Sunday, May 28, 2017

Why You Need an Editor. Yes, I'm Talking to YOU

This isn't a great shot, but these little girls are so awesomely adorable. We got to attend our granddaughter's spring dance recital yesterday. The costumes were amazing. So much fun.

Our topic this week at the SFF Seven is editing: do we use editors or do it ourselves, how long does editing take, etc.

As you may have guessed from the title, I'm somewhat passionate on this topic.

Not long ago I saw several authors on a thread discussing whether they still used a developmental editor. This group of guys happened to be all self-publishing authors. One had asked about editing, who people hired, etc. The conversation grew from there, with most of them saying that they used content or developmental editors - which is an initial pass, helping to shape the story - early on in their careers. But, a number of them said, "now that they knew how to write a book/story, etc.," they didn't need to anymore.

I cry utter bullshit on this.

And I'll tell you why!

When I was younger I was a huge fan of both Anne Rice and Pat Conroy. There were a couple of years there where I gave a copy of Conroys' THE PRINCE OF TIDES to anyone I thought might not have read it, for every gift-giving opportunity. Likewise I obsessively followed Anne Rice, and I'll tell you honestly that reading her book THE WITCHING HOUR was a turning point in my life. I could say that's the book that made me want to be a writer.

Not long after that, Anne Rice rather famously went on talk shows to discuss her new book deal, and she said, "Believe me - no one edits Me." (I'd say the emphasis is my own, but she totally said it in bold with capitalization, just like that.)

Then Pat Conroy's BEACH MUSIC came out, which I eagerly devoured. Only to find it so bloated that I couldn't enjoy it. Even as a plain reader, I kept thinking that the book needed to have at least a third of the story trimmed out.

It needed a good developmental editor. So did Anne Rice.

Even though - maybe even particularly if - they didn't think so.

And I'll freely say I think they're both genius writers - but genius writers need editors, too. I'll also put out there that there is no such thing as "figuring out how to write a book/story, etc." Last week at Nebula Weekend, Grandmaster Jane Yolen, who's written over 300 books, said that each novel is different for her and she relearns how to do it every time. Writing isn't making widgets - it's not like you learn how to do it once and then replicate that ad infinitum.

Besides which: I truly believe that it's extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, for a writer to have an objective view of their own work. We need that outside lens to examine if what we intended to communicate actually made it onto the page.

So, yes, while I do edit myself, I also always use editors, also - content/developmental, line, and copy. If I'm self-publishing, I hire the toughest people I know to put my work through the wringer. In my opinion, not doing that doesn't mean you've "arrived." It only means you're kidding yourself.


Saturday, May 27, 2017

My Author Brand Spans Ancient Egypt to #SciFi Romance


After Carina Press bought what was going to be my first published book in mid-2011, I knew I’d better get myself out there on social media and build a brand and a platform to connect with my potential readers. The book was due out in January 2012.

The first step to me was getting a professional headshot, which turned out to be a lot of fun. I went to the wonderful Dick Wiend, who is an actor and who works with many actors and other creatives. Before we shot a single frame, he asked me what I wanted to convey in my photo. I said I wanted to look like I was sitting down with my reader over a cup of tea as longtime friends, in their kitchen or mine, ready to tell them a good story.

That’s still how I feel about my ‘job’ as an author, six years later and how I feel about my brand. I want to tell good stories! And I love my readers….

For my blog, Facebook and twitter posts, I made a conscious decision to stay true to myself and talk about things that interest me, which covers a lot of territory. I’m fascinated by all aspects of science, cats, roses, bagpipes, other romance authors, TV and movies, books, publishing, business topics (process improvement, social media developments, etc), food, science fiction, scifi romance  – I curate a lot of content from many sites and am always looking for things I think my followers will find interesting or amusing or pretty.

I don’t discuss politics or any other heavy duty topic. That’s for my personal life.

My first published book was Priestess of the Nile, so I obviously love ancient Egypt, archaeology, buried treasures…my second book less than three months later was Wreck of the Nebula Dream, a scifi take on the sinking of Titanic. So I had two totally different subgenres of romance I was bouncing between. The wonderful Kim Killion managed to create a banner for me as shown above which combines the two visually and I think ties the author brand all together. (I'm a few scifi romance covers behind so I'd better update that!) She's amazing!

But as I went I realized my ‘brand’ was focusing tighter and tighter on the scifi romance side of things. I write posts on SFR for three major sites now, as well as tons of guest posts, and the majority of my published books are in that subgenre. I haven’t changed my social media approach where I talk about and share all kinds of things but I have changed what I talk about on my blog to pretty much exclusively SFR. I realized I was probably confusing readers if they came to check out the blog and found a post on pretty Victorian ephemera. I used to do a weekly Wednesday Whimsy post that combined quotes and poetry and photos from my vintage advertising cards. That, however, has nothing to do with what I actually write.  So now my Wednesday blog post is given over to a New Releases post covering new SFR, fantasy and paranormal romance books.


Author Cynthia Sax created this wonderful meme for me, which I think sums up my author brand pretty well:

Friday, May 26, 2017

Embracing the Brand

Whelp. After reading Jeffe's excellent post about author brand, it belatedly dawns on me I have one. One I hadn't, to this point, known about, much less embraced.


Crazy Cat Lady.

Seriously. Follow me on Instagram. @marcellaburnard  Have a look at my gallery. Go back through my blog posts. How many cat photos versus photos of literally anything else? Also, who just landed a part time job as a veterinary assistant for a cat-only clinic based solely on a long history of rescue work and learning to give subcutaneous fluids to her own cats? Yeeeeeah.

Not to mention that if you read the reviews of the last book I put out (Damned If He Does) - the very first cat I've written into a story gets mentioned in reviews more than the main characters. I'm seeing a trend here.

But I'm not certain how to capitalize on that, you know? I mean, okay. 10% of everything I make goes to animal rescue (Best Friends and Big Cat Rescue, specifically).  But that's not exactly - I don't know - flashy? Visible? Easily identified?

I could wear sweaters knitted from the fur I've combed from my cats to all my events, but I have concerns about just how many readers would be seriously allergic to me . . .

