Sunday, March 27, 2011

Day 8 - A Note on Becoming a "Real Writer"

Yesterday a reader left a comment that I think opens up a very important idea, one that has meaning to all writers trying to get started, established or even paid. The comment had to do with being a “real writer.”

I think everyone who writes runs into this idea, and I think they run into it more than once in their journey to becoming “real.” Because this project of mine, this self-publication adventure, has so much to do with trying to discover what being a “real writer” means, I decided that I would examine that idea with this entry in my blog.

What is a “real writer?”

When we are young—we being those who write or want to—we want to be like the great authors of our favorite stories. We want to be writers. Real ones. For me, it was Edgar Rice Burrows, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Phillip Jose Farmer. Those were “real writers.” What being a real writer meant to me back then was getting to make stories all the time, getting to live in an adventurous world of imagination that almost never stopped. It was all fun. Back then I’d never even heard of “editing” or “publishing.” Those were non words. Concepts that did not exist. Back then “writing” meant dreaming onto a page.

I don’t imagine it is a whole lot different for other writers. Perhaps it is, but I should think, being how similar we all really are—the predictable, emoting, ape-descendent us—that the only real difference is the images in the dreams.

Eventually, if that dream-writing desire holds, we get older and find out that writing takes discipline too. We discover that wanting to write is not the same as being able to. And being able to write is not the same as doing it well. At least that's what I discovered. That is the lesson I got with my first and second novels, particularly my second (the rejection of which I wrote about in the entry on Day 1). That discovery is the point when we, or at least I, run aground of a different understanding of what it is to be a “real writer.”

Being a “real writer” quickly transformed from something nebulous and dreamy to something precise. Someone who got books published. And to do that, that someone had to be able to write in a way that some other person recognized the work as “real” writing. That's tough. Nobody wants to be judged, and nobody wants his or her fate in the hands of someone else. But that's how it works, or at least how brick and mortar publishing works. Which means, we have two choices. Make lots of grumbly noises and rely on our friends to keep telling us how good we are while we continue to hang rejection letters (or just stop sending at all), or we can get to work on our craft.

Developing craft is how we hedge our bets when it comes to getting access to distribution for our work. That can be a brick and mortar publisher, or that can be word of mouth on something we publish for ourselves. Ideally, I think most of us would like to get a brick and mortar deal.

So, here’s where it gets sticky. We all know that critics and editors don’t get it right all the time. And it’s not me squeezing sour grapes. Just read stuff that's out there. There are tons of horrific books, terrible magazine articles, movies that are so stupendously unwatchable… all things that have been published or produced, vetted by “experts” who have the official role of editors, publishers, producers etc., and are supposed to know what “good” is. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t. They probably do more than they don’t. But regardless, we, the writers, have no control over them, their skills, or their perspicacity.

What we do have control over is us. That's how we improve our odds. We have to make sure our writing is as good as it can be. A lot of people self publishing right now are NOT doing this. Since I started on this project, I have looked at many, and they are not good. And this is not me being harsh or elitist. It’s a fact. A self-published book that has typos on the back cover is inexcusable. And yes, I’ve seen that. I’ve seen worse.

Which leads back to the point I want to make: craft matters. Being a real writer may or may not have anything to do with being published. But if it does have to do with that, I think it first has to do with how beautiful the language is. How good it is.

To be a real writer, I think we must all strive to perfect our craft. And yes, I just said “perfect.” As soon as we read the word, we all know that’s never going to happen. But that’s my point. We must strive for it. Always.

