Friday, February 3, 2023

Lack of Newsletter Love

 I'm going to let you in on a dirty little secret. I hate newsletters. Hates 'em, my precious. Don't read them. Don't write them. Don't send them. I subscribe to exactly three and they are all people I know and care about. Do I open them and read them? No. I get what I need from the subject line and I move on.

Time is a commodity. It has value - possibly the only value - because it is the measure of your finite life. I begrudge no one reading a newsletter, if that's their thing, but in a world that competes for time and attention, the newsletter feels -- I don't know -- not my cup of happy juice.

This is a long way of saying I am absolutely the wrong person to talk to about how to increase newsletter subscribers. I am so bad at sending newsletters that MailChimp fired me as a customer. Seriously. I hadn't served a newsletter in so long, they deleted my database of subscribers. All 60 of them. S'okay. I know all of them. If they want to know what I'm up to, they call or text to ask.

Still. We want to reach readers. We want to let readers know how to find out what we're doing and what's coming up. For some genres, I feel like newsletters are totally appropriate. For scifi, I wonder. I'm actually thinking that I might be better served to leverage a Tik Tok format for a pseudo newsletter-y type of thing. Or Discord. Or some other place where my fellow geeks hang out. This could all be rationalization for the fact that I'm bad at newsletters.

Suppose, though, that I *did* start some 'contact readers' push. How would I draw people to consume my content? Cross pollenization. It has to be done carefully, but you can leverage one platform's content on other social media platforms. Link them all back to a single landing page with you pertinent info - new release, find me at this place at this time! Whatever you want readers to know. The key to success is the same as it in newsletters - offer value. Something silly. Something charming. Something that makes readers feel. Control that and ask for responses. Engagement equals reach. Reach means more eyes. Does it work? Don't know yet. It would have to be tried and tested. The level of effort has to be weighed against the return.

And that's on each author.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Gaining Newsletter Subscribers


 
This week's topic: How to Grow Your Newsletter (Subscriber Numbers)

Direct marketing to readers who are actively interested in your works is one of the top ways to sell books.  Finding those readers, getting through email delivery systems' spam blockers, and encouraging readers to not only open your email but also click through from your email to purchase your book is...a challenge for many small and midlist authors.  

Heck, it's a challenge across all industries. Take a look at your email inbox. Now, look at your trash box.  How many messages are from a sheet company, shoe company, pet toy company, grocery store, big box store, etc? See? Not just a you problem. So, don't be daunted by the marketing-must-do task of growing and maintaining your newsletter subscribers. 

The good news: for the media and publishing industry, the average unsubscribe rate was 0.12% That's one of the lowest by industry (according to Mailchimp). Our bounce rates are ~5% (according to SmartInsights). Our open rates are ~23% (according to CampaignMonitor) and our Click-Through Rate (CTR) is ~4%; yea though SmartInsights has Indie Artists with a 1.8 CTR (ouch).

According to topline metrics, once we get readers subscribed to our lists, they tend to stay with us. Yay! So, what can we do to attract more subscribers? My one piece of advice: 

Go Where You're Not Normally Seen.

On the assumption that your newsletter subscription links are obvious on your website, in the back matter of your books, and linked in your socials' profiles (if they're not, quick, get on that, that's the bare minimum); it's safe to say those readers who are looking for you have found you. Those who are interested have already subscribed to your newsletter. What you need to grow your list is to appear in spaces where readers may not know of you. So, where and how? And how to avoid being a buttinski? One suggestion:

Newsletter Swaps -- You promote a fellow author of your sub-genre and their works to your audience via your newsletter, they in turn promote you to theirs. There are pros and cons and issues of equitable exchange, so read up on expectations before approaching another author. 

Yes, there are more ways to attract new subscribers, so come back each day this week for more tips from our other bloggers! 

Friday, January 27, 2023

The Not So Beginner's Guide to Getting Better at What You Do

In acting school, I heard it posited that learning is divided into three stages. Learning the thing for the first time, gaining some facility, and finally assimilation. Stage one is self-conscious. We lurch around trying out the newness, trying to make it work as well for us as it did for whoever taught it to us. In stage two, we've worn in the skill a little and it no longer pinches. We're still aware of it and we use it like a tool, but maybe now, we're not hurting ourselves with it. Once we move into assimilation, we lose conscious awareness of the skill. It becomes a part of us and we can't remember not having had the skill in the first place.

