Monday, February 28, 2011

Let’s Stick Together, Yeah Yeah Yeah

I’m going to go out on a limb and speculate that most authors who stumble across this blog aren’t exactly making Stephen King or Anne Rice figures month to month. While it’s true that the publishing industry you can make a good amount of cash-ola, writers are hardly rolling in hundreds and using twenty dollar bills to light up their fireplaces. Regardless of the publishers you’re with or the backlist you’ve accumulated, we’re all in the same boat. I know if someone comes to me for advice (be it regarding a pub or editorial questions), I’m always eager to lend a hand.

No writer should be above helping other writers. We were all newbies once, right? I consider myself a newbie still, and still find myself contacting other writers, asking questions, seeking advice, and considering that advice before making my next step. We all want to succeed, and since authors make the best readers, we likewise wish to surround ourselves in good company.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Writing "The End"

Submitting your book to a publisher is undoubtedly one of the biggest days in an author's life. It's part leap of faith, part confidence, part sheer bravery. But before you get to that point, you need to do something first. You need to write the book - beginning, middle and end. Seems simple enough until you do it.

Some people say each book gets easier as you go along. I'm not sure if that's true, but even so there are books that sap the ever living daylights out of you and wring you so dry you think you're crazy for wanting this job at all.

The last book I finished was one of those. It took me three tries to get my ending right, and that involved two complete - and very different - endings. Once I'd finished the first version, I knew it wasn't right, though my CPs gave me mixed feedback. But I scrapped about 15K and went back to the drawing board. Then I wrote it again, and it worked. The main reason? I let my characters drive the book and not me.

Non-writers think that sounds like crazy talk. "But you made up those characters!" Yes, I made them up. But if I did my job right, at some point the flaws and traits I put on the page evolved into a character who would act in certain ways, though not necessarily how I would prefer. As long as I'm true to who the character is at their core, everything will work out. Accepting that is the hard part.

Every time I've stalled at the end of a book, it's been due to author intrusion. I'm very cognizant that certain reactions from a hero/heroine are "more acceptable" to readers than others and with my last book, I fought hard to stay within the constraints of those unspoken rules. Only problem was my hero wasn't about to do the heroic thing yet. He couldn't. He hadn't learned enough. So either I shoehorned him into a role he wasn't ready to accept or I let the scenes play out as they may.

Even with the second full rewrite, I had additional scenes in mind. I'd intended to draw the end scene out more because I know readers like to enjoy that HEA or HFN for a short while after all the time it has taken to get there. But yet again, my characters told me when to stop. And this time I listened.

Characters can be stubborn as all get out, insisting they know best. In my experience, they usually do. So if you're having trouble getting through a certain scene or part of your book, ask yourself if you're forcing your characters to behave in ways that don't match the individuals you've created.

Would Jane really pledge her undying love to the hero on page 125 or is that what you figured should happen at that point in the book? Is Jason really capable of selling his business and taking a sailboat cruise around the world after the black moment or would he be more likely to try to fight to the death to hold onto what is his? Give yourself the mental space for the characters to tell you their next step. They will...but probably on their timetable rather than yours.

What about you? Do you have trouble with endings or do you let your characters steer the ship from page one? Do you have another tactic for fighting through a stubborn scene or section of your story?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

I know I have touched on self-publishing in the past but a recent USA Today article caught my attention and it got me thinking. Authors like Amanda Hocking may have numbers that make you say OMG! as your eyes bug out of your head. They are having amazing success self-publishing. But how much time is invested in marketing and promotion to acquire such sales? And what about the ones who are not finding success in self-publishing?

As I've stated before, promotion is my enemy. I have read on many occasions from many different authors that the best way to sell is to write that next book. A large backlist is your friend. And this has become my motto because quite frankly, self-promotion is just not my forte. So I want to know more than just how many books Amanda Hocking sold in one month. How much initial capital was required to get the manuscript ready for self-publication (editing, cover art, purchasing an ISBN number, etc.)? How many hours a day are those who have found even moderate success having to spend promoting their books? The article states "Hocking credits her success to aggressive self-promotion on her blog, Facebook, and Twitter". But how aggressive? And when does it cross the line? Because there is a point where self-promotion can turn off readers.

