After years of putting it off, I’m stepping down from being solely an author. “Solely” being the operative word. The book publishing industry rewarded me in the ways I needed, taught me the things I wanted to learn, and helped me meet the types of people I wanted to meet, both creator and reader alike. And while true that since I’ve been back from being ill, I’ve taken on the mantle of writer/artist instead of just writer, I thought it’d be a fair thing to tell you what the current road map looks like career-wise so I don’t accidentally mislead you.
This is the general plan:
2020 is a year of rebuilding hence Project Rebuild. Throughout the course of the year–with the very end of the year being the ideal-but-flexible deadline–I’ll be bringing my book list into the 21st century and will release a new thing or two along the way. And it will take the whole year or potentially more because I have a lot of titles and all this takes time.
Going forward in 2021, I have a few books that are done that need releasing so those will be tended to as well as finishing off some works-in-progress to wrap them up.
While the above two are occuring, I’ll be spending most of my time and energy devoted to making comics. Comics are what started me on the publishing path and are a great love of mine. In short, writing books will be a secondary thing compared to the comics.
All I want to do is finish the last bit of my book publishing life and make comics going forward.
For Axiom-man fans, don’t worry. Lots of prose adventures coming. I’m referring to my non-superhero work.
I also need to point out something to my readers that needs to be taken into consideration: I’m still sick. I’m much better than before, but even when I started up again at the end of last August, I was operating at around 65-70% capacity. Going hard at 1000mph has dropped me to about 50% on a good day, 40-45% on every other day. Each day I come to the keyboard, I’m not healthy on multiple levels, but I work anyway because making art and stories is what I do and it’s what helps me survive. All I’m saying is I’m changing things on various levels so I don’t keel over and die one day in the middle of a script or while drawing something. It is also important to point out that my shift to comics isn’t about accommodating for being unwell. It’s about looking ahead to my deathbed when I’m lying there and looking back. I know I’ll regret it if I don’t do comics and since time is the most valuable thing on this earth, I want to spend it doing something I love.
The winter season is nearly here, which means this week I’m putting the final touches on getting ready for Heavy Broadcast Mode, which starts November 1. Believe it or not, a lot of planning and organizing goes into making books and comics for public consumption. It’s not just me writing a story and sending it out all willy nilly. Every creator works their own way, but on my end, I need to have certain mechanisms in place so I can publish a story and get it into your hands properly. This ranges from the actual publishing machine itself to the promotion side of it to even making sure I have copies here at the Central for you. Then add on the need to make and have all those systems in place all the while keeping a roof over my head and, well, yeah. Busy times.
This isn’t over-complicating it. It’s just planning things out so, once all is up and running, I have the greatest resource of all when it comes to creating stories and sharing them: Time.
Everything takes time. Some things take a mere minute, other things take hours or days, and the only way to have that time is do all that I’ve been doing behind the scenes here at the Central. (Speaking of behind the scenes, a new behind-the-scenes entry is going up on my Patreon this Friday. Join the journey to check it out.)
To find out more of what it takes to keep the creative machine running, please join my free weekly newsletter, The Canister X Transmission. It’s a letter from me to you week after week. It’s a chance for all subscribers to have a common meeting point each week to take a load off, escape the stress of the world, have a read (maybe even a laugh), and just breathe after busting butt all week. It’s also a chance to bring you up to speed on all that’s happened here at the Central, things not always covered on this blog. Pull up a chair. We always have room for one more.
A lot of what I share on here has to do with the creative journey and stating what I’ve learned through experience. The reason is rooted in my passion for the creative industry. I’ve been making stuff up since I was a kid running around in a Superman costume (something I did even when my other friends had grown out of it). It’s all I know.
Making up stories, drawing, and thinking about how to better get my imagination onto the page takes up most of my time and is my preferred activity. Some guys work on cars or model kits to help fill the hours; I work on imaginary worlds. It’s just how I’m wired and I don’t know any other way to live my life.
Is always talking about creativity beating a dead horse? I honestly don’t know because in my world that horse keeps coming back to life. All I know is writing out my thoughts on the creative life helps me organize them, and if they can benefit or entertain someone along the way, then I’m more than happy to take them on the journey with me.
