Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Torn

I was going to put some Natalie Imbruglia lyrics here, but they just didn’t fit how I’m feeling. I’m not out of faith, I’m not naked, cold and shamed, lying on the floor (that was Saturday night), nor has my inspiration run dry. Wait, actually, yes, I guess my inspiration has run a little dry…

At this point last year I would bound out of bed and have a billion things to work on. I was putting the finishing touches on a book, approaching agents, working on another book, updating my blog and thinking about getting back into Magic.

Well, two hundred rejections later, book finished and self published, then another book self published, then twenty-odd mediocre columns later – I’m a little beaten down. Two hundred rejections is a lot. I had some agencies ask for a partial, a few less asked for a full to read but none of the agents I approached wanted to rep me. My return to Magic and Magic writing has been less than stellar. So, now what do I work on? Let’s take them one at a time.

I’m very proud of “I’m not an Alcoholic, I’m just European!” The very beginning is a little slow but that's because it needs to be to explain why I moved to Spain. After that I think it’s some of my most humorous writing about a niche subject that I think would sell well if I could find an agent. I like to think I’m similar to Bill Bryson without the negativity.

Even though he does books on a lot of other subjects, Bill Bryson is the top of the heap for travelogue writers. Second place would probably go to Peter Mayle and third would have to go to Chris Stewart. Everyone else that I have read is a distant fourth. There have been some excellent travel writers that have written short pieces but nothing long enough to compare to the above three. And, I have to admit some ignorance on the subject in the sense that, I haven’t done an extensive study of the genre, but I have read multiple authors that are actually making a living off their travel books and their writing is awful.(Anthony Bourdain is not including in my list of Travel Writers because his books are about cooking, or they are a recap of his TV show.)

The sales for this self-published book are okay, but not great. In some ways it has exceeded my expectations on how many I would sell each month, but, best case scenario, it could be selling a lot more. I now have three self-published books on Amazon and if I had fifteen I might be making a living. I keep my eyes open for ways to promote the books and have tried different web advertising, word of mouth and even handing out free sample chapters on the street to tourists in Madrid. None of which have garnered the sales I had hoped for.

I read an encouraging article about a self-published author who is making a fortune in self-publishing. She said her sales really took off once she approached book review blogs. I spent the day looking over the links in the article and reading book review blogs policies. How her sales increased after approaching these blogs is a mystery to me since none of the ones I looked at accept self-published books for review.

She has sixteen self-published books out at the age of twenty-six. Guess what her genre is? Young Adult Fiction. (Which is what most of the agents are looking for when you look at each agency. Harry Potter + Twilight = Fad) Step 1. Teen Angst. Step 2. ??? Step 3. Profit! Guess what her books are about? That’s right, a girl who falls in love with vampire brothers creating a love triangle.

It makes me want to fall on my sword.

I started playing and writing about Magic again and while I received a lot of praise, I received a lot of criticism as well. While I thought the early articles were funny, they weren’t technical enough. Those criticisms stopped when I was moved to the free side of Star City but then the articles stopped being as funny because Wendy and I returned to Madrid. The clever, witty cast that lives in Vermont was replaced by me struggling to understand Spanish Magic players and flailing about in a format I didn’t understand. Which garnered more criticism.

Also, much like MMORPG’s, Magic takes a lot of practice and time. And unlike MMORPG’s, money. I found myself being drawn to mono green so much so that I didn’t want to play anything else. When I (and obviously my readers) got bored with it, I decided to try some other colors. Well, I wanted to try some other colors but, I’m sorry, I have been priced out of the game. The last time I stopped playing Magic the most expensive card was Umezawa’s Jitte. That card can go in any deck. If I want to move into white, I’m an idiot if I’m not playing Elsbeth and Gideon Jura. I never play blue so at least I’m spared having to buy Jace. But it doesn’t matter. Other that RDW, there isn’t a deck that I’m interested in playing that won’t cost me more money than I’m willing to spend - just to experiment! Hell, even my green decks would be more competitive if I had Lotus Cobra and Vengvines in them. All I need is $160 bucks (or more) for a set of four each and then I need that for online testing and another set for playing at the local shop- which would be fine if I knew they would fit seamlessly into my deck (which already contains four Primeval Titan both on MODO and physical copies.)

I love to compete. I love to try and qualify for Pro Tours. Right now, the format is Extended. To me this format is known as “All the cards Jamie doesn’t own because he’s been out of Magic for the last three years.”

