Saturday, December 7, 2013

Book Launch for Christmas

Hi everyone! I just wanted to let you know that crewmate Quinn has some books coming out next month, a late middle-grade contemporary fantasy called Faery Swap and a steampunk YA romance, Third Daughter. You can read all about it here.

Happy holidays! And if any of the rest of you have a book release to tell us about, post it at the cove!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Need a story idea? Order up!

This was way too good. Watch your favorite authors pick up their plots at Teddy's Story Joint.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Input



There are so many people who say they want to write, and they have an idea for a story, but they could never get it down on the page. I always assumed those people just didn’t want it enough. I always thought that if they really wanted to write, they would be able to push past the initial writer’s block and let the words out. Maybe that’s not the case.

A few months ago, I left home to start college at BYU Provo. When I got to Utah, I had a week and a half before school started. I stayed with my grandparents for a few days, then went to a leadership conference for incoming freshmen, then attended student orientation. For the first week or so, I was writing as much as time would allow. But as I started school, my ability to get words out diminished.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to write. And it wasn’t that I was too busy. Even with my full college schedule, I had a few free hours every day. But when I did have time, the words wouldn’t come.
I had ideas, but they were vague and slippery, and none of my previous projects interested me. A few weeks before, I had been charging full-speed through the first draft of a new manuscript, and now I couldn’t even crawl across one page of prose.
Eventually I had to take a step back and try to figure out what my problem was.

It didn’t take me very long.

I hadn’t read a single book since the airplane flight to Salt Lake City, two weeks before. I had not spoken personally to anyone who was serious about writing since leaving home. My input had entirely stopped. No books. No people. The only conversations I’d had about writing had been emailing back and forth with my brothers and friends from home. As a result, my output had stopped too.

Once I had that realization, I hunted down the college’s science fiction/fantasy magazine and started volunteering as a slush reader. I also joined a writing club on campus that meets every Wednesday. Since then, I've been able to write again.

I didn't realize how important the people were. When I have other writers around me, my productivity increases. When I don’t, it tapers off. It doesn’t matter if I let anyone read what I write. It doesn’t matter if I’m close friends with the other writers. What matters is that I’m around them, even if I’m just listening to them talk to each other. 

So if you want to write, but you can’t make the words come, don’t give up. Maybe you just need to find more input. 

Search for it. Read books. Go to writing conferences and workshops. Find people in your community who are also trying to write and spend time with them. Talk about your writing projects with people who share your interests.

And if you already have connections to other writers, keep them up. We need each other. Writing’s not easy, especially if you have to do it on your own.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Zombie Writer: How to Come Back From the Dead

by Rebecca J. Carlson


With Halloween on the way I thought I'd keep up the theme from Jonene's last post and talk about how to come back from the dead.

It happens to all of us. Maybe we finished a big writing project and decided to take a little break that became longer... and longer. Maybe we moved to a new house. Got a new job. Had a new baby. Or maybe after a book release life was just an utter whirlwind of self-promotion. For whatever reason there are times in life when we suddenly realize we haven't written anything new in, like, forever.

So we sit down and try to pick up right where we left off. And realize that there's just no pulse.

How do you revive the writer in you?

Here's a few things that have worked for me when coming back from long breaks:

0. START! Write one word. One sentence. Something. Then you can get up and go do something else. While you're away, your thoughts will wander back to that one word or one sentence, and you'll think of what comes next. Go write that down too. See? You're STILL ALIVE!

1. Take it easy at first. Don't get frustrated if you need more breaks than you used to. Writing for six hours a day when you're used to zero isn't going to work any better than running five miles when you're out of shape. You can do it, but there's going to be some serious pain involved. Start slow and gradually work up to the writing routine you want to have.

2. Rather than tackling a big, important project, warm up with some writing prompts, free-writes, or that short story you've always wanted to try your hand at. Have fun with it.

3. Get other people involved with your writing. Talk to other writers and share your writing goals. Like having a jogging partner, this can really help keep you on track.