In June of 2020, I will have been writing for twenty years. Though I was creating before that–primarily comic book art–it was in June of 2000 that I decided to make books my living. I was originally aiming to be a comic book artist but life threw me a curve ball and through various circumstances books became the order of the day.
I’ve been giving thought to a memoir for a very long time. It would be an opportunity to share with readers my creative journey and, when appropriate, my personal journey as well. It would also be a chance to lay my creative life out in front of me where I can see it and visit time periods I haven’t been to since they originally happened. A partial journal effort, so to speak.
Regarding publication, no doubt there would be a formal release of a paperback and eBook, but I’m also thinking of airing it on-line first, whether here at Canister X or on my Patreon or both.
It’s been a wild ride to get to the present day. I started out crafting stories completely naive as to how this business worked and hit many roadblocks along the way. The plan for this project will require further thought but I think I’ve already settled upon the process so I can create it without it overloading my already-hectic schedule.
For some reason I’ve recently been giving a lot of thought to my writing process and I came to the conclusion I don’t really have one. At least, not in the conventional sense when someone thinks about how an author writes a book. Usually it involves notions of slaving away over the words, crafting each sentence to perfection, doing rewrite after rewrite, line editing, copy editing, proofing and so forth.
None of that applies to me. Not in that sort of depth, anyway.
My first book, A Stranger Dead, and from what I recall, involved a lot of that: slaving away over each word. Being a first book and first effort, that’s how I thought book writing was done. And, hey, if that’s how you write your books, by all means, whatever works, right?
But for me, I’ve been following the same writing process for at least a decade. It’s bare-bones simple, and doesn’t require a lot of brain power other than the first draft, and even then, I’m not exhausting my mental energy to the point of being brain dead after a writing session.
Though there are exceptions, this is typically how I write a book:
– A title or basic premise comes to me
– I let it stew in the back of my head so my subconscious can work things out without me consciously thinking about them
– The first line of the story comes to mind
– I get to work on the first draft
On the first draft:
I’ve only outlined a book once, and that book is still in process as of this writing. I will also be outlining another book to finish it off because it involves time travel and I got myself into a possible paradoxical mess with the thing so I need to iron out the details so it’s paradox-free (something that’s very important when writing time travel stories). Other than that, I simply write a book as it comes to me, scene by scene, sentence by sentence, word by word. I don’t think about what I’m writing. I just write it as I see it in my head and that’s it. I’ve written enough books over the years to know the golden rule that every word needs to serve the story, so I don’t have to worry about scenes being cut later because they’re just fluff.
And that’s it. I write the story start to finish and do not edit as I go along.
Sometimes I know how it’s going to end, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes when I do know how it’s going to end—and since I let the story tell itself—that ending either doesn’t happen or doesn’t happen how I originally envisioned it. But whatever. I let the story do the talking, not me.
After the first draft is done, I run a spellcheck and print it out.
I leave the book alone for a while, sometimes a week, sometimes a month, then get to work on the second draft.
On the second draft:
By leaving the book alone, I had a chance to mentally distance myself from it before going at it with fresh eyes.
You see, you write and read at different speeds, so while taking my pen to my first draft, I read it at a reader’s rate and am able to smooth out choppy sentences or catch words I repeat—every writer has a go-to word or phrase in their first draft—and make sure story continuity lines up. It’s this latter point that always astonishes me: the way your subconscious keeps track of everything between writing sessions and keeps the story in order. I might add a sentence or two or delete a couple redundancies. Nothing fancy.
I then type up my second draft edits and print the book out again for draft three.
On the third draft:
This is the polish draft, and after having done a solid clean-up on it in draft two, this draft is a way to catch anything I missed the first time and do a spit shine on it. Seldom are any substantial changes made. Again, it’s done at reader’s rate so I just read along and tweak things here and there.
These changes are typed up and the book goes off to my editor.
I wait for the editor to do what I pay him for then get the book back from him.
