Treasure Hunt Poster and Research

I’ve been working, once again, with Daria Brennan, at, to develop a poster to give a visual idea of the vibe I’m hoping to go with for the movie. Here’s what she came up with (click on the image to get a larger version):


I’ve asked her to add “Inspired by Legends” to create more of a hook.

Last weekend (hard to believe it’s only been a week) I contacted a lady who has done extensive research into the Civil War in general, and the Shenandoah Valley in particular. She’s snowed me under with responses (more than 32 emails so far), with so much detail that I’m actually worried about tying my script too close to reality and triggering knuckleheads running around digging holes all over the Valley. I’ve called her ‘amazing’ but that seemed inadequate, so I just Googled synonyms and came up with these:

astonishing, astounding, surprising, stunning, staggering, shocking, startling, stupefying, breathtaking; awesome, awe-inspiring, sensational, remarkable, spectacular, stupendous, phenomenal, extraordinary, incredible, unbelievable; mind-blowing, jaw-dropping; wondrous

All of those words also feel inadequate, singly, in pairs or even en masse. Now I feel even more pressure to develop my script to try and live up to her efforts. I did manage to start writing last Sunday, cranked out a whole 1K words, then her feedback started to trickle (deluge) in and I got lost in learning about history. I’m fortunate she understands that only a tiny fraction of what she’s offered can make it into the script, but I have a real challenge picking a choosing what elements to put in. I don’t want to create a history lecture, but I’d like to put as much actual events into the script as possible. I’ve learned a few ‘tricks’ to making an infodump palatable, and intend to put them all to work in this case, but it will be a challenge to create a captivating screenplay that’s nonetheless educational and (largely) truthful.

I’ve been reading a small pile of books on storytelling for movies, directing actors, working with nano budgets, etc. and am now torn. A strategy I really like, and one I intend to follow if I carry this to the next level and start a production company, is to use social media to test the waters of a movie idea before it’s been filmed, or, indeed, the script has been written. The idea is twofold: first, to test a marketing concept and see if it actually reached the target audience, and that audience is large enough to profitably pay for the movie. Second, to use that success (if it fails, either rework the marketing or move to another project) to approach investors to pay for the production. I’d dearly love to pay my cast and crew, and, further, to film it in a couple of weeks instead of on weekends spread over months. But there’s no way I can afford that now, and I’m reluctant to dilute my already diluted focus (I still have a regular job, still need to be a present husband and father, not to mention exercise this blubbery body) and drag this project out longer than I expect to already take.

On the other hand, I’m really starting to feel that it’ll be possible to generate enough interest to make some money ‘four walling‘ and marketing directly to the local area. Not to mention marketing directly toward Civil War enthusiasts. Heck, I was envisioning setting up a table in the theater lobby selling DVDs, soundtracks (a very good friend is going to put me in touch with a young composer who might be willing to work for the exposure), T shirts, etc. as a way to make a few more bucks above and beyond any ticket sales. I’m also looking into local and regional film festivals and researching those related to the Civil War. All these feel like very viable and realistic ways to make some money, though how much I can’t really get a feel for. And, with the idea of making ‘real’ money, paying cast and crew feels like something I should do.

Though I’ve researched deferring compensation for cast and crew, after reading extensively about it, the conclusion I’ve got is it’s not fair to everyone involved. If the chance of making money is a gamble, it’s cleaner to just be up front with the cast and crew and let them know that reel (and beer and pizza) is it. Besides, it might realistically take years before (if) a movie starts to make money, particularly if it has to slowly build interest.  And my investor needs to be paid back as well; deferred compensation happens before investor compensation and can really make that complicated.  While the cast and crew would be putting in lots of hours, I’ll probably have a couple of thousand hours in it by the time it’s something anyone would want to watch, and I feel me getting a few thousand dollars will make it a lot more likely that I’ll have the motivation to take on the challenge of a fully-funded movie, whereas if it took years to dribble in the deferred compensation to cast and crew, I might lose interest.  Of course, anyone can get struck by lightening, but I think the balance of probability is very much in favor with the movie being lucky to earn back it’s (nano) budget.

But I do dream…

My Directing Style

Or, rather, I should say, the style I intend as I become and grow as a director.  I feel a movie is made (or screwed up) five times: when the script is written, when it’s directed, as it’s filmed and acted and when it’s edited.  Since my intention is to direct what I write, I feel it’s incumbent on me to give extra space for the other elements, and intend to act more as a guide while directing, rather than as a task master.

