Friday, October 21, 2016

Family Stories

Because last week was the anniversary of my grandmother's death and because I am in nearing the end of a draft on a story set in New Orleans, I've got family on the brain. In part, because my mother's family is from the south. And in part because both in the story I'm finishing and in my life, family plays a complicated role.

This photo at right is of my grandfather Watson. He's the man on the right, in the suit and tie. This is in Arkansas, taken just after a church meeting. I have no notion of the year. Of all my family ties, my relationship with him was one of the least complicated. He and my grandmother both believed that my sister and I could do no wrong. We had an advantage, having both been born in Alaska, so far away form either set of grandparents. I met my maternal grandparents for the first time with I was five. I think they thought they had five years of spoiling to make up for. They were lovely people who accepted me without question and without fail, simply because I was their daughter's daughter.

But you know, they had six children. And those six children all had children. Some divorced, remarried and had still more children. By the time I'd come along, some of those children had married and started having children. That's a lot of people to have in the house at Thanksgiving. It's also a lot of people with a lot of different opinions, some diametrically opposed to my own. There are interdependencies and drama and accusations of terrible things. Dynamics of love and jealousy, rivalry and kinship are etched deep into the people who make up the family. We are mostly Scots/Irish and in the south, the clan identity never quite gave way. Your blood is your tribe for good or for ill. In reality, it's both. We have a body of stories in this part of my family - stories like Four Brothers Come to America and Marry Four Brothers. It was a headline in a local paper when a many times great grandfather arrived from Scotland. He and his brothers married four sisters whose last name was Brothers. When the Civil War came around, the entire line died out save for one lone boy who'd been too young to enlist. These make up a huge portion of our identity on Mom's side of the family. They're intertwined with the complicated side - like the occasional display of bigotry. I don't get to embrace one and ignore the other. They are part and messy parcel of the family.

And I'm not here to get up on a soapbox about anything. What I want is to have this complex, sometimes maddening, but ultimately loving and fertile ground woven into the story I'm finishing because it so defines the Southern experience and I suspect a big portion of the Civil War - in that it sundered families, both from an ideological stand point  and from the stand point that so many men died. The heroine of the story is already an orphan. She has no idea who she is. But she knows family. Crazy, maddening, loving and protective family. She'll do anything to protect them. Anything.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Perils of the Writer: Keeping Your Mind on the Work

So, I'm supposed to talk about whatever is on my mind, and of late my mind has been on the toxicity of social media, especially in the SFF community.  But at the same time, that's the last thing I want to talk about, because it is so toxic, and my brain power is better spent on other things.
So that's what's on my mind, but it is not what I want to talk about.
Because, when you come right down to it, the toxicity of social media should not matter.  What should matter is writing books, doing the work, and all of us authors can be "We've got books!" and everyone else can be "Yay books!" and that should be it.
I mean, my focus should be sitting down and writing.  Which is exactly what I do.  I've got deadlines coming up.  I've got more books coming out.  I do not have time to get into a tweet-war, nor do I have the inclination.  Why would I want to?
So: focused on the writing.  I'm deep in the process of Lady Henterman's Wardrobe, the second Streets of Maradaine novel, which is a lot of fun.  I'm looking forward to the things to come.  Heck, right now I've got three novels out, and a year from today, I'll have three more.  And I'm so excited about that.  I think you'll really enjoy meeting the Holver Alley Crew.  And you only have to wait until March for that.  
And only twelve days for An Import of Intrigue!  I'm so very excited.  We're do a full blog tour, kicking off on Saturday.  So keep your eyes open.  

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

You Tell Me: Urban Fantasy Covers--People or Objects

Since we're riffing this week about what's on our minds, I'll go with...covers.

I'm a fixin' to start work on the covers for my new Urban Fantasy series: The Immortal Spies.  I'm torn between using the traditional protagonist on the cover and the less common thematic art piece.

Examples of Protagonist-Centric Covers:

Examples of No People on the Covers:

For fans of Urban Fantasy, what are your thoughts? Preferences?  Strong feelings on either front?

