Thursday, May 28, 2015

Writers: Keep On Keepin’ On

By Dario Ciriello

Part if the Indie Authors Series

As indie authors, there are times when any of us who are honest with ourselves wonder why we’re doing this.

You know the feeling. You’re sick of the constant need to self-promote, or just had a string of mean reviews. Perhaps you worked like a dog on that last novel, and it’s lying dead in the water. The competition out there is so brutal you’ll never break through, no matter how hard you try. You wonder why you’re doing this when you could be doing something fun. You’re a fool. You’re beat. You want to reclaim your life.

Writing is a tough gig. Indie is tougher still. Darwin red in tooth and claw.

If you’re like me, you go to this bad place periodically. You have your pity party, kick and scream and pound and cry…and pretty soon you square your shoulders and get back to work.

It’s okay to have doubts and fears.

When I go the bad place, I look hard at my reasons for writing. If I told you I didn’t care about earning money at it, I’d be lying. Of course I care. But that’s not why I write.

Bear with me while I fill in some backstory.

I was very lucky with my very first book, Aegean Dream. The book sold exceptionally well in the UK and was picked up by a foreign publisher as well, selling around 10k copies to date. All through the summer of 2012, fat checks were rolling in. It felt great. Before that I’d only sold a few science fiction short stories; now I was somebody!

My second book, Sutherland’s Rules, released in early 2013, was a brutal reality check. Although everyone who reads it loves it and asks for a sequel, and the reviews are terrific, sales were very disappointing, in the low hundreds. I went into a funk. I’d put my heart and the best part of a year of my life into this book—what the heck happened?

Well, for one thing I’d switched not just genre but a whole category, going from a nonfiction travel memoir to a thriller. Worse, this was a very quirky thriller, really an action-adventure/suspense/buddy-caper/police procedural with just a shimmer of the fantastic around the edges, and featuring older protagonists to boot! Effectively, I was starting all over again, with an oddball book in a far more crowded category.

But I wasn’t giving up.

I began working on another novel, a supernatural thriller. But now I’d started publishing other people’s novels through my micropress, Panverse Publishing, and that, coupled with the need to work part-time, ate up every second of my time and more. The novel I’d written 30k words of got abandoned. I was a failure, a pretend writer.

Somehow, crazy as life was, I managed to get a few new short stories written, tidied up a few others, and glued them together into a collection, Free Verse and Other Stories. Released a year ago, the collection got some great reviews and even plaudits such as, “a writer who deserves wider recognition”, and, “underappreciated writer”. Unfortunately, it sold under a hundred copies.

Go to the bad place. Do not pass GO, do not collect $200.

What went wrong?

Collections are never an easy sell, even for name writers. Also, this was a Science Fiction collection. Never mind that a number of people thought the title story good enough to suggest it for Nebula Award nomination, I’d switched genres again! Oh, sweet Jesus, would I never learn?

Four months ago, I started back in earnest on the abandoned novel, and last Sunday I wrote those glorious words we all love, THE END. Abandoned for a year, the draft is a hot mess and the rewrite will be substantial. But since effectively closing Panverse Publishing (retaining it just as my personal imprint) at the end of last year, I freed up some time as well as some mental real estate. I’m a writer again. And I’ve written a second novel in the same genre (thriller).

But why? Why do this? The chances of success in this game are not good, and I’m not young. So why be a writer when I could be hiking, playing my guitars, visiting art galleries, taking photographs, learning West Coast Swing…

I write because I need to. Because there are stories I want to tell, characters and situations I want to read about and that nobody else has written. Because I want to share these stories with other people, perhaps intriguing and even delighting them in the process. Because the high of getting fan mail from a total stranger whose life I’ve touched is worth any number of lows. Because I want to leave a legacy of some sort. Because I have this weird idea that if a creative person stops doing what they feel driven to do, something inside them will sicken, and that hurts the soul.

And I write as an indie because I want be in charge of my creations.

It’s okay to go the bad place. Like a warrior, an indie writer—any writer—needs courage, and plenty of it. But courage isn’t an absence of fear, it’s facing our fears and carrying on in spite of them. Go to the bad place, explore it, despair in it. And when you’re done, come back.

And besides, there’s always a chance that the next book might be bestseller.

Do you go the bad place? What’s your strategy for dealing with the fear and self-doubt? What keeps you going?

