State of the Fourth Estate 07

And here we are again. Tradition must be honored, and since the tradition is that the “State of the Fourth Estate” post shall be late…This is, by the by, a tradition I find it annoyingly easy to follow–which is why one should always consider the ramifications before establishing a tradition.

(All mutterings about not quitting day jobs will be cheerfully ignored. But remember kids: don’t try this at home.)


My thousandth blog post has come and gone. Contrary to what I predicted last March, it wasn’t greeted with celebration, modest or otherwise. The truth is, I didn’t even notice. But let’s be honest: my ramblings about Microsoft’s semi-nefarious designs on your hard drive space probably aren’t on anyone’s list of their favorite blog posts. I enjoyed writing it, which is the main point–this blog is where I try out ideas and techniques as well as give myself a break from the novels that get most of my writing time–and I think it turned out well. But I’d be the first to admit it’s not champagne-worthy.

This post is Number 1031. Assuming I average around 500 words per post, that means the blog has about six novels’ worth of prose. Or, allowing for multiple drafts, one readable novel. I think I’ll halt that line of speculation before it goes downhill.

Speaking of novels, in a break with tradition, I don’t have one in beta at the moment. Like Herding Cats is finished and is making the rounds of agents*. The next book, Demirep, is about halfway through the second draft.

* Though, as readers of my newsletter can tell you–but why should they, when you can subscribe to it yourself–my querying is currently on hold while I rework the query letter.

Of course, the biggest news of the year was about my acquisition of a new day job. To answer the obvious question first, yes, it does mean that work on Demirep is going more slowly than before I started dividing my attention.

On the other hand, the rewriting is going faster than it would if we had run out of money for Kitty Krunchiez and I was trying to write while fending off small, fuzzy carnivores with designs on my fingers.

Life’s a series of trade-offs that way.

And–insert usual disclaimer about unexpected events here–Demirep should still be ready for beta readers in a few months. Editors and agents aren’t the only ones responsible for the notoriously slow nature of the publishing industry. Fair’s fair.

As usual, once Demirep goes out to beta readers, I’ll be starting a new project. I don’t know what it’ll be. As usual, my ideas folder has several promising entries. Whichever one does the best job of grabbing my attention when the time comes will get the nod.

That’s one of the joys of not having signed a contract for a series. Mind you, I’d love to experience the joys of having a series contract, but one thing at a time.

And right now, that one thing is Writing Year Seven.


State of the Fourth Estate 06

In the latest blog tradition, the annual “State of the Fourth Estate” post is late. Strictly speaking, it should have gone up on Sunday or, since I don’t do weekend posts, last Thursday. But the Facebook contretemps seemed likely to have wider appeal, so here we are. At least I’m closer than last year, when I didn’t get around to the SotFE post until mid-April.

Nothing much has changed on the blog. This is Post 883; on my current posting schedule, that should have the largely-meaningless, but oh-so-round-numbered Post 1000 sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas. No doubt, I’ll observe the occasion with some modest celebration.

As usual, the infamous leftover sauerkraut post racked up the most hits of any page on the site. It beat the next most popular page, the one about The RagTime Traveler more than five to one.

As usual, the stats don’t include post read on the main page of the blog, through the RSS feed, or via email. So it’s possible TRTT is actually doing better than pickled cabbage. Unlikely, perhaps, but possible.

Speaking of email, it was around this time last year that I set up my newsletter. My thanks to those of you who have subscribed. You may be wondering why you haven’t gotten one lately. Well, it’s a newsletter, and there really hasn’t been any news about my career. No new book sales (or short story sales), no planned signings. So, rather than continue to send out a monthly “Hey, there’s nothing going on!” message, I decided to put it on hiatus until there’s something worth sharing.

What might be worth sharing? Well, selling a book certainly would. Finishing one probably would. And that might happen soon*.

* In the publishing world, “soon” is the equivalent of the software industry’s “Real Soon Now”. Nine characters shorter, because electrons are cheaper than ink and paper. They both translate as “I don’t know when, but it’ll almost certainly happen.”

Like Herding Cats is in beta. Yes, I know I said that back in November. I’m still waiting on one beta reader, for reasons that are nobody’s business but theirs. I understand, and I think the feedback will be worth waiting for. And, once I get it, barring a major surprise, the rewrite shouldn’t take more than a month or two. At which point that will be a finished book.

