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Writing Books: The Good, The Bad, and How to Not End Up Like Max
Topic Started: Dec 21 2017, 05:50:36 PM (333 Views)
Todd McCloud
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Planet Telox
Hello group! I just wanted to say thank you for allowing me to talk a little bit about something that I've enjoyed doing over the past year or so. In that time, I've outlined, written, revised and edited (heavily), submitted to publishers, and, finally agreed on a deal to get a novel into circulation. It'll likely be available sometime summer of 2018. Fun stuff. But it's not very easy, and I can explain to you some of the good I've seen, and some of the pitfalls.

In high school I liked to write, but I was one of those super-math guys who seemed to do better at science. I was mediocre when it came to reading comprehension and the likes, at least as far as those standardized tests said, but I really liked to write. It was a hobby. Growing up, I didn't really have the internet at my home. We had broadcast TV for the most part, so there was some time for other stuff. Some of my fondest memories from that time is listening to Loreena McKennitt while trying to devise new scenarios for my characters. Anyway, there was a teacher at my school who found out about this, and she asked to see one of my stories. I gave her one I was working on, thinking maybe it'd get some constructive criticism. Instead, a week later all I got was "Yeah I read it. It sucks." I was told to stick with math because some people have it as writers and some don't. I felt pretty bad, but I felt even worse when she distributed selections of this story to her class below mine as a general "how not to write" lecture. All writing from me ceased. I was two years away from having to go to college and had a girlfriend that was kind of needy, so I told myself I just didn't have the time anymore. I didn't write as an undergrad; again, beer, studying, and playing the gamecube video games were more appealing at the time.

Some nine years ago when I was juuuust about ready to get out of undergraduate life, I came to The East Pacific, known colloquially as TEP. TEP was different. It was "the roleplaying feeder". After thinking it over, I decided to give it a go. And, well, the first year or two years were kind of rough. My characters were put through the woodchipper because of a combination of thinking winning in RP = good times in RP and because I wasn't listening to what my characters were trying to tell me. The latter sounds crazy, but really, characters that are developed with their own personalities and goals can start to write themselves, even when their lives change dramatically. Slowly, and I do mean slowly, the crop of RPers forced me to write better, to forcibly get my people into bad situations and see how they came out of it, if at all. I learned. I began to write better. But not just with more words and description, I was listening to the story and reacting instead of plotting what to do next. I was talking with people who wanted me to do better, and, in turn, make them better as writers too. So this occurred for a few years (and honestly still does). Eventually my nation rose above some of the chaos and grew, with deeper stories and more complex characters. That was, in part, forged by the RPers there - both old and new. I still learn about how to RP to this day, and everyone there is a teacher, and sometimes I'm a teacher, and we take turns being students. It's really fun, and different than gameplay, which is becoming more personal these days. I'm happier roleplaying than I am when I'm gameplaying.

I write to escape. The end of 2016 was tough for me, and 2017 for RL was not better at all. But writing, once again, became my catharsis. I would share passages with that group of gritty roleplayers, and they would read, offer advice, ask questions (gosh I love it when folks utter those three magic words every writer wants to hear: "What happens next?"). That got me through 2017. Those roleplayers in TEP are something else, and they're full of bright, complex, and special people who I know will grow to become leaders (if they haven't yet!). Every day I'm impressed by their bunch. Many are more mature than I was way back then, and I do care about their goings-on, because after a while when you have good interactions with people, you want to see them fight, push forward, and see them win. And I have all the confidence they will do just that.

Anyway, I'd still roleplay, I'd sometimes get involved with the government, but for me, this year was about writing. And I loved that.

Which is why I am still debating on how to dedicate this book. I could dedicate it to my wife, who has been my rock this year, and likely I will. But maybe I will also dedicate this book to The East Pacific and the group of roleplayers from all walks of life who beat the writing out of me and egged me on, reminding me just how much I enjoyed it. They stuck with me in good and bad times, and haven't given up on me. And that's something that is very rare to have. For that, I can't say thank you enough to that ragtag group of players, and there are many instances I can cite with many of them to show where they kept me going. It means a lot to me, and for a guy who likes to write books, I don't think I'll ever be able to summarize just how much that has helped me and caused me to grow as not just a writer or gameplayer here, but as a person. It means a lot.

Anyway, I promised to give some pointers on this process. And I will do that, below:

The Good (or what to look for when writing)
I've kind of made a quick list of what I believe has helped me in this process, and it's my advice to you should you ever go down this path:

  • Become your characters. Don't force them down a path because you think it'd be cool or something neat. Let them speak to you - don't write and tell them what to do. That's how it goes, and though it's hard to stay focused, if you prioritize their values and their personality, it becomes a bit easier, even when their world is literally crashing down in front of them.
  • If discouraged or in a writer's block, best not to force the issue. Take a break. Clear your head. Find something new and exciting to do. Take a trip, change your scenery or your routine, then get back to it when you feel you're ready to step back in that ring and knock that block off.
  • Don't write in a vacuum! Share your work with people, see if what you're writing makes sense - does the story flow well? Does it make sense? Is the character believable? Or maybe there's something that makes sense to you but not to others. Those people are your closest wingmen, because they'll be sure to tell you if something doesn't flow right or if their perception has soured. Also, read your stuff over too. Like, take a break for a week or two, then come back. You'll be surprised just how much you've missed, or how new ideas will spring from your fingertips.
  • Find that one person or those people who hate the story, but don't take what they say personally. Instead, look at what was said objectively. That's important - can't get discouraged, right? Separate the legit concerns from their vitriol and decide if it's enough to merit a change. You'll learn more from these people than the ones who heap praises on you.

