a horse a thirty-inch riding crop, and things can change for the better. You don’t even have to use it—just let them see it out of the corner of their eye.

Lately, I’ve been reading posts by other writers moaning about their inner critics. You know what I’m talking about. The inner critic is that nagging little macher who’s always in your face whenever you try putting pen to paper (not to be confused with one’s Muse). And, as far as I know, it doesn’t matter what kind of writer you are. Mine is a guy, is shorter than me, and resembles Ray Liotta, for some reason. Though he smells like hand sanitizer, I gotta give it to him—he dresses well. Now, I have never met Ray Liotta, so rather than besmirch his good name, I’ll call the bane of my existence “Stan.”

The Prick Who Came to Dinner
Stan is not the kind of person who values relationships, so obviously, he’s single. He’s been known to vanish for most of the day—I have no idea where he goes. Maybe he’s torturing some other poor schmuck. Which makes me wonder. Does he talk about me? Never mind. Stan has an uncanny ear, and as soon as he hears me typing on my laptop, he’s in the room, standing directly behind me. Breathing through his nose. Watching every letter that appears on the screen. Well, that’s how things used to be, anyway. Sound familiar?

If he gets the chance, Stan will tell me what I am writing is crap and should be burned. He wonders aloud how I’ve managed to have any success at all as a writer and suggests I look into selling insurance. He enjoys laughing at my analogies, similes, and metaphors, and bawls comically whenever I attempt to craft a tender scene. In short, he’s merciless. Now at this point, I’ll bet you think I hate Stan, right? Well, I don’t. Because as annoying as he is, he’s smart—really smart. Okay, he’ll never invent time travel. But he knows a lousy sentence when he reads one.

Stan, ladies and gentlemen, is my inner critic, and I need him. There, I said it. But here’s the thing: I need him on my terms, not his. If it were up to him, I would never write another word. “The world will thank you,” he told me one time, leaving a trail of pistachio nut shells on the shag carpet. But I’m not listening. A long time ago, I decided to train him. Just like a horse. And although he doesn’t always behave, things have gotten way better.

Now, there are writers out there far more qualified than me to explain the phases of writing in a way that makes sense. Nevertheless, I’ll give it a go.

Writing Process

Dreams and Nightmares
An idea comes to me, and I jot it down in my Big Book of Ideas. This can happen when I overhear a piece of a conversation or in the middle of the night when I’m trying to fall asleep. There’s really no rhyme or reason to it. Most of the time, the idea just sits in that book, collecting dust like a lonely little toy no one wants to play with. Sometimes, I incorporate it into something else. And on rare occasions, it becomes a short story or even a novel. I do not control this process—it just happens. And as I record it, Stan is nowhere in sight.

The Dreaded First Draft
This is where I sit down to the blank page. Or, in my case, the blank screen. By the way, this stage applies to short or long fiction. I’m a pantser, so I have only the vaguest notion of how to write this thing. I have a protagonist and, if I’m lucky, an antagonist. But other characters come into the picture as I go. The minute I start writing, Stan waltzes into the room, ready to tear me a new one. But before he can take his place behind my chair, I show him the riding crop. His eyes get huge, and he slinks away, muttering something like “Just for that, I’m eating all the Häagen-Dazs.” But don’t be fooled. He’ll continue trying to get back into the room, usually pretending to be the cable guy. My job is to keep him out until I finish the day’s writing. And let me tell you, it’s exhausting.

The Baby Edit
This happens the next day. I read what I’ve written and invite Stan to join me. That’s right. This pomaded idiot is like a kid in a candy store as he goes to work, pointing out lame construction and tired clichés. After allowing him to eviscerate me, I kick him out and proceed with the next day’s writing.

Keep in mind these last two phases continue until I finish the book or story. Sometimes, I get stuck and work on a different project. Currently, I have at least three unfinished novels kicking around. I’m pretty sure I will finish them. But even if I don’t, others will take their place.

The Mother of All Edits
This is where I edit the entire manuscript, with Stan at my side. I leave the crop on the desk so he can see it, in case he gets any ideas. Usually, he keeps his snarky comments to himself and provides useful suggestions on how to improve what I’ve written. This process takes days, and when I am finished, I set the work aside. I may go through this stage half a dozen times over the course of months. When I am absolutely sure the thing is perfect (nothing is perfect, but you know what I mean), I send the book off to my editor.