And, while I wait, I’m not sitting around twiddling my thumbs. I’m working on the first draft of a completely different book. Well, it’s also urban fantasy, so it’s not totally unrelated, but the location, time period, characters, and plot of Demirep* have nothing in common with LHC. I’m about 50,000 words in–about two-thirds of the way, since my first drafts tend to run short–and the plot is mostly in focus, and I’ve got a vague idea of where the ending will be. That’s actually more than I usually know at this point in the first draft. Even better, I’m keeping up with my daily target of 1,000 words more often than not.

* Or maybe “Demi-Rep”. Worrying about punctuation in a working title isn’t even on my to-do list.

So what happens if I finish the first draft of Demirep before I get the last beta report on Like Herding Cats? I won’t. No, really, it won’t happen. But, just in case it does, I’ve got, uh, hang on a second…five concepts in my “Possibilities” folder. I won’t be bored, or run out of things to write if it happens. Which it won’t.

Onward into Writing Year Six.

State of the Fourth Estate 05

It occurs to me that I completely failed to bring you the traditional “State of the Fourth Estate” post last month. Instead of rambling on about what’s happening with my writing, I gave you pictures of Tuxie and Rhubarb.

Many of you probably consider that an improvement.

But tradition must be served (I prefer it barbequed, but I won’t look down on anyone who’d rather have their traditions fried), so here we go, not quite a month late.

Starting with the blog, as usual, the Home Page continues to be the most popular page because most of you are reading new posts there. Which is perfectly fine.

Home Page aside, in 2016, the most popular post was not Using Up the Leftovers: Sauerkraut. Top honors instead go to Four for the Price of One. I’m not naïve enough to think my musings on The BFG, Ghostbusters, or even They Might Be Giants brought in well over five hundred viewers. Nope, most of the credit goes to those three young ladies from Japan*.

* If BABYMETAL brought you to the blog and you’re still hanging around, make a note in the comments, would you?

So far in 2017, the pickled cabbage has reclaimed the popularity lead, but posts about The RagTime Traveler are doing very well. Thank you all for that.

Unsurprisingly, most of the readers come from the US, with Japan, Brazil, the UK, and Canada making up the rest of the top five. (I’m going by page views, as WordPress doesn’t seem to track unique viewers.) There’s been a single page view from each of twenty countries, including (alphabetically) Angola, Faroe Islands, and Turkey. C’mon back, folks. You’re welcome to hang out as long as your network connections last.

Over on the fiction side of things, The RagTime Traveler is, of course, the big news. If you missed the earlier announcement, by the way, you can now preorder TRTT as an ebook. Just click that picture of the cover and choose your format.

When I wrote the 2014 SotFE post, my beta readers were looking at Splat Squad. In 2015, it was Lord Peter’s Eyes, and last year it was TRTT. This year, unfortunately, there’s nothing in beta.

As many of you know, Life rather kicked me in the face in 2016. I’ve got about 41,000 words of the first draft of Mo’less Jones and nearly 50,000 words of the first draft of the still-untitled other novel. Had I spent the entire year on one or the other, I suspect it would be with the beta readers today, but as Kurt Vonnegut put it, “So it goes.”

(For those of you who haven’t been regular readers, my father and co-author of The RagTime Traveler and Mo’less Jones, passed away in October. I do intend to pick up Mo’less at some point, but there are both emotional and practical reasons why it may be a while. And so I’m instead working on The Nameless Novel, which has nothing to do with ragtime or baseball.)

Last March I said that my daily target was 1,000 words a day. More recently, when I started writing again in November, I dropped it to 500 words. As I said last month, it’s not a hard-and-fast goal, and I don’t usually worry if I come up short, but never coming close to 1,000 words was starting to drive me nuts.

But for the past month, days when I failed to hit 500 words have been rare, and I’ve exceeded 1,000 at least as often as not. So I’m officially bumping the target back up. Not only does that feel good, as a sign that my brain is starting to work again, but it means I might just have the first draft of The Nameless Novel done before the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival*.

* Yeah, my first drafts tend to run short. If TNN comes in at 70K, it probably means the draft that goes to beta readers will likely be 80-90K, right on target for a fantasy.

