Sunday, April 22, 2018

What Lies Ahead? Jeffe's Five Predictions

A panorama of Santa Rosa Lake, New Mexico (and surrounds).

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is Trend Change: What shifts in the world of writing are you noticing? (Craft, Sales, Publishing, Tech, etc.)

Here's my five!

1. Craft

I think we're going to be seeing greater emphasis on craft. Following the market glut of frequent sequels and stuffed books created for Kindle Unlimited bait, I see readers growing more discerning about looking for the "good stuff." Self-publishing has aged into being an almost universally recognized publishing choice - but with that has come decreased tolerance for anyone doing it on the cheap. There's no excuse for slapped-together covers and poorly edited or formatted books, not when so many authors are putting out books indistinguishable from traditionally published ones. With more and more self-published books reaching award-nomination notice, craft will again become a key quality in a story, rather than low price point or shock value.

2. Sales

We all saw sales take a major nosedive with the 2016 election and ensuing dumpster fire in the US. Thankfully that seems to be rebounding. At least for sales of self-published books, and for those that meet a reasonable quality standard. I'm hopeful that the Amazon sweeps to clear out KU scammers will help restore discoverability of books so that readers are actually seeing relevant books.

3. Publishing

Traditional publishers have been offering fewer contracts for straight-up romance and I think that will continue to decline. Self-publishing and digital publishers like Amazon's Montlake imprint have created a glut of inexpensive romance books so that traditional publishers are simply not seeing the profit margins on the genre that they used to. On the other hand, I think traditional publishers are more and more excited about other genres with romance elements.

4. Tech

I'm wondering how many indie and hybrid authors will start moving to selling books directly from their own websites. The tech is there, as is the incentive to diversify from Amazon. I'm looking at doing this myself.

5. Etc.

We may have passed the self-publishing gold rush boom - but we're also emerging from the bust. Things are beginning to level out and a LOT of authors are establishing relatively stable incomes from hybrid efforts. Traditional publishers are recognizing that their authors will be also self-publishing and they're accommodating those efforts in contracts and in promotions.

I expect things to continue to improve for authors, which means all you readers should be golden!

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Rethinking A Decision Made for My Second Egyptian #PNR Book

I don’t really have mistakes to report on my first book, Priestess of the Nile, although I’m sure when I eventually get the rights back, I’ll revise it with all the many things I’ve learned since writing the story in 2011. Seven years of writing more books and interacting with great editors and getting better at craft issues have to make a difference.

But overall, I remain pretty happy with the story and with it being my first published title. I will forevermore be in love with that cover - thank you, Carina Press and Frauke of Croco Designs!

Where I do think I went a bit wrong was with the second book in that Gods of Egypt series, Warrior of the Nile. I do a TON of research, all the time, into various aspects of ancient Egypt, but for this book, I veered off the track in the hero’s backstory in my opinion. I made him the last survivor of a mountain tribe that had its own gods and myths (conveniently created by me to fit my story), although since he was adopted by Pharaoh’s family at a young age, he also subscribed to the Egyptian beliefs. Indeed, the entire book revolves around a demand made by the goddess Nephthys and her personal involvement in the quest.

In fact, however, much of how the book’s plot is resolved ties back to this personal belief system the hero Khenet retains. There’s a key scene in a ruined temple belonging to an ancient goddess predating Egypt, again all from my own inventive brain. There’s another pivotal moment where Khenet receives a bit of help from his tribe’s god, fulfilling a prophecy. And then there are these jewels….
Now if I’d been writing fantasy, nothing wrong with creating and injecting all kinds of cool new mythos and lore and etc.

Sobek - photo is Author's Own
But I really try to tell these stories from the standpoint that the gods exist and interact in the daily life circa 1550 BCE the way the ancient Egyptians believed they did, and very much wanted them to do. I feel the success of the later books in the series revolves around that key aspect. Not in taking giant departures and left turns from the overall Egyptian culture. (Liberties and conscious anachronisms, yes. Wholesale invention of new stuff – no.)  So to me, book two rings bit false now, like a brass bell in a lineup of silver ones. Not the same tone. I haven’t repeated that ‘mistake’. I find a way to make my plots happen much more concisely within the ancient Egyptian framework. They had such a complex civilization and belief system to match.

Don't get me wrong - I like the book and my hero, I love some of the 'Egyptian' elements in it wildly, like Lady Tuya's visit to the goddess Isis...I just think I moved away from what's at the core of my Gods of Egypt series by injecting a fantasy side story that had no roots in anything the Egyptians believed.

I’m not writing historicals. I am writing paranormal elements but I’ve always felt with Warrior I went too far away from what keeps me (and my readers) grounded in the Land of the Pharaohs as I visualize it.