Wrapping Up
So, there you have it. Every writer approaches the process differently. No matter how you write, though, there is one thing I would advise. Never mix writing and editing. That’s like inviting Stan to sit down. And you don’t want that, trust me. For one thing, he’s never had an original idea in his life. Also, writing is miserable enough without saddling yourself with a banshee screaming in your ear over every ill-chosen bon mot. Not to mention those pesky adverbs. Anyway, enough. I’d love to hear how you deal with your inner critic. Why not post a comment? In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this quote.

You know that sickening feeling of inadequacy and over-exposure you feel when you look upon your own empurpled prose? Relax into the awareness that this ghastly sensation will never, ever leave you, no matter how successful and publicly lauded you become. It is intrinsic to the real business of writing and should be cherished. ― Will Self

Authors and the Indie Supply Chain

Photo Courtesy of Ford Motor Company via Creative Commons
[Ford Europe]I’m really hoping that this post isn’t as boring as the title suggests. I wanted to accomplish two things today—tell you where I am with Book Three and talk a little about indie authors who are responsible for controlling their own publishing supply chain. I’ll keep it short, I promise.

If you are a longtime visitor to the site, you’ll know that a couple of years ago I wrote a horror-thriller called Tell Me When I’m Dead. Last year, I followed that up with Book Two, Dead Is All You Get. I’m happy to report that both novels have been getting excellent reviews. This year, I plan to publish the third and final book in the series. Sorry, no title today. I will let you know that when I do the cover reveal in the next month or so.

What Is a Supply Chain, Anyway?
Investopedia defines a supply chain as …

The network created amongst different companies producing, handling and/or distributing a specific product. Specifically, the supply chain encompasses the steps it takes to get a good or service from the supplier to the customer.

In publishing, the supply chain is made up of all of the steps involved in bringing out a book. For print, that includes the actual manufacturing and distribution. For eBooks, it’s mostly focused on editing, formatting and cover design.

Does Self-Publishing Mean Faster?
You bet. I’ve heard other traditionally published authors squawk about the lag between submitting their manuscript to the publisher and actually seeing the thing appear on the book store shelves. We’re talking eighteen months to two years, people. Unacceptable!

Aside from the fact that, potentially, I can make more money selling my own books, shrinking the window from pen to Amazon is a huge plus.

But …
It’s not all chocolate and roses, though. As an indie author, I am essentially in business for myself. And until I can afford to hire an intern, I am pretty much doing everything myself—including marketing. What does that mean? Well, I am a terrible artist. And I don’t know jack about PhotoShop. So I must rely on a cover designer. My choice is Deborah Bradseth over at Tugboat Design.

When it comes to editing, my manuscripts are generally in pretty good shape when I am finished. But editors are a critical and necessary part of the supply chain. They always find things you missed. I’m not talking typos—I mean problems having to do with consistency in character behavior, unresolved storylines, and just plain clunky sentence structure. Currently, I work with a number of editors.

Then there’s the formatting. I tried doing this myself, but there are so many subtleties around eBooks and the devices that display them, it’s not worth it to me to mess with that crap. So I use a professional formatter, JW Manus. She’s smart and efficient, and she delivers a quality product every time.

What’s in It for You?
Back to my new novel. I plan to get Book Three out before the end of the year. In addition, I have asked my artist friend, Kevin Asmus, to create new images for all three books. These will be more cohesive, series-wise, and I really hope you like them. And as if that isn’t enough, I am rebranding the series. Whew!

Sometime in the spring, I plan to finally publish the print versions of these books. Yay! But that is yet another step in the supply chain that requires even more planning. I’ll be doing this through CreateSpace. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, I am currently offering Books One and Two for 99 cents. They normally sell for $3.99 each. If you haven’t picked them up yet, now’s your chance to save a little cash. Happy reading!

Tell Me When I’m Dead

[Tell Me When I’m Dead Cover]

Available at Amazon

Thanks to his wife, Holly, recovering alcoholic Dave Pulaski is getting his life back. Then a contagion decimates the town, turning its victims into shrieking flesh-eaters. Now Dave and Holly must find a way to survive. But Dave is this close to drinking again. A woman he cheated with—and no longer human—is after him. The hordes of undead are growing and security forces are outnumbered. Hell has arrived in Tres Marias.

