Does It Hold Up: Family Matters

                As a culture, we’re riding something of a nostalgia wave right now. You read that correctly; someone finally said it, probably for the first time, right? Honestly, I don’t mind all the rebooting and what-not going on, because I understand that these products aren’t being made for me. They’re made for people in the same target demographic as I was when the first iteration came out, and I can’t reasonably expect these versions to cater to my tastes anymore.

                But in all talk about the remakes and reboots and general nostalgia, I couldn’t help wondering if what came before is really as wonderous as we remember it. Thus, as the title obviously gave away, this blog is the first in a new occasional series, checking to see if the things from my past are truly great, or merely look that way through rose-colored glasses. I’m putting my past joys on the line to see if they hold up, or if I’ve wallpapered over their flaws with years of mis-remembering and booze.

 

Family Matters

                Confession: This isn’t the first time I’ve come back to Family Matters. During college, my roommate (who now has a real job and for the purposes of this blog will be called Robe) and I wound up having free time most afternoons. Not enough to really do anything, just a few hours to kill between classes. And, while I hate to date myself, this was before the days of streaming entertainment. Robe and I only had what cable could provide, and it provided a shitload of stuff from the old TGIF line-up. While there were serious classics in rotation, such as Step by Step and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for today’s blog I had to go with the foundation of the afternoon line-up, the one that was always in our local channel’s rotation come rain or shine: Family Matters.

                Aside from being the source of my favorite ludicrous drinking game (Drink every time Carl Winslow has a mustache), so much so that it became the term I used for when a drinking game was unmanageable, Family Matters is also a show set in Chicago, following a family and their wacky neighbor through daily hijinks and heart-tugging moments. I’m sure plenty of you know this, but for the people who didn’t grow up raised by television, Family Matters is actually a spin-off of another classic sitcom: Perfect Strangers. That’s not especially relevant for Family Matters except that the character on Perfect Strangers was Harriet, who the spin-off was supposed to center around yet ultimately left the show and was replaced by another actress when Steve Urkel’s character blew up.

                That brings me to my first point: Family Matters is a pretty different show, depending on what season you’re watching. The earlier seasons are super family focused (to the point where they had more members of the Winslow family) with only a sprinkle of Steve Urkel butting in. Even then, he’s mostly played as annoying and, if we’re honest, plainly neglected by his family. Middle seasons shake things up. We lose the youngest Winslow, and while Aunt Rachel is there for the start of this period, she’s gone by the end. At this point, Steve has become a moderate sci-fi element, doing shit that tests the limits of plausibility, but not obscenely so. And then… hoo boy. Let’s say that the Disney World special with the transformation chamber kicked off the third iteration, where Steve was the focus and able to do some sci-fi shit that legitimately would have changed the entire world. He builds a fucking cloning machine, for god’s sake. There also might be magic in their world, but the haunted puppet is always a Halloween special so let’s call it loosely canon at best.

                So, how does it hold up? Well, I danced around a little to try some from each version of the show. The early ones are… okay. Like most new shows, Family Matters is still finding its footing. The characters aren’t dialed in as well, the writing is clunky, and the laugh-track… I didn’t realize how hard it was going to be to return to a show with laugh tracks after years without them. That’s not the show’s fault, it was a convention of the time, but it could still be a bit excessive. It’s a fine show for having on in the background or while drunk, just not enough to hold your interest on its own. Dialogue and plot have evolved, as they should, and we expect a little more punch from our shows these days.

                Now the mid-run seasons were another matter. The dialogue and plotting flaws are still present; as is the laugh track, but the comfort and skill of the actors in their roles does help sell me on at least some of the lines. The wildcard factor that Steve has become also spiced things up. Much as some people look back on the evolution of Steve from awkward neighbor to super-genius as pandering to the audience, the truth is adding that element gave Family Matters more freedom than other sitcoms of the time. It was a show rooted in reality, with a sci-fi fringe element. Most sitcoms at the time were one or the other. Steve’s inventions meant every week was unpredictable. Not always in a good way, mind you, but there’s something to be said for a sitcom surprising you.

                Finally, we come to the last iteration. Here, the quality takes a dip, at least for me. That rooting in realism has begun to tear away, and when you expect that anything can happen it no longer takes you by surprise. Add in the clones, Stefan becoming his own character, Steve going to space, (I didn’t rewatch the whole series, I just remember a lot about it) and it’s all just a bit much. This is also the point where the show has run long enough to where the characters have become caricatures of their original versions, so drilled into a few key characteristics that it feels like they’ve shed dimensions. Not to mention (but I will) the classic red flag of tossing a new child character into the cast. Like many shows that make it to 9 seasons, it had simply lost the foundation it was built upon, and the lack of clear direction is noticeable.

                So, back to the initial question posed by this blog: does Family Matters hold up? Some parts of it, yes, I’d say so. Not the entire run of the show, but then who hits home runs for nine straight seasons? When it hits, it hits well, and there’s a lot of heart in the show before it goes off the rails. Schmaltzy, over-the-top heart, but heart all the same. There’s some good shit in that middle ground, enough that I plan on going back and rewatching more. That alone is probably the truest test of if something is enjoyable or not. As for if you’ll feel the same, well, all nine seasons are on Hulu as we speak. If this got you wondering and my descriptions didn’t scare you off, go check it out. You may just remember why you loved it so much to begin with.

Small Steps Toward Self-Employment

                Getting to do what I love every day is a gift, a privilege, and something I try hard to never take for granted. It would be too easy to grow complacent and wind up back in a cube, something I’m even less suited for after five years of working from home than I was before. And honestly, I never fit in that well in the cube world to start with. It certainly helps that I have friends in more traditional careers, who remind me of what life on that side is like. Many of them are happy with their pursuits and jobs, and more power to them for that. We all find our own paths that are right for us. Some of my friends, on the other hand, lean toward the creative side and would like a work situation similar to mine.

                It’s with that type of person in mind that I write this week’s blog. Having been where those folks are, stuck with a job and a passion that don’t overlap, I know how impossible it can seem to make the transition over to living off your art. We’ve focused before on when to consider going full-time, but today I wanted to put some attention on the logistics of how that process can actually happen.

 

You (Probably) Won’t See It Coming

                A perk of this job is that I’ve gotten to know other writers, some in passing at cons, others more in depth like the Authors & Dragons crew. In that time, I’ve found that virtually all of us started the project that would eventually take us to full-time employment with no idea that’s what we were doing. It’s strange; I see friends and aspiring artists in various fields talking about the “small” project they’re working on, as though they’ll only be stepping stones to bigger, more lucrative ideas (which is problematic for reasons already covered).

                Here’s the thing though: all of our job-changing ideas started out as small projects. Super Powereds was my second web-serial, and based on the first I thought it would be nothing more than a niche story in one corner of the internet. Authors & Dragons was just this thing we threw together, until it kept growing and growing and becoming a brand of its own. Conversely, I’ve also been on podcasts with lower listener numbers, and written books that just did okay. You don’t know what will hit, none of us do, which is part of why it is so important to make things you love, and see them through. Since any project might or might not get your career going, the best way to ensure the time feels well spent is to make things you care about. And seeing them through is important because not everything hits right away. The Fred series, for example, didn’t really get considerable steam going until Book #2.

                My point here is that every project could be your breakout one, so don’t sell them short because you aren’t working on the scale you want to yet. Nobody sees their big one coming in advance, so put your best into every effort, and keep plugging along.

 

It’s About More Than Money

                When authors talk about going full-time, money is often the first and only point in the discussion. Save a half-year’s income, or a year’s, or three year’s; you’ll hear many different numbers being bandied about. The truth on that front is simply that there is no universal amount because every home, and its costs, are different. You have to sit down, take a hard look at a budget, and be honest about your needs versus sales.

                But, as the title of this section gave away, that’s only one part of making the transition toward full-time. To paraphrase some points from a recent panel I was on, you’ll also need to make preparations as if you were starting a small business, because you will be. Does your current job offer health insurance? Better figure out an alternative if you’re using that, because (state-depending) the open market can often be shit. What about retirement funds? You may not have to match exactly what your company had, but you should adjust the way you’re planning for that future. Essentially, you need to replicate everything your existing job provides, and account for the associated costs, before you can even begin to consider the money aspect, since those factors all go in to creating an honest budget.

                It goes past replicating your old support; you’ll also need to pick up new skills for your role as… well, everything. Better learn some basics on accounting, because you’re either going to have to handle taxes or pay someone to do it for you. Same with promotion, distribution, scheduling, booking, and, of course, management. Management is one a lot of people overlook, but you do have at least one employee to manage: you. While that might sound crazy, we’ve talked before about the need for structure in this kind of gig. Proper management means finding out how you work best then creating those conditions, just as one would for an employee. A self-example is that I’ve learned over time that I write the most and the best in the mornings. Thus, I structured my daily schedule so that mornings are blocked off, dedicated exclusively to writing with nothing else weighing on my mind. All non-writing tasks go after lunch, when my creative side needs a rest and I can do things like formatting or number crunching.

                We all have our own schedules that fit us best, so finding that is important. Equally important, however, is tracking the amount you want to produce versus how much you’re putting out. If those numbers aren’t lining up, you either have to find a way to get more creativity out of your employee or rework the timetables to a more achievable schedule. Which, by the way, is exactly the kind of choice managers have to make daily. See, I told you that skillset would come in handy.

 

                Honestly, we’ve barely scratched the surfaced here, there’s so much more to tackle I’m not even sure what angle to approach from. If you’ve got a specific logistical question about going to full self-employment, leave it in the comments below and I might work it in to future entries. For all you out there still dreaming of making the jump, I wish you best of the luck, and hopefully whatever “small” project you’re working on now will be the one that gets you where you want to be.

Failing Stories: Shelve or Rebuild?

                Through the years, I’ve tried to be pretty upfront about my respective projects, pulling back the veil on how writing works as much as possible. Part of that requires being honest about the fact that not all books that are started get finished. Much as I am a big proponent of seeing projects through, with enough experience you begin to recognize signs of a wilting story early on. You can try to keep going and fix it, shelve it, or re-write the entire thing, but there’s not much point in staying the course once you recognize an issue. Ah, but how to know if you really need to shake up the book, or if it is just the mid-manuscript doldrums? Well, only you’ll be able to answer that question, but today I’m going to touch on some of the occasions when I had to take books back to their conception phase in hopes that my experience will give you a little more clarity on your own decisions.

 

Forging Hephaestus: 2 Failed Attempts, Eventual Publication

                I’ve made no secret about the fact that it took me a few tries to get FH right. It was always going to be an ambitious project, those who’ve read the final version know how big the cast is; now realize that I had to cut an entire group of characters that were originally planned to be in it (don’t worry, you’ll meet them in Villains’ Code #2). Trimming the size down was just part of it, however. The wall I kept hitting with FH was that the story felt too limited. This was me wanting to play with a world akin to the settings of comic books, yet everything kept coming out feeling strangely… mundane.

                The first attempt went down in flames just past 50k, it needed major retooling from the ground up. The second attempt was better, closer to what you eventually saw on the page, but even it died after 60k. Finally, on the third try, I understood what the problem was. Even though I’d been envisioning a comic world, I’d been writing with the same mindset as Super Powereds, with an eye on realism. That works for SP, but this story was supposed to be something different, so I decided to embrace that. Everything was on the table: magic, aliens, AI, all of it. The wildest shit from the comic worlds was established precedent in the Villains’ Code setting. And that was it, I was off running on attempt #3 and I never looked back. I had to find the right approach and tone to make the book work, even if the plot changed minimally.

 

Blades & Barriers: 1 Failed Attempt; No Published Version (yet)

                This is a more interesting case study, as it’s the only time you’ve all gotten to see a version of a story that I ultimately decided to take back to the drawing board. As a side note, for those who have asked about work on this title, I try to rotate my attention between series so that no group of fans has to wait too long between releases. Since Year 4 just came out, I need to do entries in all the other series before I can consider it for the schedule, so don’t expect movement on this for at least a year or so.

