Saturday, May 28, 2016

5 Reactions to Expect after Telling People You Write Books

It's always fun (or maybe not) when people ask what you do, and you reply with, "I write books." Because you never know which of these five reactions you'll get.

1. The Big Question

"What's your book about?"

And then, of course, you suddenly can't remember how to string together words. What's your plot? Who are your characters? Why didn't you work on your elevator pitch better??

2. The Tight-Lipped Smile of Judgement

"That's..." And there's a pause so brief, you're unsure whether it's real or in your head. "Nice. Are you published?" If you are, the judgement might stop, but if not, it could be better to do something like this:

And then walk away and let the haters hate. 

3. Unrealistic Expectations

"Cool, when it's published, I'll get a free, signed copy, right?"

Things don't quite work that way, but to avoid a boring explanation of the publishing industry, just smile and nod, smile and nod. And then later you can blame your publisher for not giving you a hundred free books to pass out to your close friends, family, and acquaintances. 

4. The Brush-off

"Oh, you write? Cute. I blah blah blah."

DO YOU NOT KNOW HOW MUCH WORK I PUT INTO THIS? It's not cute! I had to kill darlings and better my comma game and obsess over word choice. I'm a warrior. A WARRIOR.

5. Enthusiasm and Awe

"You are a god." 

Okay, so you probably won't hear that, but there are people out there who realize the hard work, dedication, and imagination it takes to write a book. Remember the feeling this reaction gives you when some of the less pleasant reactions inevitably happen. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Hard Truth Time: Not Every Book Deserves to be Published

I wrote this book. Let's call it MF. I thought it was fantastic, unique, clever, wonderful, etc. It was going to be a great hit and sell movies because it was so awesome.

It was the second book I ever wrote (the first is this glorious kind of mess that I do intend on resurrecting one day) and I thought I had figured out this book-writing thing. Friends told me it was great. When I saw hundreds of agent rejections, those same friends said things like, "Have you thought about self-publishing? I heard about this author who makes so much money doing that."

This was in that weird transitional period of self publishing where some industry people were just starting to admit its validity as a publishing option.

But I knew self-publishing was not right for that book. As green as I was, I knew how hard it was (and is) for self-published authors to sell books in the YA market. After querying it ad nauseam, I put it aside and started writing another book (which would become Dragons are People, Too).

While in the querying trenches for DAPT, I decided to go back to MF and see if I could repackage it or edit it again -- do something with it.

Dear Lady Godiva, was that book terrible:

  • Derivative with serious pacing issues. 
  • A sagging middle on a scale of geologic proportions.
  • Unlikable characters at every turn. 
  • Absolutely no sense of place. 
  • A magic system that makes zero sense.

With distance and a year+ of education and study, I could see the book clearly. I felt a little embarrassed that I had sent this to so many agents; that so many people I respected had actually had to read part of it. If I were to salvage it, it would require a complete start-over-from-page-one rewrite.

I'm writing this now because I see the "if this gets x many rejections, I'm just going to self publish it" conversation nearly every day now. While I fully support self-publishing (my romance alter-ego Aria Kane self-publishes most of her books), I don't think it's for everyone or every book and I do believe too many people go into it without enough research or knowledge. As with almost everything else in life: Just because you can, doesn't necessarily mean you should.

I understand this supportive culture we've developed in this industry and I love it. Publishing is a tough gig. We all need cheerleaders sometimes. But I am so glad I didn't have today's resounding chorus of "Yeah! Just self-publish it!" back then. I might have listened to them and I would have regretted it.

Because, honestly, some books just don't deserve to be published. Some books, like MF, suck big-time. And the most important part is:

that's okay! 

It doesn't mean you're a bad writer. It doesn't mean you won't ever write a great book. It is not a judgement on your worth or your value.

It's a tough truth to face. I know how hard it is to let go of a book that you've spent a year or more working on. It seems like letting go of those characters and that story will kill you or, less dramatically, that you may never write another book you love just as much.

But you will. And the next one will probably be better.

A closing note: I can't tell you how you know whether a book is worth it or not. I struggle with that, myself. But I do know that spending time away from the book can give you enough distance to make that self-evaluation. Or find a critical someone who is really not afraid to break your heart.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Things to consider before working with a small press

Just over a year ago, my first book, Winell Road: Beneath the Surface, a middle grade sci-fi adventure, was published. Well, to anyone who doesn't follow me on social media, this book is no longer published. Yep, didn’t even make a year. Play the violins...

