A Writer’s Value: Breaking Down the Math

There’s been a lot of discussion, lately, about the value of a writer’s work. I have to say, it’s not just about authors, though I will be approaching this mostly from a writer’s perspective. But I have to say it: Artisans in general have been devalued, because people say “I can do that” without a clue what goes into the art.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people, right in front of me, say “Oh, I can make that myself” when looking at my jewelry.

You know what? Maybe you can. But you won’t. And it’s likely in most cases you won’t take the time or lay out the money to learn how to do it.

Writing involves learning, and the layout of money, on the faith that someone will find your work worthwhile enough to pay for. Most people have no idea what writing requires. I’m here to tell you.

It requires having the idea.

It requires research (months of it… sometimes years).

It requires focus.

It requires hours and hours of dedicated time, away from family and friends, with focus entirely on the work being done.

It requires a desire to create something larger than yourself — characters that people are going to care about more than they will ever care about you, stories that can convince readers to suspend reality.

My average book takes anywhere from four months to three years to write, depending on how deep the research goes. Can you honestly say that isn’t worth $6 for the final product?

If you calculate out the hours spent, versus my royalties on a $6 book (that’s roughly $2 I get per book sold), that means I have to sell at least 4 books just to make 1 hour’s pay, at minimum wage($8/hr). When you factor in that I spend, on average, 2,500 hours on each book, and calculate that out at minimum wage, it breaks down like this:

2,500 hrs x $8/hr = $20,000
(to break even just on time spent, at minimum wage)
+
200 pgs (average) x 4 printings (average) = 800 pages /500 pg per ream = 1.55 reams of paper x 3.64/ream = $5.47 paper cost (average)
+
0.67 cartridge ink (average) x 4 color (1,200 pages per cartridge) = Use of 2 2/3 cartridges (average) x $20/cartridge = $53.40 ink cost (average)
+
Notebooks, copies, pens, etc items usually come to about $50 per book, on average.

So, on average, that totals out to:
$20,000 + $5.47 + $53.40 + $50 = $20,108.87 on average for a book, and that’s just in production cost on my end (the writing), and assuming a publisher will pick up publication costs.

Now, remembering I will only be making (on average) $2 per book sold, just to break even, I’m going to have to sell 10,055 copies just to break even on writing one book… and that doesn’t include any advertising costs or other post-production expenses I’m expected to eat as an author.

You want to know what my average yearly income from writing is? About $30 (if I’m lucky).

Considering how much I have to fight torrent sites, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn I’m probably losing 10 times that amount to people stealing my work because they feel entitled to read it for free.

So… It takes a certain amount of dedication and drive to write a whole book (never mind a series or three), and the sacrifices. And everyone who devalues authors with “Oh, I could write a book if I wanted to” and “It’s not like it’s hard work” or “Well, authors make so much money, they can afford to lose the sale if I get it for free off a torrent site” are so full of crap, it’s coming out of their eyeballs.

Could you write a book?
Yeah, maybe you could. But you probably won’t. Because the minute most people realize how difficult and thankless it actually is, they give up. If you aren’t writing now, you probably don’t have the dedication and drive to do it for a career.

Is it hard work?
You bet your ass it is.

It’s grueling.

It’s time-consuming.

It’s hours and days and months of aggravation, missing out on things because your muse has you glued to a notebook or computer screen, writing away.

It’s heart-breaking at times, and exhilarating at others.

It’s 72 hours straight without sleep because you’re terrified if you stop, you’ll lose that brilliant idea that’s currently consuming you.

It’s ripping out your heart and soul and offering it up so some critic who’s having a bad day can make themselves feel better by stomping all over it, and then pasting on a smile and saying “Well, I learn from the bad reviews”… And days of bouncing off the walls with joy, and no one to share it with, when someone deems your hard work the best thing they ever read.

It’s a damned roller coaster of “I don’t know what to feel, right now” when you’re stuck between watching a love affair come together, and watching a life fall apart, right there on the page, and not being quite sure how either came to be, because they damned well weren’t in your outline, plot cards, or rough draft.

Can we afford to lose even one sale?
Not a snowball’s chance in Hell. We’ve bled for each and every sale, long before that book hits the shelves for sale. Writers are fragile creatures, and we base our self-worth on how worthwhile you, as the reader, consider us. Telling us “I want to read your book, but you’re not worth a measly $6 to read” tells us you think we, as a writer, are worthless… Many a good author has given up, discouraged, because they feel worthless in the eyes of their readers, because readers make the mistake of thinking every writer is the #1 Best Seller book, and making millions of dollars.