                So then, what was wrong with B&B? I’m sure plenty of readers have their own opinions, however from my point of view all smaller issues stemmed from a major flaw in the story set-up: I was trying to mesh two different types of story into one and it wasn’t working. B&B tried to be too ambitious, at its core. It was an attempt to widen the scope of the world onto both daily Hero life, and what was happening beyond one nation’s borders. Now, that’s a lot to deal with, but we all know my books run long so excess content wouldn’t be an issue.

                The problem was that those two types of tales needed to function on different time-tables. Daily Hero life is a slow-build kind of story, where we can really take our time getting to know and fleshing out the characters, seeing them grow bit-by-bit, akin to the pace of Super Powereds. The United Avalon stuff, conversely, had a clock built into the story and a sense of urgency. When it all smashed together, we ended up with characters that hadn’t been fleshed and developed enough entering a high stakes situation before making readers feel invested. It had more brisk plot than character depth, and I know myself well enough to realize that’s a story I’m not going to tell as well. I don’t know the eventual shape B&B will take, only that I need to get the plots on one timetable and make sure the characters are developed enough to care for.

 

Crestfallen Lane: 2 Attempts; No Plans to Publish

                For our final example of the day, let’s look at one that got put on the shelf for good. Crestfallen Lane was my second attempt at writing an urban fantasy after my horrendous first attempt at a book that thank god exists only on an old jump drive. It was a steep improvement from the original effort, low a bar as that was, but I still ended up putting it away.

                This one got dropped for a variety of reasons, one of the most fundamental being that I simply cannot seem to write mystery books in a way that satisfies me. Now I know, there are running mysteries through most of my books, but that’s not the same as writing an actual mystery novel. There are different expectations of the genre and stylistic elements that are expected, and for whatever reason I just cannot seem to hit them. As I keep working and my craft improves, I hope that will change one day, but just like admitting I was shitty at self-editing allowed me to overcome the issue by hiring more editors, acknowledging a weakness is an essential part of working past it, and I suck at writing mystery books currently.

                The other issue with this one was that it wasn’t especially… unique. My usual style of humor was in there, yet it still all felt rather generic. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it makes it harder to feel compelled to finish a project. If I’m working on something it feels like only I can write, there’s more urgency to get it into the world; so the absence of that unique factor can become a heavy anchor on a project.

 

                As I have said many, many times before: There’s nothing wrong with failure. Especially not in this job, where you’ll have to cope with a ton of it. You will have projects that don’t come together, you will have to strip your manuscript down for parts, you will shelve things that represent hours and hours of work. That’s part of the process, part of learning to be better. Just make sure you take the time to recognize what made something fail to come together, learn the lessons that failure is here to teach. That’s how you avoid hitting those same pitfalls in the future.

A Message From the Thunder Pear Publishing Fixer

                As many of you know, Thunder Pear Publishing is a… unique company, which is to say one that experiences challenges and accomplishments differently than most major corporations. One would be hard-pressed to locate another publisher where drinking games are incorporated into all key business meetings, or where employees will settle departmental disputes via confetti cannon duels. Most of you don’t know me, however, despite having been here since nearly the start. My name is… never mind that, you prying fuck. What’s it say on my business cards? Oh, right, Percival Q. Anonymous, but if you see me in the halls (good luck), feel free to shorten it to Mr. Percival.

                I am employed as the Thunder Pear Publishing “fixer”, and while I love my job, things have gotten more complicated in the last few years. With Mr. Hayes’ implied permission, although nothing that would hold up in court just as I taught him, I’ve been allowed to write a direct missive to all current employees in hopes of making my job, and the company’s running as a whole, go smoother. You’re probably surprised, having found it on your pet’s collar or under your favorite bottle of booze, but in this company we don’t leave digital trails. Be sure you burn yours afterward, and definitely do not let any of these leak onto the internet like all those memos from HR.

                But I digress. There’s a point to this message, and its thesis is simply this: Either stop doing so much illegal shit, or put in a modicum of effort covering it up. To drill down into specifics, let’s take last weekend for example. Several employees decorated bikes like parade dragons, stuck the names of different manuscripts on each, and had a demolition derby until only one dragon was left standing to determine what book we would option. All perfectly fine, except that they held the event during a bike race, and used the other riders as fodder in the derby. Let me tell you, getting all the evidence from that scene so it didn’t tie back to us was no small task. That reminds me: Sara, you left your driver’s license at the location. Pick it up at the front desk on Monday.

                This was a single example, mind you. These are the sorts of things I deal with daily. For those wondering if this message applies to you, I’m going to attach a few more suggestions and examples to make sure my point is properly being conveyed. Things such as:

                -Keeping in-house jokes actually in-house. Last August, when lighting one another’s desk on fire was the prank du jour, it was just a matter of bribing the people who oversee the fire department to get past the fine. Then an employee decided to take it out of these doors and torch the counter of a local barista. To be fair, he was shorting you all in those mixed drinks, so Mr. Hayes opted to let it go, but there were far better ways to deal with the situation than lighter fluid and a hastily thrown match. Did you learn nothing from our last Earth Day Open Flame Jamboree?

                -Kill more pragmatically. Listen, I get it. A salesperson sneaks their way into the office, you show them to the special elevator that drops people into the furnace, no problem. It’s company policy, and honestly if they ignored all the warning signs about solicitors and death in the lobby it’s really on them. Where we get into trouble is when some of you decide to get a little creative with the process. People using toasters, letter-openers, even a sandwich in one instance, to vent frustration before tossing them down the elevator shaft. The problem is, someone still has to deal with all the blood and other evidence now adorning the break room, and that someone is me. To be fair, this particular issue has decreased substantially since we transferred out the sociopath/vengeance department to an off-site location, but a few of you are still towing the line and it serves as a fine example regardless.

                -Make some effort toward discretion. We all know Thunder Pear Publishing is a workplace that doesn’t harp too hard on things like substance abuse. Technically speaking, the only substances specifically banned from being on company grounds are sweet potatoes, because Mr. Hayes considers their taste a crime against humanity and all known gods. However, that doesn’t mean laws don’t still exist. Granted, whoever got the idea to sell shroom King Cakes during Mardi Gras did help account for our most profitable quarter ever, but generally speaking hocking illicit substances on the street is considered a no-no. We had to bribe a lot of people to skate by on that one.

                -Minimize dealing with extra-dimensional entities. Sooner or later, every Thunder Pear Publishing employee tries to use one of the magical doorways or hidden runes to summon a being from beyond the mortal realm and advance their career. That’s fine, it’s part of our quarterly review and advancement system, so Mr. Hayes certainly wouldn’t want me telling you not to do that. My request is simply that you limit those occasions to when they are purely necessary. Not to name names, but we’ve had instances of people making summons and sacrifices for things not company related. Also, one of the creatures of forgotten stares and screaming laughter had a message for me to pass on: Stop trying to bring back Firefly. They used all their clout on the movie, and now their hands are tied. Go figure, Hollywood has access to better monsters than us.

                -Lastly, please keep our feuds with the nearby businesses in reason. Building an annoying paper arch with streamers over the entrance to Sam Goody, perfectly fine. Gas-lighting the man who runs the grocery/shoe store, Whole Soles, into thinking he’s slowly turning into a werewolf, that’s taking things a bit far. Although whoever drained that deer carcass and left it in his bed, come see me on Monday. We might have a better position to offer someone with those skills. The point is, keep the darker stuff in-house. If they wanted to live like that, they’d apply during our annual hiring fair. On a side-note: how is there still a Sam Goody open, let alone one on this block? Did somebody waste a blood-storm ritual?

                You all have my thanks in advance for your cooperation. Remember, all “fixer” services are provided at the discretion of Thunder Pear Publishing and can be revoked if they are deemed to be abused. Except emergency beer runs. The right to that one is in your employment contract.

 

-Percival Q. Anonymous, Vice President of [REDACTED] in charge of [REDACTED].

Drew Tries Stuff: Cheeto Crispies

                For those who follow me on Snapchat (username: thunderpear) you got a sneak peek on this a few weeks back. As it happens, I was scrolling through the internet as I am prone to do, and what should I stumble upon but a link for someone advocating the idea of Cheeto Crispies, a version of Rice Crispies Treats that substitutes the obvious cereal for semi-crushed Cheetos instead. It was bizarre, unexpected, and seemed like there was no way it could taste good. Except… some people were claiming it did. Well, you know the drill by now folks. Where there’s weird shit to experience (and use for content) Drew is there to step in and give it a try so you won’t have to.

 

Cheeto Crispies

                Unlike a shitty listicle site, I’m not going to bury the lead at the bottom of the page. You came to hear about Cheeto Crispies, and damnit that’s what I’m going to talk about first. Before we get into the results, however, it’s only fair that I disclose my process. Recipes vary, and changing one of the few ingredients here, even by a small amount, could result in different outcomes. So, for transparency, this is the recipe I used to make the Cheeto Crispies, and all following experiments. Feel free to wield it at home yourself and test out some new dishes of your own.

                Okay, now that you know how to make Cheeto Crispies, here’s the real question: do you want to? The results of my experiment were… varied. I had some friends over to test with me, well aware that one palate makes a poor sample size. In general, the consensus was that the creation was in the realm of “fine”. It was like a more buttery, savory Cheeto. I’ve heard that some people substitute the Flaming Hot Cheetos to get more kick, but no one really wanted to eat that, me included. Most people finished their samples; however no one went back for seconds. I would deem this one as worth trying for the experience and fun pictures alone, just don’t show up to a potluck with this as your sole contribution.

 

Sweeto Crispies

                This idea hit before I’d even bought the supplies for the Cheeto Crispies. It seemed like such an obvious leap, if one is turning Cheetos into a dessert then why not also try it with the dessert version of Cheetos? For those who haven’t had them before, Sweetos come in caramel or cinnamon-sugar flavor. After extensive thought and deliberation, I went with the caramel version because it was the only one my local store had. Alone, the Sweetos are okay, a real deep caramel flavor tinged by the obvious artificiality of the source.

                As a crispie, this one was actually markedly improved by the change. Putting in butter and marshmallow added some sweetness while rounding out the caramel notes, making a product that was far superior to its unaltered state. This one was widely enjoyed, and felt like something that you would actually serve rather than merely a food gimmick. The drawback here is that caramel, butter and marshmallow end up making something rich as fuck when added all together. It was good, yes, just a very heavy kind of good that no one wanted too much of. People will enjoy this if you bring it to a party, just don’t be offended if the pan isn’t scraped clean.

 

Cinnamon Toast Crunch Crispies (CTCC)

                Not writing that one every time for obvious reasons, but the CTCC came from a revelation while I was making Cheeto Crispies. If I could replace the Rice Crispies with Cheetos or Sweetos, then why not just use another cereal? A better cereal, one with flavor of its own rather than something to serve as a conveyance vessel. Like any person with taste, one of my favorite cereals is Cinnamon Toast Crunch, so I of course had some in the pantry. With extra butter and marshmallows to work with, this was an easy call.

                Here, I must admit, I began to see the wisdom in using Rice Crispies. Don’t get me wrong, CTCC were everything you want them to be. Sweetness, with a punch from the cinnamon and a nice marshmallow aftertaste on the tongue. Unfortunately, sweetness also proved to be something of a problem. Like the Sweeto Crispies before, there’s a lot going on here, and adding marshmallow kicks up the sweetness at times to levels even I found a bit much, and I functionally have the palate of a nine-year old. I’m not saying don’t make these, I enjoyed mine overall and I wasn’t the only one. I’m just going to say that this taste pretty much exactly like you’re imagining, whether that’s good or bad depends on how you feel about the imagined taste. Search yourself, and you’ll know whether this is a dish you should make or not.

