Category: writing

The Closest One of My Books has Come to Banning

I didn’t really think any of my books would ever pop up on a “don’t let this in a library” list. Sure, some of them can get a wee bit bloody, but there’s much (much) more extreme stuff out there. My books have pretty much no sex. Little in the way of language. What would be there for someone to really dig in and object to?

So imagine my surprise when I heard from a librarian yesterday that The Perfect Place to Die had popped up on the “don’t order this” radar. The librarian had submitted a book order a month and a half ago, and they were waiting for it to be approved, something that’s typically just a rubber stamp. But they kept waiting. And waiting. And waiting. And so they finally asked what was the hold up, and they were told it had been denied because one of the books on it had been flagged by the financial office and the superintendent because of “questions of appropriateness.”

The first book on the list had been The Perfect Place to Die (right where it belongs on all book lists, of course), and based on the title alone, the whole list was stopped because the muckety mucks assumed the librarian was buying books about suicide.

Look. I get the fact that folks in the administration might be busy, and that they want to do what’s right for the students in their schools. But I also know that right now administrations across the country are facing extra scrutiny because of these pushes by organized groups to second guess every title in a library. A push aided by “helpful” lists of books that these organizations have compiled that contain “inappropriate” material. I’ve written about my feelings on the subject before, and they have only grown stronger.

I make it a point not to review things I haven’t personally read or watched. I realize that without that personal experience, I have no leg to stand on to say whether a piece of art is good, bad, evil, or whatever. The thought that so many people would turn over their opinions to some other organization and simply parrot back whatever that organization told them to object to is aggravating. If there are specific books parents or children have had issues with, then those specific parents or children can object to those specific books. But this catch all approach isn’t just lazy, it’s wrong. It allows a few individuals to have far too much influence on what’s “good” and “acceptable,” opening up the whole process to politics and backroom shenanigans. But I’ll get off that soapbox before I’m on it for too long again.

What I really wanted to do was just show how silly and shortsighted this approach is. If you haven’t read The Perfect Place to Die, it’s an historical thriller. It takes place in Chicago in 1893, and it’s about a girl who is very much trying to stay alive. It has absolutely nothing to do with suicide, despite the fact that there’s a Japanese forest with the nickname “the perfect place to die” because people go there to commit suicide. (Something I only know because I came across it while googling my book. Though if you google the phrase right now, the first result that mentions that forest is number 8. Everything else is about my book.)

I don’t know if the muckety mucks just saw a title about death and figured it must be about suicide, or if they googled the title, or what. I do know they most definitely didn’t take the time to even check for two seconds about what the book is actually about. They just decided to hold up the entire order and then question everything else that was on it.

All because of a title. No parents had even objected yet.

When I was out at the Texas Library Association conference, one of the questions on the panel was how I would feel if one of my books got banned. My response? “Bring it.” Banning books generally makes them much, much more popular. It brings free publicity and attention to those books. And so getting my book banned would almost definitely only help my career.

But if you’re going to ban my book, I always kind of assumed you’d . . . you know . . . read it first.

In any case, thanks for proving my point, muckety mucks. And thanks to the librarian for sticking to their guns and speaking up for me. They shouldn’t have had to, but they did just the same. Because librarians are awesome.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Good News: Earning Out Your Advance

When you sell a book as an author, you sell it for an “advance against royalties.” You also negotiate a certain percentage of each book’s cover price that will be your royalty rate; for each book sold, you’ll get that amount of money. So if your book sells for $10, and your royalty rate is 10%, every book sold gets you $1. Yay! However, you don’t actually see any of this money until that advance you got is “earned out.” It’s not a signing bonus. It’s the amount of money the publisher thinks you’ll likely make for your royalties on the book. (I’m oversimplifying here.) So until that money’s paid back, you don’t see any royalties at all. (You got paid for those up front. That’s a good thing. It means that even if the book doesn’t sell anything, you still got money. Though if the book doesn’t sell anything, you have other problems as an author . . . )

So if you ever actually see a royalty check as an author, it’s a very good thing. It means that your book at bare minimum is doing better than your publisher cautiously thought it would. It also means that you’ll periodically get checks in the mail for various amounts of money, depending on sales. When you’re a librarian first and an author second, extra money in the mail is a wonderful surprise. When you’re an author first and foremost, you’re often relying on those checks in the mail to be able to feed and clothe yourself and your family. (My favorite surprise money so far has been Chinese royalty payments for The Memory Thief, which have come a couple of times now. The book’s been plenty popular in China.)

