Saturday, June 30, 2018

Persuade Dissuade Lemonade


I’m in the independently published camp all the way, but that’s  because I’m me and this method of publishing suits my needs. There’s no one right answer for everyone so I’m not going to try to persuade, dissuade or make lemonade here today.

When I decided to work toward being a published author in 2010, I was focused on traditional publishing because that was really all I’d ever heard of. I wasn’t tied into the author community – it wasn’t as easy as it is nowadays with Facebook author groups and author loops and twitter and etc. So I submitted a story to Carina Press (a Harlequin imprint) over the transom as they used to say, in response to an open call on their part for ancient world romance. I wrote a paranormal romance set in 1550 BCE Egypt and the rest is (a modest footnote to) history. Published author here, as of 2012!

I learned so much from my experience with Carina and really enjoyed the association. They gave me a beautiful to die for cover from Frauke of Croco Designs, I loved my editor and she really ‘got’ the book, I lucked into a wonderful community of Carina authors (which is where I met Jeffe) and things seemed good. As a long time romance reader, I was thrilled to be part of the extended Harlequin family as an author.

Carina acquired the second book in the Egyptian series. Although everyone was again lovely to me and professional to work with, I got to see a different side of traditional publishing – the cover by someone other than Frauke was not my favorite, shall we say. My editor left and while I was quickly assigned to a new editor, they didn’t really seem to resonate with my story or me. I couldn’t believe how much time was elapsing between book one’s release and book two’s release. Which to be clear wasn’t an inordinate amount of time at all for a trad published book (although Carina was primarily ebook at the time and my two titles never made it into print with them), but for impatient me, it was an eternity!

One of my "woke up in the morning
 with this plot" books
 I discovered I didn’t like working to a contract, in terms of what book to write next. My Muse is a flighty being and likes to work on what appeals to her most. Looming schedules make her tense. Some mornings I wake up with an entire book plot in my head, out of nowhere, and if I don’t write that book right now, forsaking all others for a while, I’m making a serious mistake. My biggest sellers have been those books. They certainly weren’t anywhere on even the gauzy schedules I keep for myself.

Oh and did I mention Carina decided to leave the ancient world romance genre at that time (they may have gone back into it since for all I know) and didn’t show any interest in acquiring my scifi romance, although they were venturing into SFR then. I’m extremely glad they passed now of course. So I couldn’t have continued with them, not writing the only two types of novels I wanted to write. They were open to me experimenting with other genres but my Muse and I were not.

My first self pubbed SFR
"Titanic in space..."
Conveniently, I had also self-published my first scifi romance two months after the initial Carina book released. I LOVED everything about self-publishing. I picked the cover, the price, the distribution channels, whether to make certain edits or not, the schedule, the promo…the royalties came straight to me me me with no extra % taken out for a publisher in between me and the seller’s platform…

I’ve written my entire life and been seriously pursuing publishing since 2010. I had a long career in the business side of the house at NASA/JPL so once I was able to become a fulltime author (which didn’t happen right away – took three years) I was ready to step right into the multitudinous tasks of being a small business, publishing and managing my own books. And I’ve been a happy clam ever since.

I admire authors who can be hybrid and work within the traditional publishing framework and self-publish as well. I think there can be advantages to having a big, successful publisher behind you. I can’t envision it for myself at this time, but I wouldn’t necessarily say no if the right offer came along. I would negotiate the heck out of the contract to keep my intellectual property rights and to make sure there were no issues or constraints on my continuing to also self-publish.

So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

DepositPhoto

My latest indie published titles!



Friday, June 29, 2018

What She Said




via GIPHY

So for my post, can I just link to Jeffe's post and nod vigorously? No? Rats. Okay. Let's come at this another way, then.

Sometimes, mes amis, the world of publishing leaves you very few options. When what you write isn't necessarily the flavor du jour, most trad publishing houses won't look at you cross eyed. If they do, but your sales don't hit a particular benchmark, you may rapidly find yourself unpublished by traditional houses. If that happens, and if you have the self-confidence and spite to pick up your stories, you can go home and learn to become your own publisher.

Or say you've been writing one genre and you want to dip your toes into another - one you aren't necessarily certain you want to immerse yourself into. You write that book and rather than subbing it to agents and editors, you put it up yourself as an experiment. To test the genre waters, so to speak.

Or, maybe, after an eternity of waiting, you recover the rights to a group of stories that were orphaned when your cherished editor left the business (get used to that one, cupcake, it happens on a daily) you finally have the opportunity to finish out the series and relaunch the whole thing at what you consider a much friendlier price point - or with the cover of your dreams. Whatever your entre into DIYing it is.

Just know this. Everything about self-publishing is learnable. Scads of people have been through this wilderness and will gladly point the way. Some people will charge admittance. Many more won't. Author loops are crazy generous with how-to information, software suggestions, cover designer, editor, and copy editor referrals, too. Most of them will discuss the nuanced differences between launching wide versus targeted, too. Here. Let me pass you an aspirin. Author loops are a fire hose. You might need the pain killer.

All of this said, there's no right or wrong answer to the question of going indie or trad or both. There's only what's right for you and your work. If you're a security seeker, go trad. If you're a risk taker and a control freak, go indie. If you see the merits of both, then do all the things. There's really no math to do that will make clear which path is 'best'. It's all judgement call and what sounds like the most fun. Sure. You need a career strategy at some point. Tons of people will coach you through that, too, but as far as I can tell, you end up with a mirror of THEIR strategy rather than one of your own. So you may as well be guided by your own sense of what sounds easy versus hard. If having to format your own book sounds like the third circle of hell because you're a technophobe, you can hire someone to do that work, or you can choose to stick with the trad houses. They'll handle all that fiddly stuff, at the price, however, of having complete control over how your book is presented to the world.