 

Rice Crispies Treats

                So sue me, I made the OG to establish a standard of comparison. Also, eating almost Rice Crispies Treats for a while will give you a hankering for the real deal. Fucking delicious, as always, a simple and effective recipe that balances sweetness with something a tad bland to mellow everything out. If you’re going to make one of these fancy versions anyway, just buy a bigger bag of marshmallows and whip up the classic as well. No one can complain if you show up with both the avant-garde and the traditional, ready to please both crowds.

                Or just show up with beer. That generally goes over well too.

Never Asked Questions 3

                Yes folks, it’s time for that much beloved segment that only I among all authors am brave enough to host: Never Asked Questions. It’s the segment where I answer the questions no one is asking, really challenging the status quo. Don’t worry, the brain spiders are on vacation this week, evidently they have a con of their own where they meet up and discuss better ways to overpower their hosts, so while next week will surely involve a fresh battle for control of my own body, this one is mercifully spider-free. So, before they get back, let’s kick this one off!

 

Q: How do I know when fish is fresh enough to be eaten as sushi without risk of disease or parasites?

A: Wow. Um. Holy shit, I have legitimately no clue. Smell, maybe? Fuck, that’s answering a question with a question. Yeah, I’m just going to say I don’t know, my food prep experience is limited to standard cooking skills and a few years working as a waiter. Guess there might be good reasons people haven’t asked me some of these.

 

Q: What’s the worst part of writing a book?

A: The middle. Always the middle. In the beginning, you have ideas and excitement. At the end, everything is taking shape and you have the magic of it all coming together on the page to urge you on. The middle is the rough patch. Self-doubt kicks in hard, you wonder if any of this will be good, and on the worst days it can dampen even scenes you’re excited about writing. That’s part of why practice is important, it gives you enough experience to know that this too shall pass, and you’ll start feeling good again soon.

 

Q: What’s one business tip for writers you haven’t heard anywhere else?

A: When you’re flying out to do conventions and bringing books in your suitcase, be sure to research each airline’s seat-upgrade system and how it relates to other perks, like checked bags. Some will allow you to do an upgrade at the airport for a deeply discounted rate. Even bumping from economy to business can include a checked bag and priority security screenings. Those aren’t much, but they can save you money on paying for a bag and allow more time working the convention. In a few cases, bumping up was outright cheaper than paying for a suitcase stuffed full of books (and padding). This won’t work all the time, but it comes in cheaper often enough to be worth the research.

 

Q: Is it worth it to do a podcast?

A: Monetarily… probably for some people, but I wouldn’t count on being one. We have a fair audience for Authors & Dragons, and even with that you can see how much we make on our Patreon, its publicly available right there on the site. Even with that, we pour all the money back into the podcast, using it for editing, comics, and bonus episodes to give the listeners more. So, yeah, if you want to make cash from a podcast there’s probably a better use of your time. But if you want to make something you enjoy, with friends you like spending time around, then I’d say a podcast is more than worth it.

 

Q: What, if any, part of this job do you hate?

A: I hesitate to say this is an aspect of the job, more the nature of going into business for one’s self, but if pressed I’d say the lack of stability is the one part I’d change. There is something to be said for a job where you know for sure that if you put in the hours your paycheck will be there. I can spend months working on a book, only for it to flop, or could simply fade from people’s minds if I’m not keeping up enough output of content. It’s an aspect that spurs me on to keep working and producing at my notoriously brisk rate, but can also be a real anchor on the brain during rough patches.

 

Q: How many readings/events have you shown up for drunk?

A: First off, I can’t believe this one is being used in the Never Asked Questions segment, step up your game various interviewers. Secondly, while I’ve never done any public appearance drunk (finding me stumbling around after closing hours for a con doesn’t count) I’ve brought beers to a few panels, most often to beat back hangovers. As a man who is already loud and prone to talking more than his share, too much booze would threaten to make me intolerable in a professional setting, so just like in the old cubicle days I keep my sipping light until all the work is done.

 

Q: How much of what we all see is pageantry instead of the real Drew?

A: As a blessing and a curse, I didn’t know much about branding or marketing when I first started, so I never considered constructing an alter-ego. That’s the reason why I didn’t use a pen name even though it would have made life worlds easier, and why the version of me I showed you all is a sincere aspect of my personality. Now obviously, some parts get emphasized in a public setting, I’m not doing shots on a Tuesday in my everyday life. But if it’s a release day, then I’m going to celebrate, and you best believe I’m enjoying those shots. So I would say what you see is always real, albeit with some aspects of my personality more emphasized given the nature of the events/celebrations.

 

Q: What is your favorite place to visit?

A: For cons, so far, I think I’ve enjoyed Seattle the most. I’ve never been to a bad city, but the Seattle location was downtown, allowing me to see a lot of the city in my free time. Great food, super nice people, and cool stuff to look at it made it the current front-runner for me. In general? I love beaches, but that’s not really a “place” so instead I’ll say Vegas. Maybe it’s because of the mix of classiness and trashiness that speaks to my nature (got an interesting family history) or just the excitement of always having stuff to do, but I love hitting that place every few years when I can.

 

                That’s enough for this month’s Never Asked Questions. If you’ll excuse me, I just heard a door open and thousands of legs skittering through the foyer, so it appears I have some returning guests to deal with. We’ll see how many survive the array of traps I set-up to hinder… shit, all of them made it through. Guess it’s time for the backup plan, a hammer and a fighting stance.

Evolving Endings

                We’ve talked about endings a few times now, enough that most of you know my philosophy toward them is that you should never start a series without knowing where it’s going to end. Having that last plot point in mind allows you to build over the course of the series, ensuring you’ve laid the proper groundwork so that the conclusion will be enjoyable and satisfying for the reader. Yet sometimes, stories run longer than expected, or go in directions that are better, but not originally planned.

                What do you do when the story you’re writing is no longer best served by the ending you had in mind? Course-correct back to the initial storyline plan, or lean into the turn and adapt your ending to serve this new narrative? The answer will, as everyone should have guessed by now, vary between authors and projects. Rather than breaking down all the different pros and cons in theory, today I wanted to try analyzing an ending that’s famous for falling into this pithole and dig into what made it not work.

                Luckily, I’ve got an easy, recent example that (based on the ratings) most people should be at least passingly familiar with: How I Met Your Mother. Spoiler warning for the end of the series, although since it’s been done for four years maybe just watch it already if you really want to. Anyway, HIMYM is the tale of Ted Mosby (architect) telling his kids the loooooong story of how he eventually met their mother. Meeting the mother was always going to be the end bit, it’s baked into the show’s structure. So the series finale arrives, we see Ted and the mother finally get together… only for us to realize she died several years into their marriage (after having the kids) and this story is actually about Ted realizing he wants to go after Robin again. He does, she seems receptive, implied happy ending.

                So here’s the thing, if this ending had come at the end of say… seasons 1 – 3, I think it would have gone over well. Ted and Robin still seemed meant to be, a lot of fans were rooting for them, and having them end up together at the end despite all the hurdles they faced might have landed well if they’d done it right. But season 4 starts a new plot-thread (technically it kicked off in 3 when Barney is hit by a bus, but that was just alluding to it) where Barney has feelings for Robin. Once that plot starts, it begins the unraveling of the idea that Ted and Robin should be together. Because in making that storyline float, they have to illustrate all of the many reasons that Ted and Robin actually aren’t a great fit, and every season after feels like it drills the point home over and over. All of Ted’s moves on Robin are seen as mistakes and back-sliding, meanwhile they start building a real story between Robin and Barney.

                The final season, in fact, is entirely centered on Robin and Barney’s wedding. Now while that was a questionable choice in itself, the commitment to that original ending meant that after a whole season of watching Barney and Robin come to terms with their love and relationship to one another, we undo it all in a quick montage of the future. Whether they should have ended up happily-ever-after is almost irrelevant, a full fucking season that got spent showing us how well they work together in a relationship is going to be hard to swallow when you cap it with a “whoops, never mind” at the end. But of course, they had to be split up, because how else would Ted and Robin end up together?

                This is what I meant when I said a story can “run too long” for the original ending to work. These characters have changed and evolved in ways that were never imagined when the story was first conceived of. The need for new plots and relationships pushed the characters in directions that made the original ending no longer a good fit. We’ve seen Ted go for Robin and fail too many times to think this one will be different. What’s more, the show itself did an extensive job showing us why these two characters shouldn’t be together. Beyond that, the actress who played the mother (Tracy) was a great casting choice who had solid chemistry with Ted, so seeing her snuffed out left a bad taste in plenty of mouths.

                Point being, after nine seasons, the ending they had planned didn’t work, and the show lost a lot of its luster subsequently. So, how could they have avoided this? There are a few methods, but none that don’t come with drawbacks of their own.

-Tight-scripting: Some shows know the story they want to tell, and go in with a set number of seasons to do it. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is about to launch its final season purely because the story is nearly over. Gravity Falls did it. Lost was supposed to do it, and serves as a good cautionary tale of what loosening the scripts can do. For authors, this means locking ourselves in to a set number of books/post/iterations to get the story told, preventing ourselves from pushing it out and adding elements that might require a new ending. The trouble here is that you have to pretty much start with this strategy to use it, not much help when you’re already in a series and facing the dilemma.

-Shift the ending. Despite what I’ve said before, it is okay to change an ending if you need to. Usually, you can get away with doing tweaks. Example: In SP: Year 3, Nathaniel wasn’t originally the one to lead that final attack. That got shifted as the story evolved in earlier books and he became a natural person to fill the role. Your ending should probably still be shaped similarly to the original, especially if you want to have all your foreshadowing work, but even that’s malleable if we’re talking about a single book rather than a series. For HIMYM, the solution here might have been to accept that the relationships had changed, and Ted with Robin was no longer a true happy ending. Tracy’s death was a (lightly hinted at) twist anyway, so ripping it out wouldn’t have even required much change in the build-up. This isn’t always possible in every story, but it’s a technique you shouldn’t be afraid to bust out when the occasion demands it.

-Keep tight reins on the characters. The other way to have avoided this was to never put Barney and Robin in the romantic story-arc to begin with. Even though it made for some good narrative moments, the writers would have had to be self-aware enough to say “No, wait, if we do this we risk completely fucking up the emotional core of the ending.” Obviously, they didn’t go that route; however it doesn’t mean you can’t. When you come up with new plots or ideas, set them against what you have planned. Does this new angle substantially change the stakes/feelings/goals/etc of those involved? Will it fundamentally alter the world in a way that shifts the course of where the tale should be heading? You might not be able to figure that out early in a new idea’s conception, but it should be something to watch for as the new storylines take shape. Pay close attention to all the impacts and preemptively shut down options that put the ending at risk. The flaw with this one is that it cuts off a lot of avenues for letting the characters grow organically, occasionally putting you in a position to choose between the character development and the story as a whole.

                I hope this helps some of you keep aware of your endings, and how to care for them in the middle of a story. Don’t be afraid to change them, if the story demands it, and don’t under-estimate how important a finale can be. The ending of a story is the last taste left in the reader’s mouth, so we should always try and make sure it’s a satisfying one.

One Month to Con Carolinas!

                Oh shit y’all. It’s the first Friday of May, which means June is just around the corner. Why does that matter? Well, you already read the title of this blog, so you know it’s going to talk about my upcoming attendance of Con Carolinas, doesn’t take much deduction to put it all together. Con Carolinas will kick off on Friday, June 1st, but lucky you there is still time to buy tickets and book flights. What can you expect at this upcoming event in Charlotte, North Carolina?

