Writing Fiction Hurts More than Nonfiction

Successful author and friend Chris Brogan asked me to pen some thoughts the process of writing fiction works versus penning business books. My gut response was that it hurts more than nonfiction.

How can writing a book hurt you ask? I think most people who have accomplished the task will agree that it’s a laborious two-year process (give or take six months). For every accolade you get, you’ll invest hours of your time. Most authors make very little money.

After my last business book I felt a great emptiness, a lack of purpose in my writing. I needed to turn back to my heart’s desire, writing fiction (as opposed to developing books about social media and marketing).

When I published Exodus, I released a demon that had bugged me for decades. I gladly sucked it up to make the dream come true.

Why Novels Are a Personal Journey

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Image of my first business book Now Is Gone by Dave Barger.

Exodus had little financial pay-off — in actuality, I published it at a loss. So today I find myself focusing on business needs first. Consequently, Exodus became my stepchild of published works. It was poorly marketed, but still moved more than 3000 units in spite of me (it’s true, I am not Stephen King).

Still, I published a novel. I finally wrote the book that I always envisioned would be my calling card as an author. No one can take that away from me.

With a successful business book there is usually some sort of a pay-off, including developing new business, introducing new ideas to the marketplace, garnering speaking gigs, or positioning yourself as a “thought leader.” These are the reasons to write a business book, in my opinion. While I am much less inclined to jump at the opportunity to write a business book these days, I probably will write a couple more before my career ends.

The pay-offs are much less obvious with novels. For most successful novelists, it takes a catalog of books before they start seeing strong financial gains. It requires real commitment, and it’s one of the reasons why I admire Brian Meeks‘ steadfast focus on his fiction career.

This lack of any significant financial gratification makes publishing a novel something you do to fulfill yourself. Most publishing houses are reticent to sign new fiction authors. These days most aspiring authors are going to have to self-publish or work with a hybrid publisher and share the financial risk.

After the First Novel

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I still want to write novels, but it’s less about fulfilling a lifelong inner need. Now it’s about being who I am, an author. In fact, I am still working on the last draft of book II, now titled Perseverance, and I believe it will be released this summer.

After Exodus was published, it became clear I had room to grow as a writer. Character development and style were all in need of mechanical improvements. So I set out to write a better novel, one that shows the lessons learned from experience. I owe it to my readers and myself to improve.

But because the pain has no obvious reward and I am not getting paid to publish the novel, I treat book two like a hobby and am taking my sweet time. Novel writing is a second tier priority compared to family and business.

This slower pace makes it less likely I will become a mainstream novelist anytime soon. That’s OK. Since I see novel writing as a personal act of art rather than a career, there is no sense of loss with that. The slower pace mitigates the pain and intensity of a major work, while allowing me to meet my responsibilities.

What are your thoughts on writing novels versus business books?

Delaying the War to Persevere

You may know that my second novel The War to Persevere is oft promised and yet to materialize. It is now almost six months delayed from my original projection for publishing. This post is a bit of an apology for those who may be expecting the novel, and an attempt to provide some transparency on why it is delayed.

I was ready to press go and publish it this winter. After another editorial review, though, I am going to delay the novel again.

The issues with the manuscript are relatively minor, yet they will require some personal rewriting and direction. They include the following:


  • A retitling from The War to Persevere to Perseverance was suggested
  • There are a few head-hopping issues in narration (point of view)
  • Some character introduction issues
  • In spite of editing, there are still typos in the manuscript

I want War or (whatever it will be called) to be a better book than Exodus. Exodus was the best first novel I could produce. Yet there were lessons learned. This time I want to do better, and not just accept a slight improvement. I want War to be a professional well-written novel that can stand on its own.

That’s going to require some more time.

Personal Projects and Time

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Complicating matters, I have a time issue right now. These days I drop off Soleil before and after pre-school, and go into Daddy daycare mode in the late afternoons. Spare hours before she wakes up and goes to bed are often dedicated to clients.

This is not to make excuses.