So. Yeah. What Jeffe said. It's all about tradeoffs. You get to choose which ones you'll accept.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Quiz: Should I go indie or trad?

I'm brand new to this publishing thing--I only have two books out right now, and both went the traditional publishing route. So it's not like I have a whole bunch of wisdom to drop on this topic of whether folks should keep keep banging manuscripts against the query wall or take the also terrifying leap off the indie cliff.

Here's what seems clear, though: not everyone is going to succeed in the same path. I suspect that choosing what's right for you comes down to your personality and what you want from this writing adventure.

Also, I've made a quiz. Because I love quizzes. Jot your answers on a separate sheet (or write them on your forearm in Sharpie; not judging). Here goes:

1. Having a cover that looks exactly like the character and setting from the story is
A. Not as important as having a cover that conveys tone and genre, so readers aren't surprised.
B. Nice but not really my focus. I'm about writing the stories.
C. The most important thing.

2. If you absolutely had to reduce costs in the production of your book, you'd skip
A. Starbucks for a month. Or gym membership. All's I know is nothing about this book is gonna get skipped. This baby is gonna shine.
B. Editing. I know how to use commas and write clean. Plus I ran this thing through Autocrit, so it's good enough.
C. Celebratory vino for release day. Possibly the Amazon ad.

3. A line edit is
A. Close enough to a copy edit that one contractor could probably do both.
B. A what-what?
C. In my budget, and I have a great service scheduled to do it.

4. My primary goal for my writing career is to
A. Make enough money at writing to quit the day job.
B. Earn accolades, awards, and starry trade reviews.
C. Turn out the best-quality story I can, every time.

5. I consider myself a risk-taker
A. Heck yeah and bring on the sky-diving.
B. No. And I think I'm getting sick just at the thought.
C. Um, is that thing safe? If it is, sure, why not just one jump.

6. It's release day for your very first book. What's the worst thing that can happen today?
A. Seller's web site doesn't have the buy links active until after noon, meaning I'm on the phone and annoyed and losing money, but we WILL get this sorted.
B. No one even knows the book is out. No one sees it. No one reviews it or mentions it on social media. No one buys it. Holy wibblefest, am I even a real writer?!
C. Just...today? Like, one day? Man, I'm in this for the long haul. Tell me the numbers in six weeks or so, and then we'll see if we need to panic or change things up. Today, I'm just going to sip some celebratory vino and plot out my next opus.


For items 1 - 3, count 1 point for As, 2 points for Bs, and 0 points for Cs. For items 4-6, tally 0 points for As, 3 points for Bs, and 1 point for Cs. Total your points.

If you got...

0-5 -- You got this and would probably rock the indie path.
6-10 -- Consider branching out and building a career as a hybrid author. Indie first or trad first: do what works best for you, just realize that you can have the best of both worlds.
11-15 -- Keep querying. You will probably be most comfortable with a publisher at your back, at least at the beginning.

So, how'd you do? Is the quiz bunk? All your thoughts, I'm ready to hear 'em.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Self vs Trad Publishing: 5 Reasons to Continue a Failing Series

Since Jeffe's post hits all the big differences between traditional and self-publishing, I'm going to focus on one segment of it: Writing a Series

Disclaimer: I'm not traditionally published, I'm not a hybrid. I'm fully in the self-published camp.

In my genre of Fantasy, readers have a Big Thing about series being completed. They get quite peeved when the series doesn't wrap up in a timely manner. Don't get me wrong, some are willing to wait the 18-24 months trad publishing requires to get the next book; hell they'll even forgive a date slip. One slip. But boy, oh boy, oh boy do they get pissed when the series just...stops. There are many who won't start a series until it's completed because they've been burned so often.

From the creative perspective, the author usually knows whether they're writing a series or a standalone. Whether the series is a duology, trilogy, or the neverending story, the author usually has an idea. That idea is not always shared by the publisher.

Thing is, many new-author trad-publisher contracts are for two books. Sink or swim. 30 days (or really a mere two weeks) to show ROI for the publisher. If the books don't sell well out of the gate, there will be no third book. The contract determines whether the author has the right to continue the series on their own. 

Why would an author continue a series that a publisher deemed a bust?

Same reasons a self-published author continues a series that hasn't paid off yet. Here are my Top 5:

  1. We love the series. We personally love the world, the characters, the plots. We know where the story is going and can't wait to get there. Books of the heart, as some would call it.
  2. We know finding an audience takes time, a lot more time than a publisher is willing to give. It's not uncommon to hear of series that didn't take off for three to five years after release.
  3. We control our backlists, so our books never have to go out of "print." We also control our marketing cycles, so we know when to push and when to throttle back. We have our hands on sales and marketing data, so again, we know what to push and when.
  4. Our business models aren't built around shelflife. We don't assume that once we lose the endcap at Target, that our sales are done. (Hell, most of us don't get placement in any brick and mortar store ever.) Sure, grabbing the Top 10 slot on Amazon or B&N is amazing, but it's not a business model. It's simply a marker.
  5. Our fans demand closure. The last thing we want to do is piss off our loyal readership. We rely on them to come with us from book to book, series to series, genre to genre. We're constantly looking to gain readers, not lose them. The fastest way to lose them is to leave them hanging. 
Now, the theoretical benefit of trad publishing a series is eyeballs and accolades. The risk is getting to finish that series.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Self Pub vs traditional pub all comes down to this....

At the end of the day I can tell you a thousand differences between self publication and traditional (or legacy) publication by a small  press or a major house. The differences may not actually run into a thousand or so but they are high,

But at the end of all of it the differences are all about one thing. Control.

Let's discuss that for a moment, shall we?

What do you mean, Jim? What sort of control?

Here's the biggest one. Do you want to have that book published? Yeah? Cool. Good luck.

