Should I Go to Writing School?

I get asked this question a lot for obvious reasons. I went to writing school and I’m not afraid to advertise that fact. I’m proud of what I accomplished there back in the mid to late 1990s. The work was hard, but enjoyable since writing and reading were also a hobby at the time, and the students, for the most part, were good, decent people.

Of course, there were some assholes who couldn’t wait to shit on your work as soon as you walked through the workshop door. But many of these same people are history now, not having published a word once they were given their diplomas. Most likely they now sell insurance or have drunk themselves to death. One can only hope.

But at the time, writing school was a necessary evil for me. I had no idea I would actually write for a living. I thought I would live the cush life of the writing professor. You know, write a novel every five years or so, publish it with a small publisher, bang the crap out of my pretty young adoring female students. Seemed like a nice life to me. But in order to live that life, I first needed my MFA.

These days, for the most part, MFA programs are a scam and a sham. They have sprung up all over the place simply because of the demand. People feel like writers when they are enrolled in a writing program. Problem is, after dropping 30 or 40K it’s more than likely they will never see their work published commercially. They might venture to self-publish, now that DIYing it is hot shit. But the work will probably be mediocre and not attract an audience the way a work published by a major publisher could (or a hotshot indie publisher/small press).

But writing school was a good time. I drank like crazy, spent days and nights on speed, fucked like a rabbit, and yeah, got some writing done too. It was an escape, but not entirely. I was there to work hard and work hard I did. I was determined to be a success one day. Image

Was the experience worth the cost in the end? For me it was. My creative thesis turned into my first full-length power novel: The Innocent (or, As Catch Can). Mind you, the version I worked on at school was very different. The writing teacher who advised me during my last semester suggested all sorts of cuts and revisions, which I did to please him. But as soon as I got back to New York, I put the cuts back in and reversed the revisions. The book was originally bought by Delacorte Press only a year after graduation in a mid-six figure deal, and went on to sell hundreds of thousands of copies. It still sells at bestseller levels today now that it’s on its third publisher in 13 years. So much for writing school advice.

So, do you need to go to writing school?

The choice is entirely yours. You will meet some like-minded people who will be your friends for life, and you will meet some of the most crappy souled assholes in the world who want nothing more than to crush you and your talent. They are the jealous type. You will meet professors who are old and washed up and who will hit on you. But you will also meet some genuinely great teachers who embrace the fact that teaching writing is as much a spiritual calling as the writing itself.

I’ll say it again. The choice is yours. Do you want to be a serious writer who makes his or her living from words? If that’s the case, writing school can teach you a lot. It’s what you make of it. But if you just want a place to escape to in which you can play pretend writer, save your money and sell insurance.

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Screen Shots

 

As writers in the digital age, there is more opportunity to obsess than ever before. Writing has always been a game of obsessions and emotional turmoils. Years ago, the obsessions were more about the writing. If the words came too hard (or, ugh, not at all!), we obsessed over the well running dry forever. If they came too easily we obsessed over our built-in-shit detectors being on the fritz. No one likes to be thought of as a hack. Hemingway once said he not only wanted to be thought of as a writer, but he wanted to do it better than anyone ever had before. He admitted to being obsessed with this notion of being the best. It led to an early grave for the master.

Now we have other things that make us obsessive. We have Amazon rankings for instance. Take my newest novel, MURDER BY MOONLIGHTImageSince its publication on January 1, it’s been in the UK Top 200 for overall books and in its Top 10 for Mysteries, and is still enjoying a respectable run there. Just this past week it went to the Number 1 spot in Germany for Mysteries and reached the No. 6 for Overall Bestselling Kindlebooks. It’s still the number 1 Mystery as I write this. In France it also hit the Overall Top 10 and the Number 1 Mystery spot. It’s presently the No. 2 Mystery.

So what’s to obsess about?

Once you hit a number 1 spot and the Overall Top Ten, there’s only one direction to go. You guessed it…I guess it’s fair to say that Amazon rankings not only offer up a real-time glimpse of where our work stands in the retail marketplace, they also serve as a kind of distorted, up-to-the-second, “fun-house” mirror reflection of ourselves and our self worth, not only as writers, but as worthy human beings. They give instant gratification, or the lack thereof, a new and often times, dangerous meaning. And they can be the source of severe obsession. Best to unplug and walk away from them for a while. 

When things go well on the retail end of things, I suppose the point is to enjoy the moment, which I most certainly am. I am also mighty grateful to the people all over the world who are giving MBM, which is based on the real life Chris Porco axe murder case, a chance (look for a movie based on the case coming soon on Lifetime).

To commemorate our brief and ever so humble moments at the top of the Amazon lists, we take screenshots. So that every now and then, when the books aren’t moving as well as we want them to, we can look at them and remind ourselves that we are not only writers, but writers who have enjoyed some degree of success. Screenshots are more than glimpses at our past, they are our security blankets when all we’d rather do is obsess and depress.