I wonder, Jeffe, if that isn't the basis for those professors you mention wondering if writing can be taught. They're using skills they can no longer dissect into teachable tidbits.

I fully recognize that I am one of those people who has to always be learning something. I also need to mix it up - it can't always just be writing. But it needs to be a lot of writing. Honestly, I look for the classes and instructors I ran across as a beginner that I *knew* I wasn't ready for. The concepts and classes they were teaching were far beyond what I was able to process. Now that I have a few books out and I feel like I don't like how my writing is developing, I've searched out those classes and teachers. I can offer up a list of a few, but I feel like a caveat is in order first.

One of the prerequisites for being an -- I don't know -- advanced? intermediate? not beginner? writer is a firm commitment to go into a class, workshop, or instructional book you paid money for and question the premises that are presented to you. I'm reading a great book right now that promises to boost my productivity! Make it so I'm never lost in a book again! And so far, the information has been super useful. But we just got to a blanket statement made by the author. "Story comes first. Then character." This is me. Making that face Chris Hemsworth makes in Thor Love and Thunder. "Story comes first. Then character." Does it though?? (The correct answer is yes - it does. For her. The correct answer for me is no - it does not. Character comes first and story flows naturally from character for me.  Does this mean that what is being taught is invalid? No. I can still glean new ways of doing, thinking, and writing from this book. I'm trying to say that once you've got game, when you're trying to tweak your game to get more out of it, you must be more critical of the instruction you're given. Try things! Just don't swallow all the things hook, line, and sinker. If the mixed metaphors in this paragraph gives you a migraine, welcome to my day, and my apologies.

So the list of advanced for Marcella craft training ops:

Margie Lawson's writer's training - in my opinion you need a block of salt here. It's potent, great stuff, but it's also dated and little old fashioned in the market these days. Great skill sets. Deploy with caution.

Lisa Cron -  Lisa produces craft books oriented around how narrative structure comes together. Fascinating stuff. Chewy. Also needs a critical eye when being read.

Mary Buckham   - Mary has several different craft classes. Break into Fiction is the one that changed my life for the better.

I'm interested in what Jeffe comes up with, too! Listen. Learning new skills is never wasted. If you feel like a class is a waste it is either because it's too remedial - you already know the material, or it's too far ahead and you don't yet have the context for it yet.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Reading To Learn

nightstand with blue DNA water bottle and stack of books

Book conventions are filled with panels on marketing your book, genre themed tropes, the self publishing process, how to find an agent—you get the picture. All great and amazing stuff…for newer writers. What about when you’ve got experience, a series on the shelf, multiple series on the shelf? Where do you learn from there?


This week we’re talking about tips for writers who aren’t beginners. 


In all honesty, I consider myself a beginner writer. Not newbie-beginner, since I’ve been around the block and glimpsed behind the wizard’s curtain, but with one audiobook out I’m definitely still a beginner. But I do know the number one way I’ve learned, and grown, as a writer:


Read More Books


Some books I read for the purpose of observing, like how the plot was put together or how the characterizations mark the world. Some books I read for pure pleasure. But no matter how I intend to enjoy a book I always end up noting scenes that feel out of place, items that appear/disappear out of nowhere, plot sequences that would’ve been seamless with slight adjustments, or even characters that hamper the flow of the story. 


Then my brain starts churning on how things could’ve been edited differently which inevitably leads my train of thought to my own work in progress.Crafting a compelling story takes numerous technical aspects which are taught nearly anywhere you care to look. But a story also needs emotion and heart which I absorb from from what I read and watch.


Granted, it is easier to edit someone else’s work than it is your own. But the more I read the more I notice my own writing. Notice what, you may be thinking. Notice everything that works, doesn’t work, pops out of nowhere! So, I think that means my husband is going to continue to have his pick of shows to watch because I’ll be sitting beside him with a book! 


How about you? Where do you learn from?

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Becoming a Better Writer - How to Do It?


 

ROGUE FAMILIAR has a cover!! I've been loving the enthusiasm for it, too. It's a great inspiration to me as I write Selly's hunt for Jadren. 

