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Chuck Wendig Interview: What in the blue blazes is Chuck Wendig up to? – Part Two

This is part two of our interview with Chuck Wendig. To read part one click here. Now back to the questions!

I wanted to ask a couple questions about TerribleMinds and writing in general as well. Not too long ago, and I may be blowing a bit out of proportion by describing it a back-and-forth between you and Hugh Howey. If I remember it correctly, he was saying self-publication was the only way to go, but you were saying it was a way and there are other ways.

Chuck Wendig

Well, to be fair to him, he wasn’t saying it was the only way to go. But what ultimately came out in his language both in the Salon article and later on the Kindle boards was that it was the best way to start. So in other words, if you are a new author and you say you want to begin and “What do I do”, he said you’re making a somewhat inferior choice to go with an agent and publisher right out of the gate. He said self-publish first, which is of course what he did.

Now, it worked for him, and he was incredibly successful at it. And he should be a good advocate for that sort of thing. And certainly his point is true that there are a lot of authors who are making what are effectively midlist-level salaries at the self-publishing level, and they should be lauded. They should be talked about. They really should be because that’s an incredible thing.

It’s just that with that being said, there are just as many people doing the other thing. So you can’t just say, “Well I have these 500 people who told me they did this, so now that is the way.” Yeah, well, here are 500 people who did it differently and are equally successful, so why can’t we be happy we have all of these options as opposed to that one thing you did.

You know, he was very successful, and sometimes people who are very successful don’t make great teachers because they’ve worn such a strong path that it’s hard to see other paths.

Fortunately, I’m not as successful as he is, wink, wink, nudge, nudge. Dammit.

But I think you have a very unique experience because you are so diversified in a lot of the ways you pursue writing, whether it’s games, self-publishing or going through a traditional model. What sort of factors do you weigh when you decide which path to choose? Is it a discussion with your agent?

It’s definitely a discussion with my agent. She is a very good and wise shepherd in this type of thing. Part of it comes down to is it something I think will connect with a traditional publisher?

Bait Dog (cover)I did a young adult series, my Atlanta Burns series. It started as a novella, and I Kickstarted a novel from it. I was afraid this was a really edgy young adult. It’s got a teenage girl on Oxycontin and Adderall, and she’s got a shotgun, and there’s some intimation of sexual abuse that goes on. So it’s dark. It’s on the hair’s edge of even—it couldn’t be a young adult. I knew publishing them might be tricky. And also I started it with a novella, and a novella isn’t going to be something a publisher will be eager to bust down and put out in a publishing sense. So you just weigh the options.

And one thing I think self-publishers maybe don’t do enough of is taking more risks. Publishing is very much about a certain degree of pattern and about repeating that pattern. You know, this romance sells, this cover sells. So if you are writing that sort of thing, it’s easy to slot into the publishing machine. Understandably, they’re a business, and they want to make money, and they try to make the patterns.

Self-publishing doesn’t rely on any of that, so it’s a shame sometimes to see self-publishing so overwhelmed with people doing the same thing. You see more of the same kind of covers, more of the same kind of romance or science fiction. Why don’t you do something different with format? You can be as long or as short as you need it to be. You can be as serialized as you need it to be. Self-publishing doesn’t need to just be like, “Well, it’s an ebook novel and it looks just like what you’d see on the shelves,” or, unfortunately, in some cases, worse. So why not take some risks and get crazy with it?

So, to me, it’s about weighing those risks and finding out what makes the most sense for the book and the audience.

Do you think the e-pub will bring back the novella? I’ve been hearing a lot of established authors now experimenting with novellas where they may have been hesitant to do so when that market wasn’t there.

Shotgun Gravy (cover)Yeah, it’s there. I did it, and it transitioned into a novel, which actually got picked up by one of Amazon’s publishers—Amazon children’s publishing which became Skyscape. Yeah, totally. I think it’s viable.

I don’t think it’s necessarily a Renaissance for the novella. I don’t think enough people are necessarily taking advantage of it. And I still think there is some sense of readers wanting something bigger, and they feel it’s more valuable when it’s a bigger, longer story. The logic was the larger the book on the shelf, the more valuable they thought it was. Even if it was terrible, well, it’s huge, so I’m getting a lot for my money.

Amazon, for as helpful as it has been to authors in a lot of ways, it doesn’t organize its catalog really well. A lot of stuff keeps building up and building up, and there’s not a lot of delineation. They do a good thing with Kindle Singles, and that’s kind of a new, cool thing. But they should actually come up a new category for novellas. I think that would be pretty hot. They should call me. They should get on that and hire me for millions of dollars to do that. And I’ll do that for them. I’ll probably be drunk and fall asleep, so maybe they shouldn’t do that.

Now, as far as new authors who are listening to Howey’s advice, it’s their first novel, and they have it edited well, and it can stand apart. Is there something you’ve learned that you would tell them—a way to stand out in that Amazon algorithm?

It’s actually about standing out outside the Amazon algorithm. There are a few books out there, I think, David Gaughran writes them. Books like Let’s Promote [editor’s note: I believe Chuck meant to say Let’s Get Digital or Let’s Get Visible]—books that are very strong about teaching you to work that algorithm.