Wonder if Hatshesput would consent to wear a 'service animal' vest and come to events with me. Without murdering me in my sleep for the affront of making her wear clothes.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Author Branding: A Simplified You

Penny from The Big Bang Theory
Ten years ago, "Author Branding" was going to save the publishing industry--genre writers, in particular--by improving consumer discovery. All you, the author, had to do was have a blog, a vlog, three Facebook pages, two Pinterest boards, an active Linked-In account, a pre-programmed Twitter feed, four monthly contests, a grand-prize sweepstake, a caravan on the Con circuit, and a nom-de-plume per genre.

If it sounds exhausting, it was. Plus, books weren't being written. Authors were spending all their time chasing the elusive Social Media cash cow, hemorrhaging resources they couldn't afford. Wasn't long before the "Pro-Branding" group got sideswiped by the "Anti-Branders," much like doo-wop meeting punk rock.

These days, the crux of the Author Branding movement is still relevant: Who Is the Public You? Easy, easy, there. This isn't the entrance to the Disingenuine Ball. It is, however, your introduction at the dinner party where the hosts are retailers and the guests are readers, bloggers, other authors, and assorted creatives. It is that simple and that complex.

K.I.S.S.
Your Author Brand is a message, broadcasting into the chaotic universe. Be clear, concise, and consistent. That's the only way to break through the din.
  • But I Cannot Fit Into One Box! 
    • So what if you write in 16 different genres? Pick one (and no more than two) to paint on the front door of your House of Identity. Your goal is to get customers across the threshold. The foyer is what they expect to find; it's what you've advertised. Once they're interested, they'll wander into the other rooms and discover your other works. 
    • Decision Paralysis is a real thing. If a consumer is presented with too many options, they won't be able to make a choice. They'll walk out without a purchase. Sticking with the house analogy, if your foyer is cluttered, people will leave. If it could be featured on Hoarders, they'll run and warn others away.

Using Your Author Brand 

Let's say you're at that networking dinner party. Your Author Brand should be memorable for all the right reasons. You want to be unique enough that you're easy to pick out of a crowd, but not so unique that a crowd never gathers. A modified marketing Rule of Three applies here:
  1. Draw Attention
    • You can either introduce yourself to your target audience or have someone introduce you. Keep in mind, appearances matter, from your physical person (hygiene, style, poise, and the company you keep) to your digital presence (avatars, web banners, email addresses, and profiles).  How you gain someone's attention will color their first impression of you. 
  2. Deliver Your Message 
    • This is all about presentation in action. This is tone, tenor, and content. Everyone reads beyond the words. This is where your personality is judged. Are you congenial and kind? Humorous with a biting wit? Shy, stammering, uncertain? Too comfortable, over-prepared, a bit bored? Self-deprecating yet engaging? Irascible and put-upon? Are you know-it-all or a clueless wonder? It is human nature to derive a lot of meaning from very little info.
  3. Leave A Call To Action
    • Now that the audience has heard your message and judged your character, be bold and make the Ask. Some folks will go for the hard sell here, some folks with a soft. "Buy my book, this specific book, buy it now," versus "Check out my website for a list of my books." Your brand, your message, your choice. 
People have finite memories. Book covers and web-banners have finite space. Whatever you do, don't confuse the message of your Author Brand.

Hi, I'm KAK.
 I write fantasy novels about strong women, strange places, and stranger creatures. 
Check out my website for a free short story:  KAKrantz.com

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Your Author Brand - Choosing and Maintaining It

That’s me at the Nebula Weekend mass autographing with science fiction author Lawrence Schoen. His top hat was most snazzy—and the little stuffed elephant is a nod to his elephantine aliens in his novel BARSK. I picked up a copy from SFWA’s (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) book depot at the conference and look forward to reading it.

Of course, someone suggested we pose together because of the hats. And, as always, people at Nebula Weekend—though this was my first time attending—commented on how easy it is to find and recognize me because of my big hats.

Also, as inevitably, that evening when I didn’t wear my hat, most people didn’t recognize me. I was honored to present the Nebula Award for Best Novelette and I know that, under stage lights at night, wearing a hat would only cast my face in shadow. I really need to find a sheer hat with net, perhaps, to wear on such occasions. Small hats that might be appropriate, like a cloche, don’t have the same effect—people still literally do not recognize me.

I have this theory that people see the hat and don’t really pay attention to remembering my face. They don’t need to. But it is kind of a problem—albeit solidly first world—that my hats are so recognizable that I nearly vanish without them.

That’s an interesting aspect of having a very recognizable author brand, which is our topic this week.
I’m very lucky to have stumble into this relatively inexpensive, simple and stand-out brand. It came about because I began wearing big-brimmed hats to protect my very fair skin. The very first RWA (Romance Writers of America) convention I attended, I stayed at the overflow hotel a few blocks away in San Francisco. When I walked over to the convention hotel, I wore my hat, naturally, and then kept it on, for lack of any place to stow it. I received so many positive comments and compliments—and people recognizing me again, even after one quick meeting, that I began wearing my hats indoors all the time, at all author events.

Now, as you all likely know, the hat is on my website header, my logo, my business cards, and so on. It is solidly my brand and I’m happy to have it, regardless of minor inconveniences like really needing to find (or make?) a hat I can wear at night.

An author brand is what makes YOU stand out and be remembered. It can be related to your books or genre, but since those things can change over time, it’s better if what distinguishes you as a person and makes you memorable is related to you as a person. It might be hair color, or a style of dress. Maybe certain kinds of shoes. Some authors are memorable for a certain style of wit or social media presence. Perhaps a giant beard or very long hair.

The most important aspect of author branding, however, is to choose wisely. Because, really, as witnessed by my hats, once people latch onto it, they don’t forget. This is a good thing! But it also means you don’t get to be fickle and change it up. Keep that image consistent—and plan to do it for the rest of your career. Which, hopefully, means the rest of your life.

This is one reason I don’t advocate changing your social media avatar—not to a book cover or other logo. Pick something and plan to keep it forever. Don’t think people get bored. It’s how they recognize you.

Make it easy for them to do that!


Also, any and all suggestions on evening hats are most welcome!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

You Say Extrovert I Say Introvert

I just really liked this Deposit Photo picture plus there is purpleness
Over the years at the old day job, the Division I was a member of probably tried every team building and self-knowledge tool there was. Some were fun (colors – whee) and some were nearly incomprehensible without the highly paid consultants to explain the results with powerpoint decks. Along the way we did the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which helps you understand how you perceive the world around you and react. I’m an INTJ who can switch to ENTJ when required.

