Sunday, April 21, 2013

How to Make Money Self-Publishing Fiction

James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell



Last week's post on publishing options drew some spirited responses, especially from one of TKZ's erstwhile contributors. In his opinion, "self-publishing is an exercise in frustration and a path to near-assured failure for first-time authors."

Now, I have great affection and respect for said commenter, who argues well for his point of view. But I was nonetheless discomfited by that "near-assured failure." Been thinking about it all week. What does "failure" even mean? Who sets the standard? If a new author finds a way to make steady but not huge income, is that "failure"? If a new author keeps working and growing as a writer, is that "failure"? On the other hand, might it possibly be said that self-publishing, done consistently and skillfully, can actually lead to near-assured success? What is "success"? Is it a loyal readership, even if it pales in comparison to Dean Koontz's (well, every readership pales in comparison to Dean Koontz's)? Is it the happiness that comes from writing and publishing more, faster, being in control of one's destiny and, yes, making some money at it?

This led me to reflect, yet again, on the writers I admire most: the professionals of the old pulp days. I've been on record for a long time stating that this new digital age is like the pulp era, only with more opportunity and potentially better pay. But it requires a certain kind of writer. One like Erle Stanley Gardner (1889 - 1970).

Gardner is best know as the creator of Perry Mason. When he hit on that character and that formula, he was set for life. But what most people don't know is how hard he worked to get there. He was a practicing lawyer in the 1920s, and was looking for a way to make money on the side. Writing for the exploding market in detective and crime fiction seemed promising. 

He set out to do it the only way he knew how––full speed ahead. His output was, as he described it later, "man killing." One hundred thousand words a month. A month. Over a million words a year, for at least ten years. (And much of it while he was still practicing law).

He did manage to sell some stories, but not enough to please him. Then one day he realized he did not know how to plot. His stories were merely "event combinations." Lawyer that he was, he set out to find out how to write plots that sold (I resonate with this, because I was a practicing lawyer when I set out to learn the same thing!)

Boy, did he ever get it. And he kept up his prodigious output until he was a mainstay of famous pulps like Black Mask. Then, in 1933, came The Case of the Velvet Claws and the
introduction of Perry Mason. There was no looking back. At one time Gardner was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the bestselling author who ever lived.

While the success that Gardner achieved is rare for writers of any stripe, his example and work ethic can be replicated today. More and more authors are doing a nice business self-pubbing. I'm not just talking about the "stars" like Hugh Howey, Bella Andre and the newest sensation, Colleen Hoover. I'm talking about people you've never heard of, and who don't really mind that because they have plenty of readers who have.

So how do you self-publish fiction successfully? Learn the following lessons from Erle Stanley Gardner. (Note: The info in this post comes from the biography of Gardner by Dorothy B. Hughes.)

1. Treat it like a job

For Gardner and other successful pulpsters, writing was a job, especially during the Depression. They had to eat. They didn't have time to sit around the coffee bar ruminating about theories of literature. They actually had to produce stories, lots of them. They studied the markets (and wrote in popular genres, like detective and Western) and pounded the keys of their manual typewriters. Gardner was a two-finger typist and had to put adhesive tape on his tips because they would start to bleed. (This is one reason he later turned to dictating his stories, having them transcribed by a team of secretaries).

Seeing writing as a professional pursuit, Gardner reflected on his previous work in the sales field. "I had always told our salesmen that if a man had drive enough, if he kept on punching doorbells, sooner or later he would make his quota of sales. I guess the same thing applies to story writing. I know it did in my case."

It can in your case, too. Volume is a key to success in self-publishing fiction. That, and learning a few business basics and strategies.

2. Treat it like a craft

When Gardner kept getting rejection slips that said "plot too thin," he knew he had to learn how to do it. After much study he said he "began to realize that a story plot was composed of component parts, just as an automobile is." He began to build stories, not just make them up on the fly. He made a list of parts and turned those into "plot wheels" which was a way of coming up with innumerable combinations. He was able, with this system, to come up with a complete story idea in thirty seconds.

Learning to plot stories that sell can be done, because Gardner did it, and I did it. And I wrote a book about it. It's called Plot & Structure.

Gardner also wrote in various lengths. Successful self-publishing writers write short stories and novellas as well as full novels. Keep learning and growing as a writer. 

