Ever since I decided to become a writer, I’ve dreamed about what it would be like to pursue my passion full time. If I can write 2-3 books a year while juggling a day job, how much could I get done if I had all day to write?
Well, that day has come. After a divorce with the old day job a month ago, I became a full time writer, though without the full time pay. The adjustment of working for 30 years and suddenly not working took some time getting used to. So, what did I do to get through it?
I wrote. Writing has always been my private island, the perfect escape, the place where reality never gets past the bouncer. As the shock wore off, the time I devoted to writing increased. I actually looked at this as a needed break so I can devote proper attention to the slew of projects I had agreed to take on.
Now it’s time to reflect. After a month, what have I accomplished? Well, I have 3 novellas that I was scheduled to write for an as yet unnamed publisher later this summer. Now that I had time, I set my ass down to start the first. Draft #1 was completed in two weeks. It’s now resting in my laptop. You need to give your story and yourself time to breathe before jumping in to the editing process. Or at least I do. Rewrites start in a few days.
At the same time, I started working on my next monster book for Severed Press. I have about 10,000 words to go before I can type THE END on draft #1 of that puppy. I figure that’ll be done around July 7th.
Then my family and I head to house-sit for a friend up in the country where I’ll finally finish the novel I started last fall, WE ARE ALWAYS WATCHING. There are literally just a couple of chapters to go, then I have to do a ton of rewrites because the story kept changing as it went along. This is a dark one. No monsters. Nothing paranormal. Just people at their strangest and worst on a Pennsylvania farm.
After that, I have a special project I’m going to write and self-publish, followed by the other two novellas I’m still contracted to write this year. And Lord only knows what else I’ll agree to along the way. Let’s just say this chapter in my life will be marked with a boom in my creative output.
I’m also catching up on my TBR pile and getting new books from the library every 3 days. I’ve decided to re-read everything Hemingway for the rest of the summer. Then there’s more time to spend with my family at independent league baseball games, movies and swimming at the pools and beaches nearby. My old day job actually gave me a gift – my first summer off since I graduated high school! I don’t plan to waste it.
I’m a reformed editor stalker. At least that’s what the state shrink has declared in my case.
Actually, following the career of my dream editor, Don D’Auria, turned out to be a pretty smart career move. When I talk to people about writing and getting published, I encourage this kind of behavior. And if you want to be a horror writer, Don is the man you should make a point to follow.
When I was a wanna be writer and tried and true reader, I hoovered horror novels like they were dust bunnies. The 80’s was an absolute horror boom, with tons of great and oodles of bad books, all waiting for my little eyeballs. Things slowed down a bit in the early 90’s. Finding books by authors other than King, Koontz, Barker and Saul was like searching for the holy grail or my last shaker of salt.
And then came Don (you can sing that to the theme from Maude). The first time I spotted a Leisure paperback in the horror section of my local bookstore (yes, there were still shelves dedicated to horror in the mid-90’s), I fell in love. In the front, or back, of all these wonderful books, I saw a common denominator – they all thanked their editor, this mythical dude named Don D’Auria. I wondered, who is this guy who’s bringing me great works by writers like Richard Laymon, Jack Ketchum, Brian Keene, Tim Lebbon, Sephera Giron, Hugh B. Cave, Douglas Clegg, Graham Masterson, John Everson, Bryan Smith, Tim Waggoner and so many more? Talk about an eye for talent! As far as I was concerned, Don had an almost supernatural ability to find the brightest and the best, the old and the new.
When I set out to write my own horror novel, I did so with the express intention to write it for Don and Don only. I sent it to him at Leisure and waited…for years. Eventually, he offered me a contract with Leisure. Alas, the company imploded as I was signing, so I waited (while standing on the ledge of a tall building) until Don moved to Samhain, where he took me along for the ride. It’s been beyond my wildest expectations ever since.