Before I explain that, hey folks who create tests – I understand myself pretty well without circles and colors and letters and statistics. I’m definitely an introvert who’d rather be at home in my comfy cotton ‘patio dress’ than out at a party. But put me in the right situation – working retail (even a yard sale), doing a panel, teaching a class, signing books – and I’ll be the most extroverted Extrovert you ever saw. I’m also pretty darn good at extroverting on social media because I love it there and the people on the other end can’t see my lovely Dillard’s patio dress of the day. (Think very colorful.)

So, INTJ means “introversion, intuition, thinking and judgment” are how I approach the world on any given day. This would be after I feed the cats and drink my tea and probably before I scan twitter.

This quote I found sums up the INTJ pretty well for me: “INTJs are strong individualists who seek new angles or novel ways of looking at things. They enjoy coming to new understandings. They tend to be insightful and mentally quick; however, this mental quickness may not always be outwardly apparent to others since they keep a great deal to themselves. They are very determined people who trust their vision of the possibilities, regardless of what others think. They may even be considered the most independent of all of the sixteen personality types. INTJs are at their best in quietly and firmly developing their ideas, theories, and principles.”

— Sandra Kreb Hersch; Jean Kummerow (1998). Introduction to type in organizations: individual interpretive guide. Palo Alto, Calif. : Consulting Psychologists Press.

("Very determined" - HA! I am supremely stubborn.)

Nothing is one size fits all!

But if you see me at a book signing, a conference, a panel or a yard sale (where I will sell you ALL The Things for a good price), figure I’m in my extroverted mode and we can have a wonderful, easy going conversation. That goes for twitter and Facebook too.

If you trip over me prowling the aisles of Ralph’s grocery store late at night, eyeing the flavors of Haagen-Dazs, maybe give me a moment to switch gears to the extrovert side, ok?




Friday, May 19, 2017

Start

A friend died today.

I'm a mess. So bear with me here. Forget about introvert and extrovert and do me a favor. You're mortal. Your life is precious and fragile and not stuck in a rut unless you will it to be. While you're alive, you can still DO something.

Start.

Whatever it is you want. Start it. Smile. Breathe deep. Step forward, even if only an inch.

Because only one thing is certain. This all ends. For your sake, for mine, for the sake of the friend who died today, don't go to your deathbed wondering what could have happened.

Oh. And take a second to go hug your loved ones.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

My Kingdom for a Writer Retreat

Writing is a solitary activity.  It is fundamentally about holing up somewhere and shutting out the world and getting the work done.  This is a job for introverts.  
But promotion, appearances, interacting with the fellow writing community?  That takes extroversion. And I can do that: I can turn it on and get the job done.  But then I want to crawl back into a hole and just write.  
Now, as things currently go, I don't have much option for holing up.  There's no single space in the house that's just for me just to write.  We also run our business out of the house, and due to the nature of it there isn't an area that can be just MINE all the time.  
This past weekend at Comicpalooza, I was sitting with a bunch of writers, and one that I didn't recognize (and because, you know, that's how things go, no introductions were made between us) talked about finalizing his cabin in the woods: isolated, with a great view of a lake (but still only a few minutes away from the grocery store).  The perfect place to be completely disconnected from the world and just get writing done.
I said that sounded like bliss.
Turns out that guy I didn't recognize was Jim Butcher.
If Jim Butcher is only JUST getting his cabin on the lake to write in isolation, it's going to be a bit for me. So I'll keep working out of my bag, using my headphones to isolate myself.  (And reminding my family that Headphones Means Do Not Disturb.)
All that said: if any of you out there has a cabin on the lake or beachhouse or isolated studio or adobe hut in the desert you want to lend me for a week or so?  Let's talk.  I would love to have a place to retreat to, if just for a little bit.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

DON'T BE A DEADLINE DOUCHEBAG

If people are asking you to do things (whether it is writing and business related or not) you should of course always consider the request and the person making the request. Some of you may be good at knee-jerk "No" responses, and you parrot out your answer before you've thought it through. The request might benefit you, so think it over. 

A few times in your life, a request might be easy because you adore and respect the person making the request and you genuinely want to help, or you 'owe' them one because they helped you previously.

But more often the requests will come not from that adored person and not in a timely manner.

As an author with deadlines, you can say no. Don't feel guilty! You might have to say no because, serioiusly, this is your career. You might truly be wishing you could help, or you might be rejoicing that you don't have to because you have the great excuse of a deadline. Either way, the important factor is that you maintain your professionalism. 

DON'Ts:
Don't ignore a request; that is rude. 
Don't accept and promise to help, then stop responding or never following through. That's also rude.
Don't promise to get to something later just to avoid actually saying "No" right now.

DOs:
Do be honest. 
Do be helpful if you can.


HOW TO SAY NO:
You can say no without details:
"I'm flattered, but my schedule is so tight right now, I'm just not in a position where I can take this on."

You can say no with details:
"Look, I know this is going to disappoint you, but I simply cannot promise to ______ because no matter how much I might want to help you with this, the deadlines I'm responsible for right now require my utmost attention. You deserve feedback that is fully focused and there's no way I can manage that right now."

Here's more ways to say no that I found HERE on The Greater Good blog.