The script is but one vision of the film. The one I have as I labor creating imagery I feel will be interesting and entertaining.  Writing is a lonely thing, so the images I have are, necessarily, myopic.  I do ask for feedback from people I trust, so get some help with some of the images, but the bulk are mine.  Sometimes they come easy, other times it may take days, or even weeks, to develop.  But I view them as a starting point, not an end in and of itself.  The script, as written, is intended to entice producers, investors, cast and crew to sign on, but once the team has been assembled, I lose ownership of the script and it becomes property of the team.

Since I had a clear goal for each scene and each character, it’s easy for me to reflexively say, this or that is ‘correct’ while the other thing is ‘wrong.’  Please ignore that.  I’m a born asshole and have a rude and unfortunate knee jerk (emphasis on ‘jerk;’ just ask my wife) response to things that don’t fit in my world view.  However, my goal is to build a team that, individually and collectively, are smarter and better at their jobs than I could ever be, so please call me out when I’m being an asshole and telling you how to do your job.  While I would like to capture a take close to my original vision, I also want to have lots of material for the editor, and fully believe that the scene I originally envisioned can be made better by others.  This is why I’m starting down this path as a director, to have the joy in serendipity, when the smarter-than-me cast and crew take my scripted raw material and make something far better than I originally envisioned.

From a cinematography point of view, I favor the idea of getting coverage by having multiple cameras running with each take.  While there will certainly be times when the cinematographer and/or editor feel shots are needed that preclude this possibility, I feel the actors can give a more authentic performance when they’re playing off each other.  Hopefully, I can find a DP that will share my vision.  But I intend to hire a DP that’s much smarter than I am (which shouldn’t be that high a bar; though I understand the physics of what’s going on and have studied integrated circuit fabrication, have some understanding of optics and studied glamor photography in some depth, I don’t pretend to be a cinematographer any more than I pretend to be an actor or editor), so will yield to the DP’s expertise.

I’ve read about acting and intend to be an actor friendly director, but I don’t have the guts to be one.  That doesn’t mean I won’t demand the actor do their job, and I expect them to internalize the character such that they don’t have to recite their lines, the dialog flows naturally from the interactions.  My intent is to minimize rehearsals, beyond blocking, because I want each take to be fresh and spontaneous.  I want the actors to interpret the characters, to own them.  While each scene can be done any number of ways, and I would like to see them all, there’s a timetable that needs to be adhered to.  Having said that, it takes much longer to set up for a scene than to shoot it, so I want to spend extra time capturing any favored alternative interpretations the actors have for each scene.

These extra interpretations are fodder for the editor, the last chance to salvage (or ruin) the movie.  My intention is to begin working with the editor before production and with the DP, to discuss options before schedules are set in stone.  I would like to have the editor working with material as it’s being made, so they can identify any missing pieces when it costs almost nothing to fill them in.

I view being a director like being a dungeon master in a role playing game: I create the world and the set pieces, the players (cast and crew) bring the game to life with their choices and interactions.  Making a movie is a partnership and everyone involved contributes to the completed result.

My qualifications as a director

This post is intended to show how my eclectic background makes me an ideal candidate as a writer/director.

Though a biochemist by education and experience, my efforts to turn toward biotech management after I got my MBA were thwarted by events and I turned to programming. I’m almost exclusively self-taught in programming and information security, something that’s lead to a career of more than 20 years.

Using knowledge gleaned from hundreds of sources, I designed, and my wife and I built, a 2,600 sqft house. Then, with an engineer, I designed, and my wife and I built most of, a 5,000 sqft indoor pool / greenhouse with a pavilion that serves as an additional kitchen.

These two elements demonstrate that I can successfully take on long-term, complex projects based on book learning. Switching careers to programming, after investing a decade into biotechnology, also shows that I can quickly adapt to changing circumstances.

I’ve been a manager at several levels, in IT and in manufacturing. My IT career started “backwards” with project management. Programmers, as a group, have an artistic temperament, in that they’re often driven by creative energies and usually have to be cajoled rather than instructed. I believe this experience will help me in pre-production, working with cast and crew during filming and in post-production.

