Back to Basics, Part 1 – What Would Ray Do?

There comes a time in the life of a writer when the keyboard is made of lava and every keystroke burns.

There may be a thousand reasons for this—it might be the rejection that broke the camel’s back, or an all-consuming project that sapped the author’s mojo longer than could be sustained. It might be a personal tragedy, or a personal victory. It can happen after the fiftieth failed query or the first award nomination. Whatever the catalyst, we find ourselves suddenly in crisis, unwilling or unable to write, mind and fingers shackled by fear and self-loathing, wincing at the light of the computer monitor as the cursor blinks its contempt.

It was several weeks into such an episode that I found myself traveling for work, alone with my thoughts for eight long interstate hours. I spent the first two hundred miles scowling deeply at the scenery, despising every wildflower that wouldn’t find its way into a story, every driver whose motives for cutting me off were more profound than that of any of my protagonists. I thought about the stories I’d written in years past, the ones that I’d finished and sold, and scolded myself for not doing it again, right now, every day, tonight! I thought about the project that had consumed so much of my time and energy the previous year, and imagined my creative self as a train that has struck an anthology and gone fatally off the rails. I thought about my friends, of their seemingly unshakable work ethic and their magnificent accomplishments, and wished I could be more like them.

I dragged myself through every kind of emotional mud, sometimes in tears, sometimes in nihilistic resignation, until along about the fifth hour when the core of the problem finally hit me: I was taking myself way too seriously.

I asked Siri how to get to the nearest Target. In a Sacramento suburb I bought a cheap spiral notebook, brightly colored ballpoint pens, soup, and dinosaur stickers.

It was time to lighten the hell up, and learn to write all over again.


The most important book on writing in my collection is Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing. You’ll find no discussion of active verbs or character archetypes in its pages. What you will find are essays filled with the exuberance and passion that he brought to everything he did, from science fiction to city planning. That was his secret (which was no secret at all)—love. In his final years when he spoke publicly at writers conferences, he talked of writing love letters to his passions. When I’m feeling lousy about my work, my skill or lack thereof, my career (or lack thereof), eventually I return to Zen. I always finish it feeling like I just got a big hug from dear Uncle Ray, and everything’s going to be all right.

This time I finished my reading of it in a weekend, marking passages that struck close to home. I also read it with an eye for instruction. What would Ray do?

That’s what I aim to find out. I’m going back to basics, using what guidance I can find in this book that has so often given me comfort in the past. If you’re up for it, you’re welcome to come along for the ride.

Zen in the Art of Writing is available at Powell’s City of Books and basically every other bookstore everywhere, as it should be.

Next time: Part 2 – Your Pinch of Arsenic

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Inspirational Quotes for the Dry Spells

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Writing is a long, hard road. Sometimes it feels like you’re making huge strides forward. Sometimes you’re standing so still while everyone else around you rushes past, that it feels like you’re walking backwards. And sometimes it’s incredibly tempting to get out of the race entirely.

This is something I’ve been struggling with, and I’m sure most of you have as well, at one point or another. It’s one of those experiences in writing that is simultaneously so universal and so isolating. So I’ve gathered a few quotes from various writers that have helped me from getting (too) despondent about editing.



A writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, or because everything she does is golden. A writer is a writer because, even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway.

Junot Diaz



Everyone succeeds and everyone fails. Succeeding is easy. Failing is hard. Get good at the hard thing.

Chris Gethard



No matter where you are in your journey as a writer, the editing and notes process remains arduous and stressful. It will always test you… Be kind to yourself. As hard as it is, try to remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Even award-winning authors have to rewrite. A first draft is never the final product.

Don’t give up.

Nora Zelevansky



Doors won’t always open for you, not all the time. In spite of your talents and all you have to offer, you will go through long stretches where they stay closed for you and you alone. When it happens, you won’t know what to do with yourself. You will begin to doubt, get caught up in the idea that it means you’re not enough and who needs it when giving up is an (always) open window you can climb through. Don’t. Have a clear understanding of what you have to offer and once you have accepted the reality it might not make a difference, keep knocking on every door until your hands are bloody anyway because maybe it will.