But you know how a book gets to that exalted position? People buy it.

So, unless you’re willing to buy, don’t call yourself a fan.

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Beyond Dracula: A Brief Look at Vampires and Vampirism

Now, before I go into any detail, let me make one point very clear (because I get asked this question repeatedly): Yes, I do believe in the existence of vampires.  What I do NOT believe in are the concoctions of fiction spawned by old cinematic special effects.  Having said that, let’s first examine what a vampire is.

Vampires, by all historical accounts, fall into one of two categories: the Living, and the Revenant (dead).  Living vampires have never been dead.  They’re most likely not going to be harmed by anything WE wouldn’t be harmed by.  They can be super-fast, and super-strong, but they’re certainly not going to be turning into sand, bats, rats, or what-have-you.  The most common type of Living vampire is known as a Psychic Vampire.  Some psychic vampires don’t even know they ARE vampires.  These people feed off of the energy of others, leaving them emotionally, mentally, and spiritually drained.  Have you ever been around someone, and when you left, you just felt like you needed to go home and sleep for 24 hours?  If this happens repeatedly with the same person, chances are good that person may be a psychic vampire.  These are, by far, not the only Living vampires, but they are the most prevalent.  There are Living vampires who drink blood, as well (though why, no one is certain.  The live human stomach is full of acids that break down and render blood useless), and even some types of cannibals fall under the category of Living Vampire.  Contrary to some belief, vampires are not categorized solely by whether or not they drink blood.  They are categorized by the fact that an encounter with one leaves you missing some vital bodily force, whether that be energy, blood, or flesh.

Fiction’s more common vampiric friends and fiends are the Revenant, or Risen, vampires.  These are the corpses of people (and animals) who have died.  Contrary to most popular fiction, being bit by a vampire will not instantly turn you into one, and nor will drinking their blood.  By historical accounts, turning into a Revenant vampire has more to do with the manner of your death and burial than it does ever encountering another vampire.  A violent death, leading to a desire for blood vengeance, or an improper burial can cause a body to rise as a vampire.  Yes, being drained by a vampire can kill you, and perhaps even instill that need for vengeance, but the concept of being bitten and becoming a vampire are not mutually exclusive.  Also, drinking a vampire’s blood isn’t likely to do much (see above where I referenced blood in the living human stomach), and though transfusion of vampire blood might, in theory, turn someone, there is no evidence, anecdotal or otherwise, to support this (there are no documented cases, since the development of blood transfusion, that note any vampiric tendencies after a transfusion).  Another point that’s supported by historical evidence is that vampires are not confined merely to the physical plane.  There are vampiric entities and spirits which are not corporeal (physically present) on our plane.  They often behave in a manner similar to ghosts, except that they drain spiritual/physical energy from their victims.  These often fall into the “vengeance” category of the Revenant vampire.

If you are interested in finding out more about vampires, please check back for information on my webinar “Beyond Dracula: Myths and Evidence of Vampirism in History and the Modern Age”

“I Solemnly Swear…” – Fiction Writing and the Pitfalls of Promise

As an author, there’s one rule I hold sacred above all else in my writing — Be careful what you promise.

I’m not talking about deadlines.

I’m not talking about telling people when a book will be out.

What I’m talking about are the promises we, as writers, make to our audience. Promises about circumstances. About events. About characters. About relationships.

These are sacred promises. We have asked our audience to put their faith in us. To willingly, and with absolute trust, follow us along a twisting path through our characters’ lives, to learn about them, to laugh with them, cry with them, fall in love with them, and perhaps (in some cases) die a little with them.

Along the way, we have to be careful of the pitfall of “I promise…” Unless we are prepared to follow through — to perhaps abandon our entire creative endeavor based on a bridge we swore to never set foot upon, to never cross, and certainly never demolish behind us.

We can never promise what we are not prepared to deliver, or are uncertain our characters can deliver. We are the most honest of all deceivers, for we peddle in truths based upon lives that are only, at best, half reality. But this does not give us permission to lie to our audience.

We do not get to make promises we are either incapable of or unwilling to assure the outcome of.

image by hotblack

image by hotblack

Personally, I don’t make promises regarding characters or situations, other than that the situation will eventually be resolved.

The quest will reach an end.

A resolution will, sooner or later, arrive for every situation.

Beyond that, I make no promises. I have no idea where the path might twist and turn, or how my characters will arrive at the resolution. I assume they will be changed, but I have no idea how, no matter how much plotting I do. I do not even promise they will all arrive there alive.

However, if you do decide to make a promise regarding your characters or situations, be aware, you are toying with a trust you must be very careful of.