It’s iffy: there are still some major gaps in the plot that I need to figure out, but if it was a sure thing, it wouldn’t be much of a goal, now would it?

Stay tuned!

What Next?

And so the proverbial feline has escaped from the satchel. The co-author I referred to in my State of the Fourth Estate post in March has revealed himself: Larry Karp, aka “Dad”.

As he says in that post on the Poisoned Pen Press authors’ blog, I lent him an editorial hand and eye on his non-fiction project last year, and that led directly to our fiction collaboration. Ethically, I can’t review Brun Campbell, The Original Ragtime Kid and its companion CD, Essays in Ragtime: The Music of Brun Campbell. But I can urge you to buy them–there’s more information on the project here, including direct links for purchasing. Buy ’em! And then post reviews.

Word of mouth and online reviews are the best advertising for books and music. Buy, buy, buy! Review, review, review!

[Ahem] Sorry. Let’s move on.

When I wrote that earlier post, our collaboration was still in the hands of the beta readers, and the working title was so new, we weren’t sure it was going to stick. Two months later, we’ve completed our post-beta revisions, and we’re very happy with The RagTime Traveler–both the title and the book itself.

I never expected to write a mystery, and I never expected to collaborate on a book. Writing RTT could have been a horrific experience on both counts, but it turned out very well. Our writing styles meshed nicely–we’re both seat-of-the-pants writers, preferring to plan the first draft no more than a couple of chapters in advance–and the mystery developed quite naturally. Thank God neither of us is a compulsive outliner, or we’d still be fighting over the first draft, instead of watching Draft 4 slide out of the printer.

The RagTime Traveler involves time travel, but it’s not a time travel novel. Nobody’s grandfather is killed, and there are no Time Cops playing deus ex machina.

RTT is a mystery novel. Do you have to accept the reality of time travel to solve the mystery? Nope. All the clues you need are in the present. But it’s a story that couldn’t have been written without involving time travel. That would have been a very different–and IMNSHO, much less interesting–book.

I’ll be saying more about RTT, but I hope I’ve intrigued you. It’s never too early to start that word of mouth advertising.

So what’s next? I’m taking a vacation. It’ll be interesting to see if I still remember how to not write. After all, it’s been more than three years since I spent an entire week not writing.

No writing includes the blog. There won’t be posts next Tuesday and Thursday. There will be cat posts tomorrow and next Friday–I know better than to deprive you of those! The photos are taken, and the posts are written and scheduled.

Mind you, just because I won’t be writing, that doesn’t mean I won’t be working. There’s one last job to be done before we submit RTT to a publisher.

Legend has it that the murderer always returns to the scene
of the crime–and who’s more of a murderer than the author? My co-conspirator and I are off to Sedalia, MO; there’s a murder scene we need to visit.

An Odd Anniversary

Some of you may already be aware that I have several compulsive behavior patterns. I’m a hoarder, for example. Need a cable for some computer gadget that hasn’t been made in a decade? If I ever owned the gadget, I probably still have it and its cable. I may not be able to figure out which box it’s in, but I’ve got it.

I have e-mails going back to 2002 (essentially, everything since I converted my main computer from Windows to Linux). And I’ve got text files going back to 1991, roughly when I was moving from an aging Atari ST to DOS. Note, however, that the ST is still around here somewhere–as is its external hard drive. The monitor, on the other hand, gave up the ghost in, if memory serves, 2004.

When I learn about a band I like, I’ll probably buy as much of the back catalog as I can find, not just the latest–I do the same thing with authors. And, more to the point, I’ll keep them. I may not listen to the CDs any more (or read the books), but I won’t get rid of them. Heck, there’s a box of books out in the garage; they’re all duplicate copies, and they’re showing no signs of going to the used book store.

My compulsions go beyond physical objects. I count stairs* and sneezes.

* No, I’ve never found a staircase with a different number going up than when going down. Hasn’t stopped me from making sure.

And I track things. When I started this writing gig, it took me a while to figure out that blog posts advising new writers to track where they had submitted stories were serious advice. I had set up a spreadsheet to do that before I had even written the first story. Doesn’t everyone? Apparently not.

And–finally coming to the crux of this post–I also have a spreadsheet tracking every single time Maggie and I have put gas in the car since we bought it.

I had the spreadsheet open earlier today and noticed that it’s the tenth anniversary of the very first fill-up. Nice to know we celebrated by filling it again.