Courtney Summers



Don’t quit. It’s very easy to quit during the first 10 years. Nobody cares whether you write or not, and it’s very hard to write when nobody cares one way or the other. You can’t get fired if you don’t write, and most of the time you don’t get rewarded if you do. But don’t quit.

Andre Dubus



It helps me to know that authors with a lot more under their belt have had the same experiences of struggling with editing and wanting to quit. It helps because it gives me an outside opinion saying that perhaps that voice is wrong, that I really should keep going, that perhaps I am doing a worthwhile thing. I hope these words have helped you as they’ve helped me.

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What, Me Worry? Absolutely.

Last time I blogged about dealing with guilt in our creative endeavours, inspired by the words of best selling self help guru Wayne Dyer. His philosophy is that guilt is a useless emotion. He makes the same claim about worry.

“It makes no sense to worry about things you have no control over because there’s nothing you can do about them, and why worry about things you do control? The activity of worrying keeps you immobilized.” -Wayne Dyer

What he says is true, isn’t it? Well, easier said than done, I say, especially when it comes to writing, the publishing industry and my own journey.

I worry that despite my best efforts I’ll never publish a novel.

I’ve published a bunch of short stories, but what I truly love is novel writing. I’ve written five. Five! None have made it to bookshelves. It’s not stopping me from moving on to the next one, but there’s a constant, rather loud voice in the back of my head, telling me I’m probably wasting my time and I’ll never get published. Is that worry, lack of confidence or both? Either way, it can’t be a good state of mind for producing my best work. Is it possible to let go of that worry and just write?

I worry I’ll be left behind.

Many of my friends are now publishing novels and series and I worry that I’ll be left out of the cool kids club. It’s not so much that I want to be part of the cool crowd, but that I really like these people and I don’t want to lose their friendship. They’re busy with release dates, blog tours, book signings and interviews while I’m busy whining that I can’t get my plot quite right in my latest unpublished novel. Would you want to still hang with me? I worry the answer is no.

I worry I’ll never reach my full potential.

Now that’s kind of contradictory, isn’t it? If all I do is sit around and worry, of course I’ll never reach my full potential. Apparently I have enough faith in myself to believe I have potential, yet sabotage that with worrying about failing that potential. This one might just be too cyclical to deal with, but once again, Wayne Dyer is right. Worrying is keeping me immobilized.

I worry I’m really just kidding myself. 

Wait, didn’t I just say I faith in my potential? See how worry works? One minute I believe I have enough talent and determination to “make it” (let’s just leave what that really means for another post) in the publishing industry, the next I think I’m really just fooling myself. Call it imposter syndrome, lack of confidence or give it any name you like, the result is worrying that I am plain old not good enough.

Most of all, I worry I will disappoint my instructors, mentors, critique partners and writing friends.

I’ve had some great instructors at workshops, conferences and conventions over the years. I’ve been lucky to also have mentors come into my life who have been extremely generous with their time and knowledge. Add to that a real pot of gold in the form of fabulous writing peers, including some willing to critique my work. They’re always there for me, whenever I need a pep talk, advice or a plan old kick in the pants. This is the biggest worry for me. I worry every single day that I’m letting these fabulous people down, that by not reaching higher achievements in my writing career I am failing them. I worry that if I don’t succeed, I’ve wasted the time and effort they’ve put into me. I realize this kind of pressure is completely self-imposed, yet I’m pretty sure it too immobilizes me.

Clearly I have issues.

Perhaps I’m not the best person to be giving out advice on the topic of worry, but hear me out. Maybe worry isn’t a useless emotion. Maybe, just maybe, what we worry about points out what we need to work on, where we need to examine ourselves and why we need to change.

