By Brian Kaufman
Flashback to January 2020: I had two books scheduled for release from two publishers. The first was historical about an old bluesman, and I’d planned a legendary release party. Live music, food, and probable fame. Then COVID made hash out of my marketing plan. Meanwhile, the other publisher postponed my second release until January of the following year. The company’s usual marketing efforts could have been more present. The book was effectively orphaned.
In addition, I signed an option for a screenplay of my baseball novel. The script showed well in competitions, but no one seriously considered a movie that required crowd scenes.
Compared to others, my COVID problems were minimal. I work from home, so I suffered no real financial challenges. My health was excellent, given my bad habits. My friends and family survived. But changes in the writing world demanded a different direction if I intended to keep up. I had to learn more about online ways to market my books, which I did. I used the time I spent sequestered to write, and I’ve finished three novels since the pandemic began.
That sounds like a lot of writing. My day job involves writing textbooks, so my output was more than three books. This year, more than ever before, I benefitted from that day job. I had deadlines, I had projects I didn’t necessarily love, and I did the work. There’s a cliché about novel writing—put your butt in a chair and write. But, like a football player who doesn’t like watching game film, there are different levels of commitment and habits to be learned and enforced.
What habits? I write every day. I work in my office at the job or at home, and I put words down. I write in two-hour bursts, take a break, and return to action. Eight-hour days is the expectation. I wear noise-canceling headphones with no music, forcing me to listen to the voices in my head (except for the “I’m hungry” voice—that guy never shuts up).
Sometimes, the words suck, and I start over. For example, I flushed a four-hundred-word opening to this blog. It was arty and melancholy and stupid. This happens because I’m me. My internal editor, however, wouldn’t let me get away with that nonsense.
Over the last few months, I decided to spend more time on the craft. I have a friend who dedicated a few years to formal training, and I was inspired. I selected seven books to study and attended them as if they were THE textbooks for college courses (and some were exactly that). Several were in audiobook form, so I walked the mountain roads with my headphones on, exercising my legs and my brain.
I’m sure I’ll blog about those books in the future. I’ll mention two now. Writing Great Fiction: Storytelling Tips and Techniques by James Hynes is a comprehensive series of lectures, and I recommend it to everyone. A second book deserves mention—John Gardner’s On Moral Fiction.
I had been neglecting one of the glitteriest opportunities for authorial procrastination—social media. I needed to approach the online factory of despair from a working person’s perspective. I needed to identify what I wanted to do and approach that goal methodically. Though in the past, I’d planned to devote Wednesday nights to marketing, this year, I managed to follow through.
While trying to find a home for my new works, I began crafting query letters to agents—again, something I haven’t done much of. I don’t envy the agent’s job. Lots of competition (so many former editors from closed publishing houses) and no sure way of knowing what will or won’t sell. Email makes it easy to submit a query. Spam folders make it easy to delete those emails.
Since the world has opened its doors again, I have prepared for in-person signing opportunities. RMFW had its holiday book sale, and I was there. I have two other book events planned for December. In the coming months, I’ll be attending conventions as a vendor. This involved some planning since I needed an attractive table display. So far, it’s relatively generic, but I’ll tweak things as I go.
Finally, I read a lot. A writer who does not read isn’t serious about writing. I usually go through fifty or so books a year. I doubled that this year. One easy trick—my drive to work is an hour each way. You can devour a lot of audiobooks like that. A second trick is insomnia.
Now, 2023 beckons. Once again, I have two very different books coming out in the same year. The first is a paranormal historical (A Shadow Melody—January). The tagline: In the early 1900s, Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, and Harry Browning each researched devices to contact the dead through scientific means. Only one succeeded.
The second book is also historical, though more mainstream this time (A Persistent Echo—August). The book has an intriguing setting. In 1897 Texas, more than 400 UFO sightings were reported seven years before the Wright brothers flew at Kitty Hawk.
I hope the doubled release—a happy recurrence—does not trigger another world health crisis. Moreover, I hope my time this year has advanced my skills and preparation. I’m told the Grand Canyon was formed because the Colorado River cut a channel through rock a bit at a time. I’m really old, and I’ve struggled with this for a long time. I’d settle for the Pretty Good Canyon or the Not Great but Large Enough to Require a Bridge Canyon. That would be sufficient.
Either way, back to work.