The Plan for 2017

Welcome to 2017!  Sure, I’m a bit late but nevertheless here we are.  In a little over six months A Gathering of Ravens will be on store shelves, both physical and virtual.  If the past holds true, I should start to see early industry reviews beginning sometime in April.  This part of the process is much like sending a beloved child out for tests to determine if she will be lauded as a genius or locked in a basement like some Gothic monster.  But, a few very early readers have already spoken over at Goodreads.  You can read their reviews here.

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The Plan

So, while I’m waiting for the final verdict my plan is to forge ahead on the next book in the saga of Grimnir.  Not a sequel, per se, but rather a whole new stand-alone tale featuring our erstwhile protagonist.  It is called Twilight of the Gods; set approximately 200 years after the events detailed in A Gathering of Ravens, a celebrated Crusader returns to the North, charged by the Pope himself with bringing the pagan tribes around Lake Vänern to heel. Unfortunately for him, one such tribe worships the last remaining skraelingr as the worldly avatar of Loki . . .

It’s plotted out, save for the last act, and writing has begun.  My target is to have it finished by April.  After that, I’ll start plotting out the third book of the Grimnir sequence (tentatively called The Doom of Odin) and have that manuscript finished by November.  It is an ambitious plan, for me.  I’ve been a “book every two years” sort of writer for as long as I can recall.  Now, though, the market has changed.  To remain viable I needs must increase my output (or have a hit of such magnitude that I can take my time and no one will complain).

The prescription for two books a year?  It boils down to a thousand words a day.  A thousand words.  That’s an average blog post; a mere two-and-a-half pages (based on my Word settings).  Maintain that pace, I’m told by those who regularly write multiple books a year, and I can finish a book in 120 days.  Increase the pace and that window shrinks.  It looks good on paper; it looks eminently do-able, but in military circles it’s often said that no plan, regardless of how well-thought out, survives contact with the enemy.  And my enemy is what Steven Pressfield calls Resistance.  That niggling voice in the back of my mind that convinces me I’m not good at this, that I’m not deserving, that I should cut my losses while I can and get out of this business.  “Other people are writers,” my Mother told me, upon learning I wanted to take up writing as a career.  And this is the form of my destructor.

Luckily, I have an extended network of support, from my wife to my agent and right down to people I interact with online, and they think I can do it.  So I will trust them.  I will buckle down, apply butt to chair, and get the words down.  A thousand a day.

Starting now.

The Rivalry of Letters

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I’ve been commenting on a few posts on Facebook and on Reddit about what I see as the forced rivalry between indie and traditional authors (those who self-published versus those who are published through a commercial press). This is a rivalry that isn’t helped by prevailing attitudes in both groups. Though attitudes in the traditional community are slowly changing, the idea that self-publishing amounts to a monetization of the slush pile—with all the negative connotations that implies—remains a reality. I am, myself, a recovering elitist snob. In the not-too-distant past, I often looked down my nose at self-published efforts; “vanity publishing”, we used to call it, only fit for those who lacked the skill or the drive to brave the unforgiving world of commercial publishing. I even blushed, in my early days, when I had to explain that my first publisher was a small press, as if the size and reach of the house you were affiliated with were the final arbiters of a writer’s success.

Vitriol, however, is a two-way street. Indies are quick to toss out Twilight or Fifty Shades of Gray as proof that the system is rotten, bereft of an artistic soul. Partisans make claims that run the gamut, from “traditional publishing puts out badly edited and poorly proofed books” to “a lot of the stories are flavorless”—as though only those who tread the indie path are capable of writing and publishing a unique tale. The rest of us, we poor trad authors, dance to the tune of our soulless paymasters, writing bland stories couched in bland prose which are slapped between bland covers and trucked out to bland stores reeking of burnt coffee and pumpkin spice, where they—and we—are quickly forgotten.

The truth is, neither side is correct in its thinking.

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A writer is one who writes. There is no other qualifier than that. Publishing, both indie and trad, exists as a vehicle to get the writer’s product out and into the hands of readers. Here is the difference: an indie author assembles a team or fills the various roles herself: writer, editor, designer, artist, marketeer; a trad author is asked to join an existing team, where the aforementioned roles are filled by others. The end result is the same: produce a book that will gain the readers’ attention, get read, earn money. In every other respect, the effort of the indie author and the trad author is indistinguishable. If I, as a trad author, want to build my readership then I must do precisely the same things as my indie brothers and sisters do to get noticed. I handle my own promo, set up my own interviews, hang out in places where readers congregate online, offer free copies, run contests, blog to infinity and beyond.