While I’m always open to advice and suggestions – my intent is to make as good a product as I can – I understand that “the buck stops here,” and easily make decisions. Once made, I won’t consider altering my decision unless events change or someone convinces me of a superior approach.

I enjoy collaboration and am quick to include others input and to recognize them, but also understand that some decisions develop momentum and can’t be changed without incurring significant expenses.

As a testament to my creative ability, I have three novels, a novella and a series of short stories, as well as the several scripts I’ve created (two are adaptations of my prose). While I have very clear ideas of what I want for a scene, I also believe in serendipity and want input of cast and crew with each take. My intention is to capture my original intent for the scene, then ask the cast and crew for improvisation to provide the editing process with maximal raw material.

I’ve studied movie making and understand that it’s on par with watching paint dry or grass grow. I look forward to the challenge of working within constrained resources; one of my programming areas of interest is problems that exceed the hardware capabilities and how to achieve success despite the limitations.

With a very strong background in IT and information security, I bring lots of embedded knowledge necessary for modern digital film making. At an instinctive level, I’m aware of the vulnerable nature of the data, how important backups are, and keeping the backups separate and secure.

My business education has given me the tools to evaluate and manage budgets, to establish critical paths and track dependencies. I understand the goals of the producer and am very sympathetic to the need to satisfy investors.

Though patience is not my strong suit, I understand projects like these can take many years. I’m persistent, and will circle back to stalled projects from time to time to see if circumstances have changed.

I believe I have a lot of the necessary requirements to be an effective director and feel, if teamed with an experienced crew, any deficiencies can be caught early enough they won’t impact the time line or budget. As a beginning director, I’m also prepared to be flexible and tie some compensation to investor success.

Trez You

I usually shorten my titles, I shortened this one to TreasHu and hear it in my mind as Trez You.

Treasure Hunt” is the name I’ve come up with for my directorial debut.  It may also be my last movie, only time will tell.  My goal with this is to film it with a ‘nano’ budget of just a couple of thousand dollars, over weekends, with a cast and crew paid via reel, beer and pizza (and the lure of an indoor pool).

I plan to document my trials and tribulations, along with, I hope, my successes, so be sure to check back here if you’re interested in following the adventure.

I’m hoping to write the screenplay such that each 10-20 minute portion can be viewed as if an episode in a TV show, while the feature length (my target is around 100 minutes) can be successfully viewed as a coherent whole.

As I write this, I have a couple of page synopsis written. My intention is to, very soon, begin fleshing that out into the full screenplay.  My tentative timeline is to begin filming this summer (2018) and finishing this fall.

If you’d like to participate in some way, feel free to contact me.

Blurb me, baby!

I’ve been told I have some facility with writing blurbs.  However, since mine tend to run long, perhaps I can only help others.  You can judge for yourself by clicking on the titles on the left-hand side of my home page.

When I’ve helped people with their blurbs and synopsis, what I’ve found that seems to work the best is for them to get angry.  Yup, get pissed.  I’ve back-and-forthed with a couple of authors, trying to help them, and they get more and more frustrated because I don’t ‘get it.’  Finally, they’ll rattle off a series of one or two sentence bullet points summarizing their story.  Guess what?  That summary is exactly what needs to be in the blurb and synopsis!

By the by, though there are huge overlaps, there is a distinct difference between a blurb and a synopsis.  The blurb is the teaser that goes on the back of the book, that’s supposed to incentivize the reader to purchase the book.  The synopsis is to tell the agent/publisher/bookseller what the story is about, so they can judge if yours is new/interesting/different enough to want to represent/carry.  Blurbs NEVER contain ending spoilers, synopses (the plural of synopsis, according to via Google) ALWAYS contain spoilers.  Snyopses tend to run longer than blurbs, but there can be a lot of variety, as it depends on the audience.  Blurbs generally should run 100-150 words and this really is a case where less is more.  Synopses are expected to run between 500-800 words.

The concepts behind writing your blurb and synopsis are the same, just blurbs get fewer words and don’t spoil the ending, while synopses get more words and spoil the ending.  You can use the exact same mental process.

You need to introduce your main character, but if you have more than one it can get tricky as too many characters will confuse readers.

You need to outline the stakes.  What’s motivating the character to accomplish great things.  Their main goal.

Finally, you need to list the obstacles keeping the character from achieving that goal.