If I never publish a novel, will I have had any less fun writing the ones I did, meeting the people I did and learning what I did along the way? Absolutely not. If other authors further along the journey than me decide I’m not worth their time, is that really such a great loss? Perhaps not. If I’m kidding myself about having any potential for writing, but writing makes me happy, does it matter what the end result is? Maybe not. As for disappointing others, I hope I haven’t done that yet. This worries me the most, but perhaps it can also push me the most. If I keep writing, keep improving and using all the great advice and support I’ve been given to the best of my ability, maybe I’ll make them proud of me for never giving up.

Truly, this post is my way of screaming at myself that it’s time to do something about all the stuff I worry about. If I can get over worrying about what people will think when they read this post, maybe I will.

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The Great Con Question — guest post from M. K. Hutchins

Here’s a guest post from novelist M. K. Hutchins. I met M. K. through the Codex Writers online group, which has been a wonderful resource for me over the years. It’s an organization for writers to share resources and experiences as they develop their craft and business sense. It’s a great organization with no dues–the only caveat is that you have to made one professional (6¢/word) sale to sign up. Check them out so you can meet M. K., too!

The Great Con Question

Should writers go to writing-related cons? Is it worth the time, effort, and travel? It all depends what you’re hoping to get from the convention.

Networking, with a capital N. There’s always those stories about authors who bump into just the right person at just the right moment and it launches their career forward. Can you count on going to a con and having this happen to you? Nope. You’re sure to meet interesting people. But there’s no guarantee that it will do anything, right now, for your writing career.

Though sometimes there are surprising results down the road. I listened to Stacy Whitman, my editor, talk at a conference. Because of that, I saw when she started Tu Books. Given how smart she’d been on panels, I decided to send her my manuscript – which worked out great.

Networking that looks a lot like hanging out with friends. One of the things I love best about conventions is talking to my peers. Listening to others’ hopes and fears assures me I’m not alone.

I suppose this is technically still “networking”, but the goals are different – it’s about having fun, not career-building. Cons never disappoint me in this regard. Even if I know no one, there are always interesting people to talk with about writing.

Promote your writing. I’ll be honest. I have no idea if sitting on a panel and putting my book in front of me helps sell copies. I’m not even sure how to empirically test that. But it sure doesn’t hurt.

Learn new stuff about writing. Are there blog posts, books, and podcasts that will teach you the same material you’d get at a con? Most of it, probably. But there is something magical about sitting in a room with a bunch of other writers that makes me focus better and think more critically.

A lot of panels do cover tried-and-true advice I’ve heard before. I no longer spend eight hours straight sitting through panels and taking furious note until my brain melts. But without fail, I learn something from presenters that I can turn around and use to strengthen my writing.

Oddly, I’ve also found being on panels to be a great learning experience. Questions under pressure have helped me crystallize my thinking on a variety of topics.

 Energize yourself. I’m fairly introverted, but I do find a hotel full of other writerly folk to be exciting. Between listening to panels and chatting, I usually come home from a con super-excited, brain fully charged.

I attended a local con last year with a baby-in-tow (and am forever indebted to my brother for holding him during my panels). Head full of ideas and arms full of a baby who wouldn’t sleep, I found myself pacing the hotel lobby sometime after midnight. Energized from the day, I finally managed to outline the second half of a novel that had been giving me grief – despite being sleep-deprived.

Pass it on. I remember being the notebook-wielding college student, frantically trying to soak up every tidbit of wisdom. It’s awesome to sit on a panel, see the notebook-wielding new writers, and tell them that starting a writing career is not impossible.

So, should you go to cons? Often people talk about capitol-N Networking as the goal of a conference, but going to a conference hoping for a career-changing meeting is asking for disappointment. If you’re looking for something else – camaraderie, learning, an energizing environment – it might just be the thing for you. There are always more cons going on than are practical for me to attend, but I look forward to the ones I can participate in all year long.

