by Jaime Buckley
I was asked to do this article, and I thought it was a mistake. Attempting to write something, to say something profound or inspiring, that belief intensified. Sitting alone in my office, looking at the creations that fed and clothed my family for decades, the truth poked its head out from the collections and waved tiny fingers at me.
“Your purpose isn’t to inspire these readers, you fool,” it whispered. “You’re supposed to warn them!”
That made a lot more sense.
After 11 fantasy novels, more than a million downloads of my comic books and graph novels, I still frown at myself in the mirror. Publishing thousands of articles, building blogs, creating podcasts, games, and illustrating for many famous and hundreds of not-so-famous clients wasn’t what I had planned. I’d taken the wrong path. Riddled with guilt and anxiety, my fractured heart beat with sorrow and disappointment, tormenting my every thought. Each character I’d grown to love, each fantastical place I walked in my imagination, was tainted.
Without warning, my mind cracked.
In less than 48 hours, I’d yanked my works from the world. Every book, every novel, every newsletter and cookie I could find, I deleted, wiping 20 years of dedicated effort from the internet. My heart still pounds thinking about it — trembling fingers trying to end my existence in the eyes of the world. Hell, I even deleted my Instagram, Twitter and In-Yer-Facebook accounts.
Dear reader, I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I did.
I want you to consider pulling the plug sooner.
I’m pretty confident that you don’t know me, but I know you.
You’re the smart, creative one. Underestimated by those around you, there’s something special inside trying to get out. You want to give birth to this idea so the world can experience it.
You may not know what this idea is, but you know it’s important. If crafted, it’ll improve minds, hearts, perspectives, maybe even inspire the life of a reader. You know it’s important because that ‘feeling’ inside you won’t leave. It catches your attention repeatedly, tugging at your mind, because it wants to be given life. It wants direction and purpose, which is why this idea chose you.
Did you love it, nourish it, wrap your arms around it when it tried to walk on its own? Did you defend and protect it from those wanting to harm or even kill it? Have you even considered these things?
When the greatest idea of my writing life was born, Wanted Hero, I fed it coffee and cigarettes, stunting its growth. As it hungered for nourishment, I kept it alive on doughnuts and pain killers. When it looked to me for validation, I didn’t speak the truth or provide sound instruction like any good parent would. I feigned encouragement, ignored its critical development, then linked its value to the screwed-up opinions of those around us who never gave a damn. That’s right, those who had nothing invested, nothing to contribute, became the taskmaster and gatekeeper of my fictional child.
I’d earned a place in hell, alongside puppy haters and those who talk during movies.
What was my great sin?
I allowed outside influences to change the original, beautiful content of my story. Wanted Hero was a creation that had called to me from the void of creativity, pleading to be loved, nurtured, and cherished, and I betrayed it.
The idea of Wanted Hero was a simple one. Being a new father, I hoped to craft a fictional world to inspire my children where challenges were solved and overcome by everyday people. Stories that would allow my kids to discover critical answers, even if they wouldn’t listen to their father. Stories to encourage them, learning more about themselves, discovering what they thought about various subjects all on their own.
Being raised by a marketing executive father, this ‘simple’ idea soon became a career for me. The possibilities of this story blazed in my mind like a neon ‘OPEN’ sign. I envisioned stories in every genre and projects to span every demographic. Monetizing became my first compromise. Not that making money is wrong, but it became my obsession, rather than the story itself.
I could publish the story, sell it as digital PDFs, make games, t-shirts, mugs, and a message board kids would interact on. To make the dream even bigger, I envisioned a ‘culture’ fostered by a website that would connect readers. Contacting programmers in India, I requested bids to construct my dream.
This was back before World Anvil, and the internet was ruled by those who wrote HTML, and I’d forgotten my foundation.
I’d always intended to create Wanted Hero as comics, so that’s the route I went. Drawing them traditionally, I scanned each page onto my desktop and published them as PDFs, selling them years before the Kindle existed. I dubbed them ‘eComics’ and sold them for ¢.97 each. Buy one, print as many as you wanted, so long as you didn’t alter them or sell them. Before the year was out, I had over 750,000 visitors from 60 countries.
Still don’t understand how that happened.
One customer would pay me extra to print each issue at the local copy shop and mail it to him. He sent me an email, asking if he could tell a few friends about the comic book. I said, “Sure. I don’t advertise, so that would be a kind gesture. Thank you.” He replied the following day, informing me he’d shared the comic with thousands of his fraternity brothers over Facebook.