Over ten years, we’ve averaged 27.35 miles per gallon. The average fill-up has been 10.55 gallons and $35.21*. Put another way, we’ve driven 8.20 miles for every dollar we’ve spent on gas.

* For those of you outside of California, gas prices here run higher than the national average. We keep hoping the refinery on the other side of town will open a factory seconds outlet store, but so far, no such luck.

Mind you, none of this information is of any particular use. I can see that we’ve lost just over one mile per gallon comparing the most recent ten fill-ups to the first ten. But is that significant? Damned if I know. I suppose I should really compare those first ten fill-ups to the next ten to better control for environmental variations (temperatures after April are noticeably warmer than before, for example.) But that’s beside the point.

Simply having the data is immensely satisfying, regardless of its utility. Knowing we’ve put $5,809.34 of gas into the car is soothing, even though I have no idea what percentage of the total cost of ownership has been–it never occurred to me to track what we’ve spent on maintenance and repairs.

I don’t have any particular point to this post, so if you were waiting for a punchline, please accept my apologies. And my thanks for sticking around for the entire ramble through my subconscious.

State of the Fourth Estate 04

“It’s deja vu all over again.”
–Yogi Berra

Today marks the end of my third year writing full-time. Time for another “State of the Fourth Estate” post.

Nothing much has changed on the blog front. This is post number 576. WordPress tells me the blog has seen nearly 6,000 visitors–presumably including spambots–who have made a collective 13,000 views.

Twenty-one percent of the views come on Thursdays, and eleven percent between noon and one. On behalf of your bosses, thank you for using your lunch breaks to read my writings.

So far this year, the most popular page on the site is the Home Page. Presumably individual posts would draw higher numbers if they didn’t appear in their entirety on Home Page. But I don’t see any real value in making you click through to read the second paragraph.

More deja vu: the individual post with the most views is still the infamous “Leftover Sauerkraut” post. So far this year, it’s had more than ten times as many views as the next most popular (February’s “Gone Too Far” piece on the Super Bowl and its commercial culture.)

As far as I can tell, WordPress no longer allows you to see cumulative stats since Day One, but the numbers looked similar in 2015. The Home Page pulled in the most views, “Leftover Sauerkraut” came in second, and “Water, Water, Everywhere‘s” musing on water wasters was a distant third.

Pickled vegetables aside, indignation over the imminent fall of Civilization seems to be a hot seller. I’ll keep that in mind going forward. I trust you’ll let me know when you get bored with that kind of pessimism.

You can look forward to a few changes on the blog during Year Four. One of them is already in effect: no more ads in the posts. Clarification: I may still promote the occasional product I use and appreciate, and I’ll definitely be promoting my own writing. But you won’t get any more ads from WordPress’ commercial partners. You’re welcome.

Less significantly, over the next few months, I plan to clean up a few cosmetic issues with the blog’s appearance. You may not even notice those, but I’ll feel better.

But enough about the blog.

I’m still writing fiction. That was the point of my career move, after all.

I put short story writing on hold from mid-2014 until late 2015 in favor of concentrating on novels. But I’ve had a few bouts of free time between drafts, and the result is two new short stories that will be going out to editors before the end of the month. As usual, you’ll be able to follow their progress on my Scorecard.

The two combined are about 7,500 words. That works out to an average of 125 words a day. I’d be depressed about that if they weren’t side projects.

I’ve made much better progress on the mainline projects: novels.

Speaking of novels, that’s another bit of deja vu. At the time I wrote the first annual SofFE post, Novel Number One, Splat Squad, was in the hands of my beta readers. This time last year, Number Two, Lord Peter’s Eyes, was with the beta readers and I was querying agents with Splat Squad. Now Number Three is in beta and Peter is making the rounds of agents’ in-boxes.

So I’m keeping a consistent one-novel-a-year pace. That’s hardly a record, but it is quite respectable. Since each book has been upward of 90,000 words*, that means I’ve been hitting around 350 words a day. Actually, that’s a severe understatement. Keep in mind that each book has been through at least three drafts. As it happens, 1,000 words a day is my goal. Nice to see that I’m right on target.