What I want are facts laid out nice and neat, not big numbers thrown out toting the wonders of self-publishing. Because for every dozen successful self-pubbed authors there are hundreds who are not. And while price point might have something to do with initial sales (cause I think most people are willing to fork over $.99 to try a new author out), in this business it's all about repeat sales. I'll pay $.99 but if it's crap, I'm not going to buy the second book, no matter how cheap it is.

So is success based on good writing, price point, aggressive marketing, or all of the above? Are those not finding success failing miserably at one of the above? Or is it all just a crap shoot where you have to cross your fingers and hope your book sells?

I wish I had the answer.

Shiloh Walker posted on her blog several months ago about her foray into the self-publishing market. It's an interesting read not only for those thinking of dipping their toes into the pool of self-publishing but for those involved in more mainstream publishing.

But here's some food for thought. Not long ago, e-publishing was considered the bastard child of the publishing industry (and in some minds, probably still is).

Oh -- and one last thing. And Stephanie Laurens has started a interesting blog hoping to bridge the gap between all authors no matter which side of the fence you fall. Check it out.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Trust your Gut

Rosalie's post yesterday inadvertently became the basis of mine.  Hope you don't mine, Rosalie. *grin*

It is always good to listen to an editor when it comes to your manuscript. If you're fortunate enough to be accepted by a knowledgeable editor who loves your voice, you can't ask for anything more. A fantastic editor can make a story shine. They can offer suggestions to make the story stronger, more powerful, and something readers will enjoy. However, there is also something I find equally important when it comes to your work: trust your gut.

Lets say that you've been offered a contract with one of your dream publishers. You're excited beyond belief -- until you see the revisions necessary to resubmit the material.  Now, I think it's a natural reaction to wonder what was wrong with your story in the first place. No one likes to be told their work is "good" but not "great."  My suggestion? Sit on it. Put that email away for two, three, even four days and then come back to it. If you're still as adamant about the changes, then perhaps it's best to take the story elsewhere. However, if you're at all uncertain then the chances are your editor was onto something.

A good rule of thumb regarding revisions is to come at them "professionally" but not "angry".  When you're angry, it suggests you're being defensive. If you're being defensive, you can't possibly be objective. It's a known fact that many authors detest edits; they take a lot of time, often call for several rounds of work, and can sometimes alter the story. However, becoming perturbed by the correction of grammatical errors, simultaneous actions, or a failure to follow a publisher's house style won't do you any favors. Not to mention it won't make you a better writer. With each book we write and submit, we also learn, which is a good thing. It's all about finding and maintaining a balance.

Have a happy hump day. Since my day of the week is the best one, I've decided to work some eye candy into my post.  Certainly it's not writing related, but a little chocolate from time to time won't ruin the diet. ;-)

Monday, February 21, 2011

If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times...

Over the weekend, I received the first markup of my next release, and to my delight, there wasn’t much to change. A lot of what you see in your revisions depends upon the house publishing your work and the person who’s reading it, therefore I’m not sure whether or not it was my writing or my voice that lent my manuscript to so few revisions. It might also be the fact that I had three people, not including myself, review it before I began the submission process. Regardless, I went through my editor’s suggestions, changed those things I agreed needed to be changed, made comments where I thought clarification was necessary, and shot it back to her within twelve hours.

However, I wasn’t finished. As soon as I sent the revisions back, I opened up my two WIPs and targeted the areas my editor had noted in my writing for revision. It’s my belief that if I know something doesn’t work, is overdone, is silly, or otherwise detracts from the quality of my work, it should be up to me to fix it once I am aware of the problem. After all, accepting your limitations and adjusting your writing style to accommodate what others identify as good rather than sloppy is a part of the writing process. I know this isn’t true across the board, but I’m in this for the love of writing. If I can identify and address my flaws, it helps me grow.