With the increased sales, I could pay my mortgage that month.
As the comic grew in popularity, I made my next compromise. There were people online who impressed me, and I thought it would be awesome to make them into comic book characters and show kids that ‘heroes’ exist. It was a good intent, and many people I wrote about became friends. They also shared the comics within their circles, expanding the story’s reach.
I shifted and changed the story to include more and more people. New characters, never part of the original story, took over the comics. Before long, I couldn’t recognize the storyline. I’d built a world I no longer knew… or loved.
Now that I look back, I’m grateful for the car accident. I think it was the Universe taking to me. It was saying, “You screwed up, Jaime, but I’m going to give you a second chance. Get with the program.”
If only I was smart… and less desperate.
With mangled hands and losing my fine motor skills, the comics died. In depression, I walked away… never telling my readers what happened. I know that sounds bad, but my life’s dream had ended. My wife and oldest daughter soon convinced me to take Wanted Hero and write them as novels in place of comic books.
It was a crazy thought — I wrote comic scripts, not books — but they applied the thumbscrews of love with a heavy dose of female perspective… and won. I started writing and found I didn’t suck at it. As another perk, my new boss had connections with a famous New York Times author in the fantasy genre. He introduced me to the author, and I received encouraging feedback and instruction. Enough to catapult me from depression into a creative frenzy once more.
In 2011, I published the first book in the series. With little to no marketing, the first book sold roughly 23,000 copies. Writing was also more fun than drawing, prompting six more novels the next year. Rebuilding the website, I sold digital copies and connected with readers through a blog. All I’d changed, though, were a few details to appeal to a wider demographic.
The Universe had smashed the ‘reset’ button, giving me a second chance, and I’d ignored the offer. The books had the flavor of the idea, with little to none of the substance. My writing became focused more on world building, not the hero or the adventure.
I’d compromised again.
The thing about telling a lie is you maintain that lie as questions arise. I’d lied to myself about what I was doing, and each time the Universe whispered over my shoulder, questioning my actions, I’d adjust my answer to justify my current position.
I told myself the books weren’t selling enough because:
I’ll never know what could have happened. I never wrote the actual story. What I dreamed up in 1990 never saw the light of day. On this corrupted path, I created something else. I built what I believed people would want, instead of crafting the story that called to my soul. Can’t recall when I turned down the wrong path, but I’m not sure it matters.
What does matter is taking full responsibility and accountability for compromising on the best creative idea I’ve ever had.
Then correct it.
It wasn’t too late to do the right thing.
That’s why I pulled the plug, dear reader. The weight of my grave decisions destroyed me. The core of my very nature is that I love people. My own children and the surrounding youth are a significant part of who I am and why I do what I do. I’m a father of 13 children, grandfather to 23 grandchildren and I’ve taught over 1000 youth over 20+ years that they matter.
Yet I spent my professional career telling a lie.
That isn’t what I want to be remembered for.
Take this personal and painful life lesson I’ve shared with you, and prevent your own heartache. Avoid disappointment and shame when you look in the mirror. Take your time. Give life to your brilliant idea. Nourish and encourage your characters. Help them fulfill the measure of their creation, to connect with readers and spark the wonder within minds and hearts.
Do… not… compromise your story.
You will regret it. Of that, I know.
What do YOU want to be remembered for?
* * * * * *
Jaime Buckley is a freelance illustrator and best-selling author. More importantly, he’s a loving husband and father of 13 children, and ‘Papa’ to 23 grandchildren. Since 1986 he’s worked for famous authors and TV personalities, and illustrated for hundreds of new authors across the genre spectrum. If you can think of a creative project or marketing strategy, Jaime's likely done it… but always finds his greatest success by being himself. WantedHero.com is his dream and passion, which he builds exclusively on WorldAnvil.com.
Check out Jaime's current books:
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Great post, Jaime. I will try not to compromise. I don't think I have up till now, but I must give it deep thought to make sure I haven't.
Good choice. I found myself veering off every few years and I came to see that our goals change. Our motivations change. Just be true to your vision and give your creation it’s best chance of life and success.
Wish you all the success in the world 😎
Thank you for sharing, especially because it's what I needed to hear when I needed to hear it. I spent decades adrift in compromise hell. A battle raged within. One side said that if I didn't compromise I wouldn't sell. The other said that if I didn't write my truth that it'd hollow me out.
