Let me start by saying that the feedback I have gotten from readers of No Easy Hope has been overwhelmingly positive. I am honestly amazed at how much people like this book. I recently re-read it, and to be blunt, there were moments when I cringed. Maybe that's just me being self-critical, but I really thought I could have done a much better job. I have learned a lot about writing since I started NEH, and I feel pretty confident when I say that my technique in This Shattered Land is much improved.
One thing I noticed, and several reviewers noticed as well, is that the writing starts out stiff and amateurish, but loosens up and gets better as the book progresses. Well, there is a reason for that. NEH was the first book I ever wrote, and as the story progressed, I gradually got better and better at writing. By the time it was done, I had finally managed to find a pretty good rhythm, so to speak. I thought the last few chapters were pretty good, compared to the first few.
All this being said, if I had it to do over again, there are a lot of things I would change about that first novel. Maybe those changes would help the story, maybe not, but I would have walked away feeling much better about it.
Oh well. As old Bill Shakespeare wrote in the words of Lady Macbeth, what's done is done.
Moving forward, I will be working to expand on the story and improve upon the foundation already laid. Eric and Gabriel will start the journey to Colorado, and get into a hell of a lot of trouble along the way. They will meet friends, and make enemies. They will have happy days, and tragic ones. They will learn, strive, fight, love, and lose. Their path will be neither straight, nor easy. Nothing in life ever is, especially when you have to survive a mass extinction event. It's gonna be a hell of a ride.
So. On to other topics.
For those who follow this blog, or my Facebook page, you probably noticed that I am working on a side project; Jeremiah Cain: Vampire Hunter. Let me explain my motivation for this project.
I used to like the Anita Blake series. The first six or seven novels were great. They fused the supernatural with action and adventure, and I loved the whole angle of society being aware of all the creatures that are featured in the story. They didn't exist in the shadows, they were a part of American culture. It was refreshing, it was original, and it was entertaining. Somewhere along the way, there was the first sex scene in the series. I remember thinking, Well, that was...graphic.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not a bible thumper or a prude, but incredibly detailed descriptions of people getting their schwerve-on is not exactly my cup of tea. I prefer action scenes of the flashing swords and blazing guns variety.
So I kept reading the series, and something disturbing happened. The sex scenes got more frequent, longer, and more detailed. I found myself flipping through page after page trying to get to the part where there was an actual story to read. Pretty soon, I was at the end of the book. I was very disappointed.
This imaginative, original series that I had liked so much had devolved into a bunch of cheap, smutty porn.
Not that there is anything wrong with that, if erotica is your thing, that is fine. You won't find any judgement from this guy. I just don't care for it, personally. I grew up playing Mortal Kombat and reading Batman and X-men comic books. I like heroes, and villains, and epic battles between the forces of good and evil.
By now, if you've actually read to this point, you're thinking; Does this guy have a point, or is he just rambling about nothing?
My point is, since when did Vampires become the good guys?
Since when are they romantic, sympathetic characters?
To hell with that. Vampires are bloodsucking creatures of darkness, and the only good one is a dead one. To that end, I created a new character for a new series: Jeremiah Cain.
He has the heart of a lion, and the soul of a fanatic. He is zealous in his efforts to rid the world of the Vampire scourge, and he will stop at nothing to wreak his vengeance upon the creatures that destroyed his life. He is flawed, just like everyone, but he is also an an extraordinary man. His adventures will be epic.
Much like any story, I have no idea where this one will take me, but I know it will be a lot of fun along the way. I don't want to give away too much right now, especially considering that I still have a ton of work on This Shattered Land to accomplish, but I am very excited about this story.
More to come.
Saturday, March 10, 2012
It's been an eventful year.
Today marks the anniversary of when I started work on my first novel. I finished it in October of last year, and published it on November 8th. (Auspiciously enough, that is the same date I reported to boot camp at Great Lakes Naval Training Center, Great Lakes Illinois, back in 1998, and the date that I recieved my honorable discharge from the Navy six years later in 2004.)
No Easy Hope recently reached a milestone. As of yesterday, it has sold over 7000 copies. That translates into $20,930.00 in gross revenue. After Amazon.com takes their cut, that leaves me with right about fourteen thousand in net earnings. After taxes, it's a little over ten grand. I only get about half the pie, but hey, half of something is better than all of nothing. And that's only what its earned thus far; it's still selling and averaging between thirty to fifty copies a day.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not bragging here. I really do have a point.
To a lot of authors, even self-published ones, seven thousand copies is no big deal. There are plenty of authors out there who see sales like that every month, and I say good for them. The reason I bring this up is to reinforce a point I made on my previous post. Traditional publishing models have left niche reader markets grossly underserved, and there have been a lot of missed opportunities there. That is where Amazon and guys like me come in.
I'm a business guy. I like numbers, I like understanding the truth behind how things work, and I like spotting opportunities. It doesn't take an advanced degree in marketing to spot opportunities for potential readers who want a particular type of literature, just a sharp eye and a good idea for a story. Case in point: Jim Butcher. He is the author of the wildly successful Dresden Files series, a favorite of mine, but initially, in spite of the quality of his work, he had a hard time getting published. His particular brand of dark urban fantasy, centered around a modern day wizard, had a huge potential readership that the big publishing houses had no idea even existed. But Jim Butcher did. He submitted manuscript after manuscript, and was repeatedly rejected. Why? Because the publishers who read those manuscripts didn't see the potential there.