Tell Me When I’m Dead (Book One of THE DEAD SERIES) is about an antihero haunted by all the mistakes of his life. Facing a terrifying future, Dave must decide whether to die drunk or fight for those he cares about most. And strength alone won’t be enough—he’ll need Faith. If you like your thrillers dark and fast-paced, then follow Dave and Holly as they fight against looters, paramilitary crazies and the undead. “A hard-hitting splattergore zombie thriller, told by the ultimate antihero” (Travis Luedke).

Dead Is All You Get

[Dead Is All You Get Cover]

Available at Amazon

After months of fighting the undead ravaging the town of Tres Marias, Dave Pulaski and his wife, Holly, catch a break when Black Dragon Security suddenly shows up to rescue them. But things are about to get worse. The virus is mutating. Now, driven to discover the truth behind the contagion while struggling to protect Holly and those closest to him, Dave is pushed beyond the limits of faith and reason.

Dead Is All You Get (Book Two of THE DEAD SERIES) combines the best elements of horror, dark fantasy and sci-fi, taking the reader on a relentless, tortured journey of survival that tests the strength of one man’s character and delves into the role Faith plays when he is confronted by the worst kind of evil—the evil in humans. If you like your thrillers dark and fast-paced, then read this mind-blowing sequel. And leave the lights on. “A shoot first then shoot again horror thriller of the highest order” (Simon Oneill).

Book Three Is Off to the Editor!

Photo Courtesy of Alessandro Baffa via Creative Commons
[Wedding Party]Hey, guys, I wanted to let you know that I reached a major milestone this week on the long road to finishing up my horror-thriller series. I’ve just finished Book Three and have sent it off to the editor. Now the real fun begins. Over the next few weeks I will update you on how things are shaping up in terms of a cover. Also, I wanted to let you know that I am in the process of rebranding the series. Stay tuned for some interesting news about that.

This has been quite a journey. When I started out writing Tell Me When I’m Dead, I honestly believed this would be a one-off story about a zombie outbreak in a small town in Northern California. But when I got to the end, it was painfully clear to me that Dave’s story wasn’t over. He had a lot more killing to do. So I started Book Two, Dead Is All You Get.

Now, everyone knows that you can’t have a series with just two books, so after finishing that one, I was compelled to start on Book Three. Don’t worry—there’s no Book Four planned! I think I did a pretty good job of wrapping things up with good ol’ Dave. Of course, the reader will be the ultimate judge. What to expect? Well, for one thing, the action has moved to Los Angeles. So get ready for some gritty, nail-biting thrills—the kind that seem to follow Dave like a rabid dog—in the land of ‘Sharknado’ and collagen-infused lips.

That’s enough for now. Stay tuned for more breaking news as it develops. And remember, monsters are real. Seriously, they’re real.

A Writer’s Life—Makin’ da Pizza

Photo Courtesy of Arthur Mouratidis via Creative Commons
[Hand-tossed Pizza]Almost a year ago I posted some musings on writers and the marketing side of the business. And, yes, this is a business. Speaking of which, I’ve been blessed to be able to make a living for many years, doing something that has nothing to do with writing fiction. This feeds my family and keeps my wife from panicking every time the price of groceries goes up. And though I’ve been writing in one way or another since I was fifteen, it wasn’t until a few years ago that I decided to approach writing fiction in a much more professional way by taking advantage of indie publishing platforms like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and others. And the advent of these new alternatives to traditional publishing is both a blessing and a curse. I’ll get to that shortly.

Why We Write
It isn’t unusual to hear from writers who claim they do nothing but put pen to paper because the alternative is to go crazy. Stories are bursting out of them—stories that must be told. And to a large extent I agree with that. But, having had the benefit of writing and holding down a job at the same time, I can say in all candor that, at least from my own experience, writers write because the idea of actually working for a living is horrifying. I’m thinking of Charles Bukowski, who worked in a post office for a time. Don’t you think he would have rather been writing? I mean, at least Ernest Hemingway started out as a journalist. Look, all I’m saying is, if everyone had the choice of slaving away in a soul-killing office or holing up in a clean well-lighted place, which would they choose? Fine, salespeople would probably still prefer to sell because it’s in their blood. That and the fact that they are evil. Kidding! No, really, they’re evil.

Writing is a Blessing
Okay, enough about that. Writers write because blah blah blah. Now, if you are spending your time writing, good for you. You are probably a person with tons of imagination who likes creating stories and sharing them with the world at large. And, as a bonus, you’d like to get paid, right? Of course you would. Otherwise you’re Bukowski at the post office.

