Nobody wants to write for a living. We do it because we have to. Once we’ve put pen to paper that first time, we’re addicted. The only fix is to type out a few pages of a short story or novel.
Those of you who have a passion for writing know exactly what I’m talking about. You carry a pocket-size notebook everywhere you go to write down your thoughts. You carefully observe people for unique mannerisms that then make their way into your characters. You listen in on conversations, not because you’re nosy, but because you study how people talk so your dialogue sounds realistic. You can’t watch the news or read a newspaper without getting an idea for a short story or novel. To you, a personal crisis is when you find out that the really awesome scene you thought of last week was already used in another book or movie. For you, writing is not so much a profession as it is a calling.
The reward is not the paycheck. Most writers will be lucky if they make enough money to pay the bills. The reward is seeing your name on the book cover. It’s the thrill of having people read the story you have to tell. It’s hearing from your fans about how much they enjoyed reading your work. It’s going to conventions and book signings. It’s watching that one story or novel slowly become a long bibliography.
If you’re nodding your head while reading this, then you’re one of the lucky ones.
Yes. You’re lucky because you’ve answered the call. The road ahead will not always be easy. You’ll have frustrations. You’ll have doubts. You might even abandon writing for awhile, only to go back to it soon. Writing is addictive, but the rewards are worth it. So if you answered the calling, I wish you the best in your endeavor. You’re going to need it.
If just one of you finds enough inspiration from these postings to write a novel or short story, or picks up some advice that helps you get published, then my efforts were not wasted. Just remember me when writing the acknowledgment page of your book.
Now get to work. As my good friend Clint says, “Write or die.”
Scott's Blog: http://scottmbakerauthor.blogspot.com/
Scott on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000252439528&ref=profile
Scott on Twitter: http://twitter.com/vampire_hunters
Author Scott M. Baker concludes his advice on how to market your book and yourself...
So that’s it? I set up a blog and a webpage and I’m done marketing my book?
Hell, no. In addition to a webpage and a blog, you will also need to establish an account on some of the various social networking sites (SNS) available on the Internet. Facebook and Twitter are the most common, although there are dozens of SNSs available. If there’s a particular site that caters to the audience you’re trying to reach, by all means add that to your Internet presence. But don’t go crazy and establish a profile on every SNS available, because the more time you spend maintaining these sites and networking means the less time you spend writing.
You will also want to join a few forums and/or chat groups to make your name known throughout the community. I suggest a mix between those directed primarily to writers and those frequented by fans of your genre. A good place to begin is Goodreads. This site is dedicated to writers and readers, and it maintains numerous chat groups that span all genres. Beyond that, do your research and check out various forums/chat groups until you find a few where you feel comfortable visiting. As with the social networking sites, moderation is the key.
Cool. I love Facebook. I have a couple of dozen zombie pets that I’m taking care of.
You’re missing the point. Your goal is to sell books, not to steal your friend’s zombie rabbits or create photo albums of your last trip to Europe. You need to market yourself as much as your work. The best way to accomplish that is to establish a reputation as a reliable expert in your genre. Don’t just use these sites just to talk about yourself and your latest writing project. Discuss books and movies, offer the latest news in your genre or the publishing industry, or maybe write a series of blogs on how to get published. When visiting websites and blogs other than your own, if you find an interesting post, share it on your SNSes; your fans and other bloggers will appreciate it. And don’t get discouraged if you don’t have a thousand followers at the end of the first week. This is a slow and labor-intensive process, so be patient. If you market yourself correctly and give it time, slowly but surely you’ll build up a following of fans who will want to read your book, who will tell their friends to read it, and who will eagerly await your next novel. (NOTE: Gary Vaynerchuk's Crush It!, available from Amazon, provides an excellent step-by-step approach on how to achieve this.)
There are two things to keep in mind when blogging and networking.
First, always use your writing name when posting. While it might be fun to call yourself vampireexpert69 on Facebook, it makes it almost impossible for your fans to find and follow you.
Second, and this is a matter of personal opinion only, avoid controversial subjects and flame wars with fans or colleagues. This is one of those instances when bad publicity is worse than no publicity for beginning authors. If you’re a vampire author who is not a fan of Twilight, don’t bash the series every chance you get. Don’t take sides on political issues, militantly support controversial causes, or publicly and consistently lambast a colleague as a hack who can’t write for merde, otherwise you run the risk of losing major portions of your fan base. As a writer trying to establish him/herself, you can’t afford to alienate potential readers.
Finally, there are other things you should do to market yourself and your book:
Book signings: These are your most important venue for building your fan base. And don’t limit yourself just to book stores. I do a lot of signings at comic book stores. Conventions are also a big draw for fans. Book expos are a great way to meet potential fans. Specialized conventions are also a big plus. For example, if you write about animals, attend pet expos. Of all the horror cons I’ve attended, authors are among the most popular celebrity guests. John Lamb, author of the Teddy Bear Mystery series, once told me that he sells almost as many books at teddy bear conventions as he does at book store signings.
Guest blogging: These are vital for new authors to get their names out in the public domain. There are many established blogs that allow aspiring or first-time authors to guest blog on their sites. I am indebted to Dawn's Reading Nook, Adventures of the Cautionary Tale, Back of the Book Review, and several genre sites for allowing me the opportunity to talk about my writing. I’ve made several new friends and fans thanks to their generosity.
Look for every opportunity you can find to get your name out there. Convince your local radio and television stations or newspapers to interview you as a hometown celebrity. Arrange virtual book tours (which is especially important if you’re an e-book author) where you have chat room discussions on various forums. Spend the time and effort to create a video trailer for your book that you can post to YouTube. Donate autographed copies of your book to charity events, or do book signings at such events with all the proceeds going to that charity. These are just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. There are dozens of things you can do to publicize your book, all of which inevitably increase sales and lead to more exposure.
Well, that wraps up my blog series on how to get published. Any questions?
Yeah. You just described a hell of a lot of work to go through to be a mid-list author. Why would anyone in their right mind want to write for a living?
Good question. Let me answer that next...
Author Scott M. Baker talks about marketing your work, or was it how to work your marketing? Either way, it's up to you...
What? You mean I spent a year writing my book, six months revising it, and three years getting it published, and you tell me that was the easy part?
[NOTE: Of all the people I’ve talked to over the years in the publishing industry, most have stated that the average time to find a publisher is six years. Bear in mind, that’s the average. One mid-list SciFi writer who is now well established told me it took him ten years to place his first novel. So don’t get discouraged after your first dozen rejection slips. This is a long and ego-bruising process.]
