Write What You Love

And it don’t take money, don’t take fame. Don’t need no credit card to ride this train…That’s the power of love.
       – Huey Lewis and the News

I have a lot of writer friends in various career stages, and therefore considering various career moves. The nice thing these days is that there are moves, more options than ever before. This requires that writers not only know and understand the choices (in terms of possibilities and pitfalls). It also requires that writers know themselves.
One friend who has been writing steadily for many years for traditional publishers is a case in point. After receiving news that her publisher was dropping the last book in a contract, she took a break from writing and looked inside. She wrote about what she saw, and gave me permission to share it:
After taking a much-needed break when I learned in May that my third book with ____ wouldn’t be published (which was, perversely, good news for me, as I hated the story, the characters, and the obligation to write it—with 20k words and one month to deadline at the time), I finally got to the point at which I would literally get the shakes at night because I needed to be doing something creative (i.e., WRITING), but every time I pulled out a notebook or sat at the computer, I would feel even worse staring at that blank page because the only thing I could think of when trying to start something new was all of the pressure and pain (emotional and physical) of being under deadline to churn out two or three (usually three) books a year for the past four years.
But the urge to create something still existed and was driving me slightly batty. One day, when at my acupuncture appointment, I needed something to focus my mind on—something other than work, which I’d just left and had to go back to, since this was my lunch break. I decided that since I still love watching all the cooking shows on TV, I’d focus my mind on my chef character from my second contemporary. What would it be like if he were to go on Chopped or Top Chef? What if his restaurant (which he was in the process of opening at the end of his book) were featured on Anthony Bourdain’s show? So I closed my eyes to allow my mind to “play” for a while.
Then something shocking happened. That character’s sister-in-law, one of the main secondary characters in that series, stepped forward and reminded me that she, too, is a chef and restaurant owner, and has been for longer than her brother-in-law. Besides, he’s already had his story. It’s time for her to have hers. And she’s right—I’ve had readers asking me for her story for years. By the time I got back to the office, I had the entire first scene fully formed in my head.
At a conference last week, I had a chance to talk to both my agent and former editor about the story and my ideas for things I can do with the uniqueness of the ebook format, and I realized, after walking away from my meeting, that for the first time in years, I was not only interested in a story idea but actually excited about writing it.
I’m taking it slowly—I’ve finished the first chapter and figured out how I’m going to incorporate the “viewpoints” of the four potential romantic interests for the heroine, without actually making any of them a main POV character. The most fun part, however, has been revisiting the first three books to gather all of the information about this character and to update the stories of all three of the couples from those books to “where they are now” six or seven years later. 
It’s also been a great joy to return to the fictional city I “founded” and started building in 1992. As a writer who got completely burned out from having to write based on the need for money and not a passion for writing the stories I’d come up with, it’s been so wonderful to return to this setting, to these characters I’ve known for years and years. It’s a lot like going home after a long estrangement and being welcomed back with open arms and a fatted calf.
And the best part about this turn of events is that her writing will be the best it’s ever been. She’s a pro, she knows what she’s doing—but now she’s also recaptured the love.
We have to have that in our writing if we’re going to keep doing this for the long term. You’ve only got so much time. Give that time to the stories

you’re burning to tell. Do that first, and the money will follow. How much, no one can say. But joy tips the balance in your favor. For example, in addition to my novels and novellas, I’m writing short stories about a boxer in 1950s Los Angeles. I make some scratch every month on these. But more than that, I love writing them. It’s a different voice and genre than I normally write in, which has the added benefit of keeping my writing chops sharp. 

If you love what you do you’ll do more of it, and  you’ll do it better, and that will increase the odds of making a decent buck at this—either through self-publishing or finding a traditional publisher who believes in your voice and vision. Or some combination of the two. 

