Thursday, June 23, 2011

Having Apathy for Your Work: Good or Bad?

Bearcats All the Way

It doesn't seem like my young adult novel "Bearcats All the Way" has been out now for six years, but that's apparently what the time stamp on's website says. In the early days, I was filled with hope that Lulu's publishing platform would catch on with the general public and that my book would miraculously be whisked away into the realms of bestsellerdom, wherever that actually is. That didn't happen.

Of course, most of the fault lies with me. Books don't sell when you're too shy about pulling the marketing trigger, and for the longest time I suffered from just such a malady. Today, I'm considerably less shy about discussing my work. Earning a few paychecks on your writing ability will give you the confidence that you need to stop making apologies for your career choice. Nevertheless, the book has stagnated, and honestly, I'm okay with it. I've moved on to other projects, and I've grown considerably as a writer since then, both in education and practice.

I'm very proud of "Bearcats All the Way," but at the same time, if I thrust all of my marketing efforts into the past, there wouldn't be much of a future to take hold of, would there? This reality brings to mind a generally negative word that is, for me, somewhat positive in connotation: apathy. When one is apathetic about something, they just don't give a rip. Apathy is really a two-sided coin not unlike the one Two-Face flips in the Batman comics to decide whether you live or die.

(I know--geek!)

Heads, you stop caring so much that you refuse to participate. That can be on writing projects, homework assignments, or the plant/office/professional football organization, where you work. Tails, you're such a forward thinker that you know when to pull the plug on a project and move on to the next big thing with an enhanced set of skills to accompany you on the journey.

To illustrate:

  • Putting away an old writing project and focusing on something new with renewed enthusiasm and vigor--good.
  • Shutting down your football organization because you only stand to profit $5 billion instead of $7 billion in a down economy--bad.

(That's the sort of thing your fans hate you for, and I'm looking at you, owners.)

So when do you know if a project has run its course? Do you look at the dwindling sales numbers? Do you stop marketing because of a change in marketing trends--like when you wrote that young adult wizardry book, Harry Potter was all the rage, but now even J.K. Rowling is moving on to other things? Do you stop if your book gets a couple of 1-star reviews on iTunes, or when you read an anonymous Internet troll's diatribe on why you're the most illiterate idiot on earth? When is it really time to pull the plug?

For me, the process is very organic. You can't be instructed on when the time is right, but you can be told what to look out for. You'll know it when it happens, but you may feel that you need permission to move on without being considered a failure. Guess what? Everyone fails. Your critics are probably the biggest failures of all because they cannot actually "do." They haven't the courage or perhaps the ability to put themselves out there for the world to see. Chances are they work a job they hate, which may or may not pay well, and pieces of their souls die each day they have to go in and punch a clock. Don't worry about them. Worry about whether or not you want to spend time with the project anymore, and whether or not it still excites you enough to talk about it when you're asked the all important question: What kinds of things do you write? The moment I decided to no longer answer that question with "Bearcats All the Way," was the moment I decided it was time to refocus my efforts.

That's not to say the book isn't worth a read. You could probably polish it off in one day, it being summer and all, wink-wink. But I'd much rather focus on future writing plans because I am a writer, read, "one who writes." Not one who has written. "Bearcats All the Way" has been written. Now on to other things!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

3 Reasons You Should Never Send Out Another Manuscript

"It occurred to me today that I wrote my first piece of fiction 25 years ago when I was only slightly less awesome than I am today," he boasted, tongue planted firmly in cheek. That's right, it's like my Silver Anniversary. Since that day, I've seen my name in print a few times, and while it was a good feeling then, it feels less cool today. Don't get me wrong. I'm proud of the things I've got circulating around, I really am. But the novelty of becoming a newly published writer has worn off, and I for one am glad.

Sort of like that new relationship. It's exciting and fun and unpredictable at first, but while you never really want to let go of those jittery feelings--ideally, you've found someone that inspires you to be your best at every turn, and if you ever fail at it, you're inspired to dust yourself off and try again--you don't want to go through life worried about using the bathroom while she's in the same apartment.