It’s time for the harsh reality. Your novel is a product. In publishing, it’s competing with thousands of others just like it. If you’re lucky beyond your wildest dreams, you’ll hit a homerun your first time at bat like J.K. Rowling did withHarry Potter, or achieve the success Brian Keene did with The Rising and establish a wide following. However, more than likely, as with the vast majority of authors, you will have to struggle to build your reputation. You will have to make the readers aware that your book is out on the market, convince them to purchase a copy, and hope that they like it enough to come back for more and/or talk you about on their blog or Facebook/Twitter. Up until now you’ve spent all your time writing that first book. Now you have to spend just as much time marketing it if you ever hope to see your second book published. Trust me on this one – I’m speaking from experience.
[DISCLAIMER: What I’m about to say next is a generalization about the industry and does not hold true in each and every case. My publisher, Pill Hill Press, understands that it takes several years and several books for an author to come into his/her own, and is very nurturing in that process. However, I know of other publishers that I will not name that see their authors as resources to be exploited for their own gain. That is why, as I stressed in a previous blog, an author must be careful about who he/she contracts with and not feel as though they must take the first offer that comes along.]
Publishing is an industry. As in any industry, if you can’t turn a profit for the company, the company will let you go and find someone who can make them money. Publishers spend a certain amount to get your book into print in the anticipation that it will be popular and turn a profit. The industry closely tracks book sales. If the book doesn’t sell well, for whatever reason, and if it the publisher is not able to at least break even, then good luck getting them or anyone else to take a chance on your second book.
The good news is the rapid advances in e-publishing. Since the initial outlay to publish an e-book is so much less since the company does not have to worry about printing and shipping costs, the chances of your book turning a profit are greater. Conversely, your royalty on an e-book should be greater than with a hardcover or paperback.
Compounding the problem is the vast number of books on the market today. Gone are the days when a publishing house had a small but reliable cache of authors and would devote its time and resources to making them successful. Today, most publishers dedicate their limited public relations budget to those books or authors they deem most marketable, letting the rest of us fend for ourselves. Even those publishing houses that look after their authors include clauses in their contracts that require the author to take upon themselves much of the responsibility for marketing the book. It’s a fact of life of the industry today.
Years ago the author’s mantra used to be “Write or Die.” Today it’s “Market or Die.”
The good news is, marketing yourself and your book is neither costly nor difficult, and requires only a commitment of your time.
Since you have a product to sell, you need a place to sell it. So begin by setting up a blog. Don’t be too elaborate. The goal is to provide a forum to primarily discuss your writing, so everything that goes on it should be geared to that end. My blog layout contains the basics: a photo and brief bio of myself, links to my web presence and where to purchase my books, links to other websites I frequent, and banners to vampire- and zombie-related websites that have also provided links to my blog. As for your website, keep it simple. I recently closed down my old website because I was paying way too much for hosting it. My new site, which I am currently preparing, will contain bulk data (i.e. sample chapters from my books, book trailers, videos and photos) and links to my blog and Facebook/Twitter pages.
Before you begin, check out several blogs and websites for authors you like to see what they have done, then create your own. If the idea of setting up one intimidates you, don’t let it. There are several sites out there that allow the technologically-impaired to easily set up and manage a blog or website. Once you spend the time to create your blog and homepage, keep up with them. Try to post on your blog at least three days a week. If a potential fan clicks on your site and sees that it hasn’t been updated since the Red Sox won the last World Series, they won’t bother following you. It takes half a day at most to set one up and only a few hours a week to maintain it.
Also, be sure to keep the content interesting. Post updates about your writing, when you sign a contract or get published, any conventions or book signings you’re attending, etc. If someone reviews your work, link to their website and give them a shout out. And be sure to vary the content. If your blog is only about you and your writing, you’ll bore readers. Include postings that are fun or informative. I post the weekly Sunday Bunnies about my pets; reviews of genre books I’ve read and movies I’ve seen; and news about upcoming genre-related events. If the blog is all about you and how great you are, you’ll bore readers and lose followers.
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Author Scott M. Baker continues his series on writing...
I have my query drafted and ready to send out. Where do I find publishers and literary agents to submit it to?
Here is where I date myself.
When I first became interested in writing, the Bible of the publishing industry was The Writer’s Market. Without the latest edition on your desk, your chances of getting published were slim. However, relying on The Writer’s Market today is about as antiquated as drafting your manuscript on a manual typewriter. The publishing industry has an increasing number of small independent presses, many of which deal exclusively in electronic media. These houses open (and sometimes close) at a mind-boggling rate. The good news is that keeping track of who’s who in the market has never been easier.
I use five methods to keep track of the market. More are available, but these are the ones I primarily rely on. [NOTE: If I happen to mention a particular service, that should not be taken as an endorsement of one product over another, or as an indication that other products are not as good. I’m merely stating my preferences. Each of you should do your own research and find services that best work for you.]
1-- Internet-based publisher digests. There are several out there that encompass all markets and genres, but I use Duotrope (http://www.duotrope.com/). Duotrope allows you to narrowly define your search parameters to provide listings based on genre, type of publication (short stories, novellas, or full-length novels; print or electronic publishing), length of work, submission guidelines, and other criteria. Each listing also contains a link to that publisher’s homepage so you can get the most up-to-date information. One feature about this service I particularly like is that you can sign up for Duotrope’s weekly e-mail update that lists those markets that are open to submission, updates those which are dead or closed to submissions, and provides a list of upcoming anthologies by theme. Several of my earlier works were placed with publishers I discovered on Duotrope.
2-- Conventions. Though less readily available then the first two, writers and genre conventions are among your most valuable resource. Publishers use these conventions to seek out new talent, so they are most receptive to hear what you have to offer. Practice your verbal pitch. You want to have a pitch that hooks a publisher in the first few sentences, but doesn’t sound over rehearsed. And be prepared in case the publisher starts asking detailed questions about your work or you. I have seen a lot of authors nail that opening pitch and get all tongue-tied during the follow-up talks. Remember, nobody knows you and your book better than you do. And if you find a publisher who wants to see more of your work, contact him/her the moment you get home, reminding him/her in your cover letter that you just met at the convention and you are sending along the material he/she asked you to.
3-- Your local bookstore. You can find a wealth of information here. Check out new arrivals to see which houses have published books in your genre, and use that as a starting point for your research. Also remember to check out the acknowledgement page, for you often get the names of editors and literary agents to contact.
4-- On-line review sites: Like your local bookstore, genre review sites give you ready access to the latest works being published. And the best part is you can check out potential publishers while dressed in your ratty clothes and seated on the back deck smoking a cigar.