So my question for you today is, do you love what you’re writing? If not, why not?
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Should You Quit Your Day Job to Write?

by James Scott Bell
 
Today’s post is brought to you by FIGHT CITY, the new Irish Jimmy Gallagher novelette. It’s Los Angeles, 1955, and all Jimmy Gallagher wants to do is meet his girl, Ruby, at the movies. But the City of Angels decides to put up its dukes and give Jimmy the fight of his life…
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Back in the day, 25 years ago or so, when I was starting to pursue writing seriously, I wondered if it was possible to actually make a living at this thing. I know that was the dream of just about every scribe I came in contact with. The ideal was you could live anywhere, maybe on an island where they served piña coladas, and you would write during the day, eat your fill at night and, when needed, withdraw money from your ever-increasing bank account in the Caymans.
Or you could put your feet up on your desk or coffee table, stay in your pajamas if you wanted to, go unshaven for days at a time, and have publishers pay you large amounts because readers would want to buy your books the moment they hit the shelves.
Back then, you didn’t pay much attention to the statistics, which told you that the number of writers who managed to make more than $5000 a year was pretty small. You were going to be one of the exceptions!
When I finally did become a professional, I kept practicing law until I had a few years under my belt where the writing income was steady and growing. I phased out the law only when I had a track record and a multi-book contract in hand.
Thus, I have never been one to tell new writers they should hastily quit their day jobs. There is a lot to be said for a day job, as long as you don’t hate it so much that going to work feels like your soul is being sucked into the vacuum cleaner of dread.
 
But maybe not even then. The day job gives you reliable, steady income. It makes life predictable, financially speaking. It keeps you around people (writing full time is an isolating pursuit that sometimes makes you feel and act–and perhaps even look–like Ben Gunn from Treasure Island).
 
And if the job includes benefits, so much the better. Leaving all that for the uncertain life of a freelance writer is not a jump to be taken lightly. Ten years ago I would have advised a writer to have positive royalty income plus a multi-book contract before thinking of going it alone.
Of course, we are now in a new, self-publishing age. It is ever more possible to make serious money as a writer. Traditional publishing, undergoing its own uncertainties about the future, is no longer the only game in town–although it is still a game, and it is still in town.
So maybe you’re thinking of “the dream” for yourself.  Here are some things you should ponder before taking the plunge.
1. Do you have the chops?
Let’s be blunt here. Most self-published material is not ready for prime time. In the “old days” (that is, before 2007), the arbiters of what was ready was a coterie of agents and acquisitions editors. To gain their approval, writers would grind their way through a learning process that included lots of words typed, craft studied, manuscripts critiqued (by friends, a group, or a professional freelance editor) and so on. Now, a writer can leapfrog all that and bounce straight into digital publication. But that may not be the right hop.
My advice: Find a way to replicate some of the traditional process before you publish. I’m a craft guy, as you know. In my early years I would try to identify my weak spots and then design self-study programs. Even when it wasn’t that intense, I’d be reading craft books and Writer’s Digest and novels I admired (to enjoy first then take apart). This should be ongoing for you. Since 1988 I don’t think a week has gone by when I did not do some active reading in or study of the techniques of writing fiction. If you’re just starting out to form your own library of craft books, I can suggest a place to begin.
Find a critique group of fellow writers you can exchange manuscripts with. Avoid toxic relationships, however.
Put together an actual proposal for your novel, even if you’re going to self-publish. Try to “sell” it to a friend or family member. This is a grinder, but it makes better writers.
2. Can you live with financial uncertainty?
As promising as self-publishing is, it is still a labor-intensive, up-and-down proposition. To help you live with the risk, I would counsel that you have a savings account with at least six months of living expenses in it. That cushion will soften any blows that come month-by-month. 
Even when your flow becomes positive, you’re going to have to have the discipline to set aside money for estimated tax payments and unanticipated emergencies.
You will need to follow the advice of Mr. Micawber in David Copperfield: “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”
To be a full-time writer, learn to live below your means and sock the rest away: some for taxes, some for charity, some for retirement, some for investment, some in a liquid account.
Or marry a rich person.
3. Does your self-publishing income show a year-long, upward trendline?
Unless and until you can produce new material on a regular basis, and show a steady increase in income over the course of a year (which is enough time to allow for fluctuations), I wouldn’t advise quitting your day job.
 
