More Reasons to Join A Writer’s Group

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Summer is right around the corner, and that’s going to mark the second anniverary of my writer’s group. We’ve had numerous up’s and down’s, membership turnover, and even a venue change, but the core group of authors who initially put it all together are still there, grinding away and putting out the work.

In honor of this, I want to re-visit my earlier ‘Reasons to Join A Writer’s Group’ post with a few more ideas now that our family has grown and matured (or at least gotten older).

Networking

The writer’s group I belong to is successful. That might sound a bit conceited, but it’s true. In the past two years, nearly every author in the group is traditionally published, gotten into a respected Workshop, worked with well-known editors on anthologies, or raised their platform through media tours. One of our members even got a multi-book deal.

Now, all of that is on their own hard work and diligence, but having a trusted group of friends and colleagues to advise and share contacts with is also so much more important than I ever would have known. Being able to “vouch” for another writer to an editor, agent, or artist can open doors you simply wouldn’t have come across flying solo. Plus, we learn from one another’s triumphs and failures, which better helps everyone in the group to navigate the complex landscape of writing and publishing.

Trusted Critiques

Writing is an extremely personal thing, and as one member of my group put it “it takes a lot of trust to hand your work over to someone”. This is true, and what has struck me even more, years on, is that critiques in our group have become simultaneously more comfortable and more intense. As you get to know one another, walls come down, and you can both give and receive the kind of fundamental, honest feedback that is needed to improve a book or story. Plus, when you receive that constructive criticism, you know it’s coming from a place of honest encouragement. We all have each other’s best interest in mind.

Accountability

Meeting with a group regularly, over the long-term, helps to keep you accountable to actually write. Knowing you need to submit, at least every once in a while, will keep you from getting too comfortable. You want to write, after all, and it helps to have friends with common goals who will really push you to get words on the page.

Are you a member of a local writer’s group in your area? If so, tell me about your experiences down in the comments.

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Building a Modern Home Library

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A Random Assortment of Texts

Almost everybody has a bookshelf in their home.

Whether you have a huge house or a tiny apartment, you probably have a few texts sitting spine-out, or piled haphazardly on a coffee table.

But have you ever given a lot of thought to the books you own, or what they say about you?

As part of my overall move to be “more intentional” with my choices and object ownership, I sorted through a bunch of old books on my shelves (and in boxes) to sell or donate. It got me focused on my book collection, or personal library. It turns out the internet says those are different things! This article on AOM and this piece over at BookRiot are solid starting points on the history of, and differences between the two.

Suffice to say, I seem to fall into the “personal library” category since I’m not any sort of enthusiast collector looking to round out a focused, complete set. I prefer a varied flavor of interests, spanning fiction and non-fiction.

How To Choose Your Books

I’ve hung on to a number of books, mainly paperbacks, through school and book trades. Once I started filtering, I realized many of them would go into the donation pile. Being older and more settled means I’m not averse to adding hard covers into this more curated personal library. I used to move around a lot, and my fear of immovable boxes full of hard covers was intense.

This is the tough part. Defining what I really want to keep. What really deserves a spot on that limited shelf space? What “sparks joy”, to get all Marie Kondo about it.

My hardbound edition of Moby Dick and overly extravagant copy of Lovecraft’s Complete Cthulu Mythos were easy picks, and there were some hard fought paperbacks that ended up in the Goodwill stack. I have been selecting keepers using a system of “what would this library fundamentally say about me to a stranger?” So far it’s shaping up as a potpourri of horror, early 20th century American literature, and books on writing craft and photography.

An unintended goal of a personal library (or book collection) is accumulating value. Part of me feels like when I die, it would be embarrassing to have called myself a writer and not have at least a few books that are worth something on my shelves, even if my relatives just sell them on eBay or at an estate sale. Nobody wants a 9th edition paperback of Gibson’s Neuromancer scrawled with my insane margin notes…

Lists To Get Started

pexels-photo-1148399Back in 1998, a (now) controversial list of the Top 100 Novels was released by Modern Library. It has been criticized as not diverse enough, and also as a guerrilla marketing tool for Penguin Random House’s classics division.

I have to say, at least for me, there is some good stuff on it. I might have a hardbound copy of As I Lay Dying on its way from eBay. Might.

You might have already read a bunch of these books as required from school and formed an opinion of them. If they aren’t your speed and you want something a little more contemporary, I have been plumbing the list of Man Booker Prize award winners. This Goodreads list puts them in a nicely rated chronological order, and you can peruse details. Honestly, you could do a hell of a lot worse for a personal library OR a book collection than to get every Booker winner inside four walls.

Beyond big lists, I’ve found that social media groups, forums, and Reddit are great if you’re looking to shore up more specific genre tastes that are outside the mainstream.

Do You Collect or Curate?

I foresee my personal library as a long-term, ongoing effort. Being a frugal Yankee, most purchases now land on my Kindle, but that only makes the physical books “worthy” of a shelf slot all the more special.

