Tuesday, November 26, 2013

In France, I'm selling as many books as John Grisham

Holy Crap! Well, my intention for this blog was a lot different a few minutes ago. I will get back into what I was going to say, but just now I decided to find out the ranking of my lastest release in France so that I could reference it here.

Apparently my latest release has entered the top 100 at Amazon France. And I don't mean the top 100 erotica books, or the top 100 romance books. It has entered the top 100 best seller list on all of Amazon. My 30 page short story is just below John Girsham's latest 466 page, month old release and above Hunger Games... even with the latest Hunger Games movie just out. (Holy crap, did I just write that?) That's um... that's a new achievement for me.

That makes what I'm about to say even more tragic. A few days ago I decided to do something that I never do; I read a few pages by 2 of my bestselling colleagues. Both are stories that made it to the New York Times bestselling list. And you know what? I now understand why my stories don't make it to the bestselling lists in English. My stories lack something that I can't give them.

And you know what else is true, they lack something that I could never give them. I could probably write for another 10 years and never be able to give them what I read in those stories. Authors have styles and that style is outside of my capability... mostly because I'm not a woman.

But at least I understand it now. At least I get that I will never be great at what I do. I understand that I have the ability to do fine. After all, one of my short stories is one of the 100 most popular books in all of France. That's not nothing. But at the same time, that same story has only sold 13 copies in English this month. That certainly doesn't represent the beginnings of greatness.

But now that I have accepted my own lack of potential greatness, I feel a little bit more at ease with myself. I am barely more than ordinary. My writing is barely more than ordinary. Ok, fine. I accept it. And I think that I am reinforcing my ordinariness right now with the current story I'm writing.

It's interesting, with my new development team and their schedule, I have managed to return to the life that I had back in 2009 when I first started writing. I wake up in the morning and don't check my email until after I've completed my writing for the day. I'm not even writing that much, but it feels kinda good.

But what I am writing... Ok, a little background. I am in constant search of a hit in English. One of my bestselling friends told me that I should write a longer erotic romance with shape shifters in it. It is all the rage right now. I decided to do that. That is what I've been working on. But even as I'm writing it, I see its flaws.

It's not that the flaws are that I'm a poor story craftsman or that I'm not constructing great sentences. The problem is that my subject matter is not bestselling subject matter. I'm writing the equivalent of literary fiction for erotica, and lord knows nobody wants to read literary fiction.

But I can't help it. Either I can write erotica, or I can loosen my constraints and let loose what's in side of me. Does this current story have enough twists and turns? Yes. Am I filling it with enough real life experiences to round out its emotional breath? Yes. Does it hit the sub-genres that are popular? Yes.

But as I wrote the scene where the main girl is being beat up in the locker room by a group of thug girls and then is being bloodied by her mother, I wonder how I can expect anyone to want to read this. Granted, I'm writing a New Adult story and one of the defining characteristics of New Adult is that the main character is troubled, think Hunger Games. But the abuse that the characters usually experience doesn't appear on screen. Yet here I am putting the abuse front and center for all of my readers to squirm at. This is not good, but this is the story that is waiting to come out of me.

I can't stop writing it though. I can't just turn my attention to a sequel to the latest French bestseller because there is something deep inside of me telling me that writing this current story is a part of my greater path. For years now I've been planning on writing the story about the abused girl who in a moment of weakness abandons the only person who lovers her to explore the universe but then can't get back home. And in part, the erotic Werewolf story that I'm currently writing is practice for that.

My big future story is from the perspective of a young woman. I've had real hesitations about doing that considering I'm a man, and my current story is just that. I've hesitated because I didn't know how I would handle the fact that the girl is abused and in the current story I'm practicing handling that.

Of course, it's not like anyone will want to read my future story either. But I've been planning my future story for years. I am really trying to make those stories my legacy. I consider them my only real shot at immortality. The story line is grand enough to be loved, but there is no telling if I have the special something it takes to breath that unique flavor of life into it to make it wonderful.

There might not be anything I can do to make that series wonderful, but the story that I'm writing currently is at least an attempt to give my future project what it takes to thrive. I would like to think that by writing my current story, though it has no chance of success, I'm increasing the probability of future success.

