YOUR FIRST NOVEL IS SHIT!

 

Oh, not YOUR first novel.  Your first novel was a literary masterpiece. It was the polished golden manuscript of which all other first novels fell short.  As soon as you hit publish it soared to the top of the mighty Zon’s charts and you haven’t had to work a day since.

This post is for the rest of us.

Hell, let me get my tongue out of my cheek and rephrase that intro. MY first novel was pure crap. A month after I self published it sank to the depths of obscurity with hardly a thud.  Maybe you’re struggling with the ‘first novel’ jitters and you’re desperately looking for some tips on getting it out the door. You must be desperate – you found this blog post.

I’m no expert, but I AM pretty good friends with failure. So, I put together a neat little list of the things I wish I’d known before I published. Before you go creating a pen-name just to distance yourself from that first published turd, give these pointers a once-over.  (Yes, this list only applies to those of us crazy enough to self-publish. I’m sure the big publishing houses have an army of people to fix these potholes).

1.GET EDITED .

Dear God, I cannot stress this enough. I took the ‘dumbass-of-all-trades-master-of-none’ route with my first novel. I stupidly thought ‘hey, I’ve got an advanced college degree with years of literature knowledge. I’ll just edit my own manuscript’. NO. Just NO! You want to know what’s not awesome? Reading over your novel years down the road and finding so many grammatical errors it looks like Bobcat Goldthwait dictated your words through a Speak N Spell.

Pay to have someone PROFESSIONALLY edit your manuscript. Not your wife. Not your cousin Buddy that’s taking community college courses in short story writing. Not your friend Ted, who says he’ll do it for beer – actually PAY someone who knows what they’re doing to give it a looksee.  You can find actual real-life editors that are able to perform desired surgery for fair prices. They’re out there and they will help you out. Those squiggly blue lines in MS Word don’t cut it.

 

2. GET AN AWESOME COVER.

Lesson learned. Dumbass me thought I could skillfully slap together a nondescript cover using the latest in free graphic design programs. Sure, there are worse covers out there, but there are a million better ones – ones that are selling.

DON’T do a crappy cover. You don’t want to end up on one of those AWFUL BOOK COVER blog posts.  No artsy stock photo with your title plastered over it. No cutesy filtered snap of your dog. Again, there are plenty of artists out there who will make you a cover at a reasonable price. Take a look at what’s popular in your genre. If I see a generic ‘I made this with photoshop’ cover (like my first novel) I’ll probably skip reading the book.

ALWAYS MAKE SURE YOU PAY YOUR ARTIST! EXPOSURE IS ONLY ACCEPTABLE IF YOU’RE RUNNING AROUND YOUR FRONT LAWN NAKED!

 

3. AT LEAST HAVE AN IDEA OF HOW YOU WANT TO MARKET YOUR BOOK.

Let’s continue with the self-depreciating ammunition. I did little to no market research when I released my first novel. I was sort-of known in amateur horror writer circles. I had a small group of people ready to get their hands on my debut masterpiece. My beta-readers had faith in me. So I published. About twenty of my co-workers and family bought physical copies (that I had to pay for AND ship). Three weeks later, my numbers were non-existent. I had no long lasting plan for the future.  Now, if you aren’t writing to sell this isn’t so important. If you’re happy with publishing your family history for just your family then I’m happy for you.

In the months before you publish, do some research. See what your readers are reading. Follow some big-time authors in your genre. Observe what they’re doing. There are plenty of social media groups out there for book promotions, blog tours,  book reviewers etc…that will give your book a chance. Now, I’m not talking about all-out advertising tips because, well, I suck at marketing. Maybe somebody who’s good at it will share their expertise down the road.

YOUR MOTHER BUYING TWO COPIES OF YOUR DARLING PROSE DOES NOT A PROFIT MAKE. I should know, my mother DID buy two copies of my book.

 

4. WRITING A TRILOGY? AWESOME, BE READY.

So you’re writing the next WHEEL OF TIME series – hail you!  Just be sure you have MORE THAN ONE book ready to go before you pull the trigger. This is a tip you might not even have thought about. I wish I had.