Audiences do not respond well to being tricked, to having their emotions manipulated by empty promises. They are unlikely to trust your motives, or your storytelling, again, if you offer them something you can’t deliver on.

Once you make a promise, you simply can’t change your mind. At that point, you are committed to a course, and you will have to see it through.

Friday Q & A: The Book Soundtrack

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Someone recently asked me this question, so I thought I’d extend it to all my fellow authors, as well:

Do you write with a “soundtrack”?

My answer:
Personally, I’m a music person (I grew up immersed in it), so I always have both a “series soundtrack” and a separate soundtrack for each book I write… a playlist of songs that keep the creative juices flowing and help me get into the “zone” of a particular book (it’s part of the secret to how I can write multiple books in multiple genres all at the same time, without ever confusing things… As soon as the “soundtrack” for that book starts, I’m instantly in that “zone”… Since I use the same soundtrack when drafting the storyline as I do when I’m writing, my brain’s conditioned to the pattern by the time I start writing…:) …)

If you have a question you’d like me to answer about writing in general, my process, my books, etc, please go to my FAQ Page and leave your question at the bottom of the page. I’ll select questions to answer on my blog every Friday, and those and other questions will be posted to the FAQ page, as well.

It’s All Geek: Perspectives on Science and the Paranormal (and why I write both, simultaneously)

I can’t tell you how many times I hear “But if you’re so science-minded, why do you write Paranormals, and believe in the paranormal?” Like these two things are mutually exclusive, and acknowledging one excludes me from acknowledging or understanding the other.

This is a stereotype I’m sick of. So let me set the record straight, once and for all. Parapsychology, the paranormal sciences, and physical science are not mutually exclusive. They never have been. The base concept of science is, in itself, to explain the unexplained. Let’s take a look at a few established principles, and a few conceptual theories, to explore what I’m talking about.

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A mere five hundred years (plus or minus change) ago, the science of the day declared the Earth flat, and that the heavens revolved around the Earth. This planet was, by established science of the day, the center of the universe. The concept of space flight wasn’t even a glimmer, and the established medicine of the day often involved the judicious application of leeches, for everything from poisoning to excessive bleeding (I’d love to see someone explain that one!).

The people who dared to challenge this established science of the day were labelled insane or heretics. They were often ostracized, sometimes imprisoned, and in some cases even put to death for daring to challenge the established science of the day and/or look for explanations to those things deemed inexplicable, at that time.

Thank goodness we’ve come so far, right? But have we really? When science declares something “hogwash” or “ridiculous” without exploring the possibilities inherent within it, that science loses its ability to truly function as it should – it loses the flexibility to bend and explore new dimensions and possibilities within our universe. Without that flexibility, without the “what if,” most of the science we take for granted today would never have existed.

I firmly believe that science holds the key to unlocking the potential of the human spirit. As Einstein once said, imagination is more important than knowledge. Anyone can spout knowledge. Being able to imagine how that knowledge might be put to use is of far greater value. While science seems content to study the human brain at length, it fails to explore how that brain chemistry might apply to things which, today, appear “paranormal.”

“Paranormal,” by most basic definition, means “outside of the normal.” By this definition, in the 1500s, the law of gravity, for example, would have been considered “paranormal.” So would Columbus’ assertions that the world was actually round, rather than flat, or Copernicus and Galileo with their “crazy” theories regarding the heavens above us. A mere hundred years ago, the computers we so take for granted as part of “normal” life were considered “science fiction” and completely, utterly paranormal, by the word’s definition.

Medical science will be the first to admit they do not have all the answers to how the human brain works, or even what it might be capable of. By this very admittance, they lay the groundwork for the possibility of eventually being able to empirically test for and gauge things like clairvoyance, clairaudience, Psychokinesis, telepathy, and a host of other parapsychological conditions. I firmly believe that, in time, science will uncover the root of these types of abilities, and will be able to study it very effectively, and therefore expand our knowledge and use of such abilities, taking them firmly from the realm of “paranormal” and into the realm of “normal.”

By the same token, I believe that science will one day progress to the point of being able to prove, conclusively, the existence of the spirit (human and animal) and its ability to survive corporeal death. Already, we see rapid advances in the methodology and equipment used to study and document potential hauntings, and I believe that if these advances continue to happen, and people continue to strive for that understanding, someone will stumble into the same kind of “eureka!” moment Archimedes did when he figured out volume displacement.

