The Secret to Becoming a Great Author

It has recently come to my attention that I am too ugly for YouTube. That’s right. A kind viewer was recently kind enough to kindly point this out to me. And all these years, I thought I was this studly guy, when in fact, I could have been playing the lead role in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Nick Alimonos

Believe it or not, the image above was taken from my driver’s license. But then again, those always turn out to be the worst pictures. I guess I should count myself lucky, at least, for having married this beauty,

She gave me water.

That kid, btw, I am now convinced belongs to the mailman! Thanks anonymous viewer! Anyway, I thought my dreams of fame and fortune as a YouTube book critic were all but dashed, until I thought, what if Quasimodo had a YouTube channel? Or the Elephant Man? Would nobody watch? Even if he had something relevant, meaningful, even important to say? Well, I know I sure would . . . so I decided to continue my strange odyssey into video production.Just keep in mind, I am still new to this whole YouTube thing, and as with writing, I imagine it takes practice. So here it is, for your viewing pleasure, The Secret to Becoming a Great Author.





   

Aenya News Update 9/20/2015

Sometimes, there is so much going on in my head and in my life, I have to break it down in a news-style format. 


Niches are for Bitches

What is perhaps my most crushing news, my Ages of Aenya Kickstarter failed to raise the $10,000 needed for editing and marketing. Just the editing alone costs $7k. Thing is, I was new to Kickstarter. When I launched in July, it was on a whim. I never expected the emotional turmoil that would later follow. All in all, I received $1300 worth of pledges from 41 supporters. Not bad for an unknown author. And books don’t do nearly as well as video games or indie films, which have a stronger visual appeal. So why am I so bummed?

For the longest time, I was convinced I needed a niche. While Ages of Aenya is a great story, it’s hard to market to “everybody.” So, in 2004, I focused on fans of Masters of the Universe, for my first Aenya novel, The Dark Age of Enya. Why He-Man fans? Well, before writing Enya, I wrote fan-fiction. Sharp eyed readers will notice many subtle allusions to MOTU in the Aenya series, like the merquid and avian races, inspired by the characters of Stratos and Merman. Even the skull on Xandr’s sword is an homage to Castle Grayskull. But my attempt to cater to this niche failed miserably. The moderators hated me for using their site as a sales platform—I was banned from the site—and fans failed to see the connection between my book and their cherished childhood memories. Their indifference negatively affected my own nostalgic feelings for Masters of the Universe, something I have cherished all my life, a core part of who I am and the reason I write fantasy. To this day, I collect the figures, but whenever I look at them, I cannot shake the pain of my failure. 

After ’04, I gave up on He-Man fans to focus on nudists. Enya was featured in both N and H&E naturist magazines, and on a nudist review site called Yarns Without Threads. My most frequently read posts are, by far, naturist related. So catering to nudists seemed the way to go. And why not? Nudism and fantasy are a perfect fit, when you consider the Ancient Greek heroes, who went often nude. But sadly, most nudists didn’t see it my way. While I can only guess the reasons, I think it has a lot to do with numbers. Card-carrying nudists are a rare breed. Cross that with avid readers, and readers who enjoy fantasy, and you have a tiny minority indeed! I also felt that, a lot of nudists were suspicious of me. How well do Xandr and Thelana represent their beliefs? No way to tell without reading the book! And despite a pro-naturist message, how likely is it that a book, any book, can influence people to think differently about nudism? 

What’s more, a curious thing happened after my Kickstarter failed, that I never would have expected: I felt less inclined to hang out on nudist forums, and less inclined to be nude at home. Don’t get me wrong, I still love nudism, but like with Masters of the Universe, there is a little stain on it now, one that I feel will never go away.


A New Direction

With every failure, I try to learn something new. That way, I never truly fail. And what I have learned is this: while it is sometimes great to have a niche, it can sometimes be detrimental. Andy Weir used his love of hard science to write The Martian. If 300,000 people signed on to live and die on Mars, you can bet there are plenty of people willing to read about it. I doubt 300,000 people could be found to live in a nudist colony (yes, I said colony, in this instance it fits!). Although, as my friend David pointed out, if Mars is anything like what Edgar Rice Burroughs describes, they’d be doing both!

