Path to Publication 2.2: On Being A Writer And Having Poor Impulse Control

My debut novel, New Yorked, will be published by Exhibit A Books in January 2015. Until then, I'll be writing about the path to getting that book published...

My first novel is the start of a series. In my last column, I talked a bit about the process of researching the sequel, City of Rose. You'd think, in the month since that column ran, I would have gotten a lot of work done. And you would be wrong!

If I were a smart person, I would have used my impending purchase of an XBox One as an incentive to work harder. I should have said: "Self, you can buy the XBox One only when you finish the first draft of your next book. Then you can play a straight week of Titanfall as a palate cleanser, before you have to get into the editing process." 

If I were a smart person, I would have used my impending purchase of an XBox One as an incentive to work harder... But I have poor impulse control.

But I have poor impulse control. So I bought it. And really, it's the definition of a catch-22: I wanted to use my advance to treat myself to something, and in the process turfed my chances of having the free time to write another book. And you know what? I'm fine with that. Titanfall, man. There is something so viscerally satisfying about being pinned down by enemy fire and then summoning a giant robot from the sky and then climbing inside it to fire rockets at people. Especially after a long day. 

(If you ever want to grab a match, my handle is robwhart. I'm deadly with the arc grenades.)

So, all these hours I've spent pumping bullets into skulls and ripping arms off robots has got me thinking a lot about how being a writer changes after you sell a book. The thing that used to be a calling suddenly becomes a job. It's still an amazing, wonderful, privilege of a job—but a job none the less.

Which means I've also been thinking about my work ethic. I tend to trap myself in a vicious cycle where I decide that I can't write unless I'm inspired, which is pretty dumb and self-absorbed. Or I come home after a long day dealing with, dive into my responsibilities with LitReactor, and end the day so cross-eyed I can't imagine staring at the computer screen for another second. 

And yet, I'm already hearing the siren call of a stand-alone novel I want to write. And I've got enough ideas that my agent and I are having a hard time deciding which one I should prioritize. Which is a good thing. The door is open and all I have to do is stick my foot in, keep it from closing, and power through. Which means I need to apply my ass to my seat and write. 

Woe is me, right? But the thing I really need to think about is process. Coming up with a ritual of some kind and sticking to it. I'm not sure if it's a set number of words (1,000 words a day), or a set amount of time (at least one hour of fiction writing), but I need something. I'm curious to hear from the writers in the crowd—what are your rituals? Word counts? Timing? Time of the day? Phase of the moon? 

Getting all official and stuff

Speaking of the job part, I had a conference call with my publisher about marketing—me, my editor, Bryon Quertermous, Publicity Manager Caroline Lambe, and the North American Sales and Marketing Manager Mike Underwood. Great, smart, enthusiastic people, who are excited about the book and have some cool ideas on how to get this thing out into the world.

I'm helped along here a bit, considering I sell books for a living over at, so I came into the call with a big list of ideas, and they were able to focus that list, and make it actionable, and then expand on it. It's interesting how, after spending so much time in such solitude on this thing, that it's suddenly turning into a team effort. There are people with a stake in this. 

There's a lot of cool stuff on the horizon. I have a unique idea for a book trailer. I've got an idea for a marketing campaign, and I don't want to use the word viral, because the word viral annoys me, but that's probably how most people would describe it. We even talked about the possibility of a book tour—I may be able to visit a couple of cities for events after this thing comes out. 

There's still a tinge of the unreal to all of this. The release date is still so far off, and I don't have a cover, or my edits, and I'm just facing the prospect of how this story is going to grow, and what it's going to mean to my future and my career, and it's a little scary—but damn, it's also a lot of fun. 

Speaking of events...

I think I decided something: I'm not going to read from my book when I'm at events. 