To understand why I believe this, I will apply some simple, established science. Namely, the First Law of Thermodynamics (otherwise known as the Law of Conservation of Energy and Matter). It states that neither energy nor matter can be either created or destroyed. They simply change form to fit new conditions or environments. Medical science proves that the human body is animated through a complicated and not-completely-understood system of bio-electric signals, chemical reactions, etc. Basically, the human body is a kind of living, working biological battery/computer. We put off a tremendous amount of energy, in the form of heat. This is best seen in how our bodies begin to overheat when we are exerting a lot of energy, thereby requiring our bodies to kick in their onboard coolant system (sweat) to help cool us down. When we exert energy in a focused manner, we do so by transferring said energy to another activity or object – say, picking up a box. The energy our bodies generate through the use of fuel (food, water, air, etc) is transferred into kinetic energy, which allows us to grip and lift the box, at which time the kinetic energy is changed into force energy, applied against gravity to lift the box.

So, if we are batteries, with all this stored up energy at our disposal at any time, when we die, what happens to all that energy? The Law of Conservation of Energy and Matter says that it has to go somewhere. It can’t simply disappear. Rather, it must change form to fit its new environment and situation. In time, this energy might be absorbed into other things which utilize energy, or it might continue to absorb energy from around itself, taking on a more definitive form. In both of these cases, it would be following the Law of Conservation of Energy, and by the same token become the energy source known as “ghosts” or “spirits.” Since a large part of the energy we store up is stored in the brain, logic would follow that the energy released to a new form during death would retain some measure of its former use, at least for a while. Those electrical pulses that carry information and accumulated knowledge around the brain could retain some kind of energy “memory” which would allow for the intelligent interactions experienced by paranormal investigators.

The same principles of scientific thought can easily be established to many areas currently deemed “paranormal.” As such, I say with confidence that I do not actually believe there is a division between the paranormal and science. Instead, I think the one (science) simply hasn’t yet arrived at point where it is capable of empirical measurement of the things we at current deem “paranormal.” But I do believe the time will come when these fields of study collide, and I don’t believe it is very far off, either. In the meantime, I will continue to write my geeked-out, scientific paranormals, and enjoy the hell out of knowing that, on this front, I’m ahead of the curve.

Demoralizing Creativity: Artistic Careers and Popular Misconception

ZappaFound this on Facebook (I assume it’s correct, but I haven’t verified… I just agree with the sentiment, wherever it came from)

And, by the way, it’s not a “hobby”… I don’t mind giving away free books – to people who are actually going to review them. I don’t mind sharing my work, with people who actually want to read it. But this isn’t a hobby, it’s not a “cute little pastime,” or any of a thousand other insulting little turns of phrase you might come up with. Writing is my career. It was my very first occupation (even before I learned to actually write the alphabet), and it’s always been my goal to write full-time. Having to work another job in order to pay bills is a frustration I have to put up with, but that other job is the “moonlighting” one… that is the secondary job, whatever it happens to be, at the time.

So every time you think you’re not hurting anyone by downloading a pirated book, every time you think it’s “okay” to demand free access/free copies of books that no one has paid for (I’m not talking about borrowing from the library – libraries buy their books, to lend), think about this – if you went into work tomorrow, and your boss said “By the way, you’ll be working for free from now on. We’ve decided it’s okay not to pay you, because we decided it doesn’t hurt anyone if we don’t.” how long would you keep working there?
So why do you expect an author to work for free?
Writing is a career – so be a responsible human being: Buy a book if you want to read it (whether hard copy or e-book), and if you get a free copy from an author, realize that it’s not a right — they’re doing you a favor, and return the favor by spreading the word – tell your friends, post a review, comment about it on social media. If you want to call yourself a “fan” then show it by acting like one – your support tells the author you give a damn, and inspires them to keep writing. Stealing from us just tells us you don’t respect us or care about the work we do, and takes away our desire to keep writing.

Character Revelation: The Black Moment vs. the Moment of Truth in Fiction

It occurred to me while I was writing, last night (as things like this most often do), that one thing I’ve never seen discussed in any depth is the difference between the Moment of Truth, and the Black Moment, in a story. Perhaps that’s where some of the confusion starts (and maybe even ends), with some authors.

I’ve discussed Emotional Black Moments (EBMs) before, and how these are character driven. Emotional Black Moments are all about a character coming face-to-face with death, disaster and fear. A plain Black Moment, however, is far less about the character, and much more about the events he or she might find him/herself caught up in. Black Moments are points in the plot when things seem the most bleak, problems the most insurmountable. Black Moments encompass more than a single character.

