4/10: Instead of writing this morning, I spent my time cataloging my book and story ideas. All my ideas have been spread throughout a couple of moleskin notebooks. Some aren’t even ideas books or stories so much as snippets, potential titles, and even a stray logline. But since I have a love of spreadsheets, I created a spreadsheet to contain all of these. No I feel more organized and prepared to attack new projects when the time comes.
In comparison to marketing your books, writing them almost seems easy. Or if not easy, at least more concrete and rewarding. Marketing often feels like throwing darts at a board while wearing a blindfold. Added to that, one of the more difficult things for indie authors to achieve is finding their books on the shelves at actual bookstores. But I have a potential solution for that: think local for book marketing.
Despite having written three non-fiction books for lawyers and having some moderate success in marketing them to my audience, I was starting all over when it came time to promote my debut dark fantasy novel, Vulcan Rising, which I’ve written under the pen name J. W. Judge. (For more about the novel’s unsettling origin story, go here).
I reached out to ten or more podcasters about being a guest on their show. I didn’t receive a response from any of them. I emailed and DMed dozens or book bloggers and Instagram book reviewers. I heard back from only a couple. It was discouraging. I know I’ve written a good book. Everyone who’s read it has had good things to say. But I couldn’t get any traction in marketing it. It felt like I was about to birth this thing into the void when it releases on June 1. It wasn’t until I started to think local for my book marketing that I found some success.
Think Local for Your Book Marketing Needs
To start with, I’ve done all the right things. I have set up distribution as widely as I can so that Vulcan Rising is available in as many stores as possible. I’m doing some content marketing on this blog and have set up an author website so that when people search for me or the book, there are search results to be had. But when it came to getting word out about the book, I just wasn’t having any success.
Then I had an idea. As I was checking in on which retailers were already carrying the book, I saw it listed on Indie Bound. This was the catalyst for my new marketing strategy. I searched Indie Bound’s directory for all the independent booksellers within 100 miles of me, which includes the three of the four largest cities in Alabama: Birmingham, Montgomery, and Huntsville.
I went to the websites or Facebook pages for each of them in search of their email addresses or contact pages. I sent them this message:
I’m a lawyer in Birmingham, and I’ve written a dark fantasy novel (the first in a trilogy) that is set in Birmingham. It’s available through Ingram. I wanted to reach out about seeing if you’d be interested in carrying the book in your store. I’d be glad to send you an advance copy for you to read.
Logline: Even the most deeply buried past can find its way back to you.
Summary: Agatha and Joseph are raising a family in the quiet suburbs south of Birmingham. But the secrets of Agatha’s past threaten to expose themselves after Joseph investigates a noise he hears in the middle of the night and stumbles upon a world that he did not even know existed.
When their son Thomas is kidnapped, Joseph and Agatha have to rely on each other to figure out why he was taken and how to get him back, whatever the cost. Along the way, Agatha discovers to her horror that even her most deeply buried secrets are finding their way back to her. And the consequences are inescapable.
Vulcan Rising is the first book in The Zauberi Chronicles trilogy. It is a work of contemporary/dark fantasy where Stephen King’s The Institute meets Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart.
About the Author: I am a lawyer by day and a writer in the wee morning hours before the sun breaks the horizon. Although I have authored three non-fiction books (under my given name), Vulcan Rising is my debut novel.
Publisher: Scarlet Oak Press
Publication Date: June 1, 2021 in e-book (9781733665599), paperback (9781733665582), and hard cover (9781954974005) formats.J. W. Judge
Of the dozen stores I reached out to, four responded within a couple of days. Three had placed pre-orders for the book already, and two of them wanted to talk about doing author events during the summer.
I’m not expecting a huge payoff from any of that. But it starts the ball rolling. Maybe it leads to some sales and some word of mouth marketing. Or maybe it just fizzles. Who knows? But it felt good to have a couple of small successes.
Now the book is going to be sold in stores that it otherwise wouldn’t have. All because I asked. Based on the success there, I’m going to expand the geographical reach of reaching out to more stores. But more importantly, I’m going to make sure I think local for my book marketing.
My lack of steady progress in my current writing project, Walls Ascending, has been a source of consternation of the last two months. But to be clear, it hasn’t been the book itself that has been frustrating. I’ve written the first twenty-five percent, and I think it’s a compelling story so far, and a good tie-in to its predecessor, Vulcan Rising (link). Something else has been at the root of inconsistency for me. It just took me a while to sort out what that was.
