How did I come to start writing an annual survey?
I began creating my survey as a means of holding myself accountable as a writer. Unlike writers who have been writing ALL of their lives, whose ambitions have always been those of a writer, I have had a career in information technology and loved my career.
When the market collapsed in 2008, I began to realize change was on the wind. Having worked in publishing in the 1990s, I shifted over to designing books and magazines again and for the first time since I went to college (1987) I wanted to write creatively again.
I made a significant commitment to writing in November 2010 with my first National Novel Writing Month. After successfully completely NaNoWriMo, I was hooked!
I participated in National Short Story Month in April of 2011 and completely my first collection of stories which became my first book, Hayward’s Reach.
In 2014, I decided to become a full-time writer, meaning while I still had a job, I was going to pursue a career as a writer. My surveys became a means of tracking, reviewing and keeping me honest by posting my work online and tracking my progress.
- I have written 157 pieces on Medium, 111 pieces on Quora and 90 on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Stack Exchange. I also published 2 on Krypton Radio, 2 on the Good Men Project and 1 on Polygon.com.
- Allowing for the occasional rewrite or update to a piece (and occasional migration to a new platform), it means I have written at least 330+ brand new essays, articles, analyses or short stories in the last year.
The Challenges I Experience as a Writer
As an relatively unknown writer, you are often looked upon as an amateur by professional writers who have figured out the secret formula, writers who are connected, writers who have found their Underdog Super Energy Pill™ and are now on their way to fame, glory, awards and fan adulation and/or contempt. Oh, yeah and they get paid to write. While I have managed to make the transition from writing for free to getting paid, it is still a long road when you haven’t won any major awards, showing up on the cover of Forbes, or have any real science fiction writers who know your name yet…
The first thing such writers will say when you speak to them will be what I call the Big Four Questions:
- How long have you been writing?
- How much have you written?
- What kind of work have you done?
- What makes you think you are ready? (to compete in the big leagues?)
And honestly as a writer, it is difficult to show your bone fides in a way that makes them seem significant without also appearing desperate for the attention or the opportunity.
Thus most writers will drop one of the social validators, helping ease their acceptance into writing circles, literature publications, anthologies, and ultimately the creation and sale of books:
- Bachelors Degree in Liberal Arts (English, Creative Writing, Literature)
- Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree (BFA)
- Masters Degree of Fine Art (MFA)
- Writing Fellowship or other Mastery Program (Ex: Stegner Fellowship)
- Specified and dedicated training program: (VONA Voices, Clarion UCSD, Clarion West)
This list is likely not truly representative of where writers can come from but more of a vetting process for magazines, publishers, and other gatekeepers to recognize your commitment to the craft.
These days, there is one more element which needs to be discussed in addition to the acquisition of a writing team: proofreader, beta readers, editor, agent and publisher and that is the social media or author’s platform. A platform is a means by which an author establishes a potential relationship with readers, other creators, and their (hopefully) enthusiastic fan base.
This usually entails:
- A primary social media platform of your preference (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Snapchat) with lots of people who think you are funny, witty, intelligent, a capable writer, a deep thinker, a lover of cat pictures, and maybe a: social activist, environmentalist, a worshiper of the Noodly One — whatever you do that makes you a unique and interesting person to read about, or associate with.
- A blogging platform where you can post your ideas, short stories, responses, pet theories, cool anecdotes, and favorite cat pictures. Your choices abound, free, paid or other including: (WordPress, Tumblr, Facebook, Medium.com, Wix, SquareSpace, and Blogger, to name just a few — there are hundreds of such platforms available and the number is still growing.)
- These platforms can be hosted by their companies or self-hosted on your own private server. Hosted by company benefits include a minimum of effort on your part. They provide everything but the words you create. Self-hosted means you are responsible for everything. Not recommended for the technologically-phobic unless you married your own IT staff.
- Of late, a new element has been added: That of supported funding using resources such as Patreon or Kickstarter to help you raise money for resources, materials or publication development.
A word of warning regarding social media:
As a person who refuses to automate my social media, it is quite challenging to use the technology to my benefit without losing sight of the purpose it is meant to serve. It is meant to supplement my writing, not replace it. Social media can be insidious as it attempts to absorb all of your time writing just socializing instead.
If you find yourself unable to resist its siren call, my suggestion is to write your work first, before checking your mail, before checking your social media notifications and set a clock so you won’t use it more than an allotted amount of time in any day.
Facebook (community, essay creation, connectivity)
The evil that is Facebook fell in the eyes of millions this year as “fake news” a.k.a. propaganda turned the tool into a weapon against the thinking public. Nonetheless, I have used it as a means to organize my thinking, using it to create essay seeds and other story elements as well as interacting with a potential audience who has reacted (for the most part) favorably toward my work.