M.K. Hutchins’ YA fantasy novel Drift is both a Junior Library Guild Selection and a VOYA Top Shelf Honoree. Her short fiction appears in IGMS and Daily Science Fiction.  She studied archaeology at BYU, giving her the opportunity to compile ancient Maya genealogies, excavate in Belize, and work as a faunal analyst. She blogs at

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New Year, New Goals, New Ways of Thinking

When I was sixteen, I set a New Year’s Resolution to stop swearing so much. (Those who know me know how well that worked out.) I said “When the clock hits midnight, that’s it, no more swearing. I’m giving it up.” I got in trouble for my swearing pretty regularly, a steady four-year habit at the time, and I wanted to stop the habit to make life a little easier.

I lasted twenty minutes and then I gave up forever.

This may seem like a silly example of unrealistic expectations for goal-setting, but the truth is, people do this same thing in their own way. Whether you resolve at New Year’s Eve to change some habit or start a new project, or whether you’re embarking on a new endeavor some other time of year, at the end of the day we are creatures of habit and we’re going to fall back on old patterns. And a lot of goal-setting isn’t just about picking your goal, but about how you go about sticking to it.

I ran a half marathon last year, in November. I had started out with the goal of running a 10K and it kind of ballooned from there. And the whole process really reaffirmed some ideas I had with regards to setting and achieving goals.

Set a Concrete Goal that You Control 100%

A million things could have happened to keep me from the actual half-marathon event. Fire, flood, cancelled flights, law suits over intellectual property and trademarks, so many things in this world are completely outside of my control. But getting my body to a state where I could go for 13.1 miles and not die or injure myself was something I was able to control. So that was my goal: be able to run for 13.1 miles and not die or injure myself.

This is pretty similar to the actual butt-in-chair hands-on-keyboard part of writing. Nobody else is going to put in those miles. Nobody else is going to get those words on the page. It’s not in your control whether or not a publisher will pick up your book, but it’s in your control to write the best damn book you possibly can.

Big Goals Should be Broken Up into Smaller Goals

Prior to my half, the only kind of marathon I’d ever done had the word “Netflix” in it. So obviously I wasn’t about to leap off the couch and pound pavement for three hours, not unless I wanted to wind up on crutches afterwards. I built up the distance over the course of a eight months, running two to three times a week. I followed a training regimen and I did exercises outside of just straight-up running in order to help the process.

When you’re writing, you’re not going to go from zero to novel over a weekend. Even a long weekend. Not only will it take time to write the book, it’ll also take time until you’re writing a thousand words a day, two thousand, five thousand, whatever your target words-per-day goal is. Be responsible with your brain. Like the muscles in your body, your brain also needs training to go longer distances. Build up. Start with small, reasonable goals, and whenever you feel comfortable, push yourself a bit, until you’re just tearing through wordcount.

Going the Distance is Less About Strength and More About Psychology

So that part where I said “running two to three times a week”? Well, yeah, okay, most weeks. Like, 85% of weeks. Okay, 80%. Maybe. Some weeks, though, I didn’t go for my runs. I cooly ignored my running shoes as they waited patiently in the entryway like an expectant labrador retriever. It would have been really easy at this point to just throw my hands in the air and say, fuck it, I’ve screwed up, I missed a day of running, a week of running, I’ll never recover, time to lay on the couch with a pack of Oreos and contemplate my failure as a human.

But this past year, I tried two new psychological tricks with regards to my goals. One, I tried to forgive myself for these sorts of things. Instead of berating myself, “gosh, I can’t believe I skipped a run, what a loser” I tried saying “okay, you skipped a run, that’s fine, there’s always the next run.” And two, I tried to re-frame skipping my runs from the whining “I don’t wanna!” to “I’m making the conscious decision not to run today.” Suddenly, I didn’t want to make the decision to not run. It seemed so much easier to get my butt in gear when I felt like the decision was 100% within my control — which, in reality, it always had been, only I forced myself to think of it that way, to say it aloud.