You know what, after writing all of this, I'm actually feeling better about writing this Werewolf story that no one will read. I am not a great writer. I accept that. I need practice if I'm going to perhaps be better than I am right now. People usually spend money to attend school to become better at stuff. But not only do I have enough money coming in that I could afford to take this break, but there is a chance that I could make a few bucks when my current story is done. All of my stories make some money even if it's just $500.

So yeah, I actually feel good about what I'm doing now. The rest of this year I'm considering as time off to better my craft and better prepare myself for my shot at glory. And perhaps the software I'm creating will sustain my finances as my income dips due to lack of releases. Who knows. But hopefully when I end my current story, I will be a better writer because of it and my future story, the one that is supposed to make me immortal, will be better because of it as well. But, who knows.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Today I got one of my best compliments ever

Writing is an interesting thing. I clearly have a complex relationship with it. Because I grew up with a form of dyslexia I have a natural bias to think of myself as bad at it. The fact that the only class that I ever failed in my life was a class called Writing when I was 7 years old, gives me a certain bias against it. 

But yet, even before I became an author, I had made more money as a writer than anything else. I was a producer for many years, but even then I was a writer/producer. Logically I have to think that I don't suck at it, but in reality do believe that I suck?

I wrote an article today about what the erotica you purchase says about who you are. I had done it because I knew that I would get a minimum of 4,000 "reads" and that would mean 4,000 free, and targeted commercials for my erotica books. But I am surprised how good I feel about what I've written. It's very smart. I genuinely think that those who "read" it will learn something about themselves that could help to make their life better. I think it's really insightful while being quite effective marketing. 

So rereading that, I have to ask myself, 'could a bad writer write that?' I have to ask myself how bad of a writer do I think I am.

I guess the reason why this comes up is because of what I wrote the last time and the email I got this morning. The email was from someone who I'm sure did not read my blog post. It was a fan of my erotica work. She had written me before, but she wanted to write me again telling me that she had just gone back and given one of my books a 5 star review. It was the book that I described in the last past as the first erotica story that I ever wrote. It was the story that I described as being 'good'.

In the letter, the reader repeatedly told me how good she thought the story was. She mentioned how she cried hoping that the 2 main characters would get together. And she concluded it by literally thanking me for my "talented writing". 

How does one respond to that... especially since it's clear how I feel about my level of ability. It seems that there are a lot of great things that I can accept about myself. Lord knows that I'm not modest. But it kind of makes it hard to breath to think about what she wrote. 

As I think about it, this kind of reminds me of something else I used to experience. Up until a few years ago, I used to have the equivalent of a panic attack every time someone would gush about how good of a person I was. And believe it or not, I used to get it at least once or twice a year. See, I told you that I wasn't modest. 

But the last time I had a panic attack, it was after a Christmas party. I was with this woman who I was hanging with at the time. This was our 2nd party for the season and the first party had a few of the same people attending. 

At the first party I had done what I would often do back then. The conversation would turn to someone and their quibbles about life, and I would defend life. I would try to reshape the quibbler's understanding of their circumstances by giving them information about the way that the world works. But, like I said, this wasn't anything new for me. This was my standard routine.

But when I attended the second party, there was a woman there that I had had one of my talks with. She and the woman I came with, at one point, cornered me and proceeded to rehash our conversation. They both tell me how each of them had left the party and thought about everything I had said. They then proceeded to tell me how it changed the way they looked at life. And then they "gushed" about how great and wise they thought I was.

I did my usual response which was to smile and nod and do my best not to hear it while hoping it would stop, but it continued. But soon it came to an end and a little while later I left for home. Driving home I started to have my usual panic attack. I try to block out the memory of the situation but it won't go away.

When I get home, I sit in the chair I'm sitting in now and I can barely breath. Once my breathing returns I think about how ridiculous my response was. I then decide to do my little thing I do to reconnect emotions with difficult memories and I figure out why people telling me I'm a good person sends me into a panic. 