5-- On-line forums and groups. These can be extremely helpful if you join the correct ones. You want to find forums/groups populated by aspiring and/or new authors who are serious about their craft. Publishers and editors often cruise these sites searching for new talent, and if they are impressed they may contact you offline and ask you to submit. There are also forums/groups where publishers actively seek out authors. That is how I sold “Dead Water.” And don’t forget Facebook. My latest short story about steampunk zombies is sitting with an editor I met via a Facebook group that was seeking submissions for a steampunk horror anthology. (These forums/groups are also invaluable in helping you market your book, which I will discuss in the next blog posting.)
All right, ladies and gentlemen. For those of you who have been reading this blog series from the beginning, you have enough tools available to write your novel. You’ve abandoned family, friends, and pets to make the time to write and have spent the last year drafting and editing and revising and re-editing and re-revising and re-re-revising your work. You’ve sent out an endless stream of query letters, suffered through the flood of rejections (or worse, the annoying lack of responses from publishers), but you have prevailed and finally found someone to publish your work.
Now the hard part begins.
NEXT: Marketing Your Book and Yourself
Author Scott M. Baker continues his series on writing...(read Part 1).
Let me add a few observations to my last blog about query letters. These are only my opinions, and should not be taken as gospel for getting published (or as legal advice). Alternate styles and formats may work better for different authors. For example, if you have no published works to your credit, list your qualifications for writing a novel. If you’re a lawyer whose manuscript is about a courtroom drama, or if you’re a recovering drug addict detailing the struggles of rehab, state that in your query. Also, if your published works have received good reviews from reputable sources (your mother’s blog does not count), include links to those reviews.
Here are same basic guidelines to follow:
--Publishers/agents are specific in what they want you to submit with your query, usually asking for sample chapters and a synopsis, and occasionally for a bio or a marketing strategy. Sometimes they ask for sample chapters to be submitted in a certain font or style. If you submit a query, be sure to provide what they ask for in the style they ask for. Although the main reason a publisher/agent asks for sample chapters and a synopsis is to get a feel for your writing style, your query submission also gives them a feel for how well you follow guidelines.
If a publisher/agent asks for a three-page synopsis, one sample chapter in Courier 10 font, and a marketing strategy, and instead you send a one-page synopsis, three sample chapters in Times New Roman 12 font, and a bio, you immediately send the impression that you cannot/will not follow simple guidelines. Publishers/agents will be cautious about contracting with you, fearing that you may also be unwilling/unable to follow their editorial guidance and meet deadlines. [NOTE: While I’m willing to make certain changes to the text of sample chapters per the request of a publisher/agent – such as fonts, line spacing, or margins, all of which can easily be done on a computer – I refuse to entirely reformat my manuscript for a query. I did that once. A publisher's webpage said they were accepting manuscripts for consideration, so I spent two days preparing the submission to meet their strict and unusual formatting guidelines, e-mailed the query, and got a response less than an hour later saying the publisher was no longer accepting submissions. Needless to say, I never made that mistake again.]
--Every publisher and agent I have talked to has decried simultaneous submissions (sending query submissions to more than one publisher/agent at a time), each of them relating how they spent several hours reading a submission, got excited about the work, and called back the author only to find that he/she had contracted with someone else. While I understand their rationale for refusing simultaneous submissions, I find it unreasonable. It can take months for a publisher/agent to respond to you, if they respond at all, and more often than not they are not interested in seeing the entire manuscript. That restriction against simultaneous submissions places an unfair burden on aspiring authors. I see no problem with sending queries to more than one publisher/agent at a time.
However, and this is vital, show professional courtesy. If you have a manuscript with one publisher/agent and a second one asks to see it, let the second publisher/agent know that someone else is currently looking at it. Publishers/agents will understand if they contact you based on a query and someone else has scooped up the manuscript before them. However, if they read the entire manuscript only to find out that others were currently reading it and have already contracted with you, you’ll earn a reputation you do not want to have in the industry.
-- Finally, do not feel compelled to accept any contract offered to you. I’ve been very fortunate that my publisher treats its authors fairly and with considerable respect. Not all of them are like that. Two years ago I was contacted by a publisher who said how much he loved my manuscript and wanted to send me a contract. When I received it I laughed. The publisher wanted all rights (print, electronic, audio, radio, TV, movie, as well as the rights to the characters) to my first four books in perpetuity (i.e. forever) and offered a measly 10 percent royalty on all profits. The contract should have been emblazoned with a skull and crossbones in the corner. If the contract doesn’t settle right with you, trust your instincts and question it. Do not sign on the dotted line out of fear that no one will ever again offer you another contract. You worked too hard on that book to give away all the rights to someone else. As an aside, two weeks after rejecting that ridiculous offer I signed a contract with a very reputable publisher for The Vampire Hunter series.
When it comes to discussing query submissions, this blog just touches the tip of the iceberg. But at least it gives you a framework to start from. Here's a sample query letter to use as a guideline.
While researching potential publishers for my manuscript, I discovered your homepage and decided to contact you to gauge your interest in my book.
The Vampire Hunters are Drake Matthews and Alison Monroe, two former cops who turned in their badges for stakes, and Jim Delmarco, an engineering student with a knack for developing lethal weapons against the undead. Their target is a nest of more than a dozen vampires located in Washington D.C. and led by two masters, one of whom prefers to indulge his decadence rather than ensure the nest's survival, and his mistress who will go to any lengths to gain control over the nest. Driven by a determination to rid the city of this ultimate evil, and armed with nothing more sophisticated than low-tech conventional weapons, the hunters wage a relentless and violent war against the undead in the streets and back alleys of the nation's capital.
In The Vampire Hunters I flesh out the vampires so they are an integral part of the story but, unlike many contemporary novels, I depict my vampires as vicious and inhuman. With the recent success of such books as David Wellington's Bullet series and del Toro's/Hogan's Strain trilogy, The Vampire Hunters is perfectly poised to take advantage of the growing interest in vampires as evil, non-romantic characters.
The manuscript is 78,000 words in length and is ready for immediate submission.
As I noted above, the manuscript is the first in a trilogy. I have completed The Vampire Hunters: Vampyrnomicon (the introduction of the Master vampire, Chiang Shih, and her plan to establish a vampire kingdom), which is 100,000 words in length. The final book in the trilogy, The Vampire Hunters: Dominion (the final battle between good and evil), will be completed in the spring of 2010 and should be 100,000 words in length.
As for previous writing credits, I have authored several short stories, including “Rednecks Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things,” which appeared in the autumn 2008 edition of the e-zine Necrotic Tissue; “Cruise of the Living Dead,” which appeared in Living Dead Press’ Dead Worlds: Volume 3 anthology (August 2009); “Deck the Malls with Bowels of Holly,” which appeared in Living Dead Press‘ Christmas Is Dead anthology (October 2009); and “Denizens,” which appeared in Living Dead Press’ The Book of Horror anthology (March 2010).