This isn’t just a vanity thing. Do I want to be the best? You bet your sweet ass I do. However, just as potent as my desire to better myself is the urge not to make my editor tell me the same things over and over and over again. As an editor myself, I can tell you the thing that drives me craziest—beyond the wacky things I’ve seen in manuscripts—is an author who makes the same mistake, no matter how many times they’ve been told otherwise, and refuses to change it. True, it is the editor’s job to catch, correct, and suggest, but no writer is above taking advice or suggestions, and resisting changes in one’s manuscript—especially when it comes to grammar, syntax, structure, or clarification—will not give you a good reputation.

Think about it this way: when you’re offered a contract from a publisher, they’re essentially saying, “You’re hired!” True, writing books is a tad different from your run-of-the-mill job, but they are providing a service for you—editing, putting faith in your manuscript, and putting their name on the line just as much as you are before making your product available to the public. If you decide to leave your publisher for another, what sort of reputation do you want lingering among the staff? If you think problem authors are not discussed, you’re in for a rude awakening, and the last thing you want is that sort of reputation following you around.

So do yourself a favor: take suggestions, make corrections, go through and identify areas you feel might be problematic. If you don’t agree with an editor, crit partner, or beta, don’t ignore them; ask why. Why doesn’t this work? What suggestions do you have? How will taking this suggestion improve the story? After discussing the matter, should you still think your way makes the most sense, that’s one thing. However, if you don’t explore or attempt to understand your limitations, you’re cheating yourself out of a fundamental experience of being an author.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Smoothing out the bumps

Not only can a plot have a few bumps along the way,
but at times there are huge potholes that swallow important
details that fit all the pieces together.
As the writer you can be mildly blind to some of these - after
all the story makes perfect sense inside you head and as you
do some proofing and read-through the work in progress
the flaws are still hidden to you.  

The easiest way to have these little blunders brought to your
attention is having a critique partner or partners to bring them
to you attention. I use CP's on a chapter by chapter basis.  I read
theirs and they read mine.  I switched to doing it this way because
I found it is much easier to go back and correct the little and not
so little things as you're still writing - and only a few chapters ahead.
Going back to chapter one when you're working on chapter
twenty-six is much harder to do.

I also have more than one CP.  It's amazing how the same pages
can be interpreted and read differently by different individuals.  It's
made it easier for me to get the scenes to come out the way I want
them to.  Opinions vary and the more you have the easier it is to
direct things in the direction you want them to go.

When I've proofed, edited and re-written it's time to pass it along
to a few beta readers.  Friends and relatives are great for this - IF
they are going to come back with more than "It's great!"  While the
ego loves those words the artist wants more.  Why is it great?
Feedback is very important - even if it's bad.  So finding a few to read
the final draft is always a good thing.

After all of this you will have a much better manuscript to submit.

Monday, February 14, 2011

There's Something About Mary...

I actually don’t remember the first time Mary and I became acquainted. After all, I’ve done my best to avoid her and her friend Gary as long as I’ve been aware of them. Yet Mary and Gary are heavily present in all forms of media, therefore ignoring them is often not as easy as it seems. You might have encountered Mary in a book—disguised as Bella Swan, perhaps?—or seen Gary on Star Trek in the form of Wesley Crusher. At any rate, Mary and Gary might assume pleasing forms, but they are the laziest bunch of characters to write, and likewise, not very interesting to read.

You might be asking yourself, who exactly is this Mary? Why is she so boring? Why should I avoid her like a pit of starved rabid wolverines? Most of you already know the answer.

This is Mary:

- Manners are “idealized” or “hackneyed”
- Lacking noteworthy flaws
- Primarily functioning as wish-fulfillment

Other mannerisms are likely to include:

- Popular for no reason
- Everyone’s in love, in lust, or fascinated with her just for being “unique” (Sookie Stackhouse comes to mind)
- Dominate the spotlight for no ostensible reason other than author favoritism.

Mary’s friend, Gary, embodies these characteristics as well.

What’s wrong with Mary? Well, it depends. Sometimes, there’s nothing really WRONG, just a little hokey. I mentioned Sookie Stackhouse as an example of Mary, and while I believe that argument holds water, that doesn’t mean I dislike the Sookie series. However, writers should be very careful in refraining from crafting a Mary character, as discerning readers regard her as flat and uninteresting. After all, who wants to read about a perfect character? It allows agonizingly little conflict in most instances.