I wanted my novel to be the first of a horrible trilogy. It was full of holes and the ending was, well OPEN ENDED. I had intended for most of those questions to be answered in following volumes. But, all I had nailed down was that first book. I mean, I had a general outline and plenty of awesome ideas to keep the story going. As I mentioned above, I published that first book and then BOOM – a whole lot of nothing happened. Life got in the way. That bitch of a muse wandered off into new territory. Those volumes were never finished.

Have faith in your writing. I do. If you want to tell the next Lord of the Rings – have your books written out FIRST. There is nothing worse for a reader than investing all that time into a proposed series that never goes anywhere.  It DOES happen.

 

Again, I’m no pro, and I’ll never claim to be one. These are just the major things I wish I would’ve thought through before I got bitten by the publishing bug. Learn from my mistakes.

Now, get back to writing. You’ve written today, right?

A ‘COME TO JESUS’ TALK FOR CREATIVES

There seems to be a collective ‘mid-life’ crisis among my fellow creatives. I’ve read about it on several blogs, seen it discussed on social media, and even discussed it in-depth with my friends.  Times are dark indeed. We’re struggling.

Balancing real life and our creative careers.  At what point do we just give up our dream and give in to our daily lives? The majority of my friends (at least the more ‘successful’ ones) screamed NEVER!

True, but do I want to die wishing I had stopped to smell the proverbial flowers? I have the wonderful wife, I rent a decent home, I have an easy job that pays the bills, I have the critters that I consider children. Yet, something keeps me up at night, typing away and unhappy.

And here I come off as a whiny bitch wishing for a break.

So, I’ve spent the last few days having a ‘come to Jesus’ talk with myself.

It’s been six years since I last published anything close to resembling a novel. SIX GODDAMN YEARS!  In that time, I’ve sat by and watched several of my author friends’ writing careers take off. I’ve filled my computer with hundreds of half-finished ‘ideas’. I’ve lived life.

It’s time to put up or shut up!

We can whine about it until those cows find their way home, but it won’t make an inch of difference unless we put in the work.  We can blog about it, vlog about it, we can post about it on all the social medias. We can spend our time drawing up concept book covers for books that don’t yet exist. We can binge countless hours of shows grasping for our inspiration…

or we can write.

Recently, I’ve found that if I set a daily writing schedule (usually 7 – 9 am.) and write for that period EVERY SINGLE DAY, magic happens.  Words make sentences, sentences make pages, pages make novels.  Most of it’s crap, but there is a good amount of saveable material here and there.

This is the way writers become successes. But what defines success? Hell, that’s another blog post in itself.  But the only way I can beat the ‘creator’s blues’ is one word at a time.

So, I’ve made my goal – holding my own nose to the grindstone. I will put every focused bit of energy I have in actually finishing a novel, marketing, and branding myself towards success by the end of 2018. If nothing happens by the end of 2018, I will hang up the pen for good and disappear.

Foolish? Probably.

I hope you’ll join me on this journey. I wish you the best in achieving your creative goals.

Now, get your ass back in that chair and write!