There are a couple of reasons for that: 

  • It's not a complete story, so there's no way you can't leave the audience hanging. 
  • It doesn't have the cadence of something that was written to be "performed." 
  • If someone is coming to a live event, do I want to read from the thing they're probably going to read anyway, or give them something fun and exclusive? 

I did read the opening of the book—half the first chapter—at Noir at the Bar in Baltimore. It was particularly exciting because it was two days before we made the official announcement about signing with Exhibit A, but I was able to tell the crowd, so they were the first ones to hear about it. And then I gave them a sneak peak at what was coming up. But I wasn't a huge fan of reading the work out loud—it felt like I was leaving too much off the table. I couldn't even get to the landing point at the end of the chapter, to bring it home. 

I think it's more enjoyable to write something specifically for readings. I did that for the last Noir at the Bar in NYC, and it was a hell of a lot of fun. It also gets you thinking about the mechanics of reading. I feel like there are a couple of things you SHOULDN'T do at a reading: Read a dialogue heavy piece (unless you're really good at doing voices, so the listeners can differentiate). Read something that requires a lot of set-up, so you spend five minutes just explaining the piece. Not making the audience laugh or cringe—you need to give them something to remember. 

There's a freedom is writing something that's specifically written to be read. Then you have the opportunity to play with the sound of it, with the spacing of the lines and the timing of big jokes. 

I'm working on a short right now for the next Noir at the Bar (see below) that I'm pretty excited about. And it serves a few purposes: It keeps something active in my writing queue, it challenges me to try something new, it has me thinking about performance and live readings and being better at them (because it's an area where I need work). 

I'm curious to know—what do y'all think of live readings? What do you hope to get out of the reader? Do you prefer a short, or do you want to hear from the novel they're selling? 

News round-up

  • Do you live in or around New York City? On April 27, you should come to Noir at the Bar. It's at Shade, at 241 Sullivan Street in the West Village. I'll be reading. There's a lot of great writers on the slate, and booze, and crepes. It'll be a good time. Starts at 6 p.m.
  • Check out the Spring 2014 issue of NEEDLE: A Magazine of Noir. I have a story inside called "Knock-Off." It was inspired by the crazy people who dress up as cartoon characters in Times Square to scam tourists. 
  • I've got a newsletter. Sign up if you're interested in learning about cool, exclusive stuff. Chances are you won't hear from me until the book is close to coming out, but hey, gotta get started sometime. 
  • Cheers to Nik Korpon, who just signed with Exhibit A. This is another reason I'm excited about where I am—they're cultivating a list of very cool, talented people. 
  • As you can see below, the Amazon page is live! There's not much on it, save the plot description and my first blurb. But... progress!
  • Any questions or comments? Fire away!

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NotMarilyn's picture
NotMarilyn from Twin Cities, MN is reading Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn April 21, 2014 - 6:39am

Since my daughters are both in school for only half of the day (the younger one is in Kindergarten), from 9:30 to noon(ish) is my work day. I keep my ass in the chair (except to pace and talk to myself) and write. Or not write. It doesn't matter if I just stare at the screen, but I have to be sitting at the computer. Keeping to the routine makes it not feel like work, just part of my day. It's like muscle memory--my fingers know that morning time is typing time. And no matter how tired I am, I snap into it as soon as I boot up the computer.  

I do have a daily word count goal (1300) but I average around 1000. My MS's usually have short chapters, so that equates to about a chapter a day and it does WONDERS for the psyche. The end of each chapter is like a finish line and as long as I reach it by "quitting time" I feel accomplished, no matter how far from THE END I am.