Writing is not dissimilar. It’s easy to let other things in life “take over” your writing time. Sometimes it’s necessary to take care of other things in life, but sometimes we use it as an excuse to avoid doing the hard thing. So this is where you need to make the decisions about how to balance writing with everything else in your life. It’s easy to think of writing as something separate from the other things in your life, but really, it’s part of it, and deserves to be prioritized as much as anything else. So, recognize the moments when you are choosing not to write as just that: a choice. Say aloud “I am choosing not to write today.” See how you feel about it when you realize that it’s in your control. You may surprise yourself by flopping down in the chair and making the wordcount.

So, it’s been six days since the new year. How are you doing on whatever goals you have set for yourself, whether they were set on January 1 or before? If you’ve stumbled already, don’t even worry about it, there’s still a lot of 2015 to go, and by the time December 2015 rolls around, you probably won’t even remember where you slipped. You’ll only see how far you’ve come.

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Happy New Year from the Inkpunks!

To help us all get 2015 started off right, the 2015 Tools for Writers workbook is now available. This year’s includes the ever-popular Word Count Tracker (with an updated color scheme and inspirational quotes!), the Career Bingo card, and Stories tracker. Please feel free to save a copy of the workbook for yourself, modify and distribute as you like, no attribution needed. (If you make cool versions of it that you’d like to share, though, please feel free to post them in the comments!)

From all of the Inkpunks to all of you, we wish you a year of love, health, creativity, productivity, and prosperity.

Happy New Year!

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Guilt is a Useless Emotion

Write every day! Keep your butt in the chair! Reach your word count! Write, write, write! We’re writers and writers write, but occasionally something comes up that prevents us from writing. Even if there’s a good reason for it, we still can feel guilty for not following the writer’s creed.


Wayne Dyer first introduced me to the idea of guilt as a useless emotion in his best selling books, self-help guru. Clearly I’m not the only one with this issue, since he sold a lot of those books. As a personal trainer, I’ve passed the mantra on to my clients that there’s nothing useful about feeling guilty for messing up their health and fitness plan. Don’t let one missed workout or eating something you know you shouldn’t have sabotage the rest of your efforts, I tell them. Most commonly, we think, “Heck, I already messed up today, I might as well throw the day away and eat whatever I want.” Then your one mistake turns into a much bigger one. “I already missed one workout this week, might as well miss the rest and start again next week.” We know how this goes. You’re feeling awful about yourself so when next week comes you don’t feel like getting back on the program and before you know it, you completely fall off your plan.

Either that, or we try and overcompensate. “I ate that food I wasn’t supposed to, I’m going to eat nothing but vegetables tomorrow.” That never works out and isn’t good for you. “I missed a workout, I’m going to do two workouts tomorrow!” If you actually do both workouts in one day, you end up over trained, extremely tired or injured and that interferes with continuing to your goals. The same thing applies to our creative endeavours.


Here’s what happens. You feel the guilt, you feel terrible about yourself. You feel like you failed. You get down on yourself and sometimes give up, permanently.

I have one of the best excuses right now with a newborn in the house, yet I still feel guilty for not editing my current WIP or writing any new words. I’m sure no one reading this will be surprised that my time has been occupied with a brand new baby, but as he gets older, (a big ten weeks old now) I feel like I could squeeze some time in for editing. The lingering guilt of having been away from it for so long, however, weighs heavily and wants to keep me from taking on the task at all.

What are we supposed to do when we miss a day of writing with or without a good reason? Get over it! Move on! Dust yourself off and just get right back on the wagon you fell off of. Don’t use it as an excuse to let everything slide. There’s NO NEED to beat yourself up over it. Everyone takes breaks, everyone needs a break once and a while.

What we need to do is shake off the guilt and focus on what’s to come, not what has been. There is nothing to be gained by feeling guilty. In my case, I’m going to make a plan with small goals to begin with and start it right away! Well, after December 25th. It is baby’s first Christmas after all.



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What’s Your Work Count?

My early Christmas present!

My early Christmas present!

There’s a lot of attention paid these days to personal metrics. I’m talking about the practice of recording the numbers of our daily lives and measuring progress towards our goals by examining those numbers. Diet and exercise are probably the most common metrics people measure: maybe we’re counting calories towards a desired weight loss. We might be tracking miles biked or run in preparation for a race or just to beat last year’s record.