4. Think about the writing projects you're working on and see if you know anyone you can interview to get good details for your settings, characters, or plots. These people will ask you how the writing is going, and you'd better be able to honestly say you've been working at it.

5. Clear some clutter out of your life so you have more room for writing. If you just can't do that, try keeping a notebook or a computer file always open and ready for you to jot down a few sentences whenever you have time.

What's helped you climb out from six feet under?

Friday, October 4, 2013

How a Zombie Movie Enlarged my Brain



Over the years, I’ve learned a few things. Most have withstood the test of time. Some haven’t. Up until recently, here are a few things I thought were true:

1)       As a writer, my neat little system for researching works well, so why try anything new?

2)       Facebook sucks you into a time-vortex and spits you out hours later, all slumped over. That can’t be good.

3)       Zombie movies are not my cup of tea.

Sorry, zombie fans, but for me, the rotting flesh, dead eyes, drag-legged walk, and cannibalism, especially where they eat human brains, are so not my thing.

However, because I love my daughter, and because she asked so nicely, I went to see a zombie movie with her. 

There were some good things about it.

The special effects and imagination were fantastic. (Zombies forming a human ant-pile in order to scale enormous walls? Wow.)

The tension-raising music worked. (You know that cliché everyone hates in YA novels: half-moon cuts in your palm from your fingernails? Yup, I did that.)

However, other than that, this movie was becoming a serious test of my patience . . . until, during a super-intense scene, I received a ‘light bulb’ moment.

You see, I’ve had a book idea for a year now. I haven’t written it yet because I still needed a crazy (crazy is the key word here) but compelling reason to use the setting I wanted. So, while I watched this zombie movie and thought very atypical thoughts, a new idea for my story exploded out of nowhere. Sure, it was half-baked, but it was finally coming.

I didn’t mind the rest of the movie. (Actually, I was so busy brainstorming, I’m not sure how it ended.)

On the way home, when my daughter asked me how I liked it, I answered honestly that it was enlightening. Okay, okay, you zombie fans, it was actually pretty good . . . for a zombie movie.

Now, onto my previously erroneous belief about Facebook. My kids have been dragging me very slowly into the current century. They insisted several years ago that I make a Facebook account. I did, but found it was very bad for me.

Confession: the moment I log on, time changes. One minute it’s 8:15. The next it’s 11:28 and I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck. I don’t know about you, but time and health are already in short supply, so Facebook is dangerous. I have to use it sparingly.

Well, back to my point here, the morning after the movie, I went on Facebook. A few minutes (probably an hour) into perusing, I clicked on a video clip a friend posted.

Then smoke started pouring out of my ears. I’d seen this clip before, but pared with my already percolating story idea – thanks to the zombie movie – I now had a complete and believable reason for my choice in location.

So, to neatly sum everything up, here are the three morals to this story:

1) Inspiration comes (sometimes) from stepping outside your comfort-zone – it can send your thoughts spinning in crazy new directions. And (sometimes) that’s good.

2) Facebook can (sometimes) be good for you.

3) Zombie movies, although still not quite my cup of tea, can (sometimes) enlarge your brain.


Happy October and have a lovely Halloween!


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Wind At My Back



I took my two youngest boys out to fly kites on a windy afternoon not long ago. There are plenty of windy afternoons here on the windward shore of Oahu, but it's rare when one of them lines up with an empty spot on the busy family calendar.

One single afternoon of perfect joy goes a long way.

As a teen I went out to fly kites at least once a week, maybe more. I still love kites, but there are other things I love better.

Last summer I trained with the crew of the Iosepa. The Iosepa is a traditional hand-carved, solid-wood, seventy-foot-long double-hulled Polynesian voyaging canoe, and just about the coolest thing I think I've ever seen. Training wasn't just learning how to tie knots and navigate by stars. It was a lot of sitting in a circle, listening to the captains talk, and getting our hearts in the right place. We were told that very few of us would be selected to be on the actual crew. There was only room for so many on the boat. For every one person that sailed on that boat there were a hundred people on the shore who had worked just as hard to make the voyage happen. What mattered was that the boat sailed, and if the captain wanted you on board or the captain wanted you on the beach, you did your part, your duty, your "kuleana," and counted it an honor.

