Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Worlds of Wonder Author Hop Day 5: Short Interview

Here's the fifth day of the World's of Wonder Author Hop, and for this one Holly presented me with some questions for a short interview that will hopefully catch you up to where I'm at right now, give you some insights into my feelings about speculative fiction and why I write it, and also give you some of my thoughts about the nutty world of publishing authors have to deal with nowadays.   There are some sobering things to think about, but I've always preferred straight talk, so I hope you both enjoy and find value in the things gleaned from my experience.

Holly: Can you tell us some of your latest news?

Stephen: Right now, I’m working on the 4th Rising Dawn Saga novel, as well as polishing up several short stories.  I have new ones coming out soon for the Chronicles of Ave Collection, the Annals of the Rising Dawn Collection, and some horror short stories for a brand new themed collection called the Hellscapes.  The latter will be very intensive, inspired by my loves of Paradise Lost, Dante's Inferno, and Clive Barker!

2013 is poised to be a fairly busy year, with the 4th Rising Dawn Saga novel and hopefully a new Fires in Eden novel coming out, as well as more short stories, and perhaps the first book of a new cross-genre YA series.   I’m also looking forward to the latest Harvey and Solomon story coming out in the third Dreams of Steam anthology, and plan on doing more with those two wonderful characters in 2013 as well. 

When there are enough short stories in one of my collections, a single-author collection in print is very likely too.  So as you can see, a busy year ahead indeed!

Holly: Why do you write in these genres?

Stephen: Speculative fiction is truly without limits, especially when writing in an epic scale like I do with the Fires in Eden Series and the Rising Dawn Saga.  You can go from the cosmic to the intimate, and everything in between.  Similarly, you can focus on themes involving life’s big picture, or more personal ones, with a full range of tools to address them. 

I like that kind of freedom and creative possibilities.  Further, creative arts allow you to transcend the mundane, so I am drawn towards speculative fiction because it allows for the existence of worlds of wonder, magic, and all things supernatural. 

Holly: Do you think you may ever go into other sub-genres?

I certainly intend to, as I’m not afraid to try any other sub-genre.  At the heart of every story you have to have good characters and a compelling plot.  If you have that foundation, the elements unique to various genres can be brought into the mix. 

I can say for certain that I have a space opera series mapped out.  When I get the time, it won’t take long to immerse into writing the first installment of that series.

Holly: What is your favorite part of writing?

Stephen: The actual writing is my favorite part, when I have my music playing, a cold can of Monster Energy on my desk, and am in a good flow.  The actual creative moments are by far the most rewarding.  

Some days I find myself tilting a little more towards J.D. Salinger in that I am tempted to just write a story and enjoy it for its own sake, and not worry about going through all the mess that goes with the chaotic world of publishing today.

I have often described my zone like being in a mild trance, in terms of seeing the stories transpiring mentally and then working to depict them with words.  Being in this zone is just wonderful. 

Holly: Can you tell us a few do’s and don’ts for aspiring authors?

Stephen: Understand the publishing process and the value that others bring to it, whether that involves editors, cover artists, layout/graphic design artists, blog reviewers, publicists, or anyone else who have a part to play in the publishing and promotion of a literary work.  The more you respect and value this process and the parts that others play in it, the more professional and considerate you will be while interacting on all levels.  Not everything goes smoothly or perfectly, and the more you understand how things work the more reasonable you will be when you encounter bumps on the road.  

I also think it is a good idea to keep your writing and promotion/publicity worlds separate.  I write on a separate computer, in fact, one that is not hooked up to the internet.  In this way, I help to keep my full focus on my writing, and keep potential distractions at bay that might otherwise become problematic if I was doing everything on the same system. 

Finally, I’m not a big fan of word counts, and believe it is more important to write regularly than it is to obsess over a certain number of words per session.  If you write regularly, the word count will largely take care of itself. 

Holly: What are some of the pro’s and con’s of self-publishing verses being published by a publisher in your opinion?

Stephen: There’s far less of a stigma about self-publishing than there was before, but it is important to emphasize that good self-publishing approaches publishing in the same manner that an independent press would.  From editing, to layout, to marketing, every stage of a book’s production and release must be executed properly.  Effective self-publishing assembles the right team to achieve all stages at a professional level of quality.