There’re apps for all kinds of metric tracking now, from fitness to calorie counters to custom-made spreadsheets. We have access to unprecedented ways to record and track “how’re we’re doing,” and the Getting Things Done (GTD) crowd is coming up with dozens of new ways every day, it seems. Of course, paper and pen works great for some folks, too.

As writers, the goal we’re often most concerned with is measuring word count (for some of us, page count, especially when we’re editing). Still others may set aside time — 10 minutes of writing a day, 10 hours a week, etc. There are endless possibilities, and I find myself setting different goals based on the work I’m trying to get done. A busy day? Then I promise myself a half-hour to write, any word count is acceptable as long as I’m focused for that half-hour on telling the best story I can. Maybe my goal for the day is to strengthen  the voice in 3 chapters. I gleefully check it off my daily to-do list even if my Scrivener project doesn’t show a big net-change in overall word count.

(So maybe I should call it Work Count?)

I have to admit, I don’t tend to track my writing trends beyond what I need to finish that day, that week, that month. I’m not really a GTD’er. I make a lot of short and mid-range goals (and I’m usually great about nailing them). I’m planning to have this revision draft done on my novel by March, and I’m pretty much on track (holidays, help me…) My friend Jamie Todd Rubin tracks his writing trends in great and glorious detail. Inkpunks’ very own Christie Yant made this groovy spreadsheet so you, too, can see how you’re doing. (And I have it on good authority she’s working on a 2015 edition coming very soon!)

I have long term goals, too, of course. More words nearly every day. More time in the chair on the writing days. Maybe a more thorough examination of my own trends would help me get there faster, but for now, I’m content to inch along.

We’re sidling up to the New Year, and I’m sure many of you are starting to think about your writing goals for 2015. How do you set your goals? How do you track your progress?

What’s your Work Count?

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The Inkpunks Big Shopping Guide!

So you’re a writer. And you know writers. And you have to buy them gifts. Don’t worry: we’ve got you covered. There’s something for every kind of word-wrangler on our list, and even something for the normals. You do know people who aren’t writers, right? Hmmn. Maybe you should add that to your New Year’s Resolutions.

For the sophisticate:

You know the one—her stories all have those amazing metaphors that you’re not quite sure you get, or maybe it’s that guy whose newest book reads like the illicit love child of House of Leaves and something by Murikami. They’re classy and smart, and they’d be delighted by any of these delicious tasting sets from Master of Malts. If your budget allows, you might consider getting one for yourself.master of malt

For the dedicated horror writer:

Do I even need to tell you about Leslie Klinger’s The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft? I’m sure you’ve already heard the hub-hub about this delightful new compilation—well, so has your friend who’s working on that great horror novel. They’re probably pining for the darn thing right now. Go help them out!

For the serious fantasist:

I admit: I haven’t seen this movie yet. But it’s by Toby Froud and Heather Henson, and it’s Froud-y puppetry in the finest spirit of Froudian production. Watching Lessons Learned is going to be a fun experience, and your fantasy-writing friend will enjoy falling into the sweet nostalgia of the puppets of their youth.

For the intense science fiction writer:

Everyone can use a mug, and the odds are good that if you’re writing hard science fiction, you’re probably going to need some caffeine. Here’ s a cute constellation mug that will hold their favorite tasty beverage and inspire them to keep their eyes on the sky!

If you are a science fiction type, looking for a little inspiration, here’s a little treat for yourself: these FREE wallpapers based on Daniel Dociu’s awesome cover for James S. A. Corey’s novel Abaddon’s Gate.


For the Sspectrum 21F/F/H writer looking for inspiration:

Any of the Spectrum Art books are going to rock that person’s world, because they’re filled with work from the best artists working in science fiction, fantasy, and horror today. I especially recommend Spectrum 20 and Spectrum 21, because our very own Galen Dara has pieces in them.

For the writer who needs a kick in the butt:

Every time they put on this Write Like a Motherfucker tee, they will feel your foot connecting with their bum. Consider yourself a muse.