When I sold The Perfect Place to Die, it was a two book deal. That means my publisher bought that book and a book I hadn’t written yet. They paid one advance for both of them combined. I wouldn’t see royalties for either book until all that money was “paid back.”

So I was extremely pleased when after the first six months (you get royalty checks twice a year), I got an actual royalty payment on The Perfect Place to Die. This means that I earned out my advance for both books right off the bat. This also means that from here on out, every copy of either of those books that sells, makes me money. Also, it hopefully means my publisher is happy with how the books are doing, which makes it more likely that they’ll want to buy more of my books in the future.

In any case, these days it can sometimes feel like good news only comes along every so often, so I’m celebrating every chance I get. Thanks to all you readers out there! Today’s celebration couldn’t have happened without you.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Finding a Voice

I’m well into writing my twentieth novel at this point, and it (naturally) feels a fair bit different than it did back when I was writing my first. It feels particularly strange at times because almost all of those 20 novels are in first person point of view. (Only 2 are in third person, and those are my second and fourth. Since then it’s been non-stop first person all the time.)

Back when I was on my third or fourth first person novel, I remember being particularly worried that all of my narrators were going to sound the same. I have a default writing style I fall back on when I’m writing first person, and so almost all of them generally begin the same way. And even now, I still usually get to some point early on in the writing of a new book when I take a look at what I’ve written and just start to worry if it’s just going to sound the same as one of my previous books.

For me, some of the trouble comes from there being so many different things to keep in mind with a first draft. Yes, I have a lot more practice writing them now than I did before, but that also means I’m that much more aware of how many levels of attention a good final draft needs. You need to make sure there are enough sensory details for the book to feel real. You need to make sure the main plot line is advancing at a steady pace. You need to keep the different subplots moving as well. You need all of your characters to sound and feel different. No good cheating and just making your main character unique and all of your side characters cookie cutter.

So when I’m writing that first draft, it’s really easy to focus on a few of those and only realize later on that you’ve been completely ignoring some of the others. That’s when I have to remind myself that this is a process, and it’s going to take time to get a handle on all of the different aspects of the book.

When it comes to finding the voice of my main character, that comes in stages as well. It’s not that I start writing without any idea who my characters are at all, but rather that I *think* I know, only to discover how little I actually know them after all. (Again, everything I’m writing about here is what I’ve found about how the process works for me. I fully expect other writers to read this and think I’m way off.)

It’s not enough for me to know the back story of my viewpoint character. Who their parents are and the name of their best friend. What they like to eat for dinner and where they had their first kiss. I’m not one of those authors who fills out a big long questionnaire about my characters before I write them. (Though I’ve tried it. I’ve tried just about everything.) What really works for me instead is to get to the point that I see how they would view the world differently because of who they are. Sure, that might have something to do with their favorite food, but probably only if food plays a really big role in their life. If they’re a chef, say, or if they have specific allergies they always have to be on the lookout for.

For Etta, much of her life came from her sheltered upbringing on a small farm, so her view of Chicago in THE PERFECT PLACE TO DIE was skewed by how overwhelming everything felt. For Gianna (the main character coming up in DON’T GO TO SLEEP), she grew up in New Orleans, so instead of being overwhelmed by the city, she loves how alive and vibrant it is. She loves jazz, and so a lot of the way she thinks about the world comes through music.