Further, your average monthly income at the end of the year should be hitting four figures. If you make under that much, but show a strong upward line, and know you can increase your output if you have more time to write, you might consider giving yourself a year of freedom from the day job to see what you can do. Everyone will have a different calculation about this. Commitments and financial needs will vary. If you are single and living in Tulsa or Fargo, your income needs will be less than if you are married and living in San Francisco or New York.
Make sure the people you care about most are okay with what you’re doing, unless it’s just your brother Arnold who thinks you’re crazy to be a writer anyway.
4. Can you operate a business?
This is going to be your job. You have to have a certain amount of business acumen to do it well. Some of my writer friends admit that they don’t have that kind of mind. For them, the day job or a working spouse is essential. They just want to write and hope for the best. That’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that.
But the strategies for setting up a self-publishing business are not difficult to understand or implement. In fact, it’s little more than what you would have to do as an author for a traditional house. In the trad world you still have to market yourself which requires . . . strategies and discipline. You can put that same energy into setting up a self-publishing stream. You also now have a plethora of options, from doing it all yourself to going through a service (e.g., Smashwords, BookBaby) to choosing a bit of both.
5. What about health insurance?
A final factor is the benefit of health insurance. I have no idea what the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) is going to look like in 2014, when it really kicks in. Does anybody? But if it does one of the things it promises, it may mean that formerly uninsurable freelance writers (even with pre-existing conditions) can get health care coverage. (NOTE: What I’m looking for is practical information on what you think the ACA could mean for individuals. Let’s not get into a vitriolic debate about the act itself or its progenitor.)
So those are the thoughts out of the middle of my head. Let’s open it up for discussion. Do you dream of doing this writing thing full time? What advice would you give someone thinking about it?

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Going Deeper With a Series Character


Today’s post is brought to you by my new boxing story, “King Crush,” now available for 99¢ exclusively for Kindle. And, as a special inducement, for a limited time the first story, “Iron Hands,” is available FREE. 
Today I have a question: What do you like to see in a series character? The same “feel” over and over, or deepening and changing?
There are two schools of thought on this.
Lee Child once remarked that he loves Dom Perignon champagne and wants each bottle to be the same. He’s not looking for a different taste each time out. So it is with his Jack Reacher novels. And millions of fans are tracking right along with him.
There are other enduring series where the character remains roughly static. Phillip Marlowe didn’t change all that much until The Long Goodbye. James Bond? Not a whole lot of change going on inside 007.
At the other end of the spectrum are those characters who undergo significant transformation as the series moves along. The best contemporary example of this is, IMO, the Harry Bosch series by Michael Connelly. What he’s done with Bosch from book to book is nothing short of astonishing.
Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder was traipsing along as a pretty standard PI until Block made a conscious decision to kick it up a notch. He did that with Eight Million Ways to Die, a book that knocked me out. Here we have Scudder not just on a new case, but also battling his alcoholism and the existential angst of life in New York City in the early 1980s. By going deeper Block created one of the classics of the genre.
In my Mallory Caine, Zombie-at-Law series (written as K. Bennett) I have a lead character who is a zombie hungering (you’ll pardon the phrase) for change. She doesn’t want to be what she is. The just released Book 2,The Year of Eating Dangerously, begins with Mallory in the hills looking down at a motorcycle gang and thinking, Lunch.And then reflecting on her damaged soul.
Book 3, due out later this year, begins with Mallory at a ZA meeting—Zombies Anonymous. She is trying to stay off human flesh (substituting calves’ brains) but it’s not easy. And I say without hesitation that I was inspired by the above mentioned Eight Million Ways to Die.
So here’s my series about boxer Irish Jimmy Gallagher. These are short stories, and I’m going for “revealing” more of Jimmy in each one. “Iron Hands” was the intro, giving us Jimmy’s world and basic personality. Now comes “King Crush.”
The new story takes place in 1955 and revolves around an old carnival attraction they used to have in America, the carny fighter who would take on locals. If the locals stayed with him long enough, they might earn back their five bucks and some more besides. But these carny pugs knew all the dirty tricks, and it was usually the hayseeds who ended up on the canvas.
Jimmy just wants to have a good time at the carnival with his girl, Ruby, and his bulldog, Steve. He’s not looking for trouble. But sometimes trouble finds Jimmy Gallagher.
I started writing these stories because there’s something in me that wants to know Jimmy Gallagher, what makes him tick. And that’s my preference as a writer and a reader of series. I want to go a little deeper each time.
So who is your favorite series character? Is this character basically the same from book to book? Or is there significant change going on?