Essay seeds are quick and dirty outlines, essay high points from which I can craft more extensive articles after a bit of commentary from my communities show me things I didn’t know or things they think should be discussed as well. If there has been anything Facebook has done well for me is the creation of smart communities whose feedback I have come to rely on when crafting full length articles.
I work with Comic Nerds of Color, the Black Science Fiction Society and my own Dammit, I’m a Science Fiction Writer as my primary forums. I am cursorily affiliated with half a dozen more science fiction, fantasy and comic book organizations online where I write article seeds which can become more fully realized articles after interacting with the communities.
I also maintain a number of curations and pages including my own writer’s page at Thaddeus Howze. I also work with the Afrosurreal Writers Group, and still maintain my half a dozen other pages where I place my writing or other works I think deserve attention. I am also the co-editor of a Medium.com publication which also has a Facebook presence called Futura Magazine.
I have met a number of excellent writers and thinkers on Facebook including Joe Illidge, Damion Gonzales, Hannibal Tabu, Brandon Easton, Brandon Thomas, Paula Friedman, Gene Turnbow, Gene Luen Yang, Jarvis Sheffield, David Walker, Terra Turner, David Rozansky, Andrew Gurcak, Lisa M. Blacker, Lisa Leigh, Ariel Williams, David Maynard, Marilyn Jackson, Elliot S Maggin, Elliot Mason, Sonya Dickerson, John Jennings, Jon Mixon, S Denice Newton and many others.
While Facebook has its own issues, with proper regulation, it has proven more helpful to my cause than any other social media platform in terms of interactions with readers and the writing community.
Two of my favorite projects have come from Facebook. Writing for Krypton Radio, a geek-centric radio and website and the Operative Network, where I get to write prose-form superhero adventures for the O.G. Knight.
Klout (social media analysis)
While the utility of Klout remains elusive, I have continued to play with it as a means of determining how it’s algorithm interacts with my work as it appears online. The algorithm doesn’t take into account quality of work, only how often it is replicated, shared or repeated by other users. My Klout score has remained steady between 58 to 60, with increases to 60 only when a piece I’ve written goes viral.
Back when Klout gave more useful data, my account was considered a tightly-focused, generalist curation with my specialties being: science, technology, writing and later comics/media. For the most part, that hasn’t changed.
My emphasis in social media has been the promotion of my writing, sharing the resources I believe make for good writers, and information nuggets to write around, think about, or challenge as needed through analysis, commentary/opinion or review. I am a lover of science and technology and often promote those along with my advocacy for autism, social justice and humanitarian efforts worldwide.
As an individual trying to develop a media platform, Klout has been less than helpful. I can’t blame it completely because it was probably meant to be used in conjunction with other social media monitoring tools (which I may have not discovered, or may have already died). Since it still has some RSS promotional capacities, I may experiment with them in the coming year if it doesn’t take too long to learn how to make it work.
Twitter (micro-blogging, connectivity)
My Twitter account broke the 9,000 follower mark this morning, after a vicious purging of questionable accounts earlier this year. Twitter is a interesting tool for its ability to connect to users in real time and get their opinions.
While I have not been able to harness the connectedness many writers use to promote their work in conjunction with others (using magazines like Blavity.com and BlackGirlNerds) I have managed to create a platform of excellence and have friends among a variety of different communities including: #scifichat, #blackcomicschat, #techchat, #webcomicschat, as well as science, technology, academia, media development, social media and publishing circles.
I have joined a couple of smaller operations which promote my work and I promote theirs, hopefully to our mutual benefit including Krypton Radio, The Operative Network, the Good Men Project, Panel & Frame and Futura Magazine (of which I am a co-editor of the publication with at least 1,000 followers).
Twitter has allowed me to reach an amazing assortment of writers, creators, and designers who inspire me to continue to create while letting me know of the challenges of the industry. I have spoken with some of the greatest writers of the era, known and unknown. Many of the best people I follow are not considered famous, but their work is nothing short of amazing.
- @tanehisicoates whose Black Panther comic was a complete inspiration, just like everything this brother does. He has had an amazing year and yet took the time out to talk to me. Yes, I had reservations about his work in Black Panther, but in my opinion, what he’s done for the book is nothing less than extraordinary.
- @DavidWalker1201 who has been all over the comicsphere this year writing my favorite books this year which were Nighthawk and Power Man and Iron Fist. I met him early in the year at a comic convention and he was the most supportive creator I have ever had the pleasure to speak to. His writing is also top notch — superheroes come to life in his hands.