1. Vague but effective: “Thank you for asking, but that isn’t going to work out for me.”
2. It’s not personal: “Thank you for asking, but I’m not doing any interviews while I’m writing my book.”
3. Ask me later: “I want to do that, but I’m not available until April. Will you ask me again then?”
4. Let me hook you up: “I can’t do it, but I’ll bet Shelly can. I’ll ask her for you.”
5. Keep trying: “None of those dates work for me, but I would love to see you. Send me some more dates.”
6. Try me last minute: “I can’t put anything else on my calendar this month, but I’d love to do that with you sometime. Will you call me right before you go again?”
7. Gratitude: “Thank you so much for your enthusiasm and support! I’m sorry I’m not able to help you at this time.”
8. Give Dad a chance: “You know, I feel like moms are always getting to do the holiday parties at school. Let’s ask Dad if he wants to help this year.”
9. 5-minute favor: “I can’t speak at your event, but I will help you promote it on my blog.”
I also asked my friends Renee Trudeau and Katrina Alcorn—two people who’ve honed their ability to say no well—for their favorite go-to ways to say no. Here are Renee’s favorite ways:
10. Just No: “Thanks, I’ll have to pass on that.” (Say it, then shut up.)
11. Gracious: “I really appreciate you asking me, but my time is already committed.”
12. I’m Sorry: “I wish I could, but it’s just not going to work right now.”
13. It’s Someone Else’s Decision: “I promised my coach (therapist, husband, etc.) I wouldn’t take on any more projects right now. I’m working on creating more balance in my life.”
14. My Family is the Reason: “Thanks so much for the invite, that’s the day of my son’s soccer game, and I never miss those.”
15. I Know Someone Else: “I just don’t have time right now. Let me recommend someone who may be able to help you.”
16. I’m Already Booked: “I appreciate you thinking of me, but I’m afraid I’m already booked that day.”
17. Setting Boundaries: “Let me tell you what I can do…” Then limit the commitment to what will be comfortable for you.
18. Not No, But Not Yes: “Let me think about it, and I’ll get back to you.”
(Renee’s list is from her book The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal.)
And here are the additional ways that Katrina most often says no:
19. Say nothing: “Not all requests require an answer. It feels rude to ignore a request, but sometimes it’s the best way for everyone to save face.”
20. Let it all hang out: “Recently my daughter got injured in gym class. It was a week of visits to the ER, the concussion clinic, specialists, etc. I decided to just tell people what was going on, which sort of shut down the requests for a bit.”
21. I’m “maxed out”: “We need a ‘safety word’ for saying no—an easy way to tell people that we can’t/won’t do the thing they are requesting, but that it’s not personal. One convenient thing about authoring a book called Maxed Out is that now I can say ‘I’m maxed out’ and people who are familiar with the book know I’m asking them to respect that I’m taking care of myself, and that I also respect their need to take care of themselves.”



Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Release Day: Jovienne by Linda Robertson

Big celebration day today as our Wednesday captain Linda Roberston releases the first book in her new urban fantasy series Immanence. Because Linda is such an amazing artist, she's written a musical score to accompany the book (sold separately via Linda's website).


JOVIENNE
A horrific car accident put Jovienne in a coma. When she awakened months later, she was told that her family had died. And Jovienne? She felt different...irreversibly changed.

Years passed, and she was raised by a stranger who trained her to use the quintanumin. She excelled at every lesson, and she longed for her mentor to become much more. When the time came for her final test, a death-match against a demon, she uncovered a terrible truth: the man she had trusted to teach her had a dreadful secret, and Jovienne had become a monster's monster.

The traumatized Jovienne becomes desperate for a way out of this new life, working on a way to rescind her immortality. But this only brings the demons ever closer, one of which claims to know a secret of its own about Jovienne-a secret she doesn't even know herself...

BUY IT NOW:  From Linda  |  IpG   |   Amazon   |  IndieBound

Monday, May 15, 2017

No fences for me.

I try to be friendly to anyone who approaches me at a convention.

I also try to be professional, so not too close for comfort.

once upon a time I gave out business cards with my phone number on them.

that stopped when someone I THOUGHT was a writer started calling my place at any old time of the morning to fanboy out.

That was when I set my boundaries.

They haven't really changed. Be a professional at conventions, folks. It's all the difference in t he world.

I'll be polite, I'll even be friendly, but beyond that? Hard to say what will happen.

So, no fences. fences imply that I want to keep a certain distance. In public, at conventions, I believe in an open door policy. I look forward to meeting new friends and fans alike.


Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Writer as Friendly Curmudgeon - Building Fences Without Walling People Out

One of my favorite pictures of my mother, embodying all her effervescence and zest for life - letting her fringe fly.

It's apropos for me that week's topic - which has to do with attempting to be both a writer and a socially acceptable person - falls on Mother's Day. My mother is tremendously social person. She's good at it, and she loves it. Me... well, I've always struggled a bit with feeling like I'm not as good at it, and it took me a really long time to understand that about myself.

I just never felt all that social, though I could fake it to some extent. In fact, I often thought to myself that I was antisocial. In a brief bout of therapy during a dark angsty period in college, my therapist said to me, "Antisocial people don't get elected to be Social Chair of their sororities."

Which was an eye-opener for me, because it was a really good point.

Now I know how to label it, because there's so much more good language to talk about this aspect of human interaction. I'm an introvert! Or perhaps, more accurately, an ambivert. I have a lot of extrovert skills - which I've always attributed to my mother's tireless efforts to make me a better person - but I have a deeply introverted aspect to my personality. I need alone time to rejuvenate my energy.

Because my mom is an extrovert, she needs companionship to rejuvenate herself. Thus she's always worried that when I'm alone "too much" that it's not good for me.

But loving being alone is part of what makes me a good writer. In fact, I'd argue that so many writers are introverts because it's got to be super hard on those extroverted writers to make themselves sit in quiet rooms alone to get the work done. Introverts are all over that.

The downside, however, is that we can be perceived as unfriendly and shunning society of all kinds. Part of this comes from the necessity of building fences around the sacred space where creativity occurs. We absolutely need to be left alone. No quick questions or short conversations. No "but I only need ..." Anything that interrupts that quiet space will derail the work at best temporarily, at worst for a really long freaking time. And the worst part is, allowing minor infractions leads to larger and larger ones. A quick question today leads to a two-hour errand in the not-too-distant future. It can become a convoluted exercise in logic to try to explain why the short convo yesterday was okay, but a total disaster today.

And this is hard to explain. It sounds curmudgeonly and sometimes downright mean for us to say, "I'm turning off my phone, my internet, and shutting my door. If you need me, you'll have to need me later." We know our boundaries can make no rational sense, which means we end up snarling impossible demands like "Nobody talk to me EVER AGAIN."

I always think of the cliche of the Victorian era writer locking himself in the library and roaring that anyone who enters will be reduced to a pile of ash.

Okay, I've totally wanted to be that guy on occasion.

But most of us don't really want to be THAT antisocial. We love our friends and family and would like for them to continue to love us. It's really lovely when we unlock the library doors, emerge, (bathe), and find them smiling, possibly handing us food.

So the trick is to build fences around that writing space without building walls so impenetrable they can't be breached. I suspect the answer there, as it so often is, lies in communication.