The Dresden Files series is brilliant. It combines action and adventure with horror, mystery, and even a little romance thrown in for good measure. It is a genre spanning masterwork that has sold millions of copies wordwide. Jim Butcher is a fantastic author, way better than I am or ever hope to be. Which begs an obvious question.
If a world class writer like Mr. Butcher has to jump through a thousand flaming hoops to get published, what chance does a mediocre amateur like myself have? Not much of one. About a snowball's chance in hell, I would say. This sentiment is exactly what kept me from writing anything until after I turned thirty. I just figured it would be a lot of wasted effort.
The advent of self-publishing has changed all of that. Maybe No Easy Hope, or any of its sequels, will never appear on the NYT bestseller's list. My side project, Jeremiah Cain: Vampire Hunter will probably never make it there either. But if my first book, published without aid of an editor, agent, or publishing house, can sell 7000 copies in four months without any kind of marketing effort on my part, then I am willing to stay in the game and keep writing. Ten grand in take home cash may not be much to some people, but for a guy like me with a wife and kid to look after, that money can do a lot of good things. Daycare is expensive, and gas isn't getting any cheaper.
I don't need to write a bestseller. I don't need millions of sales (although that sure would be nice). I'm not trying to get rich, I'm just trying to earn a living, and make things easier for my family. When I got my last royalty check, I paid my bills for the whole month, set aside money for gas, groceries, and daycare, put some money in my Roth IRA, and still had a good bit of cash left over to put in non-retirement savings. For a guy who has spent most of his adult life living paycheck to paycheck, fretting over bills, and losing sleep at night wondering how he is going to make ends meet, a surplus of cash is nothing short of a Godsend. For the first time in years, I'm not worried about whether I'll have enough money to get by until my next paycheck.
Amazon, B&N, and all the other ebook retailers out there are the ones who made it possible. They gave niche market authors like myself access to our underserved clientele, and there are hundreds of other writers in hundreds of other markets out there doing the same thing. We're not getting rich by any means, but we are doing something that we love, and making money at it. That's a blessing any way you slice it.
The big publishers are not interested in these small literature markets because there isn't enough money there for them. That's fine with me, I'm more than happy to step in and give these readers what they are looking for. That's my business strategy. While I'm at it, my focus will remain firmly fixed on improving as an author, and publishing quality, fast paced, entertaining stories. I will keep up with my readers on social media, I will read every single review as it comes in, and I will take all comments and criticisms under advisement. Feedback from my readers is as valuable as gold, and I always welcome it, be it good or bad.
Ultimately, my goal is to be able to write for a living. To not have to wake up to an alarm clock every morning and dread going to work. I'm a long way off from that goal, but I believe that I will get there eventually. If my time in the Navy taught me anything, it is that life is about the journey, not the destination. Writing enough books and building a sufficient readership to write full time is a large, daunting task. When I think about this, I am reminded of an old joke I heard who-knows-where a long time ago.
Q: How do you eat an elephant?
A: One bite at a time.
Becoming a successful author, which means making enough income from writing so that I don't have to work a day job, is my elephant to eat. Years ago, I would have would have walked away from so large a task, but not anymore. Ebooks have leveled the playing field, and for those of us with the drive and the determination to see it through, our dream of being professional writers is no longer an unattainable one.
But that is the big picture.
Small picture is to take the next bite. All the ambition in the world ain't gonna do me a damn bit of good if my books suck. It's easy to get caught up in money, but at the end of the day, a book is a work of art. To be a good author, one must always seek to improve his or her writing, and the love of the craft must ever and always remain the writer's foremost motivation. The bottom line here is that if I didn't love writing, I wouldn't do it. I would get a part time job, or work overtime, or something. Writing is hard, it is time consuming, and it can be an incredibly frustrating process. If you don't love it, you won't last long at it.
I have learned a lot in the past year. About myself, about the world of publishing, and about my readers. The feedback that I have gotten from the people who read my book has been, far and away, the most rewarding part of this whole process. More than money, or anything else, I am incredibly grateful to have been able to share something that means so much to me with so many people. The surprising part is that most of them actually liked my book. That is what motivates me to keep writing. The fact that people out there will read my books and enjoy them is as validating as it is humbling. I don't want to let you down, Dear Reader, so when I finish this blog post, I will apply my rather bulbous nose firmly to the grindstone, and get to work on finishing up the sequel to No Easy Hope.
Just in case you haven't heard, the title to the sequel is This Shattered Land. It picks up a couple of months after the epilogue in No Easy Hope, and details the beginning of Gabriel and Eric's journey to Colorado. I'm about halfway through, and I am actually in the middle of writing an action scene involving...
Well, I don't want to spoil it for you. I need to get back to writing, and finish up the chapter I am working on. That is the next bite. One step at a time, one foot in front of the other. That's how you get to where you want to go.
I hope you decide to tag along, I'd appreciate the company.
Posted by James N Cook at 9:32 AM