For me, sitting in my basement creating characters who often find themselves in dangerous situations is fun. Want to know what’s more fun? Hearing from readers who tell me they liked seeing characters in situations in which there’s a very good chance they might wind up dead. It’s a real high.

But for indie writers, it’s not just about creating the story.

Writing as a Curse
Unless you are a successful author with a publisher who is waiting with baited breath—and a fat advance—for your next book, there’s a lot of other work you have to do. It’s almost as if you are having a shared experience with the guy in the soul-sucking office job. Here are just a few things you need to worry about …

A Decent Cover. This thing has to look good. And guess what—you’re going to have to spend money on it. I’ve seen too many Kindle books with covers that look like they were designed by an eighth-grade dropout with a new set of Sharpies.

Proper Editing. I include copyediting and proofing in this category. How many books have you downloaded lately that read like an instruction manual that has been translated into English? I mean, seriously. I get that you have a good idea and want to give it life. But if you are a lousy speller or have problems with tenses, get an editor.

eBook Formatting. That’s right. You can’t just upload your Word document and hope for the best. Well, actually you can, but that’s not the point. You want to ensure that your darling will display correctly on virtually every device. Unless of course you decide to kill your darling because, you know, Faulkner said it … Never mind.

Marketing. This one’s my favorite because it never ends. Why can’t these things sell themselves? I’ll tell you why—because there are literally millions of titles available on Amazon. How in the world is anyone going to find your book in that roiling sea of bright covers and pretty prose?

Which Brings Me to Me
Part of marketing is figuring out things like book titles, descriptions and SEO, which contribute to the all-important goal of being discoverable. Me? I’m in the process of rebranding my horror-thriller trilogy, the first two books of which are published. The third is coming out later this year, and I arrived at a place where I realized that I needed to tie the three books together better—for brand recognition. This is no easy task. Other authors much more famous and successful than I have taken different approaches to their series. I had to consider what I have going with my books and capitalize on that.

Though I haven’t figured it all out yet, I do know that I’ve had some pretty good success with the title of the first book, Tell Me When I’m Dead. That title rocks, in my opinion. The second book is entitled Dead Is All You Get. Not as good as the first title, but I still think it packs a punch. I was going to hold a contest to come up with the title of the third book, but my wife put the kibosh on that idea in short order. “You’re the writer,” she said. “Do your job.”

My wife’s not a sentimental person, and she likes to speak her mind. But you know what? She’s right.

So what to expect. The third book is almost finished. (I’m not as slow as George R.R. Martin—I swear!) Then I will design a cover and do a cover reveal. At that time you’ll see the new title, as well as the new branding for the trilogy. Finally, the book will be edited, formatted and published.

There’s a lot to being an indie writer—doing things that have nothing to do with the words. But as I said at the beginning, writing is a business. Once you understand that, you’ll have the time of your life. It’s like making pizza—really good pizza.

And Now A Word About Professionalism

Photo Courtesy of Elizabeth Haslam via Creative Commons
[Pro Yo Buff Professional Volleyball]Well, kiddies, it’s almost time for Dead Is All You Get: Book Two of THE DEAD SERIES to go live. And it’s been a journey, let me tell you. Recently, I did a cover reveal, signaling the approaching publishing date. Now, we’re really close. I’m getting the manuscript back from the proofreader and, once the book is formatted by the amazing and inimitable JW Manus, it’s saving humanity one book at a time. Okay, that’s overstated. But, hey, I’m excited!

In the meantime, I wanted to talk a little about the publishing process from the point-of-view of a moderately experienced indie author. Because I write, I read. A lot. And I have to say that indie publishing is a blessing and a curse. First, let’s talk about the blessing part.

Amazon and the Masses
Like Gutenberg, Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and others have brought publishing to the masses. If you’ve paid any attention to the debate raging now between Amazon and Hachette, you’ll understand that this is a pretty big deal. No longer must authors be at the mercy of powerful literary agents and publishers. Anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can publish a book. Anyone.

This new reality has brought about a titanic transformation of publishing—with the reader at the center. New voices—authors who for the most part would never have gotten a shot—are now able to be read. All good stuff. But, as in most things in life, there’s a downside.