Characters should not be perfect, and though most Marys and Garys are recognized as “author insert,” that’s not to say you and your creation can’t share a quality or quirk. Say you’re allergic to dogs and a bit of a neat-freak. Giving your character these qualities doesn’t make her a Mary Sue; making her overly perfect, lusted by all who surround her (or, conversely, hated by another character for No Reason Whatsoever), incapable of having faults…these are things to avoid. Readers don’t want Messiahs in their books—they want people. If there’s conflict between two main characters, we want to be able to sympathize with both, even if we lean more heavily on one side.

How can you avoid Mary? After all, no one SEEKS Mary when crafting their novel. In fact, many authors accidentally allow Mary access to their manuscript without realizing it. If you feel your manuscript might have been compromised, there are several ways to make sure Mary steers clear of you and your writing. I heavily recommend checking out some of the available litmus tests.

If you discover you have, in fact, allowed Mary into a previous work, take a deep breath, relax, and move on. You couldn’t have known. She loves preying upon new authors. Just be careful in future endeavors…and keep your backspace-key handy.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The art of accepting reviews

Like several of my fellow Muses, I haven't been feeling well this week (in my case, with sinus issues) but I wanted to post a quick blog about a subject I think is very timely - dealing with reviews.

Not everyone is going to love your work. That's a fact. If you're looking for universal acceptance, writing or any "art"-driven and therefore subjective field probably isn't the best choice. As I've touched on here before, when someone pays money or invests time in your product, they have a right to an opinion on it. We all hope those opinions will be in our favor but when they're not, take what you find helpful from the review and move on. Burning bridges in a tight-knit community like the publishing one is not advisable. 

Honestly, book bloggers and reviewers have helped me so much in trying to get my career going. A few of them have boosted me up when I was pretty sure no one would want to read anything else I wrote (because most of us have those days) and they've helped generate buzz that I couldn't have created on my own. I'm grateful and feel very lucky that they have put a time or money investment into what I've written.

And that brings me to something else...just like not everyone will love your work, someone will. That's also almost a virtual certainty. Hopefully lots of someones. People are different and what doesn't work for person A will be exactly what sells your book to person B. That also applies to editors. Keep honing your voice and strengthening your work and most importantly, don't give up and keep getting your stories out there. You never know who might be waiting for YOUR story...the story only you can write.

Happy weekend!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Not only have I felt like death warmed over for the last week (a 101 fever can do that to you), I am also in edit hell. I was going to write some incredible words of wisdom (let me direct you back to the fact I am feverish) regarding edits but ran across a blog that I have to say made my day (or night, as it was dark outside:).

Now keep in mind the language may be offensive to some (but if you've read any of the Muses, I'm guessing you don't get offended easily...well, I hope.), but if you are looking for a laugh (or a dozen), read Chuck Wendig's take on being an author. Don't forget to check out the comments. Some are just as amusing.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Stat Counter!

I'm not feeling well, so this post will be short and sweet.  ;-)

So you've got a blog and a website. But do you ever wonder how many people stop by per day? Per month? Per year? The answer is relatively simple to obtain if you use something like I do.  It's called StatCounter.  The service is free and allows you to see who visits you, from where, how many times they hit your site, where they came from, where they go after, etc.  It's a great tool to learn how far your readership goes.  For example, do you ever wonder if someone in a different country has read your work? Or if they are interested in doing so?  You'll be able to see where your visitors are from around the world.

Interested? It's very simple to set up an account. Click the link below to redirect and start counting those visits.

Stat Counter

Monday, February 7, 2011

I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and dog-gonnit, people like me.

I got into a Twitter discussion on Friday about when it was appropriate to begin marketing your material. Over the past two years, I’ve had five releases and, despite doing very little marketing on my own (being the newbie I was) have enjoyed a moderate amount of success. No, not everyone knows my name, and those who do, I think, are more likely to go, “Oh, yeah, I’ve heard of her.” Definitions of success vary across the board, and the sort to which I’m referring falls mostly in the “hey, I made a bit of money and got several good reviews!” category.