Monday, October 17, 2016

Now And Then You Have To Eat Crow.

So, as I have said to several people in the last few years, I can be a luddite. I can be stubborn and I can even be down right repetitiously set in my ways. The subject in this case is self-publishing. Listen the fact of the matter is I've seen a LOT of people selling their self-pubbed books from the backs of their cars, both to individuals and in some cases even selling successfully to bookstores. I'm not saying that the works were amateurish, I'm just saying that you shouldn't have your seven-year-old nephew do the book cover, your auntie Mildred (You know, the one with dyslexia?) do the editing or your cousin with the xerox machine do your printing. It was about that bad when I was starting out. Mock me if you will, but those of us who have been there know the truth. There was a reason that self-publishing was sneered down at with open contempt. Most of the editing done was on par with one of my first drafts, before I proof it. That, folks, is just plain not pretty.

Well, over the last decade or so I've slowly learned a lesson. Self-publishing is like anything else. There's a right way and there's a wrong way. Only, until very, very recently in the history of publishing, doing it the wrong was was easier and far more common.

J.A. Konrath certainly deserves a great deal of credit. Not only was he really one of the pioneers of the new self-publishing frontiers, he was also one of the first to point out how he did it and make regular reports. He had a step up, of course. he had a traditional career as a best selling author to help boost his name and he's wise enough to use that momentum and keep going.  The man is practically an empire these days. complete with other people writing novels in his world and making profits as well, provided they receive Joe's approval.  That's damned impressive.

But in my mind he was the exception, and not the rule. There are always exceptions, right?

Enter E.J. Stevens.  Last year at Boskone, a fantasy convention set in Boston, E.J and I were on a panel together. I couldn't even tell you which one anymore,  (I THINK it was on keeping old myths alive in horror and urban fantasy).What I can tell you is that in the few minutes we had to chat before the panel started she caught my attention with her, frankly, impressive track record. In seven years time, E.J. had written and published fifteen novels. Self published. She had post cards, business cards, mini-posters, and actual books to show and they were well done. They had good, solid covers (I think the new artist she's working with is better. She improves. That is wise.).

Now, that's impressive enough. Let me clarify: E.J. had fifteen novels. Most of them already translated into multiple languages. Most of them either already out as audio books or heading in that direction. She had professional editors, professional translators and professional voice actors lined up and working for her on multiple projects. She had translators she could trust to double check that the first translators were doing it the right way.

She had, in other words, all the stuff anyone could possibly want from a traditional publisher. Only she was footing the bill for all of it and making a handsome profit to boot. In her own words, 80% of her time spent on books was spent on handling the artists, the translators the voice actors, the publishing and publicity details. Only 20% of her time was actually spent writing.

I'd say we exchanged cards, but I wasn't carrying one, I wasn't prepared. She was.  Even gave me a card that gave me a free download of her first novel in the IVY GRANGER series. As I love free books and was properly intrigued, I broke down, downloaded the book to my Kindle and read it. It was damned solid. I liked it enough that I bought the rest of the series. I can safely say that as a series they wander through the four and five star review territory for me. A with most every writer I've met, her style has changed and improved over the span of the series.

I thought about that for a few minutes when I was done reading the first one, by the way. Because five years earlier I would have been the guy that shook his head at the notion of self-publication. I mean, like Bill Clinton and pot, I've dabbled, but never anything serious. Unlike the former president, I can even confess that I'd inhaled on the notion of self-publishing, but only after the books had already been out.

E.J. Stevens had a few incidents in her life that made her decide to try her luck with self-publishing and set about the idea like a general running an elite killing force. Again, in her own words, she's a control freak. She HAS to have control over every aspect of her publishing career or she ain't happy.  I'm a traditionalist, I prefer to have other people working on the things I can barely comprehend.

But that's changing.