(And with apologies to the very co-operative and supportive Carina Press Art Department staff at the time, the cover for Warrior - which was not done by Frauke - was just never my favorite of the series, for...reasons. Although some aspects of it are very cool!)

I've been self publishing the Gods of Egypt series since Warrior was released (up to seven books now!)  but I'll always be SO grateful to Carina Press for launching my career.

Friday, April 20, 2018

You Did What?

You want mistakes? How much time do you have? Don't worry. I won't list them all, if only as some kind of balm for my mortally wounded pride.

My first four books will never see the light of day. Each for very good reason. But the first one - oh the first one was SPECIAL. 

I wrote an entire 100k words of a contemporary romance aimed at Harlequin. It was called GROWING LOVE. It starred an American floral designer with a best friend who hauled her across the Atlantic to the UK to design said bestie's wedding - aaaaaand just maybe because bestie was setting up the heroine with her temperamental, rock star brother. I wrote this thing and I loved everything about it. Everything. I sent it off to a specific editor at Harlequin full of expectation.

Ah, the innocence of youth. 

I'd love to tell you I got a phone call or a glowing letter in response, but we all know what I actually got were crickets. Tiny, timid ones. Well. Then came my very first RWA conference and the editor I'd queried was going to be there. So I made sure to get an appointment with her. It was a group appointment, naturally. Thus, with sweaty palms and shaky voice, I described the book to her and mentioned that I'd sent it already. She promised to look for it when she got back to work.

Not only did she look for my packet, she wrote out a detailed rejection letter explaining why she couldn't buy the book. 


I'd written 100k words and there wasn't a single, solitary shred of conflict. None. Neither internal nor external. It was 100k words predicated on snark. Shush. It was glorious snark. I admit I crept back to my local RWA chapter and had to ask what internal conflict was, cause I had no clue. Some days, I think I still don't. Regardless. Pretty big mistake. Pretty big learning opportunity that led me to dive into local chapter meetings where people like Stella Cameron would come to explain the difference between internal and external conflict and why a romance had to have both and why externals always wrap before internals in the romance market. 

I *still* take writing classes. Probably always will, because there are nuances to story telling that I pick up from every single class I take. And there are still mistakes. Hopefully all new ones that we can talk about in the years ahead. 

Actual photo of the author working on her current WIP.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Mistakes of the First Novel

I'm a bit crunched for time this week, and the SFF Seven topic is about mistakes in that first novel.  And frankly, I'm always learning with every novel I write.  And back when Thorn of Dentonhill was coming out, I owned up to one of its more glaring flaws-- I mistake I wouldn't make if I were writing it now.  As it's still appropriate, I'll put it all out here:
The_Art_of_the_Steal_posterSo, I've been holding off writing this post for a while, but with this article recently making the rounds, it's probably high time I talked about this.

I don't know much about this movie (The Art of the Steal), beyond what's shown here on the poster, but the poster is very telling.  We've got eight characters: seven male and one female.  So, a bunch of guys of all different types and The Girl.  In other words, we've got The Smurfette Principle in full effect.  Furthermore, while Katheryn Winnick isn't being overtly sexualized in this image, it still stands out that she's wearing shorts while everyone else gets pants.

(2018 addendum: I've now seen The Art of the Steal, and it's a fun enough movie, but it is VERY much a Smurfette Principle movie.)

Images like this one are pretty common, not only for movies, but for stories in general, especially of the action/genre/sf/fantasy types.  Here's another exampleAnother. Another. Another. YET ANOTHER.  I didn't even have to remotely try hard to gather those. It's so typical, such a pervasive paradigm, that movies, books and TV shows can have little-to-no female presence, and it doesn't stand out as strange.  I mean, who's the most significant female character in Hunt for Red October?  It's Jack's wife, who only appears for a couple lines in the very beginning.  How about Saving Private Ryan?  I'd argue it's Mrs. Ryan, who doesn't even have lines, but is talked about as someone who deserves to have at least one son come home.

I could go on about this sort of thing, but there's one big problem: Thorn of Dentonhill falls into the same trap.  An image not entirely unlike the Art of the Steal poster could be used to show the main cast of Thorn.

I didn't mean to do that, which is exactly part of the problem.  While writing it, it didn't seem strange that there was only one significant female character.  Now, I could make excuses or arguments that the world we're looking into with Thorn is made of spaces where men intentionally isolate themselves in some way-- the all-male dorms of the University of Maradaine, for example-- but that would be pure rationalization.

The real reason is I wasn't fully aware.

Now, this doesn't mean that Thorn is, in and of itself, a problem. Frankly, I think it's a great book, and the early reviews have been very strong.  But it is part of this problematic trend, and I need to be aware of that as I move forward in my writing career.

I felt compelled to be up front about this.  If this means that Thorn is a problematic read for you, I respect that.