This week at the SFF Seven we're talking tools for writers who aren’t beginners. I seem to be hearing a lot of interest in this topic lately. I've been contemplating setting up some online classes and not long ago I asked for input on what kinds of classes people would like to see from me. (Feel free to comment or message me if you have ideas or requests!) One of the suggestions that came up often was a desire for classes for more advanced writers, targeting those who’ve written several books but want to learn how to keep getting better at it.

So, I've been working up some lists of more advanced topics I could teach - and thinking back to where I learned the intermediate and higher stuff. Some of it is always going to be self-study. Reading other authors. Listening to other writers talk about their process. Re-reading favorites to study how those writers accomplished what they did. I think those are the best tools.

But I'd also like to see more craft-focused workshops, classes, and discussions out there. For quite a few years, it seems, the bulk of information offered to writers seems to focus on business. There are countless opportunities to learn Facebook ads, newsletter marketing, keywords, BookBub ads, Amazon ads, ad infinitum, ad nauseam. Why? Because those are easy to teach. Teaching craft is a much more daunting prospect. In fact, I've heard debates among creative-writing professors about whether the craft of writing can be taught at all.

At any rate, this isn't a very informative post, I know. I'm not offering any good tools here (other than the above), but rather food for thought. Improving craft is something we all (well, most of us) want to do. I'm thinking up some ways to get at it. Suggestions welcome!

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Tips and Tools for Experienced Writers

 This week's topic: Tools for Experienced Writers

Uh...hmm.  This topic is harder than it seems because--regardless of how long you've been in the publishing business--when it comes to the writing side, you don't need anything fancy, but you do need something current. One-off the current release of your preferred word-processing app is as much as you can safely dally before you risk file corruption and loss of interoperability. Frankly, I recommend staying up-to-date with the release versions of your writing app (hell, make that all apps) because of security enhancements to protect you and your work from the persistent pernicious attacks of bad actors. 

Next, advice from anyone who's ever lost a file: cloud storage and external drive storage is recommended. Whether it's file corruption, accidental overwrites, or straight-up missing docs, when the poltergeists strike, we all become Captain Kirk screaming, "Khaaaaaaan" at the top of our lungs. We can breathe again once we find a "clean" copy of what went missing. Thus, two-point backups. While my files auto-save to my cloud storage, I do external backups once a year (I should do it quarterly, but...) Word docs don't take up that much data space, so it's not like you have to buy a pricey 4Tb drive. Get yourself a little 16GB flash drive for $10 and save yourself from bile-rising anxiety. Oh, and if your computer's OS has updated and/or your writing app has had a major update since your last external backup, take the 5-10mins now to do a backup. Planned obsolescence is the enemy of backward compatibility, and we live in a capitalist society. 

Now, from the business side of publishing, there's a lot of stuff you need to track in order to stay abreast of All The Things from Work(s) in Progress and Submissions, to Product Sales and Marketing Campaigns, to Costs and Revenue. For me, I'm still leaning on Excel. Spreadsheets abound, my people. Alas, I didn't keep up with the assorted releases of MS Access, so I'm no longer able to build databases that would've eased tracking and reporting.  Though, if anyone has recommendations for author/publishing-centric dBs, drop them in the comments, please!

If you're self-publishing and/or have earned enough revenue that you've incorporated (threshold varies by state), then make sure you're tracking all your expenses and earnings with accounting software like Quicken. When it comes to tax season, you and your accountant will be grateful you did.

Remember, all the extra apps and subscriptions you use for your business are tax deductible (verify specifics with your accountant as tax law changes year-to-year).





Friday, January 20, 2023

Stressing the Negative Reviews

Negative reviews. If we haven't yet gotten them, we soon will. All of us. Authors, singers, actors, painters, cooks, mechanics - every one who does anything ever will be subject to critique and criticism. The trick is to laugh it off and not let it bother you. If your palms sweat and your heart races at the words of someone who has consumed what you've created, if you read those words and feel your soul shrivel, don't read reviews. I'm not kidding. Reviews aren't for the creator of a thing, anyway. Let me attempt to impose order on my disorganized thinking:

The question as it was posed suggests that one of my peers struggles with a heightened stress response when a negative review comes in. I'll start by saying this is normal. This is expected. STOP READING YOUR REVIEWS. Not because you're having a stress response, though this advice will help lower your cortisol level, honest.