I greatly appreciate all those years my mom spent drilling social skills into her reluctant daughter. They've come in very handy. A part of me is also amused that, for all those times she told me to get my nose out of my book, that I'm totally vindicated now.

SO, HA, MOTHER! ALL THAT TIME I SPENT WITH MY NOSE IN A BOOK MADE ME AN AWARD-WINNING WRITER TODAY!! SO THERE!

Also, I love you, Mom. Happy Mother's Day, from both the good Jeffe and the bad one. ;-)

Saturday, May 13, 2017

My Test for Good Ideas - Does it Set Off Fireworks?

Plot Bunny!
The topic this week is how we decide what’s a good idea to pursue when we’re ready to write a new book or story.

First I’d have to define what ‘good’ means to me in this context because as others have said, I have ideas ALL the time. Plot bunnies abound everywhere. I have a dream, or read the news or someone tells me a funny anecdote from their own daily life or I’m perusing a magazine at the dentist’s office and WOW POP ZOWIE, there’s the kernel of a great idea. Typically I scribble down enough notes on it to remind myself later what I’d thought was so cool and stuff it into a bulging purple folder of similar ideas. If the thought prompt was for a nifty detail inside some other story I’ve already been playing around with telling, then I’ll give it a cryptic label. As an example, for literally years I collected details for a story about an interstellar fashion designer, which I eventually wrote (Star Survivor). I probably didn’t use 1/100th of the stuff I’d collected but it all built up in my head over time to give me a picture of the world she lived in and what I might write about her.

I still have notes from junior high school actually, relevant to the series I was doing then, which had a vaguely Tom Corbett Space Cadet feel to it, but with romance. I’m not planning to pursue those plot bunnies any further though!

That does point up the problem I have, which is when I’m feeling motivated and energized to tell a new story, it’s rarely something drawn from all those files stored in the spare room. More often my Muse is attracted to a shiny new idea and off I go to write that story.

With that background established, what qualifies as a ‘good’ idea to me is one that makes me excited to sit and write, to tell the story. I have energy for the situation and the characters and I can’t wait to get those words on the paper (by typing into the laptop) and share the tale with my readers.

That’s it. My sole criteria. Does this idea have kinetic force for me and spark the irresistible urge to spin a story?
If yes, then hey, Houston, we’re go to launch the writing process.
Purchased from DepositPhoto



Friday, May 12, 2017

Idea Processing and Proving

Remember junior high when you learned (vaguely) how to write a research paper? You were told to pick a subject, begin your research and keep your index cards organized so you could write your paper and cite your sources, right? For the first time, you were given more than a single evening to accomplish your task. Maybe a whole two weeks.

If you were anything like me, you spent the first week and a half playing with a million ideas about what to write. It finally took either panic or a parent hollering at you to just pick something to get you to actually do the paper. Which meant that you were forced to put aside any question of what idea was 'best'. Or even 'good'.

Books are a little like that. You can spend all your time figuring out whether an idea is any good for you or not. And I say 'for you' because I doubt there are any bad ideas - only ideas that land with the wrong person to execute. When a bright, shiny new idea sideswipes me, I do have a process for figuring out whether I can get it from 'oh hey!' to a finished novel. It looks a little like this:

1. Are there characters associated with the idea? If yes, proceed to 2. If no, this idea is DOA. I can jot it down and file it in case characters pop up later, but until there are people to drive the idea, no deal.
2. Do the characters have arcs? This is determined by a deep dive into character work. First stop: Break Into Fiction and the character templates. Why? Because I am entirely character driven. I must know the whys behind my people before I can reliably plot a story from idea to finish. If arc = yes, I can proceed to 3.
3. Proof of concept - write the proposal. Three chapters and a synopsis. This forces me to get clear on the GMC in a concise way. Usually. If that goes well and the characters are playing poorly with one another as they should, I can proceed to 4.
4. Scene by scene plotting. You know that's working when you have help like I did above. It's even better when your 'help' offers up editorial comment in the shape of fang holes in your scene notes.

A lot of work, maybe, but it has benefits. The first is that 90% of ideas get sorted within the first two steps. Those that don't have material progress already made on them. In rare cases, I've had ideas fizzle in the proof of concept stage. Those ideas aren't usually bad, per se, it's usually a case of having missed something vital in the character arc/motivation stage. Those get shelved to perk a little longer. Then I go back to revisit every once in a while to see if I can parse out what I got wrong.

At least no one wants me to cite my sources anymore.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Panning for Idea Gold

"Your first three ideas are wrong."
This was a piece of advice that came from the production designer I worked with the most in my theatre days, which he got from one of college professors.  While I don't think it's completely accurate, I do think it's coming from a fundamentally correct place.  A lot of the time, the initial idea is flawed, and it takes some work and thought before you get to the thing that's actually going to work.
Now, he was talking about design work-- how you build something that will look and function the way you want it to on stage-- but the principle is the same as with writing.
Around that same time, we both worked with another playwright, and one of the comments made of that playwright was, "He has some really fantastic ideas.  And some truly terrible ones.  And absolutely no skill at differentiating them."
And that's the challenge in writing, isn't it?  Looking at the ideas you have, and trying to crack which ones will work and pay off, and which ones are not worth developing.  I think it's still something I'm working on, myself.  Now, part of my process is a long germination period, where I go from a vague idea to building the roots of it, and then growing it out in outlines and finally writing the story. I know my output speed would seem to belie this idea, but you're seeing the end result of the process which started many years ago and is now bearing fruit.  In many ways, the two trunked novels were a necessary part of the process of the planning and plotting of all the Maradaine novels.  And my space opera project (that is currently shopping) went through so many changes that the only things surviving from the original concept are A. the name of the ship (and the ship focused on is completely different) and B. one character (who in original concept was a stand-out secondary character that evolved into the actual lead).  
Now, I could have stuck to my guns and insisted that the original space-opera concept or the now-trunked novels were how I had to go forward... then I'd probably still be languishing as a writer.  
That doesn't mean every idea is gold, or I've mastered figuring out which are or aren't worth my time.  Just slow, steady improvement on that front.  Always learning.  Any writer who thinks there's nothing left to learn is just stagnating.
--- 
A reminder that I'll be at ComicPalooza this weekend.  My schedule is here.  If you're in or near Houston, come say hello!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Spotting a Good Idea

Wanna know the secret?