The result was that I wrote commercial emptiness that I abandoned, I wrote what I loved and abandoned it because it scared me, or I didn't write at all.
Funny how a near death experience, long recovery (sound familiar?), and running out of years alter a person's perspective. In 2015, I scrapped a lot of my worldbuilding and dove into fantasy stories near to my heart. It was amazing how they came alive in ways I couldn't have imagined. Self-truth, it seems, is an awakening. I wasn't ready for the explosion of ideas, but I treasure every one.
Oh Christina, you made me tear up.
I relate to every word, and I want to share a hard won truth I believe you can truly appreciate…
Writers need to realize that when we write something that wasn’t honestly from us, it’s all a lie.
Think about this—no matter who compliments your works or buys your works, that wasn’t what you wanted to share, so what are readers complimenting?
That’s the best advice anyone can give to those looking for their voice.
Be you, and let those who love that voice find you.
I’m just starting that journey now, after 30 years of dedication and effort.
Thank you! Again, your words are what I needed to hear. 🙂
Go out there and be so brilliant, share so much,...that people will 'see' you.
Show the world why they should listen to you, my friend!
Thank you for sharing your story, Jaime. I haven't compromised, yet. It's a temptation that constantly hovers near as a never-ending conflict. I was cracking...but thanks to your words of caution I'm renewed in my defiance. I won't compromise my world, my story, my words. Thank you.
“Compromise” has become the dirtiest swear word in my vocabulary.
Makes my heart sing to hear you say that, Lynette.
When we decide to be who we truly are, and let those creative juices have a hold, magic can happen!
Thank you for sharing this story, Jaime. I run into too many authors who are questioning compromise, and I think this article needs to be out here for all of them to read!!!
Thank you, Lisa.
There are so many reasons why we write, and not all of them are about truth. If you’re looking for fame or money alone, compromise isn’t a bad thing if that’s what you want.
For me it’s about leaving a piece of me behind, and honestly, I am terrified of being forgotten. For all the efforts of my existence to fade away into oblivion by living a less than remarkable life.
I still have dreams of teens reading my books and telling the friends that love the stories, “My grandpa wrote that.”
May not be what others deem as success, but I’ve made money enough for my needs. This is far more important and enduring to me.
Just be SURE that you’re going after what you actually want…that’s all I’m saying.
Thank you for sharing this story, these hard truths and deep wisdom. This type of reflection is the hardest but also the strongest.
I think this is the hardest journey, the journey to find our place, our path and to see this with honest eyes. Sometime we have it yet do not even realize it and stray off in yet one more random direction. My rear view mirror is littered with half-choices and bad directions.
However we still have today and the promise of tomorrow. We can still place one foot in front of the other and right our course. Trust your inner truth my friend for it is strong and shining like the sun. Just know that you bring sunshine and happiness everything you step into the conversation. Be good my friend.
….aaaand now everyone knows why we are friends.
Amen and ouch. You always say what I feel so eloquently. 😉
Thank you for the compliments, but you know me well enough to understand that people matter to me. People are the flavor of life. The hopes, the dreams, the ones we share the dreams with.
Writers can be the shapers of dreams if they choose to. We can inspire the future generations, and soften the pain of the past…all with the creative power we have inside.
With great power comes….nvm, I’m sure that’s copyrighted.
Let’s do our best to give our best for others to enjoy.
Well spoken, Jaime! Thank you for being brave enough to share this part of your story.
Talking is genetic, Amy. I’ve tried medications to no avail.
Articles is where I get to share my life…especially when I can be an example of what NOT to do. 😉
Thanks for reading my friend. ❤️
Boy does that give me ideas. Now the courage to follow through.
Step one: quit Twitter.
What else is stealing nourishment from the story I want to tell?
Telling it before you write it, Ken.
That’s another hard won truth I found. The less I discuss my story until it’s completed and ready for editing, the more I write.
From one novel in 2-3 years to 6 novels in one year.
First draft is just for you. Vomit out your guts and heart, then refine.
Think of it as keeping the biggest secret from the world and watch how much you create because you’re bursting at the seams!!!
so much truth, knowledge, and wisdom
I think I'd like that in writing,....wanna show my wife and kids.
I dunno. The compromise seems to have fed those children and made you famous. 23,000 copies sold of ANYTHING is amazing.