                1. The full A&D crew. That’s right people, for the second year in a row we will have the entire Authors & Dragons cast present at a convention. Steve Wetherell’s GoFundMe hit its goal, so our British member will be crossing an ocean to join me, John Hartness, Robert Bevan, Joseph Brassey, and Rick Gualtieri for idiotic shenanigans. That doesn’t just mean we’ll be doing panels and hosting our annual live game (although both of those things will definitely happen), it also means we’ll be lumped up in one space, egging each other on to stupidity. For any of our Mimic Chest subscribers, you know exactly how that’s going to turn out, and our idiocy should make for solid entertainment.

                2. The behind the scenes A&D documentary. I know generally these blogs are half-joking and half-serious, as I fill the entries with real events and obvious gags, so I want to take a moment and be clear: this is real. It’s part of the reward for Steve’s GoFundMe. On top of recording our live game on video, he’ll also be getting footage of some panels we’re working (where other panelists approve of tapings), the general partying/silliness we get into, and a few bits that I’ll leave as a surprise. There might be a way for non-donators to see it eventually, but if you want to get in on the ridiculousness then you’ll have to show up in person.

                3. Drew will drunk-fight a cardboard cut-out. There’s really no telling when it will happen, or how, or even what liquor will cause it (probably tequila) but based on historical evidence I have no choice but to conclude that the con will feature me getting into fisticuffs with a fake person made out of cardboard. Given my track-record, I clearly can’t promise to win, so all I can say is that I’ll make it a hell of a fight that amuses all who see it.

                4. Panels! I don’t have a full schedule to release just yet, that comes closer to the actual con, but I’m happy to report that the A&D crew will be all over that panel selection. Come watch us drag down any attempts at serious discussion and probably send at least a few real topics off the rails without even meaning to. At this point, I think you know what you’re getting from this crowd. And, for those who are eagle-eyed with a schedule, you might notice there’s at least one panel that’s just the A&D authors. Make sure to come to that one, and bring beer. If we don’t kick things off by proposing a drinking game, you should still be able to come up with one on the fly.

                5. John has promised to start his own Surprise Royal Rumble at some point during the con. We won’t know when, but suddenly an announcer will come over the intercom, and at that point every author in the place is fair game. Anyone who puts both feet on the floor outside the convention areas is disqualified, meaning we’ve got to shove, lift, or toss our peers, and the winner gets… probably a free book or something, we’re all cheap bastards. Will it absolutely wreck the entire building? Of course. Will it be an event no attendee can ever forget? That kind of depends on the number of concussions.

                6. Steve’s first Taco Bell experience. Again, this is real. Did you know there aren’t many Taco Bells in Steve’s area of Britain? We didn’t until he mentioned having never eaten there before. As part of his trip to America this time, we’ll be taking him out to have his first Taco Bell dining experience. He’s also promised to vlog about the following experience, although hopefully he won’t shoot video of the act itself. We might end up having to burn all the footage and bury it on consecrated ground, but on life sometimes you have to take risks.

                7. Shingles books in print. Want our weird series on your shelf? Um… why? Nevermind, not my place to ask. Point is, we’re planning to have print versions of our Shingles books at the con, meaning you can get a whole signed set, something that won’t exist anywhere until that convention. Hop on the bandwagon before the audio compilation sets the world on fire, and you can say you were reading Shingles before it was the cool thing to do. Even better, you’ll have physical evidence to back that shit up.

                8. The bear counter-attack. Remember last year when A&D did CONtraflow, only Joseph couldn’t make it because he was up in the mountains dueling bears? Yeah, turns out the bears are kind of pissed about that. Joe’s been seeing weird claw-marks on his door lately, two “C”’s in a row, with tufts of fur left behind. Near as we can figure, that means the bears will strike at Con Carolinas. While that might seem like a reason to avoid the convention, remember, these bears aren’t looking for revenge because Joe lost those duels. And this time, he won’t be honor-bound to hold back. Basically you can watch Joe sword-fight a bunch of angry bears. Does Dragon Con have that? Shit, they’re pretty big, they might. Well, so what, ours will still be done drunker!

                9. Power hours. I may not know when or which, but there will be power hours aplenty at this event. If we’re lucky and get some space, I might even be able to invite interested folks to come join us. One day, I hope to do an official one of these, but until we can figure out the legality entailed in such an enterprise, we’ll have to keep putting them together where we time allows and bringing in as many folks as we can.

                10. Us. Just us, hanging out at the sales tables in-between panels. You can come get stuff signed, I don’t require you buy from me at the con or any bullshit like that. Or you can come get a physical version of a favorite book; I will have some to sell. You’re also welcome to just shoot the shit if you like. We’re coming for you folks, so we’ll be as available as possible. Whether it’s for books, a signature, or just a few words, feel free to come swing by. I love these cons, but it’s the readers who show up that really make them worth attending.

The Importance of Structure

                Of all the things you expect to grapple with when becoming a full-time writer, your own schedule isn’t one that occurs to a lot of people. We worry about making rent, keeping the booze bills at bay, and continuing to produce the level of content that allowed us to reach this point, yet the schedule isn’t something that leaps out as a major concern. But it probably should be, because for many people who strike out on their own the sudden lack of structure can be just as big of a productivity hindrance as writer’s block or unexpected bills.

                What do I mean by structure? It’s the sort of daily schedule that you take for granted in a regular job. Wake up at a certain time because you need to be in the office by a specific hour, take lunch when your schedule permits, get home, deal with dinner, go to bed so you can wake up in time to do it all again tomorrow. When you go self-employed, most of that flies right out the window. No one tells me when to wake up. No meetings dictate when I can take lunch. I don’t have a compelling reason to sleep at a certain time because, again, no one is telling me when to wake up. If that sounds like paradise to you, in some ways it is. What it isn’t, however, is conductive to high amounts of productivity. No schedule means no dedicated time to working, and for many folks that kicks their writing plans right in the ass.

                So, how do you avoid falling into that trap? Well, the exact answer will change from person to person, but I have seen a lot of authors (self-included) dodge it by using some manner of structure to schedule their time and self-imposed daily requirements. As we get into specifics, it’s important to establish upfront that when I talk about my own or other authors writing habits, I’m not implying that our schedules are the correct ones to use. What matters isn’t that you have our structure, only that you have a structure, one that fits your needs and output requirements.

                Ideally, you’ll end up with some sort of productive routine. Maybe you wake up at a decent hour that fits your lifestyle, do some light exercise or hit the gym, shower, and then start on writing. Some authors like to plan out X number of hours in a day that they have to spend working on their books, no matter how much content they produce. Others, like me, prefer to work within a quota method, where I’m done when a certain amount of work is complete regardless of how long that takes. But that’s just one way to build the structure: other writers will work in any spare time they have while on a project, then put it all completely out of mind while resting. Some do 1,000 words every day rain or shine, others treat it like a day job and only work on weekdays. Whatever works for you is perfectly fine; the point is to have some level of accountability keeping you on task.

                When I talk about this idea, on the need for structure, the main piece of rebuttal I get is from people who think that striking out on your own means you only work when you want to. And you can do that, if you want. Maybe you’ll be the one in a billion to make it work. But far more likely, you won’t be able to maintain the necessary level of output to keep your head fiscally above water. Virtually no one gets rich off one book, or even one dozen books. There is always a need for fresh content, both for the readers who already like your work and to catch the eye of those who haven’t yet discovered your books. I’ve talked before about how writing only when you’re in the perfect mood is a hard way to make a living, one that doesn’t work for most authors. The vast majority of us have to write constantly, and that includes on days when we feel less creative than others. Having a structure helps get you into that habit, establishes the idea that you do have deliverables every week, even if they are only deliverable to you. Eventually, all those deadlines will stack together and you’ll find yourself with a finished book in your hands months, maybe years, ahead of when it would have wrapped if you only worked when the mood struck.

                I know for a lot of folks out there, the idea of putting yourself on a schedule right after gaining your independence seems counter-productive, but ultimately it’s a very different experience when you’re reporting to yourself rather than a boss representing a nameless corporation. Once you take this job full-time, everything that happens, or fails to happen, is on you. Putting in the effort of building a structure early on will pay-off huge as your efforts continue and grow, and for some might make the difference between a few years they spent living as a writer and the start of a full-blown career.

My Experience With Medical Marijuana

                Although I’m usually more known for my love of booze, given that today is both a blog day and 4/20, it seemed if there was ever going to be a fitting opportunity to tackle this topic, this is the best window I’m likely to get. We’ll start with a few caveats, the first of which is that if you’re unfamiliar with the fact that I have psoriatic arthritis, you might want to catch up on that first, it plays a part in today’s blog. Additionally, while society as a whole has gotten pretty chill about marijuana in the last decade, our Attorney General is a doll made from racist dog turds and brought to life through dark magic. So, for the sake of legality, let’s just assume any time I talk about using marijuana below, it was in a state where such actions were legally permitted, even if I don’t add details. Cool? Cool.

                It might surprise you to learn this, given my overall “shitshow” demeanor, but I was never much of a weed guy growing up. Maybe it’s because there wasn’t as much in the small town where I grew up, so opportunities to try it were limited, maybe it’s because I came from a heavy drinking culture, but regardless I made it through high school and college without ever really going down that road. I don’t say that as a brag, so much as I do to establish that when I finally did turn to cannabis, it was for actual medical purposes.

                As stated above, I have psoriatic arthritis, and have for about six or seven years now. The problem was that for the first three of those, I went improperly diagnosed due to not presenting the psoriasis symptoms. Unfortunately, being misdiagnosed meant I was also being mistreated, and regular arthritis drugs generally do dick all to help with PA. For those three years, I was more or less living in some level of constant pain. Not to shock a ton of you, but my drinking also picked up in those days, trying to numb the ever-present ache in my joints, yet even that wasn’t especially effective. With the months wearing on and the pain not subsiding, I eventually decided to try something new. I’d been hearing for a long time that marijuana was good for this exact kind of situation, so after reaching out to a few friends who I knew smoked, I decided it was time to give going green a whirl.

                Much as I would like to tell you I took one hit and suddenly the world exploded into pain-free magical unicorns, I can’t. The purpose of writing this is to talk about the drug and its effects honestly, and the truth is that smoking didn’t make all my pain vanish. It did, however, make it ignorable, and I really cannot say I could distinguish much between that and the unicorn magic version after lugging that pain around for years. It was the first evening in a long time that I had managed to get a good night’s sleep, without my hip and shoulders searing at the slightest movements. I felt true, genuine relief, the kind that booze and the parade of pointless prescriptions could never manage to offer.

                Despite what you might think, I didn’t suddenly go whole hog onto the marijuana band wagon. Giving it a try was one thing, but at the time I still had a day-job where testing was possible, and certainly wasn’t living in a state where I had regular, legal access to a supply. Would that have been different, in our current climate? Now that you can get CBD just about anywhere and lots of states are opening up legal options… maybe. I can’t really say what I would have done in the past with different circumstances. But the point is that even though I didn’t jump all the way on to weed treatment, just having it as an option made a difference. I knew that if I really, really had to take a break from my pain, there was a method out there. Although that might not seem like much, when you’ve lived for years without that option, it makes a huge change in your mentality. Having at least one thing that works gives you hope that maybe someday, you’ll find another.

                In my case, I eventually did. Once I was finally diagnosed properly, I was given Humira, which almost completely obliterated my symptoms. Now, that drug has a few issues of its own, but compared to some of the side-effects from the meds I was getting they’re basically negligible, and it’s a shitload better than just living with the pain. I’m lucky, though. Not every form of arthritis out there has a silver bullet drug. Hell, for plenty of people with PA, even Humira doesn’t always give such stellar results. Thankful as I am to have found my treatment, I know a lot of folks out there are still gritting their teeth and bearing through the pain, because its literally the only choice they think they have.