Per your guidelines, I have included the first thirty pages and a synopsis so you can get a feel for my writing. I can forward the entire manuscript upon request.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.
Scott M. Baker
NEXT: Finding a Publisher or Literary Agent, Part 3 (where to find them).
Author Scott M. Baker concludes his series on writing...
How difficult is it to draft a query letter? And how do I find a publisher or agent to send it to?
First things first. It’s not that difficult to write a query letter. Which is fortunate, because drafting a good query is the most important aspect (next to actually writing the book) of getting published. You may have written the next bestseller, but if you can’t garner enough interest from publishers or literary agents to look at it, your novel/story is just taking up space on your hard drive.
Let me preface this section by stating that there are numerous ways to write a query. Use the format that best works for your work or that you feel most comfortable with. What I’m offering are tips on how I draft mine, and they’ve been successful for me. Also, this format should be used only for fiction. Non-fiction guidelines are much different.
Start out with a brief introduction on how you discovered the publisher/agent. If a published author referred you to them, or if you met this person at a convention and he/she asked you to forward a submission, state that up front. It gives you a foot up to climb out of the slush pile. Otherwise, just say that you discovered them while researching potential publishers/agents, and you wanted to give them the opportunity to review your manuscript.
Next include a brief description of your novel/story. Keep it to one small paragraph, two at most. Make it just long enough to provide a general idea what the work is about and entice the publisher/agent to want to read more. How do you do this? Read a few examples from jacket covers or the back of paperbacks to get an idea. This is the make or break paragraph of the entire query. If you do not immediately snag the interest of a publisher/agent, they’ll throw your letter aside and move on to the next one. You need to get a hook into them so they’ll continue reading.
Your next paragraph has to sell the concept. The publisher/agent will receive hundreds of submissions for romances, murder mysteries, thrillers, animal books, or whatever genre you write in. Your work must stand out. Saying your mother or spouse thought it was terrific will not get you published. Nor will telling them that you’re the next Stephen King or Dan Brown. Publishing is a business, and your work will never make it into print unless you can convince the publisher/agent that it’s perfectly poised to take advantage of a new trend in the market, or brings a new and exciting twist to the genre that has not been seen before.
Follow with a brief paragraph noting what is attached to your e-mail (sample chapters or the entire manuscript), the final word count, and whether the novel/story is available for immediate submission. [NOTE: Don’t query publishers/agents with unfinished stories/novels. Usually they’re only interested in works that are ready for publication.] If your novel is part of a series, state that and, if known, offer an idea when the next book(s) in the series will be available.
Your penultimate paragraph should be about you. What makes you qualified to write this novel/story? Are you a police detective writing about a homicide unit in New York? Were you the victim of an abusive relationship, or a recovering addict, who has fictionalized your life? If you have no specific experiences you can relate to (I’ve never hunted vampires for a living, though I would like to), find a way to make yourself interesting. You’re selling yourself as well as your book.
This is also the paragraph to list your previous writing credits. Don’t list more than three otherwise you’ll look like you’re being pompous. List the most recent works, or those that are most relevant to your query. [NOTE: If you’re writing in a genre in which you don’t have relevant experience, I recommend trying to get several short stories published before you attempt to query on a book. Being able to say that you’ve been previously published bolsters your credentials. I noticed that publishers/agents showed more interest in looking at my novel after I had a few short stories in my bibliography.]
Finally, end with a closing sentence thanking them for their consideration and noting that you look forward to hearing from them.
NEXT: Finding a Publisher or Literary Agent, Part II (some useful tips on writing queries and a sample query letter).
Author Scott M. Baker continues his series on writing...
I have a story idea in mind and am psyched to begin writing. What’s the best way to get started? Should I outline the plot first, or just jump in and write?
There’s no right or wrong method to plot out your novel. The mechanics of writing is one of personal choice, so go with whatever method works best for you. For example, Jeffery Deaver creates meticulous outlines for his novels, detailing each scene and key segments of dialogue on sheets of paper and sticky notes that fill the walls of his study. He admits that it takes him months to come up with such a detailed framework. However, when he sits down to actually write the novel, since most of the work is already completed, it doesn’t take him long to finish the manuscript.
I prefer a less structured method. When plotting out my novel, I keep a stack of lined 3x5 cards handy and write down scenes as I think of them, including anything that I want to put into the scene such as descriptions, plot points, or snippets of dialogue. Before writing, I arrange the cards in the order I want the book to flow. This allows me to outline the major themes in the plot while allowing enough flexibility that I can add or re-order scenes easily.
These represent the two extremes of organization, and most of you will use a method of plot outlining that falls somewhere in between. What is important is, no matter which method you use, be sure you have a firm grasp of the opening, the conflict, and the resolution of your story before you begin writing your story. You can always change those elements later. But if you don’t have a basic idea where your story starts and ends, no amount of outlining will turn it into a viable manuscript. Trust me on this one. I have several short stories taking up space on my hard drive because I wrote them based on a single scene, but have yet to find an effective way to finish them.
Thanks. This has been a big help. While you’re here, can you give me any tips on writing?
Yes, I can. But this is not the blog series for that. There are thousands of books out there dedicated to instructing someone on how to write a book. They cover all the aspects of the craft – plot, setting, character development, voice, etc. There are even books that tell you how to write in specific genres. Feel free to use them if you want. No one has ever become a bad writer by reading these works.
In my opinion, however, the best way for someone to become a good writer is by reading numerous books to see how other authors write. When I say read a lot, I mean it. Go through at least one book a week. Start with the classics. We’re still reading Twain, Hemingway, Austen, and the like not just because our English professors are sadists, but because those authors knew how to write compelling stories that have stood the test of time (except for Great Expectations, but don’t get me started on that one). Then read a wide variety of books and authors in your genre as well as those outside of it.
And don’t forget to read trashy books, whether they’re pulp novels meant solely to entertain and entice, or novels that are just horribly written. Figure out what those authors did to make their work so laughable or painful to read, and learn from their mistakes. Remember, it takes a long time and many published works to build up a fan base, but only one poorly-written story or novel to turn off readers forever.
While I won’t offer writing tips in this blog series, I do want to point out that there are certain aspects of the craft you need to pay close attention to if you ever hope to get out of the slush pile and get published. These points have been reiterated to me time and again by publishers and literary agents, all of whom said that when they see these mistakes in query submissions, they immediately take the work out of contention.