The defining characteristic of a Black Moment is in how a group of characters comes together to resolve the issue at hand. Whether that group is a large one, or comprised solely of a hero and heroine, they must work together to resolve the Black Moment. These Black Moments can involve one or more EBM, as well, as Black Moments are often catalysts for extreme emotional moments and upheavals that cause considerable character growth and development.

In contrast to a Black Moment, a Moment of Truth is always about an individual. Like an Emotional Black Moment, these Moments of Truth are about character change, growth, and development. However, unlike an EBM, a Moment of Truth is about how a character acts or reacts when placed in a situation that necessitates some kind of self-sacrifice (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, or a combination thereof).

The best example I can give of a Moment of Truth is when a loved one is being held at the point of a weapon.  How would your character act/react to this situation? Is he or she frozen in panic? Do they move to try to disarm the assailant? Do they try to talk everyone out of the situation safely? Do they fall apart and start crying?

Defining how a character acts/reacts in a Moment of Truth is tricky, if you haven’t taken the time to really get to know your character. A lot of what I call “pantsers” (ie, people who just sit down and write a book without really doing any kind of plotting or character creation) have difficulty with Moment of Truth moments. They tend to rely on the stock reactions (ie, “Oh, it’s my hero, so he’s going to act tough and say a lot of tough things, and then either the bad guy’s going to give up, or my hero’s going to shoot him”), and this reveals giant flaws in the character(s) involved.

Let me give you an example of how knowing your character(s) leads to a more realistic Moment of Truth.  In my novel HOPE OF HEAVEN, my hero, Peter Talladay, is a very protective person – particularly of family and women, including Hope (my heroine). However, he’s also a man dedicated to his job fighting terrorists, has a stubborn streak a mile wide, and is obsessed with avenging his family’s (mother, father, brother) murder.

When Peter’s Moment of  Truth comes, at the hands of Gordon McGuire, he has to decide between calling Gordon’s bluff and refusing to do what’s demanded (and thus potentially getting Hope killed), or doing what Gordon wants, which might spare Hope, but would mean giving a terrorist what he wants, and most likely letting the murderer of Peter’s family go free.

Now, the stock response to this situation (if working with a stock tough-guy, which Peter isn’t, but we’ll just assume for the purposes of this part of the argument) would be for Peter to try to disarm Gordon, followed by a fight of some kind, during which Peter (being the big, strong hero) would subdue and incapacitate Gordon, leaving him unable to perpetuate any kind of harm.  Totally predictable.

But because Peter isn’t a stock character, his reaction to the situation is quite a bit different. First of all, when he first realizes Hope is injured, his reaction is one of fear. He actually freezes for a moment, until she assures him her injury is only minor. Then, faced with the threat of what Gordon could do, Peter does the only thing his heart will let him do – he cooperates, aware that as long as Hope is in danger, there’s nothing he can do to take out the threat of Gordon McGuire. In the end, he lets McGuire have what he wants, to spare the life of someone he loves. No theatrics involves. In his Moment of Truth, Peter faces the difference between revenge and self-sacrifice, and sacrifices his desire for revenge and even his sworn duty, for the life of the woman he loves.  I am, of course, simplifying this scene quite a bit in an effort to not give away any pertinent spoiler details about the book. Let’s just leave it at this: Peter runs an emotional gauntlet in this scene, requiring him to deal with a LOT of issues all at once, and in a very limited window of just a few brief moments.

A Moment of Truth places your character in the unenviable position of having to, in a split second, make a judgment call based entirely on his or her personal morals and beliefs. If you haven’t yet answered the question of just who your character is, you can’t possibly hope to answer the question of what he or she would do when put in a life-or-death situation (theirs or someone else’s). Is your character going to step up and do the right thing? And just what constitutes “the right thing” to him or her, anyway? Do you know?

Amateur writers often make the mistake of not really investing in their characters (and I don’t mean they should be emotionally attaching to the characters on the deep “this is my baby” kind of way… that can get anywhere from frustrating to an editor, to just downright creepy). By investing, I mean time. Sit down, get to know your character(s).  No, you don’t have to use the 50-page bio package I fill out for every character. Nor do you have to invest in any fancy character generation program. But what is essential is that you get inside your character’s head.  Sit down and at least write a brief introductory bio for (or from) him or her. Find out what makes the character(s) tick.  Not just their physical attributes, but also their emotional and mental traumas, triumphs, etc. If you want readers to invest their time and emotions into your character and stories, you have to make the effort to get to know your characters.

If you’ve taken the time to really get to know your character(s), when the EBMs, Black Moments, and Moments of Truth arrive, your character(s) will literally leap off the pages with their unique and fascinating reactions.