TICKET TO HELL: A REVIEW OF M. WILLIAM PHELPS’ DANGEROUS GROUND

Admittedly, ‘DARK MINDS’ was one of my favorite shows on the Discovery ID channel. And, like most shows I get into, it was short-lived (three seasons). So when DARK MINDS host and true-crime journalist, M.William Phelps announced that he was releasing a book about his ‘friendship’ with the serial killer known only as ‘Raven’ of course I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the book.
DANGEROUS GROUNDS is that book and it’s a ticket straight into hell.
[SPOILERS] Raven was none other than Keith ‘The Happy Face Killer’ Jesperson – convicted of killing 8 women throughout the early 90’s and known for his smiley faced signed letters written to authorities.
This book chronicles Phelps’ five year ‘friendship’ with Jesperson while working on DARK MINDS. Now, if you’ve watched any amount of the ID channel then you probably know Phelps from his frequent appearances on their programs (Deadly Women, etc). I get it, he can come off as somewhat of an ‘over-dramatic’ storyteller with frosted tipped hair and hip flavor saver. However, if you’ve read any of his books you see what a thorough investigative journalist he is with a tenacious voice for victim’s rights.
That being said, I wasn’t expecting all that much when I opened up DANGEROUS GROUND. I figured it would be a series of conversations with an ‘infamous’ human monster full of ghost stories and serial killer tropes.
Damn if I was wrong.
This book dug its claws into my flesh. It haunted my dreams. I still can’t shake it.
DANGEROUS GROUNDS is a case study, a series of interviews, and a personal diary all wrapped up in one engaging package. The book exposes Jesperson for the sociopath he is and by no means is it meant to ‘celebritize’ his murders. Sure, there’s plenty of juicy details from Jesperson’s killings. Especially ‘interesting’ is the explanation of how Jesperson tied up a victim underneath his semi and drug the body for fifteen miles between Brady and Gothenburg, NE (my neck of the woods) to erase any identifying features.
However, where this book shines is Phelps account of how their relationship pulled him into a psychological inferno. He writes with brutal honesty about his own struggles with alcoholism and faith while dealing with his sister-in-law’s murder and, ultimately, his brother’s death from addiction. It’s a front row seat to the near total breakdown the author had at the hands of Jesperson.
Always in search for the truth, Phelps writes about the challenge to properly identify one of Jesperson’s victims, giving the reader a behind-the-scenes look at all the hard and heartbreaking work that goes into such a venture.
There’s a lot going on this book and Phelps pulls it off. It’s a book that will stick with me long after finishing it.
DANGEROUS GROUND is a must-read for true crime enthusiasts and those willing to step foot into the dark corners of human depravity. It belongs on the shelf right next to IN COLD BLOOD and     HELTER SKELTER.

Yeah, it’s that good.

2018: BE DANGEROUS

“Let us not live in a culture of other people’s ideas. Let us create our own.”

-Me.

     I remember a college kid.

This kid buried his nose in philosophy books, theater history, and art films.  He wrote works based on the words of Sarte, Camus, and Brecht. He wrote a play in class and sent it off to his mentor. “I want to see this produced.” said the mentor. It never happened.  The kid studied the cutup method by Burroughs – the films of David Lynch. The kid  swore that there wasn’t a decent book written after the 1970’s.

He went to upstate New York in the summer of 2000. He spent most of his time there filling notebooks, drinking scotch, and printing off pages of his manifesto using the printer in the theater office. He decided then and there that he wanted to become a writer. He wanted to change the world.

Obviously, that kid was me.

Now almost twenty years later, that kid is all but dead. He’s been buried under years and years of safety.  Self doubt and fear have left him chained in the closet – silenced. Truth is, I never set out to do this. It just happened. I started listening to others that said ‘write what’s safe’. ‘Write what sells first. You can always do the ‘dangerous’ stuff later.”  Now, it’s twenty years later, and I’m sad to say we have a generation full of vampire novels, zombie apocalypses, paranormal romances, and wizarding adventures.  The technology of e-publishing was supposed to revolutionize the printing world. Instead, it pretty much gave us an over-saturation of all the crap that was already out there.

It’s time to bring dangerous back – to push the boundaries.

So let this be the year I start pushing boundaries – physically, emotionally, and creatively. I want to change things. I want to create things that matter. Yes, that sounds pretty idealistic – naive – but, look down at that vampire/love story/post-apocalyptic adventure/kids with cancer/ supernatural horror manuscript your working on and ask yourself ‘is this really going to change the world?’

I hope you’ll join me.

I don’t regret anything I’ve written. It’s just that I have a disease that says it will chop off at least 15 years of my life, and my poor lifestyle choices will probably take another five or so off of that. So that means I have a good twenty years or so and I don’t want to spend them putting out garbage that could possible sell.

So where am I at now?

Well, years ago (around the time of my diagnosis) I was plagued with nightmares. I turned those nightmares into THE (the only novel I’ve ever published).  After the passing of my father in November, the nightmares have returned. I have pages and pages of them written down and plotted out. Will they ever come to light? I can’t say.

I’ve spent the last five years or so working on a book about serial killers and the sex trade in a small Nebraska town.  It is a crime/ psychological thriller that replaces imaginative monsters for the real life horrors that haunt us. Will it see a Summer release? Probably not.

Right now the whole universe is on standby while I weed through old material and search for new. It is my creative world, and for the first time, I feel completely in charge of it.  All I know is that this year will be full of excitement, pain, joy, and nightmares.

I can’t wait.