What I remembered was being 12 years old at a teen camp for young Christians. I remember that even then I wasn't about to follow the crowd and pretend that I believed something that I didn't. And I remember being a really good and moral kid. I used to be the absolute last one to leave church ever night out of respect for the preacher, but I was the only one who didn't pretend that I was being "saved" by what was being said. I was 12, but I knew who I was and what I believed and I wasn't about to fake it with anyone. 

Anyway, at this camp I was in a cabin that shared a wall with the girls shower. So naturally, one of these god-fearing 15 year old boys drilled a hole in the wall so that everyone could take turns watching the girls shower. Of course. And there was once when a couple of the girls I knew was about to take a shower that I subtly walked to the girls cabin, subtly called my female friend over and told her not to react immediately but there was a hole into their shower and that she shouldn't go in there right away.

Her being fifteen, what did she do? She ran from me into the shower and screamed for everyone to get out and get dressed. Further proof that 15 year old girls don't understand what subtly is. 

Anyway, I wasn't about to run from what I did. I did it and that was that. I wasn't going to rat out the person who drilled the hole, but at the same time, I wasn't going to sell out my female friends' integrity for the "respect" of some dudes that I would never see again. And after all, wasn't what I did the Christian thing to do? Hypocrites!

So I did this and I was prepared to accept the consequences for it. The consequences were that every girl from the cabin came out and graciously thanked me telling me how good I was for doing it. And my older brother, who I came with, who I respected, who I looked up to, pulled me aside, looked at me disappointingly and told me that I shouldn't have done what I did. I looked at him hurt asking him how he would feel if his girlfriend were one of the girls being spied on. He said that she wasn't and he left it at that. 

I was 12. This taught me a valuable lesson. It taught me that being a good person resulted in rejection by the people you care about. So naturally, every time from that point forward when someone graciously told me how good of person I was, it would result in me having the equivalent of a panic attack. 

I was able to break that Pavlovian response of praise and panic. And it has also helped that people don't gush over how good of a person I am anymore. Hmm... as I think about it, I wonder if me not being a good person anymore is linked to residual effects of my Pavlovian response. I'm going to have to give that some thought.

Anyway, I write all of that to draw it into comparison with the feeling that I'm having right now about the praise over my writing. I don't know if it's exactly the same, because I have also gotten really horrible reviews about the exact same book. I feel like I should be able to say that the nature of art is it's subjectivity. In fact, the individual responses to work is what defines something as art. I feel like I should know and embrace this, but I just can't grasp it.

There is something in me that says that it's either all or nothing. Either everyone should love it or it has to be considered bad. Yes, I know it's ridiculous. And I would certainly dissuade other people from thinking that way, but that has been ingrained in me in some way. 

Ya know, maybe it's not the Pavlovian response that is leading to my feeling of praise panic, and instead the dichotomy of people loving and hating my work.  

Either way, perhaps I should consider another profession. Maybe I wasn't made to be an author. It really is a bitch of a process, especially the way I do it. My process is to mine every thing of emotional weight in my life and then wrap a story around it and hang it out exposed for everyone to read and critique. Why would someone do that to themselves? How could that not make a person crazy?

I think that at some point I need to pull the cord on my life and say 'this is enough'. I am always chasing after immortality. And I do it at the expense of everything. I have a great life, but man have I had to give up on a lot of things to have it. And the older I get, the more I realize that I will not be able to accomplish what I set out to do when I was a kid. 

Even back when I was 15 I wanted nothing less but to change the world. I wanted to create something that made people's lives better. Even then, when I was a struggling dyslexic, I thought it would have to do with writing. But as I get older and older, I am starting to realize that I'm just not good enough to make it happen. And I'm not talking about writing a hit book. I'm referring to writing something that helps to change many people's lives for the better. 

I know that I'm not out of time, but I feel like I'm approaching the limit of my ability and it isn't good enough. 

Don't cry for me though. My image has been immortalized in a life sized bronze statue of me. I was the first person ever to get a certain type of low budget movie theatrically released. I got to be a national champion at my sport. I have changed the self-perceptions and hence lives of hundreds if not thousands of people with a video I released. I'm about to release software that will reshape the way that self-publishers publish their books. I've done stuff. It's just that I'm going to have to start coming to grips with the fact that by my own definition, my life will be a failure. But I tried though. I think that's the important part. I tried really hard and I did, and will continue to do, the best that I can.