Listen I have been very, very lucky over the years. I've had virtually everything I've written published and even on a few occasions where I have not immediately gotten satisfaction, I got it somewhere down the line. that's the rub with traditional publishing, however.

In the case of the big boys, the big Five as it were, these days especially, it's not about what you want to write, it's about what they think they can sell. It used to be that an editor had enough power to decide whether or not to buy a book. later it sort of became a committee situation in a lot of cases. The editor would prepare notes and effectively pitch you novels to the senior editors or a pool of editors to decide what looked good and what sort of offers could be made on a new project.

These days it's gotten a little stranger. These days a lot of publishing houses look to their advertising teams to decide whether or  not a book is going to make the grade, because, ultimately, the marketing department has to decide where the book is going to be placed.

Okay, let me clarify again: Let's say you have a western novel with a side of supernatural horror that you would like to sell. first they have to decide where to place that. is it a western? Is it a horror novel? Does it qualify in that incredibly small niche market of weird westerns? marketing decides that answer, and THEN marketing decides if that answer is something they can work with. if they don;t think they can place a weird western on the shelves of every bookstore and push it through the digital gateways of Amazon, they aren't going to let anyone buy the book. It's dead to them. At the end of the day, it's numbers, nothing personal but why invest several thousand dollars into a product that simply will not be moveable in their eyes?

They are decidedly not in the business of flushing money down the toilet.

Small and medium sized presses can take different risks, but they, too, have to worry about at least breaking even. in the case of small presses a lot fo them are basically labors of love. they will forgive themselves for only breaking even on their costs. But that's the exception and decidedly not the rule. even the smallest presses, especially the for the love presses, have limits. A lot of the small presses are run by one person which MIGHT have people helping with layout and editing or might not. They front all of the costs of making the books, which are often high end and very expensive, they limit the print run and do books the way that books were done before mass market existed. That costs a lot of money and it often costs these individuals a lot of time. they might not fret too much over just breaking even, but at the end of the day they want to do a good book and keep the press afloat without hemorrhaging money from every orifice.

All of that is a consideration when it comes to legacy publication. Cost of labor, cost of production, cost of storage, generating enough revenue to not only justify those costs but to also make a profit.

Want to avoid all the worry? Self-Publish. then, yes, you can sell your book. That weird western that no one wants to touch? You've got it ready to go with Amazon. Except, of course, for the new cover art, the editing costs, the layout, the print run, digital, audio and print considerations. at the end of the day SOMEONE is going to have to out some money up in order to get a quality product. First hint is free: The cover is important and unless your nephew is actually a successful graphic artist, you probably shouldn't ask him to draw a cover for you. The picture that you have for the world to see of your book cover is roughly the size of your thumbnail. That picture better be good enough to catch the attention of every person out there in a positive way, or you're just another image in the digital catalogue.  Especially in tis day and age, people DO in fact judge a book by the cover.

A badly laid out book will haunt you. It can be fixed, but the reviews cannot. Advertising your book costs money. I recently heard of one publicist who has just started out, who wants over a thousand dollars to advertise a book for you. Said publicist has NO EXPERIENCE but wants to make a living. If that publicity amounts to Facebook and Twitter, you better do a little research.

But at the end of the day, it's about control. Either the houses pay you up front and you jump through some hoops, or you do it yourself and cough up the appropriate bread in the hopes that you can make some money.

Whichever way you run with it, there are risks and rewards.

That's just my opinion and your mileage may vary.





Sunday, June 24, 2018

Seven Pros and Cons of Trad vs Indie

The last of the light on the longest day of the year - on a hot and still summer evening.

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is the pros and cons of traditional publishing versus self-publishing. I feel pretty well positioned to compare and contrast the two methods (broadly – there are a lot of subsets and gray areas) of publishing books because I’m solidly hybrid. In 2016, my income was 40%/60% traditional/self-publishing; in 2017, it was the reverse proportion. So here’s a handy table to consider the pros and cons of the two approaches and I’ll discuss below.


Traditional
Self-Publishing
Money
Handled for you
Handle it all yourself
Cover Design
No control
Have to decide
Team
Lots of people invested
Build your own
Publication Schedule
No control
Much more control
Quality
Lots of help (theoretically)
On your own
Marketing
Crapshoot
Expensive
Validation
Built in
Active community










Money

The first and most obvious difference between traditional and self-publishing is that with the latter you have to front your own money. And believe me, to self-publish well, you must invest in it. Doing it on the cheap is possible, but it always shows. If nothing else, pay for editing.

But there are other aspects to the money that aren’t so obvious. With traditional publishing, the house does all the accounting and cuts you a check (or, more likely, direct deposit). Depending on their system, payments can range from monthly to annual. With self-publishing, most retailers pay monthly, but it’s up to you to track and verify the financials. On the plus side, you get a bigger cut (which helps counter-balance that investment) and you can see all the numbers. On the con side, keeping accurate track of the financials can take a lot of time. Basically you become your own accounting department.

Cover Design

Another obvious difference with self-publishing is that you “get” to choose your own cover. With traditional publishing there’s vanishingly small opportunity for input. Some authors love this aspect. Me, not so much. I’m better at it now, as I have a better idea of what I like, but I can’t afford the cover artists my publishers can. While sometimes I don’t like the trad covers they give me, there is something restful about not having to angst over that aspect.

Team

A considerable pro to traditional publishing is having a whole team of people invested in your book. This is really wonderful to have. From your agent to your editor to the production and marketing team to the librarians and booksellers, all of these people make a living by loving your books and selling them. That’s an amazing support network. With self-publishing, you can build your own team. That takes time so it can feel like being a lone ranger. Also, with many of the folks on your self-publishing team being essentially contract workers—paid by the job—there’s less long-term investment in the process.

Publication Schedule

For me this is one of the biggest drawbacks of traditional publishing: not being able to control my release schedule. I end up having to work around those dates. In some ways they provide external structure, but when it’s a terrible release date, that can be frustrating.