To be a “real writer,” at least for me at this point of my writing career, the thing that makes me “real” or not is my pursuit of craft. It’s learning and reading and the brutal discipline of going back over and over and over looking for tiny flaws in the surface or the framework of what I have made. It’s about finding different lenses to view revisions: lenses of place, of character, of voice, of sensory appeal, of overarching metaphors, of grammar… of lots of things. That’s my battle currently. I want to get it right… as in beautiful, engaging, rhythmic. All of that. I pluck adjectives and adverbs from my stories like a monkey picking nits from its troop mate. I read poetry (make myself read it, because I’m not really into it that much), so I can see what the “right” noun and the “right” verb really look like.  I’m trying to absorb the greatness of so many amazing, immortal writers who came before me, before us.  Trying to soak up some of what they knew how to do, just some tiny glob of it… please! For me, that’s what I have to do before I can call myself a “real writer.” I have to keep trying to get better—we have to. All of us who write. If we ever think, “Hey, I’m a real writer now,” because we have X-number of subscribers or Y-number of books, and we use that as our excuse to stop improving, we won’t be “real writers” any more. We’ll be ex real writers, or never were’s.

So, that said, I think what it really means to be a “real writer” is that. It’s to read and to write continuously, striving to improve, caring and having the discipline to make beauty out of words, beauty of language from which others can find the entrance into your dreams, your imaginary worlds, and enjoy them with you. That’s being a real writer. Hopefully from there, editors and publishers somewhere will see and help spread that joy around. But the one must come before the other. Or at least it should.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Day 6 - Building My Website... or Me Versus the Romulans

So who knew that Romulans developed the Internet? I know I didn’t. At least, I didn’t know that last week. But I know it now, this week, after spending several days messing with the website I’m going to use to promote my book.

You may have noticed that the URL for this blog you are reading includes “daultonbooks” in it, which reflects my primary URL, Pretty cool, huh? Except that to get that fancy URL, or any URL, to turn into an actual website you have to travel to the Romulan home galaxy and deal with alien languages and technologies that are completely incomprehensible to a normal human being.

First off, apparently the Romulans are incapable of articulating human speech despite how they were depicted in the Star Trek television shows and movies. Apparently that was false advertising, because in reality it turns out Romulans can’t open their mouths wide enough to sound human words or something. And worse, clearly as a show of contempt for our species, they didn’t even try to use human language when they invented the Internet, so everything is named some impossible-to-make-sense-of Romulan term, like, for example the one I just used above, URL. I can see it now…

“Url,” snarled some Romulan engineer as he was mashing keys on the Internet-making console aboard the Romulan Bird of Prey warship. The Romulan commander heard him and frowned an alien frown. A towering figure of severe countenance and ice-cruel eyes, the furious officer strode over, his leather space armor creaking and the barrel of his laser reflecting the colors of the engineering peon’s monitor.  He glared down at the work his underling was making such a racket about snarled.

“Html,” he spat at the underling. “SWISH. DNS.”

The underling looked irritated and snapped back, “Ip, Ip,” thinking that would help, but the commander wasn’t buying it.  He drew his laser and, set to stun, shot the poor bastard in the face with a massive electrical charge. The engineer slumped to the floor, the sparks still flickering a web of static over him as he gasped, “TCP, IP,” which came out on a breath of smoke.

I’m assuming this is why I needed a static IP as part of getting my server hosted, which is what I found I should get as part of a much longer, more complicated, and too boring to write about journey towards getting my damn website going. I ran into Romulans everywhere, even some of my friends turned out be Romulans and I had no idea. Frankly it was quite a surprise when all I was really trying to do was get my URL from Go Daddy to Host Gator who has my DNS, so that then another Romulan fellow I know can do whatever those people do that makes it so that pretty pictures and multisyllabic words will show up whenever someone types in

Uhh.. or something.

All I know is that if I were a computer designer, I would have made all this stuff way easier for regular people to use. They are lucky I'm not a programmer or I would make them all look bad.

Oh, and could we possibly have more stuff with weird addresses and mandatory format passwords on it? I can hardly remember my own damn phone number and these people have dashboard addresses that you can’t even find from their home page, which, when you do find them, you have to know the password that gets you into your own home dashboard which is different from theirs. How ironic that they name these things “home,” which is a place you CAN find, when in reality it is a web-place you probably won’t ever be able to find again if something happens to your browser bookmarks. Then, once inside, you have more passwords for the different parts of it: a password for the billing part of your account; one for the admin, and one for … whatever the part is that will eventually let me do stuff to my website. And of course they make it so those passwords have to be numeric. What could be easier for someone like me, AN ENGLISH MAJOR, than remembering long strands of numbers?