3. Treat it like a sacrifice

There's an old saying about the law, that it is a "jealous mistress." To be any good as a lawyer demands time and sacrifice. Gardner knew he had to be productive to make real money, so he set a quota for himself of 5,000 words a day. If he missed a day due to a trial or other legal matter, he would make up the difference on another day.

I am often asked what the single best piece of writing advice I ever got was, and I always say, Write to a quota. I write six days a week, and take Sundays off. It's worked for me for over twenty years. Virtually no one can write 5,000 words a day like Gardner. And of course most writers have day jobs and family responsibilities. So the key is to figure out what you can produce and commit to doing that week in and week out.

This is my standard suggestion: Figure out what you can comfortably write per week, given your particular circumstances. It doesn't matter the number, just find it. Then up that by 10% and divide into six days. Make that your goal. Keep a record on a spreadsheet that tracks your daily writing and turns it into weekly totals. It will give you confidence to see those numbers adding up throughout the year.

Be prepared to give some things up (TV is a jealous mistress, too) in order to find time to write.

4. Treat it like a mad passion

You've got to be a little nuts if you want to be a professional writer. In those early years, Gardner said, "I would work until one, one-thirty or two o'clock in the morning when I would be so dog-tired that I would stop to rest and would fall asleep in the chair and have nightmares, dreaming for the most part about the characters in the story, waking up a few seconds later all confused as to what was in the story and what had been in my dream. At that time I would go to bed. I would sleep for about three hours a night, waking up around five or five-thirty in the morning. Then I would take a shower, shave, pull up my typewriter and write until it came time to go to the office."

Now, I don't suggest a madness of that magnitude! I find it inspiring, but also know I could never keep a schedule like that (well, maybe if I was twenty-five and unmarried . . .) But dip your quill into Gardner's passion and scribble some of it on your writing soul. And embrace the fact that you are part of a grand fellowship of the mad, the storytellers, the weavers of dreams.

5. Treat it like an adventure right up to the end

A favorite anecdote about Gardner, when he was selling some but not enough, occurred after he felt he finally "got it" about plotting. He sent a story to Black Mask with this note: "If you have any comments on it, put them on the back of a check." Gardner knew he had reached a place of consistent sales, was in this for the long haul, and would never stop writing.

Do you know that about yourself? Are you in this thing to the finish? Make that decision now, and you have a chance to become successful self-publishing fiction.

Gardner completed his last Perry Mason novel, The Case of the Fabulous Fake, six months before his death. Cancer caught up with him. He was hospitalized a few times. But he kept working on a non-fiction book about crime. His editor at Morrow sent him a note suggesting he might want to slow down. Gardner sent one back: "You should know Gardner by now . . . when I get enthusiastic about something, I put the whole machinery into operation."

Erle Stanley Gardner died on March 11, 1970. He had made some autobiographical notes before his death. The last words were these: "My life is filled with color and always has been. I want adventure. I want variety. I want something to look forward to . . . The one dividend we are sure of is the opportunity to have beautiful daydreams . . . . This is as it should be. This is the color of life. I love it."

If you want to self-publish fiction, and make some money at it, do it the Gardner way. Love life, love writing, put your "whole machinery" into action, and never shut down the operation.

71 comments:

  1. I'm reminded of Trollope, who famously demanded of himself 2,500 words before breakfast.

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    1. A great example, Thom, as Trollope wrote most of his novels while a full time civil service employee.

      Another who got his start writing an hour or two before going into work is Elmore Leonard.

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  2. I did not see last week's post as I'd only been back a few days from my father's funeral and have been quite discombobulated to say the least.

    But the definition of success is a highly personal one and no one can set that for me. My death's dad brought home to me even more strongly the importance of finishing two particular novels I've been working on the last few years.

    Both are about fathers or father figures, clearly a subject that has been near & dear to me even before my father's passing. I know I write stories that come from a different perspective then most in my genre. I will pursue those novels until they are finished, even if I finish none of the other novel ideas in the hopper. Finishing a book to my satisfaction spells success.

    I can also identify with Mr. Gardner's "event combinations"--I've certainly written some stuff that fell into that category.

    I always very much enjoy the posts at TKZ. Time constraints have forced me to cut out a lot of blog reading, but TKZ is too essential to my reading list to ignore.

    And even if I weren't a writer, I always appreciate your posts for the insight into individual writers you've read about, studied, admired. Your passionate views of the people and the craft are always inspiring reading. Thank you.