Up to Our Necks in Dreck
It’s precisely because anyone can hit the “Publish” button that there’s a lot of garbage out there. I’m talking bad writing, bad covers, no editing and no formatting. So what does this mean for the reader? Well, they have to wade through the dreck to get to the good stuff. And with way more than a million titles, that’s not easy. “What about reviews?” you say. Ever heard of sock puppets?

The major publishers have put forth this argument for years—implying that the only way to get your hands on quality books is to purchase them from The Big Five. Well, I’m here to tell you that this is a load of crap. Don’t believe me? Check out Hugh Howey’s Author Earnings site sometime and you’ll find that indie publishing is growing at a pace that’s alarming to The Big Five.

But enough of this. Let’s talk about making your indie book the best it can be.

The Cover Matters
Whether or not you like my book cover, it’s professional. I not only hired an artist to create it, but I used a professional cover designer. As many others have said ad nauseam, at least when it comes to eBooks, you can judge a book by its cover. And if the thing is rubbish, readers can probably assume the book is as well.

Editors Matter
You cannot hope to build an audience without entrusting your book to a professional editor and proofreader (often not the same person). Editors see things you don’t—gaps in logic, klunky language and bad grammar, to name a few. And a proofreader sees things editors don’t—missing commas, extra spaces after periods, etc.

Again, you may find that you don’t care for THE DEAD SERIES—I hope you do, though—but it’s professional. Unfortunately, typos will always make their way through. And I can tell you that I’ve found plenty of them in books from The Big Five. Nothing against these guys. It’s because we’re human—we miss things. What’s nice about eBooks is, you can easily fix the typo and republish.

Formatting Matters
I’m talking strictly about eBooks here. Yes, you can leave it to the Smashwords Meatgrinder to handle the formatting. Mark Coker has done an amazing job with that program, doing his best to automate the process of self-publishing. But it’s still a program. I prefer to work with a human.

The point is, don’t just upload your Microsoft Word document to KDP and hope for the best. You’ll be disappointed—and so will your readers.

A Good Synopsis Matters
When I say “synopsis,” I am also referring to the book blurb that appears under your book’s title on Amazon. It should be as professional as your book. And if you don’t know how to write an effective one, seek the help of other writers. You won’t be sorry.

Brand Matters
So what am I really talking about? Brand. This is all about your brand, people. Get the book wrong and readers will be done with you. And it will be hard to get them back. And I didn’t mean to imply that doing all of the above is cheap—it’s not. But if you’re serious about your work, you must do everything you can to produce a professional-looking product.

Of course, I am assuming that your writing rocks. That’s a given. All the more reason you should give it the respect it deserves.

Book Two Is Off to the Editor!

Photo Courtesy of Kate Gardiner via Creative Commons
[Children’s Mariachi]Alert the media—I’m calling this thing done! In my last post I explained what I learned writing the sequel to Tell Me When I’m Dead. Well, since then I’ve received the feedback from my beta readers and have made some final changes to the novel based on their notes. Overall, the comments were positive, which is very encouraging. (There is nothing more fragile than a writer’s ego.) And I can’t wait to share the story with you. But first things first. Now the book must go through a proper edit. The cover design still needs to be completed and the eBook formatting remains to be done.

Speaking of covers, recently I had dinner in Boston with Kevin Asmus, the artist who provided that brilliant image for the first book’s cover. Discovering his work was pure serendipity and fit in perfectly with the book’s theme. This time, I commissioned Kevin to create a new cover for Book Two and I’m confident it’s going to be awesome.

Originally when I wrote Tell Me When I’m Dead, I thought of it as a standalone book. But as I got to the end, it became clear to me that there was a bigger story to tell. The protagonist, Dave Pulaski, was just coming into his own by the end of the story. I needed to allow Dave to find out how and why the plague was unleashed in Tres Marias. And I had to find a way to test him beyond his own limits.

I believe I’ve done that, but as I suspected I am still not done with this guy. So I’m going to write Book Three to finish the story. Yep, what started as a one-off zombie novel is now a trilogy. Who knew? I wonder how often that happens. I mean, when Suzanne Collins began writing The Hunger Games, did she already know it was going to be a trilogy? I have no idea. In my case, I was surprised.

For those of you who read the first book, thank you. I hope Book Two won’t disappoint. As I said, early feedback has been good, so I think you’re in for another roller coaster ride. Stay tuned. Next up, the cover reveal!