All this being said, I’m fairly certain that, had I done a bit more marketing—had I even known where to begin—I would have fared a little better. As everything in life, though, you take what you learn based on experience and interactions and apply them toward future endeavors. Therefore, with any upcoming releases—hell, any upcoming anything—I plan to be vocal. Will Project A be contracted? Well, of course I don’t know that now, but I’d like to think it has a shot. Either way, getting my name out there in the blogoverse, posting excerpts, sharing progress, and yes, doing a bit of self-promo even before I have something to sell will help both generate an audience for my work and boost sales once it does hit the bookshelf.

Some people may see this as overly-confident. I prefer to think I’m hopeful. I’ve also witnessed, over the past few months, how an author with no releases can amount public opinion, reader interest, and respect even before having signed a contract. There is an author I know on Twitter whose debut publication was released in January. She worked her butt off getting acquainted with other authors and keeping potential readers posted on her progress. Before she had anything to sell, her name was all over the place. And because I am also published at her house, I know her release was an instant best seller. That’s not to say you can’t sit back and hope everyone falls in love with your blurb (that’s what I did, after all), but of the two options available, I’d go the other way. You have little to lose.

Authors don’t just market their work, they market themselves. You have to have confidence in order to put your work on the line. Therefore, I encourage all authors, established and aspiring, to get their name “out there.” Befriend other authors, chat with readers, talk about yourself and your work and listen when others do the same. There’s very little being open and friendly can do to hurt your chances with success.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Author Websites

Today I'm going to talk about something that is very important for new authors. It's what represents you when people are interested in your work and want to know more about you. 

I'm talking about author websites.

In the beginning, a blog is always a great way to connect with readers. However, as you write more and begin gaining an audience, it's a good idea to get a website together.  That doesn't mean you have to fork out mass amounts of cash.  There are websites you can use for free, as well as other alternatives to build your own site at an affordable cost.  There are a few rules of thumb I think authors should follow, which I'm going to list below.  Opinions vary, but here are five things I find helpful when I visit an author site. Also, remember to register your domain name as soon as possible. This is very important and makes it easier for people to find you online.

1. Keep it clean. Cluttered sites can be hard to navigate. A simple template is usually best.  Make it easy for visitors to find what they are looking for.

2. Have a print out list of your books for readers. Right now, I don't have a large number of books in print (or more than one in a series available). When I do I fully intend to have a page to make things easier for those who are interested in following the series I write.

3.  List your contact information. Some readers want to connect via Twitter, Facebook, or email.  If you're able, I recommend you have a page that lists the places you can be found on the web.

4. Keep your website updated.  Readers want to know about new releases and what you're currently working on.  If you can, provide a blurb for your upcoming releases and place your artsy new covers up as soon as possible.

5. Make sure you have a bookshelf. If you don't have a print list, a bookshelf is a perfect way for people to check out your other works.  If possible, try to have a page connected to the book to provide more information. Or if you'd like, you can simply link a cover image to the place of sale so readers can read the blurb and see if the material is something that interests them.

Remember, the first impression you make is your book.  The second is how you present yourself and your product. A website is the perfect way to do this.  If readers take what you do seriously, they are more inclined to regard you as a legitimate author. This isn't to say a blog won't achieve the same goal, but I know from speaking with editors at my publishing houses that many request the authors website information so they can stop by, take a look, and get a feel of how you'll promote yourself and your work if you become an in-house author.

Having a website created by a professional can be costly and, in most cases, isn't feasible when an author is just starting out.  Fortunately there are alternatives if you want a nice site at a fraction of the cost. If you're interested in building your own website, here are a few places you might want to check out.

These sites allow you to purchase your domain name and customize your own website via pre-made templates. The fees are usually requested up front and are paid in full for a year.

I haven't used  However, I do know that it's free and you can customize your website to look the way you want. 

Websites can be daunting, but I assure you that you'll be glad you took the plunge.  There is no better feeling than having a website to promote your work that you can be proud of.