Reviews are coded messages that don't come with decoder rings. They're also not meant for the author. They're meant for other readers. I'll start with the last one first. Reviews by readers and official reviewers are meant to help readers find books. They're to help readers find your book in particular and let them know that you don't kill the dog that shows up on page 112. Reviews are to help readers decide if the trigger/content warnings in your book are something they can handle. Is it true you're going to get some snobby git who questions your intelligence, sneers at your story, and awards you a single star? Yes. Ask me how I know. But it's also true that the person who wrote that review already bought your book and paid you in money, time, and energy for the privilege of taking a swipe at you. If that stresses you out, work that stress off by walking that check to the bank. Seriously. Don't read your reviews. What's the point? The book is done. It's released. You've set it free into the world. It isn't yours any more. It belongs to the audience now. (Barring obvious glitches and techie errors, obviously - I have fixed things that changed a story based on realizing I'd made a pretty big narrative mistake.) If looking at reviews is a problem for you, get another author friend to read them before you see them and remove the snarkiest. What are author friends for?

The decoder ring comment. In my experience, rarely do negative reviews mean what they say. The one star review I got on an award-winning novel went something like: "I don't know why everyone is giving this book 5 stars. It's nothing new or interesting." Sounds like a negative review, doesn't it? Except there's a message hidden in that terse little slap at my wrist. That coded message is "I had a book like this in my head but not the courage to write it. How dare you." How do I know this? Well. Factually, I don't. But when I read the original comment, I can almost hear the dismissive sniff. Then that 'nothing new or interesting' jab suggests the reviewer does have an idea that's new and interesting along the lines of what I'd written and had published. Once you begin seeing the misery and recrimination underneath negative reviews, it's easier to laugh them off.

As a bonus, let's get tight on a definition of a negative review. What is a negative review? Too few stars? Someone pointing out problems in the story or hating on a character? I'd argue that if a reader writes a review that you can act on - someone says your heroine's eyes were green on page 3 and then they were blue on page 85 - you can find that in the text and fix it. If the critique is actionable like that, it's not a negative review. That reader helped you. Thank them and move on. You'll develop a loyal reader that way. If a review is vague and whiny 'the author can't write their way out of a wet  paper bag' - well that review is useless, isn't it? Any time you see insulting statements without any constructive critique attached, you know you're dealing with jealousy. Bright, blazing, bitter green jealousy. And if someone is jealous, they want what you have. Doesn't sound like they really think your writing is all that bad, does it?

So to manage the stress of negative reviews, simply don't engage. Your sanity and your muse will thank you.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Dealing with Negative Reviews

screenshot of an iPhone screen showing book apps: Libby, Audible, Goodreads, Storygraph, Hoopla, RBdigital
    Goodreads | StoryGraph | Audible

When you put a book out into the world it’s no longer yours and everyone that comes into contact with it will have an opinion. That’s right, we’re talking about the mentality of negative reviews this week!


The question was if we recognize our fight-or-flight response to negative reviews and do we do anything to stop it. Before you get to that point, I think it’s helpful to have a review plan. 


I know authors who read, some of them even respond, to every review. Some like to grab quotes from glowing reviews to use in promo. I chose the opposite direction and don’t read reviews of my own work. And there are countless variations between that might work for you, but having a plan of how you will handle/read reviews before they’re out there is important. 


There are a lot of reasons a reader may leave a negative review. KAK pointed out that some of the negative ones make her giggle with glee because their take on the book was exactly what she wanted. Sometimes readers misunderstand the point a book, it happens! Sometimes what hits one reader as off-putting is what will draw another reader to the book. That’s the whole there’s no bad review mentality. And yes, sometimes a review can make you question your ability to write. Sometimes it stings, and then you have to decide what to do about it. 

Which brings me back to having a plan before the reviews are posted. I guess that’s my lab background creeping in again, follow the process and things will turn out alright. 


If a review gets under your skin and you can’t shake it, go back to the reasons you wrote the book in the first place—what was your definition of success for that book before it was released and did you achieve it? If a reviewer points out some technical aspects that could be improved upon, be prepared to step back and examine them, you may want to take some time before really digging into it if it triggered anger, but there may be some useful points that could strengthen your next book. Maybe the reviewer can’t articulate what lead them to not like your book. In which case, don’t dwell on it as those have no merit. Sometimes a bad day makes for a bad read, nothing to be done about it. 