And hey, according to some people, I've already done something special. I've had completely original ideas and I've moved people to tears with my writing. I guess, though, I just expected more from myself.  

Ha! You know it takes a certain level of skill to take the most generous compliment that I've ever gotten about my writing and use it to further the idea that I'm not good enough. I guess I should give myself credit for that as well. I have the ability to stick with an idea in the face of overwhelming evidence. I say that that's also quite the skill. :-)

Anyway, I really do need to consider choosing another profession. This one might make me too raw. And on a positive note, maybe if I ended my all consuming pursuit of immortality, I might actually find someone who I could be happy with and life a happy content life. Ha! Who am I kidding? It would take more like a miracle for something like that. But meanwhile, I will just push on. 

I'm off to have a conversation with my software developer in China. Even at 2:30am, my work day never ends. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

I'm returning to writing good books

I am often confronted with my lack of success as an author. Just the other day I learned that at least 3 more of my fellow erotica authors are making over $200k a year. And they don't earn their money the way I do it, with business sense and smarts. They just write books that readers want to read. Man, if I had to rely on that, I'd probably still be an office assistant.

But every so often I get a review that confuses me. Ok, I've accepted that I'm not that great of a writer. I get that I lack that instinctual understanding of what a reader wants to read. I understand that I am not a woman and that it truly takes a woman to know what a woman wants. I get all of that. But some times I get reviews that make me think that I don't understand what I don't understand.

I'll probably sell about 40,000 books this year, but relatively speaking, my readership is small. But yes, with that many books sold, I certainly have fans. But I can't understand why my fans like my books when so many others reject it so clearly.

A couple of days ago I had a fan write me and say:  "I have read one of you books before and STEAMY and GOOD was an understatement." Seriously? If that's true, why do I struggle to sell more than 100 of any of my books in English on Amazon? Another fan wrote: "Pen Name, please keep writing these wonderful stories that give us that ever beautiful glimpse into another life and time." Come on, really?

How can these people feel this way? How could they like these stories so much when so many others won't even give me the time of day? If they were to get a glimpse of my $200k friend's stories would they be gone like yesterday's trash? Do they only like my stuff because they haven't found the really good stuff yet? Because I tell you that my retention of readers after reading one of my free books isn't as high as the most successful writers on my forum.

Anyway, that's what I have been thinking about for a while; my ineptitude as a writer. And those constant thoughts of inadequacy have not made it easy for me to get back to writing. But I am getting back to writing. My last story, which was my first story in almost a year, is not selling well. It is doing as well as the last one that I wrote before that. Both have not performed well.

But in spite of all of that, I am actually going to return to writing. And not short story writing that has given me my living for the past 2 years, but real writing. It probably won't be very steamy, or sexy. But it will have interesting characters with clearly drawn goals. Every chapter will end with a cliff hanger, and I'm going to try and make the reader cry. 

The story is going to mean something to me like the first erotica story that I ever wrote. I thought that story was good back then, and I still think it is. I'm hoping that I will feel the same way about this new one. I don't know how good of a writer I am, but I'm going to give it my all.

Ya know, writing is a funny thing. I've hit #1 in my categories 4 different times in three different countries, yet it couldn't be clearer to me how inadequate my writing is. And I'm sure that people reading this will say, "you've had four #1's? Doesn't that mean that you're a good writer?" But the answer is, no it doesn't. There are a number of people that make a lot of money on my forum. I am not one of them. Readers let you know how they feel about your work with their dollars. And clearly I'm just not that good. I try, but I'm just not. 

But maybe the next book though. Maybe with this next book series English speakers will say to me,  "We like your stuff. And we like it so much that we've told our friends and they bought it too." I don't know. Maybe it's too much to ask. But maybe.

I just came back from watching the movie 'Ender's Game'. I read the book. The movie isn't good. It's like cliff notes from the book. The bigoted author of Ender's Game really understands how to tell a story. Thinking about that is what brought this on. I guess that i just lack that story structure instinct. I can recognize it, but I just can't get myself to replicate it... And that kind of sucks.