The first is grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Over time you’ll find your own style and voice. If you don’t have the basics down, you’ll find it that much more difficult to break away from the thousands of other authors bombarding publishers and agents with their manuscripts. Make sure you proof read your final work carefully. You may have written the next bestseller, but if your sample chapters are full of spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, and incorrect punctuation, good luck getting a publisher or agent to read beyond the first few pages. Even if they see the potential in your book, they’ll view you as sloppy and will think carefully before taking you on. If it comes down between you and an author whose writing is solid, who do you think will get the contract?
Realistic dialogue is also very important, so of course it’s one of the hardest parts to get right. If you write dialogue so that it’s grammatically correct, it will sound stilted and will turn off the reader. If you write it to sound like every day conversations, you run the risk of making your characters sound like idiots. I trained myself to write decent dialogue by listening to others talk. This has the added benefit of letting people think you’re the silent, mysterious type (or they’ll just think you’re an introvert, which most writers are).
Finally, make sure you maintain the continuity of your story and characters. If your main character’s name is Ken Smith, always refer to him as either Ken or Smith throughout the story, and do not interchange the names. Keep your secondary characters straight as well; if you call someone Bob when he first appears in chapter three, make sure you don’t call him Bill when he reappears in chapter ten. If you describe your main character as being bald in chapter one, don’t have him run his fingers through his hair in chapter five. If your character is a devout Mormon, don’t show him/her drinking a cup of coffee without explaining why. If your story is set in Victorian-era New York, don’t have electric street lamps lining the streets. These are the minutiae that are easy to overlook. When publishers or agents catch them, they immediately get the impression that you’re sloppy (see above). If your readers catch them, you lose them quickly. I have had several authors who write historical dramas tell me that the worst criticism they receive from readers is when they get some fact wrong.
So consider yourself forewarned. Now get out there and start writing. Your public is waiting.
Janice Gable Bashman steps into the closet to talk about writing...
Every writer eventually needs to find the balance between "alone" time to write and everything else. What's your balance formula and how did you find it?
That’s hard, sometimes. I write full-time now, and although I work at home I find myself taking a break to do the laundry, run to the grocery store, or deal with other household essentials. I try to time those breaks for when I need to step away from the actual writing process. Although I’m not at my keyboard, I am thinking about my writing, and this break enables me to process my work and hit the keys at a fast clip when I return from my errands.
Writing is my job and I treat it like one. I’m dressed and on the computer early in the morning, and I work as long as possible throughout the day, expecting that towards mid-afternoon my work will be interrupted by family obligations. I also grab fifteen minutes here and fifteen minutes there to write or research whenever I can, but I try to plan ahead and leave the writing-related tasks that can be completed in a short period for those times.
But before you reached that full-time point, how did you manage that balance?
Finding that balance while holding down a day job and attending to family needs proved to be difficult. Writing time was squeezed in during lunch at work, on the weekends before my family woke or early mornings before work, and a half hour here or an hour there when I had some down time. I’d jot down ideas or entire paragraphs before bed, when stopped at a traffic light, while shopping for food, etc. As soon as I could grab a few minutes I’d write as much as I could. I’d write instead of watching TV or checking the computer.
I made writing a priority, so whenever I had a few minutes, that’s what I’d do. It’s amazing how many minutes of writing can be squeezed out of the day when we make it a priority.
Collaborating with another author, as you did for Wanted Undead or Alive: Vampire Hunters and Other Kick-Ass Enemies of Evil must have presented some challenges. Can you describe what those challenges were and tell us about the ways you surmounted them?
When co-writing a book, it’s important that the material sounds like one writer wrote it, and finding that all-important voice is the key to success. It takes a bit of trial and error (and writing and rewriting) to get there, but the end result is, if you do your job right, a voice from two writers that sounds like it’s from one.
Of course, it’s also important that you implicitly trust your writing partner to write the best material possible and complete it on time. My co-author, NEW YORK TIMES best-selling author Jonathan Maberry, and I each wrote individual chapters and reviewed and edited each others’ work. Other chapters were a collaborative effort. And, for any collaboration, it’s important that both partners are equally invested in the end result.
Can you describe the nuts and bolts—how you both made it work-- of that collaboration?
I can honestly say that I didn’t find any aspect of writing the book with Jonathan difficult. It’s important to have an open line of communication with your writing partner and a willingness to view things from your partner’s perspective. Otherwise, you run into the potential to butt heads on some matters. We both came into this project with the attitude that we’re writing a book together and we’re going to do what needs to be done to write the best possible book we can. When both partners have the same goal in mind and both share an excitement for the subject matter, it makes it pretty easy to co-author a book.
What was researching for Undead or Alive like? Did you spend a lot of time in a library or a cemetery?
A cemetery....that would have been fun. Wanted Undead or Alive was research and interview intensive, so it all began with information gathering. We interviewed tons of people for the book (via phone and e-mail) —FBI profilers, authors, screenwriters, comic writers, actors, directors, producers, criminal experts, psychologists, and others—as well as luminaries like film-maker John Carpenter, author Peter Straub, and the legendary Stan Lee. The book also has over fifty illustrations from fantastic artists. Once all of that information was in hand, the writing process began, and I had to switch from the researcher/information gatherer to the writer.
Were there any people you would have liked to have interviewed but it didn’t work out for whatever reason?
Although we interviewed a ton of people for the book there were so many others we would have loved to include, but a book can only be so long, so we had to limit our choices. We were so excited when everyone we approached was willing to share their thoughts on good and evil. People like NY Times bestsellers like Charlaine Harris, L.A. Banks, Brian Lumley, Rachel Caine and others. Although Jonathan and I wrote the book, we couldn’t have done it without the people we interviewed who so graciously gave of their time and their insight to make the book the success that it is.
Of all the things you could have done with yourself, why write?
I write because it’s something I have to do. Writing takes me to new places, teaches me new things, and exposes me to situations that I might not otherwise encounter. It gives me a means to express myself and a way to connect with all the many readers who I might not otherwise have an opportunity to connect with.
Okay, but WHY do you have to do it? What makes being an author so important? Were you a kid who said “I must write” or did it come later?
I always wanted to write, but it took me a very long time to actually do so. One of my favorite memories is of going to the library on Saturday mornings, checking out a huge stack of books, coming home and spreading them across the floor, deciding what order to read them, and then digging in to those pages that magically transformed me to another world. Along with my love of reading came my desire to write. I’d hold a pencil in my hand and imagine what it could create (as an extension of me). Imagined the power it held. Thought of all the authors I read. I was enamored with their abilities to create wonderful stories from words, from their imaginations. To me, that was the ultimate achievement. It was something I only dreamed of doing, something I aspired to accomplish.
Although I wrote character sketches and short stories while in school, I didn’t write much until about five years ago. And I haven’t stopped since. My published credits include many articles, short stories, and a non-fiction book.
