Sometimes the Answer is NO

I’m a fan of Lindsey Stirling, and one of the songs (Where Do We Go?) from her recent album BRAVE ENOUGH expresses something I’ve recently learned the hard way. Especially this line:  “Where do we go? When our prayers are answered, but the answer is no?”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aT_htzkOzHE&list=RDaT_htzkOzHE

When I began writing seriously — only five years ago, although it feels longer — I wrote an adult science fiction novel. I finished that novel and its sequel, and even queried a bit, although my efforts went nowhere. But that was okay. I was learning, and I can see now why it didn’t work out. (For one thing I couldn’t write a decent query letter back then to save my life).

So I decided to try something different and wrote a Young Adult fantasy novel, which became CROWN OF ICE.

This book DID get me an agent and a book deal (with a smallish publisher, but still a deal). So I thought — okay, here we go. I had several ideas for other YA books. One, a scifi — FACSIMILE — was also published. Eventually my publisher asked for CROWN to become a trilogy, so I wrote SCEPTER OF FIRE and planned out the third book, ORB OF LIGHT.

But… Things happened and my publisher and I parted ways. (Long story, not going into that). So I thought: Well, I have these two completed books, CROWN and SCEPTER, so maybe I should self-publish them. I mean, there they were, ready to go, so why not? I didn’t expect mega-sales, but I thought they might do okay. You know, make me a little extra pocket change each month. But more importantly, I thought — at least people will be able to read them. Because, above all, I just wanted a lot more people to read them.

I revamped the books (some revision, as well as new covers, edits, & formatting) and did some work on promo and such and released the books via an author co-op this spring.

And… They have not sold well. They’ve barely sold at all. Despite having great co-op support, beautiful covers, good editing & formatting, etc.

Now you could chalk this up to my ineptitude with marketing, and perhaps that is partially to blame. But I have also recently (re)studied the market and have come to the conclusion that it is NOT just my lack of advertising — which frankly, I can’t afford to do to the extent necessary at this point, time-wise as well as money-wise, but I digress.

No, there is another reason. A reason that has nothing to do with the quality of the books, but does have to do with their themes, plots, style, etc.

The truth is — my fantasy books are simply NOT what most readers want right now.

That does NOT mean the readers are wrong. They have every right to want what they want. But it does mean that I must acknowledge something that is very hard to accept:

The answer is NO.

Yes, I have moved on from this — switching to a new penname and genre quite successfully. And maybe my new genre is where I should have been all along.

But, despite that new adventure, it’s painful to realize that my fantasy (and scifi) books — which I still love — are not going to  be read by many people, or have any impact, or matter to anyone, anywhere, much at all.  It’s hard to give up on those books, even though I don’t really have time now to do anything else. Maybe I will come back to them someday. I don’t know. All I know is — for now I must mourn them and move on. I can’t keep beating my head on that wall; not if I want to achieve anything in other writing endeavors.

So, for now, the answer is no.  I must respect that and realize that the world owes me nothing. Publishing owes me nothing. Readers owe me nothing. I must accept the no in this area, and pursue different goals instead.

So, other authors — if you feel lost, stuck, depressed, or anything similar in relation to your writing, it’s perfectly okay to feel that way. It’s also okay to keep fighting to get your current books out there. But — it’s also okay if you feel it’s time to step away from all the “no’s” and experiment with new age groups, genres, styles, or whatever. Maybe it’s time to shut out the voices that call you a “quitter” and tell you “if you just try harder” or “if you just do this…” Perhaps it’s time to give yourself a new beginning and see where that leads.

Change can make great things happen. It’s happened to me. And though I’ll always be a little sad about the fate of my SFF books, I know I need to appreciate the lessons I’ve learned from them and move on.

Bottom line: sometimes the answer is NO. Life isn’t “fair” and we can’t always “fix it.” But if we are honest with ourselves, maybe we can find a new path. Maybe the one that leads, eventually, to where we fit, to where we should be. To YES.

 

And the Truth Will Set You Free

Those who know me well understand just how stubborn I can be. I don’t like to give up or admit defeat. I hate admitting failure.  I’m convinced if I just try hard enough, I can make things work. My mantra is — “Just one more try, and I’ll fix it!”

But sometimes you have to admit the truth. Things don’t always work out, and your skills, talent, intelligence, persistence, etc. are no match for reality.

This is me and self-publishing.

Now, just let me say that I greatly admire those who are successful at self-publishing. I think it is a perfectly valid option for authors, and believe those who work diligently to do well with it deserve all the success in the world. I also respect everyone working hard to learn the ins-and-outs of self-pub. and improving their efforts every day. My proverbial hat (I don’t wear hats, LOL) is off to you all.