On the editor’s draft:
At this point I’m already getting sick of my own story after having been through it three times, so all I do during this phase is go through my editor’s edits and only his edits. I agree with 95% of them; the remaining 5% are usually matters of taste and preference and not actual errors.
My editor’s work is now complete. He gets paid, and all he has to do is await his editor’s copy in the mail when it’s ready.
I take the editor’s draft and do a three-quarter format on the book.
On the partially-formatted book:
The book is now resembling what the reader will eventually see in terms of layout and trim size. Chapter headings are decorated and basic front and back matter are put in place. The only thing that’s really missing are the headers and footers.
I print it out.
Since I consider my editor’s draft draft number four, this partially-formatted book is my fifth and final draft in which I go through it and catch anything my editor or I might’ve missed. What’s helpful about this stage is the new layout of the book. There are less words per line at a 6 x 9” trim size than your standard 8.5 x 11” piece of paper. Things read differently and any error seems to jump out all the clearer.
These mistakes are fixed and are typed into the computer.
I then go on to finish the book with its final bells and whistles.
On the bells and whistles:
These include adding the headers and footers, the title cards and any ad matter in the back.
At this stage, it’s just an issue of making sure all the formatting is in place, and the book itself is done.
Paperback formatting is always done first, then the various eBook formatting required for the different platforms comes after.
On the off-chance I catch a mistake while formatting, I then have to sort through the different files and make the change in each. It’s annoying and a pain but has to be done.
Then that’s it. It’s off to press.
Of course, during the preliminary format I get my page count thus can create my cover, but that’s not the topic of this post.
But that’s my process. Five total drafts, four of which are mine.
A long time ago a writer friend gave me the greatest bit of publishing advice I’ve ever received. I’ve repeated it a bunch of times to writers in all sorts of forums and venues over the years, and it’s this: it’s only a book. And that’s how I treat my novels: they’re only books. That’s all they are. They’re stories. They’re fantasies. They’re entertainment. Like I always say, kingdoms won’t rise and fall based on something I’ve written so I’m long past the stage of obsessing over my stories.
I just write the damn thing, clean it up, then share it with you.
This note is being transmitted at 2:09 am. Having a bit of trouble sleeping so thought it best to write this via the smartphone and then do a short bit of smartphone writng afterward to help me fall asleep.
I wanted to let you know of two guaranteed releases from me in 2017. I know these are guaranteed because they are being written simultaneously week to week right now. They’ll be ready to publish around June or July.
The Canister X Transmission: Year Three
An untitled collection of multi-genre flash fiction that will contain 60 short-short stories for your reading pleasure. Title to be announced once I think of one.
Did you know now and then Axiom-man makes an appearance in my newsletter? In fact, he was just in there last week for the second time. You see, every week in Year Three of The Canister X Transmission is a piece of flash fiction–various genres–and Axiom-man likes to pop up from time to time.
These stories are canon and are part of the overall saga.
(For those not aware, The Axiom-man Saga in its entirety is made up of novels, novellas, short stories, flash fiction, and comics.)
To ensure you get the whole story, get a copy of The Canister X Transmission in your email every week.
Also note other superhero fiction shows up there as well.
You can subscribe to the newsletter using the subscription box on this site or go here.
Here is an updated listing of The Axiom-man Saga in reading order:
Axiom-man Char (short story in the tenth anniversary edition of Axiom-man) Episode No. 0: First Night Out Doorway of Darkness Black Water (short story) Episode No. 1: The Dead Land There’s Something Rotten Up North (short story in the anthology, Metahumans vs the Undead) City of Ruin Rite of the Wolf (short story in the anthology, Metahumans vs Werewolves) Episode No. 2: Underground Crusade Outlaw Episode No. 3: Rumblings The Split (flash fiction) Mercy (flash fiction)
“Wait . . . what?” you say. “If I don’t sell my book, who’s going to read it? Isn’t selling my book and making money what authors are supposed to do after publication?”
I don’t know. Is it?
If you want to ensure your book won’t sell, sell your book.