Do you have a book collection or personal library? Do you have any tips or a specific system you use to grow it? Or is your home just filled with teetering towers of unread tomes? Feel free to share down in the comments!

Balancing Creation and Consumption

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“You cannot create when you are consuming.”

Pragmatic writing advice if I’ve ever heard it.

It sits at the opposing end of the spectrum from “read widely” and “refuel your creative tank”, which are also widely accepted as good advice for authors.

I’m still deep inside the second rewrite of my dark fantasy novel, and prioritizing it against other creative pursuits. I wrote a post a few months ago about writers having other hobbies, and I still stand by my opinion that two hobbies is the “right number”.

Finding Balance

Further prioritization of  limited time has found me exploring  how to balance pursuits that create versus consume. It has meant letting go of some things that I used to enjoy doing, but honestly can’t justify devoting time and resources to anymore.

Video games were the biggest sacrifice on this list. I used to be an avid gamer, and I still love gaming, but the industry seems to have moved in a direction where the games became huge time sinks. I can’t justify putting 25-60 hours into something that, while it may grant a feeling of accomplishment, doesn’t create any sort of tangible creative product.

25-60 hours is a lot of writing. That is short stories, revised chapters, posted submissions, or even a few rolls of film on a photo shoot or two. These are efforts that create, or at least advance, a body of creative work. It’s why in January I made a “silent resolution” to stop buying new games.

Making Art

It’s a matter of creating your own art versus consuming that of others.

I stopped purchasing games to throw into an ever-growing backlog for the same reason I let go of trying to voraciously speed read through my TBR book pile. I had become obsessed with trying to consume “all the things” and it was stressful and detrimental to my creative process. Anyone who can afford an internet connection is lousy with entertainment choices these days, and there seems to be a strange quasi-guilt emerging with it. Is that FOMO? Is that why Marie Kondo is so popular on Netflix?

Maybe I’m becoming more aware of my own mortality, but the older I get the more I desire to establish an artistic legacy. Adult responsibilities always seem to get in the way of creative time, so it makes those free hours even more precious. However, you can’t be creative all the time. That is a sure-fire recipe for burn out. So it requires balance.

A Process

The balancing of creative output and what I’ll pretentiously call “artistic consumption” is a matter of scheduling, routine, and determination. By creating an intentional routine, I’ve learned that I write far better in the early mornings, when my brain is still energized and fluid with ideas. Once I’m burnt out from the day, I can relax in the evenings with a book out of that TBR pile for a couple hours. It’s a process I’m always refining, and in other odd moments I eek out submissions, the occasional blog post, or a little promotion.

I’m curious what other authors do to balance their creative output versus consumption of media and art. No matter what your process is, I think it’s a good problem to have. The luxury of available means and ability to hone a craft is still a valuable commodity in our fast-paced, modern world.

Blogs Are Still Relevant in 2019

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While putting in extra time to market the re-release of Detroit 2020, I have been giving a lot of thought to blogging. In particular, blogs versus social media.

While I forcibly had to upgrade to a smartphone from last year’s beloved flip phone, I still refuse to put any social media apps on it, because of all the creativity-stifling reasons outlined here.

I’ve reduced my usage to Twitter alone, via a desktop app. I feel it’s a better way to interact with the service.

But enough about that…

If you’re a writer, or anyone with a serious artistic hobby, I want to convince you that having a blog is still totally relevant in 2019. You might think blogs are falling by the wayside, but I believe they are still a powerful tool for relationship building.

Blogs Are Your Space

Blogs are a place for you to compose complex thoughts, and more nuanced posts on broad topics. They are also a place that you can display or discuss your creative work to an audience. That body of work comes together and creates a much stronger online identity and portfolio of work than the limited profile spaces that social media sites give you. Most of those social profiles give you a spot to place your URL. You should have a blog to put in there. This is especially true if you pay for your own blog hosting and can customize things extensively.

Blogs Promote Long-Form Content

Readers want long form content. Videos, memes, and 280-character posts are generally glorified fluff commentary. To really understand something and have an informed conversation that is more than just noise, you need “long reads”. Blogs are still the best place online for that. No imposed limitations and the ability to use different forms of media to create complex posts. That old saying “content is king” still applies.

Blogs Are Easy

People say things like “I don’t get Twitter.” or “I don’t get Instagram.” Social media platforms all have different little quirks and systems that they use to stand out. Those quirks create a learning curve, and sometimes rules of etiquette. Blogs are so much easier. You just click, read, and then comment if you are inclined. There’s no hashtags or icons or flags to figure out why (and if) you should be pushing them.

Blogs Build Real Audiences

Blogs build relationships. They create “real readership” and and an engaged audience. Most social media entails “liking” a post, and maybe a quick comment or two. It’s essentially saying “Hey, we both enjoy this same thing. Cool.” and not much happens after that. Bloggers can guest post, link to one-another, and re-use or share content in a number of ways with other like-minded people. Plus, similar to email lists, readers/followers are generally much more committed than on social media sites. I know personally that I see familiar faces on this blog commenting and interacting with posts. That’s a rare situation on Twitter, especially once you break the 100 Follower mark.