What are you working on right now?
I just finished writing a young adult paranormal thriller that draws on some of the concepts of Wanted Undead or Alive and gives them a modern spin. I also will begin working on a graphic novel and a requested novella. I’m managing editor of The Big Thrill, the International Thriller Writers’ newsletter and ezine, so that’s an ongoing job. I have several short stories coming out in anthologies later this year along with three interviews in the 2012 Novel & Short Story Writer's Market and a lead cover story in The Writer.
I see the young adult paranormal label in bookstores now, and it’s selling well. Is it really horror with a new name or different?
That’s a difficult question to tackle since the definitions for both are somewhat fluid and ever-changing as the genres evolve. Young adult paranormal fiction often contains elements from other genres, including horror, and horror can contain young adult paranormal elements. So, there’s a huge cross-over in genres and in the sub-genres.
For example, in young adult paranormal romance, humans and other types of beings— ghosts, vampires, werewolves, shape-shifters, etc.—fall in love. Some of these creatures have evolved from monsters into sympathetic characters, e.g. the vampires in Stephanie Meyer’s The Twilight Series. At times, these same creatures are the heroes. In horror, creatures tend to be scary and a threat to the heroes. But not always. So what defines horror? What defines the young adult paranormal genre? That is the ongoing question.
Janice Gable Bashman is co-author (w/NEW YORK TIMES bestseller Jonathan Maberry) of WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE(Citadel Press 2010), nominated for a 2010 Bram Stoker Award, and Managing Editor of the BIG THRILL (International Thriller Writers’ newsletter and ezine). Her short fiction has been published in various anthologies. She has written for NOVEL & SHORT STORY WRITER’S MARKET, THE WRITER, WILD RIVER REVIEW, and many other publications. She is an active member of the International Thriller Writers, the Horror Writers Association, and Mystery Writers of America.
Okay, I get it. If I write one page a day, in a year I’ll have a novel. My problem is I have no idea what to write about.
You’re sitting on a mother lode of ideas. You just haven’t mined them yet.
A good story, no matter what the genre, is about conflict. It’s about developing your main character(s) so that the reader likes (and hopefully can relate) to them, and then placing obstacles in the way of obtaining their goals. The story is not so much about the challenges as it is how the main character(s) confront these challenges by overcoming their weaknesses and expanding on their strengths. The story is not about the conclusion. It’s about the journey to that concluding page, and what the main character(s) learn about themselves on the way.
Think of how boring The Lord of the Rings would have been if Bilbo had decided to keep the ring for himself rather than give it to Frodo to return to Mount Doom. Or if Ralphie’s mother had acquiesced in the opening scene of A Christmas Story and agreed to buy him an official Red Ryder carbine action 200-shot air model range rifle. Or if Shelby from Steel Magnolias did not have a medical condition that endangered her life during pregnancy.
Such stories come from within us. There’s no one reading this blog who hasn’t experienced some type of conflict, whether it’s as simple as a troubled romance, as life altering as death or illness or surviving combat, as traumatic as disloyalty or loss of honor, or as frustrating (or comical, depending on the situation) as a dysfunctional family. Tap into those emotions and build your story around them. Will it be painful or uncomfortable to bear your soul like this? Probably. But if you can be honest to your emotions and successfully weave them into your novel, you’ll relate to your readers. That’s what writing is all about. So if I may use an old clichéd phrase, write what you know.
Write what you know? You write about zombies and vampires. What do you know about them?
Good question. I asked the same thing years ago of Brian Keene, author of The Rising, the novel that launched a new wave of zombie apocalypse stories. The Rising is about Jim Thurmond who lives on the West Coast. As civilization crashes around him, Jim gets a phone call from his young son on the East Coast asking his father to come rescue him; he sets out on foot across a zombie-infested country in a desperate journey to save his son. Prior to writing the novel, Brian had received a phone call from his ten-year-old son whom he had not seen since infancy and who wanted to meet. He made the trip, all the while wondering what their meeting would be like. Brian later wrote about that emotional turmoil in The Rising, and then added some zombies.
Brian’s advice helped me to find my focus for The Vampire Hunters. At its essence, the story is about the war on terror and how those fighting it deal with the reality that for every terrorist brought down, ten others take his place. My main characters embody the three primary outlooks of any long-term struggle: Drake Matthews, the gung-ho commander who’s in the fight for the long haul no matter how long it takes; Alison Monroe, who follows Drake willingly but who, at some point, wants to put down her weapons lead a normal life; and Jim DelMarco, the young kid drafted into the conflict who does not want to be there, but who fights anyway. The trilogy deals with how each of these characters handles the stresses of combat, and how their experiences prepare them for the final battle. Then I substituted vampires for terrorists.
So write what you know, but don’t be afraid to embellish a bit.
A final note: One thing that every publisher and agent has told me is not to write your own iteration of the latest blockbuster. The DaVinci Code and Twilight were overnight phenomenons because they were new and distinctly unique, which is why they sparked the public’s imagination. After each of these novels went to the best seller list, publishing houses and literary agencies were inundated with knock-offs, most of which were not very good, and many pushed the bounds of copyright infringement. Sure, some of them got published. But rarely did any of these enjoy the success of the original works. Your goal should not be to write the next Harry Potter. Your goal should be to write a novel so unique that five years from now other writers will want to imitate you.
Not necessarily. You’ll have a novel. Whether it’s good enough to be published is another matter. Remember, writing is an art, much like figure skating, singing, acting, or painting. You have to practice at your craft to become good at it.
I used to write espionage/techno thrillers. I don’t even admit to the first book because, in retrospect, it was crap. The second book was better, but still not quite publishable. By the third book I had found my style. The plot dealt with North Korea acquiring nuclear weapons and planting four of them in cities in the United States to blackmail the government. I quickly picked up an agent who presented it to several publishers, all of whom liked the book. Unfortunately, this occurred right after 11 September, and the market for those books had dried up. So I switched genres. It had taken me ten years to get to that point in my career, and then I had to start all over. Rather than viewing it as a setback, however, I saw this only as a slight detour. That decade of experience well prepared me for writing in the horror genre.
So get out there and write. And just as important, submit you work.
But what if my work isn’t good enough and it gets rejected?
Don’t get depressed if it gets rejected – that’s the nature of the game. It happens to all authors. And not all rejections are bad. Occasionally an editor/publisher sends you feedback; if they do, consider yourself fortunate. Most editors/publishers reject stories and manuscripts with a simple form letter, if they even respond at all. If one takes the time to offer you feedback means he/she sees potential in you work, and is taking the time to help you hone your skills. Take advantage of that opportunity.