5 LIFE TIPS I’VE LEARNED FROM WATCHING WALKER, TEXAS RANGER

Chuck Norris tells me to watch Walker Texas Ranger, therefore I have to.

It is my guilty pleasure, and I bet my guilty pleasure could kick your guilty pleasure’s ass.

If you’ve ever watched the show (or happen to own it on DVD-not that I do) you know that WALKER is a phenomenon all its own. Chock full of overdone action, exploding with unbelievable heroics, and showcasing acting that would make any soap opera scowl, WALKER has punched a place in our psyche.

And whereas the show will never be truly recognized for its effects on culture or winning any awards for social change any time soon, I have discovered that there are many life lessons that can be learned from watching it.

After much ‘study’ I have come up with a list of 5 successful life strategies that can be taken from Walker, Texas Ranger and practiced by us mere mortals. These are 5 rules that will help you kick much ass in your personal life. You don’t even have to wear a black stetson or a fancy pair of shit kickers.

Mount up!

  1. LESS TALK, MORE ACTION: Walker is a man of few words. He’s too busy kicking bad guy ass to wax some useless dialogue about whether or not so and so is ‘just not that into you’. Walker doesn’t tweet. Walker doesn’t update his facebook page every time he single handedly disables a Mexican drug cartel. He just does it.

How many of us just sit around and talk about all the great things we want to do? How many people go to the grave full of regret over unaccomplished goals or empty promises? We have lists and lists – honey do lists, project lists, goals, bucket lists…etc.etc. but we never act out on a single one.

Stop whining about being underemployed, being alone, writing that great novel-JUST DO IT! Start punching out the small stuff. Before you know it you will be achieving your dreams and never looking back.

  1. ALWAYS HAVE BACK-UP: On the rare occasion Walker finds himself stuck in a particularly doomed situation he has his trusted friends to help him out. Every Walker needs a Trivette (personally, my favorite character in the show). You need a good friend to help you out when things get tough. A good friend will help you overcome the tough obstacles. They’ll save your ass during the occasional warehouse shootout.

However, never forget…

  1. ONE MAN CAN OVERCOME HUGE OBSTACLES : It never fails. In every single episode Walker finds himself cornered by a group of B-grade thugs. One of them always yells ‘GET HIM GUYS!” and all hell breaks loose around our hero. It doesn’t matter if he’s unarmed, out-manned, and out of time -Walker finds some crafty way out of it.

Think only superhuman Walker can beat the odds? Wrong! You have many skills and abilities that you never knew you had until you are forced to use them. How many times have you been down to the wire on a big project and still pulled it off? Somehow you manage to get rent paid. You still breathe at the end of a tough day. Have faith in yourself. Maintain confidence at all times and you will succeed. Of course, having a big gun doesn’t hurt either.

  1. USE THE ELEMENT OF SURPRISE: This is one of Walker’s most powerful crime fighting tools. He catches evil doers off guard and turns the tables in his favor. I’ve seen the man take out an entire gas station with a single bullet while being perched safely on a helicopter flying overhead. I’ve even seen him play dead just long enough to hop back up and unleash a storm of suffer upon the enemy.

Always keep them guessing. Do something unexpected. One way our enemies maintain power over us is by knowing our routine. That douchebag at work is going to take credit for something awesome you did because he knows you won’t speak up. Every morning you find yourself stuck in the same traffic and stressing out because you always leave at the same time and take the same route. Change it up a bit. Put that bully in their place. Take a new street to work. Put on that tacky Hawaiian shirt!

  1. WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS -ROUNDHOUSE KICK: Okay, so I’m not condoning the use of violence to achieve success. You know when Walker is about to win a fight because here comes that slow-mo shot where he is swooping around in mid-air -breaking the skulls of any villain within twenty feet of him. Yeah, don’t do that. I tried it once and now I can’t have children.

I’m speaking of doing something extreme. I found myself in a very unfruitful relationship for years until one day I just stood up and said ‘no more.’ I walked away and never looked back. Throw those cigarettes into the trash. Ask that crush out for coffee. Put your foot down to that overbearing boss. Break into Paradise By The Dashboard Lights the next time you’re at a karaoke bar. Remove all processed foods from your cupboards.

Start living life Walker, Texas Ranger style. Your life will only kick ass if you kick ass.