Have You Written Your Best Work Years Ago?

While watching Joan Jett at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga three weeks ago, she announced that she will play songs from her new album, “Unvarnished,” and, with some hesitation, the classic songs we all know and love. I saw the bittersweet moment on her face that she knew that her fans will always remember her for the songs she wrote years ago. A dilemma many creative people will face sooner or later.

Jett could have joined many other classic bands in touring around the nation to play the hit songs from her early career without ever writing a new song or recording another album. That’s not her style. After 37 record labels rejected her first solo album in 1980, she created her own record label and pushed the boundaries for what a female musician can do. She writes new songs and makes new albums that may never ever earn the same level of fan appreciation as her earlier hits.

So many fans regarded Stephen King’s “The Stand” as his magnun opus that he could have died after its publication in 1978 and be content with that, ignoring his many other novels and “The Dark Tower” series and that came afterward. J.K. Rowlings may never write anything that surpasses the Harry Potter novels, but she keeps writing new novels under her name and a pen name. The easy way out would be to pull a JD Salinger by not publishing anything more and cashing in the royalty checks.

If my ebook sales are any indication, I’ve written my best work years ago.

Okay, maybe not. I haven’t written a magnun opus for my fans to declare their undying devotion. My earliest short story ebooks sell better than my recent short story ebooks, leaving my “mid-list” ebooks to sag in the middle. I’ve had nagging doubts about the quality of my writing over the last few years, a constant tug of war between double checking the old stuff and writing the new stuff. The only way to side-step the doubts is to plunge myself into writing something new, get into the creative moment and go with the flow. The mobile office has been a great help in writing a handful of new flash stories for the summer. With renewed confidence, my best work is yet to come.

On a related musical note, Victor Willis, the original police officer in the 1970’s Village People disco band (which played at the Mountain Winery the following week after Joan Jett), regains the copyrights to his classic songs like “YMCA” and “In The Navy” after signing them away years ago by invoking an obscure provision of the 1978 copyright law. That’s heartening. Since I’m signing away my copyrights into an intellectual properties holding company (IPHC) to keep them separate from my publishing business and myself as an individual, I might run into this situation if I ever lose control of the IPHC.

The Zombie Hunters Book Two

My favorite web comic, “The Zombie Hunters,” has a Kickstarter project to fund the production of the second print book. Kickstarter has become a popular way for web comic artists to publish their content into a print book and offering fans little extras for their support. I selected the Books One and Book Two combo for $55 USD, as I didn’t get Book One when it first came out several years ago.

After exceeding the minimum funding goal of $16,000 with a week to spare, Jenny, the artist, explains how she and her husband, Greg, are putting the book together. All the web comic pages are printed out and placed into a binder to find various errors, especially the balloon dialog font with an inconsistent capital “l” that requires attention. Two passes have used three toner cartridges to print out the pages. A third pass will go to the copy editor to find more errors. Meanwhile, she will touch up the artwork before placing them into the InDesign file that will go to the printer.

This is a similar process I’m going through to assemble my speculative short story collection for publication as a full-length ebook next year.

I bought a new Brother HL-5470DW printer that was on sale during the Labor Day weekend to replace my seven-year-old Brother HL-5250DN printer with less than 1,500 pages left on the drum. With the cost of a replacement drum being more than a new printer, buying a new printer with updated features (i.e., faster printing, more memory and AirPrint to print directly from the iPad) during a holiday sale was a no brainer. I’m printing on the old printer until the drum fails so I can dump it into the recycling bin.

I’ve printed, stapled or butterfly clipped, and hole punched each story before placing into a binder. I’ll be reviewing, removing/adding and revising 40 stories in the next six months. The hardest part will be deciding what order to arrange the stories in, as flash stories, short stories and a novella each takes up one-third of the collection. Assembling a collection is no easy task, which I’ve done several times for contests in the past.

There will be no Kickstarter project to turn my first short story collection into a printed book. A successful Kickstarter project requires an established fan base to achieve the minimum funding goal. Web comic artists who spent years building up their archives and fan base can sometimes exceed their minimum funding goals by unbelievable multiples. Based on my web traffic and ebook sales numbers, I don’t have much of a fan base. I’ll be implementing many changes over the next year to turn that around.

Are You Interviewing Yourself At Smashwords?

A new marketing feature available to Smashwords authors is creating your own ten question interview that will appear on the interviews page, your author profile page and cross linked to your ebook pages. Log into your Smashwords account, click on Account in the navigation bar, and click on “Create or edit your interview” to start the guided process. You can answer any of the pre-written questions or write your own.

Having gone through the growing pains and technical glitches since signing up with Smashwords in 2010, I was quite surprised by how polished the whole interface was for creating the interview. As a writer, I tend to jump around and come back to difficult passages later. The interface accommodated me as I went back and forth in writing, revising and polishing each answer, and then rearranging each question into a logical order. I spent three days putting my interview together.

Here are the pre-written questions that I answered for my interview.

  • What motivated you to become an indie author?
  • Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
  • When did you first start writing?
  • When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
  • Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
  • What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
  • What do you read for pleasure?
  • Describe your desk?
  • What are you working on next?

I’m planning to republish my interview on my author website in the near future and include it as an appendix to the annual blog posting ebook. (I specifically asked Mark Coker at Smashwords about republishing the interview and he said it was okay.) Over time I’ll remove old questions and add new questions on Smashwords, while keeping old questions and adding new questions to my republished interview.

I’m hoping that the interview will help spur ebook sales on the Smashwords website. All my ebooks sales on Smashwords come from the distribution catalog (i.e., Apple, Barnes & Noble, Diesel, Kobo, Sony, etc.). Unless I make my ebooks available for FREE during the Read-An-eBook week in March and the Smashwords July Summer/Winter sale promotions, I rarely get any direct sales through the website.

If you have any questions you would like me to answer, please ask in the comments.