If you’re writing a series, do you have a plan for the development of your character over time? Or is it more a book-to-book thing?
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Going Deeper With a Series Character


Today’s post is brought to you by my new boxing story, “King Crush,” now available for 99¢ exclusively for Kindle. And, as a special inducement, for a limited time the first story, “Iron Hands,” is available FREE. 
Today I have a question: What do you like to see in a series character? The same “feel” over and over, or deepening and changing?
There are two schools of thought on this.
Lee Child once remarked that he loves Dom Perignon champagne and wants each bottle to be the same. He’s not looking for a different taste each time out. So it is with his Jack Reacher novels. And millions of fans are tracking right along with him.
There are other enduring series where the character remains roughly static. Phillip Marlowe didn’t change all that much until The Long Goodbye. James Bond? Not a whole lot of change going on inside 007.
At the other end of the spectrum are those characters who undergo significant transformation as the series moves along. The best contemporary example of this is, IMO, the Harry Bosch series by Michael Connelly. What he’s done with Bosch from book to book is nothing short of astonishing.
Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder was traipsing along as a pretty standard PI until Block made a conscious decision to kick it up a notch. He did that with Eight Million Ways to Die, a book that knocked me out. Here we have Scudder not just on a new case, but also battling his alcoholism and the existential angst of life in New York City in the early 1980s. By going deeper Block created one of the classics of the genre.
In my Mallory Caine, Zombie-at-Law series (written as K. Bennett) I have a lead character who is a zombie hungering (you’ll pardon the phrase) for change. She doesn’t want to be what she is. The just released Book 2,The Year of Eating Dangerously, begins with Mallory in the hills looking down at a motorcycle gang and thinking, Lunch.And then reflecting on her damaged soul.
Book 3, due out later this year, begins with Mallory at a ZA meeting—Zombies Anonymous. She is trying to stay off human flesh (substituting calves’ brains) but it’s not easy. And I say without hesitation that I was inspired by the above mentioned Eight Million Ways to Die.
So here’s my series about boxer Irish Jimmy Gallagher. These are short stories, and I’m going for “revealing” more of Jimmy in each one. “Iron Hands” was the intro, giving us Jimmy’s world and basic personality. Now comes “King Crush.”
The new story takes place in 1955 and revolves around an old carnival attraction they used to have in America, the carny fighter who would take on locals. If the locals stayed with him long enough, they might earn back their five bucks and some more besides. But these carny pugs knew all the dirty tricks, and it was usually the hayseeds who ended up on the canvas.
Jimmy just wants to have a good time at the carnival with his girl, Ruby, and his bulldog, Steve. He’s not looking for trouble. But sometimes trouble finds Jimmy Gallagher.
I started writing these stories because there’s something in me that wants to know Jimmy Gallagher, what makes him tick. And that’s my preference as a writer and a reader of series. I want to go a little deeper each time.
So who is your favorite series character? Is this character basically the same from book to book? Or is there significant change going on?

If you’re writing a series, do you have a plan for the development of your character over time? Or is it more a book-to-book thing?
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10 Reasons Why I Am Self Publishing