Gordon Highland's picture
Gordon Highland from Kansas City is reading Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore April 21, 2014 - 10:26am

The main factor in selecting a piece for a live reading is that it be fun or amusing. Especially if the audience doesn't know you or have any anticipation for getting a glimpse of a hyped new work or whatever. Readings can be so stuffy—boring, even—and you want to give them a good time. Which is why events like Noir at the Bar are so cool. I like to read multiple pieces when possible, with different tones, to display some range.

eirikodin's picture
eirikodin from Auburn, NY is reading Mediterranean Caper by Clive Cussler April 21, 2014 - 12:52pm

Routine is something that I constantly have to change.  My life and career, which is more of a lifestyle, is the definition of 'off the wall' and possibly even chaotic.  I had a great routine going when I was hiding in Philadelphia.  Work, lunch break writing, write after work for a few hours and then go to the pub.  Then I went back to sea because I'm insane.  

So now I try to write on lunch break and at the end of my twelve hour day.  I pretty much only have three hours a day to myself so when I come up to my state room tired the last thing I want to do is work even more.  I would rather spend my personal time going out into port, reading, watching a movie, take a shower because going to bed without one is just gross.

So when I come home, whenever that will be; hopefully a few months, one would think that I would spend all the time in the world writing.  As is usually the case I will most likely think "hey I can get trashed and not have to work hungover in the morning" or "hey I didn't know that game was out yet" and that will be that for the first month home.  This constant change of pace does a number on my writing especially when I sit down and do it so the best thing I can say is to enjoy writing on the fly.  Being able to write on the fly contributes to my concentration when I finally do get a routine going.  Best of luck to you.


Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated April 21, 2014 - 3:45pm

I get my best results when I look at my week instead of the day and let a sense of accomplishment spill over from other parts of my life.  

I work 12 hour shifts Sun., Mon., Tue., so like Leif said that isn't the best time to try to write.  I do make it a goal to get something done regarding writing on those days, but I leave my definition of that wide open and the bar low.  Wed. and Thur alternate as being my errand/sleep in day, Friday I get a lot done, and Saturday I get some done.  I try to have something I'm revising and something I'm writing, although that line gets blurry.

It doesn't really matter what I get done, even minor things, that feeling motivates me.


L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami April 21, 2014 - 8:53pm

That's the thing that intimidates be about getting published, even if its a poetry book. I'm not usre if I'd have the same joy in it to do 1,000 words a day (like I did with my last novella.)

voodoo_em's picture
voodoo_em from England is reading All the books by Ira Levin April 22, 2014 - 5:55am

My routine is to write at the same time everyday, mostly because my life is hectic and I fit it into the rare still moments between husband, kids, work, dogs and housework. I don't give myself a word count, just a vague plan of what I want to accomplish. My fear is forcing myself to write a certain amount will produce something stilted, forced and unnatural. That said I've written most of my favourite stories under threat of deadline so what do I know.

Regarding readings: I like short stories written especially for it. Or possible chapters that also work as a stand alone.


L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami April 22, 2014 - 4:41pm

Something that helps a bunch in the later chapters: Not only write every day, but also write the first have of the next chapter the night before. Particularly in the later chapters it feels a lot easier only having to do half the work.

So you might start out with 1,000 words, and then 600 words, and eventually get to the point where your only having to do 500 words a day because of the fact that the first half is written the night before. And then its easier to plow through chapters that drag that you will remove in editing later on.

Gordon Highland's picture
Gordon Highland from Kansas City is reading Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore April 22, 2014 - 5:13pm

Or at least leave yourself a good starting place for the next day, so you're not just staring at a blinking cursor. That takes restraint, though, to not execute what's in your head right now.

leah_beth's picture
leah_beth from New Jersey - now in Charleston, SC is reading five different books at once. April 23, 2014 - 4:15am

1. I feel like we just had a conversation FACE-TO-FACE(!!!) about the writing-things-to-be-read thing, and that's so cool! :D

2. I am definitely a ritual writer. I have a word count (2,000 words) that I have to hit every day I'm writing (M-F each week). That said, it's not always fiction, and the world of freelancing often crowds out the world of noveling. Which is a bummer, so sometimes I stop freelancing for a few weeks to novel. 

3. Caroline Lambe is sweet and fabulous. You're SO lucky to be working with her!