Simple, eh?  Of course not. You’ve lovingly devoted months, if not years, to your epic story, how can you possibly trim all that beauty down to a few sentences, yet still be interesting, entertaining and unique?  This is why I now write backwards.  Here, I’m assuming you’ve already written your novel and are stuck with trying to create an engaging blurb and synopsis.

This is why I advocate the ‘get angry’ method of blurb writing.  Very quickly, as if communicating with dense old me who simply is not getting your story, list out 4-6 bullet points of why your story is unique, what sets it apart from all the others and why readers should pick yours.  Surely you had these reasons floating around in your head when you started writing.  I’m positive you didn’t sit down with the idea of writing a clone of some story you’ve already read.  You wanted yours to be different somehow.  That’s what I’m looking for.

These bullet points should be your starting point.  You still need to introduce your character.  Not their backstory!  You don’t even need to supply their last name, sex or age, but they need a handle.  Don’t clutter your blurb with other names unless they’re critical to the story, and never name a character mentioned only once.  Use function names.  For example, the wicked witch of the West doesn’t need a name unless she shows up more than once (in the blurb or synopsis, of course).

Never do an info dump in your blurb or synopsis.  Exactly like writing your novel, only supply information when it’s necessary to move the plot forward.  And not a moment sooner.  Trust your readers. Trust that they care enough to remember something is missing.

Get those stakes in there, we need to know why the character is in the story.  Then put in the obstacles.  If it’s effortless for the character to achieve their goals, then you pretty much don’t have any story.  How long does it take for someone to describe their idyllic vacation, where all the food was great, no mosquitoes, their significant others got along, etc.?  About twenty seconds, right?  But those nightmare vacations, those are the ones people want to hear about.  The worst to experience have the best stories, right?  If your character’s experiences were like the idyllic vacation, you might not have a novel anyone will want to read.

Once you have all that raw material, now comes the ‘fun’ part: condensing it to 100-150 words.  Don’t obsess with getting it under 150 words, but if you have 350+ you have too much.  Each word needs to convey excitement to the reader, there can be nothing extraneous.  If brevity is not your strong suit, then you might want to ask for help, once you’ve got all the critical information from the above exercises.  Goodreads has a place; I’m sure there are others on the ‘net.

What about the synopsis, you ask.  Well, you use the exact same raw material, but you spoil the ending.  A good synopsis will engage the reader (generally the agent and/or publisher and sometimes the bookseller if you make it that far through the process), but they understand those are difficult to write.  They’ll give you a little slack. But you get no slack for your blurb.  Sure, word of mouth is great, and if you’re lucky enough to get that, you’re off to the races. But in the beginning, you have to convince people with your blurb.  When you’re looking at books, how long to you give each one?  Ten seconds?  Five?  Your blurb has to grab the reader that fast and keep them interested enough to want to read the rest, which has to be interesting enough to make them want to take it home.  If you can write your synopsis the same way, then you’re grabbing the agent/publisher (bookseller) the same way as you would the actual reader.

Having said all that, screening out readers who won’t like your story is just as important as teasing the interested ones.  I learned that the hard way with my first.  I mistakenly thought of it as a romance (yes, it is a love story, but it violates more romance tropes than it satisfies) and wrote the blurb to attract those readers.  Boy did I have some pissed off readers!  Fortunately, these were beta readers, not paying customers, so no one star reviews reviling my story.

If you go with my ‘get angry’ process, you should have all the necessary raw material for a compelling blurb and synopsis.  Polish to perfection.  If you find you’ve got too many words, ask for some help.  Sometimes we fall so in love with our prose we can’t see how little information we’re conveying.  Blurbs and synopses are a true case where less is more.

A note on white space.  I’ve read in many places, and noted it myself reading other people’s blurbs, that long paragraphs are hard to read.  For your blurb in particular, you want your paragraphs to be no more than 2-3 sentences, 4 at the most.  And short punchy sentences!  The additional whitespace lets the reader digest smaller bits at a time and lets them read more, since they’re only committing to a couple more sentences.  The more they read, the more likely they are to buy the book.  Make it as easy as possible for them to read by having short, interesting, informative sentences.

Good luck!  Don’t despair if you struggle; I spent more time on my blurb than I did on my first draft.

Writing Backwards

What?  Backwards?

