Joining me for this Saturday stitch and bitch is the up and coming writer Robert Brumm. Robert is the author of DESOLATE, available on Kindle, and WINDIGO SOUL, which you can sample for free on his website. Robert positively exudes talent, and I’m convinced he’s going to be mega-famous one day. (Which is why I’m buddying up to him now, so I can guilt him into endorsing my crap in the future). I thought, after getting a publisher’s perspective last week, it’d be cool to field questions from a fellow writer.
This week, I’m still knitting away on my scarf from last week. I got frustrated with this one stitch I dropped on the tenth row, couldn’t sleep at night for agonizing over it, and finally got so disgusted with myself that I pulled the entire thing apart and started over again. Robert is working on a simple cap. He says his head gets cold easily. I think he hopes it’ll make him look like some kinda tough guy. Here’s what we chat about while our needles are dancing:
Robert: You Tweeted recently about completing the outline for Wool 5. Do you always outline your books or do you ever start with a general idea and let the story evolve on the fly as you write? How closely do you stick to an outline and does it bother you if you veer off course of what you originally planned?
Me: I get this question a lot, and it’s also one I often ask of other writers. Writing is such a dark art; the “do you outline” question seems to drive a stake right to the heart of it. It’s like asking a mystic if they chant incantations from a book of script and lore, or do they drop in eyes of newt and invisible snake legs and watch how the waters froth? Everyone wants to know how it’s done, even those of us who do it. Because frankly, I can look at a finished work, scratch my head, and wonder how the hell I did that. It’s still a mystery to me every time.
I am a firm believer in outlines, but I also leave myself room to wiggle and be organic. The outline is important because I enjoy foreshadowing. I’ll drop hints in book one for what’s to come in book seven. But that doesn’t mean I write to a formula. My outline is full of intricate details, but also of vague scenes where the characters can be themselves. The most important thing for me, when it comes to crafting a coherent story that never drives off the rails, is to know my final scene before I begin my first one. I’ve always done this; I find it crucial to have a destination in mind, so I know where I’m heading. Often, I’ll skip ahead and write this last scene while I’m still in the early stages of planning the book. Too many works, when I read them, I can tell the author wasn’t sure where they were going. It starts to just meander in the middle sections. I always lose interest when I can tell the writer is fighting to wrap something up with no prior thought about how they’d get there. (I’m looking at you, LOST). I much prefer the satisfaction of knowing the artist was at least as dedicated to the story as I’m beginning to be.
Robert: Many authors these days including you are pricing e-books at 99 cents. Some say authors are shooting themselves in the foot because 99 cents might become the norm for most self-published books and anything above that will seem expensive. This appears to already have happened with smart phone apps. A five dollar iPhone game seems like a fortune yet a five dollar game for the PC is a bargain. What are your thoughts?
Me: Man, I wish people would pay what I think my stories are worth. I’ve had reviewers tell me they’d pay more. And then I’ve had people give me a horrible review because my story only entertained them for half an hour, and damnit they spent 99c on the stupid, well-written thing!
Are we devaluing books? Absolutely. The fact that anyone can publish means most of them will. I don’t think it’s something to fight; this trend has taken place in almost every market. The cost of goods keeps coming down, the number of free distractions keeps going up, artists are squeezed in the middle. But I’m happy with my current pricing. I put my shorter works out for 99c and my novels for $2.99. I think they are all bargains, and I’m still amazed that I get paid for something I’d be doing for fun no matter what. If you put me on a deserted island, all by myself, I’d probably scratch stories in the sand with a stick and pretend the sea was reading and enjoying them when the tide came up.
For more on my pricing, you might want to check out this article another author wrote about me. He seems to think I’m breaking new ground when it comes to digital publishing. That’s what you tend to do, apparently, when you go barging into the unknown with your eyes shut, your arms waving frantically, and hollering like a madman. What I find scary is looking over my shoulder and seeing the perfectly sane trudging down the path I just cut.
Robert: The whole e-book phenomenon has really changed the world of publishing – including what it means to be a success. Being a successful author once meant a spot on the New York Times best seller list, book signing tours, talk show interviews, and royalties rolling in from paperback deals. Now people like John Locke can sell millions of copies using social networking and internet marketing without ever leaving the house. When you dream about being a hot shot world famous author (you do, admit it!) do thoughts of a big cash advance from Big Publishers Incorporated dance through your head or would you rather stay independent and earn a living with the network of fans you’ve built on your own?