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The “Vox” is Back

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Well it’s been a while since I’ve posted on the Vox. But that makes sense since Google found a way to archive my blog without notifying me. That said, I started another blog called The Vincent Zandri Voyager, but that one is primarily for my travels. So now that I’m home and grounded back in New York while I await word on the exact amount of dough I’m gonna have to pay the tax man this year, I’ve decided to resurrect the Vox, only under the WordPress site so that Google can’t stiff me once again. After all, Lawrence Block’s blog is here and what’s good for Lawrence is good enough for me.

So, the rundown on what’s been going on in my literary world:

–I’ve had eight books published or re-published over the past four months. They are, The Innocent, Godchild, The Concrete Pearl, Moonlight Rises, Blue Moonlight, Murder by Moonlight, and finally The Disappearance of Grace. All have been published by Amazon Publishing’s Thomas & Mercer imprint except for Grace which was published by StoneGate Ink.

–The numbers since Oct 1, 2012: Currently it looks like I’ve sold around 20,000 units of my T&M books, while I’ve probably moved somewhere around 3-4,000 of my StoneGate/StoneHouse Ink titles. I could be a little conservative on this, but best to err on the light side. 

–I’ve also published one title under my own label, Bear Media. It’s my previously published literary novella, Permanence. I’ve moved only a couple of hundred of these. This is the one title I have that I don’t think my mother will even buy.

–How do I perceive the indie vs. the major markets these days? I honestly believe that once more, the state of publishing is undergoing severe and rapid change. Amazon Publishing imprints have acquired many many titles, and it will be interesting to see how most of these do in the long run. As for self-publishing, I’m having a hard time seeing how any newbies out there can possibly make headway amidst all the titles available on Amazon, B&N, Kobo, etc. Amazon is still the primary place to sell, but now that tags have been eliminated and authors only afforded two categories under which you can list your books, it will get harder and harder to be found by readers. In other words, most self-published authors will not have the chance to attract the readership successes like Amanda Hocking and John Locke were able to accomplish not long ago. Indie publishing remains strong, and by indie publishing, I mean medium-sized independent publishers of maybe 60 authors or more who rely heavily on the Amazon KDP program. This is still an excellent way to publish but success is not guaranteed unless you’re willing to put in the time on the social marketing scene plus engage in other activities that will result in books sold.

–The outlook. I’m seeing more and more of the traditional majors sponsoring their A-list authors on the Amazon bookstore site, which tells me the majors are getting with the program rapidly. That’s a good thing, since the editors in the big steel and glass towers will get to keep their jobs, at least for a while. But if you are to ask me my advice on how to publish in 2013, I will still give you the same answer I gave you last year: Mix it up. Go for some indie publishing, some self-publishing, and if you can, grab up a major deal, be it with an Amazon Publishing imprint and/or a traditional major. Things are changing so rapidly, almost on a daily basis, that unless you maintain your options and avoid putting all those hard-boiled eggs into one basket, you might find yourself desperately without an income or a future (that is, you’re a full-time author like I am).

–So what’s up for me this year? Murder by Moonlight was published by T&M back in December. The Guilty, the long awaited third novel in the Jack Marconi series (The Innocent, Godchild…) is will be published by StoneGate Ink sometime in the mid-spring (StoneGate Ink moved 100,000 copies of The Innocent back in April, 2011). The rights to Moonlight Falls have been released and I am putting that one out under my own label, Bear Media. In the late Fall of 2013 or early Winter 2014, T&M will be publishing Moonlight Sonata. And currently I’m working on my new series CHASE (you’ll recall I traveled to Egypt a couple of months back to research the first novel…I’ve shown the first 100 pages to my agent, and in his words, “It rocks…I was hook from the second sentence on…) So looks like I have a new serial character to follow me around for the rest of my days.

There you have it, the recent past, present and future of my writing life. Now, what are you doing to navigate the perfect storm of change in today’s publishing industry.    

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I’m happy to be the guest of Susan Wingate and for the first time ever, here’s a sneak peak at the forthcoming Murder By Moonlight from Thomas & Mercer…

Susan Wingate

Zandri-authorpicbylaura I consider myself lucky to have Vincent Zandri on my blog today. He’s an incredible author with an amazing life story not to mention an amazing writing career story. But instead of weighing down this post with a bunch from me, why don’t you just enjoy his work, take a gander at his bio below this excerpt and ENJOY!

Zandri-murderbym_(2)Final EXCERPT FROM “MURDER BY MOONLIGHT” (12/18/2012, Thomas & Mercer)

The footsteps sound laden and painful, and remind me of the walking dead. It’s just like I expected them to sound. Dead but somehow still alive. I stand at the big window looking out onto the Hudson River and listen to the victim of an attempted murder slowly climb the stairs to my second-floor office.

Gripped in my right hand, an early afternoon Jack.

I sip the whiskey slowly, stare through the glass, beyond the transparent reflection of my scruffy face, cropped…

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