What I mean is, instead of writing a novel (or, for me now, screenplays) and then trying to condense my 70+K pile of words into 500-800 word synopsis, then a 100-150 word blurb and finally a 10-25 word logline (less important for novels, but critical for screenplays), I start the other way around.

I’m sure that most, if not all, first time authors simply start writing.  The more plotter oriented (vs pantser) will have outlined their story, but basically, assuming you actually are a writer, you’re going to write just to find out if you can.

The problem then becomes condensing.  You started writing for a reason, you had a story to tell, something that caused your fingers to itch.  But now that all got lost in your wonderful prose,  your charming characters, your clever plots.  You’ve lost sight of why you started writing, so distilling your pile of prose to a simple coherent summary is hard.  I’m positive I spent way more time on my blurb and synopsis than I did writing the first draft.  I decided: never again!

So now, when all I have is the gist, that kernel of an idea I want to blow up into a pile of prose, that’s when I create my summaries.  I make notes about what’s important for the story, the elements of the plot and characterization I think make it unique and worth investing time, the critical reveals, sometimes even dialog.  I turn that into a blurb, logline and synopsis first, and only then start writing.

This doesn’t mean you can’t change.  Never think of them as a straight jacket, but if you decide you want your cozy mystery to morph into a scifi first contact, you should, then and there, update your blurb, logline and synopsis with the reasons why.

Does this make me a plotter?  Well, to a certain degree.  But I always knew the ending before I started writing any of my stories.  And I usually wrote the ending fairly early in the process.  Sometimes the ending morphed as I wrote the body of the story, but usually the ending was what drove the structure of the body to begin with.

Now, if you’re writing for your own enjoyment and never intend to show it to more than a handful of friends, no worries.  Go with what works.  But if you intend to show your baby to the world in an effort to get paid, you’ll need a blurb at an absolute minimum, one that captures the essence of your story, grips the reader and forces them to buy and read.  I feel that’s much easier to do if you start that process first, rather than last.

Atomic Blonde

I recently watched the movie Atomic Blonde. What I particularly liked about the movie was how the protagonist actually carried her injuries along with her for the duration.  Much like how in the Bourne series the MC stays injured (even across films!).  So many characters are so super human, after all the damage, they pop up unscathed movements later.  While I can certainly enjoy escapism (though I prefer the Craig Bond over the old-school), things that are more gritty and realistic appeal more to me.  For instance, I like Reservoir Dogs and Chinatown because of that element.

The movie also had a very eclectic visual pallet, though I found it jarring a time or two.  For instance, the TV in the MC’s hotel always had these glaring lights on it.  The music was great, as it reminded me a lot of my youth.  With the appropriate fogging effects of time, I can look back at the era (late 80’s) with nostalgia.

This may be considered a spoiler, if you haven’t seen the flick. Stop here if you want to watch it pristine.  I’ve been studying screenplay writing with the idea of becoming a director at some point (I’ve finally decided to get off the fence and intend to direct a feature on my own nano budget later this fall; I’ll try and remember to update this with a link when it’s gelled more) and occasionally, when I watch a movie, I’ll think about a particular scene, how it was filmed, how the script would have to be written to convey the imagery, that sort of thing.  I felt it was harmless.

Well, I had a disturbing revelation during the lesbian sex scene: I couldn’t relax and enjoy it, I kept focusing on camera placement, what the actresses were doing, the very interesting choice to use mirror-like surfaces to double the view, that sort of thing.  I felt violated, in a way, that I couldn’t just be in the scene (if you can’t guess, this sort of thing is a big turn on to me).  I really hope that the more I get into screenplays and directing I don’t lose what attracted me to it in the first place: the joy in watching movies.

I’ve been beta reading a lot over the last year, but I easily partition that reading because I do it on my computer and read for entertainment with the dead-tree versions.  Maybe I’ll have to watch movies for learning on the computer as well, as a way to try and keep my watching compartmented.

Something else disturbed me, but as a ‘refrigerator moment‘.  I felt there was too much grunting and yelling going on during the fight scenes.  While I suppose unskilled fighters would make a racket to attempt to be intimidating, I would imagine (indeed, that’s exactly how I did my character in my first novel) that skilled fighters would minimize the racket they make, as they don’t want to give away their positions.  I imagine spies as being particularly resistant to making noises as they kill people.  It didn’t jar me out of the movie, it’s pretty much the only way those sorts of scenes are filmed (I like the Bourne fight scenes so much because they are silent and deadly), but when I later thought about how I would do something like that I’d rather have my fighters be largely silent.