Without He-Man fans or nudists, I am left only with readers, scrutinizing lovers of great fiction, like myself. This may be a harder group to market to, given the sheer number of books out there, but I have faith in the power of my storytelling, because, in all honesty, great stories are hard to find.

What does this mean for my blog? 

  1. A smaller focus on nudism. 
  2. A greater focus on writing and book reviews, even if it means less traffic. Quite honestly, I’d rather have a small group of dedicated fans I am proud to associate with, than click-bait traffic by people looking to ogle naked women (and getting disappointed). 
  3. More short fiction. Fiction remains my #1 love.
  4. More art and illustrations for The Princess of Aenya.      



Exciting New Art Projects

The best way to fend off demons of doubt and despair, I find, is to keep busy. Since I was a child, writing and art have gone hand in hand. All of my early stories were accompanied by illustrations, and I didn’t quit drawing until high school, when I noticed my lack of talent. Still, I continue to seek art to help inspire me and my readers. Alexey Lipatov is finishing up on Xandr vs. The Snake Man. You can see his work in progress here,

Just a rough sketch. The final should be amazing, as always!

For The Princess of Aenya, I have reached out to Adam Paquette, whose illustrations can be seen on Magic: The Gathering playing cards. With his help, I hope to design an amazing cover.

This is Theros by Adam Paquette. Looks a lot like Hedonia to me!


Lastly, I am in negotiations with Selene Regener to use the image below for Radia. Selene managed to capture the spirit, beauty and power of the character, and I only hope she agrees to let me use it. If not, I will continue to look to this piece for inspiration, and maybe to inspire the artist who will eventually realize the character of Radia.

“Awakening” by Selene Regener

   

Definition: Comignorant

Comignorant: (n) (adj.) A person or persons who make a statement in response to an issue they know very little about, or have not properly researched. May also be used as an adjective to describe said person.

For example, “Don’t be comignorant, study up before you say something!”

Comignorants are symptomatic, I think, of our Internet age. Never in human history has there been such a forum to showcase lack of knowledge. But comignorants are not to be confused with stupid people, or informed ignoramuses; rather, their uninformed statements have everything to do with laziness, as the anti-knowledge they wish to impart can easily be dismissed with a simple Google search.

I recently had the misfortune to run into such a person, after my Ages of Aenya Kickstarter failed to succeed. We managed to raise just $1300 of the $10,000 needed. But as heartbreaking as this was, considering I have worked 15 years to promote my book, it’s even worse when a comignorant drops by, just to kick me when I am down. It is both amazing and depressing, that people always find the time and energy to criticize, but never to give their support. And the worst part is, they rarely put in the effort to properly criticize. When I give poor book reviews, I make sure to read from cover to cover. It would be disingenuous of me to report to give honest feedback, even if I had read everything but the last page. Sometimes, as in the case of Life of Pi, the final chapter can turn everything around. The same can be said for writers, their blogs, and their Kickstarters. If you want to criticize what I did wrong, make sure you know what you’re talking about. Do a little research first. Take the extra time and effort to click on a few links. Don’t be comignorant!

Case in point, an anonymous commentator suggested that the reason for my failed Kickstarter was this video. Of course, what he didn’t know was that my Kickstarter launched on July 18th, and that video was posted on September 5th. That’s more than a month later! OK, so maybe after getting my ugly mug on YouTube, all my supporters pulled their pledges in horror and disgust? Right? Nope. Actually, the video accounted for the single biggest boost in supporters, including high profile names, like World Naked Bike Ride organizer Lady God1va, who pledged $100 and notified her 15,000 Twitter followers.

What is perhaps most infuriating, is that Mr. Anonymous Commentator also made this suggestion, and I quote,

The good news is that there are video artists online that would cut a video with a script for you for a fairly decent price… maybe give that a try next time if you try again? A semi-professional video with perhaps a montage of Aenya illustrations just might do the job.

You mean like this video here,

which I posted to my Kickstarter four days from launch, on July 22nd? 

 

Olympia Publishers and the Art of the Soft Scam

Nobody has time for yours.