This Halloween the Merrimack Valley Halloween Book Festival is taking place a block from where I'm living, at the public library in Haverhill, Massachusetts. I've been given a table to share with E.J. All I could think about was the fact that I would have nothing to sell but a couple of limited edition books. Next to me would be a woman hawking fifteen different novels, offering swag, with banners for several of her books. It's like being the kid in the playground who forgot to bring any toys. A little uncomfortable and awkward. And really, who needs all those looks of quiet pity? So I decided to self-publish a book for the event as an experiment. I got help from a lot of people, E.J. among them. Also Dan Brereton, John McIlveen, Bracken McLeod and Dyer Wilk.

Okay. Stop. Breathe.

E.J. Stevens. John McIlveen. Dyer Wilk, Bracken McLeod and Dan Brereton. That's five people to help me make one book. Six if you count in the foreword by Christopher Golden.

E.J. does all of it herself, or hires the people who do. She takes care of her own website (I occasionally dress myself successfully), she does all of the publicity and everything else. There are teams of people with my publisher whose sole responsibility is to make sure that my book (okay and their other authors) get great book covers, proper PR, layout, edits, etc. I quite literally have trouble grasping the volume of work involved.

E.J. Does all of that and well enough that she is, in fact, a best selling author many times over, Currently she set up and posted about two books on Saturday. One of them is in the top fifty from pre-orders alone at Amazon and the second ain't far behind. The books do not come out until January.

I have a lot of backlist books that are out of print. I can give them to someone else, or I can publish them myself. I can share in the profits or be a greedy bastard and actually do the work myself. I have a few books I want to write that no publishers think are a good fit for them. I think they are damned fine stories and I intend to prove it. I quite literally just published my own book (albeit with help) and I intend to explore these waters carefully.

A little while ago I posted the following at my blogspot. I couldn't post it on my website as I don't have the access codes and couldn't figure out what the hell I was doing in any event.

 I think it bears repeating:

Well, I have always said it's best to learn from those who actually DO rather than those who don't. E.J. Stevens is proof of that. 

E.J. has gotten so successful as a self-published author (Fifteen novels in seven years, multiple times over a best selling author and the winner of numerous awards) that she's told me during almost every time we get together that she's fending off people who want to play twenty questions and learn her deepest darkest secrets. So she decided to do something about it. Enter her new books. Listen, Christopher Golden and I founded the River City Writers in part because of a similar challenge. Want to help, want to teach, can't keep doing it for free when we have careers. 

That's the challenge here for E.J. Below are her solutions. 

The covers are self explanatory, but let's go one step further. 

Here's what E.J Says about the books on their back covers. 

Want to improve book sales?

This simple introductory guide will give you the basic information you need to begin promoting your book. Learn how to find readers, increase sales rank, and become a bestseller. Both independently published and traditionally published authors will benefit from the tips, strategies, and checklists provided in this how-to guide.

This book provides an introduction to:
  • Building an Author Platform
  • Social Networking and Blogging
  • Creating a Marketing Plan
  • Checklists, Spreadsheets, and Calculated Risk Taking
  • Designing Book Swag and Promotional Items
  • Cover Reveals and Book Blasts
  • Book Tours, Interviews, and Guest Posts
  • Giveaways
  • Book Reviews and ARC Reviews
  • Retail Product Pages
  • SEO and Keywords
  • Advertising and Promotions
  • Building and Maintaining an Author Newsletter
  • Bookstores, Libraries, and Sell Sheets
  • Book Signings and Conventions
Begin using these simple methods to help your book sales soar.

Want to self-publish a bestseller? Check out the Super Simple Quick Start Guide to Self-Publishing. E.J. Stevens

And, of course,

Want to self-publish a bestseller?

This simple introductory guide will give you the basic information you need to begin self-publishing.

Whether you are writing your first novel or looking to breathe new life into your backlist, this guide will give you the tools you need to successfully self-publish. Useful information and checklists will help you create a professional quality book.

Simple tips will save you time that you can spend on writing, publishing, and promoting your next bestseller.