Last winter, a man who has had a very successful career in the performing arts came to speak to the faculty at our college. As he told the stories of all the people who had helped him along his way, and all the gifts of encouragement, of teaching, of opportunity that made him what he was, he seemed to be looking right at me and speaking into my heart. I'd begun to feel bitter over the past year, bitter that although I'd helped other writers on their journey, some who are now bestsellers, I still hadn't found the success I wanted for my own.

Writing is a performing art. There's only room for so many in the canoe. True, I'm going to stand on the beach, and in time swim out into the ocean and tread water alongside, until I'm brought aboard, but I'm not going to waste one more second being bitter about it if I haven't had a ride yet.

My mantra has gone from, "There should be more great books in the world, especially ones written by me," to simply, "There should be more great books in the world." If I'm helping to make that happen by mentoring a teen writing club, creating critique groups wherever I go, blogging writing advice, supporting my local SCBWI, and peer-editing my writing friends' manuscripts, then I'm still an important part of the process, even if my name never shows up on a book cover.

There's more than one book out there with my name safely tucked inside, in the acknowledgements, where maybe no one sees it but me. But my influence was there. Without people like me, hundreds of thousands of us giving support from the shore, the sailing crew isn't going anywhere.

I did get to sail on the Iosepa, not as crew but as an "educated passenger," on a wild, windy day when she danced up and down the waves and her sail snapped like a kite in a gale. One single afternoon of perfect joy goes a long way.

It isn't often that hard work, desire, and opportunity line up, especially in a performance art like writing fiction. For some people, maybe it never will. And if it never does, was the hard work and desire wasted? Maybe if the hard work and desire was only directed to the success of that one individual. If we help others with their preparation, so they'll be ready for their opportunities, then we're bringing more light and joy into the world, whether it's our name on the cover or not.

Keep flying!




Monday, September 9, 2013

Windy Afternoons


Any of you who know my sister, Rebecca, our intrepid captain, and know her well, would know that she loves kites.  This started way back when we were children and on windy days would scout out open parks in the midst of our flat Texan suburbia just to sail our sunburst-faced kite with the crinkly red cellophane tail that seemed to go on forever.  We called him "Firecracker," and I well remember the time his string broke and he soared away unfettered.  Our parents drove us all over until we found him tangled across the dry-grass furrows of a lonely, undeveloped field.  It was like looking for a lost pet, accompanied by the same sinking fear, the same elation.

So it shouldn't have surprised me when, several years later, I saw her look longingly out the window at the Spring-bright leaves thrashed by wind.  We were both sitting in a quiet dorm room kitchen, both now college students, both studying furiously for final exams.  April is a cruel month to schedule final exams in, with the world awaking from winter and the warm sweet smells of outside calling you incessantly.  Rebecca liked to unwind by going up the hill to a large field perfect for kite-flying, and wile away a few hours under the shadow of her kite.  But today, it couldn't be done, and I knew she regretted that.

And then she said something that was more profound to me than I think she knew, something that has stuck with me over the years.  "Life is long, and there will be many windy afternoons."

We recently celebrated my husband's birthday.  I have always enjoyed my birthdays, so it is hard for me to relate to his displeasure as he marks progress in this journey we call "getting older."  He sometimes complains that he hasn't done enough with his life, that he expected to achieve more by this point, and compares himself to others his age or even younger in his profession who have far greater credits and accolades.  I sagely try to remind him that his path has just been different from theirs, that we have tried every step of the way to chose what was right, not necessarily what was "coolest" or "most impressive."  And we have felt clearly guided in all our decisions.  So how can we complain?  If he was feeling any sense of yearning for something more than the opportunities and experiences we have been blessed with, then he needed to rethink his priorities.

And then it happened to me.

For my husband's birthday, we spent the day with our 5 young children, exploring the historic and sentimental spots downtown in the city we would soon be moving away from.  One of the places we visited had a gallery of beautiful inspirational artwork.  There was a small display of paintings by an artist I greatly admire, and as I pointed these out to my husband he looked past me and said, "Well, she's right there!"