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    1. Heartfelt thanks, BK. We are glad to count you as one of our loyal readers. And finishing those novels is one of the best things you can do as a writer. Godspeed on that project.

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  3. James

    I love reading about the 'pulp' writers. Did you know that Robert E Howard (of Conan fame) wrote a stack of boxing stories? I only recently found out - they are on Amazon so you can get them. (Thought that would appeal to you!).

    Lester Dent is another guy from this era who is interesting to read about. There are plenty of articles on the INterwebz about the 'Lester Dent' plot formula. He did an interview with Writers Digest where he 'spilled the beans' as it were. Very interesting.

    Do you know if Gardner ever wrote about HIS plot findings? (I'll be searching on Google soon as I finish typing this....I love reading stuff like this. It's one of my primary forms of resistance! ;))

    And of course we shouldn't forget the person who is argubably the best writer to come out of the Pulp Era - Ray Bradbury.

    Love the comparison of that era to now as well.

    Good stuff. Keep cranking them out!

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  5. Yes, JJ, Howard was indeed an inspiration for my boxing stories. I talk about that here.

    I haven't found any articles Gardner wrote specifically on plotting, but he apparently made a lot of notes in his diaries and letters, and those papers are at the U. of Texas, Austin. Someday I hope to check them out.

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  6. I'll try again.

    Wonderful advice. I will try not to gush this time because it embarrasses Mother. But I will most certainly direct all of my writing friends to this site.

    I attempted to blog about failure here; http://www.ajcapper.com/failure-is-not-fatal/ but was not as eloquent as Mr. Bell. I did, though, include some pertinent quotes. And I kept it short, because apparently, people who browse blogs have short attention spans. Oh, and I included a picture of a dog. Pretty much covered all hints given by more experienced bloggers.

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    1. Well I had to go look just because you mentioned a dog. 8-)

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    2. Good ramble on your blog, Amanda. Thanks for sharing it.

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    3. Can't go wrong with a dog in it.

      Bill Gates quote is a keeper, too.

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  7. Wikipedia on Erle Stanley Gardner says 66,000 words a week.

    They also say he set that goal after reading "The Fiction Factory" published 1912 by William Wallace Cook, available here:

    http://archive.org/details/fictionfactoryb00compgoog

    I have been looking at that book; it is rather interesting.

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    1. Karl, I have been unable to verify Gardner writing anything close to that number on a regular basis (Wikipedia cites to a Raymond Burr vineyard website). 66k a week works out to something like over 3 million words a year, unthinkable unless that's all you did, and Gardner did a lot more, like hunting with his bow and arrow! He actually lived life, too. Traveled quite a bit.

      The Hughes biography has no mention of Cook in the index, but it's likely Gardner read it because he also called his operation the "Fiction Factory."

      But even at 5,000 words a day, it's a remarkable output by any standard. The Hughes bio gives some examples of when he really cranked it up and hit 8k in a day, and once 15k. But that was not his regular output as far as I can tell.

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    2. Further research reveals that the Wiki source incorrectly identifies William Wallace Cook as the author of The Fiction Factory. In fact, Cook was the originator of "Plotto," a thesaurus of story situations. The Fiction Factory was written by a man named Edwards.

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    3. Correction to my correction. Even further research reveals that John Milton Edwards, listed as the author of "The Fiction Factory," was the pseudonym for William Wallace Cook, author of "Plotto."

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  8. Great insight as always, Jim. I would add that it's not enough to want to write--everyone wants to write a book. You must "need" to write. As an old southern mentor of mine once said, "You need to be eat up with it."

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  9. Another of my writing heroes is that old pink-clad biddy Barbara Cartland. She sold, over one billion (with a "b") of her romances. I used to eat them like candy when I was in high school and they still sell for $1 on the secondary market.

    I bought a box at a library sale and dissected them. They are all within 10 pages of being the same length. Her acts turn on a dime. Act I at 25% and Act III at 75%. There are about 6 plots that she turned into hundreds of books.

    She was a pulp writer, plain and simple. Pink pulp that was appropriate to let teen girls read and almost always dead on with historical accuracy. Even though I moved on to more complex and sophisticated historicals (ala Victoria Holt), I still love the pinks. They are still a guilty pleasure I don't intend to give up.