I make my own decks and that requires lots of cards and lots of experimentation. This is nearly impossible these days without a support group of friends all willing to also spend big bucks so you can all borrow cards off each other and mitigate the cost even a little. I have been priced out of the game. (When I say that, I don't mean that it is impossible for me to raise the money I need to buy the cards I want, I just don't want to spend that much on Magic. It's like my favorite food, lobster. In VT I pay $7.99 to $12.99 a lb for lobster. I'll pay that. In Madrid, that lobster is 50 Euros ($70) a pound. I could pay that for lobster, but I choose not to.)

I have been taking a break from Magic because I don’t want to be like an aging boxer, mma fighter, sports figure – who has been in the game too long, refuses to retire and tarnishes his legacy. I’m not doing my Magic writing reputation any good by continuing to write crappy articles. When your boss tweets that “I used to like Jamie Wakefield’s writing, but now it’s just painful” you know it’s time to hang up the pen for a little while on that particular subject. I’ll probably pick it up again when we return home to Vermont in August.

So, what do I do now? Completing a book is like giving birth. It is a long ass, excruciatingly painful process. To do that and not find an agent is crushing. To release it as self-published and get some money for it sooths that pain a little but not much. Playing Magic and refusing to pay the cost associated with having all the cards needed to succeed is just frustrating. Writing about Magic and not having it be as good as it used to be thanks to said pricing, lack of clever, witty friends, time to playtest, refusing to move out of mono green through loyalty and cost, etc, is also frustrating. Not knowing what you should do for your next writing project when nothing has really succeeded to the extent it needs to, is depressing.

Six months ago I didn’t have enough time in the day to do all of the things I wanted to accomplish. Now I don’t know where to put my energies.

Do I transcribe my three hundred voice notes from South America and work on another book that won’t sell? Do I continue to flail at Magic and Magic writing? Do I give up for a while and focus on my body and mind by running, working out, taking Muay Thai classes as well as Spanish classes with Montse?

I’d get a job if I was legal to work in Spain.

Hence, torn.

This week has been a minor breakthrough. As regular readers know, Wendy and I will be leaving Madrid and returning to our home in Vermont in August. I’d like to work with computers again. I have great references, I find it hard to believe the HS wouldn’t take me back, and I loved it there. So, I’ve bookmarked a bunch of computer sites to refresh my knowledge and make it more current. I’m going to take this time to learn some more skills that will make me even more valuable.

I’m going to start approaching agents again. Maybe the economy has recovered enough or maybe I just haven’t hit the right one yet, but I’ll try another two hundred and see if anyone is interested in my book.

Night, Mare (Marilyn’s Story) still needs to be revised a couple more times but getting that done would at least put me closer to the goal of a dozen books available for purchase even if they are self-published. It’s also the one closest to being finished so I should work on that before moving on to our South American adventures.

As soon as my eyes finish healing (2-3 more weeks) I’ll get back to the weights and sculpt myself a little more.

So, I’ve got some goals, but I’m still torn as to what the best course to pursue is until we head home.

Random Dog of Thunder Pic!

12 comments:

  1. I am sure you have looked into submitting to magazines or newspapers. The goal being to get some money, some feedback, some confidence and a resume. Is that a possibility?

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  2. Jamie,

    In this tough time of transition, find what you're passionate about and do that. That's how you'll unlock your energy. Not to discourage you, but it takes about 10 years to master something. You haven't been writing for that long. Take some time to re-read the classics, take more risks with your writing, and FAIL HARDER. That's Wieden & Kennedy's motto, one of the best ad agencies in the world (and in my backyard). Don't fear failure, but learn from each mistake and move on. You can be the best fucking writer the world has ever seen; YOU ARE JAMIE WAKEFIELD! The only ones that truly fail are the ones that give up. Read a bio on Stieg Larsen (author: Girl With the Dragon Tatoo). He hunted Nazi's and in his spare time wrote a worldwide bestselling trilogy. But before that happened he failed a lot.

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  3. Edit: Stieg Larsson. Stieg, Son of Lars.

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  4. Yay THOR photo! I love it when I get what I asked for. I know you will find your way Jamie. You always do and these moments - the ones where you feel like you are stagnant and not in the right place/direction/focus, etc. - are the ones that have always made you reassess, refocus, rise up, step forward, and become the next stage of the never ending journey of Jamie Wakefield. A quick stroll down memory lane should remind you about how far you have come. =) Much Love My Friend!