A story that appeals to your emotions, promises conflict/drama/action, and --come the end-- says something that sticks with you in a good way.

That's my belief.

But take that with a grain of salt. What appeals to my emotions may not evoke yours and vice-versa. What I consider conflict/drama/action may not align completely with what you consider the same. Further, what sticks with me afterward may not be a message that resonates with you. Hence, not every book is for every reader. Those choices may steer your work into a small, niche market. Or it might hurl it right into mainstream because the overall appeal as well as the scope of the message is quite broad.

My latest novel, Jovienne, is available either now or next week. I say this because while the publisher's release date was May 9th, the on-line sellers are {as I write this on the 9th} showing as unavailable, so perhaps their stock has not yet arrived or been checked into stock and ok-ed for sale??? Gotta love the business side of the business...hee hee. Regardless, please check out the trailer, below, and tell me, Do you think it has got 1.) that emotional appeal, 2.) the promise of conflict/drama/action, and 3.) indications of a something that will stick with you come the end?




Also, the music in that trailer is a shortened arrangement of the track Immanence I wrote as part of the score for this novel. To hear snippets each track from the CD, visit my website's buy page:

http://www.authorlindarobertson.com/buy.html 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

3 Steps for Deciding Which Great Idea To Write Next

Actor: Nathan Fillion, clip possibly from Castle

I have an idea! I have many ideas. I have enough to keep me writing well into my 90s when AI will suck the wavelengths out of my brain and feed it to the matrix. The ideas, they multiply like tribbles. In all fairness, I've yet to meet an author who lacks ideas. Time is usually the mitigating factor, followed by contractual commitments, and the pursuit of a guarenteed income stream.

Obligations to third-parties aside, how do I decide which idea to work on first/next? Three steps:


1. Can I easily and clearly envision the Goal, Motivation, Internal Conflict, and External Conflict?
 If "yes" proceed to next step...
I proceed 96% of the time

2. Can I easily and clearly envision the summaries of the 3 Arcs, their respective Gotchas, and are they sufficiently unique?
If "yes" proceed to next step...
I proceed 43% of the time

3. Can I write it in 90 days?
 If "yes" prioritize and place in the queue to be written.
The answer to this one is usually manic cackling and a lot of "oh, hell no." Not because I'm a slow writer and so far my "best" time is 18 months. No, no, that piece of reality doesn't factor in. It's my belief that I could write it in 90 days. That belief stems from the notion that I am so familiar with the plot, all the characters, and each setting that I know how 27 of the 30 chapters are going go before I start Chapter 1.

That...that doesn't happen often, which makes it a great filter. 

What I don't ask myself is "will anybody buy this," for the simple reason that I can't control what people will buy or when they'll buy it. I can control my little speck of the universe...sometimes.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Picking the good ideas

It's an interesting subject.

Picking the good ideas and how you know they're good ideas.

I wish I had a pat answer for that one that actually worked.

here's the thing: You never know. I've got forty plus novels under my belt. I've got three or four unfinished works that I will, eventually, get back to, and I've got several proposals that have never gone past chapter three or four.
]Every one of them seemed like a good idea at the time and believe me, I intend to finish full novels in the pitches that never went anywhere, because O consider them very good ideas that have simply not met the right publishers as yet. Worst case scenarios, I'll publish them myself.

Once upon a time I wrote a book called POSSESSIONS and followed up with the sequel, RABID GROWTH, There are people who say they are among my best work and others who thing they suck wind. The publisher never wanted the third book in the series.

Same thing with my Young Adult set: SUBJECT SEVEN and the sequel RUN, were supposed to be an ongoing series the sales did not agree and the publisher decided to stop. Sooner or later I'm going to get the rights back and finish the series. because the story is not finished.

What makes one story work when another doesn't?

Not a freaking clue. I can't say it's the writing, because it's the same writer.  MAYBE the storyline in one is better. Maybe the publishers did a better job of marketing. Maybe they cover art is just that much better (Yes, cover art makes  a difference. a HUGE difference in some cases.) Is it timing? Did one book sound too much like another or not enough like the flavor of the week?


My answer to this is simple: You know when it's done. Every idea seems incredible to me when I'm thinking about it. the possibilities are endless. It's the passion for the ideas that inspires me to write them in the first place. I almost never outline. I hate coming up with series proposals. I'd rather sit and write than consider how it should be written. The ideas are there.

Actually I know one certain way to know the difference. If someone comes up tome and wants me to write the novel based on their idea so we can split the profits 50/50 I can basically guarantee you that the idea they're thinking is so great is not something that would ever work for me. Twenty-five years of doing this and inevitably someone will come along and think that's the best idea ever. My usual suggestion is that they sit down and write their own stories. I phrase that just as politely as I can.





Sunday, May 7, 2017

Picking the Good Ideas for a Novel - How Do You Know?

I just got back from the RT Booklovers Convention in Atlanta. Here's Sonali Dev and Grace Draven, after accepting their awards for best Contemporary Romance and Best Fantasy Romance, respectively. Two of my favorite people, among so many wonderful people at that convention. I had a wonderful time!

“Where do you get your ideas?”

This is a question authors get all the time. And we have a pretty stock answer for it, which is absolutely true, that getting ideas isn’t the hard part. Most authors have tons of ideas stockpiled. While writing one book, we get ideas for something totally different. Sometimes lots of other ideas. The hard part, we say, is in the execution, in actually preserving to write the entire book and do it well.

That’s all true.

But there is another level to it.

What author has not read a book and thought, “Damn, I wish I’d thought of that!” We often look at books our friends and heroes write and wish we’d had that idea. For myself, I have five or six series that I sincerely wish I’d written. A lot of that is in the execution, but they’re also ideas that never occurred to me.

The other piece is that, when we go to those long lists of ideas – on spreadsheets for me, naturally! – it’s not always easy to choose the GOOD ideas.

Ideas are everywhere. GOOD ideas? Maybe not so much.

That’s our topic this week: how do we know which are the GOOD ideas.

Recently I gave my new agent Sarah a long list of possible projects. I think about a dozen, in various stages – most just twinkles in my eyes – of ideas for books and series I could work on. She went through and ranked them in terms of which she thought were the best for me to work on.

That’s part of her job. In this case, “GOOD idea” meant what she thought would be most likely to sell right now. She also filtered in terms of genre, bookshelf placement, future directions of publishing and reading, and her own intuition.