    Like the commenter above, this post hit home. The loss of my brother put me into a real funk that I am just starting to come out of. I've been writing, but not regularly. More like a clogged engine that races in fits and spurts.

    For my late evening reading, I like to surf the self-pubs and read samples in my fav guilty-pleasure genres (like post-apoc prepper fantasies.) Most of it is self-aggrandizing junk. However, gems appear when I least expect it.

    As always, thank you for the Sunday pep talk!

    Terri

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    1. I'm one of the five people who've never read a Barbara Cartland, but she was first and foremost a pro, it sounds like.

      Keep writing, Terri.

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  10. What I can't grasp is how someone writes with that kind of output and doesn't burn out. How do you not come to hate writing instead trying to keep up that breakneck pace?

    BK Jackson

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    1. Read a couple Perry Mason novels and you'll see why. They're not complex works. Mostly dialog. Stories always end up in court. Gardner, a lawyer, knew the law. Word count runs under 60K.

      His success came from creating a strong lead character and pumping them out. Which is why Gardner is not read today. In fact, I'd wager few mystery fans could name one Gardner novel. They don't stand out, unlike Christie (who, at her best, published four books in a year!).

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    2. Bill--
      Thanks for some pushback regarding the booster-club attitude to mass-production. Martin Amis recently offered the ultimate compliment to any writer: he said Elmore Leonard writes crime novels that readers want to read more than once. So true. Leonard doesn't gin out the most words, just the best ones.

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  11. If we're harking back to pulp writers, let's go all the way back to Dickens. He managed rock-star success on two continents. Rice Burroughs, probably considered less literary, was not so shabby either--his rich imagination was enough to motivate the Star Wars industry to plagiarize him (Jeddi warriors, the ice monster, etc). Asimov, the most prolific writer of all time, also contributed to the Star Wars franchise (the evil Empire in the Foundation series).
    @ BK Jackson, I don't write fast enough for my muses (aka banshees with tasers). They know I have many stories in my head and push me to get them on the written page. So much to write, so little time.
    You have many extremes among writers, from Harper Lee to people like Gardner. Beethoven only had nine symphonies; Mahler a few more (one can argue that many of his bladder-busters should have been more than just one symphony). The creative mind is a strange human phenomenon that's ever variable and hard to predict.
    r/Steve Moore

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    1. Yes, a fellowship of the mad, we writers. And I think treating this like a job and concentrating on the page in front of us, rather than expectations of riches or glory, keeps us creatures who can be lived with....to an extent!

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  12. Just like different human bodies have different metabolisms, so do human minds work at varying metabolic speeds. I have learned to stop beating myself up over the fact that I will never be a fast writer - not of the type of books I want to write.

    I know your subject is how to make money self-publishing fiction, and you are right that more books do help. Within our genre though, there are pulp-style books to be gobbled up by voracious readers and there are other more complex, layered novels to be savored. It is possible to make money selling those, too. Just look at the John LeCarré piece you tweeted about this week. I don't know anyone who is writing that kind of book at the pace of the pulp writers.

    Slow and steady can win the race, too.

    Signed,
    the tortoise

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    1. Quite right, Christine. There are indeed writers who take longer to write, and that's good for them and their books. The pulp writers were not known for style (with some exceptions, like Chandler) as much as entertainment.

      But every writer has to follow the path that is right for them. And when the book is finally finished, if it's not picked up by a publisher, the writer can put it out there and get to work on the next book.

      No matter how fast one writes, there is always the next book. At least there should be.

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  13. As usual TKZ is an inspiration."Treat it like a Job." I haven't been and the story ideas are piling up in my Future File. I resolve in front of all of you to do better and get at least 12,000 words a week.

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    1. Brian, that's a great goal. 12k a week is awesome. Good luck.

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  14. I liked what you said last week in response to one of TKZ's erstwhile contributors. ".. self-publishing writers need to put themselves through the same rigors as they would to go traditional."

    I'd say if a person feels that "self-publishing is an exercise in frustration and a path to near-assured failure for first-time authors," then they're not doing it right or have set their sights WAY too high. There is so much room for success and growth as a new writer in the self-publishing realm, that I'd recommend it to just about anyone. And I'd go further than saying "treat it like a job," and say we must also treat it like a business.

