Wednesday, March 25, 2015

5 More Questions for Author Dave Walsh

Dave Walsh has published a 2nd novel, and I have asked him 5 questions for a 2nd time. Here are his unedited answers.

1) How did you approach writing your 2nd novel differently from your first?

The second one I approached from an entirely different head space. The Godslayer happened because of a multitude of issues, most of which had to do with the fact that I was frustrated with my own work. I was making a name for myself writing about MMA and Kickboxing but I really wanted to write novels. Then, to top it off, those sports were kind of "pure" before they blew up like they did. I was always an internet nerd and I bonded with these sports by interacting with other internet nerds over them, but eventually the sports world caught on and everything changed. 

That is fine, in fact, probably better for those sports, the athletes and whatever, but they lost their magic to me. I was frustrated by the people that were coming on board, their views and how the culture was shifting. My actual first novel I started writing in my last semester of college and underwent something like four complete rewrites where I just tore it down and started over. It was for good reason, though. There were serious problems with it. I'm talking tense shifting, point of view shifting and the works. It was just a mess. I had a weird mix of teachers in college that were either obsessive about grammar or obsessive about ideas and story, I tended to latch onto the latter and it meant that my technical skills slid a bit. 

The Godslayer was me venting frustrations about how the sport that I had watched grow and dedicated a lot of my time into helping grow change into something that I hated, but it was also me looking for a way out. I was sick of sports writing because I hated sports and without a desire to work in actual print journalism to help get myself a better paying job writing about the sport I saw my way out as a novel. Weird, right? The Godslayer started by a crazy, manic night of writing a short story about what I thought a retired MMA fighter would feel like waking up in the morning and it was 14,000 words by the time I was spent. The problem was that it was clearly going to be a lot longer, so I decided to try turning it into a novel. 

Basically, everything with The Godslayer was kind of circumstance and hope. The reality was that I picked a bad topic to write a novel about considering the fan base errs to either not reading at all or reading nonfiction. I'm still overwhelmed with how well that it sold, but I'm embarrassed by the lack of polish in it and have this daily existential dilemma about it being out in the wild still. 

Terminus Cycle came from a lot of careful consideration. I grew up obsessed with science fiction and was reading as much as I could by the second grade, just devouring everything Isaac Asimov or Star Wars that I could find. It grew from there. As anyone who went to school for literature or writing can attest to, I really had it burned into my skull that to be a successful writer you need to write literary fiction. I had that whole dream growing up of being the reclusive author that released a book every ten years to rapturous praise and made millions and millions doing so. That reality is just dead for the most part, especially now that we realize that the writers who did get by releasing books like that were probably supported by family money or died broke. 

So I decided to cast aside the literary dream for the time being and be a bit more practical. I love science fiction and I love writing, why not blend them together? Science fiction is one of the few genres that sells to a broad audience of both males and females. If you look on Amazon there is also a wide array of bestsellers on there in sci-fi that did everything themselves. I like that. I'm still not sure why I'm attracted to the idea of working outside of the system, but I just am. 

We finally got cable after not having it for a while in December of 2011 and I found myself watching "Wonders of the Universe" and just being like "Damn, why am I not writing about this stuff?" I loved Physics in high school when it was all theoretical and fun, but struggled with it in college, so I just started reading as much "accessible" science as I could. I knew that I wanted to write science fiction, but I was afraid of doing it "wrong" for some reason. I was finished writing The Godslayer by mid-2012 and right around that time the Curiosity Rover landed on Mars and the ideas started flowing. I had documents of ideas (most of which I abandoned because early ideas tend to be rough/awful) and it was really the catalyst for me to start approaching it more seriously. 

I'm not even sure when I actually started writing Terminus Cycle, but it was well after The Godslayer was released in early 2013. I watched and read a LOT of science fiction because I wanted to get back into that world. Kind of went through the things that I loved years previous, shows like Firefly, BSG, Star Trek: The Next Generation and books by Asimov, Herbert, PKD, Zahn and others. It was a lot of fun and my wife thought it was total bullshit that I kept excusing my watching and reading habits as "research" -- but it seriously was! I discovered some really cool stuff along the way, stuff that'll stick with me for a long time. Star Trek: DS9, for example, is clearly the best Star Trek of them all and Babylon 5 might look cheesy but it's the absolute best science fiction series in history. Don't bother arguing that with me, it's nearly perfect. 

I tended to shy away from contemporary science fiction books for a reason, though. I didn't want my work to be heavily influenced by them and be too similar. Since I finished writing Terminus Cycle I've gone on a binge and read a lot of the stuff that's floating around right now like The Martian, James SA Corey's Expanse novels, Leckie's Ancillary series and more. There's some great stuff out there, but from what I'm reading my stuff does kind of stand on its own, which really makes me happy. 

So yeah, I've just gone on and on a ton and I'm not sure that I really directly answered the question. Maybe I did, I'm not even sure anymore. Basically, I looked at a market that I loved, found an opening and decided that it was going to be where I make my name. Terminus Cycle was always meant to be the beginning of a series (because series are what sells right now) and I'm already halfway done with the follow-up novel to it that I plan to release the summer of this year. I hope to have a third out before the end of the year as well. I made the decision to scale back on my freelance work late last year and in August or so I went through with it. I was about 25,000 words deep into writing Terminus Cycle by mid-August when I quit and the other 70,000+ came between then and late October. 

I approached this book a lot more like a business decision than just "I'M PISSED OFF AND WANT TO VENT" like the last one was.

2) In terms of getting the book out to the public yourself, have you developed any new strategies this time?