If all else fails, and the whole art is subjective thing makes you want to snap your laptop shut, check out reviews of a book you love. You’ll find good and bad reviews and it will remind you that not everyone likes the same thing. 


Do you have a method or plan for handling reviews? Has it changed over the years?

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Handling Negative Reviews with Poise and Humor

Here's a little tease of the cover of ROGUE FAMILIAR, book 2 in Renegades of Magic, releasing at the end of February. Cover reveal coming soon!

This week at the SFF Seven we're talking about the Mentality of Negative Reviews. Specifically, the person who posed the question asked: do you recognize your fight-or-flight response to negative reviews and do anything to stop it?

I'm including the full text of the question because I'm disagreeing with the initial premise. I don't think I have a stress response to negative reviews. It could be that I've been writing long enough (nearly thirty years *gasp*) that I've become more or less inured to negative reviews. I remember a review of my first book, the essay collection WYOMING TRUCKS, TRUE LOVE, AND THE WEATHER CHANNEL, that was mostly glowing - but also said I used adverbs too much. It came from a professional reviewer at a venue I can't recall, and that was long before I realized that many reviewers are aspiring writers who cling to the "rules" of writing with the tenacity of an apprentice seeking the magic formula to catapult them to true wizard status. Mostly I was surprised that, if my professional, experienced editor at a university press hadn't minded my adverbs, then why did a reviewer? I understand now. I also know more about the weird anti-adverb stance some writers absorb.

Mostly. <- See what I did there? Humor is key.

Anyway. Experiencing a flight-or-fight response to a review means that you feel attacked. I suppose some reviewers intend it that way. They like to speculate about the author's emotional life, intentions, or deadline pressure. Authors are occasionally accused of manipulating readers to extract profit. Sometimes our moral integrity is questioned. But that's all par for the course on social media. I think what's most important for writers to do is separate themselves from their work. YOU didn't receive a negative review; the book did. Even if the reviewer specifically attacks the author, they're still not actually reviewing you as a human being, because they don't actually know you. The author is a construct in their mind that has very little to do with reality. 

Keeping your poise, a sense of yourself as a person separate from the work, and keeping a sense of humor about it all is what gets you through. After all, a review isn't a tiger. No one's going to die over a review. It's fangless, toothless, and ultimately dust in the wind.

 

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Negative Reviews: Toddlers vs Champions

This Week's Topic:
The Mentality of Negative Reviews:
Do I recognize my fight-or-flight response to negative reviews and do anything to stop it?

I admit that a one- or two-star review is a gut punch, but...whether that punch is thrown by a petulant toddler or a 250-lb champion martial artist makes a world of difference. I can keep my intestines in place and unbruised from attacks by the toddlers of the interwebs. (I eat enough cheeseburgers to give me plenty of padding!) End of day, my reaction to those public tantrums is, "O-okay, nothing to learn here. Moving along."

Folks who want to correct my spelling, get into grammatical debates, or who seek to inflict their religious oppression on others fall under the category of Toddler. I don't waste brain space or emo spoons on those. 

The 250-lb champion martial artist can make me double over with a whimpered "oof" while my insides turn to goop. Once I regain consciousness, I take another read. Why, oh, why would I subject myself to that? IMHO, these readers articulate why they feel what they feel about my book in such a way that shows their love of the genre even if they have no love for my book. Often, on my second reading of the poopy review, I have to admit ...they're not wrong about this or that piece. Perhaps they found the gaping hole in the plot, a sameness of supporting characters, an (unintentional) insensitivity to a marginalized group, or that I was too coy with my clue reveals, which made the mystery fail. D'oh! 

My ego is not so massive that I can't learn. Thanks to constructive feedback and experience, I can now see the glaring mistakes I've made in the first books in both my series. (Sorry, readers! Truly!) Continuous improvement is part of the joy I derive from being an author. 

Now, that's not to say that I believe reviews are written with me as the target audience. Of course not. Reviews are written by readers for readers. I don't respond to reviews--glowing or craptastic. Again, they're not meant for me. Readers with an intention to school me via review are not likely to succeed. I'm a brat like that. 

Don't misunderstand, I value reviews. I'm grateful my work moved someone enough to take 3+ minutes from their day to publicly post their opinion. Naturally, good reviews are better because I'm trying to sell books, but if what I wrote pissed off a reader so much they need to leave a scathing review, that's their catharsis and not my problem. 