This post was going to be something else entirely, a celebration. My wife and I received a positive response from a publisher, and the other night, we made a special toast at P.F. Chang’s, “To passing the second gate!” See, there are three main obstacles to publication. First, your query letter has to catch the eye of an agent or publisher. This is the first gate. If they are interested, they will ask for your synopsis and three sample chapters, and if the powers-that-be are impressed, they’ll request the entire manuscript, and this is what had my wife thrilled, even though I had my doubts. Now my wife isn’t gullible. “It looks legit!” she said, after looking over their website and checking out their covers, many of which are quite professional looking. The company is Olympia Publishers, based in the U.K.

At one point, I thought, “Hey, all the best writers are from there!” Which, for me at least, is true. I went through my shelf, picking out my favorites, originally published in the U.K., like Harry Potter and Cloud Atlas and Never Let Me Go. Yessir, I thought, the British know good literature when they see it! 

A cursory look into their company revealed a small press, which rang a few alarm bells. But I rationalized, “Hey, they’re taking a chance on an unknown, so why not give them a chance? Maybe I can help put them on the map.” After all, smaller companies are more willing to take risks, whereas the mega-publishers, like Tor and Bantam, are homogenized, afraid to try new and different things. Ages of Aenya isn’t your typical rogue/elf/dragon story, and I needed a company with the balls to sell it. Then, when I sat down with my wife to print a hardcopy to send to them, I decided to do a little more research.      

The thing about scams these days is that they don’t look like what you see on TV. Nobody is going to sell you a box of rocks and run off laughing with your money. Just like consumers, scammers have wizened up. They know how easy it is to Google them before you give out your credit card, and so now we have the soft scam, and the best (or worst) part is, it’s not illegal, because what you hope to be getting is never explicitly stated, only implied. I experienced this in 2000, after exhaustively researching self-publishing, and a company called Xlibris. Now, it’s not as if Xlibris gave me nothing in return for my money. In fact, their print quality is superb, and in some cases superior to many books sold in stores. But the headliner on their website read, “Write your success story!” They imply fame and fortune, but what they don’t tell you is that none of their authors have ever managed it. Could it happen? I don’t doubt it, but the chances are so unlikely, it might as well be a scam. 

Olympia Publishers isn’t doing anything illegal, but I put them into a category below Xlibris. At least self-publishing houses have the good graces to admit what they are offering. Small presses like Olympia pretend to allow for success, to do what publishers are supposed to do: promote your writing and profit from readers, but they work in reverse. They ask you to send in a query and synopsis, and after a few tense weeks, ask for the manuscript. If it passes the scrutiny of their editors, you become a published author! If not, there is a second option, a pay to play option. After a little Googling, I found dozens of heartbroken writers tricked by this scheme, who were told they would be published, only to be asked to cover costs of up to 3500 pounds (nearly $5000)! 

With the advent of free Internet media, free e-books, and the sheer glut of crap novels making the rounds these days, it must be difficult for any publisher to survive. I wouldn’t doubt whether many small presses started out in earnest, only to realize they couldn’t cut it the traditional way. Inundated with desperate would-be authors and totally indifferent readers, it was only a matter of time before someone got smart and reversed the flow, profiting off of writers instead. After all, making money is all about supply meeting demand, and the demand writers have for recognition is palpable!  

Still, it sickens me to know people will profit off desperation, from crushed hopes and dreams. My wife was so visibly shaken by the experience, I ended up feeling worse for her than for myself. 

But, what if we hadn’t found any bad press about Olympia Publishers? What if we had been the first to be duped? Well, there’s an easy trick to finding out who’s legit, and who isn’t. Just go to Amazon, under the Book department, and search by Publisher. Olympia has many books listed, so at least they’re not a total scam, but not one of their titles ranks above one millionth in sales! If you want to be ranked a millionth, by all means proceed, but that isn’t any publisher I want representing my fifteen years of passion! Heck, one book was ranked in the 5 millionths, worse than my own The Dark Age of Enya, which is in the 4 millionths! It is an unusual situation when a POD book is outselling a “legitimately” published book.    

Being a writer these days is to court insanity and despair. My honest advice to you is: choose another profession, because there is more heartache and disappointment in this field than in any other. Not only do you spend thousands upon thousands of hours working at something without getting paid for it, but the people in your life don’t even consider it a job. Add to that the total lack of moral support from friends and family, and mix in, as a special bonus, all of the scammers trying to take advantage of you, and well . . . that’s the industry. The only reason I haven’t quit, can’t quit, is because it’s a part of me, my writer’s disease. And, god dammit, Ages of Aenya is good book. 

