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.

 

I’m Over it Already — The List

In keeping with my more honest, oh-what-the-heck-attitude, I thought I would list a few of the things I am tired of reading/hearing about involving books currently popular in the market. This is not a slam on any particular books or authors, it’s just the stuff that I am OVER ALREADY.

In no particular order, books where:

  • Every character (except maybe a villain or two) is gorgeous and physically perfect in every possible way. (And we are told how gorgeous and perfect they are continuously).
  • The protagonist is a thief/assassin/con artist. (Enough with this trope already!!)
  • The villain turns out to be the protagonist’s father/mother/uncle/long lost cousin on their stepdad’s side.
  • The protagonist starts off as a poor, ignored, “nothing,” but really… They are the long-lost prince or princess. (Or emperor, or mightiest warrior, or most-est powerful of all powerful sorcerers).
  • Sexual acts are described ad nauseum, but ONLY using the oddest, purple prose euphemisms.
  • Love interests pause in the middle of highly dangerous or traumatic events to … you know, do those euphemistic things.
  • Characters fall madly in love in zero to sixty seconds. (Usually based only on the “gorgeousness”).
  • The setting is supposed to be “exotic” but it reads more like a rehash of books from the late 1800s and early 1900s, where the protagonist, “suffering” under the “white man’s burden” brings “enlightenment” and “progress” to the “backward natives.”
  • The story is based on cultures the author obviously does not understand deeply, if at all.
  • At least one of the male leads is so DANGEROUS! and DARK! But despite being willing to kill any and all other characters, he somehow wants to protect the female protagonist (even if that means killing any and all other characters).
  • Female characters hate each other for no other reason than that they are both female (and somehow, thus in competition for every guy they see).
  • No one has a disability or, if they do, it is “magically cured”. (Or it turns out this disability really unleashes their “secret power.”)
  • Any POC or LGBTQ characters feel like they were inserted into the story just to meet some quota (and thus, tend to have no storyline of their own and/or get killed off quickly).
  • Anyone CLAIMS anyone else.
  • Characters have MATES. (You know, unless they are wolves. Then it’s okay).
  • Any growling occurs. (Again, unless it’s wolves…)

I guess I’d better stop there… Okay, so what are some of your pet peeves in popular books? And what new and different tropes would you like to see?

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   

 

Welcome to 2017 — The Year of BOOKS!

I am dubbing 2017 “The Year of Books” because I will be releasing at least 4 books in 2017!

THE LIGHT FROM OTHER SUNS will release in March, and its sequel, THE DARK OF OTHER SKIES in April from White Tulip Press. These are Book One and Book Two in THE OTHERS scifi trilogy.

CROWN OF ICE (2nd, revised ed.) will be published by Snowy Wings Publishing in early May, and its sequel, SCEPTER OF FIRE, in late May. These are Book One and Book Two in THE MIRROR OF IMMORTALITY fantasy trilogy.

I may also release a new version of FACSIMILE in late 2017 or early 2018, so stay tuned for more information on that.

Of course, I plan to write more books as well — including the third book in THE OTHERS trilogy, THE ECHO OF OTHER EARTHS, and the third book in THE MIRROR OF IMMORTALITY series, ORB OF LIGHT. My goal is to release both of those books in 2018.

I have a few more writing projects planned as well — including completing my YA Fantasy, THE DIAMOND THIMBLE, and perhaps another cozy mystery under my penname, Victoria Gilbert.

So, for me, 2017 will definitely be a year for the books!

Wishing everyone a very Happy New Year! Here’s to much joy and success in the next year!