writing

On Following Your Dreams and Giving Up

Scott McCloud’s ZOT! is one of my favorite comic books. While the book is about a superhero from an alternate dimension, towards the end of its run it becomes another animal entirely. Zot gets trapped in our dimension and all of the sudden the stories seem to almost completely ignore him, and instead just focus on the lives of the people around him. What started off as a sci-fi superhero story became simply a story about normal people and normal life, and the issues they face.

One of the issues, #30 to be exact, is told from the perspective of Barbara Weaver, Zot’s girlfriend’s mom. She’s going through a divorce, and relates the story of how she met her husband, Horton. In the beginning, Horton was a dreamer, he had big plans, lofty dreams, ideals, etc., and that’s part of what she found attractive about him. So they got married. But as time went on, Horton wasn’t doing so well financially. They had bills to pay. A kid on the way. So Horton gives up his dream, and enters the corporate world. Not for himself, but to be able to better provide for his family. To be able to give them a good, comfortable life. Horton grows up.

The funny part is, it’s implied that that’s the reason Barbara doesn’t love him anymore is because Horton is no longer a dreamer. He’s a realist. It implies that poor Horton lost his way. Now, I understand what the author was trying to say with this. He himself was considering giving up his dream at the time, due to his comic not being so successful and having financial difficulties. He wrote this to convince himself that he’d be happier following his dream, even if his family suffers as a result. But if you ask me, Horton is an amazing family man. He gave up his dream for those he loved. He shouldn’t be made out to be the bad guy. He was acting selflessly.

Perhaps I’m wrong though. Maybe I’m just writing this to convince myself that I made the right decision, giving up on my dream. I write, sure, when I can. But at the moment it’s a hobby. When someone goes out and works or goes to school and only writes in their free time, all it is is a hobby (or perhaps a second job, stressing the second part). I would like for it to be my profession, but I can’t very well drop everything and jump all in. Not when I have rent and bills to pay, a wife to take care of and a child on the way.

“When you’re a little kid you’re a bit of everything; Scientist, Philosopher, Artist.
Sometimes it seems like growing up is giving these things up one at a time.”
-The Wonder Years

Giving up dreams is never easy, but its essential, most of the time. We come to realize there are things more important than what we thought we would always want. We come to realize that these new dreams are more important to us than the old one, but letting the old one go is always difficult. And we always look back, wondering ‘what if…’

One of my favorite episodes of The Wonder Years is the one where Kevin goes with his father to work. While there, he asks his dad when he knew he wanted to be a manager at NORCOM. Jack explains that while “Being manager of product support services is a good job, but it’s not what I thought I’d be doing with my life.” He goes on to tell Kevin about how he always wanted to be a captain of a ship. Kevin asks why didn’t he do it, and Jack responds, “How come? Well, you know, one thing leads to another, went off to college, met your mom, next summer I got a job on a loading dock here at NORCOM, the rest is history.” Then Jack says what is probably the most important line, at least to me, that’s ever been said in a television show: “You know, Kevin, you can’t always do every silly thing you want to in life. You have to make your choices. You have to try and be happy with them.”

There’s no shame in giving up a dream. In fact, I’d venture to say there’s honor in it. And I’m sure, somewhere, Horton kept his dream alive. Some part of him hopes that he can quit one day and be the person he was. If only life was that simple.

Collaboration

There are many pros to collaboration when it comes to writing, but it is not something everyone can do. Peter David, who is best known for being a comic book writer, said that he found writing prose novels much more fulfilling, as that’s a product that he completes all on his own, as opposed to a comic which is a collaboration with an artist.

Jeph Loeb is another comic book writer (though he’s written other thing as well, and currently heads Marvel’s television decision), and being a comic book writer, his work requires much collaboration. He used to be known as an amazing writer, until his son passed away. His work was never the same again. Some people say it broke him, and he never recovered. I don’t know if that’s true. But something I found interesting about his work, specifically in comics. It became very obvious after a while that he was writing for the artist, often at a disservice to the story. There was no reason for a time traveling Kingdom Come Superman to show up in Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, but the artist wanted to draw him, so he was written in. Batman: Hush, another one of his works, is overly crowded with villains, but most puzzling of all was an appearance by Jason Todd, a former Robin who was dead at the time of it’s publication (don’t worry, he got better. Comic books and all that). It was later revealed that it was Clayface impersonating Jason, but the only reason he was there was because the writer wanted to draw him. And in Loeb’s Supergirl book, he has Supergirl fight the Barbara Gordon version of Batgirl, who was paralyzed at the time and thus no longer Batgirl (don’t worry, she also got better). The only reason that was written was so the artist could draw a character he wanted, even if it didn’t make sense in the concept of the story. (Again, it was revealed to be Clayface in disguise. Boy, Loeb sure relies on that Clayface gimmick a lot.) A successful collaborator should put the story before pleasing his or her partner.