Publishing at the moment is really chaotic.  Old models are no longer applicable, and the ground is anything but stable. 

There really is no rhyme or reason why some things take off and become blockbusters.  Take 50 Shades of Grey for example.  There is no question there are many, many far better written books out there with the very same kind of themes, but for whatever reason this one trended and became the “hot” and “must read” release.  There was nothing unique or special the author did with 50 Shades of Grey than other peers of hers that write on the same themes.  It just happened. And the fact that a major press picked it up and put it out is no reflection of the quality level.  It merely reflects that they calculated they can make good sales with it.  I can give many more examples of titles that are not even well-edited that have sold in droves versus works of a very high literary quality that struggle to make sales, despite authors doing everything right promotionally. 

It has been one of the more gloomy realities I have discovered over the past few years, but if you want to do this as a career it is better that you understand that there is a lot of great stuff that struggles, and a whole lot of crap that sells.  And even when you understand this, it can still be a bitter pill to swallow.  I recently read two works by authors who are truly elite in their craft.  Elegant prose, spectacular word choices, loads of thought into plot and character.  Really quality literature, with depth, by two authors who have honed their craft to a razor-sharp edge. Yet they struggle to sell when a derivative urban fantasy clone of a best-seller thrown up without even having professional editing sells in the thousands.  

Go figure.  But that's how it goes. There really is a luck factor these days, but you still have to put yourself in the best position for that luck to strike. 

You are dealing with a tsunami of releases, as everybody and their cousin, brother, and mother are putting up eBooks these days, and it is indeed hard to gain attention in such a churning sea.  You are going to run into many people throwing eBooks up on Kindle and Nook thinking lightning is going to strike and they’re going to get rich.  This type does just enough to put out eBooks, and really don't have a passion for storytelling.  I see it all the time.

I’m not being pessimistic, it is just that this is the simple reality on the ground when there is zero gatekeeping for getting to market.  This is the glaring con side of the brave new world of digital publishing.   And if you remain inert, even if you have an absolute gem, the sad truth is that the legions of the mediocre will drown you out. 

Basically, if you have a passion for being a writer and a storyteller, you should just work on being the best writer and storyteller that you can be.  Understand that most likely it is going to be a very frustrating process with all the demands of promotion, social media, and the like.  Know the business as best you can, engage in regular promotion and publicity activities, but the priority should always be your stories and your writing.   After all, your love of writing is what took you on this path to begin with.    

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Robert Eilers said...

Great interview with insights into writing and publishing. I agree with you about the whole "crap get's picked but greatness get's dumped" mentality right now. Could this possibly be a direct result of our failing education system as well as the proliferation of crap in general?

I blame Walmart.

Suzanne said...

Great interview with some sage advice for aspiring authors. Wishing you all the best in your writing endeavours!

sgzimmer said...

@Robert: I definitely agree with you, and as you know from reading the Rising Dawn Saga I really do believe the public has been "dumbed down" with a combination of increasing focus on entertainment distractions and an educational system that simply does not deliver. It is one that is more concerned with agendas and worldview in my opinion than it is with hard knowledge. In other words, this educational system is not concerned whether you say 2+2=4 or 2+2=5 as long as you are on your way to becoming a nice and compliant "global citizen". All of this is part of a nasty cycle that has resulted in what we see out there today. Less motivation, increasing apathy, taking the path of least resistance, following the herd, that kind of thing. The end result is a profound embrace of mediocrity, and an almost hostile resistance to things of an exceptional nature.

@Suzanne: Thank you very much. I do not intend to sound too dour, but at the same time I want to deal with the reality of the world that authors are dealing with. It can't be sugar-coated, and the best thing to do is face it head on and understand its nature as best as possible. I do my best, and encourage you and all others to do your best. That's the thing we can control, in terms of putting forth our best work and effort possible. Wishing you much success in your endeavors too!

Kym said...

I agree with you on the educational system not working. They are making the days longer here, and I dont beleive that is the answer

Thanks ! Merry CHristmas ~