To really make a voice shine through in a book, it’s important to take the time to ask how that character would view a place or a person or a conflict differently because of who they are and how they act. Then you look for ways to incorporate that into the actual prose.

It’s easy to assume we all look at things the same, but once you start thinking about things in this light, you see how quickly those viewpoints really diverge. Of course, that doesn’t just help you write a better point of view. It helps you understand how and why so many people can have such different views of the world, and why so many people can have such different views and opinions than you do.

And now, back to the first draft . . .

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Rust, Writer’s Block, or General Malaise?

I’ve been really struggling with writing lately, and I’m not entirely sure why. That is, it hasn’t exactly come out of nowhere, and I know a number of factors are in play, but I can’t quite pin down how to solve this.

Obviously, a global pandemic hasn’t made life any easier for me, from a creativity perspective. While Brandon might have used the at home time to write another 5 books, I’ve had to worry about any number of things that have taken a lot of my attention to get through. These range from “renovate my kitchen” to “try to make sure everyone who works for me keeps their job” to “help my kids navigate COVID school successfully,” not to mention the strain it’s all taken on me personally. There’s been a lot to handle.

Despite all off that, I was still able to plow forward and finish an entire book that will actually be published, and I’m very proud of that. I was on track for most of the pandemic, writing and revising for all I was worth. But then I finished that book, and I decided to take some time off, figuring it was well-deserved (and it was), but it took me longer to get going again than I’d anticipated. And when I did, I was back in “what should I write” mode.

Figuring that out proved more difficult than I initially assumed it would be. I was well into a revision of a steampunk book that I really enjoyed, but it felt like such a departure from the books I had that were selling, that I decided in the end to set it aside and work on something more horror-oriented. For the next while, I was fleshing out a book that I really liked the concept of. I had an outline ready to go and I was already writing prose, but it just . . . wasn’t working for me. It felt too forced, and I didn’t like it.

So I went back to the drawing board, and I came up with yet another idea. This one, right in line with the historical thrillers I’ve been writing lately. I’ve done a fair bit of research into it, and I’ve got the plot mostly worked out (at least to begin with), but now that it’s time to start diving into the writing, I’m having to really push myself to get through my 1,000 words each day. Typically I can get that done in around 45 minutes. Right now, it’s been more like twice that.

So I’m left wondering why. I don’t think it’s the topic this time, because I genuinely am interested in it. Some of it is definitely because writing the beginning of a book is hard, since I still don’t know the characters all that well, and writing the beginning of a historical novel is even harder, as there’s all sorts of research that needs to be done. Some of it has to be because I’m out of practice. It’s been so long since I’ve written first draft material, and that takes a different skill set than editing and revising. Some it is probably still from dealing with the aftermath of all this pandemic garbage, as well as the rest of everything going on in the world.

That said, even discovering why it’s happening doesn’t really do much for me in terms of fixing it. My approach for the last while has been to just keep barreling forward, hoping that once I get into a real groove, it’ll all start working well again. Something else that I’ve done the past few days is jumped ahead about 1/3 of the way into the book, to a part of the plot that I’m much more confident about. That’s helped a fair bit. It can be hard to get a really good beginning of a book. You’ve got to introduce characters, conflict, and setting, all while trying to keep things as riveting as possible. I’m hoping once I’m on firmer footing, the beginning will be a smoother process.

Anyway. It’s helped to try and think this through on paper some. When I write it down like this, it doesn’t seem nearly as dire. I’ve probably lost about two months of writing, which isn’t nothing. (We’re talking around 50,000 words, so I’d be about halfway done with the book by now.) But the book isn’t sold, so it’s not on deadline, and the good news is that I think the topic’s going to work well. There are plenty (plenty) of books I’ve written that haven’t gone anywhere, so it’s not like I’ve lost that much in the grand scheme of things.

But if you’re also going through some rough times, take this as a reminder that many of us are, and that’s okay.