But as for me — self-publishing is not a good fit, and I admit that I am terrible at it. Oh, I can write good books, and even produce professional quality eBooks and paperbacks — with the help of my great editors and designers, I mean — but I suck at the promotional aspects of self-publishing.

And, as I have come to learn — thanks to my own experiences, but also due to advice from some very savvy authors — self-publishing is ALL ABOUT the promotion.

This makes sense, if you think about it. Perhaps a few years back, when the market wasn’t so flooded with books (many of them GREAT books too) you could put out a self-pub. book and it would sell decently with minimal advertising and promotion. Not anymore. Now you must truly approach this like a small business and invest a tremendous amount of time and effort (not to mention money, although the time and effort is a bigger thing) into the process.

The problem is — I never wanted to run a small business. I loathe marketing. I don’t like selling things to people, and never have. Which is one reason I went into a service career in an academic setting, of course!

So where does that leave me? Well, I can still write books and sell them via the traditional markets (which I am doing under a penname). Yes, I must do some promotion and so on to support my publisher’s efforts. But I really don’t mind being active on social media, attending conferences, managing a website and a blog, doing guest posts, sitting on author panels, speaking or signing at bookstores, etc. I have no problem promoting my books as an author. But… I do NOT enjoy (nor am I good at) being the ONLY marketer for my books. I hate creating ad campaigns and monitoring them and tweaking keywords and constantly setting up giveaways and promotions and… Well, you catch my drift. I am delighted to SUPPORT the marketing of my books. I just don’t want to have to do it ALL.

I mean, life is short, and I’m not so young anymore, and I refuse to waste time on things that make me frustrated and angry. I also hate spending most of my precious time on tasks I find completely unfulfilling and tremendously annoying.

So — while I fully intend to finish out any series that I have started in self-pub — after those are complete I will only self-pub “hobby” books. That is to say, if I self-publish, it will be to release any books I just want to put out in the world for fun, not for profit or even author visibility.  I don’t  think there’s anything wrong with this, just like I see no problem with people painting, singing, etc. as an avocation rather than a profession. The more art the better!

But, as for what I consider professional self-publishing — I’ve been struggling with this for some time now, and finally decided that I must release myself from a prison where I’ve locked away my joy.

I have to admit — it feels good to admit the truth, and fly free!

A Change in Direction

So, in my writing as Vicki L. Weavil (and V. E. Lemp) I I have been chasing intangibles for some time. Things like approval, fame (even if limited), success, and the like.

Now is the time to stop.

I have lost all sense of fun, excitement, and enjoyment in my writing. It has become a chore and something that brings me frustration and pain instead of joy.

Enough.

I have decided to focus my professional writing in one area (another penname, another life) and allow everything else to be what it should be — exploration, experimentation, play, fun, and individual expression.

ART, damn it. Art. Maybe poor, pitiful art, but MINE.

No more concern over marketing, reviews, sales, and the like. No more.

I will still write. Maybe even more than before. But I will not be doing it for the wrong reasons (the wrong reasons for ME, anyway).  This writing will be like my poetry — to play with words and meaning. To express things I need to express. To explore inner thoughts and share observations.

I will not become famous. I will not make a lot of money.

And I will no longer care about those things.

Instead, I will allow myself the freedom of expression to say what I want to say.

No one has to listen. No one has to give me their approval.

I only ask for one thing —  the space to be me.

 

 

I Am Not Special , or, Appreciating the Ordinary

Someone once asked me why I don’t write about princesses or other “royal-types” in my fantasy books.  After all, to date my fantasy novels have all been fairytale retellings, and don’t fairytales ALWAYS have princes and princesses and similar characters of royal blood (albeit sometimes with a “hidden” lineage) as major characters?

Well, no. For one thing, my retellings are based on Hans Christian Andersen fairytales and if you read a great number of them you’ll notice something interesting — Andersen’s protagonists tend to be ordinary people.  Sometimes poor folk, sometimes middle-class, but almost never royalty. In fact, Andersen is more likely to make fun of royalty (The Emperor’s New Clothes and The Princess and the Pea, for example) rather than celebrate them.

This is reason number one why my retellings feature village girls and tradesmen and soldiers and others without a drop of royal blood. (Even my Snow Queen is actually just a village girl, although a rather brilliant one, who has been given powers by a sorcerer). In doing so, I am paying homage to Andersen’s original stories.

Reason number two is less based in my source material, and more based on my own life.