There comes a point, where you have to be comfortable with who you are, and plan for the future instead of worrying about the present. So all those fantasies I had when I was younger--of hobnobbing with Stephen King and Dean Koontz--them actually looking forward to MY next book--are locked away in my daydreams forever. If it happens fine, but it isn't going to define my happiness, nor my opinions of what it means to be a success as a writer.

What does any of this have to do with why you should never send out another manuscript if you are an aspiring writer? Hold on and I'll tell you. First, let me start by giving you my three reasons as promised in the title of this post:

1. The Technology Has Changed

Self publishing was once a waste of time unless you had tons of startup capital and plenty of time to go from city to city and beg people to buy your book. Few did. If you didn't prep your manuscript and put your life on hold for the next six months while you waited on that form letter rejection, then you were out of luck. The industry gatekeepers, heretofore mentioned as "The Industry," stood watch with haughty Puritan smirks upon their faces and watched as you ran in place, never going anywhere no matter how hard you tried or how tired you got. Then, ebooks came along while we were still living in the world of Adobe PDF readers. Sure, it was kind of cool for business purposes, but if you wanted to read for enjoyment, the last way you wanted to do it was to scroll up and down, especially on a computer screen after waiting five minutes for a 400-page document to load. Fiction ebooks did terribly, and rightfully so. The Industry patted itself on the back for continuing to up book prices and put out crappier product. But those techie geniuses at Amazon and Apple saw opportunity.

2. The Industry Has Changed

Instead of going with the flow and allowing the Industry to have its way with consumers, Amazon and Apple devised formats for reading that were more pleasurable to the eyes and convenient for the common man. They offered books at cheaper prices, and gave you the option to dispose of the book once it had been read without driving out to Goodwill with a 600-pound box of books that you needed a push-cart just to transport to the back seat of your car. If you wanted to keep said book for another read, you could. No problem. A few short years later, and today, we have the Kindle, the Nook, and the iPad. Now, not only is the format better, but the device is as well. Meanwhile, the Industry continues to charge $14.99 for ebooks from popular authors, while decent writers with talent have the opportunity to charge just $2.99 for a novel and use social media and online networking to promote themselves and their books while still enjoying a tidy 70-85% royalty--a heck of a lot more money than they'd ever see from publishing with one of "the big boys." In much the same way that the RIAA inadvertently helped the music industry by screwing itself and removing the middle man from transactions between artist and listener, the Industry has contributed to its own potential demise.

3. The Consumer Has Changed

So who stands to profit from the two changes mentioned above? Two people: the author and the consumer. Who stands to fail? Brick and mortar bookstores and libraries. Meanwhile, the publishing giants will continue to offer premium marketing efforts to the lucky few, but the means for finding an audience has simplified so much that a web savvy author can find exposure for his book without an agent and without a printing press. So in a sense, the publishing companies fail, too. Unless they learn to adapt. Meanwhile, newbie authors with talent are going to charge less for what they write, profit more, and build more personal relationships with their consumers, which, I believe, is truly a win-win--for everyone that matters. When sites like offer a free formatting and distribution service in exchange for a 15% commission each time you sell a book, it just makes sense to take matters into your own hands. Consumers are already embracing ereading devices. And I've got to believe that my network of contacts on Facebook and Twitter is more likely to pay $1.99 or $2.99 for an Aric Mitchell joint AND help spread the word than they would be if I charged them $33 for the same novel at a vanity press (or $25 with a mainstream publisher, for that matter).

Now would seem like a pretty good time to end this little tirade, but then it occurs to me that I haven't told you where I was going with those first few paragraphs. Here's the skinny of it: I'm done sending out manuscripts, and I think you should be, too, because you have a better chance of winning the lottery than getting accepted by the limited amount of publishing houses still lucky enough to be in business. Each manuscript mailing is like buying a $1.80 lottery ticket. And I've never been much for playing the lottery. I'm far more attracted to the idea that my own God-given smarts can fuel my passion, enhance my creativity, and help me find an audience. The reasons listed above all play in my favor, and yours as well, Good Writer. The Industry would expect you to do most of the marketing for your book anyway. So why not cut out the middle men, charge a FAIR price, embrace technology full-on, and keep pounding those keys?

