On Writing Fiction

Writing fiction is intoxicating. Fully engaging. Hot. Sexual. Physical. Mental. Spacial. Virtually touching real if I'm doing it right. Alone in my TuffShed/office, pounding on the laptop keyboard, creating stories filled with people, then enter the scene, a million miles from solitude...

I'm never lonely writing fiction, or bored. Frustrated, quite a bit, trying to get the full picture—the richness of the characters and story in my head out, and onto the monitor. And after editing for the twentieth, or fiftieth time, what I pictured in my minds eye is generally on the page.

Writing fiction is one expensive addiction. Beyond the writing programs and courses, beyond the cost of writers conferences, and sending out manuscripts, query letters, there is the time—the endless hours after my 'real' job, invested in actually writing. TV's out. Socializing, virtually never. I write fiction when I can, whenever I can.

Like jacking off, other than actually writing fiction, there isn't much reward. I write to be read, so I put my work out there to agents and publishers, but mostly I've been rejected. And it hurts. Bad. Agents, in particular, have been egregious in responding with even a modicum of humanity. They require writers to spend hours researching the books they represent, articles and information about them, then expect us to regurgitate this information in our query letter, along with paying for postage and/or copies of our manuscripts. They send back a half sheet of paper with a xerox of their rejection, or an email often addressed to “Dear Author,” if they respond at all, which is rare.

Fiction writers who are 'lucky' enough to get their worked picked up by a publisher aren't much better off. Most publishers do little or no marketing, other than on their own websites, to promote their authors. And I know many bestselling authors, some with major publishers, who don't make enough on their fiction to support them. They, too, have 'real' jobs, and must write in their free time to survive. Some are privileged enough to have spousal support, are retired with pockets of cash or a pension, or have inheritance. I envy them being able to jack off all day!

Been writing my entire life—journaling at first, then endeavoring into screenplays, novels and such after study. The process is such a turn-on that I feel compelled to write fiction, reward or not. Like any addict, I've done some stupid things to get my work out there and read, in hopes of being able to make enough to write full time.

My latest debacle was going with an indie publisher for my novel, Reverb. Thrilled to be accepted after over a year of rejections from agents and 'real' publishers, I gratefully signed a contract that stripped me of my rights to my work for over five years. The first two and a half years it sat on her desk. She then edited it with me via Google Docs for three weeks, insisting I put in all her recommended changes, which massacred the story and character development. Next, she hired her niece, I think, to design the cover. It was so horrible, reviewers (and readers) mentioned it again and again as tacky, and that it did not represent the writing inside. When I asked her if I could design the cover myself, she balked. My 'real' job—I'm a CD/AD of over 25 years. I've designed many book covers, was an Art Director at Windsor Publications for several years out of college, but she still insisted she knew best, and went with her version. Killed the possibility as an emerging writer of getting read, since a good percentage of unknown authors are judged by their book cover alone.

Marketing the novel is the only other chance of getting read. She did none, nothing, left it solely up to me to do all my own marketing. Some book reviewers I found willing to take on Reverb required a note from a publisher. When I notified mine with their request, she couldn't be bothered. She stuck my book on Amazon, had it published through Ingram and Lightning Source so it flooded the internet with places to purchase it, and that was it. Our contract expired in December, yet she refuses to take down the hundreds of sites it continues to sell on. She claims rights to the edited work forever, has yet to pay me anything, has shown me sales records just once, a year ago, for only paperback, even though the greater percentage of my [very meager] sales are ebooks.

Six years ago, when I originally went looking for representation, self-publishing on Amazon hadn't arrived yet. Back then, self-publishing costs money, money I still feel loathed to invest, cutting into our family budget to support my addiction, since I dedicate so much of my time and energy to writing already.

My ex-publisher warned me not to write this blog. She threatened it would hurt me more than her, make me look the fool. And yes. I was. Maybe, probably, still am. Other writers have cautioned me that agents and publishers will never rep me if I made public my experiences trying to get my fiction picked up, putting them down in the process. So be it. I am compelled to share my journey so far, and will continue to do so, if nothing else, to help other writers on their path to getting read beyond their lover, or mother.

Going to self-publish Reverb this time. Start with Amazon, maybe Barnes & Noble, chat up the book online, get reviews from bloggers and readers to help promote it. While it's true, I can hire book marketing contractors pushing their services on LinkedIn, and for $5,000 they'll put Reverb #1 on Amazon for a bit by buying copies then trashing them...or increase sales by paying for book reviews that tout the work as brilliant because I'm paying them to, I will do neither. Reverb is “an excellent read. Gripping, engaging, well told, very real,” according to a reviewer recently, especially now that I've had a chance during the five years it was locked up with Zumaya to polish it. “A good work will get out there, publisher or no (we hope!),” the reviewer assured me.

Hope springs eternal...


Anonymous said...

Ah hindsight!! Thanks for a cautionary tale. I disagree with you about writing being jacking off, it is also creating something that didn't exist before, and can appeal to our aesthetic sense, as opposed to our carnal. Jacking off is very rarely a form of art ...

J. Cafesin said...

I knew that term would offend, though my DH assured me it was appropriate to the piece...perhaps because he understood I meant writing fiction--making up tales and watching the movie unfold in my head feels that good!

J. Cafesin said...

If you'd like to read Reverb, please do NOT buy it with the Zumaya imprint. You can read the first three chapters of the novel here:


and purchase through the links on the reverbnovel.com site.


Ghnadine said...

I am writing now a sort of fictional adventurous story which also got me anxious to think how I will end it maybe even make a sequel . Not a lot of people read it but who did actually read part of it keep telling me please when will you finish it they where anxious and wanted me to tell them, the minute I publish it on Amazon to let them know. The hard part with such books is to stay and keep the same enthusiasm and to keep the reader interested from the beginning to the end. But it's so excited to work on it. Thank you also for sharing.