                Eventually, I did get more into marijuana on a recreational level, my goal here is not to try and claim some moral high-ground (unintended pun) of how to use. No, my point is to simply to serve as one of countless examples to those who oppose it entirely and truly don’t think there is any purpose to this drug beyond the fun recreational use celebrated today. My journey wasn’t easy, yet there are so many going through so much worse, and I can’t even imagine how much that small patch of relief means to them. As we move toward legality and usage becomes common-place, it can be easy to forget about the reason that got this push going in the first place: there are people out there who sincerely need this treatment.

               Whether you use medically, recreationally, or not at all, I hope you have plenty of fun today. And if you’re someone struggling with a condition, still searching for some method that offers respite, and today is the day you finally give weed a try, I hope it helps, even just a little. Because sometimes even a little relief makes a huge difference.

Revisiting Kindle Unlimited

                As most of you know, I’ve recently been working within Kindle Unlimited (KU) again since I needed to be in the program to do promotion of the Super Powereds series for the Year 4 release. It’s been a while since I lasted talked about the system of KU, and its undergone some changes, so it seemed a good time to re-look at the program, assessing its strengths and weaknesses. KU probably won’t be the right fit for every person or project, but it is a useful tool in the correct situations, and one you should certainly consider when evaluating new releases.

 

From Borrows to Page Views

                To start things off, the biggest change from the old KU is the way authors are paid for their work. In the original version, you were paid for each borrow of one of your works, and then at the end of the month the pot of cash was split up between the total number of borrowed books. So, say you had 1,000 books get borrowed in a month, the fund had a million dollars in it, and ten million books in total were borrowed across the whole program. That means each borrow is worth $0.10, netting you $100 in KU royalty for the month. Fair as that seems at the outset, not all books are of equal length, which caused friction, and there was an influx of scammers pumping out one page pamphlets that flooded the market and watered down the fund.

                To combat this, Amazon changed the system. Now, the payout is determined by pages read. So, again, let’s say there’s a million dollars in the fund for a given month. A hundred million pages are read, and of those 10,000 were from your books. Same formula applies as above, meaning each page is worth substantially less than a full book, but longer works are now compensated proportionally so long as they can keep a reader’s attention. Of course, this system has issues as well, especially for works that lean heavily on illustration such as children’s books or comics. It does at least strive for a higher level of fairness though, and had the added benefit of turning the scam-pamphlets worthless. Those numbers are all theoretical, however. For actual payouts, we have to look back at recent history.

 

Does it Pay?

                I always dislike leaning too hard on these parts of the blogs, I know most authors picked this career out of passion, because there are much easier ways to make rent. Still, when one goes full-time it’s a consideration that must be taken into account, so we need to dig in at least a little.

                Because the amount of money in the fund is based on subscribers, and it is doled out by number of pages read, there’s never going to be a perfectly consistent rate-per-page on KU. That said, looking back through the years it tends to fall between $0.004 - $0.005 every month. Since we’re simplifying for the sake of brevity, let’s use $0.0045 as our number today. That means if you write a 300 page (roughly 100,000 words) book, every time someone reads it cover to cover you make $1.35. Depending on your price point, that’s probably less than you’d make from a normal sale, however there are two things to consider: 1) Amazon doesn’t take 30% from KU like they do royalties, meaning the two numbers are often closer than it seems, and 2) Not every KU read would have translated to a sale. We’ve talked about it before, but it is important to remember that some folks will take a risk on a “free” (KU costs $10 a month) book rather than one they have to pay for. It gives writers an in they may have otherwise missed, and has the potential to create new fans.

                So, as I opened this section by asking… does it pay? Yes, to varying extents, especially if you write longer books. In fact, for some books it’s actually more profitable to have them read on KU, although you usually have to be either pricing them very low or producing books of my length to see that. Whether it will pay for you individually is of course a case-by-case basis, but hopefully now you’ve got enough information to run some estimations. Ah, but there is the catch, and it hasn’t gone anywhere.

 

They Still Demand Exclusivity

                Honestly, if not for this, I think KU would be one of the greatest options available to writers. While sometimes the money doesn’t even out on a specific project, the gains to be had from being able to do promotions, getting visibility, and enticing new readers with a free option would still easily weigh hard in KU’s favor. But that damn exclusivity makes it all more complicated. It means going KU cuts off all other avenues, retail and free. You can’t be on Nook, can’t be on iTunes, and, as we all can see from the currently unavailable sections on this very site, can’t even post the content for free on your own venue.

                The stints are only for 3 months at a time, at least, which does allow you to play with other venues and see if outside sales can off-set the loss of KU funds. I should also note that the exclusivity applies to ebook only, audio and print versions are free to be distributed through whatever avenue you like. Nevertheless, this bit is a real sticking point for a lot of people, self-included. Not just because it feels dangerous giving one platform that much power, which yeah holy shit trust me when I say authors are concerned about that, but also because I hate taking away any potential reader’s preferred method of delivery. I know a lot of people love their Nooks/Kobos/etc and don’t want to switch over, which is completely fair. And while it’s true that Kindle is an app available on virtually all smart devices, that’s still going to be limiting for some folks.

                I’m not saying this one is an automatic deal-breaker; obviously there are times when the sacrifice is worth it. But it is a real knock against the program as a whole, and one that should absolutely be considered when deciding whether or not KU is the right fit for your project.

 

In Conclusion

                As with most publishing/advertising options, this isn’t a one-size fits all. For certain books, it will make sense to be in KU, for others it works better to go wide. You can even do what I’m having to do with the serials, which is jump in and out as promotional needs demand. Just make sure you do your research so you can feel confident in whichever direction you take. And keep abreast of changes, because KU is an ever-evolving beast, and what’s true in this blog may not be so forever.

What is Success?

                Fair warning upfront: this one might get a little esoteric, so I hope you’ll all bear with me. One of the weirder parts of writing for a living is that there really aren’t many consistent career checkpoints to be aware of. In a corporate structure, your career is often defined by such markers in the proverbial road. Every year, you’ll sit down with a manager, talk about how you’ve been doing, and look at the career path you want to be on. Are you angling to run a certain department? Then you should already know the promotions and accreditations necessary to make it there, and are likely working toward it daily.

                Working in the arts is different. While I’m sure this is equally true for those who paint, sculpt, act, etc, I only have professional experience in writing, so that’s what we’ll focus on. Go onto the Kindle forums and a frequent topic you can find with little searching is someone asking how many sales it takes before you are considered a “successful” author. That’s because “success” is so ill-defined in this business that it’s hard to have any idea where you fall in comparison to others.

                Momentarily setting aside the fact that comparing yourself to others can be problematic in a lot of ways, there is something to be said for an idea of scale. I’ve talked about it before, but there’s a persistent conception out there that writers are either rich as shit, or so poor they are chewing on dry ramen to survive. Obviously it isn’t true, most of us doing this full-time are in the middle, paying rent but keeping an eye on our budget. The trouble is, you don’t really hear about writers in the middle, so the only ideas of success most of us have are the ones frequently talked about. Rowling, King, Gaiman, Pratchett, people who are household names with (well-deserved) fortunes. And good for them, they honed their craft to make works countless people enjoy. But as a writer in that middle, the idea that they are the only version of success is insane. Virtually none of us will ever reach that point, yet that doesn’t mean we aren’t successful at what we’ve set out to do.

                Since our industry sets an almost impossibly high bar for what’s considered success in the form of our top achievers, we can’t look there for a standard. In a lot of ways, that’s a blessing. Having no clear form of what success means for 99% of writers means that there are no expected standards imposed upon us. In a corporate environment, success is easily quantifiable. Did you get the promotion/raise/account you were up for? If yes, then your success level increases. If no, then you are failing to move forward. Not much wiggle room in there, and while of course someone can have a rich personal life with a stalled career, today’s discussion is specifically focused on the jobs.

                So, with no reasonable industry standard and no system through which to progress, what is success to a writer? Well, success is whatever you decide it is, and if that sounds like a copout of an answer, trust me, it isn’t as easy as it seems. If, to you, being published at all is a success, then you’ll achieve it the moment your first book is out. Maybe you want to be published by a press though, or perhaps you’re holding out for a book with the Big 5 before you call yourself successful. Hell, maybe you’re aiming high; nothing short of a movie deal is going to let you feel like you’ve made it. There’s nothing wrong with any of those, your dreams are your own, and that means you are free to aim at whatever heights you like.

                There’s a problem with this strategy though, and it’s us. By us I mean the writers, the humans behind the keyboards stuffed with uncertainty and self-doubt. Part of the reason I try to peel back the curtain on writing books as much as I can is that I remember what it was like from the outside looking in. The idea of writing a book, getting it published, it seemed so arcane and impossible. Maybe that isn’t your exact experience, but I’ve talked with more than enough people to know I’m not the only person who has felt that way. And that’s part of the success issue. Publishing a book is not some ancient, unknowable process. It’s a thing that can be done, and, in the case of writers, once we have done it the task doesn’t seem so hard in retrospect.

                To be fair, I think that’s true of most daunting tasks. In hindsight, they always seem easier than when we were staring them down, often we even remember them simpler than they were. Yet, that hindsight is still a problem, because when we look back it becomes so very, very tempting to downplay our accomplishments. “Well, maybe I should aim higher than just writing a book, if I was able to do it then it can’t be that hard.” “Yeah I’m published, but if that press was willing to take me, are they really setting their standards high enough?” “Sure I got a series, but then it tanked in three episodes. I meant I’m successful when I have a show that does well.”

                Basically, most writers have at least a little of the old “I’d never join a club that would have me as a member” kicking around inside of their heads. Imposter syndrome is so ubiquitous among those in the arts I almost take it as a given that every writer I talk to has it. We doubt, we minimize, and what seemed like such impossible goals from the outside now don’t feel like they were hard enough to be proud of. Success through goals is an admirable idea, but often we’re the biggest obstacle to feeling a sense of accomplishment through that method.

                With all that said, we come back to the question that started this blog: what is success? I meant what I said a while ago, that’s up to you to determine. The only real council I can offer is what has somewhat worked for me. And make no mistake; I’m definitely included in many of the groups I’ve talked about. This job doesn’t come with a roadmap for anyone; I’ve had plenty of wrong-turns. Lately, though, I’ve begun trying to define success not by the career itself, but by the life it permits me to lead.

                One of the things I wanted most in a job was freedom. To set my own hours, to work when I was most productive instead of on a company’s timetable, to be able to travel without fear of asking for time off. And this job gives me that. Yes, there are downsides, but that’s true in any career. I’ve been working on leaning into the things I love; hence why I’ve been traveling to more cons. It reminds me of one of the things I enjoy most about this gig, and allows me to meet readers from all over while seeing new cities. Obviously at my career level I’m not on the road every week, yet even doing the occasional one is a nice, tangible reminder that I’m living my life the way I’ve always wanted.

                To me, that is a mark of success. What will work for you is a question I can’t answer. You’ll have to look deep within and figure out your own ideas of success. It’s okay if you don’t find an answer right away. It’s okay if your answer changes over time. Our industry offers minimal measurements of success within itself, so as long as you’re staying true to what you want to be writing and doing then you’re a hell of a success. And don’t let anyone tell you differently.

The Easter Drinking Game

                This Sunday is Easter, which means aside from the fact that a lot of people will be able to indulge as Lent comes to an end; many of you will be spending that day with family. For lots of you, I’m sure it’s a day of worship and comradery, and to you folks I say have a great time, I hope it’s the best Easter yet. For others, however, Easter is less than thrilling. Not everyone is down with the religious institutions they were raised in, and being around family can be stressful for some folks even at the best of times. Given our current social and political climate, I’d bet every Golden Corral in the south has at least 3 screaming matches apiece on Easter.