I have taken on too many personal projects right now, and am owning it. I made a decision to delay working on the book in an expeditious fashion in favor of producing a quality product, while meeting my primary business and family responsibilities first.

The logical conclusion is to point to ending my photography project as a possible cut to make time. Unlike my novels which tend to cost money and produce little revenue, I collected about $3000 in licensing fees from people to buy the camera and perform the project. Plus my company gets hired now and then to take photos along with our written content. So I feel obligated to make the 365 Full Frame Project my first personal project until it’s completed this July.

It took me 19 years to publish Exodus in 2013. I believe War will be published in the spring or summer of this year. The book has experienced stops and starts along the way, almost always life inspired (death in the family, Daddy daycare, etc.). In all, it will be two years between novels, perhaps this is progress in spite of the bumps in the road.

Please excuse the delays. And in the interim, I will not to take on any new personal projects.

Cheers!

Read the War to Persevere Before Anyone Else

Hello there, I have great news. Over the weekend, I finished the second proof of The War to Persevere, Book II of The Fundamentalists. The book is now in its final production phase, which includes proofing and a final edit.

If you’d like to read the book before it is released at the end of the year, I am looking for readers who are willing to provide feedback. Email me at geoffliving [@] gmail.com for a copy.

The Next Book After War

Before I get into more details about the War to Persevere, I’d like to invite you to write a book with me.  I have begun the pre-production work on a third novel (my seventh book over all, god help me).  This next book is a present-day lampoon of the blogosphere. The book is under contract, and is tentatively slated for publication in the spring of 2016.

 Many of the folks I know are aspiring writers, too.  You are welcome to join me, and write along. It helps to go through the process with others.

The great bulk of this writing will begin during National Novel Writing Month or nanowrimo.  Don’t worry, NaNoWriMo is a good time to get into the discipline of writing everyday. I won’t be writing the whole book in a month, nor would I expect anyone else to.

If you are interested in writing with a group this winter, or just want updates on the novels before they are public, please consider joining my Goodreads group, “Living in Words.”

What’s The War to Persevere About?

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Some of themes in War include women’s right to fight in the military, delineating dogma from faith, and power as a corrupter.  It’s definitely a new book, and moves away from some of the themes of religion in Exodus (or more likely resolves them, separating religion from despotism).

This new book incorporates a lot of feedback that I received from readers of Exodus, including:

  • Characters you can like a bit more (as well as others you can hate!)
  • More modern language
  • Faster paced action scenes
  • More show, and less tell

In all, War is clocking in at 41,000 words. This makes it a very short novel or a long novella depending on your definition of a novel.

And that’s all the writing news I have for you. Thanks for reading along.  The floor is yours.

Are Science Fiction Fears About Technology Reasonable?

Science fiction offers strange futuristic views of technology. Some are positive, but most lean towards dystopia. Are technological fears portrayed in science fiction reasonable?

As a species, humans adapt technologies blindly with the hope of achieving promised benefits. We rarely consider societal impact. This is a huge issue, in my opinion. Technology itself doesn’t destroy or evolve societies, rather human use of advanced tools is the culprit.

Some science fiction books like Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 waver between utopian and dystopian views. Science fiction offers us the opportunity to debate whether or not we will destroy ourselves with technology.

Is such dialogue pure fear of change? Or do they remind that we always forget the lessons of the past?

In the case of robotics, the decades old dialogue started by Isaac Asimov’s robot novels has been greatly beneficial. We have been actively trying to build artificial intelligence that will become useful to society while not becoming malevolent a la The Terminator.

But we are not always so forward thinking. Applied to the Internet we do all sorts of neat things like give ourselves access to incredible amounts of information and publishing tools. Then we do things like strip away privacy and quantify human worth and status using tools like Empire Avenue and PeerIndex.

In my book Exodus, Book One of The Fundamentalists I began with a post-apocalyptic world decimated by a biotechnology terror, a direct result of weaponized viruses. This narrative device allowed me to create a world where people avoided technology and religion for centuries, in favor of an agrarian utopia. Throughout the trilogy I debate whether we as a species can use spiritual ideas and technology tools peacefully.