Here’s what I mean:
The on-line world is loaded with authors whining and begging people to, “Buy my book!” They form groups on Facebook, which amount to nothing more than broke writers marketing their books to other broke writers. They tweet purchase links all day and hit up social networks with ads . . . then cry at night because it did absolutely nothing for them.
How do you get a following these days with everyone and their dog writing a book, publishing it and calling themselves an author?
Or how does someone who starts from scratch come out of nowhere and move copies of their work without shoving it in people’s faces? (And we’ve all seen them: those authors whom we’ve never heard of move a gazillion copies.)
To build a following, marketing your book will get you nowhere. Sure, you might catch a few sales and feel like a success story all your own—and rightly you should, to be honest—but to keep those sales going and to build a readership, you need to switch up your game plan.
You need to start marketing yourself.
Some people call this branding. What are we? Cattle? I don’t want a brand for my books. I don’t want my books to be what I’m known for. I want me to be what I’m known for. When I’m dead and gone, that’s the thing that matters, not how many books I sold.
Stop chasing the almighty dollar and start chasing the reader.
You don’t want to be known as that distant author behind a desk somewhere. You don’t want to be that high-and-lofty literary guest at some convention. You want to be that down-to-earth extra awesome person who’s a familiar face at shows and signings. You want to be that friendly and approachable on-line personality who’s a class act and is genuinely interested in interacting with their readers.
“But all I want to do is write!”
Then get out of the business, frankly. Or, if you must write, then don’t publish. As much as I’m an art-first-money-later guy, I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t want to make a few bucks off what I do. The motivation to make cash isn’t to be rich, though. I don’t care about that stuff. I just want to make enough to live on. But I can’t do that selling my book. I have to sell me.
Let me break it down for you in really simple terms:
When you first started writing, you went through a lot of trial and error and a lot of drafts. As you wrote a few books, you noticed your style started changing and at one point you reached that magical book where everything was different and you found your voice. Since then, your voice has been your style. Writing is easier, editing is easier, coming up with stories is easier, too.
This applies to your marketing efforts. You need to find your voice. You can’t just be another author spamming the world. There are ads everywhere for everything. People ignore that stuff. But they don’t tune out unique voices . . . especially if that voice has something of value to say. This is how followings are made and grown. You become known as the author “who’s like that.” Not the author “who’s like so-and-so . . . and a million others.”
I’ve been publishing since 2003, and indie publishing since 2004. I’ve seen it all. People have come and gone. There’s been successes and failures. Ups and downs. Yet there is one thing that has remained consistent throughout all of it: the authors who found their marketing voice are the ones who are still doing well today, who have a following, and have cultivated loyal readers based on who they are and not just their work.
To be clear, I’m not diminishing the importance of putting out good books. Sometimes that can indeed be enough to build a readership (i.e. it initiates word-of-mouth, etc.). But if you’re an author lost to the din of the flooded publishing world, writing a damn good book is probably not going to cut it. You need to get yourself out there and expose yourself to readers by showing them who you are behind the page.
Some writers niche themselves and become known for a certain thing or a certain personality. Others are more broad-brush. Whatever the case, simply blasting ads everywhere isn’t going to do anything for you. But if you meet people, whether on-line or off-, and not just use it as a means to pitch them your book, you’ll be surprised at how many copies you’ll move.
Put the people first, your book/comic/whatever second. This is so important. This about reputation and, at least for me, I never, ever buy books from people who blatantly shove it in my face. I don’t care how good the cover is or what the synopsis is about. As a reader, I want to be cared for. I want to know this isn’t just a money game to the writer.
Art first, book(s) second.
And if you’ve somehow missed the point of everything above, all I’m saying is be yourself, share yourself, then share info about your book after that.
Connect with readers first, then point them to the page.
Sunnyville Stories Vol. 2 is a great continuation of Max West’s landmark series. I’m a huge fan of the stories within this collection as well as Max’s art. It’s wonderful to find there is still good wholesome entertainment out there thanks to sagas like Sunnyville Stories. From what I hear, Sunnyville Stories is planned for 50 issues, which means there will be many more wonderful collections like this to come. Thanks, Max, for continuing to give us the further adventures of Sam and Rusty. Look forward to the next collection.