Me: If I had to choose only one, I would say independent, all the way. I have a hard time convincing my father of this, who keeps telling me that someday, someone will call me and offer me a ton of money. But I don’t want a lump sum from New York; I want thousands of fans from all over the world to buy me cups of coffee in exchange for being entertained a few hours at a time.
If my options were limited, that’s what I would choose. But I’m not sure it has to be this dichotomous. Perhaps this is me charging into the unknown like a banshee again, but I envision a hybrid style of publishing in my future. The main problem I would have working in the traditional model is that it doesn’t move fast enough for me. I am obsessed with my writing, which is why I can turn out so much quality work in a year. The publishing world moves at a glacial pace; I would go nuts waiting for line edits or cover art to approve or the delay before a release date.
So here’s what I fantasize happening some day in my distant future: A publisher or agent stumbles onto my work and makes inquiries. I tell them I’d be thrilled to work with them, that I have this other project in the works, and would they like to take a gander? While they’re doing the glacier-thing with this work, I’m crafting more stories just like I do now. The traditional project becomes my day job that I perform my other writing around. It would always take precedence, but never prevent me from self-publishing other stuff.
The beauty of this hybrid model is that the two would feed on each other. The audience that discovers 99c gems in the Kindle store would want to check out the latest from the big publisher. Fans of the traditional book would want to see what else I’ve done. So, this would be my fantasy. If I’m allowed to dream . . . I guess I would choose to have it all.
One last note on this topic, while I’m rambling: I used to think writing success meant signing deals and amassing sales, but it’s been something else that has driven me these last few months. When I started getting emails from fans on a regular basis, when I had people contacting me via Twitter or on my website, I started feeling happy about my writing in a way I never have before. This is especially true about reviews, this direct feedback from readers who say they appreciate my hard work. Maybe it’s my fragile ego or my crippling self-doubt, but each and every interaction like this makes me feel like I’m doing something good with my time. If you aggregate all these small pleasures, they dwarf what I would feel in one lump sum by signing a major contract or seeing my work on the silver screen. Those huge moments would be nice, but it’s all the individual tanks of gas I get from readers that will get me there.
I received an email from a reader a few weeks ago who told me that HALF WAY HOME spoke to them about their childhood of dealing with and understanding their sexual orientation. When I read something like that, or someone say WOOL is the best thing they’ve ever read, or that it’s inspired them to start writing, all examples of emails I’ve gotten lately, it makes me feel like I’ve already reached the top. And that’s no exaggeration. I’ll be happy for the rest of my writing life if I can keep doing what I’m doing right now.
Robert seems to mull this last answer over. Or maybe he stopped listening five minutes ago. Either way, one of the readers in our knitting circle sees the silence as an opportunity to ask their own question. Tammy from Goodreads asks:
Tammy: Did you know before you started writing Wool that there would be sequels, or did you realize after you had started writing that there was more to the story and characters?
Me: Hey, I’m glad you asked that. And not just because Robert seems to have nodded off on us, but I get this question a lot. And a lot of readers have seen the series as it is today and assumed it was always meant to be a multi-part story. Here’s my answer to both crowds: Everything I write has sequels and prequels, I just don’t have the time to write them all.
When WOOL came out, I had no plans on writing more WOOL stories. I had plenty more I would like to say about the world, but reader demand at that time was for another Molly book, which is what I concentrated on. I let the audience tell me what they want, to a certain degree. Early reviews for WOOL were extremely positive, and almost all of them asked to know if there would be more. So I wrote some more.
THE PLAGIARIST has a similar story behind it. When I gave a copy to the professor who stars as the protagonist, he came back and said he’d pay good money to read more of that. And I went on to tell him how the story would progress. My racing mind had already considered the next scene, how the plot would shift to a new POV, and what more could be done to explore that world.
Well, it looks like I’ve dropped a stitch again, which means turning this scarf into another ball of yarn. I hope you all have enjoyed listening in. If you have questions of your own and would like to be a part of next week’s stitch and bitch, email me. The more the merrier.