The Bad (or stuff I didn't realize and can be difficult)
This is some of the bad I've noticed in this process. Just some things I've noticed along the way:

  • Expect rejection. It'll happen. I submitted my book to a dozen or so places. Most didn't respond. A few said, "We like it, but we want to change x, y, and z about your story." Blegh. You don't need to sell yourself to a publisher; on the contrary, it should be the other way around. Eventually I found a publisher that really liked what I have. They're a reputable publisher of mid-market size, and it's not a bad deal. But...
  • Publishing is expensive. It's more expensive than I thought it would be, and most of it comes from the editor, who will revise your book and correct grammar. Many are about 1 - 3 cents a word, which doesn't seem like a lot, but if your book is approaching 300 pages, it'll have about 90-100K words. You do the math. That doesn't include other costs. You want a good book cover, right? Well, book covers can run you $200 - $1500 under most circumstances. You'll need to market it right? ISBN, yeah? Well, luckily the publisher does most of that, but a book will easily drop you a couple thousand, easily. And most authors lose money on their first book. If you really want to publish but don't want to spend the money, you'll know you have to eat some of that cost. Now there are a few other options, like self-publishing and online publishing, but generally you get what you pay for. Those options more or less deal with no editor, no critiques, just here's a story, do your page design, have your cover, and we'll send you a prototype. Maybe that's the best way to go, but each route has its pros and cons.
  • Time. It takes time to publish a book, usually about 8-12 months from the moment you officially hand your manuscript off to the publisher (by the way, they'll want an editable copy, of course, but a pdf). And the more time it takes, the more doubt can set in. Discouragement shouldn't rule this process - just work on pressing on and letting the process ride itself out. Time isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it can be a bit difficult waiting through all of this.
  • Stand your ground on the stuff you don't want to change. Every editor has their own personal quirks. If you look on most publisher websites or request more info, you'll realize there are some pretty specific rules for publishers, too. Some things were easy fixes. Other things took a bit of fighting to either keep something the same or reach a compromise.
  • Keep writing, keep reading. You're allowed to make changes yourself in this process, too. Don't just sit idle, there's still time to distribute and improve!

How to Not End Up Like Max (Sorry, Max)
No, I'm not going to bash Mr. Barry here. My main point here is that Max has a profession, and that profession is writing. But it wasn't always his profession. If we read his bio on his site (not NS, maxbarry.com), we find out he was once in sales but is no longer working for that company. In short, writing blossomed into a career, and his credibility and popularity soared the more he wrote and, let's face it, after the creation of nationstates, which by many accounts was just a silly site about his first book, Jennifer Government. It's a little more than that these days.

In short, Max made a career out of writing. My goal, and my business, is not that. I like my work, and writing will always be a hobby of mine. Hobby. I don't feel pressure from outward entities, nor do I feel like I *must* finish a work by a deadline. As I said earlier, for me, writing is an escape. I don't really plan to profit off of it, but it'd be nice if I could share my stories with other people. That, and it'd sure be a cool thing to hold one of my books in my hands.

This way, in my opinion, my writing remains fun. I think it'd be less fun for me if I depended on it as opposed to use it as a means to escape, as a catharsis. I just want the freedom to write under my schedule using my accords. Especially as I work through my second book. I hope that makes sense.

About the Book
First, it's real and I'm currently nearing page design. There are a few snags in the process, namely cover design and re-thinking a few things to make sure what I have finished is good for me to roll with, and ensuring my second book will fit well with this one. The book between 90 - 100 thousand words, about 300 pages long or so, and will be available online and in paperback form, and will be available on sites like amazon and B&N. I am submitting this under a pen name. When it does hit the markets, I'd not mind telling folks about it, but since it's still under development, well, I'd like to keep things at an arm's length, so to speak. Many in TEP know about it, and have even read excepts from it, the likes. I've been provided a rough draft of the cover, and soon it should be touched-up and ready to go.

Final Thoughts
Thank you all for listening to me on this. It's been the lion's share of my year, a year that's had some good but a lot of challenges. It means a lot to me when folks have an interest in what I do, so I try and do the same as well.

((originally written a week ago or so))
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I really like what you wrote about becoming your characters. I found that it's awkward at first to write them, but as you delve more and more into their personalities, the words, thoughts, and actions just flow onto the paper (though in this case, screen). Thanks for writing this, the advice, and for sharing your passion with all of us!
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Post or send me the link when your book is on sale. I'd like to be one of the first to get one.
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Indeed that'd be nice. I'm very curious! And congratulations already Todd :)
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Whaddya mean, there's no caek delivery down here?
I wish I could get an autographed copy :P
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Todd McCloud
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Ah, for the roleplayers and people in this region, sure, why not.
"Your uniform doesn't seem to fit. You're much too alive in it."

"You must be the change you want to see in the world" - Gandhi
"The worst prison would be a closed heart." - Pope John Paul II
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