Dario Ciriello is a professional author and freelance editor, and the founder of Panverse Publishing. His nonfiction book, Aegean Dream, the bittersweet memoir of a year spent on the small Greek island of Skópelos (the real "Mamma Mia!" island), was a UK travel bestseller in 2012 and has recently been published in Poland. His first novel, Sutherland's Rules, a crime caper/thriller, was published in 2013. Free Verse and Other Stories, a collection of Dario's short Science Fiction work, was released in June 2014. He is currently working on his second novel, another thriller. Dario has also edited and copyedited over a dozen novels, as well as three critically-acclaimed novella anthologies. He lives with his wife in the Los Angeles Area.


  1. I don't actually experience fear or self-doubt, so I don't need a strategy for dealing with it. I learned decades ago not to be precious about my work. It seems impossible not to because I become so well acquainted with each project through the duration of its creation. So when I finish a book, I put it out there as an ebook and a paperback, and have done with it. If I'm satisfied with it, that's enough for me, and if I think I can do better, that's enough for me, too. It's the thought I can do better that drives my writing energy, not sales or praise; neither of which are abundant. It's not being a Writer that makes me somebody, it's what makes me a Writer that makes me somebody. To me being a Writer is like being a fruit tree; some fruit is picked and consumed, some is left to rot. That doesn't stop a tree from producing, and it doesn't stop me.

    1. I like your fruit tree analogy. Mine is apple. Though there may be rotted fruit on the ground, above me the tree is filled with luscious red apples waiting to be devoured. When the new season arrives,blossoms burst forth with new ideas, eventually becoming more fruit. The cycle of life; perhaps, the cycle of writing.

  2. Thanks for the reminder of why we write. I write for therapy, to tell a good story, to put on paper what would otherwise be unexpressed, to scare people, to throw light on the human condition, to create a beautiful work of art. I will try to keep those reasons in mind as I continue to write.

  3. Thank you for this. One of the best things about writing is knowing there are others out there like yourself. Even though the act of writing is done in isolation, it's reassuring to know one is not alone. Yes, I go through the "why the heck do I waste my time?" phases, but always come back to writing because I need to do it.

  4. Thank you! Thank you so much! Right now I'm teetering at the edge of that bad place and you just gave me a yank back!! It's so nice to know I'm not alone in this pity party!

    1. Holly, I promise you you're not alone. LOL. :) Glad that you and others are finding my comments helpful. It's not easy stuff. But then we are more resilient than we think :)


  5. Thanks for sharing that even you get annoyed, Dario, I often feel we come very different POVs, part of that might be because we're at different points and our life stations are WAY different. Your post about when we might want to rethink crowdfunding got me thinking, and while I agree you can do crowdfunding in a misleading or disingenuous, for most of us in the beginning especially, it's often the only option we've got short of letting a project go.

    I speak from the standpoint of writers in my position, who can't get a publisher on board, or they want more creative control, or some mix of the two and if they see this as a career versus a one-off personal project, and e also can't practically spend a DECADE or more for every book, and when I say that, understand I mean it PURELY from a financial perspective.

    If I had to fund all aspects of a book myself (Editing, Cover Design, Illustrations, etc) just affording one of those things solely on my own would take YEARS, and that's just for ONE BOOK, and as I'm sure you well know, one book does not a career writer make.

    Please understand I say this from the POV of someone who has absolutely no problem paying people what their skill and time are worth, but if my money's tight, I can only invest so much.

    So many times I've had to fight the temptation to open a line of credit and essentially "Bet on myself, and while I get sometimes you need to do that, I don't yet have that bridge job or side hustle that would allow that financial flexibility, and I often feel alone in what I struggle with, because while I have many great writer friends who get publishing the way my family doesn't, they're all parents or caring for aging parents, and have financial flexibility I don't, despite the numerous responsibilities that weigh on them, but even though I just have me to think of, it's not always any easier.

    I'm not at all bad-mouthing my writer friends who are parents or have a supportive spouse or relatives, I'm happy they have the family support and/or financial assistance that helped them get where they are, and they still have hard days, too, of course. Even so, I do sometimes feel alone if only because I have to be That doesn't mean I'm narcissistic, but I'm just trying to be honest.

    I just wish I knew more writers who were as committed as I am, but don't yet have a spouse or kids, I know you can learn from anyone, but there's something about writers in the same life station as you that's special because they don't feel so far ahead of you, does that many any sense?

    Since you have some level of finance (despite the low sales of some books you mentioned) overall I'd imagine you still have enough earned to be able to help fund the next book, right? If I'm way off I apologize, but based on what I've read of your posts here I got that impression.