* Digression for non-writers: In days of yore, manuscripts were measured in pages, specifically, typed pages with a typical letter size and a standardized margin. With the rise of ebooks and their rather loose association with page count, the emphasis is now on the number of words rather than pages. Expected word counts vary by genre, but in general, adult fiction will run somewhere between 70,000 and 110,000 words. Your favorite best-selling author might run longer (“Game of Thrones”, the first novel in Martin’s series, came in at 284,000; the sequels are all significantly longer), but previously-unpublished authors such as yours truly are well-advised to keep it to five digits.

“Life is what happens while we are making other plans.”
Allen Saunders

Novel Three does have a title, but we’re not quite ready to announce it. “We”? Yup. In last year’s SotFE post I said “my third novel [has] a historical setting”. That’s still true, at least in part, but it’s not the same book.

Not long after I made that statement, an established author whose work I respect made me the proverbial offer I couldn’t refuse. He wanted to do something a little different from his previous books: a time travel novel. He asked me to come on as his co-author. I’ve wanted to do a time travel piece for decades, and, quite coincidentally, some of the research I’d already done for my novel was relevant*, so I jumped at the chance. I put my notes and the first several chapters of my novel into suspended animation, and I’ll get back to them later.

* Even though some of the research transferred, there isn’t any actual overlap between the books. Although the time period is similar, the geographical location is very different. Most of what applied to both books was related to politics and technology.

The collaboration has gone well. Not only has it been fun, but I’ve learned a heck of a lot about a genre I hadn’t considered working in. And no, being a co-author doesn’t materially affect those word count numbers a few paragraphs ago. I haven’t written all 90,000+ words, but on the other hand, we’ve done it in just over six months. It averages out about the same.

Yes, I’m deliberately being mysterious. It’s more entertaining for you folks that way.

As I said earlier, the book is currently with our beta readers. Unless they find something we’ve both missed, we think it’ll be ready to shop around after one more draft. And while we’re waiting for the feedback, we’ve started a second collaboration, something that should be a genre stretch and learning experience for both of us.

I’ll have more to say–hopefully much more–about Novel Three, including the identity of my co-conspiratorco-author, over the next few months.

Year Four begins tomorrow with the obligatory Friday Cat Post. Baseball season starts next week. Optimism abounds.

Moving on.

State of the Fourth Estate 03

I really don’t write much about my writing here. There are reasons for that, other than the potential for a recursionary death-spiral. But that’s a post for another time.

This time is for the annual “State of the Fourth Estate,” in which I summarize what I’ve been up to writing-wise. I thought I was done with the annual self-assessment when I left the corporate world, but no… At least this one doesn’t involve a company-mandated format, corporate goals that have little to do with my day-to-day tasks, or (ugh!) 360° reviews*. The delights of the 360 weren’t what caused me to abandon the security of employment, but they were certainly a factor.

* If you’ve never been introduced to the joys of the 360, you must be among Heaven’s Elect. For you fortunate souls, here’s how it works: your peers–the cow-orkers you interact with every day–nominate you to give them anonymous feedback on their job performance. Just how anonymous can it be, when you only request two or three reviews? But wait, it gets even better! You’re also expected to write a similarly-anonymous review of your boss! That’s right, the same boss who will be writing your annual review; the one that directly influences your chances of a bonus, raise, and/or promotion. Of course, since the 360° review is anonymous, it won’t affect your boss’ opinion of your work, right?

But I digress.

The blog is now over 400 posts. I’m still using it as a way to try new things–or to experiment with new ways of saying the same damn thing (are you listening, Bay Bridge?)

Not all of the experiments are successful. That’s expected. In writing, just as in Science! you have to plan for the unplanned outcome. But it’s also true that you learn more from the failures than from the experiments that worked out the way you thought they would. I still find it surprising and more than a little sobering that the most popular thing I’ve ever written–the infamous Leftover Sauerkraut post–dates from July of 2013, less than four months after I started blogging. It took Woody Allen decades to get to the point where his fans started complaining that his new movies aren’t as good as his old ones. I’ve been there practically since Day One.

But several posts from the past year are in the Top Ten and people continue to sign up as followers–138 here on the blog, 25 on Facebook, and 7 on Twitter*–so I’m clearly doing something right.

* Yep, seven. As best I can tell, if you’re not already well-known, getting attention on Twitter requires you to commit acts designed to bring about the downfall of civilization and/or get yourself incarcerated to protect you from yourself.