    Before I hit publish on my debut novel, not only did I treat it like a job, I also did what you suggest by putting myself through the same rigors as a traditionally published author would, AND I treated publishing like a business by creating a business plan, setting a budget, and weighed options before making certain decisions.

    There is so much opportunity in self-publishing for authors to make a decent living even when they are just starting out. They just have to do it right.

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    1. You speak the truth, Heather. I agree with everything you say here. Well done.

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  15. Great inspiration. Thank you. Your posts are very important. I have heard that Fran Striker, the writer for the Lone Ranger series, used an idea grid: seven columns covering Hero to conflict and solution, with ten rows of variations on each. It gave him a lot of possibilities.

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    1. Thanks for that. I'd like to follow up and find more out. Hi-Yo!

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  16. I have to add one more pulp icon to the mix: John D. MacDonald. (my personal fave). He got his start selling one short story for $25 then after getting his military discharge, spent the next four months in daily 14-hour stretches banging out stories. He wrote 800,000 words and lost 20 pounds. (Wish I could do both!). He got hundreds of rejection slips but in month five, sold a story to "Dime Detective." The rest is history. And he kept up the pace through all his wonderful books. (Which are now being reissued).

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    1. Kirs, he's on the top of my list, too. I have a complete collection of his 50s stand alones, most of his short stories, a bio (The Red-Hot Typewriter) and his correspondence with Dan Rowan. He is the very picture of a workman, and he also happened to have been a gifted writer. He could have conquered literary, too, if he didn't have the little matter of putting food on the table.

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    2. James,
      I actually came to John MacD via his short story collection "The Good Old Stuff." I found it when I was first trying to write my own first short story and you're right...he coulda been a contender (literary). You can see the Travis McGee archetype in those early pieces.

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  17. I think another lesson here is that you never know when that brilliant idea is going to hit and take off with readers. If Gardner had given up before he created Perry Mason, we probably would not be talking about him today.

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  18. Between the last couple of posts you've done Jim, and narrating Fiction Attack! these last couple weeks I have firmly decided to stick with a quota of writing. Thus far it has been 1000 words a day minimum M-F. And it has been a lot easier than I thought it might be...not to mention getting me a lot further in the WIP.

    Thanks for the great practical advice. Here's to the million word a year goal!

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    1. Ditto Basil. Between this and listening to Nancy Cohen speak at our MWA meeting yesterday about her discipline, I was a good do-be and got 900 words done today before I ran outa steam. Am going to work on rewriting something else now. Gotta keep those plates spinning!

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  19. Hrm... maybe we could make a chart of some kind and everyone who wishes to volunteer the data can keep track of the number of words written each day / week / month in a web site.

    Kinda like weight-watchers input and support, "Word-Watchers" maybe or "Write Watchers".

    If folks are interested I might be willing to work something up.

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  20. I self-published my first novel BABY GRAND last year, and the release has been very successful -- it is currently a Top Rated Mystery/Thriller on Kindle. I credit its success, of course to some luck but, mostly to the reasons you provide, James. Treat your book like a business, craft, passion, sacrifice, etc. All true. Fingers crossed that I can maintain that momentum as I finish up my second novel. Thanks for a great post!

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  21. Very inspiring post. I'm getting ready to release my first serial novel soon...and I can totally relate to the plotting woes that Gardner faced. My plots tend to be a series of meandering events, too. But I'm terrible with outlines--I loathe them. I have your Plot & Structure book, maybe I need to reread!

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  22. Jim: You mentioned one of my favorite writers, Dean Koontz, who I had the privilege of interviewing recently. That interview will be posted later this week on my Hook’em & Book’em blog (where James Scott Bell is featured this week). I asked Dean: “What would be your advice to unknown writers just starting out based upon the changing face of publishing?”

    Dean replied: “Write what you're passionate about, not what's currently hot. Tastes change, these days more rapidly than ever, but what does not change is the intelligent reader's recognition of the passion that a writer brings to his or her work. In this rotten economy—which has affected sales far more profoundly than has the rise of the eBook—the reader needs to sense your commitment to your work and feel that you would have written it even with no hope of publication.”

    Self-published or traditionally published, rotten economy or eBooks, I think he speaks to the heart of what must drive a writer—sense of commitment.

    Great article, Jim!

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    1. Good job, Mark, landing the Koontz interview. When he talks about writing, I listen.

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    2. Thanks, Jim. And when JSB talks about writing, I pay attention.