    I'm still working for my first book, and I'm struggling with my next book, and the more I learn the more I'm starting to feel I need to lean into indie publishing, but not having much money to hire the ideal team to keep things pro-level. I struggle with knowing what to "Slack on" for lack of a better way to put it, and what I shouldn't cut corners with. I don't think it's smart to spend more than I can feasibly, but so many articles and books I read about indie publishing say "Go big, be 100% pro, or go home" and I surely don't lack the will to have help. Just the means to pay for said help on certain things.

    To be continued...

    1. But as you mentioned in a reply to my comment on a previous post of yours, I agree you can find great people for less than you think, but while that's true with some things like cover art or proofreading, certain levels of editing , and what I feel few indie authors talk about (at least from what I've seen) is that on top of producing the actual book (when it's in both ebook and print format) is something left out of the conversation, but as indie authors we're not just footing the bill for producing the book pre-publication, but printing it!

      I do want to challenge you slightly on the point of your genre-hopping.

      Yes, it's difficult to genre-hop, and it certainly makes marketing your work harder (I truly empathize with you there) BUT I assure you, Dario, many writers, myself included, wishes they were more versatile with what they could write.

      Sometimes having a tight niche can have it's drawbacks, in terms of keeping your writing fresh and not getting easily discouraged.

      I LOVE writing animal stories because it's what I love to read, and I love and read other kinds of books as well.

      But as many who beta-read my work often tell me (and 99% of the time it's said with respect) what a "Hard Sell" they are, but true is that might be, it would be a HARDER SELL for me personally to switch from animal fantasy to nonfiction, or poetry, or to write erotica.

      But not everything we love reading we can or want to write, and that's valid, too. I LOVE reading the occasional romance novel, but I couldn't write one myself, at least not a traditional definition of romance.

      That said, I sometimes like writing a love story in my books, but it wouldn't fit within the strict specifics of a straight romance novel, well, that and I can't write a decent love scene to save my life.

      As much as we stress being willing to go "outside the comfort zone" that doesn't mean we should PUNISH ourselves by doing something we just can't put our heart into.

      I don't think enough writers talk about the difference between those seemingly opposite yet related extremes, and I know I have to write something on my blog about it.

      Anyway, enough of my rambling, and sorry if I sound a bit whiny, I'm certainly in this long term, but I do think the battle between "patience" versus "mortality" is just not as easy thing to work through, however realistic you see the process.

    2. Hi Taurean ~

      Thanks for the varied and interesting thoughts here and above :) I'd say a couple of things. First off, no writer should ever "take a bet on themselves" and get in debt or quit their day job until they have at least a couple of very successful books under their belt. Without wanting to pop anyone's bubble, success in writing very rarely comes fast or early--it's usually incremental, especially for the self-pubbed author.

      Second, I believe that it's vital to spend time with other writers--the very best you can find in your area, people who will inspire and challenge and support you. Critique group or monthly meeting, etc., is the best format. This is important.

      Finally, genre hopping often hampers rather than helps a career: musicians have been ditched by their record companies and authors by their publishers for doing it. And as an indie, one is faced with rebuilding one's audience base from scratch each time. It's not advisable as a strategy, but we have to be true to ourselves, right? :) I'm 101% with you on "not punishing ourselves". Again, it's IMO crucial to understand WHY one wants to write (and be published)...and my personal take on being told something I'm doing will be a "hard sell" is to laugh.

      I wrote a blog post a while back that might round off these thoughts--you can find it here:

      As Stephen King says, writing should be a kind of inspired play. Once it starts feeling like work, that's usually the kiss of death.


  6. I'm not sure if it's good to know or scary that a person can still get discouraged after they've been published. (Yikes!) But thank you for sharing. :)

    As for me, I am coming back after a long spell of burnout. My father died and dealing with the emotions didn't leave much energy for being creative. Now... two years later... I've bounced right back. :)

    Books are kind of like friends who don't mind being occasionally neglected, and when I forget why I want to write I try to remember how much the right book can feel like a hug, and how much I want to pay that forward.

    1. Chicory, thanks for commenting, and I'm so sorry to hear about your loss. I lost both my parents many years ago and still miss them. Glad to hear you've bounced back.

      As for the "good and scary", there's a saying: a writer is only as good as their last book. LOL. But I like to think of the next one instead :)

      I love your hug analogy! So true...and the best gift we could give anyone :)

      Let's make it happen!