INT. DUNLAP APARTMENT - DAY
(Circa January 17th)
*I walk in from work*
Sarah: Big day today!
Me: I know!
Sarah: Debt free…
Me: Yeah! *offering up a high five—for the record I almost struck this from the retelling*
Sarah: …and I’m pregnant… *gives me the high five*
Something Everything has shifted.
You know how you don’t know what you don’t know? (answer that at your own peril)
I had expected to be excited about having a child entering our lives, but on what I might consider a ‘head knowledge level.’
Living the experience is completely better thus far.
Yes, I understand I’m in for a complete life shakeup come September,
but that leaves me excited, as the idea of sailing forward on the same journey until I reach my harbor scares me to death with its stagnant waters.
I have been warned by friends to do everything I want to do before children arrive, but I consider myself incredibly blessed to take stock of my goals and not find anything major left to cross off.
Those crossed off items have brought a certain amount of fulfillment and happiness, but they fade more quickly than I expected (reminding me that the journey should be appreciated as much as crossing the finish line).
So, I look forward to the future, whatever lessons it may hold, because I’m ready to enter Act 2 of my life.
Today I received what I might consider my first bit of “fan mail” when I opened my mailbox.
Physical proof that the time I spent telling the story of The Wind Merchant wasn’t a waste.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate the notes I receive online (trust me, positive reinforcement is something all artists would do well to hear), it’s just very easy to look at a computer screen and view the world with an eye for numbers.
- How many people like the Facebook page?
- How many reviews has the book received?
- How many stars do those review average?
- How many books have I sold?
- How many more books do I have to sell before I feel successful…
The fact that one person spent the time and energy to read what I wrote and connected with the story…that’s a success.
Success is about connection, not numbers.
It’s funny how when I read that last sentence, it immediately feels like something somebody who can’t sell their book to anyone might say and has to settle for the second best option.
Thankfully the book has connected with enough people that the story will continue for at least two more books.
On the outside, The Wind Merchant may look like lighter fare…a steampunk adventure fantasy. It is those things, but it also contains a lot of things I wrestle with internally. Things I hold close to the vest and choose to use fiction to work through. Things that when someone connects with the book, I know we have connected and have an understanding that neither of us are alone with those struggles.
Or they may just like a fun steampunk adventure fantasy, which is fine. But, either way, I write this entry as a reminder for myself that it should never be about the numbers.
Souls should never be counted in a spreadsheet.
I recently discovered a new technique I’m developing in storytelling.
I paint myself into a corner. On purpose.
Because I want to give the reader/viewer something unexpected. If I’m plotting something out and I’m hitting my natural conclusions, I’m probably hitting the natural conclusions of others.
Predictable rarely equals entertaining as far as I’m concerned.
So, I’ve started to paint my characters into a corner, and then force myself to bang my head against the wall until something creative (and something generated only from a lot of thought) happens.
I figure if I surprise myself with a solution, (hopefully) it’ll surprise other people. Now, I need to make sure it isn’t too far out of left field, and is set up properly for the payoff, but some of the better moments from plotting out the sequel to The Wind Merchant have come when I have a little self-conversation like this:
“Well, if I ___________, then that is going to make it kind of impossible for him/her/them/it to survive, right?”
“Do it anyway. Let’s see if they’re smart enough to figure out a way that surprises you.”
Usually the eureka moment hits after I’ve assigned my brain the puzzle and sleep on it a few nights… sometimes it doesn’t, and I realize I’ve accidentally escalated the stakes too far too early in the book and just trying to top it is grounds for nothing but frustration.
But sometimes it’s grounds for eureka.
p.s. A fun exercise I enjoy is “You’re trapped in a room with a locked door. Think of 25 ways to get out of it. Imagine whatever you like… no rules.”
In 2011, I set out to write a novel to help complete a long-term project that needed to clear a hurdle.
In 2012, I discovered one novel wasn’t enough to tell the whole story.
November 1st, the pen hits paper again.
One of my favorites of Levi’s
time is a one-way street
and we’re all strapped in to the rear-facing seat
the street still existed with all of its secrets
before we could see it and the places we pass we just see through the glass
but we can’t go back
someone’s foots on the gas but we’re screaming directions
and hoping for best and we’ll measure success by results that we get
but we’re all strapped in.
what if the past were not past?
and the future was here all along?
every picture and song was not holding your place in a line
but reminding you it was always here
“One day” a French animated short that reminds me how visual storytelling carries across language barriers.
When a project has clawed its way out of my grasp and has made it out into the wild, it’s difficult to not anxiously await the reactions of others that engage the story.
It’s even more difficult not to pay too much attention to the metrics. The numbers tell a different story, such as whether the story is good enough to spread, if it is finding an audience, or if my marketing efforts are effective.
Aside from reader reviews (which I’m working on breaking myself from paying attention to) it’s hard to get a handle on how well the story is connecting with people… so one turns to the numbers.
The numbers are cold.
The numbers deal with money.
The numbers should take a backseat.
Yesterday I received an incredibly kind message from someone who read the book. Without trying to puff myself up here, I’ll just say that the message validated the 1,000+ hours I spent on the book far more than the numbers could. The book connected with them, pulled out the appropriate emotions, and engaged them with the story/characters/world.
It’s dangerous confusing numbers with quality. They may indicate quality, but they shouldn’t be the primary indicator, and that’s a lesson I was happy to learn.
p.s. In preliminary research, I consistently read that the average indie published book only sells 150-200 copies lifetime, and a largely successful book sells about 2,000 copies. After about one month, the book has surpassed the first number handily, so it’s not like I’m bemoaning only having sold three copies. I’m pleased with the numbers, but needed the reminder that I don’t tell stories for the numbers, but for the connecting with readers/viewers.
struggle wrestle with contentedness.
