Do what you are afraid to do: writing as a daring adventure
Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.―Helen Keller
David Farland, the New York Times bestselling author also known as Dave Wolverton, ran a Professional Writers’ Workshop over March break. He’d told me it was a business class, but since we each submitted 20 pages of our writing beforehand, I liked the idea of combining business with craft. Dave had a completely different approach to novel marketing from what I was used to, i.e. from Dean Smith, Kris Rusch, and Mark Lefebvre.
Dave’s approach is to use traditional publishing.
I’d turned indie in 2011, so this was a shocker. If you haven’t heard about author woes in legacy publishing, Kris outlines some of them in this article.
The whole point of indie publishing is that you don’t have to wait, you choose your partners, you decide how good a product to put out, and you pocket the profits. I like it.
Except for the sales numbers. I’d prefer world domination.
I listened to Dave and realized that he acknowledges all the problems that plague traditional midlist authors. But his solution is this: don’t be a midlist author.
Be a lead. Be a super lead. Go big or go home.
“I think you’re doing yourself a disservice by releasing Stockholm Syndrome as a small book,” said Dave, at our lunch over Italian sandwiches. “There is no question that you can write. You’re a Writers of the Future winner.” He’s the coordinating judge, so he sees a ton of stories every quarter, and sends just eight finalists to the judges every three months. “I was hooked on the proposal. There is nothing missing from it. I could see it as a movie. I’d like to see you go big.”
He knows big. He has guided several New York Times bestsellers like Brandon Sanderson and the one I know the best, Stephanie Meyer. You know that’s a good teacher.
I mulled this over. I’ve been writing for decades. I was a Writers of the Future winner in 1999. I’ve been working on my writing very seriously since 2003, a dozen years ago. My writing has progressed to the point where, yes, I’m shortlisted for the Derringer award this year, and also, perfect strangers on Amazon comment that my books get better and better.
Stockholm Syndrome focuses on a hostage-taking at a hospital, so that’s topical.
I’m a doctor writing medical thrillers. That’s marketable.
Of course all the curses of traditional publishing could befall me. I could not sell my book. I could get a crummy advance. I could lose the rights to my characters, if I didn’t know what I was signing.
But I’ve been learning the business all this time, too. I have the resources and the resolution to hire an intellectual property attorney.
And if I don’t sell it big?
Dave’s solution is to trunk the novel and keep writing until your skills and the traditional market converge and you get the deal you want.
My solution would be to go indie.
Okay, I’d lose a year or more of indie sales by going traditional. But that’s not significant. I’m not reliant on our writing income, so I can afford to gamble.
I’m not doing it for my other books. I’ll keep writing short stories, essays, poems, and books of all stripes. It’s just the one Hope novel.
It sucks for my existing fans. I know that. They’ve supported me for the past few years, and now they’d have to wait years for the next Hope book.
It’s also scary for me. Dave already made some suggestions that shocked me like, “Oh, you could just throw in a sister who got killed, so that’s why she solves crimes.” Or, “Could this be the first book? Her first day on the job?” and wipe out three novels, a radio drama, and a novella in one swoop.
But I don’t have to deal with that yet. Just the possibility that, for this one project, the stars may align with trad pub. Or not.
If the stars align on indie, I get to keep building my world, building my craft, building traction until lightning strikes.
Of course, lightning may not strike.
I’m glad I did this workshop. I’m glad I’m learning from different people, including my classmates.
For some reason, I didn’t expect to make friends. I didn’t expect Jenn, Tara and Jeanette to offer us rides from Salt Lake City or Jacqui to drive us back and stop at two museums along the way. Y’know what I was saying about generosity?
And knowledge! I sat beside Ali Cross, the bestselling author who co-founded IndieRecon who does martial arts.
Jacqui worked as a nuclear chemist before she decided to throw down, learn everything she could, and write full time for the next two years.
Jean, Jeanette, and Janet are building second careers as writers–I really admire people who succeed at one profession and then set their sights and skills on scaling another.
Jason came all the way from China. He and Philo and Dave and Jacqui got to chat about the middle kingdom.
Justin and Brock are like me, hands full with a demanding day job but carving out time for writing.
Tara writes in a multitude of genres and Brit is an indie writer, like someone else I know.
Jenn and Katy are brand new fiction writers. Jenn had written articles before, but she met Dave at a conference and leapt right into a professional workshop with a dozen writers. Katy is a multiple Nanowrimo winner who excelled at asking other people questions without bragging about herself, but it turned out that she has eight children and offered that her husband could look after Max too, so you know how good she is. The fact that new writers trusted us with their work humbled me and reminded me that you should always be compassionate when you critique.
I didn’t get to know everyone, but it’s exciting to hang out with passionate people.
My whole life, I’ve been risk-averse when it comes to big ticket/tent pole aspects of my life. Choosing medicine first and writing second. Not having kids until I finished my emerg exams, but we started trying soon afterward. Paying off our mortgage ASAP. Investing conservatively. Holding on to my writing earnings in cash because I may never earn another penny from my words. The only way I let myself go was by writing whatever bizarre stories caught my fancy, by jumping into indie publishing, and by wearing funky clothes. Basically, I took a lot of artistic risks–my motto when I was 16 was Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Do what you are afraid to do”–but not for “real life.”
Well, guess what? I’m ready to experiment now. Medical-wise, I got privileges at two new hospitals last year and started speaking at health care conferences. Financially, I did a lot of research and moved our money (including my sacred writing money!) into low-cost index funds and a few GIC’s. Writing-wise, I’m focusing on mysteries now, but I’m doing a fantasy workshop with Kris in April, just for fun. And I want Stockholm Syndrome to light up the sky.
Soar, eat ether, see what has never been seen; depart , be lost, but climb.―Edna St. Vincent Millay
If you knew that your life was merely a phase or short, short segment of your entire existence, how would you live? Knowing nothing ‘real’ was at risk, what would you do? You’d live a gigantic, bold, fun, dazzling life. You know you would. That’s what the ghosts want us to do – all the exciting things they no longer can.
Zen Pencils did the best cartoon for daring greatly, both the Roosevelt and the Brene Brown quote.
Want to quit your job? Here’s the best rallying cry, by Jon Morrow.
And if you’re free tomorrow, come celebrate Fifty Shades of Grey’s Anatomy in Williamstown at 10:30!
Stockholm Syndrome talks about a Nickelback song, so now I’ve got these stuck in my head. And Wayne Gretzky could’ve stuck to hockey, but he took risks here:
And this is a revolution, no?