Tony Noland on Writing: Be the Boss of the One-Man Circus Inside Your Head

Editor’s Note: I am pleased to feature this interview with Tony Noland as part of the Expert Author Series.

Noland is quite the accomplished fiction author. He specializes in science fiction, contemporary fiction, fantasy and horror while dabbling in westerns, noir and other genres. His fiction is often funny because, as he says, “the most dangerous things in the world are the ones that look the most harmless.”

Noland’s latest book is Verbosity’s Vengeance: A Grammarian Adventure Novel, a superhero science fiction book that appeals to anyone’s inner nerd.

Learn more about Noland and his writing at his website. You can follow Noland on Twitter at @TonyNoland and on Facebook.

Matt Gartland: Pursing a writing career can be a hard road, especially for fiction authors. What marquee struggles have challenged your career, and how have you overcome them?

Tony Noland: I wouldn’t say that my struggles to balance writing with family obligations and a demanding day job are necessarily any more notable that those facing anyone else.

One of the biggest challenges is maintaining the fire in your belly when you’re in the middle of the long slog of rewriting. Starting a project is scary fun and finishing a project is exhilarating fun. The rewriting in the middle is all sweaty work and nothing but. That’s the point when the million other demands on your energy and attention will all conspire to make you think your time is better spent on something else, either a new project or new opportunity that pops up, or an old project left on a back burner.

How I overcome that wretched middle ground is through sheer stubbornness. I ignore the despair and self-doubt, embrace the faith I have in the project and make it happen. Ultimately, I know I’m the boss of the one-man circus inside my head, and if I have to kick the manuscript’s ass to make my point, I do it.

MG: Looking back at the development of your writing career, what was the best decision you made that helped you grow the business-side of your writing?

TN: The second best thing is to make connections with other writers and pass along opportunities to them that you think they might benefit from. Establish those networks and use them.

The BEST thing that will help you grow the business side of writing is to study the business side of writing. Creating compelling plots and characters are the basis of writing, but writers have to understand the difference between writing and selling that which has been written. That means knowing how the market is changing.

There’s a lot of received wisdom out there about publishing which was true ten years ago. How much of it is still true today? How much will be true when you finish that book? Or when you finish the book after that?

MG: What have you learned throughout the years about building an audience of your own and nurturing that community to support your work?

TN: If you’re sentimental, you’ll attract people who appreciate sentimentality. If you’re funny, you’ll attract people who appreciate wit. Whatever you do, be real, but not too real. Be yourself, but show some filtering decorum. Your community really doesn’t need to know about your recurrent impacted earwax.

Everybody has great days and everybody has crappy days. Let people in on the highs and refer obliquely to the lows. If you’re in a mood where you might start alienating people, then for heaven’s sake, get offline and stay offline. Respect your community and connect with them. Give away some stuff. If you have a following of people who like you and like your work, they’ll support you.

MG: Looking forward into the future of publishing, what business opportunities excite you the most?

TN: The resurgence of the novella market is very interesting. Those works of 30-50K words used to be completely impractical to print and sell, but the e-book market with $0.99 price points is changing all of that.

I’m also seeing novellettes of 15-30K, what would hardly be worth writing at all 20 years ago. These fast hits of fiction give a longer plot arc than the traditional short story of 6-10K, with a different kind of canvas to paint on.

Serial fiction is another new growth area, with web-based serials and serializations emerging more and more.

There are different business models for those, from subscriptions to pay-as-you-go micropayments. Also interesting is the fan fiction market. Amazon’s entry into that realm with their Kindle Worlds program. Who would have thought that straight up fan fiction would be a money maker for an author?

MG: What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received that directly helped grow your writing career?

TN: Yog’s Law: “Money should flow toward the author.”

No kidding, this is a biggie. The more things change in publishing, the more they stay just the same. Rotten quasi-agents, hyper-expensive editors, predatory publishers… any and all of these are still out there, ready to siphon away money from starry-eyed writers who know more about conflict than about contracts.

If you embrace Yog’s Law, you also embrace the embedded subtextual messages (probably also named for someone) that say, “Treat this like a business. Be careful. Be informed. Do your homework. Know your value.”