Yeah, absolutely. The first one sold more than I imagined and I still sell copies to this day even though I do zero marketing for it. I've read horror stories of people releasing books on their own and moving zero copies. It's scary. I had some great support from my community when I released The Godslayer as well as my friends, so I'd at least sell those copies to friends and family, but it went well beyond that. So I thought, "what if I release something in a genre that people actually read?"

I did some reflection on The Godslayer and realized if I had made Alek Turner a washed-up rockstar that chances are I could have sold a lot more copies. I felt that the book was mostly focusing on just a guy and his struggles with his decisions in life, but people cared about his occupation and it was either a turn off or an attraction. The scary part for me with Terminus Cycle was I didn't have that same level of support right off the bat. I have almost ten years of experience working within Mixed Martial Arts and Kickboxing and zero in science fiction. In fact, I have more experience in the online professional wrestling community than I do with science fiction. I couldn't rely on some of the top sci-fi blogs in the world writing stories about my book like I could with my last one. 

The thing is, there are just more people who read science fiction out there and while I don't have those connections I'm working to build them. I set aside money this time to do stuff like press releases, buy ad space and come up with marketing ideas. So it was more of a business approach than the last time when I was just calling in favors and hoping to hell that it stuck.

I also started blogging about the whole process on my website, I try to update it on the first and fifteenth of the month and I just kind of share my thoughts on what I'm working on, how the process is working as well as the human side like the fears, the highs, the lows. 

3) How many people were involved in this project?

I'm not sure how I can even quantify that. Obviously it was just me, okay? No, really, while writing is a solitary thing what a lot of writers might not realize is how much you need other people. Running ideas by my wife in the car or before bed were vastly important, as was her support and willingness to let me leave some of my jobs and not make as much money to pursue this. It feels like cheating in a way, but it's obvious that I work incredibly hard day-in and day-out and stress about my work and future, so she doesn't mind much. 

I hired an artist to do my cover art. I had initially lined up a guy who works as an illustrator for LucasArts on Star Wars stuff, but he had lost his job at the time and needed commissions, then got his job back promptly and that fell apart. I was bummed because I wanted everything with this book to be PERFECT. I actually contacted one of my old friends from high school, Jenn Blake. She was actually in one of my art classes with me when I was a senior and she was I think a Freshman? She was kind of weird and into anime and stuff but she could really draw, so since she was kind of weird she sat with my friends and I. I think that we probably tormented her a bit, but we still became friends and she's my friend to this day. She's done illustration work for a while and I was just like "uh, hey, would you want to do something for me? I'll pay you." I wanted it to be unique, not just a space ship floating over a planet kind of thing. Terminus Cycle isn't some typical science fiction fare of alien cruisers blasting away at each other, it's a lot more subtle and character-driven and I kind of just said, "so, maybe something like this? Go wild." She did and I love it. I still did the layout and graphic design on my own because I'm like that, but still, I'm not a great illustrator and it's okay to get help.

Then of course there was editing. I had a friend do the last one as a favor and neither of us really knew what we were doing. He did a good job without any experience at all, but you know, we were both kind of knuckleheads about it. So I reached out to my good friend in New York, Liz DeGregorio. We had all worked together for a while and Liz was always the most detail-oriented person that I knew. She had helped me edit a non-fic book pitch a few years back and I just really like working with her so I practically begged her to work for me. I was impatient and wanted this out by mid-December, but she wasn't available until February to edit it. That turned out to be a good thing because of the revisions that I put into it before it got to her. 

The other thing is the people that read and gave feedback for me. That's always tough because you send stuff out to people for the first time and you hope that it doesn't suck, you also hope that everyone is honest and not just telling you what you want to hear. I sent out to something like two dozen people and got feedback from maybe seven or eight? That's how it crumbles because it's asking a lot to have someone sit down and read 100,000 words and give you thoughts on it. So you take what you can get. I got some really great feedback from people, though. Some of it was rough to hear but I needed to hear, some of it I really mulled over but found to be personal taste and the rest made me feel great about what I had done. That's what revision time is for and it's incredibly valuable. 

4) From start to finish, how long did it take to present this book to the public?

I guess if you want to count when I started actually writing it, which we'll say was late-2013/early-2014 about a year. I really went into overdrive working on it in late August and had finished writing the first draft by late October. I worked on revisions from about December to late January (took a month off to let people read) and then began working on the follow-up immediately. It's March 24th now and it's released, finally (although not the paperback, I'm working on that right now). In my head I like to think that I really started it in August and finished it in late October, but the whole process was maybe about a year.

Like I said I expect the next one to be a lot shorter, but that's just because of streamlining and not having outside distractions. 

5) What was your budget?

Budget was important. I had zero budget for my first book and I think that it probably showed. I set aside $1500 for this and the editing alone was more than half of that, distributing a press release was about $150, buying Facebook and Twitter ads has been a few hundred here and there (I'm awful at keeping track of these). There was the money for the illustration which was a few hundred as well. I also bought up a bunch of web domains that pertained to the book and the series, which is probably about $100, plus I have future plans for some promotional email stuff that'll be a few hundred bucks. 

I think that $1500 is about what I'll spend on this when all is said and done. I made well over that on my last one so I'm expecting to make that money back but I could just as easily not and it could be a great big flaming heap of failure. What I really wanted to stress with this is that I learned from the last one and wanted to do everything that I could to make this one as professional as possible. I paid more attention to graphic design and layout work in this, looked at professionally released ebooks and made sure that mine looked and operated just as good as those did. I also made sure that it was as tight as possible, that I won't look back at it in three years and say "why is this on the market?"

1 comment:

  1. Good that he spent only $1500 on the project especially if he isn't too sure what the reception is going to be. Sometimes, "I'M PISSED OFF AND WANT TO VENT" works! Thanks for your work on this Mladen Baudrand