My Writing Life – Tony Bertauski
When did you first discover a love of writing?
I always wanted to write creatively. I just wasn’t good at it. I didn’t have a writer’s muscle, either: that ability to spend hours at the keyboard. I was a technical writer before fiction. I did a Master’s thesis and wrote several articles for trade magazines before completing two textbooks on landscape design. After that, I figured science fiction would be easy. Turns out, the craft of fiction – good fiction – is a hell of lot harder than I thought.
My first effort started with Socket Greeny. It was a story I started for my son because he hated to read. It didn’t work, but this character – Socket – took root. It was the first time I felt possessed by a character with a story to tell. It took me 5 years and countless rewrites to get it right. I waited by the mailbox after that, but the giant paycheck never arrived.
Where do you get your story ideas?
Sometimes, I can’t remember how the story started by the time I get to the end. The Annihilation of Foreverland started with the premise of identity. I wanted to write it as a YA book in the science fiction dystopia genre in a way that slowly unfolded as well as questioned who we are and explore our fear of death, and what we’re willing to do to avoid it. Like all of my stories, it does have a romantic angle mixed into the action. Because it should.
I’ve been fascinated by consciousness, identity and what this all means since I was young. I would read my grandfather’s science fiction books with elements of artificial intelligence and alternate realities and wonder what happened when they died? I suppose that’s why all of my writing deals with the big mysteries of life in one way or another. In a way, I write for my own exploration, in a sort of thought experiment approach, pulling apart our identities, exploring what makes us who we are. If I lost my memories, would I still be me? If I had my body parts replaced with synthetic replications, at what point would I not be me? Do I even need a body?
What am I?
A few years ago, I figured I’d write a romance novel. Since all of my books have a romantic element, I thought it would be fun. Halfway through the novel, I found myself thinking more and more about the next project—a dystopian idea. So 40,000 words in, I scrapped the romance novel and got back to what I love – science fiction.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received as a writer?
Enjoy the ride, it’s the journey not the destination, be in the moment…all those clichés. If you don’t enjoy the process, what’s the point? You’re not likely to make it rich as an author. Some very talented writers aren’t even making a living at it. But if you enjoy experiencing a story unfold in your head, watching characters grow, seeing them suffer, being with their joy…then you’re on your way. And when you think you’re ready to publish, get an editor and a critique group. A critique group should be people who aren’t family and friends, folks who will be blunt and candid. Your story will always need work. After that, you need an editor. Freelance editors can help with story arc, line editing or just proofreading. Depending on the services you choose, you might spend between $500 to $1000. It’s money well spent. And lastly, get a professional cover. It makes all the d ifference. You can get some really good deals on premade covers for less than $100.
Do you believe in Writer’s Block?
Absolutely. For starters, I’ve learned not to panic. Hitting a wall ignites thoughts that this whole writing thing is over, I’ll never be able to do it again. But if I step back, give it a day or two, usually a solution appears. Sometimes the answer involves burning several thousand words and starting over. Even that doesn’t bother me, because I know, as an educator in creativity, all projects are a back and forth process. As long as I’m connected to the story and it’s moving in the right direction, I’m happy.
What is your writing process?
I’m not a “blank page” writer, one that lets the story just go. I need to know where it’s going, to some extent. A lot of times, I’ll sit down and let a few chapters unfold in my imagination, like I’m watching a movie. I quickly write down keywords so I have the direction and then, when I have time, I can get them on the computer. My writing muscle is up to 2 or 3 chapters in one sitting, but that’s still only 3 of 4 hours of writing. Writing champs, like Stephen King, can go all day, uninterrupted. I don’t have that stamina. Although, once I got in the zone and my wife and daughter left for the grocery store. They walked right back in the house. I thought you were going to the store?
What’s your favourite literary genre? Any guilty pleasures?
Science fiction, dystopia, technothriller and, to some extent, young adult. I do have a series of novellas in the vampire genre. Yeah, I know. Doesn’t fit. That character, Drayton, came out of nowhere when I was at a community theatre production of Dracula. I figured that an immortal vampire would more likely become compassionate and wise as he grew older. The technothriller Halfskin is similar to vampires in that technology promises immortality and complete control of our bodies. But then what?
What made you decide to self-publish?
There are a lot of people out there with a good book, whether it’s romance, dystopia, science fiction or young adult. I’m just a minnow in a crowded pond. It took a good deal of networking and research to realize just how hard it is. Early on, I found the process of querying an agent and the long-odds prospect that the story maybe might get published in a two to three years disappointing. I made some attempts but bailed as soon as indie publishing became a viable avenue.
Thanks to self-publishing, I can get the book out. That frees me up to write what inspires me. Writing is the true love. There’s something deeply satisfying to have characters come to life in your mind and watch their stories unfold. It’s a deeper experience than reading someone else’s story.
I love being involved in the entire process of launching my book, from the cover to the editing to the content. Even the marketing (well, not always). I could say this is the best hobby of all time, but it’s become a bit more than a hobby.
Are there any self-publishing tricks of the trade you’d like to share?
For starters, love what you write. If you’re into romance, it’ll show in your story. If you can find beta readers to test drive your story to get first impressions and suggest changes, do that next. Avoid family members. It’s hard to be objective when you’re related. Then get an editor. At the very least, have your work proofread. You’ll next catch all the typos.
Have a great cover. There are a lot of quality cover designers. Custom work can might run between $300 and $500, but it will be worth it. Also consider pre-made covers. I’ve found some jewels for less than $100.
Build a mailing list. Use Mail Chimp or something similar for fans to sign up to receive updates. I like to offer free books for readers to sample my work.
Learn the trade. There a lot of books about indie publishing that expound on Facebook advertising, building mailing lists, running contests, running Twitter accounts, effective keywords, etc. I’ve been doing this almost ten years and I’m still learning new things every day.
Use promotional websites. Bookbub is the king.
And write. Write, write, write.
Tony’s grandpa never graduated high school. He retired from a steel mill in the mid-70s. He was uneducated, but a voracious reader. As a kid, Tony would go through his bookshelves of musty paperback sci-fi novels, pulling Piers Anthony and Isaac Asimov off shelf and promising to bring them back. He was fascinated by robots that could think and act like people. What happened when they died?
For Tony, writing has become a thought experiment that explores human nature and possibilities. What makes us human? What is the true nature of the universe?
He’s also a big fan of plot twists.