But I digress.

Moving on to the reason I wanted to write: the fiction.

At this time last year, I had two short stories and a poem circulating to editors. I now have four short stories and a poem making the rounds.

I also had a novel that had just gone out to a carefully-chosen cadre of beta readers. I completed The Stairs, The Guides, and the Bay Area Splat Squad, and it’s now making the rounds of agents who represent fantasy and science fiction. One more major milestone on the road to, well, probably not fame and fortune, but at least getting the visions in my head out where the select, fortunate few can see them.

A second novel, Lord Peter’s Eyes, is currently in the hands of a different-but-overlapping cadre of beta readers. Unless the readers uncover structural problems to rival the Bay Bridge Bolt Botch, I expect to have it finished by early summer.

Both Splat Squad and Peter have modern settings. I’m trying something different with my third novel: a historical setting. Agents and publishers, rest assured that it is not Yet Another Pseudo-Medieval Fantasy or Yet Another Victorian Sherlock Holmes Pastiche. I’m not quite ready to talk about the details, but I can say that my office is currently buried in city directories, maps, and history books. Yep, I’m doing actual research for this one. Not allowing myself to Just Make Stuff Up gives the creative process a very different feel. But the fun of finding historical nuggets that leap out at me, screaming “Me, me! Write about me!” is more than worth the price.

On to the next year–including the start of the MLB season in two weeks–and a fresh set of digressions.

Ups and Downs

The vexing, confusing Mariners continue their wild sawtooth ride through the season. They’ve won their last five games and are three over .500 for the first time since April 8. If the season had ended with yesterday’s games, the Mariners would be playing the Orioles today, with the winner going to the playoffs. Amazin’.

In reality, the season goes on. If the Mariners can extend their winning streak to 107 games, they’ll clinch the wild card*. The odds of that happening don’t even qualify as “somewhere between slim and none”.

* In reality, running their record to 138-28 wouldn’t clinch the second wild card, it would effectively clinch the division and the best record in baseball–the current record for wins in a season is 116. It would also raise some serious questions about the accuracy of MLB’s scorekeepers, since there are only 162 games in a season, so let’s not go there…

I’m not bringing this up to illustrate the flights of fancy that a small winning streak can induce, or even as an opportunity to gloat*. I bring it up as an example of the kind of small victory everybody needs to counter the small losses that we experience on a regular basis.

* Well, maybe a little. Take that, Yankees! Take that, Braves!

Case in point: A few days ago, I got a greeting card in the mail. “How peculiar,” I thought with apologies to Norton Juster. “I don’t think it’s my birthday, and Christmas must be months away, and I haven’t been outstandingly good, or even good at all.”*

* OK, I exaggerate a little: I knew very well that it wasn’t my birthday. But I couldn’t resist the chance to plug one of my favorite books.

I opened the envelope and discovered that somebody apparently thought I was Number One:

The good feeling from that thought lasted until I opened the card and read the fatal words inside:

“Holy expletive deleted*!” I thought. “Has it really been that long?”

* Yes, I really did think “expletive deleted”. Sometimes I can’t think of anything vile enough to express my feelings. When that happens, I find the illusion that my brain has censored itself to protect me from my own vocabulary as exercising that vocabulary would have been. Try it some time.

It really has been that long, give or take a couple of months. And keep in mind that I got my master’s degree at Texas. Faced with the realization that I’ve been out of school for twenty-five years–more than half my life–the fact that the card was a plea for money from the alumni association was secondary.

Maybe it wouldn’t bother me as much if I was actually using the degree I got from UT. I do use some of the skills, but I haven’t used the full suite since the 90s. It gives the card an aura of “Congratulations! You’re ancient and you’ve wasted the time you spent with us.”

OK, before this gets really depressing, I’ll note that I’ve spent more time writing this blog post than I have in brooding about the card. It’s one of those small losses I mentioned about three hundred words ago. But that’s why I’m unreasonably pleased about the Mariners’ recent success. And when they inevitably lose a few (or, this being the Mariners, more than a few), there will be small victory to counter it.

And there will be cat pictures tomorrow.

Take your victories where you find them.

State of the Fourth Estate: One Year On

Happy Birthday! Happy Belated Anniversary! (Relax, it’s not a baseball post. Well, not much, anyway.)