The best way to hone your skills is to get readers who will provide critical feedback. Your mother and significant other do not count – chances are they’ll say it’s good, even if it isn’t. My suggestion is to find a good writer’s group with published authors or aspiring authors who are also interested in improving their craft. I’m a member of The Washington Fiction Writer’s League and the League of Extraordinary Authors, and the feedback they provide has been invaluable to improving what I’ve eventually published.
If you do go this route, remember two very important things.
First, find critique groups that will provide honest feedback. I’ve seen too many groups where the members will tear someone else’s work to shreds, but become indignant if you provide any critical feedback on their material. Avoid those groups like you would a horde of ravenous zombies. They’re filled with people who think ripping apart your work will somehow make them better writers. Trust me, it doesn’t work that way.
Second, and this is the hardest thing, is lock away your ego in a dark room during feedback sessions. As long as the feedback isn’t personal, listen to it and adopt it where appropriate. Every author is wedded to his/her work and hates to here that it is not quite as good as he/she thought it was. Get over yourself. I did.
Remember, no matter how well you write, there is always room for improvement. Your goal is not to write the best book ever written. Your goal is to write the best book you possibly can. Every work has flaws. But if a reader can overlook the occasional grammatical error or plot flaw because the rest of the story is so entertaining it keeps them glued to the edge of their seat, then you’ve succeeded as a writer.
I’ve been fortunate over the past six years to be intimately involved with a writer’s group that has allowed me to become acquainted with numerous authors, publishers, screen writers, and literary agents. They have talked openly about the publishing industry in general and their specific genres, and have offered considerable advice. Over time, I’ve come to realize how valuable that guidance was. So over the next few weeks, I hope to share some of that wisdom with you.
“What do I have to do to be a writer?”
Believe it or not, it’s as simple as that. Writers write. It’s what we do. But you’d be surprised how many people forget that.
I’ve met several potential authors who have bragged about all the work they’ve done on their project. One had a detailed outline of their proposed novel. Another had 3x5 cards filled with biographical notes for each character. A third had a notebook in which he kept hours' worth of research. When I asked them how far they had gotten in their book, they admitted they had not written anything yet. These people completely miss the point. Research, plot, and character are necessary, but not anywhere near as important as actually writing the book.
So get out there and start writing.
“That’s easy for you to say. You’re a published author and have plenty of time to write. I don’t.”
No one has time to write. You have to make time.
The sad truth about publishing today is that, unless you are a well-established name like Stephen King, J. K. Rawlings, or Dan Brown, most writers maintain a day job (or have a very understanding significant other with a well-paying job and a lot of patience). I get up at 6 AM, rush around to feed my rabbits, get dressed, and then off to work by 7 AM. If I'm lucky, I’m home around 5 PM. Then I have to feed, clean, and spend time with the rabbits--you don‘t own pets, pets own you; do chores and errands; and try to have some meager semblance of a social life. I’m lucky if I get five hours of sleep a night.
I fit writing into that hectic schedule because I love to write. I need to write. It’s my passion. To do it I have to make sacrifices. When I’m in full-fledged writing mode, my Xbox sits idle and my stack of books to read grows taller and taller. And I don’t want to admit to the number of times I’ve spent several hours cranking out a chapter, only to be greeted afterwards by sets of mopey brown eyes and furry dejected faces giving me that why-didn’t-you-play-with-me look.
Anyone who truly and passionately wants to write can find time during the day to do so. Get up an hour early or stay up an hour late (as long as you devote that entire time solely to writing). If you commute by public transportation, use that time. Devote some of your “down time” to writing. Sure, you might have to forego watching American Idol or curtail your time surfing stupid videos on YouTube, but are these really more important than getting your book written?
“Oh, come on. How much writing do you really expect me to get done in an hour a day?”
Let me put it this way. In that hour, anyone can write a single page. If you type in double space, the way manuscripts should be drafted, that’s approximately 300 words a day. If you do that every day for a year, when you’re done you will have 365 pages totaling over 100,000 words. That, my friends, is a novel.
So what are you waiting for? Close down the Internet, call up your word processor, and start writing.
Author Chad Helder walks the twisting path between the grim fairy tale and the dark forest. Meet him right now...in his own words...near a dark playground nestled deep within the brooding pines.
After attending the Horror Writers Association’s Stoker Weekend in New York a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been reflecting on why I am a horror writer. For me, being a horror writer is my personal response to being gay. With all of the cultural pressures and individual fears associated with being gay in a homophobic society (fear of rejection by family and church community, fear of AIDS, fear of hate crimes, and--worst of all for me--fear of becoming a reviled stereotype), each person responds in an individual way. I became a horror writer.
Growing up in the ‘80s, I was exposed to a variety of negative gay stereotypes. One of the unfortunate psychological responses to living in a homophobic culture is to internalize homophobia, which becomes a strain of self-hatred. I think Jung’s concept of the shadow is very helpful to understand this. Wanting to deny the emerging gay feelings and desires, I banished them to the shadow side of the psyche--the same place where all unwanted thoughts and feelings are banished. Then a strange thing happened--my unconscious mind associated my fear of becoming gay with the monsters of the horror genre. I don’t intend to make this sound like some kind of simple cause and effect scenario--I actually find it to be quite mysterious.
From the time I was about fourteen-years-old until my mid-twenties, I had a horrifying series of nightmares about Satan and vampires. For me, these universally recognized shadow figures embodied my fear of becoming gay.
Jung wrote about levels of the unconscious mind: an individual unconscious, a cultural unconscious, and a collective unconscious from which our most universal archetypes emerge. Clearly, the archetype of the vampire is a universal shadow figure that appears throughout the world. In my personal unconscious, the vampire embodied internalized homophobia--the monster I was afraid to become. However, I would also argue that the vampire was associated with homophobia in the cultural unconscious of the ‘80s, best represented by Lost Boys (or Nightmare on Elms Street 2 with Freddy as the shadow figure).
For a terrifying summer before I started high school, I was preoccupied with being possessed by Satan. It seemed that Satan could hear my thoughts, and he was waiting for me to slip up and allow him inside. In retrospect, this fear of having my body taken over by Satan (or by vampires) seems a vivid metaphor for becoming a gay man against my will.
After many years psychological work and finding a wonderful partner, I consider myself to be a very well-adjusted gay man--and a very nice, caring person to boot. However, the shadow side of my psyche is still populated by monstrous vampires and Satanic shadow figures. I’ve heard it said that the unconscious mind does not know time.