You see, I am not special.

Of course, when I was young, I imagined I was unique, with hidden talents or abilities that had simply not yet been revealed. I dreamed of the day when my “specialness” would become undeniably apparent to everyone. 

Because isn’t that the basis for so many of our stories – the ordinary person who turns out to be extraordinary? Just think of Luke Skywalker —  a simple farm boy, living on a planet of no great importance. He was the least likely person to become the “Jedi Knight” who would save the Republic. But he had hidden, special, abilities that only appeared when he had reached a certain age. (And a secret heritage that bequeathed him unique talents).

There’s certainly nothing wrong with such stories. I mean, haven’t we all thought of ourselves as that person? An ordinary human, living an unexceptional life, until one day … some event or individual or challenge unlocks our true potential and proves our “specialness.”

But then, for some of us, time passes and we grow older without unlocking this super-special side of ourselves, Eventually, we must (regrettably) accept the sobering fact that we are not, and never will be, a “Chosen One.”

I will never be such a person, I know. I am rather ordinary, when all is said and done. Which is perfectly fine, if a little less exciting than I might wish.

And that’s reason number two why I choose to write characters who are not the princess, not the possessor of hidden talents, and not the secret heir to riches and power.  Of course, there’s nothing wrong with stories that use those themes — I still love many of them. But I personally feel a need to create something different, to show that ordinary people can be part of interesting stories too. Maybe someone not-so-special can show their worth in ways that don’t require supernatural abilities or unlimited access to power. Perhaps the least likely person can become the hero or heroine. (Which is one reason why some of my favorite characters are Frodo and Sam from LOTR and Meg Murray from A WRINKLE IN TIME and its sequels).

Those are the stories I have always loved the best, and so — those are the tales I like to write. Stories about people are not inherently “special,” but who can still do extraordinary things when challenged by circumstances or fate.

I am not special, and neither are most of my characters. But we are, I hope, interesting! Just like most other people in the world, if you really think about it.

Finishing this with one of my favorite quotes from LOTR:

“Yes, that’s so,” said Sam, “And we shouldn’t be here at all, if we’d known more about it before we started. But I suppose it’s often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo, adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on, and not all to a good end, mind you; at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end. You know, coming home, and finding things all right, though not quite the same; like old Mr Bilbo. But those aren’t always the best tales to hear, though they may be the best tales to get landed in! I wonder what sort of a tale we’ve fallen into?”

“I wonder,” said Frodo, “But I don’t know. And that’s the way of a real tale. Take any one that you’re fond of. You may know, or guess, what kind of a tale it is, happy-ending or sad-ending, but the people in it don’t know. And you don’t want them to.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings   

 

Everything Must Change

800px-Old_book_-_Basking_Ridge_Historical_SocietyI suppose it’s time to announce a big change in my author life —

I am no longer associated with Month9Books, my former publisher. In fact, all my rights have reverted to me at this point (except for FACSIMILE, which just released and will officially revert to me next March).

 

Of course, there are still copies of the published books in stock, and those will still be sold for a bit, but after that, those editions will go out of print.

So, SCEPTER OF FIRE, which was scheduled to release  this fall, will NOT be published by Month9Books in October. Please ignore what you might see on Amazon, B&N, etc. — it takes a while to get those preorder listings down, or so I am told.

It is sad, but for the best.  My wonderful agent will eventually look for new publishing homes for the CROWN series as well as for the planned sequels and the other works I’m currently writing.  I may also branch out into self-publishing a couple of titles, since I would like to try that avenue and see how it goes. (A lot of authors think the “hybrid” route — some books with traditional publishers and some self-published — is the way to go now).

So, a change — but not the end of my writing career!

 

 

WAIT FOR IT…

We live in a “give it to me this second” culture, where convenience is often valued more highly than quality. (Why else would people stream TV shows and films on their tiny phone screens?)

Give it to me nowThere’s nothing wrong with cultural changes, per se, but I have noticed a major shift in fiction in recent years. No longer are authors allowed to build from a quiet beginning to a dramatic finish—now it needs to be “all action, all the time.” Or at least, lots of “DRAMA!” right from the get-go.

So many times these days, when I read reviews I see something like: “It was slow in the beginning, but I did really love it by the end.” That immediately makes me WANT to read the book, because I like slow in the beginning. Not boring or poorly written, of course, but I don’t mind if an author takes their time to build and deepen characters, or immerse me in the setting, or even tempt me with slightly cryptic hints about what’s to come. I don’t necessarily want to open a book and be dumped into some “rock ‘em, sock ‘em” fight between characters I’ve never encountered before, or follow some random people escaping an explosion. I don’t know these characters yet, so why the heck would I care what happens to them?