- @HannibalTabu and the Operative Network took a big risk with me this year and let me work with their comic project. I appreciate his and Damion Gonzales taking the risk with my writing. Thank you, gentlemen.
Medium (blogging, community)
My Medium blog has grown quite well this year with over 6,100 followers, but at the expense of my WordPress blogs which were barely supported due to my attempt to expand my market visibility through Medium. In the coming year, I will be using my WordPress blogs to expand my visibility opportunities, echoing popular Medium posts with follow-up stories.
My most popular Medium stories are unfortunately articles about racism in America, the lazy, racist stereotypes in modern media and the apparent inability to evolve past said racism.
- My favorite piece was On the Death of James Rhodes (9,500 views) after the Civil War II sponsored death of long-running Iron Man supporting actor, James Rhodes who was also known as the superhero War Machine for over 37 years in the Marvel Universe.
- My two articles on the racist undertones of the Walking Dead: The Walking Dead: No More, and Agency, Black Men and the Walking Dead netted me 10,000 new views.
- My top-running article for 2016 was viewed 22,000 times on Medium: “Say ‘Reverse Racism’ One More Motherfucking Time…” which challenges the idea of reverse racism, white suffering and the premise that white people are the most put upon social group in America. Not on a bet.
My speculative fiction, which is why I came to Medium in the first place, has been well received but has a far more modest audience in comparison to my non-fiction work. I admit to being less consistent with it than my other writing work and plan to dedicate more time to serial fiction in the coming year. Some of my best read pieces this year include:
- One Electron Universe: A particle races from the beginning to the end of the Universe only to discover everything is related.
- Death and Life: In a Place of Novas: When Life and Death were young and didn’t understand one another…
- One Drop: A young warrior-mage talks of her early years in training with her father and brothers before they were lost to the war.
I revived my old forum moniker, Answer-Man, to write thought-experiments, comic essays and reviews after a contest revived the identity in an essay written on Quora in late 2015.
I have written a variety of other analyses or thought-experiments which have also been very popular. Many of them start their lives over on Quora or at the Science Fiction and Fantasy Stack Exchange before migrating here including:
- The Order of Things: A story of my son, his autism and how we deal with it.
- The Other Talk With Your Kids: (Humor) The other talk every parent dreads having with their kids. (This piece is also on the Huffington Post.)
- Who’s the Most Similar Character to Wonder Woman in the Marvel Universe (Comic History) has 3,500 views
- What’s the difference between DC and Marvel Comics (Comic History) has 3,100 views
- Writing Craft: What Nobody Ever Told Me (Writing Technique) has over 2,500 views
- My People: It’s Not Your Job to Educate Racists (Society) has over 1,900 views
- What are Luke Cage’s Notable Weaknesses (Hero Analysis) has 1,500 views
I did not cater to the standard click-bait forms, did not pander to racism, hatred or other bullshit memes. While I did have to deal with my share of trolls, I did my best to remain classy using aliases such as The Cat Sage and Felis Silvestra Sinister, Esquire.
- I did my best to be inspirational, informative without using false divisions, and to remain true to myself as a writer, creating things with meaning and value to those who read them.
- I admit I don’t reply as often as people might like, but that’s because the reply technology of Medium forces me to create another document rather than have a comments thread. No time for dealing with or sorting through that.
- I have taken to replying individually as a note in documents. But if you read, upvote, say nice things, or in some cases say rude things, know that I hear you and treat with you appropriately as time permits.
To those amazing writers for whom I still sit in your shadows, I bow before your talents, your humanity, your storytelling prowess, your ability to connect to audiences and have the utmost respect for your considerable talents. I have my eye on you, I do my best to learn from you, even if I don’t say as much as I probably should in this community.
I salute you!
Quora (thought-experiments, essays, politics)
Quora has been a mixed bag this year because of the recent political and social issues related to the election. Much of the rhetoric on the website has been loaded racial essays I don’t want anything to do with. But there are plenty of of questions I enjoy answering, so I will continue to write there for the foreseeable future. My essays have mostly been related to media and comics.
My favorites for this year include:
- Marvel Comics: What is more powerful: The Infinity Gauntlet or the Heart of the Universe?
- Would a human go insane if space and time stopped just for that single person for one month?
- Is it true that Obama could have done more to help black Americans during his time in office?
- Who would win in a fight: Black Panther or Batman?
- Who is the most intelligent character in the Marvel universe?
Patreon (patronage, community)
Patreon has served my needs quite well this year but with the recent changes to the program’s appearance and expanded opportunities, I will need to revise my petition letter to improve its performance. Patreon is a great tool for finding new patrons of the arts, particularly if you are a visual artist but it is possible for writers to use the tool, perhaps just not as well as visual artists do.