A month after the book has launched from my little self-publishing platform, I realize I’ve probably neared the saturation point of my pool of friends and family as far as who might pick up the book.
I consider these people my First Wave: the people who are willing to pick up the book based off of their relationship with me, and/or their interest in the subject/title/cover art of the book.
I would be sunk if not for them. I would also be wasting 1000+ hours on stories if nobody were to read/watch them.
And after 1 month of sales (beyond Kickstarter), my First Wave have helped me get 90% of the way to be able to afford to go through the same process (paying book setup costs with the printer, licensing art, etc).
struggle wrestle with contentedness.
I want to have original artwork for the next book, painted and tailored to the story and the characters (currently I’m 45% of the way to that goal), but right now that goal depends on whether the First Wave enjoys and shares the book to their friends and family who don’t know me.
Taking a step back, I have to look at what contentedness might look like:
- I’ve written a book, which is something I have dreamed of doing for a long while.
- There are nearly 200 people with a copy in their hands with minimal promotion.
- Every bit of feedback I’ve received indicates that the story is enjoyable (or those who aren’t liking it are being incredibly tactful and polite).
From that vantage point, I suppose I should be very happy. And you know what? I am very happy.
I just want to keep telling stories, which makes contentedness difficult. (As a note, those % goals don’t pay me anything…a person who just wants to keep telling stories isn’t the best businessman evidently…and being blessed with a dayjob that meets my primary needs allows for art that can meet non-survival needs)
Since books aren’t like films in the sense that people see them in 2 hours, then tweet/post their opinions to influence friends to see/not see the film, I have to wait a while before my First Wave chimes in (since I just finished shipping out most of the books)… because some people take a month to read a book… or stack it in a queue and take months to get to it.
It’s a slow move, but right now I’m still appreciative if all I get to do is tell stories for those close to me to enjoy.
Something snuck up on me today. Ambushed, really, as I dare say something that happens over a month faster than one assumes it will happen is a fair bit beyond a sneak.
The paperback version of The Wind Merchant became available today.
…4-6 weeks before I was told it would happen.
By all sane inclinations, I believe this means the book is completely and utterly finished (you must understand that finished is a loose term for me when I’m given the time and opportunity to tweak). I suppose I could change something if I felt like paying $80 to the printer to alter something, but at that point I’m just wasting money and making it more difficult to create another book.
According to Rule #2, I won’t let myself go into debt for my creative endeavors…and now I know exactly how much I need to earn in order to go through the process of publishing another book. If I don’t, then this becomes a glorified hobby and a timesink…and I kind of hate timesinks. Hobbies are fine.
…it’s just added incentive to make something good enough to reach an audience and allow myself to continue telling stories.
Upon finishing something, I have to ask myself if what I did was worth the time, which is measured in a variety of ways (not all financially-based, thankfully…and importantly), and looking back, even this early on after its completion, I have to say that yes, it was most definitely worth it.
I never expected to find myself an author, and thought I’d be firmly planted in film…but when “never give up” crosses with “finish the things you start” crosses with “you have a lot of time on your hands while you wait for the things you started to finish and you need to not let your craft get rusty” sometimes you wind up with a novel about not giving up. And floating cities… but those were mostly added because I didn’t have to budget for them in this medium.
But, it’s been decided that I like finishing things (not that I ever assumed that I wouldn’t). I like sharing things that have bounced around in my head as keeping them for myself feels selfish. So, at some point, I’ll just have to find another thing to finish, and remember that each step along the way makes a sum of enjoyableness and learning that far surpasses the culmination of holding a finished work in my hands (although that is quite nice as well).
If you’ve read the book or plan to do so, you have my thanks for the encouragement to continue telling stories, to continue making, and to continue wrestling with issues that are hopefully universal enough to prompt thought and change for good in the both of us.
I struggle a little when people ask me what The Wind Merchant is about. I have a strong grasp on the story, themes, plot, and characters… but starting off by saying “Well, it’s a fantasy,” floods me with the insecurity that I should be quickly pressing thick, taped glasses back firmly onto my nose.
Sure, it’s steampunk. Sure, it’s an adventure tale… and it comes about as close to sci-fi as it does fantasy. It lacks elves, dwarves, or any other race one might find in a Dungeons & Dragons campaign (okay, aside from humans), but still. It’s fantasy. (full disclosure, fantasy is easily my most read genre, mostly thanks to Neil Gaiman and Pat Rothfuss)
It’s so easy to feel silly saying “these are the things bouncing around my head, and you will have to take them seriously if you want to enjoy the book.”
But, seeing other people take it seriously dampens the insecurity markedly, and seeing other people turn your descriptions into art nearly eradicates it.
When shown the artwork one of my good friends (Marisa Draeger) did for the the hero ship, The Fox, I was blown away by seeing something that I would have naturally shared on social media, regardless for whose project it was associated with… but it was associated with mine.
Then I read a review (I know, bad Ryan) titled: “Grab your grapple gun and get ready for an exciting adventure!” And she used the words “grapple gun” so easily, like they weren’t silly. I guess they aren’t.
I’m still working on my insecurity for my elevator pitch of the book, but seeing other people embracing the story and taking it seriously helps immensely.
To them I offer my sincerest thanks.
My grandfather carried this compass while storming the beaches of Normandy on D-Day and on through the rest of World War II until he made it back home.
He was 28 on D-Day.
It’s things like this that prompt me to use my time wisely.