I often feel this way about films or TV shows too. Give me context and make me care before you blow some character to bits. Otherwise, it’s just visual candy—all spectacle and no substance. Twothe-lives-of-others of my favorite films, THE LIVES OF OTHERS and BABETTE’S FEAST, move very slowly in the beginning, but by the end of the movie they leave you both emotionally shattered and uplifted. Without the conscious, careful, layering of characters, setting, and meaning, the conclusions of these films would never possess the power to actually transform the way the viewer looks at things, or thinks about the world.

Consider music. A song that builds from quiet to a shattering crescendo of sound and emotion at the end is much more affecting (I think) than something that is simply loud all the way through. Great composers and performers know that varying the intensity and building toward an emotional climax is essential to creating a piece that stands the test of time.

Jane Eyre coverSo I’d like to encourage readers to step back and give a little time before they decide how they feel about a book. Of course, if the book is completely dull or poorly written, that’s another matter, but if the book has good qualities, give it a chance. Think of missing out on JANE EYRE or LORD OF THE RINGS or REBECCA just because those books don’t actually start with a “bang.” Allow the book to seduce you, not just overwhelm you with action, action, and more action. Give it time.

Wait for it… It might surprise you.

What Writers – and other Artists – Can learn from Scientists

ScientistsI am often amazed that I am a speculative fiction writer, considering I grew up surrounded by scientists and other pragmatic thinkers.

My late father was a brilliant virologist, my older brother (who conducted experiments in our kitchen when I was young) is an epidemiologist, and my younger brother works in horticulture. My mother, while not a professional scientist, definitely possesses their logical, skeptical, mindset.

I am the odd one, with my crazy dreams and even wilder (in their mind) books. “How DO you come up with those stories?” my mother asks. Well, I am not entirely sure, although a lifetime of reading speculative fiction might have left its mark.  (Not to say my family does not read—they are actually great readers. But they don’t read speculative fiction of any kind. Except mine, of course!)

That being said, I do feel that there are two things writers, and other artists, can learn from science: 1.) the need to experiment, and 2.) the understanding that nothing is a “failure” if it advances one’s understanding of a particular theory, concept, technique, or craft.

Scientists know it may take years of experiments—many unsuccessful—to reach a breakthrough. Their successes are bought with time, and failure after failure.

But a true scientist does not give up due to failed experiments. They may rework their ideas, Madame Curieconduct different experiments, or choose another path toward their goal, but they do not abandon their work simply because one (or two, or many) of their attempts fail. Take, for example, Marie Skłodowska Curie, who worked with her husband, Pierre, on theories related to radioactivity. In 1902—based on research begun over thirteen years before—they took a ton of pitchblende and reduced it to one-tenth of a gram of radium chloride, but pure radium metal was not isolated from this until eight years later, in 1910. Yes, it made them household names, but years and years of research, plus eight years of painstaking labor—and many failures—were required to achieve this “overnight” fame!

So what does this say to writers and other artists? Well, for one thing, we can learn to be more fearless in experimenting with different literary forms, genres, age classifications, concepts, and themes. So what if we discover that neither middle grade literature nor adult Romance are truly part of our skill set? One (or two, or three) not quite-so-successful manuscript(s) never destroyed anyone.  In truth, I believe writers are not always as insightful about our own talents as we would like to think. We say we cannot write a certain thing, but how do we know unless we experiment? I know this is true about acting. Since I was a theatre major, I studied acting, although it was never the focus of my career. But one thing I did learn—my most successful forays into acting were in roles I would never have selected as being “right” for me. In the same way, we may not know what we write best until we experiment, and write it!

Science also tells us nothing is a failure if you can learn something from the process. We may all have a book (or books) that do not do well in the marketplace. Science says—do not disavow those books, or feel ashamed of your talent. Instead, study those books, and attempt to understand why they were unsuccessful. Was it the book, or the market at the time? Are there things we can change in future manuscripts, or in our marketing, or in other areas, to avoid such problems in the future? Alternately, should we attempt to experiment with another genre, style, or what-have-you to see if that changes the equation?

So I challenge authors—including myself—to experiment more and worry about “failure” less. Try something new and different, and see what happens. Don’t be so discouraged if some books don’t achieve the goals set for them. Learn from that process and try again. And again. And again. Take another path, ask “what if?” and follow where those wild thoughts lead us.

Eventually, we may illuminate the world with our very own “overnight” success!

Discovery Moment