The rate of my progress has been quite stilted, which stands in stark contrast to how I wrote Vulcan Rising — almost daily writing for fourteen weeks from start to finish. But Walls Ascending has been an unexpectedly different experience.
January was a pretty good month, in which I wrote for sixteen days in Walls Ascending. There were other days I had to work on other projects or didn’t do any writing. Then came February, when I wrote eleven out of the first fourteen days. I was making steady progress. But then everything fell off a cliff. After Valentine’s day, I didn’t write again until March 23. While I had spent about a week of in March doing the final pass at Vulcan Rising, the great majority of the month saw no creative work being done.
So a few days ago, when I got frustrated about the resistance I was feeling in getting back into the story, I tried to figure out what was going on. What was at the root of my inconsistency?
Digging in to Find the Root of Inconsistency
When I dug in, I realized it wasn’t the story that was problematic. It wasn’t that I had some sort of writer’s block. What has been happening is that I have had an extraordinarily stressful last couple of months at work. I’ve had two jury trials to prepare for, neither of which ended up trying for various reasons. There have been countless other hearings I’ve had to argue and briefs I’ve written. And I’ve been working between 50-60 hours per week for the last six weeks or more.
So when it came time to sit down and write creatively, my brain gave be a “hard pass.” It was taxed. It had no extraneous decision making left to give me, because work has been requiring so much.
There are times when I can work more than hours per week consistently, and it’s not overly stressful. But that is entirely dependent on the nature of the work being done. It’s almost like a pitcher’s pitch count in baseball. Not all pitch counts are created equal.
A pitcher might be in the seventh inning, having thrown 105 pitches, but his team has been in the lead the whole game. He’s still feeling good with plenty of life left in his arm. But another night, he might have racked up 80 pitches by the fourth inning. He’s had runners on the bases all night. His team isn’t producing runs. It’s been one stressful situation after another, and he’s already gassed.
That second scenario has been the first three months of 2021 for me. Stressful days and weeks stacking onto of each other, compounding their effects. The result is that when it’s time for my brain to write witty banter between two characters, it tugs at its ball cap to tell the manager it needs a meeting on the mound.
Do Some Self-Assessment When You Hit an Inconsistent Patch
At some point, you’re going to find that a confluence of life events has conspired against you to prevent your creative work from being done. You may not at first recognize the source of the problem. I know I didn’t.
But once you realize there’s a problem, don’t freak out. The Muse hasn’t abandoned you forever. You haven’t lost your ability to do your creative work. You haven’t encountered an immovable writer’s block.
It may be that your brain is just saying, “I can’t do this right now. Could we instead have some rest? That would do me a lot of good.”
Of course, you may be like me and not be very good at resting. That can be its own source of stress. But dwelling too much on that may derail this particular train. Once you’ve searched out the root of inconsistency and discerned whether it’s something that is present for a reason or a season, allow yourself time to recover before digging back into your creative work.
For me, I took a couple of mornings to write this article, rather than attempting to force my way back into Chapter 10 of Walls Ascending. I was supposed to be in trial this week, but on Monday morning, we were informed that the trial won’t be going forward. But all that pent-up energy, anxiety, and stress doesn’t dissipate like air from a popped balloon. It’s bleeds off slowly like a tire with a small leak.
Now that I’ve become cognizant of the problem, I’m trying to give my mind ample opportunity to get itself right. I’ve got a few relatively non-stressful weeks ahead of me. So I want to be in a proper head space to take advantage of them by pounding out the next few chapters of Walls Ascending.
3/28: 373 words. I started scene today that is going to initiate some significant discoveries in Walls Ascending. It’s the first scene of Middle Build 1, and I am really writing into the dark here.
But more importantly, I listened to an episode of Mythcreants today called Exploitation and Appropriation. One of the things they discussed was not unnecessarily including rape or sexual assault events in your novel. Walls Ascending has a couple of scenes in which such things have occurred off stage; I don’t believe them to be gratuitous, and they’re based on real life events. But I don’t want to disable anyone from enjoying the book, so I’m going to remove those occurrences. I think I can still portray the monstrous nature of the antagonist without that being present.
3/25: 626 words. After having written for three consecutive days, I have finished Chapter 9 of Walls Ascending, and we’re about to enter the Middle Build. Just as with Vulcan Rising, we are at the part of the book where I no longer know exactly what is happening next. It feels a lot like walking into a cavernous room while having only a candle to light my way.
3/24: 566 words this morning. I’m on a two-day run. I could have had more words, but I spent an inordinate amount of time working on a symbol that’s going to have some significance in Walls Ascending.