Your editor:

Chances are that the editors in your world are tense. After all, editors live at the junction of two very weird worlds: the business world (where everyone wonders just how they’re going to make money) and the art world (where everyone wonders how they can get people to feeeeeel). You might consider a yoga DVD, such as this one for stress reduction, or maybe an anxiety-reducing aromatherapy spray for their office.

And what about those normal people? What should you get them?


Get them pizza. Because what the people in your life really want is more time with you. So take them out for a good time—or heck, have dinner delivered—and enjoy the moment.



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An Almost Old Guy Self-Publishes: a guest post from Matthew Sanborn Smith

Our guest post today comes from a terrific friend of the Inkpunks: Matthew Sanborn Smith. The voice behind the terrific Beware the Hairy Mango podcast, and a prolific short story writer, Matthew’s one of the hardest-working folks I know. Today he’ll tell us a little bit about self-publishing and the madness that goes along with it. Also, be sure to check his book’s amazing cover art, by our own Galen Dara!

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Hey, Folks! Matthew Sanborn Smith here. I’ve just released my first self-published short story collection, The Dritty Doesen, and Wendy offered me the chance to talk to you guys about why I decided to do such a thing. If you haven’t done it yourself, you may have considered it. You may have also talked yourself out of it. Let me tell you what went through my head. I have self-published a couple of short stories, so we’ll back up to before that happened.

 My biggest problem with self-publishing years ago was the legitimacy issue. I started submitting to mags in the early nineties when they didn’t do e-anything with the exception of e-lectricity. Self-publishing was confined to ink and paper and was looked upon with the same respect an animal might give to the bottom of its cage. It was proof the author wasn’t good enough to sell anything to a real publisher. It was an act of desperation. It was tacky. Everyone knew this save for the self-published writers themselves, and maybe a few of them knew it too.

 Although most people don’t engage in self-publishing, most do engage in self-contradiction. At the same time I was busy knowing all of those things at the end of the preceding paragraph, I was also knowing that Ani DiFranco was one of my heroes. It’s not that I was a super fan. I only knew a couple of her songs. She was a hero to me because she started her own record label at eighteen years old and released her debut album the following year. You can shut the biography right there. I don’t need to read another word; I respect the hell out of her.

 But self-publishing was for losers.

 It took years of steady evidence piling up in front of my eyes for me (and a lot of other people) to come around. Sixteen years earlier, Rush did what Ani did before they got picked up by a major label. That Sky Captain guy made a whole feature film on his computer. Youtube people got paying gigs. Scalzi sold a novel after blogging it. Then there were those novel podcasters.


 I met my doubts halfway and self-published a story that had already sold to a pro market. I did this in part because a publisher was releasing one of my stories as an e-book, and I wanted to have another thing available under my name in case a satisfied reader was looking for another fix. It also felt right because the story I was putting out there myself was no longer available online, as the original publisher was a webzine and only archived authors’ stories for about three months. And so I eased myself into the water.


 Know, oh prince(ss), that this story made a piddling amount of money as an e-book. Here are three reasons I think that’s so: 1) I am a piss-poor marketer, 2) People that sort of liked me had already read the story when it was free, and 3) I didn’t give it a village in which to thrive.

 Only that third one requires further explanation. I let my story sit next to the professionally published one and then left them both to die. There was no more reason, other than accidental, that readers would find it after the initial week or two that it was out. Had I been the type of guy to follow through on plans, I would have self-published another story every month (at least), to regularly give people a reason to look at my Amazon page. Then each title could advertise the others. (At the beginning or end of your own e-book, remember to mention your other available titles. Because you can always update an e-book, you can keep these pages up to date no matter how long the book has been out.)