I am focused so hard on not deviating ONE INCH from the story - and get wonderful reviews when I can force someone to read the first two volumes in my mainstream trilogy - that I have sold 21 copies of the second book that just came out last September. And somewhere near 250 of the first one which came out in 2015 after 15 years of writing.
Obscurity isn't much fun - can't I just compromise until my hands bleed a little?
I'm waiting for the lightning strike, the viral moment, the award that actually makes a difference, something, anything... while writing the third and final volume for the next few years so it is EXACTLY what I knew I wanted since 2000 when the idea, complete, was vouchsafed to me. It's not much fun to wait.
I have this funny idea that people who like my work don't want to share it with others; they write some splendid reviews, knowing few people read them?
Why is it we always want what we don't have?
"I have this funny idea that people who like my work don't want to share it with others; they write some splendid reviews, knowing few people read them?"
I think we're writing to the same crowds. Tens of thousands of sales and I believe the total count of reviews I had on Amazon was 21-24?
"Why is it we always want what we don't have?"
I've been trying to find the answer to that question...but I...don't have it.
I meant it from the other side - way too few sales given that the reviews are good (and by 'good', I mean long, literate, fulsome, embarrassingly good, and detailed without giving the plot away).
I am happy with the latter - UNhappy with the former. If people like it so much, I expected to see more spread.
It suggested itself to me: when I was a kid, if I really loved a book, I didn't share it; I kept the deliciousness to myself. I'm HOPING that's what's going on. 🙂
No, I agree with you, and I believe I understood you.
If there are such good reviews, there should be more sales,...BUT if there's good sales, why aren't there more reviews?
...which translates into more sales?
See the wheel?
I just happen to live in a world where readers enjoy the books, and they tell others, but I have no "social proof" to show others, which can discourage first timers from picking the book up.
My first book was in the top 10 of its category on Amazon (on the first page) for over three years...but when you looked it up and saw such few reviews, you wondered, "How is this possible??"
As the writer, it's disheartening to see so much confusion and you begin to question yourself. Trust me, sales aren't as satisfying as you might think.
Hehehe, wellll, if I was selling hundreds of thousands of copies, I reserve the right to change that answer.
IF I'm still around, maybe finishing the trilogy will give me the push I need in marketing - and I need to learn a lot about marketing, anyway - but it is easier for readers to try something knowing it's finished. Maybe especially so if you're indie?
The writing is very slow, so I need to spend most of my creative time on it. It's coming along nicely...
Sometimes I admire my persistence while ill; other times I wonder what I was thinking! 22+ years and only 2/3 finished. Happy I still like it.
Alicia, that's amazing. My whole Wanted Hero journey started in 1990, so I get the time frames. I've side stepped cancer for now, and a great deal of what I've created has been while ill as well.
...you sure we're not related? (wink)
As for people willing to read a series already completed, I would agree -- I'm one of them -- but keep in mind that a completed series without reviews also looks suspicious to many.
Here's the absolute truth here -- and many will disagree with me -- but I can't fix stupid:
Much of what we see and experience in the publishing landscape is a racked and riddled with lies for profit. The systems sold to us are more often what worked for those touting it, until it became too hard or the market shifted -- so they sell them to us instead. Those highly successful and rich aren't teaching what they did to make the money. Even Master Class and BBC Maestro courses are about craft and not marketing or making the money. They are NOT sharing their exact steps.
So I had to learn the traditional way -- with broken bones and bloody noses. And I did learn a great deal. I've found marketing to be far more simple, when looked at it in this way...
SALES is finding a person, grabbing them by the scruff of the neck and dragging them from 1% to 100% by any means necessary.
MARKETING is finding those already 90% of the way to the sale and showing them options that will benefit them and letting them choose for themselves.
That means building RELATIONSHIPS.
Now, please keep in mind that all this is from my own perspective and experiences. Others cannot challenge what I'm saying because they're my actual experiences, BUT I do know there are OTHER ways. There are, and you need to hear me say that -- there's SO much I don't know, but I have yet in 30+ years had a marketing system I bought and applied that has worked for me.
Tens of thousands of dollars and far more in dedicated effort to have ZERO results.
I live for the relationships. To introduce a person to a story, such as a kid, and the next think I know he's recommended by books to a friend, then a cousin, then I get a call from a librarian several states away saying my books are both fought over and stolen because the kids love them so much.
That actually happened.
As Indie Authors, you cannot guarantee your success, you can only give yourself a better chance AT success, eliminating weaknesses and planting seeds, until people will naturally find signs of you wherever they look.
