Hack Your Brain, Bypass Writing Blocks

September 30, 2010

SMOKE is a game to engage your creative mind about your character by playing with metaphors. This is great for steering around creative blocks by skipping logical thought entirely. Some of your answers will be silly, but that’s okay, because some won’t. And some might give you the insight you were looking for.

Presented by Peter Elbow in Writing With Power, possibly adapted from John Gardner in On Becoming a Novelist. (Although I learned it from Bruce Holland Rogers.)

1) If your character were a color, what color would he/she be? (WAS a color, not the character’s favorite color)

2) If your character were an animal, what animal would he/she be?

3) If your character were a piece of technology, what piece of technology would he/she be?

4) If your character were a mode of transportation, what mode of transportation would he/she be?

5) If your character were a food, what food would he/she be?

6) If your character were physically constructed out of a particular material or substance, what substance would he/she be made of?

7) If your character were a type of weather, what type of weather would he/she be?

(You can make up more questions like these on your own. There’s no limit.)

Writers Making Money

March 25, 2010

Here’s the novelist’s standard publishing model:

1) Finish the novel.
2) Write a query letter, pitch, chapter outline, and synopsis.
3) Query a hundred or more agents, offering them 15% of everything.
4) Get rejected by all of them.
5) Repeat steps 2 and 3 as needed.
6) Begin the next novel.

If you snag an agent, and that leads to a publisher, then you struggle with publishers’ dwindling editing efforts, dwindling promotion efforts, and dwindling advances.

Gee. I hope all the modern changes in the publishing world don’t upset this great model.

Actually, I love to see writers make money by slipping past this system and finding a new model — by aggressive application of moxy, hustle, or genius.

Here are my four favorite examples.

Scott Sigler

Before he was published, Scott built a large online following by giving away his self-recorded audiobooks as free, serialized podcasts. His loyal fans, who named themselves “Junkies,” have downloaded over eight million individual episodes of his stories and interact daily with Scott and each other in the social media space.

Scott reinvented book publishing when he released EARTHCORE as the world’s first “podcast-only” novel. Released in twenty weekly episodes, EARTHCORE harkened back to the days of serialized radio fiction. His innovative use of technology puts him at the forefront of modern-day publishing and has garnered brand-name exposure among hundreds of thousands of fiction fans and technology buffs.

J. C. Hutchins

J.C. Hutchins is an award-winning novelist best known for his 7th Son technothriller trilogy, which he released as free serialized audiobooks from 2006-07. With approximately 100,000 downloads of his episodic fiction still occurring each month, 7th Son is the most popular “podcast novel” series in history.

The trilogy — and its 2008 groundbreaking spinoff anthology OBSIDIAN — are available for free download at 7thSonNovel.com. The series’ first novel, Descent, will be published this fall by St. Martin’s Press. Personal Effects: Dark Art, J.C.’s debut in a new supernatural thriller series, will also be published in June.

I especially admire the close connection he has with his fans… and his creativity in self-promotion. For example, Hutchins has the coolest press kit I’ve ever seen.

J. A. Konrath

Joseph Andrew Konrath was born in Skokie, IL in 1970. He graduated from Columbia College in Chicago in 1992. His first novel, Whiskey Sour (2004), introduced Lt. Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels. Others in the series include Bloody Mary (2005), Rusty Nail (2006), Dirty Martini (2007), Fuzzy Navel (2008), and Cherry Bomb (2009). The books combine hair-raising scares and suspense with laugh out loud comedy.

His blog, A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing (jakonrath.blogspot.com), has had over 400,000 hits since 2005.

His blog. Oh, man, his blog:

I uploaded my first self-published ebook for Amazon Kindle back on April 8, 2009.

As of this morning, March 4 at 9:23am, I’ve sold 29,224 ebooks.

I’m currently selling $1.99 ebooks at the rate of 170 per day. That means I’m earning around $120 per day just sitting on my butt. If this trend continues as-is, I’ll earn $43,800 this year on previously published short stories and novels that NY print publishing rejected.

Joe has distilled his lessons from the publishing school of hard knocks into a brain-melter of a free ebook.

Bruce Holland Rogers

Bruce Holland Rogers has a home base in Eugene, Oregon, the tie-dye capital of the world… His fiction is all over the literary map. Some of it is SF, some is fantasy, some is literary. He has written mysteries, experimental fiction, and work that’s hard to label.

I’m lucky enough to have Bruce as my writing instructor. He writes a lot of short stories. If you think there’s no business model for that, check this out:

Since January 2002, for just ten dollars U.S. a year (twelve Canadian, ten euro, or six pounds sterling) subscribers have been receiving short-short stories by Bruce Holland Rogers in their email boxes. Most of these readers must like what they’re getting, since the majority renew. Stories go out three times a month, and they are an unpredictable mix of literary fiction, science fiction, fairy tales, mysteries, and work that is hard to classify.

Thirty-six stories for ten dollars. That’s about twenty-eight cents a story.

Bruce has over 700 subscribers. Are you doing the math yet? He elaborates in an elusive Toronto Star article:

“Part of the idea is for me to have some regular deadlines from a paying audience. I do my best work with a little bit of performance anxiety. Every story has to be as good as I can make it, since there are always some subscribers whose subscriptions are about to expire.”

The benefits to the author are obvious. In addition to the enforced deadlines and the built-in revenue stream (he makes about $275 a month [circa 2006], in addition to direct-marketed book sales and speaking engagements related to his subscription list), Rogers has found a way to overcome one of the most vexing problems faced by writers: launching their words into a void.


Is it all about money? Well, no.

But writers are good people, and they deserve to be rich. Or at least, not poor. So as long as you have the skills to write great fiction, you can learn from the trailblazers… then blaze a trail yourself.