Quality

With self-publishing, the quality of the final product is entirely up to you. The people you hire, and how much you pay them, are critical to that quality. It used to be that traditional publishing came with a guarantee of quality. Theoretically only the best books made it through the filters to be pitched and bought, then professional editors worked on the books. With cutbacks in traditional publishing, I’m seeing a lot of editors only acquiring books and spending minimal time on giving content feedback. This is one of the biggest value-adds of traditional publishing, working with a career editor to make the story the very best it can be. Copy editing is pretty straightforward and you can hire people to make sure word choice, grammar and punctuation are correct. Finding an editor who can refine a story is priceless. I’ve been disappointed to see some editors at traditional houses punting on this aspect and to me it’s one of the biggest reasons to go indie. If my books aren’t being edited, I might as well pay an editor.
Marketing
Either way, you’re going to have to do your own promo. The question is how much. With traditional publishing, how much they put into marketing varies on dozens if not hundreds of factors. A lot depends on the publicist you draw. I’ve had books receive a lot of marketing and others receive practically nil. With self-publishing, you’ll find lots of people swearing by various ads—pretty much all of which you can do as a traditional author, too, if you’re so inclined—but how much you’re willing to do, and spend, is a personal choice.

Validation
There are active communities and networks that support self-publishing authors. Many readers will read only self-published books. Of course, many readers refuse to read self-published books. While this is changing over time, traditional publishing still has most of the cachet. Publishing a book with a house, especially one of the Big Five, brings a network of validation that can be amazing. (Though it’s not guaranteed.) The house might get Big Name Authors to blurb the book and give it buzz. There’s a more direct pipeline to review notices, awards nominations, bookstores, and venues like book festivals. With self-publishing this can feel like an uphill battle still.


Any questions? Thoughts? Stuff I missed???





Friday, June 22, 2018

Who Teaches the Teachers

Happy First Full Day of Summer, northern hemisphere folks. Welcome to winter, southern hemisphere folks.

If anyone wonders whether it is possible to consume too much watermelon whilst celebrating the arrival of summer, the answer is an unreserved yes. Blarg. But hey. One of the perks of Florida. Real watermelon - I mean the huge monsters the size of a toddler. As heavy. And with seeds. The local Mennonite communities farm them and sell them in produce stands all up and down the Tamiami Trail. The melons are sweet and juicy and messy.

And when you have just a little too much, they're a massive stomach ache. But hey! Lycopene. That's my story. I'm sticking to it and I'll likely repeat it tomorrow cause one massive melon between two people means lots of watermelon in the fridge.

When I asked this week's question - How do you level up your writing skills - I may have phrased it badly. It was supposed to garner a resource list of who we all go to in order to learn our craft. I mean, we're all of us here at different stages in our careers. And I like to ask people a few rungs ahead of me on the trail who they learn from. Because if I start studying those people NOW, I'll be challenging my craft and skills all the sooner.  And it really was a CRAFT question, not a marketing question. The internet if rife with people wanting your cash so they can teach you how to sell millions of books, but hurry, this offer ends soon!

Here's my list:
RWA chapter meetings and workshops - these were I learned the basics and it's an amazing place to start.
Critique groups - a healthy crit group brings everyone in it up because you learn from one another's mistakes. I adore the two I have.
Beta readers - beta readers are worth their weight in gold because these are the people who will call you out when you cheat the story or the characters or the reader with lazy writing.
Craft books - doesn't matter which ones. Just start. I try to work through three a year. Doesn't matter who wrote 'em. Doesn't matter if I think I'll hate the book(s). Someone else's take on how a story goes together forces me to stay conscious about what I do. Some days, I think this may not be a good thing. Analysis paralysis is a thing that exists and it's vital to strike a balance between learning new stuff and making yourself nuts. Author know thyself.
Fiction books - readreadreadread. Read for enjoyment. For the sheer pleasure of it. Because as you do, you're learning. I love finding a book that sucks me through beginning to end and then I sit there, frowning, going 'Wait. What the hell just happened there? How'd the author DO that??' I may read the book again to see if I can pick up pointers. Or I may simply move on, secure in the knowledge that no matter what, I learned more about story and character by reading the book.
Paid Classes - this is very much a buyer beware thing. First. You have to have the cash. But suppose you do. All I can suggest is that you follow your interests. What sounds intriguing to you from a writing class standpoint? I will admit to having had mixed results here. Some classes didn't sound interesting and then blew me away with all I don't know. BUT. Whenever you take a class, you learn something - even if what you learn is that what you just paid for isn't for you. It's knowledge. And no one can take that from you. That said, I do NOT think you have to go to paid classes to learn to write. Or even to skill up your writing.

The single best means of skilling up writing is by writing - especially if you take on writing you don't think you're good enough to attempt yet. Keeping one toe over the 'this is comfy' line is a sure way to stretch and grow as a writer.

Which leads me to the greatest teacher of all: Failure. If you can stand one last gaming reference, this is from World of Warcraft when I had a guild leader say: If you aren't failing, you aren't trying hard enough.

So come on into the trenches with me. I'm plowing headlong into failing as hard and as spectacularly as possible.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

How to Level Up

This week's question is, how do you level up as a writer?  And that's a really good question.  For me, the big answer is by lifting EVERYONE up.  The rising tide raises all boats.

That means being a mentor for up and coming authors.  That means being a champion for new books when they come out.  That means, when you're climbing over the wall, you reach back and take the hand of the person behind you.

So, I strive to do a few things: I try to treat every hopeful professional writer like the thing they are working on is the thing that will be their first sale.  I try to treat every struggling professional like their next thing is their big breakout.  I try to treat everyone I meet in this business like they are about to be the Next Big Thing. 

To me, that's just common courtesy.