This book provides an introduction to:
  • Copyright
  • Beta Readers and Editors
  • ISBN and Barcode
  • Font Licensing
  • Book Covers
  • Ebook Formatting
  • Print Book Formatting
  • Audio Books and Narrators
  • Translations and Translators
  • Retail Product Pages
  • Blurbs, SEO, and Keywords
  • Pricing
  • Book Reviews

I have, of course, already pre-ordered mine. They're out in January. 

Side note: Here's the cover to my first ever self-published boo (that isn't just a reprint). I chose an award winning artist to handle the cover as I do not have a seven-year-old nephew. 

Oh, heck, here's a LINK where you can buy it if you'd like.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

More Important than Money

Caught this gorgeous full moon setting in the warm sunrise colors on my run this morning. Glad I took my camera along. Although it annoyed me bouncing around, so I had to tuck it inside my zippered hoodie - which made me look pregnant, though unnaturally so.

Unnatural camera baby, ftw.

This week at the SFF Seven - whether by deliberate ploy or mental lapse (there's some debate on the topic - our calendar guru KAK missed giving us a topic. Therefore this week is an open "on-my-mind" theme.

What's on my mind? I hate to tell you guys, but it's marketing. And the love of money.

Quite topical, really, with the U.S. Presidential election coming down to its final days, with one candidate a multi-billionaire known for his devotion to building a commercial empire, his campaign heavily funded by other corporate giants.

But really it's mainly on my mind because I discovered last week that a "new" author selling incredibly well in a subgenre is a pseudonym for an woman who wrote in a totally different subgenre last year (and sold well, I understand) under a different pseudonym, both of which were different than the name under which she wrote a prominent review blog well known for taking authors to task for bad books and bad behavior.

Without going into detail, I can only say that this disturbs me because it feels so calculated. More than one of my sister authors - all equally disturbed - in discussing this new revelation said, "well, I guess she's laughing all the way to the bank."

And right. So it goes. She's found a formula that works, that apparently satisfies readers, and is making money at it. A lot of people will say there's nothing wrong with this, and there isn't.

There's nothing wrong with money. I happen to be a big fan of money, mostly because it makes for a much nicer quality of living. As someone who now totally relies on my book sales to pay the bills, I like for them to sell. Like most all of us, I suspect, I'd love to have a lot of money. I have a bathroom/kitchen dream remodel I like to fantasize about (and maybe collect pictures for, mumble, mumble). I'd love to travel and do it high end style. I'd like to have enough money that I wouldn't have to worry about money.

But there are more important things than money.

What's weird to me is that, several times lately when I've given my reason for not wanting to do certain kinds of marketing, or to plan books a certain way - which is that I believe some things are more important than money - people have actually laughed. And then they stop when they realize I'm not joking. Then kind of subside into an uncomfortable silence.

I suspect they think I'm being weird by saying that. Or perhaps naive.

Both could be true.

Still, I believe in this. The Bible says that the love of money is the root of all evil and the Taoists say that putting the pursuit of money above all else maddens the mind. This is a real thing - becoming consumed in the acquisition of money above all else can drive a person crazy. That's why we say money can't buy happiness. Sure, as David Lee Roth famously said, "Money can't buy happiness, but money can buy the big yacht you can park right next to where the happiness is." Why not? Hey! A big yacht could be great fun.

But there are more important things than money.

I had a birthday in August and, as is our culture these days, I received many good wishes via Facebook. It can be staggering, all those people - from ones I've known all my life to those I've never met in person, who may have only read my books - wishing me a happy birthday. A few however, were static images that said "happy birthday" or some such, along with the author's website address and book series. This was the first year I'd seen that. And I could imagine just how that came about. Some marketer gave the advice that when you wish someone a happy birthday on Facebook, you're missing a promotional opportunity if you don't have your author information on there.

My point is, what's more important to you - grabbing that promotional opportunity or wishing me well on my birthday? Maybe some of you are saying both. Maybe you're wisely pointing out that rando person I don't even know doesn't actually care about me or my birthday, so why would I even be naive about their intentions.