March 22, 2013 was my last day as a corporate employee. That was a Friday; I spent a chunk of the weekend figuring out the basics of WordPress, and on the 25th, Koi Scribblings: The Blog made its official debut. That means no matter how you figure it, I’ve been a professional writer for a year. “Professional”? Yeah, more on that in a moment.

I marked the six-month anniversary with a post covering the “state of the fourth estate”: summing up what I had accomplished and what I planned to do next. A full year is, IMNSHO, more than twice as impressive as half of one, so it’s time to update that status report.

First, there’s the blog. It’s over 250 posts and–aside from a minor bobble due to The Great Kidney Stone Fiasco–has stayed on schedule. That’s a nice portfolio of work I can point to. I’ve attracted a small but growing crew of followers (currently 106–I’ll refrain from speculating about how many are trying to get me to boost your SEO rankings by following you back); thank you all for hanging around. Seeing your likes helps me remember that there’s a larger world than what I can see from my office windows; seeing your comments lets me know I’ve written something that engaged you. I said when I started that the goal of my writing was to “educate and entertain”. If I write something that affects you enough to do more than just click a button, that’s a pretty good indication that I’ve met the goal.

Second, there’s that “source of income” I mentioned in the first Sof4E post. I took a swing at content creation*. It wasn’t a rousing success. The publishers are interested in quantity and speed; to encourage writers to produce multiple articles, the price per piece is low. To successfully game Google’s rankings, the article need to adhere tightly to a house style and format. To put it politely, that wasn’t a good match for my skills. I did sell a few pieces, but… Let me put it this way: to cover my share of the mortgage, I would need to sell three articles every single day. Since it took me about six hours to write one article and push it through the editorial process, that would leave me six hours a day to eat, sleep, and do something to cover the rest of my expenses. Doesn’t leave much room for the writing I want to do, that “educate and entertain” thing, does it?

* What’s “content creation”? Here’s a piece of news that may surprise you: many websites are commercial enterprises designed to make money by encouraging you to buy something–or at least look at an advertisement. Quite a shock, huh? So how do they accomplish their nefarious goal? They publish “content”. Note my careful word choice here. In many cases, it’s not information, but an incredible simulation: something that looks useful at first glance, but proves to be too superficial to really accomplish anything. Such content is carefully designed so that it will appear in response to some particular search on Google. Google, for their part, is constantly tweaking their algorithms to push content down in the rankings and pull useful information up. Thus, the content sites are focused on sculpting their content through formatting and the use of key words to game the system. If someone clicks through to their site, they win, even if the reader immediately closes the window and moves on to something more useful. It’s a step up from telemarketing, but not a very big one.

Still, the exercise in content creation did result in a (small) paycheck. By the most literal definition, that does make me a professional writer. Sweet, innit? OK, it’s not going to give me any street cred or professional respect, but it’s a small step forward.

Note, by the way, that there’s a slightly higher class of content creation. Instead of contracting with a content creation company, the writer chooses his own subjects and writes in his own style, then uses a distribution service to market the articles. It’s the modern version of writing “on spec”. I class this as “content creation” because to succeed at it, the writer needs to do the same Google targeting that the creation company would do, but because the writer is writing in his own style and voice, there’s an opportunity to do more than produce a string of article-sausages, all alike and all devoid of taste. And yes, I did take a shot at this type of content creation as well. Over the course of a month, I wrote several pieces in the style I’ve created here on the blog and posted them for sale. None of them sold–until today. As I was writing this post, I got notification that one has sold. It looks like someone bought a large group of cat-related articles, and mine was one of them. It’s still not going to give me a lot of street cred, but it’s worth more to me in terms of personal satisfaction than the earlier content creation sales.

Third, there’s that writing I want to do. I’m making progress there too. I’ve got two short stories and one poem making the rounds of potential publishers (as always, you can check the scorecard of submissions, rejections, and acceptances in the menu up at the top of the page). There’s a third short story in the final stages of review and rewrite; I expect to start submitting it this week.) The big news is the state of the infamous “novel in progress”.

ybHere you can see Yuki guarding beta reader* copies of the book. Those went out last month, and their comments have been trickling in. While I was waiting, I started a second novel; its first draft is about 20% done. Now that the comments are all in, I’m bringing the second novel to a point where I can set it aside for a couple of months and I’ve started the second rewrite of the first novel.