Now, I'm sure I've had moments where I've failed this metric.  There's been plenty of times where I've been in my own head and not realized how my actions could be perceived.  Trust, as the line from Twelfth Night goes, that it's something of my negligence, nothing of my purpose.

That's also why it's important to me to pay things forward.  Things like teaching at workshops, or talking to prospective SFF writers at the Writers League of Texas Conference.  These things matter. 
Because nothing helps you level up better than helping others.  So have at it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Writing a book is not a single-player RPG

When folks talk about “leveling up” writing craft, they’re slapping possibly the best metaphor in the universe on this process. Because writing a book is almost exactly like game-mastering a role-playing game. In which you are also playing all player characters. Alone. Deep into the night. And recording the whole thing in case someone, anyone, ever wants to hear about your fun made-up adventure that you had with yourself.

First you read the module (get the story idea and some rough sketch of the conflict and setting). Then you roll up heroes (main and secondary characters, with motivations and emotional problems and gear). Then you sit down at your little table for many hours and eat bad food and melt into this strange, magical, wonderful world you’ve devised.

And after you’ve defeated the big boss (written the first draft), it’s time to assign experience points and loot, and … level up.

Yes, leveling up is revision.

When I’m leveling up (revising) a book, the most helpful source books (tools) are going to be

  • Critique partners—Get you some! At least one. I have three. These are professional writers who are at or above my skill level (not necessarily writing in my genre; the skill-level match is the key here) and do not hesitate to point out crap that isn’t working. They aren’t “oh I love everything you write” people. They are “eeew”-in-the-margin and “nope, he’d never say this” people. 
  • A developmental editor—My publisher hooks me up with editors who read my icky drafts and offer suggestions for making the books better, but if you’re self-publishing, you need to go out and find a good dev editor on your own. Don’t skip this part. I don’t know a writer who turns out perfectly balanced and paced first drafts about adequately motivated characters. And I know some damn impressive writers.
  • A read-along performance—I don’t mean you need to get up in front of an audience and read your book aloud. I do mean that you need to read your book aloud, though. Yes, the entire thing. Even those scenes that make you blush. (Have a glass of wine, if you need it.) Read the characters in their own voices and make sure the POVs are sufficiently distinct, the dialogue makes sense, and the chapter-ending hooks make you want to keep reading. If you stumble over a word or sentence when you’re reading it aloud, very likely there’s a problem in that spot. Flag it and move on, and later, you can come back and think, Ha! I spelled teh wrong and spellcheck totally let me down! Because this is not the kind of thing your eyes notice when you’re reading silently. But your mouth realizes that teh is completely unpronounceable and helps you fix all these embarrassing things.
  • Beta readers—Contrary to some weird stuff I’ve heard lately, you do not need to pay for beta reading. Find another writer in your genre who you trust, and trade manuscripts. Or find a reader in your genre who is willing to read in exchange for a shout out in the Acknowledgements or chocolate or advance copies of all your books in perpetuity or just to elevate the genre. Note that a beta reader is not a line editor and is not responsible for your commas. You should have already sorted your commas by this point. Also, don’t use your book-buying readers as betas. Readers who buy the book should not also have a duty to tell you that your pacing is off or you’re showing rather than telling all through chapter six (why is it always chapter six?). Readers bought the book. Your job is to make sure that thing they bought is already a quality purchase.
  • A line editor—To sort the dangling participles (you have some, I promise) and word repeats and 42-word sentences and language that might trigger or offend a reader in ways you would have never anticipated. A good line edit helps you polish the low-level, sentence-type stuff. It also points out bad habits you didn’t even know you had—oh, hello, overused "just" and made-up verbs! If you publish traditionally, this step might be rolled in with a white-glove treatment on your final revision, or it might be called something else. Regardless of what you call it, though, it’s the pre-copyedit and post-developmental edit. It’s the stage where your sentences learn to shine.
  • A copy editor—Even if you are pretty sure you write clean, you still need a copy editor. Everyone needs a copy editor. Copy editors need copy editors. Because none of us are that good all on our own. Also, a good copy editor is not someone who did real well diagramming sentences in sixth-grade language arts. A good copy editor has memorized The Chicago Manual of Style and has training specifically in how to recognize inconsistencies and errors in a book-length manuscript. Get editing samples and references. Important note: you cannot hire a good copy editor for $50 for your 100k-word opus. (Read that sentence again. Cannot.)

So, okay, I lied. 

You aren’t running this adventure alone after all. 

Sure you can bang out the crappy first draft all by yourself at your little table in the dark of night and with Cheeto-stained fingers. But if you want those characters ever to get the Chain Lightning spell or the insta-kill +1 vorpal sword, you’re gonna need to get some other folks in on your game.





Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Cover Reveal: The Captured Spy

Oh, dear readers, next month my third book in the Immortal Spy series drops and I'm so tickled to share with you the cover done by the amazing team at Gene Mollica Studios:

THE CAPTURED SPY 
Ten years ago, Bix and her team of Dark Ops agents had a mission to rescue one of their own. The mission went pear-shaped; her team died, she was exiled, and the package was never retrieved. But the Fates won’t be denied. The mission’s a go once again, and this time, the survival of the Mid Worlds hangs in the balance. 

Pre-Order the eBook:

Paperback & Ebook Release on July 24

__________

Now that I've shared that bit of fun, let's chat about this week's topic: What do I do to improve as a career author? Easy. Never stop learning.

From story structure to sales, I have lots of things I want and need to learn. To level-up, I read outside my established favorites and I take classes. "Good" books (and by that, I mean my purely subjective rating of books that did something that resonated with me) I'll read twice, once for the story and once for how the author did that "thing" that stayed with me after I closed the book. That "thing" could be as broad as how the author made me like a character I shouldn't have liked, or as specific as the way they painted a verbal picture of a setting.