If you like realistic action/adventure, I highly recommend this one.

Why Mitusents?

Why did I choose my blog name? Well, I really don’t feel I have much to add to the manifold sources of information that can be found on the web.  Indeed, I debated a long time about even the idea of a blog on writing, as I really didn’t feel I had anything to offer.

Then I realized how much I benefited by finding different expressions on the same topics.  By having the diversity of viewpoints, I felt I could better internalize the important aspects of the topics.  So, particularly since I love to write and give advice, I’d focus on that aspect for my blog.  I’m adding my two cents to what’s already out there.  If someone thinks my viewpoints are helpful, then the blog has accomplished my goal for it.

Dealin Wit Feedback

The first rule regarding feedback: don’t talk about feedback always thank the person giving you feedback.  Seriously.  No matter how rude you feel they are, how clueless, how obtuse, just say ‘thank you’ and move on.  Even if you’re paying for reading/editing (but especially if you aren’t!), people are making choices of what to do with their time, and they’ve chosen to spend it with your story.

OK.  The second rule, which is only not the first rule because I feel it’s really important you say thanks, never, ever, make any changes just because one person, even if that person is an expensive, well-renowned editor, tells you to, unless that suggestion gets you so fired up to make it that your very finger tips itch to start hammering at the keyboard.

Really, that’s the basic gist of what I want to get across here.  Make changes only if you feel they strengthen what you set out to do in the first place.  Most people (I was going to claim ‘all,’ but I’m sure there are always exceptions) started writing with an idea of what they wanted to accomplish.  Make changes that bring your writing closer to those goals, that strengthen your intent.  My rule of thumb when I get feedback is exactly what I said above.  If I get so inspired I just can’t wait to get at the keyboard, then it’s a ‘good change’ and it doesn’t matter if it was just one person who gave me feedback.

Now, what if multiple people give you the same feedback?  Then it becomes a numbers game.  Always get an odd number of readers and always at least three.  If less than a majority of people have the same comment, feel free to ignore it.  You simply cannot please all the people, all the time.  If each of your readers loved some portion of your story so much that they’ve recommended it to their friends, it’s OK if they have some less-than-favorite sections they feel can be strengthened (unless, of course, your finger tips get itchy).  In my first novel I had just as many people complain about the romance as I did about the ‘endless’ jobs interrupting the romance.

This is not to say that you should ignore mechanical advice.  Meaning, if your writing… fails to match conventions (you might hear the term ‘sucks’).  Conventions exist so people can focus less on the prose and more on the story. The more conventions you break, the more people have to work to get at the story.  If you’re intentionally breaking a convention (or several) and that’s the whole point for writing your story in the first place (as a topical example, I just read a novel that was entirely dialog between  two people speaking on the phone; I can’t wait to read more!), then any advice contrary to that goal can safely be ignored.  You must understand, though, that bucking conventions almost goes hand in hand with reducing the number of potential readers.  But if that’s your intent, then it’s not wrong when you did it.

On the other, other hand (or the gripping hand), if you didn’t set out to deliberately dispense with convention, then it’s probably good that you learn (and internalize) the mechanical aspects of writing, since you dilute your reader’s feedback if they’re focused on elements you don’t intend.  As an example, quotes are used different ways in different cultures.  If you’re targeting US audiences, you need to do your quotes such that those readers will understand.  If your prose lends itself toward… excessive description (read “purple“), then you may want to consider tightening things up.  If you’re like me, on the other hand, you’re rather parsimonious in your descriptions and aren’t supplying enough for your readers to visualize what you have in your mind.

So you’re happy that your prose matches the conventions, at least to the extent you intended.  And a majority of readers all complain about the same thing.  What then?  I still say you need to seriously consider the value of sticking to your guns (for those of you not familiar with the slang, “avoid making changes”).  If you can make a change that preserves your intent, yet also allows for the resolution of your reader’s dilemma, at least for me, that makes my finger tips itchy.  Do not, though, make changes simply because a bunch of people complained about the same thing… unless you can be convinced it strengthens your story’s intent.