So why not just go indie and keep all your earnings for yourself while maintaining total control over your work, especially if the effort required is identical? A fair question, and one that is put to me quite often. The answer is woven in with who I am. I started writing pre-Internet Age, before the indie revolution, when the only legitimate form of publication was via a large or small press. I grew up reading anecdotes from writers who struggled in the face of an endless storm of rejection just to get their work noticed. One learned to write through practice and imitation, dipped your toe in the short fiction markets to refine your voice, then with a few bylines under your belt, you set your keel for the great shoal of light that was the New York publishing industry. THAT was the life I wanted! And I made that my goal.

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Maxwell Perkins, legendary editor at Scribner’s.

I like the cachet that comes with being published by one of the Big 5; I like having a literary agent who is as much a mentor as he is my advocate at the Flatiron Building. I am no entrepreneur, so I willingly cede total control in order to have access to editors and copy editors, artists, a marketing team, physical shelf space in bookstores, an avenue to easily receive industry reviews, etc.—all the unseen benefits of having weathered slush piles and torrential rejections. The path you take to seeing your own work in print depends largely on acknowledging your limits: how patient are you? How much rejection can you take? How much control over the process of taking a book from manuscript to finished product do you need? How comfortable are you being in business for yourself? Answer these honestly and you will start to see the head of your trail.

One last thing: in no sphere of human endeavor is there such a thing as a level playing field. You will be ignored, pushed away, told no even as your neighbor—a world-class hack who writes anything from dinosaur porn to inane techno-thrillers—is lauded for her genius and showered with the filthiest sort of Hollywood lucre. Life, and publishing, is ultimately not fair. Just because you wrote it doesn’t mean it deserves to be published. To quote one of my literary heroes, Steven Pressfield: “Nobody wants to read your shit.” What you have to figure out is how to make somebody WANT to read your work, be it an agent, an editor, or a dedicated reader.

In that, we are no different at all.

 

Deleted Scene: The Washer in the Water

AGoR CoverI present for your enjoyment, Gentle Reader, a deleted scene from A Gathering of Ravens.  In it, Grimnir is making his way across Somerset alone.  In the previous chapter he lost his young captive and guide, Étaín, to the forces of Lord Hrothmund of Badon (modern Bath).  Stubborn and ever the pragmatist, Grimnir leaves her to her fate and pushes on, intent on finding an enclave of Danes or Norse who might know the location of his prey, the slippery Bjarki Half-Dane.  But, the Norns aren’t quite done with him, yet . . .


 

With the coming of night, Grimnir stirred from his bolt-hole. He stretched his cramped limbs, rolling his shoulders and cracking the tendons in his neck. He glared at the purple sky and cursed the pissing rain. He cursed the dripping canopy of trees that gave him no shelter, the moss-clad stones that offered him no comfort; he cursed this hilltop where once a fortress had stood, now nothing more than a ring of foundation stones. He cast his net wide and cursed every village, field, farmstead, and pasture between this godforsaken place and the siege lines at Nunna’s Ford. He cursed Wessex and the lands of the English and all things under heaven with vitriol to spare.

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“Grimnir” by Jason Deem.

The skraelingr hawked and spat. “Three days!” he muttered, dragging his kit out from beneath the overhang of an eroded embankment where he’d passed the day. In three days, he’d barely made it a score of miles from the burned-out wreck of Nunna’s Ford. Grimnir ground his teeth. He dug around in his pack until he found a hunk of salt-dried mutton and a flask of ale – part of the spoils taken from the men he’d slain with that bastard Cynewulf. He had lain low on the first day, watching as the Saxon army dispersed. Their captain, Rust-beard, had taken his mate’s death hard; he sent out hunters and scouts in hopes of coming across the trail of the raiding party that had ambushed his men. That brought a fierce twist of glee to Grimnir’s lips. Once the last wagon had departed, loaded with the wounded and those taken captive, the skraelingr took to his heels. He did not bother searching among the dead for Étaín; whatever happened to that blasted little hymn-singer was her own fault. Grimnir picked a gobbet of gristle out of his teeth and flicked it away in disgust.

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