So, anyway, I have passwords for all this stuff, and at least for the moment, I remember them all. Not that it matters, because I can’t see anything. There’s nothing there. My page is blank. It’s not even blank. It’s just, not there. It’s not there because, once you have made your way through the complex Romulan security, it turns out that you have to do something with the DNS 1 and DNS 2 and, until whatever that is happens, you don’t actually have jack for a website even though you paid more than jack to both Go Daddy AND Host Gator. Oh, and the static IP costs extra, which, with a non-existent website, is kind of like getting shot in the face by a Romulan stun gun.

I am absolutely certain that the Romulans at Host Gator and Go Daddy are drinking really good tequila that they bought with my money and laughing about how I don’t have a website yet. They could probably flip some switch on their ship’s console and turn my website on, but why should they? It’s more fun to hover over my house with the cloaking device turned on so I can’t see them laughing at my rookie website ass.  “RARP FTP,” they laugh. “NNTP, MIME.”


Anyway, I really will have a website eventually. Go Daddy transfers the http-xyz-hyper-drive whatever blah blah on March 31, so, until then I get to sit here with my human words that have vowels in them and swear impatiently.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Day 2: Setting Up This Blog

So it might seem redundant to blog about the blog I’m already blogging on, but that is what I did yesterday and today. After I found this site (Blogger), I used all the easy tools and templates they have for generic, first-time users. That’s what most everyone who read this yesterday saw.

Well, now it’s all cool and fancy (I had a template of a crinkled up piece of paper as the back drop to represent what all the publishing houses I’ve submitted to have done with my story, but found this book one so I'm going with it now instead).  I’ll stick with this look until I get my artwork from the artist I've hired, and then I’ll see if I can’t figure out how to get a custom template on here to match my website and all that other marketing cross-pollination stuff that I’m going to do.

That said, check out my follow feeds on the right side “sidebar” (thanks to Jenna and my wife pointing out it was not easy to follow this blog), and my link to my Facebook page, which even includes pictures of people. That’s very cool, and in theory will help with the “spreading the word” down the road assuming lots of people “share” with friends etc. (Tip for setting up Facebook page feeds on Blogger: use the XFBML not the Iframe code.)

OH, and speaking of codes and incomprehensible computer programming crap, I would really like to thank the douchebag that wrote a virus to spam browser windows opening at the pace of about 30 windows a second that attacked me last night.

Just because you have never seen a naked woman and never will is no reason to write code that jacks up the computers of perfect strangers.

So, last night, as I am searching Google for “help with Blogger Layout,” I get a first-page entry on Google for that term (or something really close), that was a total virus, window-spamming bomb. It was like my computer screen was puking rectangles at me.

After a brief spasm and minor panic episode, I managed to get everything shut down, but it cost me all the help windows and step-by-step things I had found over the course of three hours, none of which I could find again.

So, I would just like to say: F. U. to the douchebag that wrote that virus.

Other than that, and some help from Cagsil and Irohner over at HubPaages, I got it figured out. So, now it’s done, and I’m happy.

That’s all I’ve got for today, so I’m out.

(Oh, and don’t worry, I’m not going to write in this thing every day. I’m not that annoying.)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Day 1: Day One

I titled this post “Day One,” but it’s not. It’s actually day, like, 5,000 or something. So, for this first entry, I’ll just say who I am, what my project is, and what I’m hoping to do with this blog.

The goal of this blog, and everything else I will be doing, is to log my progress self publishing a novel (and hopefully the progress of generating interest to the point of getting picked up by a brick and mortar publisher for the trilogy, and eventually book deals, fame, and ongoing liposuction so I can sit poolside at expensive hotels eating and drinking and wallowing in excess like the capitalist pig I have become).

