You know all the clichés. “You’ll miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” “Your reach should not exceed your grasp.” “To win you have to risk loss.”
They are a part of our cultural upbringing, that in any gain there must also be the chance of loss. If you gain without risk, what have you gained?
As an independent author, there is a daily struggle with the risk/reward quotient. How often should I self-promote via social media? There must be a point at which I’ve gone beyond self-promotion and into active annoyance, and I’m careful to not push that line. (At least, I think I haven’t.) An author friend of mine recently told me that she is spending a fair share of money each month to have a marketing firm run her social media for her. I can understand the reward side of that equation: more exposure, broader audience, greater chance for sales. But the risk – the high monthly cost – dissuades me. How much time should I spend writing this blog or just relaxing after a full day of activity on my day job vs. writing? Well, the blog is writing, and writing is relaxing, so while there’s reward in that, the risk is that I’ve spent more time not working on the next book.
But recently I had the chance to participate in a contest run by Bloody Cake (http://bloodycake.wordpress.com/), a site that boasts a dark and quirky set of content. The contest was (is actually, as of this writing the winners have not been announced) focused around Mark Lawrence’s upcoming novel The Prince of Fools. Pretty simply rules. Follow Bloody Cake’s Facebook page (done, and by the way, they throw out some lovely art) and then write a 300 word story featuring the words prince and fools.
Risk? More time away from marketing, writing my book and drinking scotch. Reward? Writing… and the challenge of scoping a tale into a mincer to get to 300 words. But also, the chance to show what happens when risk is greater than reward. When the reach exceeds the grasp. When regardless of whether you take the shot, you can still miss. When even when you risk loss… you can still lose.
Thus, Epic Fail:
An axe thumped into the door. There was a grunt behind it, a shift of splinters.
“Fools!” Thark shouted at me. “Attack the Prince, you said! We’ll be rich, you said! And we fecking believed you!”
There was blood on the left side of his face, streaming from a cut he’d suffered in the ill-fated battle on the road. We’d fled when it became obvious my plan had failed. Fled and left my men to die. I felt it like a blade in my gut. When I looked down, my fingers were in the wound that had been dealt me. The blood dripping through my fingers splashed in a puddle on the floor.
The axe thumped again and the door groaned.
“Now what?” Thark asked.
I looked around the small room. A store room really, at the back of a cabin. We’d put a blade through the owner and hoped to sneak out the back, only to find there was no exit. A stout bar across the door and a quick prayer we wouldn’t be found; only one was working.
The axe thumped again and the blade shot through the door.
“Surrender?” Thark asked. He lifted his sword, clotted blood dark as dirt down to the hilt. “Or not?”
The axe thumped again, shattering the top of the door. The bar ripped from the wall. The door swung open and men filled the space.
Thark rushed forward and a blade slid through his jerkin, right through so the blade stood out from his back.
I looked up as a man approached. He smiled through broken teeth. I remembered hitting him in the mouth with the hilt of my blade. He spat blood into the puddle at my feet.
Then he brought the axe up for one more swing.
Well, I didn’t win the contest. However, unlike our friends Thark and the silent protagonist of the tale, I did receive a reward. Namely, accepting a challenge. You see, the first pass of Ahvarra was close to 190K words. I have almost always been a novelist when it comes to writing. I think in large stories with multiple characters, conflicts and relationships that require explanation and action. A tale in 300 words? I wasn’t sure it could be done, at least by me. But I did it, and considered it ironic that in describing a failed risk, I received reward for myself.
The moral of the story, of course, is what each person must address when facing the decision to take a risk. Not necessarily how great the reward will be, but to set your expectations so that the reward seems the greater.
And so, to the daily grind. I decided to put Ahvarra into a Countdown Deal. I asked friends and family — and thank you all again for helping — to share the link to my book with their friends and family. I chose to write this blog tonight. And soon I’ll choose whether to take a dram of Glenmorangie or Aberlour single malt to unwind.
Small risks, setting expectations. When you’ve got a long road ahead, there’s time to take caution. After all, “Behold the turtle. He makes progress only when he sticks his neck out.”