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  5. For a student who got a C in English, well, "Alcoholic" is a good read. I'm pretty proud to say you were my student. After numerous rejections, I know how you are feeling. Do try some journals or small, niche publishers. Can I have the dog?

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  6. I was paid quite well for my columns on Star City and have recieved a ton of good feedback on my books, articles, etc. So, that's no problem. I did try the magazine and newspaper angle but found out that my writing style doesn't lend itself to magazine format. They want a 800-1500 words on your trip to X. No, I'm sorry, I couldn't write about my lunch today in less than 2000, so I can't write about a day in Mallorca in 1500 words. I did try that for a while but the writing was dry and tasteless. I hated it. Add in the fact that there are only a few travel magazines left and they don't accept submissions. They have their own staff. Thanks for the suggestions though.

    Joe, thanks for the encouragement. I like the idea of FAIL HARDER. That's awesome. I get the philosophy behind it.

    Lorelei, I know darling. I appreciate your take on things always and I know you're right.

    I appreciate everyone's comments and encouragement but I'm in a good place, really. A place of transition. I just wanted to update people on what was going on, since that's what I do on this blog... :-) I've also had some people wondering why I haven't written a Magic article lately and wanted to address that.

    I am going to guess that my former teacher on here is Judy? If so, THANKS! That really made my day. And it was more like C- most of the time. No, you can't have the dog. Wendy loves him far too much.

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  7. Pictures of the Dog of Thunder are always appreciated. ^_^

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  8. I mostly dropped out of Magic around 2002, and the itch to get back in became overwhelming recently. The price of decks seems genuinely insane. I'm playing Pauper on MTGO for now, hoping to contain costs... we'll see how long that can last. But $400 for just 4 cards of a Standard deck? Double that, of course, to be able to play online and off. It's disgusting.

    Anyway, I looked up your website because I randomly came across Trumpet Blast. I thought of your "Taroo Taroo" goblin article, of course. I remember a friend reading that aloud to me -- I was laughing so hard that I had to wipe tears from my eyes. You were always my favorite Magic writer (hell, my favorite online writer) back in the day. I'm overjoyed to see that you returned to write dozens of articles that I'll have the pleasure of reading.

    Best of luck to you, whichever paths you choose.

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  9. I noticed that on the international amazon pages (uk, de, fr), not all of your books are available (the pro tour books). Not sure whether you can influence that, but every bit helps I guess.

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  10. I disagree with the logic behind the statement "Other that RDW, there isn’t a deck that I’m interested in playing that won’t cost me more money than I’m willing to spend - just to experiment!" There are a lot of ways to test for free, both online and face to face. Have you considered Magic Workstation? The caliber of competition of the average MWS user isn't as high as with MTGO but you can always make arrangements to play people you already know as opposed to random scrubs (highly recommended). Or you could even—gasp—proxy some cards the old fashioned way, using a Sharpie marker to turn a plains into a $50 mythic rare for test games vs. friends. Or you could even download MTG Forge or the latest patched version of the Microprose game (with planeswalkers, etc.) if you just want a basic AI to test tech out against to get a crude idea of how certain cards are going to perform. So obviously testing cards doesn't require money. You can even compete for prizes on sites like magic-league.com without spending a dime.

    As for competing in sanctioned PTQs, yeah, that's not cheap but when has it ever been?

    With that said, I don't think there's any shame in simply saying "Magic just isn't a priority in my life at this time." I can relate to that. It can be frustrating and it takes up a lot of time even when you're not spending a ton of dough on cards. But this "It's so expensive, OMG!" rhetoric is pretty lame. Sorry if that sounds harsh. No disrespect intended. I'm still a fan.

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  11. Totally agree about being priced out of the game, I looking at gearing up to play some standard but Jace alone makes it unthinkable, and it's basically unthinkable *not* to play with them.

    Also with you on the writing, I have a couple completed fiction manuscripts but with Borders all but going out of business and Amazon and Apple sucking all the air out of the royalties for ebooks, it's a tough time to be a writer trying to make it.

    Have you thought about doing something like what Guy Gavriel Kay does? He writes fantasy, arguably historical fiction, by going to a place, immersing himself in the culture and history, then writing a story that just oozes the atmosphere of that locale. It's kind of a brilliant end-run around the travel-writing industry.

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  12. “I used to like Jamie Wakefield’s writing, but now it’s just painful”

    Please tell me your boss didn't actually say this publicly.

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