What she ranked #1 was not my personal favorite.

In fact, my personal favorite idea didn’t make her top five.

Does that mean it’s not a GOOD idea? Not necessarily, but it does mean something. When I finding myself wishing that I wish I’d thought of Hunger Games (and what author hasn’t??), I also know that I never would have. It’s not my thing. But, among the stuff that IS my thing, I’m aware that my favorite ideas aren’t always ready for the world. Don’t worry – I keep them! But I put them pretty far back on the shelf in the larder to ferment a little longer.

Every author, no matter where in their career, has to choose among their many ideas. When I was a newbie, aspiring author, this often came down to gut. Sometimes it still does. Nothing wrong with choosing that way. But as we progress in our careers, other factors come into play. I have a couple of series concepts that I might not yet have the chops to pull off. Also, working as a career writer, recognizing what will sell becomes much more important. Things like groceries and electricity need to be paid for.

So, through this lens, a GOOD idea has many parameters. How we recognize those is a combination of intuition, experience, and professional expertise – both our own and from the people we work with.

There’s also that magic something, that just knowing. I’ve had it a few times. Suzanne Collins says she knew about Hunger Games.


I’m looking forward to hearing my fellow authors in the SFF Seven weigh in on how they recognize the GOOD ideas. 

Saturday, May 6, 2017

What Was On My Butterfly Mind?

DepositPhoto

We’re supposed to write about one thing that’s been on our mind this week. Well, mine is pretty much occupied with the adorable new grandbaby. Sorry I have no photos to share but his parents are trying to keep his social media footprint as tiny as his real footprint, at least for now. You’ll just have to take my unbiased, totally impartial word for it that he’s the cutest baby EVER. Or at least since his mother was a baby.

Jake the Cat
I have a butterfly mind, flower to flower, thought to thought. Or stream of consciousness perhaps. I don’t brood over any one thing to the exclusion of pondering other stuff. Well, maybe when Jake the Cat is yowling at me to FEED HIM. That’s pretty hard to ignore. But I’m not getting up at 4AM because he has a craving for smelly fishy catfood from the can. Never mind he has dry food in the bowl at all times and is thoroughly spoiled. By who, you ask? (Looks around guiltily.) Couldn’t be me!

So of course there was stuff this week that I thought about – the current state of world and national affairs, medical insurance, local freeway construction delays, author drama (there is so much of this but that’s kind of a constant, only the names and the central issues change, beware the flying monkeys), fasting for my blood test today, the novel I’m writing, many MANY plot bunnies for other books I don’t have time to write…

Well, ok, how about this one? I don’t know the person myself but there’s an author whose first book sold like hotcakes AND got made into a movie that did fairly well…and five YEARS later they are back with the sequel…and oh, surprise, not only have the readers not been waiting with bated breath, the entire industry has changed a LOT. What worked then does not work now. (Except when it does, of course, in the confounding manner of publishing.) I keep visualizing this poor person being like Rip Van Winkle in a way, emerging from the writer cave, book in hand, shouting “Here it is!” to the waiting crowds…only there aren’t any.

Never mind five years, seems like the publishing industry changes every six months or even more often, or so it seems.  I’m grateful for the various author groups I’m in online, where people compare notes and share generously as to what still works, what quit working, what’s new to try…

I’ve kind of had to unwind my view of myself as an author from my view of myself as the small business-publisher-of-myself, to keep my writing sanity. I write what I write and enjoy telling the stories and don’t let myself worry if this particular book I’m in the middle of now will pay the bills in June. Paying the bills in June is a whole other issue than whether my hero and heroine will defeat the Big Bad and get to that HEA. I'll handle the bills issues when I'm in business-mind mode! Too much pressure on the creativity kills the whole thing for me. I can’t “write to market”, nor do I want to, nor do I want to fret over it.

My market is people who happen to enjoy the same kinds of stories I do, and buy books that I write.

I do my promo activities and my networking and I certainly don’t let myself slack off on any of that because there are so many other good books and so many other good authors out there, and I don’t want readers to forget that they enjoy my books too. Reminding people that Veronica Scott exists and oh-by-the-way she has a new release (see below) plus a growing backlist is just good business sense.  I love scifi romance and I enjoy talking about the entire genre and other authors I admire on various platforms. I’m honored and have fun doing that!

But I have had to give myself a few stern lectures fairly recently on not getting spun up over the latest twist some large ebook seller has thrown into the business mix, or that alien planet barbarian dragon shifters with secret babies are now the rage in my genre when I write books like the adventures of Ripley and Hicks in “Aliens” but with more romance, less gore and less dripping ick and an HEA. Or any number of other wrinkles, permutations and new stumbling blocks in the indie author biz.

I’ll never be a statistical whiz, analyzing all the clicks per bid or whatever it may be, and I needed help with the complexities of creating a MailChimp newsletter…so I do the things I can, make myself learn the ones I totally require to survive as an author nowadays, and I keep it all FAR AWAY from my creative process of writing the next scifi romance.

This excellent article by Kristine Kathryn Rusch comparing the indie author phenomenon to a gold rush, an investment bubble and a business cycle was extremely clarifying and helpful to me and I highly recommend it.

New Release! Ta da!
The blurb:
I’m really excited to release three Sectors stories that have only been available previously in anthologies, none of which are available currently. (I know many of you purchased the Pets In Space anthology, which first contained STAR CRUISE STOWAWAY and thank you so much!) Along with STOWAWAY, I’ve really been wanting to get the other two stories out there for you, especially THE GOLDEN TOKEN, which was only in the  limited edition paperback we handed out at last year’s RT Booklovers Conference. So I’ve bundled them ALL into one book with the lengthy title STAR CRUISE A NOVELLA: STOWAWAY WITH RESCUE AND GOLDEN TOKEN SHORT STORIES.

Here are the story descriptions:

Star Cruise: Stowaway: A novella of 22K words, previously in the award winning ‘Pets In Space’ anthology.
Cargo Master Owen Embersson is shocked when the Nebula Zephyr’s ship’s cat and her alien sidekick, Midorri, alert him to the presence of a stowaway. He has no idea of the dangerous complications to come nor does he anticipate falling hard for the woman whose life he now holds in his hands. Life aboard the Nebula Zephyr has just become more interesting – and deadly.