I remember the first time I met Don face to face at a Horrorfind convention. The Samhain authors were making their con debut at a booth right where attendees checked in. Man, was I nervous. I was expecting this imposing Max Perkins character to come waltzing in. I did a lot of dry swallowing waiting for him to show. Turns out, he was one of the most down to earth, unassuming guys I’d ever met. I still couldn’t shake my fan boy apprehension during that con. He was the guy who rescued me from the slush pile. I owed him my entire budding career!
We discovered that we lived close to one another during that con, and made it a point to meet for drinks one night. That was many nights and martinis/beers ago. Don isn’t just my editor. He’s a true friend, a brother from another mother who grew up on Chiller Theatre and Famous Monsters Magazine. We’re two kids who get to play on the same field as the greats who shaped our passion. Sometimes, while we’re talking about Vincent Price movies or getting Barbara Crampton’s autograph, I feel like I have to pinch myself. How many people get to work with their dream editor? And of those, how many can call that person a true friend? I’m one lucky bastard.
As Samhain turns 10 this month, I want to thank Don for all he’s done for not just me, but all the lost boys and girls of the horror line. To show my undying thanks, I even tattooed their logo on my arm. Don’s portrait is next! 🙂
A huge thanks to author Matt Manochio who boldly explored the world of marketing and selling his book and lived to tell the tale…and provide invaluable information!
How many books do I need to sell to make a bestsellers list?
Every author at some point has Googled a variation of that question. Because let’s face it: most of us want to see our name on The New York Times bestsellers list right above or below whichever 50 Shades book is befouling that list, and there’s no shame in admitting that. (Yes, technically it would be nice to be #1, but you’ve got to start somewhere.)
So how do I get on the bestsellers list without cashing out my 401k and buying 9,000 copies of my book? (I read somewhere that 9,000 is the number of books you’d need to sell in a week to get on the NYT list. Whether that’s true, I have no idea. God bless what you read on the Internet.)
My point is you need people to buy your book. And for a…
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I’m about to let you in on a secret that will help you write that book that’s been dying to get out. The best part is, you can do it without having an existential crisis.
It’s been too long since I’ve posted anything about writing in the trenches in this genre I love so much. Back when I was locking myself away in my room, tapping out words and getting nothing but rejection or worse, silence, I never dreamed I’d be in the position I’m in today. Sure, I did it with the goal of legitimate publication (whatever your own definition of that may be), but I just never thought I’d have a year like this one with three books coming out and writing four more for three different publishers for next year.
I’m not a full time writer. Writing doesn’t have health benefits, and if you’ve stopped by the blog and chain, you know I need them for my wife, who is the queen of auto-immune diseases. So I have a full time job that is more than that – it’s a solid career that can’t be ignored or pushed to the side. I have two amazing kids – teens now –the same number of cats, old friends, new friends, things to do and places to see every day.
The question everyone asks me is, ‘How in the world can you manage to write several books a year? Do you sleep? When’s the last time your family saw you? Or you saw the sun?’
My answer is usually that I just sit down and write because I truly enjoy the process. And yes, that is part of it. But what is the process?
Basically, what works for me is something I’ve called The Thousand Word March – or TTWM if I’m too lazy to say or spell it out. When I started working with editors, I quickly found out that they think and talk in terms of thousands. Discussing the length of your work in progress, whether it’s a story, novella or novel, it’s all about word count, not the number of pages or file size of your Word document.
They’ll say, “I’d love it if you could get me that novel under 95,000 words, but no less than 90,000.” Or if you’re pitching a novella, they might say, “Anything between 28,000 and 50,000 words will do it.”
So, if they’re thinking in thousands, I had to rethink the way I worked and made my own projections. My first horror novel, Forest of Shadows, was a true labor of love. I worked on it for almost five years. When people asked about my progress, I’d tell them I was 185 pages in and so on. Come time to pitch it to the sole publisher I sent it to (fodder for a later post), I proudly stated it was 550 pages.