                So, as a helpful coping method for those of you in the latter group, I decided that today’s blog would be dedicated to making Easter into a drinking game, turning all the annoyances and oddities you deal with into reasons to nip from your flask. Oh yeah, this requires bringing a flask with you to your Easter celebrations. Don’t worry; a lot of people are there with you. Look, Grandpa just took a sip of something while no one was watching! Eh, you missed it. Point is, if you need a way to distract yourself through the holiday, give the game a whirl!

 

Drink Everytime…

-Every time one of your cousins/siblings/etc is mentioned because they won’t be making it to the church service. Double drink if the tone used implies that no one actually believes whatever excuse was offered up. Triple drink if the excuse is incredibly valid, such as being stuck at work or in the hospital.

                Extra: If your cousins/sibling/etc is able to join up later in the day, go ahead and give them a pull from your flask. They’re going to be dealing with passive aggressive shade for the rest of the day, they deserve at least a shot.

-Anyone in your family uses the words “those people” in any context. I mean, there’s technically a small chance this won’t be racist or political… but we all know it’s going to be.

-As we all know, Easter lunch is generally a later in the day affair, and many people skip breakfast due to the impending big meal or early mass. For this rule, every time you see someone breaking down and eating one of the hard-boiled Easter eggs because they can’t hold out for food any longer, take a drink. Maybe offer that person a quick nip too, because they are clearly not having a great day.

-Since Easter and candy go together like… well, Halloween and candy, it goes without saying that any children in your family will be sugared to the gills before the morning is done. But with a sugar rush comes the inevitable crash, so take a drink every time one of them passes out in the afternoon. Double drink if they conk out somewhere not generally used for sleeping.

                Extra: If you’ve got a few others playing the game with you, maybe try creating a race for the kids while they’re all sugared up. It will be a fun way for them to burn off some energy, plus you can bet drinks about who you think will finish first.

-When lunch finally comes, time the grace. Under thirty seconds and you’re clear, drink once if it goes over the half-minute mark. Add a drink for every additional ten seconds from there. If you reach a full minute, feel free to just pull your flask out and openly waterfall until the grace is over. No one will blame you, they’re hungry too, and maybe this ridiculous antic will hurry things along.

-If you live in a state where marijuana has recently been legalized, take one drink for every older relative that has suddenly calmed way the fuck down since last time you saw them. Double drink if you actually catch them ingesting something. Also, offer them a few sips, perhaps sit down and have a talk. They might appreciate the company, and honestly this is probably some of the least dramatic conversation you’ll have all day.

-If you live in a state where marijuana is not legalized, take a drink for every relative that goes off for a walk and returns later with vacant stares and red eyes. Be subtle about it though, you’re clearly getting hammered today, no reason to bust someone else just because they prefer a different way to power through. Also, if you aren’t already, make friends with those people. Methodology aside, you are all obviously on the same Easter wavelength.

-Every time there’s a fight, you guessed it; you’re up for a drink. This counts anything with shouting and beyond. Screaming, name-calling, all the way to actual punches, take a drink for any of it. Then stand back, because you do not want to disrupt your chill Easter by getting into someone else’s drama. Unless it actually comes to blows, then maybe help break that up. These people have to see each other at the next holiday, after all.

-This is only for those who are really feeling brave and brought an extra deep flask: drink every time you see a new cross through the day. In church, on the walls, as jewelry, any of it is fair game. If your family is predominantly secular or celebrates differently, feel free to swap out crosses and instead drink to pastel colors. You’ll still be drinking a shitload, and you can find those hues in just about any Easter gathering through the nation.

-We’ll close out with a classic that’s applicable at every family gathering, not just Easter. Take a drink each time you get asked an uncomfortable, probing question. Some classics include: Why aren’t you working a job that uses a degree? Why don’t you just ask for a promotion? Have you tried walking into offices and trying to talk to who does the hiring? No girlfriend/boyfriend to bring? Or, if you do have a partner, why not married? When are you having kids? Why don’t you go into finance like Cousin Dmitri?

                Extra: Drink every time someone tries to get you to explain Bitcoin to them. Double if it’s Uncle Jethro, who thinks he can really make some money with that.

 

Hope this livens up your holidays, or, if you don’t need a drinking game for Easter, that you have a great time sober. As for me, I’ll be participating in the same Easter tradition as always. Lying in wait, wearing full camo and a pith helmet, in hopes of tracking that bunny back to his chocolatey hoard. Someday, Mr. Floppy Ears, I shall be victorious. Someday.

Too Good To Last 2: More Doomed Great Shows

                A few years ago, I did one of these, and out of the three shows I talked about (Limitless, Muppets, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) two were indeed dead within the year, while the last became a smash hit. I’m calling that a pretty successful evaluation of both the shows’ quality and the market’s ability to sustain them, so now that we’ve had long enough for new stuff to fill the airwaves, it seemed like a good time to turn you on to more under-appreciated gems.

 

Great News

                This one is on its second season, hence the early placement, but I’m putting it on this list because aside from like the maaaaaaybe 3 people who told me to check this show out I can’t really find anyone who watches it. And that’s a shame, too. Despite a weird premise and rocky start, once the show hits its groove in mid-season 1 the whole thing really starts to sing, and it’s only gotten better as the show evolves and the cast has better interplay. Basically, we’ve got a Parks & Rec situation, where the first chunk turns off so many that they don’t get to the goodness, only Great News doesn’t have the easy fix of saying “Just skip season 1”.

                For those who don’t know, Great News is about a modern news station where the protagonist’s (Katie) mother (Carol) joins her crew as an intern. Insert wacky hijinks. As far as pitches go, I’m well-aware it isn’t the strongest. Honestly, the show is at its weakest early on, when it tries to lean way too hard on the Katie/Carol dynamic. Much like 30 Rock before (Tina Fey is a producer and eventual guest on Great News) it’s at its best when working as an ensemble comedy. They’ve got some spectacular talent in their cast, including Nicole Richie who legitimately steals the show from more seasoned actors with regularity, and it’s once the show pulls away from Carol and Katie a little that we’ve got enough fun personalities to create a good episode.

                What’s running now is genuinely enjoyable, one of my favorite things to watch each week, but I fear the sluggish kickoff and hard-to-sell premise has started this show too far behind the line. Maybe it will see a resurgence later in its life if it can last that long, however if you want to check this one out while the getting is good, Season 2 and (sometimes) Season 1 are both on Hulu.

 

A.P. Bio

                I almost didn’t even bother to consider this one, I just assumed a comedy with Patton Oswalt as a side-character would be kicking ass, especially with It’s Always Sunny’s Glenn Howerton in the protagonist role. According to the ratings sites though, it’s not doing great. The numbers it’s putting up would be good for a new show debut if it starred nothing but unknowns. Given the star-power and sizable push from NBC, the results are probably not what the network was hoping for, putting it in at least enough jeopardy to qualify for this blog.

                Aside from the obviously experienced cast, this is a program that strives to flip expectations on their head, or use them against us, although not in nearly so subtle a way as we’ve seen from shows like The Good Place. The intent is declared in the pilot, where our main character (Jack) says he will not be secretly teaching the kids biology, nor is he going to be learning more from them. And, to its credit, AP Bio backs up that promise. Every hokey, school-aged plot line is sent spiraling off in unexpected directions because of Jack’s dedication to living life his way.

                A lot of this show is hung on Jack himself, as he aggressively dances the line of unlikability. Here, it becomes apparent why they needed someone like Glenn Howerton, as he has years of experience selling audiences on characters that should be unlikable. I think the deciding factor on this show, at least for me, is one core character concept the writer’s gave to Jack: his honesty. Jack tells it like it is, exactly how it is, without pulling a single punch. At first, this reads as arrogance and feels off-putting, but over time we see that this is something he’s legitimately dedicated too. Even when it involves taking unflattering looks at himself and his actions, Jack still brings the same level of no-nonsense honestly. The more you see it in action, the more we grasp that this really is the way Jack chooses to live his life, not an affectation to keep people at a distance. It makes things objectively harder, yet he keeps at it, and eventually it’s hard not to kind of like the guy.

                I’m not sure where this one will go in terms of long-term story-telling, it’s still quite new, but there’s so much potential here that I really hope we get a chance to see what they can do with enough time.

 

LA-To-Vegas

                Trust me; no one is more surprised than me to have this thing on the list. When I first saw ads for this, I didn’t even bother remembering the name of the show, that’s how sure I was it would be shit and gone within the first two weeks. But then, on a day when I was bored and it popped up as a suggested next episode, I decided “what the hell” and took a 20 minute chance on entertainment. It was good, too. A strong first opening, setting everything up nicely for a solid, traditional sitcom run.

                Then, in the next episode, they blew up or paid off half of what I expected to be longer running threads, all while upping the depth of dialogue and characterization. The pilot of a show is often the weakest episode, since no one is on steady ground, from the writers to the actors to the director. It’s all new, and people are finding their feet. That said, this show has one of the sharpest improvements after a pilot I’ve seen, and remember, the pilot was already pretty good.

                The premise of this one is that some people, for a variety of reasons, fly back and forth between LA and Vegas every weekend. Since they see each other often, it becomes a half-office/half-community where people familiar with one another must sit together for several hours every week. As the show goes on the sets expand, it’s not a whole slew of bottle episodes or anything, but it all keeps coming back to the characters interacting with each other. Strong as the writing is, with another cast I think this show might be a total piece of shit. Everyone on screen fills and expands their roles with unexpected ease, and there’s literally not a single member of the core cast I’m disappointed to see get some spotlight, because they’re all great. That’s extra impressive given that, aside from Dylan McDermott, most of the cast is either relatively unknown or a “hey I know that person!” kind of recognizable.

                Like Limitless before it, this is a show where I know it shouldn’t work, but it fucking muscles through on pure charm. They took a drab premise and build a weird multi-color castle on top of it, complete with drawbridge-slide and drunk town crier yelling from the armaments. You can watch the whole thing on Hulu right now, and I highly urge you to do so.

                If history is any indication, most of these won’t be around for long.

Saint Patrick's Day Drinking Survival Tips

                As a major drinker staring down the barrel of a major drinking holiday (this goes up one day before 2018’s Saint Patrick’s Day) I am filled with excitement. St. Patrick’s Day is a lot of fun when spent with good people, and if my story about going into the Dallas purge didn’t give it away, my fellow drunks and I make a big day out of it. However, I know not everyone went to college in a town so boring it was compulsory to major in speed-chugging with a minor in keg-stands. Therefore, as a veteran shitshow, this seemed like the ideal time to throw out some tips to make sure you get the most out of your Saint Patrick’s Day, and don’t end up spending it over a toilet or in a cell.

                1) Wear green. Just… just fucking do it. I don’t really care how much you hate “conforming” or “going with the crowd”, this is not a battle that’s worth the effort to wage. I see it every year, someone at the bar skips the green and gets progressively more annoyed through the night as each conversation they try and begin kicks off with a pinch or a question about why they forgot to wear the festive color. I treat these people like giant red flags, because dollars-to-donuts one of them will be getting into a bar fight when their patience snaps. Don’t sabotage your own night, put in a bare minimum of effort so that you can enjoy yourself in peace.

                2) Slow and steady. Remember that, unless you drink aggressively with some frequency, you are not equipped to slam five shots and chase it with a beer as a way to kick things off. More likely, what you did instead was assure that you’ll be passed out or puking within the next hour. I know this is a big event, and it’s really tempting to go hard on those, but keep in mind we’re discussing Saint Patrick’s Day here. As in, it goes all day, or night, or however you celebrate; the point being that you’ll probably want to keep conscious and having fun for more than a couple of hours. Stick to beer, wine, or light cocktails early on, get a gauge for how everything is hitting you, and make your moves from there. If the group wants to take shots and you know you won’t be able to hang, decline. Or, in case your friends are dicks, tell them you have to use the shitter. They’ll be too drunk to try and take apart a lie that simple, and much too impatient to wait. Your body is your own, your pace is unique, and you don’t want to go all in before the day has properly kicked off.

