Standing Down

Today is a special day. It marks the end of my Year in the Chair, which was the fulfillment of an ambition to devote twelve months to the full-time writing of fiction. I held that ambition since at least 1998, and a less refined vision for much longer than that.

As a child, something struck me about reading as soon as I mastered the skill. It was the play of words across the page, bringing with them a caravan load of imagery and the ability to transport and suspend the reader in a world created by their crafter. Later, as age refined my perspective, I noticed how words preserved the thoughts of the author, and realized that our inner processes make up so much of what we are. Those are lost to the world with us, unless we are remembered in some way. Writing can do that. I believe authoring a work is taking a shot at immortality: the secret dream of everyone writing with intent. The opportunity came, so I did just that.

I started the YITC with three novels completed and one published—Jon’s Trilogy—consisting of The Anvil of the Craftsman, The Britteridge Heresy, and Killing Doctor Jon. The lead title’s supporting alpha-male character begged for a prequel, and writing it made up the first effort of my Year. Operation Naji is the worthy effort of presenting the first portion of my spooky USAF officer’s back-story. It will be my next release and is up for publication this summer through Single Candle Press.

Another character grew and blossomed in my mind as the YITC continued: Rebecca Boone Hildebrandt. Her character is a different sort of lead. She finds her footing in the sand of the world rather than on the bedrock of Jon Anthony’s faith. Boone is a flawed character. In many ways, she is the victim of her own bad decisions—her courage and dedication to duty notwithstanding. She is and continues to be a work in progress, and portraying her as such came to be the point of her novels: Absinthe and Chocolate, The Bonus Pool and One Last Scent of Jasmine.

The same Special Operator to whom so many of my readers attached in Anvil afterward demanded a second installment of his history. It is King of a Lesser Hill, one that takes place in 1995 during the height of the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The installment makes up the middle title of his previously unseen life prior to 2006. The novel is everything that I wanted it to be, and stands as a perfect companion piece to Operation Naji.

So, I began the Year with three novels and finish with eight. The first trio is in the marketplace. All are full-length, which I personally consider to be above 80,000 words. Boone’s third stretched slightly longer than Anvil and is my most extensive to date. Her fourth, with the working title of Meat for the Lion, is my current WIP, and the third title of my military alpha’s back-story grows in my mind. Writing—for a writer—never really ends.

What does disappear, unfortunately, is the emotional carrying capacity of so many authors, when little reward for thousands of hours of their labor seems forthcoming. Once today’s hours are logged, I will have worked the Chair for more than 2,570 hours in the past year, when a 40-hour workweek would have consumed 2,080. I will have averaged fifty-plus-hour weeks with no time off save that required by family duties. Excluding the two weeks we spent losing Mother, each of the other days has a work-related entry.

Frankly, I am dragging myself across this finish line. Accomplished author Joe Konrath frequently says that self-publishing is a marathon and not a sprint, and I would agree. The vision from a past Olympic race comes to mind. A stumbling runner, covered with her own feces, staved off helping hands as she crossed the line on her own in a finish followed by a collapse. It is the perfect representation of the experience of writing fiction and attempting to have one’s effort result in a tangible return.

The real challenge in traditional or self-publishing is marketing. This is an environment where technology has made producing an electronic title a viable goal for anyone with a personal computer. Putting up a quality work is now the equivalent of playing a violin in the din of a machine shop. The effort itself might be beautiful, but it is unlikely that many will notice.

I have accumulated forty-two reviews on Amazon across three novels, and all of them are perfect scores, save for the questionable opinion expressed in a single three-star. I’ve given away more than twelve thousand one hundred copies of Anvil, that novel I love so much. So far, one-half of one percent of those downloading have returned to pick up another of the modestly-priced titles in Jon’s Trilogy. With eleven thousand-plus novels appearing every month, apparently there are too many other free titles available, and some of those are just as good as mine. Point-five-percent sell-through ain’t gonna feed the parakeet, much less the bulldog.

Another problem with pursuing success in self-publishing is the inability of even those who have achieved significant sales to explain fully why it happened. Some titles of equal quality and presentation achieve that wonderfully viral condition, and many others do not, and no one really knows the reasons successes occur. The emergence of marketing targeted to genre-specific subscriber lists may be starting to change that, and will be the focus of efforts once Operation Naji is edited, formatted and out the door. Hopefully, that happy strategy will turn things around in our SCP balance sheets.

Until then, I will be taking time to read friends’ work and relax while I look for an opportunity allowing contribution to society in a more appreciable way. Boone’s fourth novel—and Sean’s third—will continue as time allows. When or if they are finished, I will have matched the quantitative full-length output of Ernest Hemingway. It might be time then to stop altogether, or continue on. One never knows until the new day arrives, fresh with the promise of a blank page.

This final day of my Year in the Chair, as every one on which the sun has set before, is both an end and a beginning. To lose sight of that actuality is to improperly manage perspective, and shirk our duties to both our Craftsman and ourselves. Let it never be so.

Choose to Love, -DA

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8 responses to “Standing Down

  1. Congratulations on completion of your first year in the chair. I know your frustration at how hard it is to be heard above the din or even acknowledged. You tell people you’re a published author and people assume you must be fabulously wealthy like JK Rowlings or GRRM and don’t understand that authors are a flower which must be sheltered and nurtured. Alas … most of us will keep writing simply because building imaginary worlds is something we love to do … but receive little recognition for it. Your books, however, are something special. I hope you will keep slogging on…

  2. Don’t worry, Anna. I’m slog through and through!

  3. Dale, congratulations on finishing this year. Apart from inspiring others with your words, you also have your work ethic, which is nothing short of stellar. Would-be authors would do well to follow that example and realize that a special talent and dedication like this is not something you can buy bagfuls of from a cheap street market.

    Please continue with your writing, keep on putting down those words and immortalizing them. It’s frustrating that you don’t see any rewards just yet but one day, something will happen. Good writers will find a podium from which to “speak” and be heard over that din. It’s either that or there’s no hope for this world.

  4. Great advice, Natalie! Thanks so much. Excellence is its own reward, of course, and the bonus takeaway is validated self-respect. From that perspective, my year did what I always imagined it would.

  5. Dale, I’m late to this post because I didn’t even know you had a blog. (Sorry! But I am subscribed now.) Congratulations on finishing your YITC. You did awesome in that year, and one day I hope your wonderful books are recognized not only with great reviews, but also many sales! I agree with both Anna and Natalie–please keep writing.

  6. Hey Dale, congrats! I enjoyed the article and your reply to Stacy really sums it up doesn’t it?

    • Yes. It’s almost as if this business was designed to weed out everyone but the ones who love the process most. Only the trials have changed. Thanks for coming by, Janna!

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