But to an editor, 550 pages does not translate. The number of pages I write will never equal the print pages in a book because of font and paper size, spacing, etc. It turned out my 550 pages equaled over 100,000 words, which was a little more than Samhain wanted at the time. So, I had to do some editing to get it under 95,000.
When it came time to write my next book, I came up with The Thousand Word March to wrap my head around the best way to proceed. Knowing that my editor would like something between 85,000 and 90,000, I looked at the calendar to see how long it would take me to get the first draft done. Since my editor also hinted that he’d like me to write two books a year for him, I knew I couldn’t just cruise along at my own speed. That’s a good thing. It prevents procrastination from rearing its ugly head. Nothing works better than a fire under one’s posterior.
Staring at the calendar, I thought, if I just did 1,000 words a day, I’d have a 90,000 word book completed in three months. Hmmm. A thousand words a day. I could do that. I don’t have tons of free time, but I almost always have time to write 1,000 words. In fact, as I started working on that book, I realized that even on a day when the words were hard to find, I could accomplish my mission within an hour. So, if I set aside an hour and a half each weeknight, I could hit my writing goal, that extra half hour spent doing all the other things a working writer has to do, like marketing, responding to emails and maybe tooling around with a short story.
On weekends, I shoot for 2,000 – 3,000 words a day. This way, I can finish ahead of schedule, giving me more time for editing later on. I know it sounds like a lot, but when you work at it all the time and get into a rhythm, it’s really not so bad. In fact, I’ve found that by writing on Saturday and Sunday mornings, before the day drains my brain, I can write far more in less time. The key is to get at least 7,000 words in a week so I can meet my goal of a full novel in three months.
Weekends are also a good time to catch up on days you might have missed during the week. Look, we all have lives to live and you can’t always find the time to write. Here’s what my past week looked like :
Monday – 1,900 words (I doubled up knowing that Tuesday was my day off, so to speak.)
Tuesday – nothing (It was St. Patrick’s Day and I’m Irish. ‘Nuff said.)
Wednesday – 1,100 words
Thursday – 1,000 words
Friday – 1,000 words
Saturday – 2,300 words
Sunday – 2,500 words
So, if my goal is 7,000 words a week, even taking a day off, I was able to write 9,800 words, putting me ahead of the game. Total time spent writing, marketing and other stuff – 10 hours. When you think of it, that’s not bad at all. I still had time to work, cook meals, watch movies, spend time with my family and friends and read. I read at least two books a week. I can’t function without my books.
Where do you find 10 hours? Look no further than your TV or YouTube or any other time suck. Turn ‘em off for a while. I promise, they’ll be there when you’re finished. Think of it as a reward for a job well done. What’s more important, watching housewife cat fights or creating your own work of art?
Some weeks are going to be far more productive than others. If you lock your mind on The Thousand Word March, you’ll always know exactly where you stand and what you need to do to accomplish your goals – all without having to become a crazed recluse.
Look, I know there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to writing. Everyone has to find their own way, just as they find their own voice. This is what works for me. If you’re struggling or feel intimidated by the blank page, give it a shot. The Thousand Word March can take you to some pretty amazing places.
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From my understanding, hell is a place where bad people go.
First drafts are places where hellish sentences, plots and characters lurk. When you edit, you’re a manuscript exorcist. The power of revision compels you! The power of revision compels you!
As imperative as the editing process is, I’ve seen plenty of aspiring writers stuck in revision hell. I know people who have been editing and tweaking their first novel for over ten years. Then there are people who think a first draft is all you need, forgetting that when you say first draft, that implies there must come a second, third, yadda-yadda-yadda. We all can’t be Robert B. Parker who obtained legendary status as a writer who loathed rewrites. Let’s consider him the outlier, not the standard.
When you edit, you have to set tight rules. You want to polish that lump of coal into a diamond, but it has no value if you never get it out to an agent or publisher.
When 2014 ends, I will have published 8 books in 3 years. I’m always working on something, so I can’t let myself slip into editing hell. But, I also can’t scrimp on revising each novel and novella.