I might as well show it since I spent so much time working on it. I found it more difficult than expected to get six intersecting circles aligned just right.
When people ask me how I came up with the idea for Vulcan Rising, I don’t mind telling them. But they almost universally seem disappointed. It wasn’t what they expected. They don’t know what they expected, but it wasn’t what they heard. Besides that, they find it unsettling that others are walking around with tales of dark and fantastical things rattling around in their heads.
I can almost see the regret formulate within them. They wish they’d never asked. Their perception of me has changed, and there’s no putting the genie back in the bottle. But that’s okay. It’s not me that has changed, just their understanding of who I am. The shadow side was always part of me; they just hadn’t been acquainted with it before.
In the vein of transparency, I don’t mind telling you about the genesis of Vulcan Rising. Then you can cast or reserve your judgment as you see fit.
The Origin Story for Vulcan Rising
This isn’t the first novel I thought I would write. It’s not the first novel I’ve tried to write. Nor the second. But sometimes the muse is working behind the scenes, aligning things just right so that you’ll be ready when the time comes.
Three of the chapters in this book were inspired by real life situations. And while I wrote them down as they transpired, it didn’t occur to me until the third one that I could write a novel that featured these events. That was at the end of August 2020. By early December, I had finished my first draft of Vulcan Rising.
In early January 2020 (before the world went sideways here in the United States), my five year old, Jack, started calling for me in the middle of the night. I looked at the clock and saw that it was 3:40am. With only an hour and twenty minutes left until my alarm was set to go off, I knew that my good sleep was pretty much done for.
I went up to his room and tried to coax him back to sleep. But when he told me that he couldn’t sleep because he didn’t want to be alone anymore, I felt really bad for him and laid down beside him.
But in that little bed with only a minimum of covers made available to me, my mind started racing. And I came up with the scene where Thomas finds Ning in his bed and dismisses Joseph to return to his own.
A Return to Transcribing Dreams
A couple of weeks later, I had a really strange dream. As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been a vivid dreamer. For a time during my 20s, I wrote down my dreams. But that seemed to somehow magnify their intensity and creepiness, so I stopped. Then the dreams returned to their baseline weirdness levels.
More recently, I’ve started writing down dreams that are particularly interesting and stick with me. I’ve started letting my dreams fuel my fiction writing, rather than let them dissipate into the ether.
In late January, I had a dream that was graphic and surreal. I remembered every detail — three men were kidnapping a pegasus colt, and I stopped them in my driveway and shot one of them; then I had to return the mythical creature to its mother.
I had an inkling the dream could be the inciting incident for a much bigger story. But what I had in mind then was a much different story than what Vulcan Rising became.
Fast forward seven months to August 2020. Sometimes you have weird interactions with your kids. It seems like their brains are working overtime all the time. Not infrequently, those conversations lead to story ideas. So when that happens, I try to run as far and fast as I can with it.
One morning, Jack came down from his room and snuggled up right beside me on the couch. He was unusually somber and his responses to my conversation prompts were monosyllabic and noncommittal. His demeanor caused my mind to wander, thinking about its potential causes. One of which was whether he thought he’d seen something in the stairwell. Perhaps, he had. Whatever it was, it probably wasn’t a chimera. But who’s to say for sure.
3/23: For the first time since Valentine’s Day, I wrote part of a scene. It felt good to get back to writing. Or mostly good. The absence meant that it was difficult to get back into the flow of the story. And there was a part of my brain that kept telling me that what I was writing wasn’t good. But I kept writing, knowing I can edit it later. So I’ll count my 428 words as a win and plan to do the same tomorrow.
It’s been about two weeks since I posted on here. During that time, I was making the final round of revisions to Vulcan Rising. I’ve now sent the manuscript off to my audiobook narrator. So we really are in the home stretch of getting the book ready for launch.
And now I can finally get back into writing Walls Ascending. I printed off everything I’ve written so far so I can read it and get back into things. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written any part of the novel, and I’m feeling a bit disconnected from it right now.
After writing more than two thousand words last weekend, which represented a real breakthrough compared to what I’d been experiencing for the rest of the month of February, I haven’t written any words this week. This feels like a betrayal of myself. But it can hardly be helped.
What I have done is revise the first ten chapters of Vulcan Rising. Just some cleanup editing. I hope to do another twenty chapters or so this weekend, then finish up with it next week. Then I can truly put this behind me, except for the marketing, and really focus on Walls Ascending.8