Star Cruise: Rescue: A short story of 9K words, previously in the ‘Romancing the Stars’ anthology.
When a shore leave excursion goes terribly wrong for Mira Gage, a member of the Nebula Zephyr’s crew, Security Officer Clint Miltan races the clock to find her before the ship leaves orbit and abandons Mira to her fate. Clint’s got more than a professional interest in Mira, but will he be able to save her from the aliens holding her prisoner?

The Golden Token: A short story of 13K words, previously in the limited edition ‘Dealer’s Choice’ paperback anthology put together by Linnea Sinclair and handed out at the 2016 RT Booklovers Convention Interstellar Bar & Grille event.
Sectors Special Forces operator Charlie McBrire had a few days to kill on a layover at Space Station 47. He never expected to find himself in the middle of a miners’ rebellion, fighting to save the life of a casino dancer he just met but can’t imagine living without.

Amazon    iBooks    B&N     Kobo

Friday, May 5, 2017

Plotting Obsession

Plotting. Plotting is what brings us together today.

If you did not read that in the voice of the Impressive Clergyman from The Princess Bride, we can no longer be friends. Sorry. You can redeem yourself by reciting the first two Classic Blunders.

Anyway. Plotting.

Remember me complaining about needing a mentor of my own last week? Well, my friends, that's what craft books are for. If I haven't mentioned the book before, The Fantasy Fiction Formula is my latest foray into learning. This book is by Deborah Chester. It came recommended by a critic group member. I'd picked it up out of curiosity - that and I'm a sucker for trying out new ways of approaching what I do. Yes, I have a process. One that works, mostly. But you know me. I'm always open to better ways of doing things. If there is such a thing as a better way. So I read this book.

And eventually texted my fellow crit group member that I'd finished the damned book and I hated her now. She laughed at me.

I did disagree with some of the points in The Fantasy Fiction Formula (One example: There's an assertion that every scene until the climax must end in failure for your protagonist - I disagree. The protag can absolutely win scenes - but when that happens, the win has to turn out nothing like the protagonist imagined. But eh. Minor detail and some people would say that's an aggregate loss anyway.) I learned far more than I disagreed with, though.

The book is packed with useful tidbits. Until I read the FFF, I didn't know what an A/R unit was. It's Action/Reaction unit. Turns out, I'd been getting mine wrong from time to time. I knew about scene and sequel, but I'd never really paid much attention because every explanation of them I'd ever had went right over my head. Until Deborah Chester. I *think* I understand them now. And I'd like to believe I comprehend how they need to be put together in order to drive a story. She does a fantastic job of laying out plotting. She says you need three BIG scenes - and by big - she means weighty. Emotional. These three scenes are your twist points in your story. End of Act 1 twist, Act II twist and the Climax. Get those and you can then plot out the other scenes and sequels you need to drive your characters through those twist points. Add in whatever subplot scenes and sequels you want/need and presto. You have a solid start on an outline and on a synopsis.

Straight forward, right? It would be, were I plotting one book. But no. No, no, no. Why would I do the sensible thing? I'm attempting to apply this brand new, untried strategy to a five book arc where the first two books are already written and published. So not only do I need the three BIG scenes for each book, I have to consider each book as a scene/sequel set within the overall arc of the series. But no pressure.

I have this sense that if I can get this down and make it work for me, I'll have a better hold of story craft. I'd like to think it's a worthy pursuit that's worth the risk of upending my usual slowpoke process.

Yes. It is rather like a walk in the Fire Swamp. If the fire spurts and lightning sands don't get me, the ROUSes might.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Illegitimi non carborundum

The writing business is rough.  You put stuff out there, and you kind of have to accept that rejection is the baseline.  That's the thing you have to earn yourself out of.  Success is never a given.  You've got to toughen your skin.  None of this is new information, of course.  If you read any sort of writing advice, this is a front-and-center thing.  
And you've got to allow yourself to be critiqued.  You've got to be able to take your licks and then stand up and say, "All right, what's next?"
But when you're looking for critique, look for critique that is useful.  It isn't good critique just because it tears you down.  (Nor is it just because it fluffs you up, either.)  Choose your critique partners with care, because getting tied in with someone who isn't interested in actually critiquing your work-- or worse, thinks they understand what critique is, but doesn't-- can do so much more harm than good.
Here's my little story: I was on one small, private on-line critique group.  The set-up was pretty casual: upload things to a shared folder, and then critiques are either A. sent via group email or B. also uploaded to the shared folder.  No specific timeline, just put it up and people will get to it or not.  Because of this system, I had some things up there that I wasn't actually seeking critique on anymore.  But I hadn't taken them down, mostly because I wanted the other members of the group to be able to look at the whole body of work/larger plan if they were so inclined.  
And then I got this on one manuscript.
I made it no further than page 5 before nearly chewing my left arm off in the frustration of knowing that a writer with a great imagination, a lot of drive, and most likely a wonderful story to tell hasn't bothered, after all these years of effort, to learn the basics of story crafting. To improve your writing, you need to, at the very least, read some well-crafted books and analyze the plotting, sentence structure, foreshadowing, and subtlety of the writers' works. No one is born knowing how to write or craft a story. Those are skills that take some effort to learn. You could be a great writer. If you don't put in some study time, all your efforts and talents are wasted.
Wow.  That's brutal, no?
That's the sort of critique that could send someone running for the hills.  Heck, that's not even a critique, that's a dressing down.
Fortunately, I just laughed at it, and then promptly deleted myself from that group.
Because the manuscript in question was The Thorn of Dentonhill, which at that point had already netted me an agent and was out on submission.  And it was bought by my publisher just a few weeks after I got this.  I mean, what exactly was this person trying to accomplish with this critique?  I'm not sure.  But I feel like they were trying to just grind me down.
And, like I said, this business is tough, and you do not get handed anything and certainly don't deserve anything you don't earn-- you don't just get handed accolades and awards and film options-- but you need to keep pushing on as they try to grind you down.  Success could be right around the corner, and if you let them beat you-- you let a drubbing like that one up there break you-- you won't get there.
Because there are people who've realized that they aren't going to make it in this business, and then they decide they don't want anyone else to either.  They will try to grind you down.
Illegitimi non carborundum
Don't let the bastards grind you down.