I have to tell you that by the end of the trilogy, technology makes a big come back as a means of defense against fundamentalism. Humans end up using both to create power structures to benefit themselves and dominate other people. And in other cases, people use these very different tools to help each other.

Because that’s who we are, at least right now. I really believe that a portion of the population will always fall to primitive negative actions, and others will rise above. The combination creates volatility.

Why do I have this view? Human beings are complicated, and create conflict. While some people are altruistic or generally good in design, we are all to some extent self-motivated. War itself is something that is a result of modern agricultural and political structures, say researchers. Even when we are not at war, we compete with each other, on an individual basis and with other nations to create the most prosperity and status.

Anyone who thinks the United States is not competing with China from a technological perspective is crazy. How many private incidents of cyberwarfare occur without our knowledge? It’s not like the Pentagon or major companies want to admit how often they are getting attacked.

Furthering blind adoption of tools, technology has proven to be a huge economic driver. Consider the way we encourage technological development in Silicon Valley and beyond? IPOs and acquisitions drive the the tech sector.

Just last month we saw Google purchase Nest for an astounding amount to empower the Internet of Things. Society will certainly reap the economic benefits of data. But are individuals and communities ready for a coming wave of metric-based vanity that determines their place in society?

So you see, I really do think the human application of technology is a worthwhile discussion. Without foresight, it can become quite destructive. What do you think?

Featured image by Mark Beemink. A version of this post ran originally on to read, or not to read.

Waiting for Life to Happen

Do you wait for life to happen?

It was Jack Welch who said, “Contol your own destiny or someone else will.” Jack seems to have a superman attitude that fails to recognize the influence of outside forces, but… You can let the world run you, or you can create opportunities.

I don’t wait for things to happen, and I don’t give others full power to determine my destiny. This is true in business and in other pursuits. Yes, things are often out of our control, but we can always create another opportunity by proactively engaging.

I rarely have no options because I am constantly creating other chances and opportunities. If you don’t look for new business, it’s not going to land on your door. Even when opportunity does come, inevitably it’s because of proactive marketing and activities.

But the key is to do the footwork. If you do the footwork, the opportunities appear.

As the old saying goes, when one door closes, another opens. The hard part is walking down the hallway and turning all the door knobs until it opens. That’s when the fear kicks in. You have to walk through that fear.

Writing and Destiny

People often ask me when I will write another business book. My honest answer is I don’t know. I’d rather focus on writing fiction, at least for the immediate future, and so I do. And while I can’t invest the time in fiction like I would a business book, it won’t happen on its own. I have to write every day!

Because I want to publish fiction, I didn’t even look for a publisher last year. I went out on my own. Destiny is not kind to fiction authors who leave their fate in the hands of traditional agents and publishers.

Publishing Exodus was one of the most powerful and fulfilling moments of personal destiny I have ever experienced.

I honestly believe one of my books will break open some larger opportunity. Why? Because footwork produces opportunities. Perhaps it’s a movie deal, or a traditional publisher buys the rights to my books, or drops a fat contract opportunity in my email, or maybe by the time I am an old man, they just start selling en masse. But it won’t happen if I don’t pay attention to my hobby when I can.

Moving Forwrd

Today is the first full week of the year. I am pretty busy, but I think that’s because I busted my butt in October, November and December.

Now it’s time to keep moving forward, and create opportunities for the second quarter and beyond. If we want a full destiny, then we must take the necessary actions to make it appear.

What actions will you take to create opportunities in your life?

Featured image by Robert Gouley.

Clarifying Views on Faith

Last week turned out to be a fantastic for Exodus. More than 2000 books were moved, and when I woke up on Christmas morning, the book was ranked #207 on the Amazon Kindle free rankings, and number six in the science fiction category (I engaged in a modified version of Brian Meeks’ strategies).

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The success brought some interesting commentary (cough) from some more devout Christians who weren’t pleased with the depiction of a medieval-like fundamentalist state that used their faith to conquer others. This post is not a response. I did want to take the opportunity to clarify my views on fundamentalism, Christianity or otherwise, for friends and readers who may be curious.