All I can say beyond that is I believe I've done better with each book that's following.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Oh no she didn't! (Except I so did.)

Ermaghad, the topic this week is gaffes we’ve made in books, published and pre. I…don’t even know where to start. I am a serial word abuser. (If you ever meet my copy editor, please buy her a drink and promise to never spontaneously make up verbs.) So how about a game of Six Truths and a Lie? In honor of our SFF Seven blog title, here are seven super-embarrassing word crimes I have committed:

  1. The fanfiction from second grade where Luke and Leia went out on a date. (Qualification: RotJ wasn’t out yet, so the incest was as yet unconfirmed. Also, I wasn’t super clear what a date was but had some hazy thought that it had something to do with eating pasta together, like Lady and the Tramp.) 
  2. The one-act play I wrote in high school, which I intended to be this tense, tragic relationship drama, but the actors got ahold of it and played it as a straight-up comedy and I never told anyone it wasn't meant to be funny. At all. 
  3. The tech document I wrote about a public health web site but forgot the L in "public." 
  4. The thing with a scuba suit that was so gross my critique partner wrote “eeewww” in the margin. 
  5. Same book, I wrote a prologue. 
  6. Still same book, I wrote not one, not two, but three flashback scenes. 
  7. That fanfiction tale of old Gondor interpreted through a series of limericks. 

Aaaaand of those is a lie.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Writing Gaffes: Why THAT Book Stays Under The Bed

Worst gaffes in my first non-published book?

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Year: 2009
Gaff: 5 POVs, delayed meet-cute

Unlike epic fantasy where a half-dozen Points Of View isn't uncommon, I was not writing epic fantasy. I was writing a romance about wolf shifters in the Carpathians. Romance readers have certain expectations, like spending 99% of the book in the heads of one or the other romantic leads. That last 1% is reserved for the villains of Romantic Suspense. I, however, thought that sidekicks and the villain needed their own scenes too. At least a third of the story was told from their perspectives. To make matters worse, my primary couple didn't meet until chapter five, or maybe it was chapter eight. Oh, and it came in at a slim 110k words for a genre that was looking for 75k.

Golly gee, I wonder why I never got a request for a full for that one.

~kicks the Tome That Never Should've Been under the bed~

Monday, April 16, 2018

Looking back: My first Book's worst mistakes.

So back in the day, I was writing a comic book proposal a day and had been going strong for over a month when I finally decided I'd had enough.

I had an image stuck in my head and could not get it to leave me alone, so I finally broke down and wrote that scene. Then I wrote the next and the third. About three months later I had the first draft of my novel UNDER THE OVERTREE.

I was pleased. i was delighted! I ad around 180,000 words on a computer file and it felt effortless!

Of course, back then I barely understood the concept of editing....

I edited the hell out of that manuscript, I fixed a nearly endless run of run on sentences. I corrected tense shifts that were positively epic.  I studied the structure of the book a few dozen times and realized that I had created a massive house of cards. One scene goes and the whole thing falls apart.

And then when I was done I set it aside for a few weeks and did it again.

And again.

And again.

I have never edited a book as heavily as I edited UNDER THE OVERTREE. I believe there were seven or so drafts before I could look at it without actively cringing.

These days I edit as I go. It's slower, but it keeps me sane. 

there have been three editions of the book. There was the initial version from Meisha Merlin, the mass market edition from Leisure books, and finally the limited edition from Bloodletting Press. Likely there will be a new edition soon.

I have not made significant changes on the latter editions. part of me wants to, because, frankly thee are things I'd like to change. My writing style has evolved over time and some of those early phrases hurt my head. I won't. I will resist the temptation, because all of those warts and scales? They're proof that I HAVE evolved as a writer. And if I made the changes, it would no longer be the same novel.

I'm proud of that story despite the things I might want to change.

But, wow, I seriously never thought the edits would end....

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Screwing Up in that First Book

I'm always terribly amused by these signs. Apparently in flat, desert landscapes like we have in New Mexico, one must beware of sudden lakes.

A big mistake, to be cruising along and not realize the road ends in a cliff dive into water.

That segues pretty naturally into this week's topic at the SFF Seven: "Looking Back: Your first book's (published or not) most cringe-worthy gaffe."

The gaffe I *still* cringe over in one of my very early books is actually an inadvertent typo that made it into the published book. This was a traditionally published book, too, an erotic romance I did with Carina Press, that went through multiple layers of editing, copy-editing and proofreading. This is on top of the fact that I turn in pretty clean copy overall. Usually mistakes stand out to me like they're in red font. I even went back to my original draft to see if I really did that, convinced that someone along the way had introduced the error.

Nope. All my fault.

And nobody caught it.



That's why my book, SAPPHIRE, from 2011 has this line in it:

"She was like a baby heroine addict..."

Heroine versus heroin. Alas.