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  23. Thanks for this excellent mix of interesting historical background on one of my mom's favorite writers (she named one of her daughters "Della" after "Della Street"); sound, practical advice; inspiration; and a kick in the pants, Jim! Just what I needed!

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  24. I've completed Nanowrimo several times, so that has helped me to see what I can do daily. It's kind of nice to have the group accountability, too, because you can see what the word counts of your friends are as well. What really blew me away one year was a girl (looked like she was in her early 20s by her photo) who logged one million words in that one month. I'm not sure how she did it. My shoulder would have given out long before then, because it gets pretty tight when I type for long periods of time. She must have been living at home with mom and dad so all she had to do was wake up and type like mad all day long.

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  25. Three cheers for the unnamed erstwhile commenter! I couldn't agree with him more.

    The definition of success and failure is always key to discussions such as this. If I were a musician, a street gig that reaches hundreds of commuters a day wouldn't scratch the success itch in my mind; nor would the slot as concert master in the local amateur symphony. If I were an actor, being the most sought-after star in the Dallas dinner theater market wouldn't feel like success, either. If I were a journalist, my own daily blog that's read by hundreds wouldn't feel anything like a byline in the New York Times. That said, if I were one of those people, and Hard Knocks had left my talented self with no other options, I could hold my head up high despite the disappointment and make those venues shine. What I don't know I could live with would be the knowledge that fear of the audition made me settle for the dinner theater gig because "everybody knows" success on Broadway is impossible.

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    1. Success to me is simple: the ability to make a living and feed your family doing what you love.

      If you can make a living writing a blog, who gives a damn about the New York Times?

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    2. Interesting analogy, John, because Broadway is pretty much a big-time commercial enterprise that uses glitz and "name" actors and charges outrageous prices. The real originality and vibrancy is Off- and Off-Off-Broadway, and actors who love acting are generally happier there. It's not "fear" of an audition but delight in being able to do more of what they love.

      If Broadway mounts a revival of The Iceman Cometh, they are going to cast Alec Baldwin as Hickey, NOT Michael Dorsey (see Tootsie). But Michael Dorsey loves acting, and if he can make a living doing his own productions (e.g., "Return to Love Canal") he will gladly do it.

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  26. Hey, I just shipped off three articles to the local newspaper that will, no doubt, be read by a few hundred folk in the county. I cover the fluffy puppy beat of school banquets and bake sales. I get a check every Friday. Now, am I a success? I enjoy it. I get paid for it. The people I write about seem to like it. So, yeah, I'm going to call that a win.

    Terri

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  27. Gardner was a talented hack who pleased himself and more than pleased his audience (much like Mickey Spillane). If that's how a writer defines success, then I agree with you, Mr. Bell. Go for it. Still, I'm surprised this time by you, Mr. Bell, because you are miles above Earl Stanley Gardner as a writer. As well, Mr. Gardner wasn't much of a lawyer. I wouldn't have wanted to be one of his clients. He was for the most part a self-taught lawyer. Any lawyer, self-taught or Ivy League, who spends as much time as Gardner spent writing and selling formulaic stories, hasn't much time left for his clients.

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    1. Anthony, I think Gardner would have agreed with your assessment of him as a writer. As a lawyer, what I pick up was that he didn't like being stuck in an office, which happened more and more as he got more clients. He wanted the fiction to take off, so he wouldn't have to be tied to the law and could do more traveling. He had a restless mind. That was probably both his strength and weakness as a lawyer. He did some unconventional things for his clients, mostly poor Chinese, for which they were grateful. But he earned the enmity of the local cops and DA.

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    2. I've always hated the word hack. Whether Mr. Gardner's work was dull or routine is a matter of opinion. I don't particularly like it, but there were obviously plenty who found the stories exciting enough to read over and over again, and a character that was exciting enough to translate into a long-running television series.

      Hack is a subjective term. One man's garbage is another man's treasure.