How do you think the Industry will adapt to the changes mentioned here? Will they? Or will they continue overcharging for a product with very little overhead? Would love to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

How I Write and Earn a Living: A Poor Man's Version

It was March 16, 2010, when I started my freelance writing career full time. Scary not knowing whether you'll have enough income to sustain yourself, and that fear never really goes away, but it is easier to manage the more you reach your goals and reproduce results. The one thing I have missed since leaving the private sector is the ability to put work out of my head and veg out at the end of a long day.

Being your own boss, finding your own jobs, handling your own customer service issues, and ensuring your own cash flow, keeps you from ever having a moment's peace, but at the same time, it's worth every minute. It just doesn't feel like work when you're the only d-bag that you have to answer to.

I've had friends tell me since that fateful day that I needed to write an ebook on how I do it with assurances they would make a purchase if I ever followed through. Maybe one day I'll get around to it, but today, I've only got time for a little overview.

How do I write in a manner that guarantees I'll be able to pay the bills each month, save for retirement, and take care of my future family (once the wedding bells ding on July 30)?

Go Where the Money Is

I'd love to spend all my time pounding out short stories, novellas, screenplays, and novels, but the reality is that stuff takes a huge time commitment to do right and you'll probably never get back what you put in to it. I have written a novel, which I self-published (before the ereading devices took off). I've also written a novella that was published in the pulp magazine "Masked Gun Mystery" (print and electronic).

My short story "The Monster of Looking Glass County" closed out Scott Nicholson's under-appreciated anthology of graphic novel horror "Grave Conditions." And I've had an essay published in "The Confident Writer" (Houghton Mifflin, Inc.). Unfortunately, I make more in 10 days of going where the money is than I did for any of those endeavors. Still, there are no regrets. I do it because I love it, and in the upcoming year, you'll see quite a bit more fiction come through the iBooks, Kindle, and Nook stores from me. Hopefully, it will find more value thanks to the ever changing face of the epublishing industry. Either way, I won't stop doing it. But in the meantime, I'll have to put food on the table. Luckily, I know where to look. My three biggest sources of income?

Local Journalism

The problem with writing is that everyone thinks they can do it. However, writing well is more than just stringing sentences together. Local journalism involves the ability to watch what is going on in the community and know what types of things will be interesting enough to read. Then, you have to have the ability to approach the publisher with that idea in a manner that sells. It's just like pitching a script to a big movie executive, but at the same time, there is a much higher acceptance rate if you know what you're doing.

I found my local niche in publications, such as "Celebrate Arkansas," one of our few statewide print magazines, and "," Fort Smith, Ark.'s, smaller-but-more-profitable-than-the-print online newspaper. At the local level, people are willing to pay more than they will online for generic content. Of course, there is a greater expenditure of time, but at the least I make about $20 per hour, while at the most I've made $100 per hour. It just depends on the job and the level of time that goes in to it. Plus, if you really do a good job, you'll almost certainly get more assignments. Why? Because, again, not everyone can write well; they just think they can.

Generic Content Online

You want to know where to start with getting paid writing jobs? Start with More specifically, if you have a Craigslist application on your iPhone or mobile device, save a search for each of the major U.S. cities with "writing jobs" as your category. You'll get more than a thousand new jobs per day. The majority of these postings will either be ripoffs, or they simply won't want you. But the law of averages is on your side. You have to put yourself out there and send out the very best query letters that you can (via email, of course) to these potential employers.

If you don't have a body of work, then sign up with a stepping stone service like or, and get a few quality samples under your belt. They will try to pay you through "exposure" and a "piece of the revenue." This means you will make jack squat. However, you will have a recognized forum for your writing. You will have pieces that are web friendly. You will have work that meets certain editorial requirements. Once you have three to five strong samples, you are marketable.

Keep pounding the digital pavement and contacting job posters day in and day out. What you will find is that a pattern develops with your acceptance rate. For instance, you send out twelve queries and get eleven "no's." Sounds horrible, but when you're doing that every week, it doesn't take as long as you would think to have a clientele of six, seven, or eight paying clients. People who will actually show you the money upfront. When you're starting out, take advantage of these payouts. It may seem like crappy money to write for 1 cent per word, but it leads to higher paying jobs. And since so many of these 1-cent-per-word content pieces are easy to write, you can sort of turn your brain off and let the words flow through you.