Blogs Are Future Proof

Social media sites are under increasing scrutiny, and the next new thing is always trying to usurp the current leaders. Blogs are a mature technology, like email, that can be moved to different hosting sites and create a body of work that is persistent and owned by its creator (usually). Plus, outside of occasional ads, blogs aren’t secretly harvesting your personal data just to use them. They are still a more “pure” form of internet communication. Sure, the author may want to sell you something, but they are more up front about it. And often, many bloggers post just for the sake of it with no ulterior motives.

These are just a few of the reasons I believe blogs are still relevant in 2019 and better than social media. If you’re an author or artist reading this and don’t have a blog or a personal website with the ability to make blog posts, I implore you to get one.

 

Free Books and The Devaluation of Art

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I’ve written on the topic of art devaluation before.

I’m a subscriber and regular listener of the Print Run Podcast because I enjoy their agent’s take on current publishing industry trends. In a recent episode, they touched on the devaluation of art, specifically books, and I tossed around some ideas that are now this post.

I’d like to talk about giving away your work for “free”.

First, I assume you want an audience. That’s probably our shared goal as writers and authors, right? A readership who connects with, and enjoys our work. (To be clear, I am not counting sending out ARC’s or other review copies to outlets. That’s a necessary part of any book marketing plan.)

That said, money is nice too. Even if you take those profits and reinvest 100% of them into pencils, cover illustrations, or an ink cartridge to print query letters for your next book, it can be a wonderful motivator to encourage the creation of new work.

Here are a few trends I’ve noticed over the past year–positive and negative–that seem to be emerging around authors giving away their work for free.

Less Authors Are Giving Their Books Away

It seems like “freebies” are less frequent, outside of contests, in major channels like Amazon and Bookbub. There are still a number of ebooks priced around a dollar, but I find that far more acceptable than simply giving work away.

I still look back on my Kindle giveaways as a mistake. Sales are one thing, but I gave away hundreds of ebooks and have no measurable way of knowing that they ever got read. While this may be a good strategy for authors who have an established backlog to get new readers drawn in, I have always felt it’s the equivalent of a sleazy club promoter trying to get bands to play free “for the exposure”.

The marketplaces are far too crowded to “get noticed” by giving away free stuff. It’s just an outmoded tactic. You’re better off giving away book-related chachkies at a live event hoping they convert paid sales.

I take less authors giving away free books as a good sign, which leads me to my next point.

Buying Books Is a Good Thing

Why? Because cost underlies perceived value.

In a world of supply and demand, scarcity breeds value. Since the “digital revolution” has essentially made scarcity a thing of the past, worth is reduced. Maybe you’re old enough to remember buying CD’s. One album that cost between $15 and $22. Now $20 will buy you a 4 month subscription to any number of music services that have nearly EVERY SONG EVER RECORDED on demand.

Ergo, music is effectively worth about $5 a month. Sure, your favorite song is still a priceless work of art, but don’t tell that to the record execs. Another example is the recent resurgence of vinyl records, which are relatively expensive, but buyers attach value to the highly analog experience of listening to their favorite artists on a record player.

What I’m getting at is when you price your book at $0, there isn’t much reason for readers to care about it. They’re much more likely to read something they plunked their hard-earned cash on than not. Even more compelling is the psychological phenomenon that they are more likely to ENJOY your book, rather than let their brain suffer “buyer’s remorse” after spending said cash.

Giving Away Books Hurts Authors

It hurts all of us. Seriously.

I hate the term “a race to the bottom”, but in this case it kind of is. I used to naively believe that self-publishing was a bold new frontier, and in many ways it is great. That said, the ingenious (and kind of sinister) way Amazon and other online retailers have allowed self-published authors to wage a proxy war against “gatekeepers” on their behalf is hurting everyone. The marketplaces are flooded, with prices going down the drain as everyone tries to undercut for “visibility”. Writers are generating an almost endless supply of books for Amazon’s horn of plenty, and sets readers expectations that books “should” either be cheap, free, or part of an unlimited monthly subscription.

It is insidious because you cannot really blame anyone without sounding like a curmudgeon. Everyone wants books. And why not for cheap, or even free?

Well, because ultimately in this cycle, authors don’t get paid. Even the self-published ones who see better return percentages need to enter the market at low prices and constantly fight the monthly tsunami of new releases.

It’s a slow erosion.

Books Are Worth It

To end this on a more positive note, if you put all this time and effort into making a phenomenal book, or busting your hump to find an agent and publisher, then you should be paid for your efforts.

Don’t feel like you owe readers freebies simply because that is how popular culture and tech have devalued art & media.

Writing is a craft, and craftsmen get paid for their time and skills.

So how do you feel about giving your work away? Have you ever given away free copies of books or submitted stories to non-paying outlets? Is it a strategy that has actually worked for you and your readership?

Tell me down in the comments.