 But I didn’t do squat, and let those titles sit there for a few years. I’d like to say that I smartened up on my own, but it was my sister who got me back on track. She’s had great success through Amazon and inspired me with something as base as numbers. I know going into this that I won’t see her kinds of numbers myself. She’s publishing romance novel trilogies and I’m publishing science fiction short stories. There’s a world of difference in demand for those two things. But I’m sitting on a hundred and fifty short stories that, whether I’ve sold them or not, are now hanging out on my hard drive with nothing to do. Even after culling all the bad ones, I have enough for six collections.

 And collections are important here. I started back in by thinking I was going to publish each story individually. I only got one more story out the door though, because I had another conversation with my sister.

 Because I misunderstood Amazon’s fine print, I didn’t realize an author could pick up 70% royalties by pricing his or her work between $2.99 and $9.99, as opposed to getting 35% royalties at another price (as of this writing). I’d planned to sell each story at $0.99. (Does anyone else remember that typewriters had a key for the cent sign?) Even I, the biggest fan of my own work, think that charging $2.99 for a single story is a rip-off. By collecting the stories, I feel okay charging more. Also, I think a variety of stories increases the chance the reader will be happy with their purchase.

 You may wonder if a lot of individual stories at a 35% royalty might net more than a few collections at 70%. Let me know.


 I write different types of stories, as I’m sure you do, and I initially planned on including a wide mix of stories in each collection. A little something for everyone. Soon I realized how awkward it might feel going from a story centering on a heart-breaking death to a silly piece of absurdism. I couldn’t find an order of contents that wasn’t jarring. It would probably be better to separate the collections by theme. Adventure, silliness, strangeness, so-dark-you-want-to-take-a-shower-afterward, melancholy, and teetering on the edge of comprehensibility. Not everything appeals to everyone. Among those choices, there are those collections a reader might seek out, and some he or she might avoid altogether.

 My art is my art and I make what I want, without a reader or a market in mind. Having said that, once a work is done, I’m going to try to make money from it and I’m going to try to be honest with the reader without sacrificing the work in either case. I have no problem telling someone I know, “This story probably isn’t for you, but you might like this other one.”

 One of the reasons I’m self-publishing is that I’m confident that some of my work does not have mass-appeal. It’s weird. It doesn’t always look like what you’d expect from a story. But I’m just as confident that someone will like it. My podcast, Beware the Hairy Mango, has only a very small following. Most people don’t care for it. But the ones who do care for it love the hell out of it. There are people out there, sprinkled amongst the general populace that are dying to read your work. You just have to reach them.

 In the past, I’ve done my own covers. I’m very risk-averse when it comes to laying out cash. But for the past year or two, I’ve been trying to stretch myself and try some new things. I realized when I reach the end of my life (assuming I know it’s happening), I’ll feel much better about the things that I tried and failed at than the things I never tried at all. For my current collection I decided to take a chance and pay a pro. I went to my Inkpunks friend, Galen Dara, because I knew she’d do something wonderful. She did.DrittyDoesenPromo

 You needn’t see the cover as an obstacle. As I said, you can always update an e-book. If you’re on the fence, you can create your own cover now and always change the cover in the future.

 So let’s boil this down. Why might you want to self-publish?

  1.   Whatever stigma there might have been in the past is largely non-existent now.

  2. You’ve got stories you believe in that aren’t what professional editors are looking for.

  3. You’ve got stories that have previously sold, the magazine’s period of exclusivity has expired, and you want more people to read this proven material.

  4. You now have the power to release whatever you want, however you want. You don’t have to worry about what’s in vogue. That’s pretty punk.

  5. You’ll reach people you never knew existed. And you’ll be someone’s favorite writer.

  6. You have nothing to lose. Although I did hire Galen to create the cover art for my current collection, I have done past covers myself by taking photos or using Amazon’s cover templates. You can always do the work yourself and not spend a dime.

 I’m halfway to ninety-one years old and I’ve been writing and submitting for twenty-three years. As I get older, I’m less afraid to try new things, because I’ve seen all the old things that don’t work for me. I hate to be the guy who says, “In this day and age . . . ,” but honestly, we’ve been given all the tools to steer our destinies in whatever direction we want. One less obstacle between you and your reader will only make things better for both of you.

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