 

2017 UPDATE! A great alternative to Olympia and other scam-publishers is CreateSpace. They make no promises regarding fame and fortune, but provide aspiring authors the basic tools to achieve success. With CreateSpace, everything is up to you. They helped me design the layout of my book, using artwork I provided them. Best of all, you decide how much or little to charge. All you pay is for setup, printing and delivery. Today, I am reaching more readers than ever through my author site, http://www.nickalimonos.com.

AoAFrontCover

NOW AVAILABLE!

 

Ages of Aenya Kickstarter Video


OK, so it’s probably no secret that I am camera shy. Being a writer and all, I definitely feel most comfortable behind the page. But we live in an age of video. My 5 year old kid is addicted to YouTube. She can watch hours of kids unboxing toys. And it bums me out, knowing these kids get millions of views. I was either born too early, or too late for this post-YouTube world. But it’s not all bad. Once, I remarked to a fellow writer how much friendlier people seem at book signings, as opposed to online forums. She said it’s because we’re face-to-face, that they can see me as a real person, and I am starting to come around to her way of thinking. Video helps to humanize us in ways even the best of poetry cannot. So without further ado, here’s super-handsome me, in the flesh, promoting my Ages of Aenya Kickstarter:

 
UPDATE 9/18/2015:

So, the Ages of Aenya Kickstarter did not succeed. We managed to raise just $1300 of the $10,000 needed. But as heartbreaking as this is, considering I have been working to promote the book for 15 years, it’s even worse when the comignorants (TM) drop by, just to kick me when I am down. It is both amazing and depressing to me, that people always find the time and energy to criticize, but never to give their support. And the worst part is, they don’t even put in the effort to properly criticize. When I give poor book reviews, I make sure to read the whole thing, cover to cover. It would be disingenuous of me to report to give honest feedback, even if I had read everything but the last page. Sometimes, as in the case of Life of Pi, the final chapter can turn everything around. The same can be said for writers, their blogs, and their Kickstarters. If you want to criticize what I did wrong, make sure you know what you’re talking about. Do a little research first. Take the extra time and effort to click on a few links. Don’t be a comignorant (TM)! Maybe I am already doing what you’re suggesting!

Case in point, an anonymous commentator suggested that the reason for my failed Kickstarter was this video. Of course, what he didn’t know was that my Kickstarter launched on July 18th, and my video was made on September 5th. That’s more than a month later! OK, so maybe after showing my ugly mug on YouTube, my supporters pulled their pledges in disgust? Nope. Actually, the video accounted for the single biggest boost in supporters, including high profile names, like WNBR organizer Lady God1va, who pledged $100 and notified her 15,000 Twitter followers.

What is perhaps most infuriating, is that Mr. Anonymous Commentator also made this suggestion, and I quote, 

The good news is that there are video artists online that would cut a video with a script for you for a fairly decent price… maybe give that a try next time if you try again? A semi-professional video with perhaps a montage of Aenya illustrations just might do the job.

Oh, really? You mean like this video here, which I posted to my Kickstarter four days from launch, on July 22nd? 

My advice to you, Mr. Anonymous? Don’t be comignorant (TM), slide your cursor away from the comment box and do your homework! 

   

The Hurdle of Reading and Dealing with Hubris as an Undiscovered Writer

Is it???


So, the other day, a fan of mine (I do have them) suggested I act more enthusiastically about my book. I need to sell it like it’s the greatest thing since movable type. This was in response to my disappointing Kickstarter campaign. As of today, I have only managed to raise about $900 of the $10,000 needed for editing and marketing. But the thing is, I am not a salesman. I couldn’t sell Gatorade to a man dying of thirst. Nor can I bring myself, in good conscious, to brag. Judging my writing is like judging how attractive you are. It just looks bad. Unfortunately, I am in the unenviable position of prostituting my mind, and as I have been learning lately, a big part of the publishing industry is shoveling BS. I cannot express my level of disgust for covers declaring such and such author is brilliant, or promises of, You won’t be able to put it down! It’s true about 10% of the time, which is why my favorite jacket is of Catcher in the Rye. Front and back are identical, just a horse on a merry-go-round. No praise whatsoever. Nada. Zilch. And the ironic thing is, Salinger is a true, literary genius. But just like me, he abhorred anything that was BS, or as he put it, phony. Nowadays, saturated by video games and YouTube and Twitter feeds, the influx of phoniness would probably make his head explode. But it’s worse for us, I think, because all this click-bait crap (You won’t believe what happens next!) is turning us into zombies.