But you have to love the process, and you have to be familiar and comfortable with online structure. Short sentences. Simple words. Only 300 to 600 words of content per piece. Working like that, I can generally pull in $18-$20 per hour just from this drudgery work. It's not the Great American Novel. In many cases it is written exactly to client specifications, so it may not even be that good. But if you can work fast, you can make money. I wouldn't take a 9-to-5 job for $15 per hour anymore, though I used to think that was good money, because I can actually make that on an off-day.


Quality will find ways of rewarding you. I have one client, who gives me some really inspiring subject matter and pays me at a rate of about $32 per hour. After working with him and giving him the best ideas and writing that I had in me, he turned me on to a colleague, who was also in need of the same kind of work. The colleague's jobs were a tad more time consuming, but they still netted me around $25 per hour. Of all the different ways to get a job, the referral is the most gratifying because it actually validates the quality of your work and doesn't make you feel like you're just a drone, who spits out words according to blueprint. Hang in there long enough and really commit your creative juices to the right people, and you will get a referral. I'm convinced of it.

Wow, that post ended up much longer than I anticipated. Maybe that ebook idea isn't too far off from becoming a reality. Until then, if you have any ideas for how you've landed work, either in print or on the web, feel free to share.

Monday, June 20, 2011

What are you reading now?

Anyone following me on Facebook or Twitter--well, maybe not Twitter so much--will know that I have recently developed a fondness for ebooks. I fought off the urge for a long time, then a friend of mine showed me the error of my ways through the iBooks phenomenon. Even though I am not a big fan of Kindle, it is still a viable ebook platform, and yes, I do read some stuff on there as well, though it isn't nearly as user friendly and doesn't come anywhere close to recreating the experience of reading an actual book.

Nevertheless, in the last two weeks, I've gone from long bouts of reading nothing to reading almost daily. I've blown through one book already and have three others rollicking along nicely. Thanks to ereader platforms, a lot is going to change in the publishing industry over the next few years, and I for one couldn't be happier. So, feeling inspired, I thought I would share what's currently in progress from my library:

Arcane Magazine

Good H.P. Lovecraft inspired short story magazine, available in both print and electronic forms (though limited to the Kindle). From "Gingerbread and Ashes" on, the stories are phenomenal. Nathan Shumate, who helps publish the 74-page collection, has an ear for what makes Lovecraft Lovecraft, and contributes a pretty solid effort himself. Cost is $2.99 for the ereader version and is worth every penny.

Trapped by Jack Kilborn

Mainstream author J.A. Konrath is sticking it to the man with this special edition that includes two versions of his twisted horror novel, both of which were too much for his traditional publisher. For $2.99, Konrath (writing as Kilborn) delivers more scares and gross-outs than you could possibly imagine. Terrific horror effort and unbelievable value for the price. There are enough differences between the two versions of the novel that it really is like reading two books for half the price of one.

Punish the Sinners by John Saul

Twisted, disturbing, and unforgettable, writer John Saul's second horror novel, written in 1989 or 1990, still packs a punch. This one runs about 384 pages and will cost you $7.99 in ereader format. Considering it is hard to find in print form anywhere nowadays, that isn't a bad price. Approaching a tad too expensive for the format, though, but still hovering in reasonable territory as far as I'm concerned.

The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe (all free, woo-hoo!)

Good addition. It's in five volumes and free of charge from iBooks. Kindle has the same option. Totally worth your time.

Write or Die by Scott Nicholson and various other contributors

Nicholson has published four comic series, 12 novels, and a slew of short stories. He makes his full time living through the ereader format pretty much, and if anyone is equipped to teach you how to start a writing career of your own in the digital age, it's this guy, and all of his contributor friends. It's also free. But while you're at it, pick up one of Scott's horror novels. He knows how to price these things, and he knows how to write. Whatever you buy from Nicholson will be worth your time and expense.