Having two names on a book is good, if only for marketing purposes, as it would lead fans of one individual author to check out the other author’s solo work. But honestly, I don’t know how two people can write a book together, other than switching off chapters or something.  Plotting though, can be done together with another. I enjoy talking through the story with my wife. Its fun, and we get to bounce ideas off each other. In fact, my favorite part of A Spark Ignites was actually her idea (or taking my idea and pushing it one step farther). Using a collaborator can also help you catch plot holes. There are some people who have to do everything by themselves. I used to be one of them. But even if you want to do all the writing yourself, I’ve found that when it comes to working through a story, two heads are better than one.

Book Trailers: Are They a Good Idea?

Speaking to fellow writers out there: Should you make a book trailer? Is it an effective marketing technique? It there a point to them? Numerous books, both self-published and traditionally published try to put out book trailers. It isn’t hard to notice that even book trailers from big publishers often only have views in the quadruple digits on youtube. Often, book trailers are underwhelming, and it is unclear to me if they actually help sales. Ninety-nine percent of book trailers I’ve seen did not make me want to buy the book. Why is that? Well, for one thing, they’re often boring. They’re slow paced, are comprised of static or almost static images, and have a few slow moving words here and there. A book trailer should be like a movie trailer. The point of it is to make the audience HAVE to find out what happens next. When you’re making a book trailer, watch it again and ask yourself, if you say a trailer just like it in the theater, would you want to see the movie? If you’re making a boring trailer, you’re just wasting money that could better be spent on other, more effective forms of advertising (unless you’re skilled enough to make the trailer entirely by yourself).

So the traditionally published books’ trailers are usually boring and not well circulated (this one has been out since 2011 from Harper-Collins, and has 12 views, as of this writing). What about indie books’ trailers? Often they’re boring too, not to mention amateurly done. Many of them contain stock pictures found on google and some text. Then there are those who go a step beyond, and use clips from various movies and tv shows. The problem with that is, ignoring the copyright issues, that they too look cheap and unprofessionally done. Oh, they can be interesting, but then you realize “Hey, it’s a clip from Iron Man! And that one is from Dragon Ball Evolution!” It will make people think of other products, not your work. And again, if it looks like it was made by a fifteen year old making an music video revolving around his favorite show, it is less likely to get a positive response from your audience, and less likely to be taken seriously.

Then there are the few, rare trailers that seem as if they’re advertising a movie. They have actual animation or actors, and it really seems unique. Until the very end, the audience isn’t even aware that it’s advertising a book. And they MUST find out what happens. I wish all trailers were like that, but even among the traditionally published companies who hire professionals, it is quite rare. The trailer for the self-published series, Mindjack, is one of the rare ones that fit this criteria.

Ultimately, unless you’re making something that would make someone need to find out what happens next, something that looks exiting and is professionally made (or close to it), you are likely wasting your time and energy investing in a trailer, and should probably not make one.

Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing

When I began writing my novel, I had intended to go the traditional route. I was researching query letters, looking up how to get an agent, etc. However, by the time I finished the first draft, I had decided that self-publishing was the best option, for me at least.

Both traditional and self-publishing have pros and cons. One major advantage when it comes to traditional publishing is the advance. You’re paid before your book ever sees print. While that sounds great, from what I understand, most first time authors don’t receive a large advance, and their books rarely earn out. Another advantage of traditional publishing is the editing. Traditional publishers ensure the books they put out are properly edited (although that does not mean that they’re free of errors or poor writing), and as a result those books have a reputation of being of a higher quality. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the third, and perhaps most important factor to use traditional publishing. The prestige. That is why most authors become authors. Most imagine what it would be like to be famous, have countless fans, and be part of that ever exclusive club of traditionally published authors.

Now, self-publishing has had a reputation for the longest time of being poorly written and edited, but that simply isn’t true, and the public is starting to realize that.  For every Fifty Shades of Grey (which was originally self-published), there’s a The Martian (also originally self-published). Self-publishing is also cheaper than ever now. Before digital, it would cost  ridicules amount of money that you’d have to pay upfront, and you’d have to try and sell all the books to book stores or fans yourself. These days, you can just upload it to Amazon, and they’ll even let you sell physical print-on-demand copies. You don’t have to put down a dime. Of course, you probably will end up spending some money, such as for your own editor or a cover artist, but it is a negligible expense in the long run most of the time, and you can usually find people who can do it really cheap. Additionally, Amazon pays royalties of 30%-75% depending on the price of your book, compared to traditional publishers where its closer to 8%-15%, in some cases even 5%. And it is also important to remember that in self-publishing, the author owns all rights to the book and can do with it as he or she pleases, while in traditional publishing, the book could be out of print for years, but the author still won’t have the rights to do anything with it.