I just find it troublesome. If even wishing someone well on their birthday has an alternative agenda, what does that say about what's most important to us?

For me, writing books and telling stories is an expression of art. And I feel funny even typing that. Some of these writers of genre would curl their lip at me for that. Funny thing is - I've always celebrated that aspect of genre-writing. I started out in the literary/arts council world and grew weary of the nobly poor writer. I have zero patience with the idea that writing a good book takes years of angst and thrashing. When I transitioned from writing creative nonfiction to writing novels in fantasy and romance (and the interstitial places between), I loved this community for focusing on making it into a business. We're here to make a living at it. I've written before about the concept of selling out - and how I didn't believe in it. That "selling out" essentially demonizes making a profit from our art and that's bullshit.

I still believe that.

I also believe there are some things more important than money.

Telling a story for the story's sake is one. I think there's a huge difference between trope and formula. I believe there's a huge difference between art and manufacture. They might be difficult lines to draw, but I think we all have to find them. I believe there's a difference between creating something out of love versus designing it to sell. Maybe not in the end product - they may be indistinguishable - I mean for the creator. It's another version of me wishing someone a happy birthday out of a desire to celebrate their existence in the world and in my life, as opposed to doing it to gain attention.

I think personal integrity is more important than making money. I don't believe they're necessarily in opposition - you can both make money and have integrity - but if it comes to a choice between the two, then I choose integrity. My integrity may not be yours. Only we know what we're at peace with in our hearts. But I do think we all have to make this choice. It informs who we are as human beings.

I read an interesting essay recently by Joyce Carol Oates, Quilts, in a collection edited by Elizabeth Benedict called What My Mother Gave Me. (I linked to my Goodreads review of it - very much recommend the book.) Oates talks about an old quilt her mother gave her decades before, now very worn, and the comfort it gives her, now that her mother is gone, along with both her first and second husbands. She says,
In extremis we care very little for the public life - the life of the career - even the life of literature: it is comfort for which we yearn, but comfort can come to us from only a few, intimate sources.
There are more important things than money.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Cute Pets Transcend Genre

So our topic today is whether genres can actually ever be declared 'dead'. Since I never really pursued a career in traditional publishing, at least not to the extent of trying to get an agent, doing pitches at conferences and/or submitting tons of books over the transom, etc., I've never run into that declaration. Not directed at me anyway. Carina Press published two of my ancient Egyptian stories and then pivoted away from "Ancient World" romance - hopefully not because of ME LOL - so I just happily self published and the books have done quite well. They certainly have an audience, for whom I'm very grateful. As far as my main genre, science fiction romance, I've always self published so I could care less if someone somewhere thinks they can't sell it, therefore it's 'dead' to them. My readers and I beg to differ!

Another related thought is that sometimes a genre is 'dead', like Western movies, for example, and then someone has a brilliant idea how to twist the tropes and presto, the genre is re-energized. Case in point would be HBO's "Westworld", which combines the Wild West and science fiction.

Yes, this is one of the 'pets'! Very scifi!
I had a killer migraine yesterday and am operating on a mere four hours of sleep as a result, so I'm kind of out of inspiration now on this topic. Eight fellow SFR authors and I did however release the Pets in Space anthology last week, combining science fiction, romance and heroic pets who save the day. I believe cute pets can rise above any genre - think Lassie for cozies, Rintintin for Westerns, tribbles for science fiction, Astro for cartoons (or Scooby Doo for that matter) here are artist Nyssa Juneau's renderings for our nine pets and if you haven't snatched up your copy (figuratively speaking as it's ebook only), what are you waiting for?

We've been hovering in the low 200's in Amazon Kindle all week, which is fun. Thanks to everyone who has bought the book!

And we're donating 10% of the first month's royalties to Hero Dogs Inc., service dogs for veterans...

NOTE: Not a children's book, despite the cute creatures!