                3) Rotate Beverages. Statistically speaking, most of my readers are not in the exact perfect range of early 20s where you can drink without getting a hangover. To those of you who are, enjoy it while you can you bastards, eventually we all lose that super power.  For the rest of us who’ve already started paying for fun with the brown bottle flu, it can be easy to get lost in the swing of things and go way too hard on the booze without supplementing. On behalf of your own body on Sunday, I implore you to put a little effort into drinking more than beer. Water is ideal, I personally double-fist on almost every drink, downing water after booze before I’m allowed a refill. It doesn’t stop hangovers; however it does make them more tolerable. Don’t forget a little caffeine in the rotation as well. I’m not “saying” mix booze and alcohol, because after Four-Loko we’re apparently all supposed to pretend we never heard of vodka and Red Bull, but again this a day-long event and you’re downing a depressant. If you want to make it all the way to the evening, you might want to take an occasional pause to throw down a soda.

                4) Don’t pinch strangers. I know, I know, I accounted for this happening in the first entry, but there’s a big difference between saying “A lot of cars are stolen in this town” and “Hey it’s totally cool if you steal cars here.” Knowing its common doesn’t make it okay, and generally speaking it isn’t great to grab a piece of someone’s skin and squeeze without permission. Maybe it takes a little of the fun away from you to lose that power, but it also minimizes your chances of inadvertently getting involved in a bar fight and being tossed out, or worse, having the cops called. A lot of people are having a lot of booze, so low-key assault isn’t the best way to break the ice. Just steer clear of the non-green people and their drama if possible, but if conversation is unavoidable then keep your hands to yourself unless you’ve got consent to do otherwise.

                5) Plan your travel. If you’re doing a house-party, this might seem less relevant, but remember that every guest you have still has to make the trek. In the event you and your friends are doing the usual move of going to a bar, it’s even more relevant. Can’t exactly crash at a bar the way you can at a friend’s house. Rideshares are going to be jacked up, and driving while drunk is not an option. Public transportation is a solid boon, assuming you’re fortunate enough to live in a big city, although of course that’s far from universally applicable. Should you have to be driven, then forethought is your ally. Figure out the bar you want to go visit, and what friend lives the closest to it. Meet at that person’s place before the boozing starts, and then split an ULW (Uber/Lyft/Whatever). Being close will minimize the cost, and dividing it between multiple people should soften the cost of surge pricing. Alternatively, if one of your friends is super-awesome, you might have a designated driver. Treat that person like fucking gold, because they are, and make sure to take care of them through the day. Otherwise, just think through your options before you hit the sauce, because once you start drinking none of that will be easier.

                That should be enough to see you all through tomorrow in one piece, even if that piece is incredibly drunk. Remember these tips, down some green beer for me, and try not to puke indoors if it can at all be avoided. Hope you all have a safe and fun Saint Patrick’s Day!

Publishing Method Drawbacks

                In the past, when dissecting publishing methods, I’ve focused largely on the benefits each system offers. There are some mentions of drawbacks, but it’s never been the central thesis to any of these blogs. I tend to keep a positive tone, so it’s not surprising my analysis usually puts the spotlights on each method’s upside. However, in answering the questions of newer writers, I’ve come to realize that might be doing a disservice. The drawbacks in each method are as important as the pluses, and deserve to be evaluated when considering what publishing path is right for your project. So lower your guitars an octave, push your hair down in front of your eyes, and break out the pitch-black nail polish. Today, we’re digging into the downsides of indie and traditional publishing.

 

Indie

                If I’m going to talk shit, it’s only fair I start with the method I’ve used most frequently, championed publicly, and generally love doing: indie/self-publishing. And honestly, that “/” between “indie” and “self” is probably the best place to start. Going full-indie means accepting that to some people in this industry, you’ll never be a “real” writer. They’ll always see it as self-publishing, and nothing short of insane levels of success will convince them otherwise. Even if you pull that off, they’ll call you an exception, distinguishing you from the rest of the indie crowd. Are these people stupid assholes? Of course they are, but that doesn’t mean they can’t also be people you respected or hold positions of power. Being indie means you didn’t go through the proper vetting and submission process, you haven’t been blessed by the sacred gate-keepers, and you should be ready to deal with people who think that makes you lesser.

                Another downside of indie: time and energy. As a friend once said: “What I wouldn’t give to go back to the days when all you had to do to be a writer was write books.” While I’m not sure I’d fully agree with that, the truth is that you will have a lot of drains on your time when going indie. Writing is on you. Editing is on you, to either do or outsource, and outsourcing still requires effort to find the right people, not to mention monetary costs. Same for covers, and formatting, and the big one: marketing. Social media, guest appearances, side-projects like podcasts or blogs, all of it takes time. Traditional publishers don’t really haul the marketing weight they used to, there’s still a large onus on the writer, however they’re at least somewhat helpful. Plus, they cover most of the other areas we discussed. Now if you like handling some of that (in my case I turned marketing into doing stuff I already enjoyed) then it’s not so bad, but you definitely need to understand that you’re biting off way more than just writing when you start an indie book.

                Lastly on indie, at least for this blog, is the simple fact that you’ll be mostly on your own. Maybe you’ll be lucky and have some other writers to turn to, but that’s not quite the same as a built-in support structure like what traditional publishing offers. Going that route, you have experienced professionals you can talk to, dedicated channels of communication that make it simple to get answers or resolution to issues as they occur. If you’re indie, it’s all on you. Formatting fucks up? You have to figure out how to fix it. No sales? Guess you better find a new marketing method. Editor shit the bed and missed a ton of typos? Tough shit, the buck stops with you. I’m certainly not saying traditional publishing offers a concierge to solve every dilemma you encounter, but just having someone to get guidance from can make a big difference, especially in the early years, and unfortunately that’s an area where indie can’t really compete.

 

Traditional

                Okay, so after slamming on indie for a while, let’s talk about the old school version: traditional publishing. And if we’re talking drawbacks in that industry, we have to start with money. I’ll keep it brief since I know we’ve hit this before, but it’s a big one. Most authors are not rich; we live on a budget like everyone else. That means the margins we make on our books matter if we want to keep rent paid and the liquor/inspiration flowing. No publisher out there will, or could, match Amazon’s 70% royalty rate. It would be fiscally irresponsible of them to even try. So going traditional means betting that the publisher’s reach will be large enough to cover for the lesser royalty, making it up in volume. Make no mistake, however, that is a risk. Publishing in general is a bit chaotic right now, and no one can promise a hit book. If you go traditional, you roll the dice on selling to the same amount of people for less overall money, which could make or break your budget. While the lack of investment in covers and editing (every publisher should cover this stuff, if they don’t, run) does offset the risk somewhat, time still has a cost, and if you spent a year writing a book that only ends up making you a few hundred bucks, that’s not a great return on work hours.

                The next big con that jumps to mind: control. Control is something you have to be willing to let go of when dealing with traditional publishing. Now obviously, that’s a blanket statement, some publishers will be more willing to let you have creative freedom than others, but the fact remains that you are no longer the final authority on your work. For some, that’s a trade worth making, for others, not so much. Just keep in mind, you don’t only lose control of what ends up in the books. Your publisher decides the marketing, the target audience, the categories, even the ability to continue. The first time I saw another writer post about hoping to be able to do a sequel, I was genuinely confused. Hoping to find the time or inspiration, sure those are hurdles we all have, but they were talking about actual permission. Because when you go traditional, you don’t necessarily decide whether or not a series runs the full length; that’s determined by sales. Sometimes, if you’re fortunate and have a good contract, the author can keep the series going as indie release, but even that depends on the publisher having limited rights. For me, this has always been the largest sticking point, hence why I work with publishers who offer a lot of creative freedom, but it can be worth the trade-off if you can find a publisher with a good balance.

                For our final traditional downside today, let’s tackle timelines. Indie publishing tends to run on a rapid release schedule; hell, the reason my audiobooks are always months behind is that I’m putting out the ebooks as soon as physically possible. They’re only fully ready a week or two before the release. Traditional publishing is a whole other ballgame. To go that route, you need to have a finished book that you’re comfortable sitting on for up to several years. First, you’ll need to find an agent, which is a lengthy journey all on its own. Assuming that goes smoothly, you’ll then have to shop the book itself around. Let’s keep being optimists and say that your book finds a home (although it easily might not) with a solid publisher. Being responsible business people, they’ll of course want to do their own edit of your work to ensure quality, which is another process of indeterminate length based on how much revision is needed. And then, when it’s finally done, you’ll need to be slotted into the release schedule. If we’re really generous with the timetable, let’s say each aspect of this takes 6 months and you drop into the release schedule immediately after edits are wrapped. That’s still a year and a half to get out a book that could have been released and helping keep you fiscally above water all this time. If you’ve got the patience and income to take this one on, there are very real benefits to it, just don’t walk in expecting any kind of quick turnaround.

 

                I hope this didn’t turn off any of you hoping to break into the publishing world, that’s not my aim today at all. Rather, I want everyone considering this career to go in with as much information as possible, the good and the bad, so that they can choose the right fit for their projects. Just remember, no matter what route you take, a good book is a good book in the eyes of the readers. Keep that at the forefront, and you can be successful using any publishing method.

Drew's Anticipated ECCC Antics

                As I really hope most of you, the ones paying attention to the Upcoming Events section of the site, have noted, next week I shall be in Emerald City Comic Con with fellow A&D player and talented author: Joseph Brassy. Now while I don’t have a full con schedule yet, when has that ever stopped me from speculating wildly? Never, no matter how much the con organizers beg me not to plug events that don’t exist, and I can’t see why we’ll stop that trend today! So, if you want to come hang out at Emerald City Comic Con (Seattle, March 1st – 4th) then try and catch me out and about.

                1. Fish-Fighting. Some might see an open air market where fish are hurled about as a neat display of efficiency mixed with marketing showmanship, but I think we all know Drunk Drew will see the invention of a new sport. Come watch as Drunk Drew flails about, trying to punch a fish from the air while he is hindered by intoxication and pre-existing terrible reflexes. I predict he’ll knock a sturgeon across someone’s shoulder by pure luck, then sprint away into the freezing waters, only to emerge with a new fish caught in his teeth. I realize that could seem like a stretch for some, but Drunk Drew pulls that move around once a month, and we’re due.

                2. Play the Rain Drinking Game. I don’t know much about Seattle, in fact I know insultingly little, despite how excited I am to visit. One of the few tidbits I am aware of, though, is that it supposedly rains a lot there. Like Texas is known for its sweltering, oppressive, unforgiving heat, Seattle is known for its high amounts of precipitation. Thus, the Rain Drinking Game was born. It’s a simple task, every time you notice the sound of rain anew, you take a drink. Maybe a fresh storm just started, maybe you weren’t paying attention to the noise in your environment, either way that’s going to cost you a sip. Based on what I know about Seattle’s weather and my own attention span, I expect this game to get me fish-fighting drunk within the first couple of hours.

                3. Do a Panel. Yes, there won’t just be tales of me wandering Seattle in a haze, challenging post-boxes to break-dancing competitions. I’ll actually be at the con too, including doing a panel. Appropriately enough, I’ll be talking about web-serials on Thursday, from 4pm – 5pm on The New World of Old Stories panel. After that, you’ll be able to find me wandering about the convention; consider it a scavenger hunt! You get to roam around and hunt me down, like tracking a wild writer on the plains. Or you could just follow my social media and events to see where I’m doing stuff. Yeah, that might be the better plan.

                4. Spontaneous Meetups. That’s what I’ve decided to call this feature, although in reality it will just be me talking to fans and followers on social media about what bar I’m visiting and when. Since I won’t have a dedicate table at ECCC (but will bring books for those who want them) this is my way of making myself available for those who want signings, pictures, or just to chat for a while. Plus, there’s a bar, so you know that always makes for more fun at a con. I should also clarify, since these blogs are generally a mix of humor and truth, that this is a real one. In theory, anyway, we’ll see what the bar scene is like when I arrive.