There’s a common assumption that traditional publishing takes care of all the author’s marketing, so the author can focus on the book. Unfortunately, that simply isn’t true. The traditional publishers have limited resources, and with the very rare exception, first time authors (and even authors who have been published numerous times) will find all themselves doing all of the marketing, with the publisher not lifting a finger. So chances are, a first time author, be it traditional or self-published, will be doing their own marketing. One thing traditional publishers do take care of, however, is the cover. But that also means that the author generally gets no say in what the cover will look like. When someone self-publishes, they can have the cover look however they see fit.

Another factor to consider, which was a major deciding factor for me, was patience (or my lack thereof). I want to be able to hold a book in my hands as soon as possible. If I had gone the traditional route, best case scenario I would be published two years from my personal final draft (before sending out query letters), while with self-publishing, I can be selling the book weeks after the final draft is completed (due to editing, formatting, and the book cover).

What path do you think is better, and which would you choose?

Beginnings

I find that beginnings are always hard. Be it a first day of school, a first day at a new job, or starting a new project, there’s always this sense of anxiety. What if you can’t cut it? What if you fail? What if you get fired? What if you never finish? It can be overwhelming.

Yes, starting is always the toughest part, but once you get past that, you usually find that things flow. Several days in, you’ll find yourself wondering what you were ever so anxious about in the first place. Throughout my life, I’ve had many beginnings. The most anxious have probably been when I started driving, when I started college, my first date, and when I started working. (I’m lucky that marriage came relatively easy to me.) These universal firsts that everyone goes through eventually became the norm. I got used to driving, dating, college, and working. I could say that to an extent, I succeeded in those aspects. When it came to my own personal projects however, that was another matter entirely.

Ever since I was seven years old, I attempted to complete various different projects. I worked on my own comic books, video games, and animated shorts. While on the comic side, I finished several issues a year up until I turned thirteen or so (and proceeded to use the school’s copier to make copies, staple them, and sell them for 25 cents apiece), beyond that most of my projects ended in failure. None of the video games I attempted to make were ever completed. And during high school and college I attempted to make about six animated shorts, but only finished two of them. I worked on a (now defunct) webcomic for a few years, but never actually finished the last issue, leaving the story unresolved. I still have the last few pages, most of which are inked, sitting in a folder on my shelf. I keep telling myself I’ll finish it eventually, but I suspect I’m lying to myself. I’m not as proud of the story as I was when sixteen-year-old-me wrote it, or even when nineteen-year-old-me penciled and inked it. And so it will likely stay on my shelf, collecting dust, and perhaps I’ll show it to my children someday and lament of what might have been.

But failures are no reason to stop trying new projects. My problem, I realized, was that I tried making things that simply took too long to make, and it eventually burned me out. The only two animated shorts I ever finished were only around six minutes each and took me that many months, while I threw in the towel during the sixth month of production of my most ambitious twenty-two minute animated short after having a paltry thirty seconds (I had animated a single scene no less than 3 times from scratch, hoping to get it just right). So it made sense to me that my next project would have to me something that I would be able to finish in six months or less. Unfortunately, due to increased responsibilities and decreased time (the wife, school, work, etc.), I don’t have the same opportunities I had to create. That’s when I realized that there was something I could still do, so long as I had a laptop: Write a book.

I had several ideas for books, but I thought it’d be best to hit the ground running. So I dug out an old outline I had written some six years ago and began working on it from there. My only time to write was on the subway to and from work or school, assuming I was lucky enough to get a seat, but hey, people have done more with worse. Starting was certainly the most difficult part. The blank page staring back at you, begging to be filled, but you are unsure of just what to fill it with. Once I started, however, the rest of it (for the most part) flowed. I guess what could be taken from this is that you should just start. Stop putting off whatever it is you want to do. Just make sure you pick realistic goals for yourself first. Nearly four months later, I finished my first draft. There’s still much work to be done, but the end is actually in sight. I’m excited that soon I’ll be able to finally put another tally in the ‘completed’ column, and even more so, I’m excited to share it with all of you.

That brings us to this blog. Starting this wasn’t easy either. For weeks, I dragged my legs. But here it is, the first post. Will this blog catch on? Will anyone read it? Will I be able to stick with it, or will I give up six months later? I guess we’ll find out together.