When it comes to classes, I prefer online classes for the sake of convenience and cost. Yes, there are a few IRL camps/cons/retreats that look hella useful that I have on my educational wishlist. The ideal sitch is to take a class a quarter and use the time in between to apply the lessons. I'm in for one craft class and two business classes this year. Still searching for that 4th class. When I say "class" I'm not referring to the local uni; I mean "hey, there's a recognized expert in the field and they offer to share best practices for a nominal fee." I know the theories on both sides of the business and craft, so my focus is on courses that teach practical applications.

If you have any classes to recommend, dear reader, let me know!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Bonus Article: The Wisest Person At The Party

Because we are nearing the heart of convention season, an oldie but a goodie. A reminder:


The Wisest Person At The Party



I’m going to go over one of my favorite subjects yet again. Oh, we’ve visited here before, you and I, assuming of course that you bother to read what I write here. Still, some places need to be seen more than once, don’t they? Some subjects seem to need a fresh viewing from time to time.



Not all that long ago a few of my peers were talking about one of the big boys. Mostly what they had to say was pleasant enough. A few people seemed puzzled by the gent’s actions, but not shocked. The person in question had turned them down for blurbs.



Yes, you in the back with your hand held high? “What’s a blurb?” A blurb is that little sentence or two that writers ask their peers and those they admire or envy to give to them regarding their latest books. Just what their value is seems to be a very serious question to a lot of people, but the basic notion is that these little quotes could potentially help sell books. As a point of fact I’m exceedingly fond of selling books, so I recommend that if you can get blurbs, you do so.



Now, I’d like to put this into perspective if I may. If we work under the assumption that the level of popularity and sales attained is a quantifiable issue, and we then work under the belief that this issue can be studied and used to our advantage, then it’s safe to assume that someone like Stephen King, Dean Koontz or J.K. Rowling are likely to get substantially more requests for blurbs than someone like yours truly. Why? Because they are household names. True, not every person on the planet knows who they are, but millions do and that says something substantial. Thousands might know who the hell I am, which means that using the earlier assumptions, the aforementioned authors probably get (to keep with my so far scintillating numerical analogy) butt loads more requests for blurbs than I do. I get enough that I have to regretfully turn down far more than I can accept. It’s become a necessity. I have to write, you see, and I have a day job, and a family and, well, a life. I cant spend all of my time reading, much as I might want to, and I insist on actually READING anything I might be asked to blurb. Damned rude of me, I know, but there it is.  My point here being that the folks who do the asking of some of the bigger names run the same risk of getting a “So sorry, no time right now.” as anyone else.



But I digress (maybe). We were talking about politics.



Oh, now I remember.



I made a comment amidst the very small and private group. I pointed out that I was fairly certain the author they were discussing pretty much didn’t like me. A few others clarified who they knew that this author likes and doesn’t like.



And here we go. According to most sources, there is only one other writer that this particular writer actively dislikes. Examples were given. I nodded and listened.



Now, I bet a few of you are annoyed with me because I haven’t mentioned a single name regarding this conversation. In fact the only names I’ve mentioned at all were three that I used to show the difference in magnitudes between my success and that of authors who have become “name brands.”



Guess what? That’s the best you’re going to get out of me.



Why?



Politics.



I don’t like them. I never have. They merely make things murkier than they need to be. I may not like an author. An author may not like me. It doesn’t matter. We don’t have to collaborate on a novel any time soon and even if we did, I think the professionals would set aside egos and differences long enough to get the job done.



See? There I go again, pointing out that this is my job. My career. Like that should make any difference at all.



It does, of course. I’m in it, as the saying goes, to win it. Yes, I love writing. Yes, I would still write if I never sold another piece. I will, however, do my damnedest to sell every piece that I write, or barring that, I’ll figure out why I couldn’t sell it. Just like other professional writers do. Just like comic artists and actors and even the occasional poet does. It’s called professionalism.



There are probably a lot of people who can say things about my writing that are negative. Hell, a lot of them already have and unless a miracle occurs, a good number more will in the future. There are a lot of folks who could probably debate my personal grooming habits and whether or not my deodorant fails in the height of the summer should they be bored enough.



Most of the time, however, what they can’t legitimately accuse me of is saying anything nasty about my peers. (Hey, I’m not a saint. I’ve slipped up a few times).



Why? Because I’m a nice guy? Well, I am, but that isn’t the point. The point is I keep my mouth shut. If I have a problem with someone, I take it up with that person alone and in private. I don’t post it on a bulletin board, nor do I email a few thousand of my closest friends and then wonder how it is that someone mysteriously heard words I would have never said in front of them.



It doesn’t take much for a simple comment to get blown way the hell out of proportion. No, I’m not pointing fingers here, I’m just reflecting on something my mother once told me. Something I’ve tried to keep close to my heart ever since I got old enough to understand politics.



She said “The wisest person at a party is the one who keeps his opinions to himself.”



Think back on the last four cases of serious drama at work or amongst your peers and see if you can disagree with that.



It’s called professionalism.



How do I know that the big name author doesn’t much like me?



He made it clear on a phone message that I wasn’t supposed to hear.



I heard it.



I deleted it.



The person who was supposed to hear it never heard it, by the way. That person would have been embarrassed and put into an awkward situation.



No harm. No foul. No arguments.



Just that simple.



I know that certain friends of mine do not like others. I know that certain editors I deal with don’t much like certain writers and vice versa. It doesn’t matter. I know it. That knowledge does not change my dealings with the individuals in question. When I am around that big name who could take or leave me, I give no indication that I overheard something I was never meant to hear, because it’s no one’s business but my own and I intend to keep it that way. There’s no reason to make two peers of mine feel the least bit awkward over a tidbit I was never meant to hear. It serves no agenda that is worthwhile and it most certainly wouldn’t get me a blurb from said author. Okay, neither does NOT spreading that news around but that isn’t the point, now is it?