Little secret: what some readers may see as a red flag, I might not. What the reviewer is opining could well be what I intended. Some of my favorite reviews call my works "weird," "bizarre," and "unlike other books in the genre." They make me giggle with delight. I write in genres that are rife with roads that have been well-trod, so whenever a reader says I've done something different, I break out the full Snoopy dance. 



Friday, January 13, 2023

A Heroine to Aspire to

You would think, when I suggest a topic, I’d have a response to my own question in mind. You would think incorrectly. So, apparently, do I.

Like Jeffe, I very much dislike picking a favorite anything, so I’ll claim I haven’t. I’ve just selected a heroine I really wish I was good enough to have written. There are plenty of those, but in the spirit of playing by my own rule, I’m just picking one.


I wish I’d written Charlotte Holmes from Sherry Thomas’s Lady Sherlock series. She’s autistic. She’s brilliant, logical, and driven. She’s focused and her energy propels her story. The key to her humanity, though, is that she’s deeply unwilling to face or admit her vulnerabilities. I love the combination of clever intellect and sloppy emotion that she refuses to process. She stonewalls almost all tender feeling, and her reactions are predictable enough that she leaves herself open to being manipulated (by people she believes she’s manipulating.) I love her because she plays a long, long game. It’s fun.

The thing is, I don’t know if it’s the character I admire, or Sherry Thomas’s exquisite writing. Her facility with Charlotte’s character is exhilarating. I admire the heck out of how lightweight the craft feels when I’m reading the stories. I want to learn how to do that – to create someone complex, filled with contradictions that make complete sense within the story. I still have a lot to learn.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

What makes your favorite hero/heroine?


Book cover for Name of the Wind in dark blues with a shadowed hooded figure in the foreground


We love gushing about things we’re fans of because what’s better than loving something? Sharing it with someone and loving it together! And this week we’re talking about our favorite fictional heroine that we didn’t write. 


The topic says heroine, and I’ve read some truly amazing heroines! But I don’t want to limit my character pool, so I’m going to go with favorite hero/heroine! 


Please let me introduce to you: Kvothe


If you’re scratching your head a bit, the author, Patrick Rothfuss, explains this name here. If you’re cheering at your screen, I see you. You’ve got great taste in books. 


Kvothe is a young man who makes dumb, young person mistakes. He had a wonderful childhood, which was stolen from him in a moment of voilence. He learned how to live on the streets. Then he pulled himself out of the gutter and managed to get himself into the most prestigious school. Kvothe isn’t some tough bad-ass strong-man, though he’s gone up against gods and walked away. He’s a lute player. And with those strings he makes magic. 


I picked Kvothe because of all those reasons listed above, but more importantly because he is a young man who has been molded by his circumstances, turned around, and said he wanted to make himself. And he didn’t do it by twirling swords and bashing skulls. He willed his world to be different, closed his eyes, and threw his entire being into making it so. 


I want to live like Kvothe. And yes, I absolutely wish I’d written Kvothe. If you’re in the mood for a thick epic fantasy, check out The Name of the Wind


How about you? Who is your favorite hero/heroine and why?

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

The Heroine I Wished I'd Written


 This week at the SFF Seven, we're talking about our favorite heroines that we didn't write. 

I think you all know me by now, and thus know I don't much like picking favorite anythings. There's a lot of room in my universe for all the stuff I love and I don't really think in terms of ranking. All that said, I just completed a reread of Patricia McKillip's The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, one of my most cherished books of all time. It's a brilliant fantasy novel and one I wished I'd written. The heroine and protagonist is a wizard woman named Sybel. 

Don't pay attention to the stupid listings that call this book young adult (YA). First of all, in 1974 when this book was first published, there wasn't a YA category. Secondly, the only reason this is listed as YA, I assume, is because it's written by a woman with a female protagonist. If this deeply layered, fucking brilliant fantasy novel is YA, then so is The Lord of the Rings. 

ANYWAY.