We had quite a dust up this week over the self-publishing revolution, beginning with my thoughts on agents, followed by Clare’s post on reasons NOT to self-publish. As I have just released a new story for Kindle (more on that below), I reflected on the reasons I choose to self-publish alongside my traditionally published work.
1. It’s real money
I write for a living. Self-publishing increases my income substantially, and pays off monthly. I’m sort of old school on this. The pulp guys who wrote during the Depression were, first of all, trying to put food on the table. Writing is my job, and if I can up the income at my job, why would I not do that?
2. It’s not either/or
I don’t have to choose self-publishing to the exclusion of traditional publishing. I do both. The nice thing is I can make sound business decisions with more options and information than ever before.
3. It’s not about hate
One thing I didn’t understand about the original reasons-not-to-self-publish post was the point about not being a “hater.” Yes, I know there is some vitriol out there about trad publishing from authors who have been burned by it. But hate is a personal invective and traditional publishing is not a person. It’s a business. One should simply make clear-headed business decisions, with self-publishing as one of the options on the table.
4. It’s what I love to do
I love to write and have people read what I write. Self-publishing lets me get more of my work to more readers. This is why traditional publishers should not fret over authors self-publishing non-competing work (and should take a liberal stance on what constitutes “competing”). An author who makes more readers helps the traditional publisher sell more of that author’s books.
5. It lets me try different things
I am free to write what I want and put it out there in the marketplace. I can stretch my muscles, try new styles. My latest story, described below, is an example. This is major.
6. It’s a market for shorter works
I love the novella, novelette (10 – 20k words) and short story forms. This market was pretty much dead until the self-publishing revolution. Now you can actually make a buck off this type of material.
7. It’s fun
Traditionally published authors always love the day a box of their new book arrives from the publisher. You take out a fresh copy, smell it, admire the cover, riffle the pages. Well, it’s just as much fun to see your book become available online, even more fun when people start buying it.
8. It’s empowering
Writers have never had the power they have now to reach readers. It used to be there was only one way to do it, and that was through the largesse of a difficult-to-reach Kingdom called the publishing establishment. I like having more power. But with power comes responsibility, and it’s up to me to make sure my writing is the best it can be. I like having that power, too.
9. It’s a free market
It’s nice that the market — the readers themselves — get to decide how much reward an author gets. That’s as it should be. The more an author writes and publishes and pleases readers, the more the market will reward said author.
10. It’s fast
This may be my favorite reason of all. I don’t have to wait a year or 18 months to see something I wrote go out for sale.
As an example of all the above, let me tell you how my latest offering came to be:
A few months ago I purchased the Kindle edition of the Robert E. Howard Omnibus. Howard was one of the most prolific pulp writers of the 30s, best known for creating Conan the Barbarian. He wrote in several genres, including the Steve Costigan boxing stories.
I liked the style of these stories because I’m a boxing fan (old school, that is, from Jack Johnson to Muhammad Ali), so about six weeks ago I found myself tapping out a first person narrated boxing tale. I called my character Irish Jimmy Gallagher and set the story in 1955 Los Angeles. Pretty soon I had about 6000 words in a voice I really liked.
I rewrote the story then sent it out to a group of beta readers, who I told to be “brutally honest” with me. I really didn’t know what I had. The feedback was 100% positive, with a few suggestions and typo snags. So I took their notes and made some changes and then did the following:
* I created a cover to suggest the pulp-style boxing stories of yore. I purchased a license for a pen-and-ink boxing picture fromiStockphoto and designed a template (I’ll change colors for future stories) in Pages for Mac. Total cost to me: $45 and a couple hours of time.
* I wrote the marketing copy for the story, which is a crucial link in the self-publishing chain, but I enjoy that process, too. Fifteen minutes.
* I converted the story to .mobi format using Calibre software. For a novel with a TOC, I would probably hire this step out. But I wanted to see if I could do it with a simple short story, and I could. A few hours to learn the program and mess with it.
* I uploaded the story to Amazon on Monday morning (ten minutes to fill out the info on their publishing page) and it went live later that day.
From the finishing of the story to getting it vetted by beta readers, doing the formatting and design and placing it online, it was about a week. That absolutely rocks.
So now I have a boxing story for sale. If I had sold it to a pulp magazine in 1935, I might have been paid $100 for it as a one-time fee. Now I will make royalty income off it for the rest of my life. While one 99¢ story is not going to buy a new car, it is certainly going to be substantially more over the long term than our forefathers of the pulp days ever saw. So I will be writing more stories in this series, and start other series as well.
This is a good thing. No, a great thing for writers.
So those are ten of my reasons for self-publishing. And now it’s my pleasure to introduce you to Irish Jimmy Gallagher, who checks in at 6’3″ and 225 pounds. A boxer with dancing green eyes and a wit born of the Blarney Stone, Jimmy is a hell of a fella, quick with a laugh and quicker with the jab.
But if you foul him, stand back.

Available for 99¢ exclusively on Kindle.

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