I have seen visual artists bring in as much $20,000 per month. Well-known writers can get up to $6,000 a month. My needs are far more modest but the support I am looking for is necessary if I am to complete my projects in the coming year.
My Patreon target is $1,500 a month by the end of next year.
Yes, this is ambitious, but I believe my efforts, my prolific writing nature and enthusiasm for my work show my dedication to getting it done.
I wrote 300 articles this year, nearly one a day, every day, rain or shine. If you can’t get behind any other aspect of my work, the dedication to the craft is a good place to start.
I am also looking to produce my own publications including Visiting Hours, A Millennium of Madness, the World According to Superheroes, and more of my serial stories being converted into novellas or novels.
This would include:
- The Sagas of Radi Kahina: Apostate, Magus, Barbarian; A Mistress in Thunder and The Spear of Heaven
- The Clifford Engram series: Broken Glass (completed), Motus Vita, and Black Dust.
- My Jupiter Invaders series called The Eye of Storms, and
- My Hunted Vampire series called House of Oak: Red Star, White Sun.
I have managed to produce outlines and at least ten chapters of all of these works, but lack the time due to work commitments and teaching my wonderfully eclectic special-needs child.
Not content to wait until my Patreon blooms (because I am confident it will) I have applied to fellowships like the Stegner Fellowship at Stanford as a writer promoting speculative fiction. If I win, it will be the first time a writer of speculative fiction and an African American man have ever appeared among their ranks as a writer of fiction.
Things I Learned this Year as a Writer
Writing books is harder than I thought. With the stress of the year bearing down upon me, I have found my short form work has thrived. Now I need to take it to the next level.
- I have written for a number of publications this year including Polygon.com and Krypton Radio.
- Smaller online publications have also been interested in my work and I have appeared in a number of venture capitalist publications talking about technology themes.
- I have also had the opportunity to work with the East Cleveland Public Library and meet with the unstoppable Bill Campbell (of Rosarium Publishing).
Even though this year has me slated to complete over 300 articles and garner over 4 million unique views, my prize of writing full length novels has eluded me.
Part of this is psychological, part is personal and time-related.
- In the coming year, I am working on a scheduled plan to produce more completed stories/series/serials than I did this year.
- Even if this means I will have to cut my short stories and article volume down to 100 or so, hopefully giving me more time to focus on writing more long-form publications.
In the Coming Year
Finish a book. No. Finish two books. I can do this. Hell, more than half the books I have talked about are technically finished. They need editing, covers, and quality control reviews. But they are already done. I need to stop being afraid and pull the triggers.
Apply to Clarion UCSD and Clarion West: (No, I have no idea where I am going to get the $5,000 dollars + the $1,200 I need to keep my house going while I am in school for six weeks) but I realize the benefits such a membership may offer, that I will have to find scholarships and other resources as needed to win the day.
Collaborate and Coordinate: Finding the resources to meet and greet, share and disseminate information, find new readers, get new resources and producing quality materials while still trying to maintain a normal life is proving to be a challenge beyond anything I expected.
Increase visibility and diversify publications: I did appear in a number of anthologies this year and will be more focused on showing up in mainstream publications such as Asimov, Lightspeed Magazine and any other high-visibility publications. I also plan to submit to some uniquely African Diaspora publications such as Fiyah!
— Apply to Clarion.
— Grow patronage. (see above)
— Increase freelance venues and opportunities. (see above)
— Secure a fellowship. (see above)
— Meet new people in the industries I want to work in.
— Sell new stories to the marketplace.
— Expand the Answer-Man branding
— Make opportunities for new authors to appear in Futura Magazine
- Read my bio on a single page: http://answer-man.net
- Sample an array of articles I’ve written: http://ebonstorm.contently.com
- Support my Patreon at: http://patreon.com/ebonstorm
- Join me on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/ebonstorm
- My speculative fiction on Medium: http://medium.com/@ebonstorm
- Literary Potpourri: https://www.quora.com/profile/Thaddeus-Howze
- Read the best of my work on my host site: http://hubcityblues.com
The Answer-Man’s Archives are a collection of my articles discussing superheroes and their powers in relationship to their respective universes. We deconstruct characters, memes, profiles and how superheroes relate to real world culture. You can find other Archives on Quora and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Stack Exchange or at The World According to Superheroes.
Thaddeus Howze is a writer, essayist, author and professional storyteller for mysterious beings who exist in non-Euclidean realms beyond our understanding. You can follow him on Twitter or support his writings on Patreon.