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  28. I'm hearing a lot about weekly quotas. I've never used them. (Between blog posts and book reviews alone, I probably average over 2k words per day.)
    I don't outline or do drafts either. Better said, my draft before copy editing is my first, because I do content editing as I go (aren't word processors great?). Eschewing drafts allows me "to get in the zone," that wonderful place where characters seem to write their own stories (Pirandello's six would take over in my case).
    Bottom line: I just write and write. I recommend that for every author. It's fun, so much fun that I hate doing the other essential stuff, like editing and marketing...sigh....
    It's a steady-state operation...the long-distance writer? I have many writer friends who are more streaky and others who are more organized (outlines, drafts, character lists, etc). It's the final product that counts, folks, not how you do it.
    Even among the early pulpers, I'd bet writing rituals were strikingly different. And if you only have one book in you, that's fine too (it helps if it's a great book like To Kill a Mockingbird). I think the 21st century allows great freedom for writers to show their stuff...and readers will benefit too!
    r/Steve

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  29. Have you seen Dean Wesley Smith's blog posts on writing a novel in nine or so days? He's on day four now, I think, with ~22k words completed so far (i.e. ~7.5k words a day). It's very interesting. You can see it at www.deanwesleysmith.com

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  30. I write what moves me. But I'm not a stranger to production.

    And I'm happy if I make $10 in month one. $20 in month two. One of these days, I'm gonna hit the book that everybody likes. It doesn't always happen, no, but it's a fun ride!

    Gotta treat it like a lover. Or don't play at all.

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  31. I'd love to hear more about Chandler's "plot wheels."

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    1. Merrill, you can see a pic of one of Gardner's plot wheels here. The "spokes" of the wheel have situations on them. This is the wheel of "blind trail by which the hero is misled or confused."

      Other wheels are things like "act of villainy as a story base," "further complications," "hostile minor character" and so on. There were 12 of these (U. of Texas has them). So you see if you "spin" the wheels and then select the contact points among them, they produce a huge number of plot possibilities.

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  32. Thanks for doing this thoughtful post, Jim. Well done.

    I would also agree with Dean Koontz's response in Mark Young's interview where he says the reader must feel the writer's commitment to his book even if the writer felt he had no shot at getting published. Very concisely put.

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  33. Absolutely fascinating, thanks for sharing this post.
    This seems to be the writing advice I am drawn to more and more at the moment: Just write! A lot! :-)
    And that is what I am putting into practice, and it has increased my enjoyment, too.
    It also helped that I sold my first manuscript a month or two back! :-)
    Thanks again.

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  34. Encouraging advice. On the "success" metrics, it's worth keeping in mind that the average e-book earned less than $300 last year (source here). Writing has many rewards, but money may not be one of them -- as it wasn't even for many pulp authors, who couldn't make a living at it. "Publishing" and "earning" are now distinctly separate tracks :)

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  35. Wow! Amazing post on an amazing author. I needed this today. I needed a reminder of why I do this! Thank you

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  36. Setting a "writing quota" was one of the best decisions I ever made. I only wish I could hit 5,000 words a day. My goal is half that!

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    1. Nick, at 2500 words a day you would be incredibly prolific. Each writer has to find a sweet spot where productivity and quality go together--and where burnout is not stalking you. That's why I advocate "comfort" plus 10%. But good on you for setting a goal.

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  37. Steven M Moore's comment is the one to burn into your writing brains folks.
    And to really not buy into the facts, the so called facts that dictate the experience for some is the experience for all, referencing someone's comment:
    'Writing has many rewards, but money may not be one of them -- as it wasn't even for many pulp authors, who couldn't make a living at it.'
    And as for the quote: "self-publishing is an exercise in frustration and a path to near-assured failure for first-time authors."
    This is utter rubbish.
    I could drum up a list of the numerous authors, knowns and unknowns, who have self-published to at least a monthly income. Heather above in her comment hit it right on the head. I know of new authors getting 1000s of downloads because they treat their writing like a business; this is key to the idea as it is a business. You can't just upload to your blog and Amazon, wait for the sales, moan when it doesn't happen and then leave comments that say new authors can't make a living in today's online spectrum. I know of at least 10 platforms that can get a kindle book on tablets and in retail stores very quickly. But you still have to promote, and promote. Once a book is written, the hard work starts, and that is where the writer trips. It is not a smooth ride, I know that. I know that to make money, I need to step up to the mark and sprint for the finish line. There is competition, you have to know your genre, you have to know how to network and partner with bloggers. It is tough, and I won't be naive and think otherwise in pursuing self publishing success. Maybe I won't earn that much, maybe my stories will just not resonate, but it won't be because I didn't get off my ass.

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  38. I need to adopt this mentality! great post!

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