What does it mean when you constantly make changes?  It means you aren’t writing your novel, you’re writing an amalgam of a bunch of different people’s vision of what you set out to do.  Who wants to read a novel written by committee?  I don’t see any awards for that!

When you’re self-editing, particularly after you’ve read about how stories shouldn’t be told, don’t go second guessing yourself.  Sure, if it’s a mechanical aspect, you need to learn to be a professional writer (assuming you want to be one, of course; there’s nothing wrong with writing as a hobby (but even then, convention exists for a reason)), suck it up and learn to write.  You’ll get much better feedback from your readers if they aren’t continually popped out of the story when they stumble over your prose.  But if your story violates some so-called convention (for instance, my first was written in first-person, present-tense; boy did I get a lot of complaints about that!) on purpose, stick with your intent.  You can always write something else later.  Remember, just because it’s the first novel you’ve written, doesn’t mean it has to be your first novel published.

What finally convinced me to give up novels

As a follow-on to this post, I finally found the source of the data that caused me to give up any notion of financial success as a novelist.  If you’re reading this with the goal of being financially successful, you might want to pause and decide if you really want to continue.  I was blissfully able to ignore all the other bad news I’d read until I got to this one.

Everything You Wanted to Know about Book Sales (But Were Afraid to Ask)
An In-Depth Look at What/How/Why Books Sell

For me the passage that killed was this one (there’s a lot of great information, so, if you’ve come this far, I strongly urge you to read it):

That’s a small sample though, so I went through the BookScan numbers for every fiction book listed on the New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2014. I used 2014 instead of 2015 to make sure each book had at least 12 months of sales. No list is perfect, but the NYT list includes story collections and small press books alongside the big name literary authors and award contenders. 2014’s list includes names like Haruki Murakami, Lydia Davis, Marlon James, and David Mitchell as well as small press debuts by Nell Zink and Eimear McBride. It’s a good sampling of the “books that people are talking about” in the literary world.

The BookScan sales of those books literally ranged from 1,000 to 1.5 million, with an average (mean) of just over 75,000 copies sold per book. That 75k number is pretty skewed by the existence of Anthony Doerr’s runaway literary hit, All the Light We Cannot See, which sold over 1.5 millions of copies. (The next highest book was about 270,000.) If we remove the best and worst selling books on the list, we get a mean of 46,550 copies and a median of 25,000 copies.

My take from this is the 50th most ‘notable’ book sold a whopping 25K books, when ranked by sales.  I already know there’s a steep drop off in book sales after the first year and while a very few books will become perennial sellers, all the rest probably see 80-90% of their sales in the first 12 months of sales.

Note that these books all have conventional publishers, and, in most cases, the publishers are big ones.  Thus, were I to achieve my fantasy of being picked up by a major publisher (which, of course, requires being taken on by an experienced agent), the best I can look forward to is, really, 25K books sold.  As much as I like the notion of being a best selling author, I just don’t think my style of writing will have a wide enough appeal to generate the sorts of sales that would build on themselves enough to be best selling.  My fantasies assumed I’d be more in the top 1K books, which if the 50th is that dismal, how bad can the 1,000th be?

Yes, if you have a backlist, any new book will generate a bump for all the rest, if your latest is well received, but I’ve read that it’s generally only possible to make a living as a novelist after you’ve had 10 novels that sold fairly well AND you keep cranking them out.  I managed to write nearly 250K words in a year, which is 2-3 novel’s worth, so output isn’t the issue.  But I was unsuccessful with my query attempts (detailed in here), so faced with the three orders of magnitude more dismal prospects of self publishing I decided being a novelist just wasn’t where I needed to be.

Oh, mentioned in the above article is this equally depressing one, which I will leave you with:

What Writers Earn Money? A Look at the Author Earnings Report on Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing Sales

Curious how many authors are earning poverty wages or better?

4,600 authors [earn] $25,000 or above from their sales on 40% of these are indie authors deriving at least half of their income from self-published titles, while 35% are Big Five authors deriving the majority of their income from Big Five-published titles, and 22% are authors who derive most of their income from titles published by small- or medium-sized traditional publishers.

So… not exactly a ton of writers are even scraping together poverty wages from writing.

How about writers who could be described as making a nice living off of books at $100,000 a year?According to this report, only 1,340 make the cut. For comparison’s sake, there are 1,696 NFL players in any given year drawing an average salary of $1.9 million.