I won’t babble on about why Winell Road is no longer out there in the world – that blog post might come later in the year. I’m still healing from the disappointment, as well as looking to get it back out there. But I thought maybe I’d let you in on some things I’ve learnt about publishing with a small press.

1.      Think sooooooo carefully before signing a publishing contract. Take your time, seek advice. If you have IP lawyer friends, ask them to review the contract. If not, join a society of authors who often have their own contract vetting service. If it costs, pay the money. It might be the best thing you ever pay for. I rejected more than one contract based on advice from a lawyer. Best move ever! Don’t consider yourself to be less worthy than authors with agents who will negotiate contracts on their behalf. Oh, absolutely DO NOT do this. You are as worthy and you must make sure you sign the right and best contract for you. Give yourself some credit.

2.      I took a chance on my publisher, they were brand new, so there weren’t any already contracted clients to speak with about their experiences. This was my choice, and one I did sweat over for a while. However, if the offering press is established, research them.

a)      Are their previous clients happy? And I don’t necessarily mean successful, because success is a personal thing that differs from one author to the next.

b)      Are their books well-edited and presented, professional? Readers will immediately be put off by poor quality books riddled with mistakes.

c)      How do they handle themselves on social media? Are they professional? Are they even on social media?

d)      Where are their books for sale?

e)      Google the press. What comes up?

f)       Are their books priced competitively?

g)      How are they actually earning their share of the profits?

h)      Do they have plans for growth? What’s in their future?

And so on. Put some time and effort into your decision BEFORE you sign.

3.      Decide what you want, and this relates to how you interpret success. If you want your book in all the big bookstores around the world and to make thousands of dollars, depending on the offering press’ size, the small press route probably isn’t the way to go (and you’re expectations might be a little high if you’re a first time author). Small presses will do their best to stock you in bookstores (well, some do), but print runs can often be VERY expensive for the press with not that many stores ordering Print-on-Demand books, thus not a viable option for them. With POD commonplace in the modern world of publishing, maybe being content with your book available to the world online and in local bookstores is enough. Only you can answer this question.

4.      What can this small press do that you can’t do yourself? It’s all well and good saying you want a supportive team to back you up, that you can’t do it on your own, but what kind of back up are you wanting exactly? If it’s purely someone to chat with via email every now and then and tell you you’re great, then super, but can’t a friend or your mum do this? If the back-up you require is a team of people who are also marketing and promoting your book, looking for opportunities to get your name out there, evaluating sales and evolving with the industry as time goes on; people that although might have a unique take on publishing, still have realistic expectations and ideas, then you need to go back to points 2 and 3. Research, think, decide.

5.      And this point should go without saying: Is this small press expecting money from you? Asking you to pay for editing, cover design, etc? If so, then they are not actually a small press, they are a self-publisher or vanity press. If this is something you’re happy with, again, ask yourself what this company can do for you that you can’t do yourself. Will sourcing your own team of reputable editors, designers, formatters, publicists and so on work out cheaper and be a far more personal, hands-on, and ultimately more rewarding experience for you?

6.      Most publishers, big and small, expect authors to be their own marketers and publicists these days. It’s the way it is. You need to put yourself out there, look for opportunities too. But if you’re doing ALL of this yourself maybe stop and ask yourself why you haven’t self published. Being an author is a business, and if you’re giving some of your profits to someone who is just sitting back with a cup of tea, probably not even watching the progress or reception of your book, then alarm bells should be ringing. It’s great that they might have produced this lovely looking book, but if it’s not reaching the hands of any readers, then what is the point?

Whatever you decide, just make sure your expectations are realistic and do your research. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – this is your career. You need to be with someone that loves your book as much as you love it, someone who appreciates and understands this industry and who is willing to try new things to reach new readers. Signing with a creative team who say all the right things is great, but they need to back this up with results, an exciting approach, and their own grounded expectations.

As a writer, you’re likely (or certainly should be) a reader. Think about what you like in a book.

My checklist: Quality. Affordability (not free – I never download free books (unless it’s a buy book 2 get book 1 for free type deal)). Accessibility.

I would not advise even considering a small press unless they can deliver on these three points straight away.

I hope that helps some of you in some way. Good luck.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Crying Girl

I’ve been working on a new project that is set to be released later this year. It’s a YA mid-apocalyptic Sci-Fi with chemically-induced vampires and a very human, female protagonist.

I’m really proud of the project. My leading lady – Nola – is one of the few chosen to live out the apocalypse in comfort and safety. But she can’t do it. She can’t watch the pain of the people around her and just keep pretending that everything is fine. Her empathy distinguishes her. She is a loving human in a world where terrible things happen. And she cries.