Sybel is simply a brilliantly drawn heroine. She is a product of her upbringing, isolated physically and in her immense power. Living among the magical, nigh-mythical creatures she cares for, Sybel has to learn to deal with human beings. She is unflinchingly strong throughout the story, cleaving to her own sense of self, even when others try to rip that away from her. In her learning to first love, then to hate, then to move past both, she achieves her own mythic status. Even as the reader follows her self-destructive path, dreading the inevitable outcome, we also believe totally in her reasons, never failing to cheer her on. Sybel is the awkward, bookish, shy girl in all of us, who wrestles with the tumult of the wider world. 

In rereading, I found so many ways this story has infused my own work, though I despair of ever reaching this level. And Sybel is in all of my heroines. Maybe even a bit in myself. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

3 Fav Webcomic Heroines

This Week's Topic: Favorite Heroine (who's not one of my creations) and Why?

I've a deep love for heroines who are competent and compassionate. Funny is a bonus, but humor is subjective so I'll glom on to the straight man (as in the comedy definition, not the CIShet meaning) just as quickly. Flaws are great when rooted in character dev and an untold backstory, but I'll chuck a book if she's pointlessly bitchy, whiney, or TDTL. I just...can't. Maybe I'm too old (reaches for fiber supplements). Maybe I'm too inundated by pop culture's "strong female protagonists" who can slaughter a hundred monsters as an "oopsie, I didn't know I was so powerful" then regress to total ineptitude the moment the dude shows up. That's not to say I need the heroine to be a mature expert from the start. I'm game for a clueless n00b as long as she's not...stupid. I love heroines who stand up for themselves. They don't have to do it with their fists. A concise verbal setdown is a thing of beauty too. (NGL, I stan swordmasters and assassins as well.) Gimme a gal who can apologize as well as show relationship awareness and gratitude while we're at it.  A woman who can outsmart, outthink, out plan, out strategize the opposition? I want her story in my grubby mitts.

So, which fictional ladies have me hooked?  Here are three from my current webcomic must-reads:

  1. Empress Navier Trovi from Alpha Tart, Sumpul's The Remarried Empress webcomic
  2. Martina/Astina from The Lady and the Beast webcomic by Maginot and Hongseul
  3. Vivi from Little Rabbit and the Big Bad Leopard webcomic by Yasik, Sadam, and Mogin 
    • the hilarity of the bunny's expressions is worth every paid ep

Friday, January 6, 2023

Book Club Tales

Once upon a time, our community had a book club. The organizer found out I'm an author and talked me into joining the group. We met once a month, as you do. Voted on which books to read. The group always picked two books so you'd have a choice of what to read and then divided the group along the lines of who read what. Then we sat around and talked about them. Indoors. Seated right next to one another. As if we had nothing in the world to fear. It was the before times.

Yeah Covid shut us all done and dealt a fatal blow to the group. Too many of our members were elderly or immune-compromised. In an active community with a population that skews pretty hard to retirees, the book club was a social haven for our neighbors with mobility issues or who are fighting cancer. So even after vaccinations and options to meet outdoors, the group never recovered and there is no book club in my neighborhood these days.

I liked the book club and I disliked the book club.

I liked that one of the books changed a woman's mind about what it means to be transgender. She'd firmly believed it was all nonsense. The book we read got her inside a transgender child's misery and their parents' struggles to comprehend and finally help the child thrive. If a book can engender compassion, that's power and I'm entirely here for that.

I disliked the book club because book clubs only want to read *important* books. You know. Oprah books. Literary books. Genre fiction isn't allowed. I could nominate as many genre fics as I wanted (don't think I didn't). They were never voted for. Not even as alternates. I'd gotten maybe three books into this book club deal and had pretty much decided it Was Not For Me (tm) when the pandemic handled the matter. Though I note that if we'd managed to keep a club going during the pandemic, I'm comfortably certain the members would have been more amenable to lightening the mood with some genre fiction.

My problem is that high school put me off reading literary books. It's just that I paid good money to big pharma and therapists over the years to stop being depressed and literary books depress me. Some of them are brilliant and uplifting and lovely. Water for Elephants comes to mind. But for the most part, literary books aren't invested in character arcs and I want to believe in the power of the individual to change. That's the appeal of genre fiction for me. I have yet to find a book club anywhere that wanted to read Murderbot stories. So I'll stick with genre fiction in my quiet corner of solitude where I can read the happy and the fun. Preferably SF, Romance, Fantasy, PNR, Steampunk - whatever my weird little heart takes a shine to. If I find a no pressure, come as you are book club that wants to stick to guaranteed HEA books, I'd be tempted to join. Until then, Twitter fandoms will be my clubs. 