Ok, mostly I just want to make stories and entertain people. I want to feel the joy that comes from seeing someone really carried off into a world I have made. The writing is the best part, honestly, and it’s not about money (I’m not saying I don’t want money; I do), but I have continued to write for thirty-some years without getting paid. Writing truly is the joy. But nobody writes in a vacuum. If writers didn’t want someone to read their work, they wouldn’t write it down. They’d just think it. So, this is my quest to get one of my books read.

The novel is called The Galactic Mage. I first wrote it about ten years ago. I sent a query to Warner Books from which an editor by the name of Devi Pillai requested the synopsis of the trilogy and three sample chapters from the first book. The response I got back said, “…while we love the concept, the writing doesn’t quite work for us.”

Sad face.

So, there I was, with a concept that the publishing house “loved” and writing that they didn’t. The Galactic Mage was the second novel I had written to the point I could submit it, so by then I was used to getting turned down and already had a wall full of rejection letters. However, unlike any rejection I’d gotten before (outside of my very first, which is a story for another day), this rejection was the closest I’d ever gotten to getting a book accepted. And not just accepted, but accepted by a monster of a publishing house. So, while you might think I was dejected by this rejection, I wasn’t. I mean, I was in a way, but mostly I was totally inspired. I’d made it through the slush pile. Someone recognized how awesome this trilogy is. It’s a freaking killer idea. (It is, I’m telling you. A movie, for sure… but alas, I know, everyone says that, so, it’s meaningless. Etc.)

So, what I did was go to school.

At that point in time, all I had was my high school diploma. I was literate and articulate having grown up with very literate, well educated parents, and having read pretty much constantly as a kid, but that is not the same as knowing how to write well. That rejection from Warner Books set my determination to go find out how to write better. I wanted to learn how to do it right so that when I sent the book back to Devi Pillai and to Warner, the writing WOULD “quite work for them.” I was not angry at them; I was mad at myself for sucking. So I went to school.

I finished my bachelor’s degree in English in 2007 and started right in on my master’s in creative writing immediately after (which I should have come December of this year). About a year into my master’s program, I rewrote that novel from scratch. Literally from scratch, starting from a blank page one and not even referencing the old edition. It’s ten times better now. A thousand times better. As far as I can tell, Devi Pillai is no longer with Warner Books, and, frankly, I’m having trouble figuring out where Warner Books got absorbed. Maybe they didn’t get absorbed anywhere. It’s hard to say, but regardless, the entity that I originally submitted to, and the person, appear to be gone.

A shame.

So, in the three or so years since I rewrote it, I’ve been submitting it. It takes six months to hear back from the big publishers. I, being a moron and a believer in doing what is right, do not submit to multiple publishers. I know I should. I should think of myself and screw them. But I don’t. I was raised that we, as humans, should be able to do business on a handshake. Honor is internal. That sort of rot. So, I submit to one at a time. Same with agents. One at a time. And, one by one, six months at a time, the publishers reject my query letters, the agents don’t have room in their line. Nobody has even looked at this book. Not one person (not counting my wife, a few family members, and an English major friend—they all loved it, but of course, that sort of thing doesn’t really count).

So here I am.

So, the title of this blog entry is “Day One.” And, for my purposes, it is Day One of me formalizing this process. I will publish my book myself. I have already contracted an amazing artist to do my cover art. I will reveal her name later because she deserves at least one blog post dedicated solely to her work, and will probably get far more (I’ve actually just finished sketching my rough idea out for her this morning—and no it’s not my daughter for those of you who know me). I also have a number of amazing friends who are going to help me with the formatting and other stuff related to getting the book made. In addition, I’m hoping to use what I have learned working in sales and currently at a marketing company to help me drive sales. So, I’ll be covering the publication process and the marketing side.

I have decided to go with Createspace (’s publishing arm). I read up on a number of Print on Demand (POD) houses, and even made an account at before deciding on Amazon. If you are interested in what finally swung my final vote, here is the link to an article I read by April Hamilton that really did a lot of the hard work that I just didn’t know how to do (view the article HERE).

So that’s it. It’s begun. Wish me luck. Bookmark this blog and follow the journey if you are so inclined. I hope you do.