Here's the book's blurb:

Even an alien needs a pet…

Join the adventure as nine pet loving sci-fi romance authors take you out of this world and pull you into their action-packed stories filled with suspense, laughter, and romance. The alien pets have an agenda that will capture the hearts of those they touch. Follow along as they work side by side to help stop a genetically-engineered creature from destroying the Earth to finding a lost dragon; life is never the same after their pets decide to get involved. Can the animals win the day or will the stars shine just a little less brightly?
New York Times, USA TODAY, Award Winning, and Best selling authors have eight original, never-released stories and one expanded story giving readers nine amazing adventures that will capture your imagination and help a worthy charity. Come join us as we take you on nine amazing adventures that will change the way you look at your pet!
Amazon     iBooks     ARe    Barnes & Noble     GooglePlay     Kobo

My terrestrial cat Jake

Friday, October 14, 2016

Reports of Genre Death Are Greatly Exaggerated

Dead Genre: A genre agents and editors claim cannot be sold due to prevailing market trends and/or market glut. See also: Whatever Marcella writes.

Kidding/not kidding on that last one. It seems to be my super power - writing stuff that makes editors and agents wince when I say, "It's a [insert genre here.]" But, thing is, if you survey indie authors writing in that same genre, many of them will tell you flat out that their books are selling very well, thank you. It happened most dramatically with queries I sent out for Damned If He Does. I'd figured I'd get blow back about the heroine being asexual. Nah. It was 100% about the book being a paranormal. From the swift and terse, "Whoa, we don't do THAT." rejections I received, you'd think I'd flung dog poo over the transom. [Runs to check reviews] Nope. According to the reviews the book isn't *that* bad. I'd just fallen victim, again, to dead genre-itis.

Just because publishers declare a genre is dead, it does not mean the truly rabid fans of said genre have given up on it. It means the readers who were reading the genre because it was the 'in thing' of the moment have moved on, yes. But the readers who adore paranormal or who covet vampire porn for their vacation beach read are ALWAYS going to go looking for those things. I loves me nothing quite so much as a skillfully written SFR - which - if you take a quick gander around the paperbacks being released by NYC houses are in short supply. As in: There are zip. NYC drove one of my very favorite authors right out of publishing until recently when she came back shields up and all phasers firing. You guessed it. She went indie. And that's the lesson.

No audience ever totally evaporates. The pond just gets a little smaller until the next lightning strike of 'new and in fashion' hits and readers rush in from the last fad. Core readers of every genre have long since learned not to trust their reading pleasure to the vagaries of the traditional publishing houses. They go hunting for what they want among indie authors.

So if you have your heart set on publishing through a traditional house, you are subject to the dead genre clause - if what you write is something they believe they can't sell because GENRE, you are SOL for a few years until the pendulum swings back in your favor. But if you've written a book you love in a genre everyone tells you is dead? You certainly have the option of self-publishing that book and of feeding the core readers of that genre. Keep that up and those core readers will follow you just about anywhere.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Perils of the Writer: Your Genre Isn't Dead

Genre is wierd.
I mean, when it comes down to it, it's just a shorthand to tell your readers, "If you like this sort of thing, then this is the sort of thing you'd like."  It's a marketing tool.
But it should never be something  you should be afraid of.  It shouldn't be something that keeps you from writing the story you want to write.
Now, it's true, that while  you're writing, you don't always realize what genre you are writing.  To be honest, I didn't quite realize that The Thorn of Dentonhill  was a superhero story until a few drafts in, and even then I kind of resisted it.  I resisted flat out saying it was a fantasy/superhero story, but if you've read Thorn, you know that's exactly what it is.  (And if you haven't read Thorn, get on that, you hear?)  
Similarly, A Murder of Mages and An Import of Intrigue are fantasy/police procedural, and Holver Alley Crew is fantasy/heist.  There's more depth to all of these-- as there are to any novel-- but giving a sense of the genre lets your reader base know what to expect.  
But back to my main point: genre, by and large, doesn't matter.  Write a good yarn, and the rest will come.  If you hear that the genre you write is dead, do not care.  Maybe what you write will bring about the resurgence.