Thanks for reading.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

About that Brandon Sanderson Kickstarter

So Brandon’s Kickstarter ended up not just becoming the number one Kickstart of all time, but actually doubling the amount the number two Kickstarter brought in (which was for the Pebble Smartwatch). 185,000 people joined in on the project, which (seeing as how everyone bought all four books as part of the pledge) means he’s already sold 740,000 copies of his books, minimum. (Actually, I did a bit of math, just to see where things all ended up. He sold:

  • 737,156 ebooks
  • 317,368 audiobooks
  • 370,852 hardcover books
  • 305,792 swag boxes

All of them for books that haven’t been reviewed and swag that hasn’t completely been detailed. That’s remarkable by anyone’s definition of the word.

That said, Brandon himself noted that it’s not really that much compared to how well his books sell through the traditional publishing route. His best selling books can move 800,000 copies each in their first year. That’s more than 8 times as many as these books are each selling. So the idea that this is crushing the life out of traditional publishers, and that they’re all shaking in their boots, seems a little far fetched, especially when you consider that Brandon’s already indicated he’s planning on having traditional publishers have a crack at these books after the Kickstarter copies are all out in the wild.

Plus, while $41,754,153 is a lot of money, once you calculate out all the expenses of making all that stuff, it doesn’t seem quite as jaw dropping. (For example, say that all he really has to pay for are the hardcovers and the swag. He’s getting $61 for each box or book. He doesn’t have to worry about paying shipping out of that (since shipping costs are on top of the $41 million total), but he does have to pay to design them, produce them, get artwork for them, and all the things associated with that. I have no idea how much the swag will cost to make. I’m sure the books will be far less than $61, and he still gets to keep all of the profit, instead of just his regular royalty. ****EDIT: A friend pointed out that actually the shipping costs are included in that $41 million. That was $10/book for the US, $35/book for international, $10/swag box for the US, and $35/swag box for international. I don’t know of a way to know how many of the sales were international vs. US, but for the sake of argument, let’s say it was 25%. That breaks down to $16.25/shipment on average. That comes to $10,995,465 in shipping costs, which lowers his total to $30,758,688. If he’s just paying for the swag and print books, that now drops his total per box or book to $45.50/book or box. This makes the grand total of profit he’s getting significantly less.

Don’t get me wrong: I am very happy for Brandon, and I think it’s fantastic that this Kickstarter did as well as it did. If he successfully blazes a trail for people to follow, using the platform to write books and get them out to an audience, then that would be wonderful. (Many have pointed out how only Brandon could do a Kickstarter like this, since he has a slew of people who already work for him. That’s true, but if all this was digital only (ebooks or audiobooks), then many of the barriers drop away. You don’t have to store anything, for one thing. I think it would be doable for many people, though I worry many would really undercharge for what they’re trying to do. A lot of work goes into making professional level books: design and editing and artwork, for example. Sure, you could just skimp on all of those, but if Kickstarter just becomes a breeding ground for poorly executed fiction, I don’t think it’s a breeding ground that will last long.)

A lot of my friends have asked me if I’m jealous of Brandon and how successful he is. I’m not. He works his tail off doing what he loves doing, and he’s generous with his time and talents. (He’s employed many of our mutual friends, for one thing. I wonder if he needs a librarian to keep track of all of this . . . ) Life is too short to look at other people and wish you were them. My experience leads me to believe everyone has troubles, and money typically only makes those troubles grow. At the end of each day, I get to do most of the things I’d like to do. I have a nice movie room. I can buy books and board games and good food, and my family is provided for. Besides, Brandon doing well might have ripple effects for me. It helps to be friends with people with connections. For one thing, I found my agent through Brandon. My first book was published by someone I knew of because of Brandon. He’s provided me with a lot of great advice, as well as the single best movie experience of my life. I’m a big Brandon fan, and I think it’s awesome this Kickstarter did so well. (If you missed out on it and still want to get in on the action, I believe you can still make orders on the backerkit site.)

He really ought to buy each member of his old writing group a Black Lotus. Unlimited edition would be fine. 🙂

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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