Over the years, I explored these connections between queer theory and the horror genre on my blog, which eventually led to editing an anthology of queer horror with Vince Liaguno. The anthology is called Unspeakable Horror: From the Shadows of the Closet, and it won the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in an Anthology, which was a wonderful validation for all of the exploring, blogging, and theorizing about the underpinnings of queer horror and those closet chapters of my earlier life.
I met author Scott M. Baker at the recent Horror Writers Association Stoker Weekend. He's finally reached that first stage all writers dream of: where people can pick up your book and wonder who the hell you are. Lucky him...
There’s an old joke that states an author has four stages in his or her career. There’s the first stage when a reader walks into a bookstore, lifts your book off of the shelf and asks, “Who the hell is Scott M. Baker?”
There’s the second stage when a reader walks into the bookstore and asks the sales clerk, “Do you have the latest book by Scott M. Baker?”
There’s the third stage when a reader walks into the bookstore and asks the sales clerk, “Do you have any books by authors who write like Scott M. Baker used to?”
And finally the fourth stage when a reader walks into a bookstore, lifts your book off of the shelf and asks, “Who the hell is Scott M. Baker?”
For anyone who has been published, there’s too little humor and too much reality in that joke.
Every author has to endure that first stage. Even Stephen King and J. K. Rowling were unknown entities at one time, at least until readers became aware at how incredibly adept they were at story telling. Now they’re household names. If only the rest of us were that lucky.
The sad truth, however, is that most authors will never make it beyond the first stage. If they’re really fortunate. If they’re good at telling a story, or developing great characters, or writing catchy dialogue. If they’re lucky enough to find a publisher who will distribute their books nationally. If the day their book comes out they’re not competing with an instant bestseller such as a kiss-and-tell book from one of Tiger Wood’s mistresses, or the latest Dan Brown tome, or a diet plan on how to lose weight by eating red velvet cheese cake, or the biography of a pet the cover of which is adorned with an incredibly cute ball of fur. And if, over time, they are fortunate enough to develop a small, loyal cabal of readers who will follow them regularly and read everything they write, then an author might pull in enough money annually to make ends meet (as long as they have an understanding spouse with a really good day job).
If you said no, then you truly are a writer. Not necessarily a good writer. Or a prolific writer. Or a rich and famous writer. But a writer, nonetheless. Someone consumed by the hunger of putting words to paper. Someone who can listen to a quirky story on the news or spot a unique looking individual on the street, and within an hour have the plot of a story or novel mentally outlined. Someone who brings their laptop on vacation because you can’t relax and enjoy yourself if you haven’t written something that day. For us, the writing is the passion, and seeing a complete story or novel in print is reward enough (though none of us will shut the door on fame and fortune if it comes knocking).
For those of you following me, you know that I have entered that dreaded first stage of the writer’s career. The first two books of my vampire trilogy are in print, with the third scheduled for publication this October. My first zombie novel should be out in 2012. Now I have to come to grips with the reality that writing the first novel and getting it published was the easy part. There will be plenty of work in the months ahead to market myself and attract readers, with the goal of reaching stage two. It’s going to be a long road, with no guarantee I’ll reach my goal.
For those of you who are just starting your writing career, over the next few weeks I’ll be offering some words of advice on how to get that first novel written and published. Will it guarantee you success as a writer? No. Will it be depressing yet irreverent? Yes on both counts. My goal is hopefully to encourage beginning authors to pursue their passion and to let you know you are not alone.
So get your notebooks ready.
About Scott M. Baker
Born and raised outside of Boston, Massachusetts, I’m a horror/urban fantasy author who now lives in northern Virginia. I’ve authored several short stories, including “Rednecks Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things” (which appeared in the autumn 2008 edition of the e-zine Necrotic Tissue); “Cruise of the Living Dead” (which appeared in Living Dead Press’ Dead Worlds: Volume 3 anthology); “Deck the Malls with Bowels of Holly” (which appeared in Living Dead Press‘ Christmas Is Dead anthology); “Denizens” (which appeared in Living Dead Press’ The Book of Horror anthology); and the e-chapbook “Dead Water” by D’Ink Well Publications.
My most recent works include The Vampire Hunters trilogy, which is being published both in electronic format (by Shadowfire Press) and print (by Pill Hill Press). Recently, I signed a contract with Permuted Press to publish in 2012 my first zombie novel, Rotter World, which details the struggle between humans and vampires during a zombie apocalypse. And I’m finishing up my fifth novel, which will be a homage to the monster movies of the 1950s set in northern New Mexico.
Please visit my website at http:\\scottmbakerauthor.blogspot.com.
Paul Bibeau's Sunday's With Vlad is a monsterkid's dream journey, a wild carnival ride, and a sheer delight as Jeffrey Lyons would say. Spend a Sunday or two with Paul and Vlad, or while away a weekday at his Goblin Books blog, or meet him right now...in his own words...near a dark desk.
Let me tell you about the dead men hidden in my office.
Twenty years ago when I was a recent graduate from college I took a job as a reporter for a small town newspaper. I lived over the bingo hall of the local Catholic church, I smoked a pack a day of Camels unfiltered, and when the night came over that place and it turned a rich country dark...I went out walking. I talked to vagrants, drug dealers, and cops. I snagged a dinner invitation from a man who'd turned his property into some kind of paramilitary fortress, like he was ready for an attack. The local criminals threatened me because they thought I was an undercover cop. And the real undercover cop, standing nearby and wearing a wire, recorded it all. I saw things and did things I will never forget.
Ten years ago, when I was a magazine writer living in New York City, I took a trip back to the town, took notes, and began writing a novel about my experiences. It was filled with death and crime and sexual perversion, and the sharp-sweet and terrible smell of that paper mill that dominated the whole region. I hated it and I miss it. The novel took three years of my life and went through four drafts. It was a piece of crap.
Seriously. My best friend took me out for drinks and told me how bad it was as gently as he could. I still have some of the rejection letters from agents -- there were more than a hundred. The novel had great parts, but they didn't add up to a great novel. Someone once said you write a good novel twice and a bad novel over and over. That's exactly right. I am a big proponent of rewriting and editing, but a novel has a window of time in which you can either make it right or fail forever. How many of our life's moments are like that? How many perfect near-misses do you have?
Anyway, now I look at the thing and I see the 20 year-old man I once was, who lived in this world and let it break his heart... and the 30 year-old man who tried to write about it and couldn't. Those men are gone. I can't get them back.
But someday soon, I promise you, friendly reader...I will write the story of a 40 year-old with a stack of paper in a dark desk drawer. He has his secrets and his regrets, and he realizes to make this story right, he will have to solve the mystery at the heart of it -- a murder, actually. But isn't every failed story a bit like a murder? I will write it as boldly as I can, until the old authors come back to me and speak their secrets. I need to do it soon.
My time is running out.