Editing, to me, is synonymous with the word rounds. Each book will require several rounds of revisions. And when I say round, I mean going from start to end, re-reading and rewriting like a person possessed. Here’s an example of how I edited my upcoming novella, The Waiting.
First Round : Also known as the first draft. My main concern at this stage was getting the story down. Occasionally I would go back and tweak what I wrote the day before, but the theme in this round is always onward and upward! Hell, what’s pouring out of me at this point may not even make sense, but somewhere in that mess is the backbone of the book. The key is to power through and get to The End.
Second Round : This is where the hard work comes in. I read every line from start to end, making changes, wiping out whole sections, adding more, tightening plot points, checking for grammar, punctuation, etc. Of all the rounds, this is the one with the most heavy lifting. This is where the story truly comes alive.
Third Round : I have several trusted people who are my first readers. For each book, I’ll select two of them to read the manuscript. One looks at it like a line editor, finding all of my many mistakes, checking for continuity and basically making it look like I passed English class with flying colors. Another reads it to give me feedback on the story itself. They make suggestions on how to improve the story. Some parts need to be placed in earlier sections of a book, others tossed into a deep, deep pit. They’ll also point out sub-plots that my conscious mind wasn’t aware of, affording me the chance to further explore them and make the overall story stronger. The feedback from my first readers has a value impossible to quantify. I’m eternally in their debt.
Fourth Round : In this round, I take the line edits from my first reader and correct all of the mistakes. For me, this is the easiest round since someone has already told me what to do. I just need to follow orders.
Fifth Round : Now another very hard part. Scrambling the pieces of the story around based on my other first reader’s feedback. This can be a heavy rewrite that can take weeks, or a little less punishing that may only take all my free time for a week.
Sixth Round : After I’ve retooled the entire book, I have to read it again, making more revisions as I go. This can be heaven or it can be hell. If it’s heaven, it’s ready to go once I’ve reached the last page. If it’s hell, it means another round of edits.
Luckily, for The Waiting, I was able to stop at 6 rounds. Double lucky was that it was a novella and only a hundred pages. Sweet. Now, when I wrote my thriller, The Montauk Monster ,a book that was just under 100,000 words, I believe I went as far as 8 rounds. Remember earlier when I said you have to set editing rules? That was essential for The Montauk Monster because I only had 4 months to write and edit the book. If your goal is to be a working writer, you’re going to be writing your ass off, year in and year out. There’s no time to be trapped in editing hell.
Don’t let the multiple rounds process scare you. Believe it or not, you’ll like the book more and more with each round. You may even grow to love it! The passion you felt on writing the first page will be rekindled. Honest.
I’m not saying this is the way you have to do it. It’s just the way I do it and it’s been working…so far.
Anyone out there stuck in editing hell? You have a revision trick that could benefit the rest of the class? Come on, let’s hear it. When it comes to writing, old dogs learn new tricks every day. I’ll send a signed promo copy of the cover of The Montauk Monster to the first 10 people in the U.S. who add to the conversation (have to watch that postage! if you live outside the US, I’ll find something else for you).
How could I not share this great interview with my Samhain editor and all around swell guy, Don D’Auria!
Interview conducted by: Glenn Rolfe
Samhain Publishing editor and lead dog on the company’s horror line, Don D’Auria, has been in the business since the eighties. Driven by love of horror and the passion to bring this fictional evil to a world in dire need of great distractions, Don has brought the literary world of terror (not manned by a King or Koontz) back from the dead (in the mid-nineties with authors like Ramsey Campbell, Richard Laymon, and Jack Ketchum), only to watch his work sink in the great Dorchester Publishing debacle of 2010. He remerged in 2011 with Samhain and a boat load of amazing authors to once again conquer the horror world.
In 2011 Smahain author Frazer Lee’s debut novel, The Lamplighters, was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel. John Everson followed in 2012 with a nomination for Superior Achievement…
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