Politics suck. They don’t help your career and if they do, you’d do well to remember that political climates change all the time.



Just something to consider before you open your mouth at a convention, or make a post on a bulletin board, or say something to a casual acquaintance at a book signing.







How to Level Up as a Writer

First, listen, as always, to Jeffe, who is wise. her article is spot on.

Second, this is really easy for me, guys. Because I say it all the time. Sit your bitt in the chair and write.

That's it. Write. Write every day. Read every day. read a lot and read from many, many genres. Heck throw some nonfiction in there while you're at it.

Let's look at this as a craft, shall we?

We'll go with wood carving. Look at first a wood carver might successfully make a bass relief that does't suck. Maybe the carver started out whittling sticks and a few of them had cool designs. But after a few months or years of doing the job every day, the carver takes it to the next level and starts actually doing sculptures carved from wood. Those first dozen suck. The technique isn't there and the carver is glad to have stashed away some supplies and cash from the last few successful years.

Still, live and learn. Practice and research and carve, carve, carve. Try number seven doesn't suck as badly and it sells. Try number eight had some new innovations, new design goals. The level and depth of the work gets better and better with each attempt.

It's the same with writing. I don't even know that you have to strive for it, you just evolve. My first novel was 170,000 words in length. It was a very convoluted tale and try as I might I couldn't cut it down in length. I managed to sell it anyway, and I'm very proud of UNDER THE OVERTREE.  Mind you, I want to cringe every time I look at it. Not because the story is bad. it isn't. There are some truly fine sentences in that book and i enjoy the overall efforts. I cringe because if I were to write it today my methods would be very different and it would probably be thirty thousand words shorter.

I'm simply not the same writer I was back then. For one thing I'm not s fast. For another, my manuscripts are much tighter and require less editing. I evolved. I didn't plan it, it just happened. because I write every day and I read every day. When I read I am studying the hell out of what I read, whether I mean to or not. Thomas Monteleone, a very fine writer in his own right, put it to me best, I think. He said "When you're just a reader, you can enjoy a book for the story it tells. but when you're a writer, you do more than that You find a sentence tat resonates, or a turn of phrase that catches your attention and you suddenly become a mechanic. You have to pop the hood on that baby and see what make's it purr."  I think he was spot on with that he often is.

So that's it for me. Write. Read. Repeat. Every single day. That's what this is about. If you cant do it every day, okay, but aim for that goal anyway.


Sunday, June 17, 2018

Want to Improve as a Writer? Step One.

This is Lake Sakakawea, up in North Dakota. We just got back from a super long road trip to there from New Mexico to spend some time camping, boating and fishing with family.

This week at the SFF Seven we're asking: How do you level up as a writer?

It's a great question and I look forward to reading everyone else's answers - but I'd like to address something else first. This question makes the basic assumption that all writers want to "level up" - or improve. And improving can mean a lot of things to different people.

I suspect the person posing the topic is asking about becoming a better writer. How do we hone our craft and stretch ourselves as creators. I also suspect that many writers, if you ask them how they'd like to improve, are going to talk sales figures - dollars or numbers. Maybe they'll mention targeting their audience better, or switching up covers for better sales, maybe creating a new series and back-burnering an old one.

But the focus of "leveling-up" is often - distressingly so, to my mind - on selling more books for more money.

This is on my mind because I recently read a book by an Indie author that had me wanting to take the writer by the throat. I'll caveat this by saying I'm super pro-Indie. I self-publish this fantasy romance series, this contemporary romance series,  this contemporary romance stand-alone, and I'm continuing this fantasy romance series on my own. I'm also on the SFWA Self-Publishing Committee and serve as the liaison to the Board of Directors. I'd say I'm tremendously committed to self-publishing as it allows me to be a full-time writer (which I could not be doing solely on my trad income), and I think it's a great option for all writers.

That said... it really annoys me when craft is sacrificed for financial gain. In this case, I was reading the book - and I really like it! The magic system is cool, the characters compelling, the quest and conflict poignant, the love affair tense and full of hope and anguish. I've been looking forward to recommending it. But the prose keeps slowing me down. I finally started paying attention to what the hell felt so clunky and I realized: the author almost never uses contractions.

This was an Aha! moment for me because I've seen Indie authors telling each other this "trick." If they don't use contractions, it inflates word count and thus page count, making the book a longer read in Kindle Unlimited, which pays by pages read. And, yes, this book is in KU. I don't KNOW that this is what the author did, but I'm pretty certain. There's no good reason to have "could not have," etc., and never contract it. It's crazy.

Now, I know most readers won't notice this. Or, rather, they won't notice it consciously. The book has done reasonably well, but some of the negative reviews refer to it being choppy and repetitive. A LOT of that perception comes from not using contractions. There are some other issues, too, but I think as the writer grows, those will smooth out - but this not using contractions?

PEOPLE! DON'T DO THIS!

Seriously, if you're artificially inflating word and page count, then your attention is in the wrong place. There's a reason we have contractions and that's to make the words and story flow. Yes, yes - some writers have characters like androids who don't use contractions and that's a deliberate choice to reflect a lack of humanity. Even then it's a challenge to keep them from sounding, well, ROBOTIC. Also note: lack of humanity. The author I'm talking about used contractions in dialogue, which is critical, but the rest of the prose needs to sound like not-a-computer, too.

All of this comes around to Step One in Improving as a Writer: CARE ABOUT THE WRITING.

Don't make choices that elevate being paid by page over what makes the story good. It might work for one book, maybe even a few, but readers *will* notice. Tell a good story, yes - which this author did! - but tell it well. This whole idea of doing what you love and the money will follow? That idea presumes that when you LOVE doing something, you'll do it to your utmost. If you love the money more, the writing will show it.