As to the hate mail itself, I expected this when I published the book. I don’t believe hardliners will actually get the message. As soon as the more devout read the first chapter, they’re certain that I am a heretical liberal. By the fourth they may think I am in league with Old Scratch himself (thus the preface from Paul Dunn).

To be clear, I read every remark to see if it’s an actual critique of the book, or someone ranting that Christianity was used as an example of fundamentalism. If it’s the prior, I pay attention. If it’s the latter, I ignore it. Welcome to America and The First Amendment.

Faith and Christianity

I believe that any faith is capable of helping people enjoy life more. That includes Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Bhuddhism, and others. I personally believe in God. I also believe that humans are capable of taking any faith, and warping its words to achieve wrongdoing.

I don’t think Islam is a violent religion. In fact, I quite like Sufism. Unfortunately for the faith of Islam, violent extremists use it to justify their actions. And that creates quite a lot of ignorance and stereotypes about fundamentalism.

Back to the impetus for this post, I have seen many benevolent acts performed by Christians. The faith (in its various forms) offers incredibly powerful teachings for anyone who wants spiritual guidance. In fact, while not a Christian, I say the Lord’s prayer several times a week, my wife is of Presbyterian decent, and most of my friends are Christian or of Christian descent.

Yet like any other faith, people can use its words to justify great wrongs. You can look back at the Crusades for an example. Or more recently at the IRA terrorism of the 70s and 80s, or in the Unted States the KKK’s acts of racism and violence. I have experienced this personally in my life. Many people have tried to convert me, or explain to me how I was going to hell because of my decent. You could argue the Christian right’s political impact in our country could (not will, but could) create similar situations.

As for the faith of my blood, Judaism, some feel Israel’s hard line views towards Palestineans and other Islamic states is also in the fundamental extreme. People are dying in the Middle East, and sometimes at the hands of the Israeli military.

In none of these situations is the faith in question wrong. Rather, people make decisions, and use religion as a justification to take actions that impact their fellow man, usually in a negative fashion.

What’s worse, when blind faith exists or when people generally believe what they are told, we create problems. We see this today in the media and the violated trust we feel when the Lance Armstrongs and government officials of this world let us down. To be clear, this is the power of propaganda, not religion.

Now About the Book

Let’s look at several aspects of fundamentalism in the book. First, it was the Islamic fundamentalism of the present (and a fictional Christian right reaction to it) that provokes the Great Sickness, the apocalyptic event that creates the world of Exodus.

Why not continue with Islam as the faith of wrong doing? For starters, it’s too easy per the earlier stereotype discussion. As a writer it’s about as challenging as depicting Richard Nixon as a villain.

Frankly, I think we have a blind eye in this country to our own actions. Since the book takes place in America, I decided to use our country’s dominant faith, Christianity. And per the conversation earlier, Christianity has been misused by the power-hungry for such purposes in the past. Unfortunately for humankind, history has a nasty tendency of repeating itself.

Several of the characters have intentional names referring to Greek mythological characters and one biblical character, Mordecai. Mordecai represents the true Christian faith (at least as it appears to this Jewish fellow’s eyes). In book two, Mordecai attracts new Christians, but he does so through principled action rather than proselytizing.

The power-hungry leader of the Christian Empire is Pravus, which is Latin for depraved. That should be a clear tip off to folks who think I am engaged in blasphemy. I am not, this guy is fricking nuts. There’s a reason why Mordecai left the Emperor’s side to venture out on his own.

Without tipping my hat too much, the entire trilogy explores the concept that every single one of us is capable of rationalizing wrong with ideologies and belief systems. We think we’re right, that our ideas can protect us from wrongdoing, but in actuality we may be harming others.

This is true for every human, and there are many ideologies — not just religious ones — that can be used to justify wrongdoing. Evil is rarely a dramatic moment. It is often the result of small decisions that collectively point someone in the wrong direction.

OK, I’ve said my piece. The floor is yours.