Irregular Creatures (cover)But for me, at least in my experience, I’ve tried to stand outside of that by using my blog or twitter feed. I mean, well I do promote my books, but it’s more about being funny or educational or profane in a kind of way or whatever it is that attracts an audience that ostensibly likes me as an author and will almost treat me as a genre. They will not come to me through urban fantasy, but they will read what I write regardless of what genre it falls in.

So that would be the advice I would give a new writer. Move outside that space. Worry less about marketing and promotion. Just be an interesting author and a capable author and write the best book you can possibly write. Obviously, there’s a lot more nuance to it than that, but it’s a good start.

It’s funny because some of this comes from a post Hugh Howey did today about platform. He actually had no platform. He started with serialized novellas, and they got huge and did really well. And I don’t think it was necessarily because he had this awesome author reach. At least the way his agent told it at the Writer’s Digest conference, it was like he sort of came out of nowhere. And that’s really hard to replicate. So how do you tell someone, “Well, do what I did. Write with no audience, and hope someone buys it.”

Everyone does their own thing. We all dig our way through the tunnels and dynamite our own way.

You mentioned the Kickstarter novel. What have been your takeaways from that? Would you do it again?

Under The Empyrean Sky (cover)I would totally do it again, if I had the time. Right now I’m blessedly very busy, but if I had time, I would do it again. The takeaway is that you have to have an audience there. You know, rock stars will jump off the stage and crowd surf? Kickstarter is about crowd surfing to the stage, not away from it. If you don’t have people to crowd surf you to the stage, you will fall on your face like that poor ballerina I mentioned earlier, and you will bleed in front of everybody.

You can’t just put it up and say, “I’ve got a Kickstarter,” and wait for the money to come rolling in. Kickstarter will do a little bit of promotion, and certainly some people will randomly find it, but, generally speaking, it will go dead for 30 days. A Kickstarter is almost like its own little narrative arc. You’ve got an inciting incident, you’ve got to keep up momentum through the mushy middle, and then a big climax at the end. So you need people to share that with you, to collaborate with you.

So about TerribleMinds in general. One of the things that I find it has in common with John Scalzi’s blog is that it gives great advice about the business side of writing that has a your mileage might vary take on it. Like, “Here’s what worked for me, let’s talk about it, maybe it won’t work for you.” But underlying it all has always been this love of writing and that you are happy doing what you do and want to help people do it. I’ve always found that approach to be much better than just lecturing.

Well I appreciate that. I consider myself very fortunate to do what I do. There are writers out there who will complain about it. I mean, I obviously complain about the day to day—“Ugh, today was a hard day, like pulling teeth out of a wolf’s a$$hole,” or whatever it was—but in the grand scheme of things, I’m very fortunate to do what I do. I could be doing a hundred other things that would be less satisfying and frankly more difficult. But I get to make up things all day for money. Oh no, how sad is my life?

So maybe to put some pavers down and some tiki torches to light the path for other writers, that’s great.

For people who are unaware of your Penmonkey books, is there a good one you’d suggest people pick up first?

250 Things You Should Know About Writing (cover)Yeah, I think 250 Things You Should Know About Writing because it’s a buck. It’s a very simple investment to find out if you are willing to commit to the creative anger and profanity style of my weird, poetic, Zen, insanity vulgar, whatever. [Laughs]

I still get people who write the one star reviews. “This was dirty. This was foul-mouthed.” It says it, right there in the description: profanity. I’m sorry.

From there, if they like that, they may move further into those books.

You mentioned you were very busy. I think you have, what, at least three other books coming out this month?

I have two books coming out in May, maybe two books coming out in July. What came out in the early part of May was a book called Gods and Monsters: Unclean Spirits, which is the start of a shared world series put out by Abbadon and Solaris. It’s a sort of gods have fallen to earth—a sort of American Gods riff—but a little more horror, urban fantasy, more action-oriented. There’s already a novella that came out with that by Pat Kelleher called Drag Hunt, which is quite literally about Coyote looking for his lost penis. And in Gods and Monsters there are a great deal of wangs and vaginas of the divine kind. I don’t know what happened there, they were just in there. So that happened.

And The Blue Blazes comes out at the end of May—May 28. And we already talked about that a little bit.

Beyond Dinocalypse (cover)In July, my first young adult book drops with Amazon, called Under the Empyrean Sky, the premise of which began as something of a joke. I posted on TerribleMinds at one point, saying, “Let’s come up with some funny sub-genres.” Something-punk. You know, this-punk and that-punk. Funny-punk. It’s punk-punk. And I came up with “corn-punk.” It’s a future run on corn, ha ha. But then I thought, “Well, that’s actually creepy, because corn is sorta scary these days.” So I started extrapolating that, and I created this very sunny, dustbowl, agricultural dystopia in the far-flung future where corn has taken over. And it’s about a young boy struggling against the rich people who live in big ships above his head. So the first book of that comes out in July.

And the sequel to my Spirit of the Century-themed novel, Dinocalypse Now, Beyond Dinocalypse comes out around that same time.

Great, thank you for your time and for talking to Fantasy-Faction.

My pleasure.

We would like to thank Mr. Wendig again for taking the time to speak with us. The Blue Blazes is out today. You can read our review of it here.

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One Comment

  1. Avatar Dan Blank says:

    Just wanted to say thank you for this.

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