* Ask three novelists what their process is, and you’ll get at least five different answers. Here’s the high-level summary of my current approach. Write a draft (get the story down without worrying about consistency or felicity of language). Rewrite it (fix the consistency errors and the truly awful bits of writing). Give it to the beta readers (a carefully-selected group whose opinions you respect and who you can trust to tell you the truth about the bad pieces). Rewrite again (fix the bad stuff the beta readers pointed out and upgrade the merely adequate bits of writing to sparkle. Put it aside for a month, then rewrite it again with fresh eyes.

So, yeah, still months away from trying to sell the first novel, but getting it into the hands of the beta readers was a major milestone. The second novel is moving faster than the first one did, which is encouraging. I’m never going to be a fast writer, but speeding the creative process up improves the odds that I’ll be able to tell all of the stories lurking in my head.

State of the Fourth Estate

Think back to the dim reaches of pre-history, also known as the end of March. That was when I started this blog. At that time, I made two statements that I now need to revisit. I said that the blog would include fiction as well as several varieties of non-fiction. I also said it would be updated with a substantive post every weekday.

A couple of people have noticed that there hasn’t been any fiction showing up. A quick check of the scorecard (see the menu item up at the top of the page?) will show that I’ve got three works being circulated to publishers. Publishers as a rule want new works, things nobody has seen before. Anything that has been distributed on the Web is, by logic and modern publishing definition, not a new work. If I want a publisher to even consider my writing, I can’t post it here. And I do want publishers to consider my writing. Aside from the mundane aspects (such as getting paid), if something is professionally published I have clear and obvious feedback that somebody approves of what I’m writing.* The fact that it will be seen by an audience outside of (and presumably larger than) this blog is an attraction too.

* The converse is also true: a rejection means that I haven’t reached that magic level where anything I write is worth its weight in gold…

Sure, there are exceptions. I know of two books that were originally published on the Internet and were later picked up by publishers. Two. Out of the literally millions of stories floating around out there. There are probably more, but no matter how you look at it, the odds suck. That being the case, fiction will continue to be a no-show here for the time being.

As for “every weekday blogging”, I had several reasons for that. The most important were to establish the habit of writing a significant number of words every day, to try my hand at writing on a variety of subjects, to find my own voice, and to build up a portfolio of work that I could use in looking for paying gigs. It’s been very successful. I’ve made at least one substantive post every weekday for six months. That’s a pretty good portfolio: well over 150 articles on a wide range of topics and a good range of lengths. I think I’ve found a voice that serves me well — just the right amount of snark, as somebody put it. And the writing habit is well-established: I don’t feel quite right unless I’ve put down at least 1,000 words about something.

On the downside, however, I’ve heard from several people that as a reader it’s hard to keep up with a daily posting schedule. Then too, since the State of California has persistently refused to make me a lottery winner, I do need to come up with a source of income. Whatever else it might be, this blog is not a cash cow. Or a cash anything else, for that matter. My total blog-related balance sheet for these six months stands at negative eighteen dollars.

With all that in mind, I’m going to cut back on the blogging. I will make at least two posts a week (Tuesday and Thursday), and they will be as substantial as what I’ve been posting. I might post more: I expect to throw in random small items that just don’t have what it takes to be a full-blown post, and I’ll also do the occasional more substantial post that can’t wait for Tuesday/Thursday. Both of those will be the exception to the rule, though, so you all will have the chance to catch your collective breath. (Update: On reading this paragraph, my loyal editor/voice of sanity asked plaintively “We can haz cat pikshurs?” Yes, Maggie, there is a Santa Claus will still be cat photo posts on Fridays, as long as the gang continues to do cute things in front of the lens.)

The time I gain from not blogging will be split between the infamous “novel in progress” (which should move along much faster when I can give it some larger blocks of time) and some remunerative enterprises. I’m still open to freelancing — give me a shout if you need something written — but while I wait for those jobs to roll in, I will be pursuing some non-fiction paying gigs. Without saying too much, let’s just say that the familiar “Casey snark” will be popping up here and there around the Web outside of this blog. And with just a smidgeon of luck, it’ll be showing up outside of the electronic world as well.

Keep your fingers crossed and your eyes peeled.