Thursday, January 5, 2023

Book Club Love

Fictively Reading Book Club's Instagram home page showing the last six posts of books that were read: Shielded, Scarlet and Brown, Pie Academy, Dial A for Aunties, Touch, and Bring me their Hearts

I miss my book club. If you know me, you know my book tastes don’t run with the typical book club types. Which was why I started my own with the goal to read fiction and introduce a wide variety of genre fiction to our members: Fictively Reading!


One of my favorite book club reads was Polaris Rising by Jessie Mihalik. Only one other person out of our group of eight had ever read science fiction before. It was one of the best discussions because they were all blown away by how much they got into the story and the characters, which also meant I got to geek out about space operas and what they are and why this one hooked us all so well. 


I think being in my self-created book club was such a good fit because I picked a few books and let everyone else vote on which one they wanted to read next. Had I actually read some of them before hand? Yes, but I wanted to be sure they were really good! There’s nothing better than suggesting a book to someone and they fall in love with it, come back to you and gush about it. And in our book club we all got to do that together! 


Another huge plus of being in a book club: you get out of the house and actually talk to people. As writers we don’t get a lot of face time IRL. And as introverted as I am, I still need connections with people. Meeting for book club was in part excuse to introduce SFF and romance to new readers, but also for our group to get together and catch up on everything that is life. 


*sigh* The good ol’ days. Unfortunately, the pandemic put an end to our book club meetings since we couldn’t actually meet in person. I have been asked by a few of the members if we’ll ever start back up. And you know what, we really should! 


Are you in a book club? 

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Book Clubs - Love 'Em or Leave 'Em?


 Introducing my new supervisor: Killian! He loves being present for the podcast, this blog, and morning wordcount, though he has a tendency to fall asleep on the job. Still, I have high expectations and the Cuteness Quotient™ is off the charts. 

This week at the SFF Seven we're talking book clubs. We're asking each other what bookish groups we belong to and what do they provide?

Like KAK, my answer is: none.

Oh, I have belonged to book clubs in the past. I was in one for a while back when we lived in Wyoming - though it was, in part, a thinly veiled subterfuge to get people to read MY newly published book. Which they did! And discussed, which was fun. Mission accomplished. 

Otherwise... I don't love being in a book club. It's fun to chat with people and I love to talk about books. Book clubs are, however, rather noteworthy for not actually discussing the books (or reading them) and devolving into gossip instead. I'm also a steady reader, finishing a book every two-three days, so I don't need incentive to read. I find I don't like "required reading" either. One cool thing about book clubs is they get you to read books you otherwise wouldn't; they also get you to read books you otherwise wouldn't because you don't want to. While I know there are genre book clubs out there, most tend toward the erudite and fashionable books, and not the kind of thing I love to read. 

Besides which, I can always find people to discuss the books I *do* love to read. Or there's always the cats. Killian's reading comprehension needs work still, but he's an excellent listener. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Book Club: Talking to Me, Myself, and I

 Happy New Year from all of us here at the SFF Seven!

This week's topic: To what bookish groups do I belong and what do they provide?

rubs neck

looks askance

This is a great moment to remind our dear readers that each member of the SFF Seven contributes 7+ topics to our annual programming calendar. This allows each of us to not only ask questions of our fellow bloggers, but also to offer you--our readers--different perspectives based on where we are in our publishing careers, which paths we've taken, and how our genres influence our decisions and experiences. 

Back to the weekly question.

Hi. My name is KAK, and I'm a recluse. I, uh, am not a member of a book club. Neither IRL nor online. AITA? Hope not. I love the concept of book clubs...for other people. Whether a book is actually discussed amongst attendees or if the book is just an excuse to get together, book groups are a wonderful means of facilitating deeper relationships. As an author, to have my book be the topic of discussion would be amazing. To be invited as a guest speaker is quite an honor. As a reader, however, the only conversations I have about a book are with me, myself, and I...okay, and perhaps with the wildlife who have the misfortune of being near whilst I'm in the throes of dissecting plot progression and character development. 

What about you? Do you belong to a book club? Online? IRL? Active participant or lurker? Tell me all, tell me everything...in the comments.