Want to level up? First step is to care about being the best writer you can be.






Saturday, June 16, 2018

Not Painted Into the Corner

Not the Author! DepositPhoto

Our topic this week is painting yourself into a corner, writingwise.

The best example of this I’ve ever seen is the opening sequence of the movie  “Jewel of the Nile”, where romance author Joan Wilder is writing the most fantastic pirate scene and it keeps building and building upon itself, more complications and worse problems for the plucky heroine and then…she’s trapped alone with a ship full of evil pirates and NO escape.

“I don’t know what the pirates do any more,” she says basically, in despair.

I have never, to the best of my recollection, painted myself into a corner in a book.

I sit down, I write the book over the course of a few weeks (now that I’m fulltime), I don’t have Michael Douglas in his prime to distract me, as ‘Joan Wilder’ did…I start out knowing the beginning, the ending, and a few key scenes along the way. I don’t end up in box canyons like the bad guys in old movie Westerns and I don’t have to rely on suspension of disbelief, as people had to do sometimes with the old movie serials, like Flash Gordon, as embodied by Buster Crabbe. One week the serial would end with him facing certain death or Dale Arden facing certain death and there’s no way Flash can reach her in time…and the next week’s episode starts off with her safe in his arms and no explanation given because of course, he’s FLASH. What? Eat your popcorn and don’t ask questions.

Yup, doesn’t happen to me when I write.  Somehow my faithful Muse and I avoid those issues. We might have other issues perhaps but not that one.

So I had exciting news last week. I was really honored and excited to receive a phone call telling me that Lady of the Nile, my 7th paranormal romance set in ancient Egypt, had been selected as a Finalist in the Romance Writers of America Fantasy Futuristic & Paranormal Chapter’s PRISM Award!

That’s exciting stuff to a writer in the FF&P romance genres…see the full list of Finalists in all categories here. Congratulations to everyone whose book Finalled! Winners will be announced at the national conference in July.

I write my ancient Egyptian tales as a labor of love – not that I don’t love my scifi romance books because I DO and those are my main focus and genre – but the reader audience for ancient world romance tends to be smaller, without much crossover between the SFR genre and this one. 

Here’s the story:
Tuya, a high ranking lady-in-waiting at Pharaoh’s court, lives a life of luxury, pageantry and boredom. Khian, a brave and honorable officer from the provinces temporarily re-assigned to Thebes, catches her eye at a gold of valor ceremony. As the pair are thrown together by circumstances, she finds herself unaccountably attracted to this man so unlike the haughty nobles she’s used to. But a life with Khian would mean leaving the court and giving up all that she’s worked so hard to attain. As she goes about her duties, Tuya struggles with her heart’s desires.

When Tuya is lured into a dangerous part of Thebes by her disgraced half-brother and kidnapped by unknown enemies of Egypt, Khian becomes her only hope. Pharaoh assigns him to bring the lady home. 

Aided by the gods, Khian races into the desert on the trail of the elusive kidnappers, hoping to find Tuya before it’s too late. Neither of them has any idea of the dark forces arrayed against them, nor the obstacles to be faced. An ancient evil from the long gone past wants to claim Tuya for its own purposes and won’t relinquish her easily. 

Can Khian find her in time? Will he and his uncanny allies be able to prevent her death? And if the couple escapes and reaches safety, what of their fledgling romance?
Buy Links:
Amazon     iBooks     Kobo     B&N



Friday, June 15, 2018

Breaking Through Being Stuck

Tis the season for daily thunderhead formation. Tis the season to get weather alerts on your cellphone saying, 'Lightning strike reported within 1 mile of your location' which is code for GET INSIDE STUPID.

Wish I could use this as a metaphor to segue into today's topic but that would imply a level of caffeination I have yet to achieve. But I can admit that this was my topic suggestion, because you know me. Always on the look out for new and better power tools to help me finish books. A year ago, I'd have told you I don't often get stuck on a book - not for long. Like Jeffe, I'd keep chipping away at my blocks, little pieces at a time. I didn't believe it was possible to write oneself into a corner.

I see you've noticed the past tense. Yeah, I honestly thought I'd done it this time. I'm six months past deadline. My outtakes file is twice the size of the manuscript. (But I'm closing in on The End. Again.) I've discovered a bunch of stuff in the process of working through my stuckness on this project.
  1. It IS possible to write myself into a corner - BUT. That corner is a construct of my mind and when I'm staring at those walls closing in on me, the best way out is through those walls. That means questioning everything. Do I need this plot line? How about that one? Wait. How did this story thread get in here and what purpose does it serve? Zen tidbit for the day: Most of the prisons we find ourselves in are of our own making.
  2. When you take a wrong turn at Albuquerque, you can go back and take that left turn. Or you can give up control of the story and see where it goes. I did that. When my alpha readers sent my first rough draft back to me with 'Whoa. Wrong turn!' I don't think they'd expected me to use that as an opportunity to back it all the way up and question everything. But I did. Because I need this story to be right. Fun? No. Necessary, nevertheless. 
  3. Take a stab at plotting. I never, ever, ever want a repeat performance of trying to write this book. Never. Will plotting solve my problems? Dunno, but I do mean to find out. Gods know it can't make the process worse. (Which is not a challenge to the Universe, I swear.)
Being stuck requires an act of violence to break free. Please note that violence is to be visited up the manuscript - not upon oneself or anyone or anything else. I had to murder a lot of darlings to get at the core story. When I'd offed enough of them, I could see my way forward again. 

I say all of this as if I know what I'm doing. As if I'm not wracked by doubts and every 'yer doing it wrong' voice to ever have sullied this planet. Pro tip: The louder that nonsense is, the closer you are to doing the right thing by a story. Unless your alpha readers tell you otherwise. But only they get to judge. Not you. And certainly not those crappy voices.