That is the way I've made a living. I'm not famous. I'm not even popular. But I can say that I've been writing and drawing and raising a family of 14, allowing my wife to be the stay at home mommy and housewife she requested 33 years ago.
I just want more. Much, much more -- and I believe it's going to be trough relationships. Google-proof, Anti-pay-per-click, Amazon-can-kiss-my-fat-butt relationships.
Relationships work, and you can make those with today's technologies whether healthy or ill, mobile or not.
...it's happening right now.
Someone is going to wonder who I am and likely who YOU are, and because Writers In The Storm is clever and honest by allowing commenters to connect their website to their name (as ALL WEBSITES SHOULD), someone's going to come looking for us.
That's where all the true magic happens, Alicia.
We, as writer/authors, just need to understand what's actually happening around us. There's so much hope, potential, and prosperity at your fingertips -- just look about you.
I do connect - with anyone who wants to talk about writing, and often find someone will buy a copy of PURGATORY or NETHERWORLD as a result.
Kind of them - but so far not resulting in a lot of followup. I'm pretty sure I appeal to introverts.
My best results are always when I find someone whose reviews of the great classics of the past couple of hundred years match mine in some aspects, use their own words against them to persuade them to read mine (not quite flattery - more showing that something that is basic to my background already appealed to them), and land them like fish.
I'm sure they thought that they'd accept a review copy, read a bit, be unconvinced (after all, I'm an indie daring to write mainstream literary fiction), and send a nice little apology. Instead, they are hoist on their own petard, yanked underwater in spite of themselves, and have to justify it to themselves somehow. Their reviews often contain words such as, "I don't normally read this kind of fiction, but..."
Very gratifying, because then I get a review like the ones that made me dare approach in the first place - which is my goal.
Relationships? Even the one guy who decked me a star because he didn't like my definition of 'trilogy' on the first book kindly accepted an ARC of the second book - and gave it 5*.
The only problem is that it takes me precious writing time to find and approach likely prospects - and I have only about a 50% success rate because some are not reviewing right now (life happens).
I'm not unhappy - I'm unavoidably SLOW. This IS my legacy. I have not changed a word for anyone (I wouldn't know how to do that). Accidentally, of course - by lacking the capacity to let other people tell me what to do. By finding there's NO way I could work with an editor.
But I think you should still be happy about all the people YOU pleased with your prior work - even if it wasn't exactly what you wanted to do, it WAS what you DID, and they liked it and bought it. Kudos. And now you can do the other. Maybe you weren't ready to do what you want - and developed tons of skills while 'practicing.' Grist for the mills which grind exceedingly small. Real, impressive, and a force of its own.
BTW - what do YOU like to read? 🙂
This post so resonates with me! I let external influences (fiction writers in my writers' group) seduce me into turning my memoir into a mixed genre work. If the memoir part wasn't going to be difficult enough to sell in the first place, adding a historical fiction component sank the project entirely. I ran it past an editor who told me to get rid of the fiction, and focus on the memoir - exactly what my tutors at university had told me before I was 'led astray'. One learns...
Rose, I can only imagine how amazing a memoir would be, and how you could influence the minds and hearts of readers.
I'm so delighted to hear that you found your path again!!
Stay the course -- listen to that still, small, internal voice...it'll tell you the truth of the matter and lead you in the right direction.
I have to say that it's always a challenge when you have people giving their opinions and even counsel. They could be professionals, they could be right, they could also be deadly wrong.
That's when we have to listen to our internal voice. Yet, I'll say here that we need to listen when we are calm, without stress, so we can hear the truth of the matter and not through tainted filters.
Does that make sense?
YOU have what it takes to find the truth, even if you don't know the exact answer. We have, in us, the means to detect falsehoods.
Write what you are meant to write.
Love this post, Jaime. I'll be sharing in my next newsletter. I hope you're finding the heart of your vision and creativity.
Thank you, Tiffany.
After nearly a year of intense, painful struggle, I have found that original creative idea, have mapped it out, and as soon as I rebuild my office (with a full 8' x 16' chalkboard next to my writing desk), I will be bolting down the path to my hearts delight.
Hope this article will help your readers.
[…] in the Storm blogsite by freelance illustrator and author, Jaime Buckley, you can find the post here. It’s POWERFUL and one I’ve bookmarked to keep in mind as I start the first draft on my […]