And here it is! Part 3 of the “What have you been doing since Women of the Apocalypse” guest posts.
Ryan McFadden and I have been friends since we took a writing course from Robert J Sawyer at the Banff School of Fine Arts absolutely ages ago. Remember that, Ryan? Ah, fun times!
After working on all our collaborative projects, Ryan recently had his first novel published. (Yay!) He kindly stepped away from promoting Cursed: Black Swan to tell us what he’s learned about writing–and a bunch of other stuff–since Women of the Apocalypse.
Five Things Women of the Apocalypse taught me (since)
1. Writing got really, really hard: A strange thing happened after I wrote Dues Ex Machina – writing became really, really hard for me. I remember when working on the 10th Circle Project (or the Puzzle Box before that), I was writing about 200 words in a typical 8-hour day. Yup, 200 words. You’re not going to accomplish much at 200 words a day (500 on a good day)
Can you write with someone looking over your shoulder? I can’t. And that’s what happened after Dues Ex Machina. I started believing that the next thing I wrote would actually be published and people would read it. That thought became crippling. What if I suck? What if everyone discovers I’m a fraud? At one point, I thought my writing career was over. Done.
I wanted my stuff to be, you know, good. And my first drafts weren’t good. A certain level of quality was now expected. Luckily, I was able to work through it, though this problem did last almost two years. I used something called the Snowflake method to solve the issue (but that’s a story for another day).
2. Success isn’t what you think it is. I wrote a novella called Deus Ex Machina that was included in the Women of the Apocalypse (the little collection that just kept chugging). My first real sale! A novella to boot! Then an Aurora win! Everything is good now, right? Well, yes but…nothing really changed.
Don’t get me wrong—WotA and the fallout (book launches, awards, etc) are firmly in the victory column, but I always figured that once I made my first significant sale, that it would be all smooth sailing after that. Except, it doesn’t really work like that. It’s only one more tick on a resume. Lots of author writers also have those ticks on their resumes.
My friend (and wonderful writer) Caitlin Sweet once told me that success was a receding horizon (she attributed this observation to someone else, but I cannot remember who). It meant that we always think ‘I just need that first sale, I just need that first award, I just need…’ Of course, as humans, we are always reaching and striving.
To expound further, I remember reading another writer who thought when he sold his first book that he’d finally be happy. He wasn’t. His life pretty much stayed the same…except now he wanted a sale with a bigger press.
3. Playing the long game – there are overnight successes, of course—but they are the outliers. As my friend Brian Garside often tells me: you’re a 15-year overnight success story! But of course, there is no immediate success for most writers. It’s one story, then another, then another at a magazine with a bigger circulation, then maybe a novel someday, then people will ask you to write for their closed collection, and so on.
This isn’t about one story, or one collection, or one novel. You must keep producing. It’s a numbers game. In the self-published world, authors have told me that they didn’t make significant sales until they reached book 4. Why? They weren’t sure exactly. Maybe a reader wants to know that you’re not a flash in the pan. Maybe a reader wants to know there will be plenty to read. Maybe multiple books demonstrates a certain level of proficiency.
You must keep producing (my own problem as I don’t produce nearly enough) so that you have a foundation for a fan base. Fan base? What? Fans? Yes! Because…
4. It’s not about selling books: Another strange one. As a writer, your number one goal of promotion isn’t to sell books…but to create fans. I sell a book to a stranger on the street – fantastic. He might read it. He might not. But once he’s done, will he search out other works of mine (which is why the number’s game above is so important). Will they then tell their friends about my work? When Eileen and I were editing the 10th Circle Project, we did an informal poll about how people came to find their next book. Almost 100% responses were based on receiving a recommendation (or already knowing the author – they were already fans). They couldn’t be persuaded by ads or clever gimmicks. Recommendations.
All promotion should be based on connecting with readers in a positive way. Strong arming them into buying your book – pfft. Short term gain only. Play the long game.
5. Drive in those proud nails: if something bothers you in draft one, fix it. Because once something is published, it’s out there forever. I have a couple of instances (I won’t confess where) that I left something thinking that it was good enough. It wasn’t. Maybe others won’t notice, but you will. I call it proud nails (from my background with woodworking and carpentry – when that nail is mostly set, but you can feel that the head is slightly raised). It looks okay, most people won’t notice, but every time you pass it, you’ll see it.
Think you need to do one more pass of your manuscript? Then do it.
Ryan T. McFadden is a writer of fantasy and horror, with short stories and novellas published through Dragon Moon Press, Edge SF & F, and Absolute X-Press. In 2014, his novella Ghost in the Machine won the Aurora Award (Canada’s most prestigious award for SF&F) for Short Fiction.
His motley past involved such dangerous work as database administration, ice cream flavouring (seriously, that’s a thing), hockey league administration, screen printing, web design, furniture building, and home renovations.
He lives in London, Ontario, with his two beautiful, but sometimes diabolical daughters, who he is sure are plotting to one day overthrow him.
Follow him over at RyanMcFadden.com