Not all the time. She never cries because she’s hurt or just can’t rally to keep moving forward. But she cries. When she loses people. When she knows there is nothing else to be done. She also stumbles and falls. She gets hurt and bleeds. All normal things to happen when fighting for your life.
But then I worry. Can I have her get hurt and cry? Will that completely derail her as a strong female? Nola’s training as a botanist, and I’ve already been told more than once that Botany isn’t “a real STEM field.”

So then what do I do for sweet Nola? I want her to be a strong woman; I want her to care and to feel. I need her to want to save the world even if she can’t do it all on her own.

And is fighting without super powers or arrows or a perfect back kick still fighting? Can’t we have a girl who is strong but not a warrior?

I know it seems that, in an age where women fighting is becoming normal, it should be okay to have a book where a girl doesn’t. But by making girls have powers, have we moved to the point that without a sword or dragon you are assumed to be diminishing the power of females?

I don’t have an answer. I don’t know if people will see how strong Nola is and allow her heart to be her largest asset even when it’s breaking. Maybe they’ll call her just another weak girl waiting on a vampire. Only time will tell. But I’m proud of Nola, and until her story goes out into the world that will have to be enough.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Let Loose!

May is here and it's an exciting, fun and hopeful month! I love May (and not just because it has my birthday in it). It just seems to be a month full of freshness and hope.

With that in mind, I'd like to talk about letting loose.

As writers, we can be a serious, obsessive bunch, always looking for the next big tip, the next big piece of information that's going to elevate us to super stardom.

However, I want to bring us back to the core of why we write. Because we love it. Creating worlds. Meetings new characters. Crafting a story that speaks to the hearts and souls of others.

But there's also something else - fun! That's right. Pure, unadulterated fun. Sometimes, I think we forget that in the melee to be published. So taking the time to write without the burden of having to publish can be so liberating! You can be goofy, silly, exciting, adventurous, unexpected, act stupid, be serious, be can be everything and anything you want. And you can let the page capture it all!

So go on...grab that blank page and let loose!!!

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Power and Pain of Procrastination

Seeing as it’s Monday, May 2, my posting day, and I’m just now writing this, the title is completely appropriate. 
In most things, I am of two extremes. When it comes to food, I’m either totally committed to a healthy, self-controlled diet, or I eat everything with abandon and gain 10 lbs. in about a week (true story from last week). When it comes to deadlines, I either tackle the project immediately and get it finished and returned early, or I put it off until the absolute last moment (for example, this blog post).

When it comes to writing “have-tos,” I find that procrastination causes me a lot of pain. Not because I’ve put something off (again, this blog post) and have to rush to get it finished, but because often I procrastinate out of fear. Edits are too scary to look at. Contest scores are too terrifying to analyze. Editor suggestions are too overwhelming to peruse. But the reality is that none of these things are incredibly difficult once I commit to dealing with them. Edits are rarely as scary as I think they are. Even when every page is covered with note after note, many are simple fixes dealing with mechanics or rephrasing. A few are more complicated regarding motivation or reader confusion. But overall, the work involved isn’t nearly as much as the time I spent putting off the task! And the worst part is, I’ve probably lost sleep and relaxation time because my brain has stressed over the undone task of dealing with those edits or critiques or whatever else I’ve put off until “later.”

And that is the power and pain of procrastination.
The longer I put off dealing with something, the bigger it grows in my mind. The more daunting the task becomes. And each time I decide NOT to tackle that task, the bigger the fear grows. Even when it’s something as simple and safe as replying to a friendly email, when I put it off, it slowly turns into something I dread completing. And with the need-to-take-care-of task hanging over my head, I’m stressed, whether I’m conscious of that fact or not. I don’t sleep well and I check out by choosing to read or play games until I CAN’T put it off anymore.

As I said before, the task is rarely—RARELY—as difficult as I’ve built it up. But fear feeds on fear. As I given into the fear, all I accomplish is making the fear-monster bigger and harder to face. Harder to defeat. Yet, when I finally do face the fear-monster, he’s not that hard to slay. And yet, as often as I’ve been through this procrastination process, I can’t seem to get it through my head that the avoiding is ten times more painful than the actually task. Maybe a hundred-times more painful, depending on how long I procrastinate. But I do it again. And again.

But as we go into summer, the time of year when Alaska is all sunshine and light and hope exists in the world again, I’m committing to not procrastinating any longer (and to not eating everything with abandon, but that’s another subject). I want to enjoy my summer without the fear-monster lurking in the back of my mind. Instead of avoiding, I will act.

Do you procrastinate? What kind of power and pain has procrastination caused you?