                5. Weird Weed Stuff. Yes, relax, I’ve read the emails and messages; I know some of you want to see me party with Seattle’s more native flavor of mind-altering substance. I feel like folks think I’m purely a booze guy because of my love for it, but that’s because booze is my passion, I’m still familiar with weed. I’ve done some twitter-rants on the medical side (for the new readers, I have psoriatic arthritis) of the subject. But hey, if I’m going to a new place, I should be open to new experiences, so I may as well try some of the stuff unique to your legal situation. Fancy edibles, concentrates, the oil pens, that kind of jazz. When in Rome, as they say.

                6. Commandeering a Vessel. Look, I don’t know when this will happen. I don’t know why it will happen. I certainly don’t have any idea how it will happen. But rest assured, at some point, Drunk Drew will switch to rum, and when that happens he’ll begin staggering steadily toward the scent of the sea. By morning, he’ll have returned as the captain of a ship that wasn’t originally his, snoring at the wheel and surrounded by crew. I really have no explanation to offer for this, the rum purges all remnants from my memory. Still, stick around the docks on the right night and you might get to see a very entertaining landing from a ship with a new captain.

                7. Challenging Joseph Brassey. Of course, as is customary when two A&D authors are at a con, we must engage in duels. Each will choose a contest; Joe’s probably being something with swords and mine of course being an endless Power Hour until someone quits. The winner of each duel will receive nothing, save for bragging rights over a contest they were already obviously good at. There’s no real prize or point to any of it, except that a crowd always does love watching me flail on the ground as Joe utterly destroys me with a prop blade, so I suppose the entertainment value is good enough justification.

                8. A One-Man Show. Should the crowd around our battle of duels ever begin to thin, I’ll have just the fix in mind. A rendition of my one-man show entitled “No, You’re Drunk!” which one Broadway critic called “An intoxicated man screaming at the sky outside of a gas station.” So yeah, clearly this is some high art if even fancy literary magazines aren’t getting it. I can only imagine the sort of audience we’ll draw in from the higher-minds of Seattle. Yes, pun intended, very obviously.

                9. Having a Great Time. All kidding aside, I’m super jazzed to visit Emerald City Comic Con, and I hope all of you folks who are making it out will get to stop by and say hello. Meeting readers is always the best part of doing these, and I can’t wait to see how many I get to greet at a con this size. See you there!

Podcasts Worth a Listen

                It occurred to me recently, while doing some behind-the-scenes work on Authors & Dragons, that as much as I love podcasts, as frequently as I listen to them, and as large as the general audience is, it’s a little crazy that I’ve had 2 blogs about my favorite audiobooks but never even touched on some of the great podcasts I love. Today, that changes! If you’ve got a long trip ahead (maybe to Emerald City Comic Con) then here are some free, great shows to help you pass the time along the way.

                Bonus Blog Sidegame: If you’re a subscriber to the A&D Patreon, take a drink every time I talk about a podcast we copied on Mimic Chest.

 

Doughboys

                As a man who loves comedy, fast food, and self-loathing, this podcast hits a great sweet spot for me. Hosted by Mike Mitchell (Love, Birthday Boys, Hidden America) and Nick Wiger (Funny or Die) these two eat their way through chain restaurants from all over, sacrificing their health to deliver meandering reviews that go way too deep on restaurants very few people even consider to be food. It’s fucking fantastic, and I tune in every week. There are also recurring bits that involve guessing what mystery food they’re eating, trying unusual foods listeners send in, and trying to figure out what kind of pie is in a bag. The style is very loose, the guests are almost always great, and the hosts have solid, if combative, chemistry. If you want to see how to do a podcast that’s a good mix of structure and free-flowing conversation, this one is a great case to learn from.

 

Bad with Money

                I’m 99% sure this is going to be the only podcast I discuss today that has the chance of actually teaching you something other than trivia about bad movies. Bad with Money is hosted by Gabby Dunn (Just Between Us) and covers a wide array of topics dealing with finance. There is also a lot of social commentary about the role money plays in our culture and the institutions that use it, but even if that isn’t your jam its worth tuning in alone to hear the frank discussion of managing money and finances, especially from experts.

                While I don’t talk about it much, mainly because it was super fucking boring, I used to work in the finance world. That came in really handy when I first started out doing the writing full-time, as I had a good grasp on budgeting, pipelines, self-employment taxes, and other things that come up when you run your own business. Now, a few years into the job, I better understand how fortunate I was to have that background. A lot of folks can do the writing work of this gig just fine, it’s managing their income that causes problems. If you’re thinking about taking a gamble on living off your writing/art/whatever, then I’d recommend listening to this one, as there’s a lot of good information that will come in handy.

 

How Did This Get Made

                I know, I know, most people are already keenly aware of this one, but just in case, I’m giving it a quick plug here. Hosted by Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael, and Jason Mantzoukas (they’ve all been in way too much shit to list, just imdb them) it’s a podcast that dives into movies that are outright insane. Sometimes they revel in the madness, such as with Crank, and sometimes they just ogle at it, such as with Chopping Mall. No matter the film in question, its three great comedians and a talented guest, so they always deliver on something worth listening to. Bonus: Adam Scott comes on every time they talk about another Fast and Furious movie, so that’s a fun perk to keep an eye out for!

 

Unpopular Opinion

                In truth, this is almost closer to a channel than a single podcast. Hosted by Adam Tod Brown (formerly of Cracked.com) this was originally a podcast on Cracked before Adam left the company. Once he did, he branched out the podcast into several different shows, most of which are hosted behind a Patreon paywall. The main show, still titled Unpopular Opinion, has always been free though, and it’s a entertaining listen.

                Since Adam is working as a stand-up comedian in LA, most of his guests and cohosts come from that world, which makes for a constant stream of fresh, funny people to discuss various topics with. Their subject matter can be more or less anything; to give you an idea of the topic range they’ve done an episode dedicated to the glory of the McRib and one talking about the ethics of drone strikes. This show can be kind of a grab bag depending on the subject matter, but if you see a topic that sounds fun to you then give it a whirl.

 

High and Mighty

                Technically, part of me wants to count Action Boyz in this one too, but since that’s Patreon exclusive we’ll stick to the free one. High and Mighty is a podcast hosted by Jon Gabrus (Guy Code, Adam Ruins Everything) who is a character actor and comedian. The format is… well, there sort of isn’t one. Aside from reading reviews in which listeners roast him at the top of every episode, the whole show is largely just free-flowing conversation. I actually found out about Jon Gabrus from the Chicken Nugget Power Hour episode of Doughboys where he was a guest, and followed him to his own show after laughing my ass off at his nugget eating skills.

                This might be the hardest one to pitch, both because right now it’s my favorite, and because I’m really not sure what the key selling point is. There’s minimal structure, the whole thing is often one giant tangent, and nothing of value is taught. I suppose Gabrus himself is the selling point, as the man just has a talent for putting his guests at ease and getting everyone in the room laughing. Listening to the show is genuinely fun, and that, more than anything else, is what keeps me coming back.

                For those wondering, Action Boyz is a Patreon podcast that’s sort of like High and Mighty swirled with How Did This Get Made, as Gabrus and a crew of fellow comedians spend hours reveling in the glory/horror of classic action movies.

                Hopefully this helps you folks find some new shows to try, and if you’ve got any great podcasts that you think deserve more love then share them in the comments below for everyone else to enjoy!

My Outlining Process

                Part of writing is outlining, and even if you don’t choose to do it in the more concrete ways of writing it down, we all outline to some extent. After all, if you start a book with literally no idea where it will go or end, odds are strong that won’t be a good book, or one that even gets finished. So we all outline, and as we gain experience we find the way that works for us and refine it further and further, learning to get the most from our planning methodology. And, when you’re lucky enough to do the work full time, sometimes people will ask about how you outline in hopes of getting a jumpstart on their own process.

                Today, I’m going to talk about the way I currently outline works, but only with the very strong caveat that this is my way of outlining that works for me. If you read this and it sounds like it would be a terrible way to do your own work, then feel free to ignore it. Outlining is a process we all have to find out our tweaks and methods for, mine is no more or less effective than others, it just happens to be the one that meshed well with my books. Now, with all the warnings out of the way, let’s jump on in.

                I use a method of outlining I tend to call “checkpoint outlining” although in all honesty I don’t know if that’s the real name or just a slang term that got adopted somewhere along the way. Checkpoint outlining works first by figuring out the major turns you want your story to take. A big fight at point X, a love scene at point Y, a jailbreak at point Z; you get the idea. The ending is especially important here, since all of your major events in the book need to be leading toward the finish. I should also add that by “major” events I mean events integral to the story, even if the scenes aren’t big ones themselves. Passing off a key item in what seems like a trivial scene in a gum factory would still be a checkpoint, for example.

                Once you know your major events, plot them out chronologically. What leads to what that in turn leads to what. Get those down, and you’ll effectively have a road map of your story. The start, the end, and all the major points in between. And here is where my outlining process in terms of story tends to stop. For me, part of the joy of writing a story is not knowing everything I’ll type. The thrill of discovery keeps things fresh and unpredictable on my end, which in turn makes the writing experience more fun. I always know where I’m going, heading toward the next checkpoint, but having space in between those events to play with is where I get to do my character exploration and find the most natural ways to take them to the next checkpoint.

                It does bear saying, however, that writing like this usually means some heavier work in the post-writing edits. Since you didn’t have every detail plotted out in advance, there are bound to be a few false starts or pointless elements in the book. Part of editing with this kind of outline is either stripping those bits out entirely or re-working them so they foreshadow the proper plot points. Remember, it doesn’t have to all be perfect and cohesive on the first draft, that’s why we take our time to edit and re-write, sewing things up and making sure it all flows smoothly.

                Honestly, that more or less explains my outlining process; it’s a fairly straightforward one. That said, we’re much too short on content to end the blog, so let’s tackle a different aspect of outlining: character creation. I’ve talked before about building superheroes (or similar) for high-powered stories using RPG mechanics to ensure they don’t come out overpowered, but there’s really some outlining work to do for all characters, regardless of genre or role.

                I like to keep notecards about my characters, first in paper, now using a site called Trello. On those cards I do basics: names, ages, distinctive parts about their looks, things that I’ll want to keep straight at a glance. Beyond that, I also like to include details about them that are important to the core of their character. Fears are useful, alliances and friendships doubly so, the more history the better in general, but there is one aspect that I consider absolutely essential to the card: what does the character want?

                It doesn’t have to be a big, emotional desire, like to pay for their sick grandma’s surgery. Few people are motivated daily by something that grand. No, this is the question more centered on what gets through the weekly grind. Are they saving up for a new car? Paying for night school to get a better job? Hoping to afford rent? Plotting to overthrow a guild of superheroes? Dreaming of opening their own shop one day? There isn’t a wrong answer to any of these; it’s just a question of knowing what that character desires. Because if you know that, then every time there’s a conflict for them, a choice to face or a task to clear, you can look back at what they want and decide how that desire coupled with their personality would have them choose. If they’re the self-denial type, maybe they go away from their desires for the good of others. If they’re ruthless, maybe they move forward regardless of the cost. Knowing a characters wants doesn’t necessarily give an automatic answer to every question they’ll face, however it does provide you with a compass so that at least the direction of their actions should be consistent through the story.

                That’s a pretty good rundown of how I outline these days, although as I age and get more practice some details here and there will surely change. Give it a shot if it sounds like a good system for you, or go read about other forms of outlining if you know this won’t work at all. And don’t be discouraged if you have trouble finding a tactic that clicks, we’ve all got to find our ways to do this job. Keep trying new things, and eventually you’ll find yours.