This remarkable illustration by Steve Cutts


We hunger for memes like the walking dead feasting on brains, but have no appetite for genuine storytelling, for anything meaningful or nuanced. But story is what I live for. It isn’t just something that matters a lot to me, it’s the only thing that matters. Call me crazy, but story is what we are. Our religions are stories. Our lives are stories. And when I am dead and buried in the ground, all that my children and grandchildren will have of me are memories, my story. Even when the human race goes extinct, the thing that will remain is our story. To trivialize story is to trivialize existence itself. 

Given a chance, a good book can outcompete any form of entertainment. But it takes patience, something we don’t seem to have much of these days, and publishers have taken note. My favorite novels are classics, like The Iliad, A Tale of Two Cities, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Grapes of Wrath, but the industry urges us to avoid such books, lest we fall into the trap of writing that way, because substance takes too much effort, and the payoff, however life changing, takes too long. Modern style (if you can call it style) is reflected in books like the The Martian, so instead of, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …” readers are treated to, “I’m pretty much fucked.” Hey, obscenity is fine, simplicity not so much.

As an aspiring author, I am getting to a point where I cannot enjoy reading. While there are some truly great new books out there, The Road and Never Let Me Go come to mind, these are far and in-between, and you really have to dig through the dreck to find them. And there seems to be no pattern, no way to be guaranteed of a good read. Not every classic is great, for instance. After Frankenstein, I found Bram Stoker’s Dracula to be dry and dull, a glorified slasher from the 1800’s. Both A Princess of Mars and Tarzan are equally inane, but then I have to remember the context in which they were written, and the target audience, pubescent boys living in the 1900’s. More and more, I am coming up with excuses for bad storytelling. “Well, this was written at a different time,” or “This was popular then,” or “The publisher rushed him,” or “She’s a well established author and this is the fifth in the series, so the demand for quality isn’t there …” Now you may be wondering, why am I even bothering with excuses? Because I don’t have the status to knock a famous piece of fiction. I am a fucking restaurant employee asking people what they want on their pizza, so what the hell do I know? 

And this, this, is the dichotomy splitting my brain in two, the thing that’ll have me foaming at the keyboard in an insane asylum someday. Prudence dictates I never compare, never admit, “Shit, my book is better than this, a lot better, in fact …” But I cannot help these feelings, and the frustration that follows. It’s like being in love, and you want to share it with the world, but she’s a married woman. Too often, when I start reading a new book, I find myself reworking the story a dozen different ways, to improve it, and I just have to the put the damn thing down in frustration, especially if said author is a millionaire. On the other hand, if a writer truly intimidates me, I am overjoyed. I am overjoyed by Kazuo Ishiguro and Cormac McCarthy, by Robert Holdstock and David Mitchell, and dozens of others. I want to have them over for tea and get deep into words.

This is the kind of person I am: people come to the restaurant where I work and say, “You’re pizza is the best in the world!” I hear it all the time, and every time I feel embarrassed, and worse, like I am somehow deceiving the public. Best in the world? According to who? Some customer? Nah. I’m sure some fancy chef in Italy or New York can make much better pizza. How good of a book is Ages of Aenya? Is it great … good … decent even? This I know to be true, it’s a lot better than half the books on my shelf. The trouble is saying it. Who would believe me?

The hardest part about being a writer isn’t the writing, it’s getting people to notice you, to discover what you’ve spent half your life bringing to the world, in the hopes that, just possibly, it might stir something deep inside of them. The writer/reader relationship is a lot like romantic love, when one pines for the other, but the love is unrequited. Having to remain humble in this instance is like being Gatsby, throwing the biggest party from afar, in the hopes the one you cherish stumbles through your door.