Right there.  Doing a demonstration.  Her easel set up, her palate perfect, a skillful portrait starting to take shape on her canvas.  She was casually bantering back and forth with her model, a bevy of young art students arrayed before her on the edges of their seats, sketchbooks on laps, being inquisitive and subtly showing off at the same time.  My first reaction was delight!  I sidled up to the group, listened briefly to the discussion, nodded intelligently, tried to be a part of the moment.  But suddenly something else touched me and made me feel a gaping emptiness, some chasm of separation.  My baby, my newest little girl, was strapped onto my front in her baby sling.  I grasped her soft hanging feet and felt the tears come on unexpectedly.  I looked at this remarkably beautiful young woman with all her accomplishment, and felt a tinge of jealousy.  I don't know if she is a mother, and if she is, I don't know how she manages motherhood on top of her blossoming career.  Some women can do it.  I have tried and find that I can not.  And in the grand scheme of things, I know that between my art and my motherhood, the most important achievement by far will be raising my children the very best I can.  But still, there is something that stings a little, something that aches when I think of what I might have been able to do if I had thrown more of my time into developing my art.

As soon as I realized the emotion that was seizing me, I decided it was time to go.  Even though I tried to smile, my husband saw my tears, and very quietly, graciously, put his arm around me and walked me out, all my little brood milling about us as we made our way though the doors and down the city sidewalk.  He didn't say, "Now you know how I feel," or "See what I mean?"  He probably wasn't even thinking that.  But suddenly, I did know, and I did see.

Sometimes we look through a window and see the wind beckoning, and we can't go out to play.  Duty or pressing responsibilities hold us back.  But there are seasons for everything.  This is a season that requires so much of my time and attention to be focused on just the daily grind of meal-times, cleaning the same messes over and over, doing hair on 5 different heads, endless laundry and dishes, homework, mentoring, and loving.  Some of those things will lessen or go away in time, and they will be replaced with other things.  Maybe I will find time to do art again.  Maybe I won't want to by then.  My desire has certainly decreased over the years.  But if it is meant to be, for whatever reason, I'm sure I will find the time.  Life is long, and there will be many windy afternoons, many chances to play again, many seasons for other things.

Monday, August 26, 2013

An Author Tagline ... ?

In the words of Elizabeth Mueller a tagline is a catchy phrase that sums up what a certain product (person, place or thing you are promoting) is. Here are several examples to help give you an idea:


Got Milk?
Just do it
What's in your Wallet?
The happiest place on earth
Time to make the doughnuts
Thank heaven for 7-11
Shouldn't your baby be a Gerber baby?

Click here to read a fabulous post on 10 companies that totally define their taglines.


Poor Ali Cross, I keep picking on her, but her author tagline is one that I can't get out of my mind, it ROCKS: "Stories that transcend the ordinary"  Admit it, it's awesome, right?

Virginia Lori Jennings, a friend of mine, said over on my FaceBook Timeline, "An author tagline is a saying that embodies your writing subject, why you write, and what you want your stories to achieve.-> sorta like a slogan."

Are you catching a vision for you tagline?
We are discussing author branding, taglines and platforms today at my blog. Please drop by and say hi!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Blog Tours, and How to Screw Them Up, Part 3

Sorry to be so late with this week's installment. It's been a crazy week, in part because I was on a blog tour. So, even though the publicity game in indie publishing continues to change fast enough to make anyone's head spin, the advice in my friend, Ritesh Kala's I'm a Blogger... series is still vital to know. As with my previous two posts in this series (part 1 and part 2), I'm following Ritesh's post, point by point. So go read Ritesh's post here to understand the blogger's perspective, and then come back for me to expound on things from the writer's side. I shall follow him point by point.

11. Twitter: Don't turn your tweet stream into a bunch of auto-tweeted self promo, and don't pounce on every new follower with a direct message asking for stuff. I actually have sold a lot of books via Twitter, and never has it been by asking someone to buy my book. It was always a moment of personal connection, a funny exchange, and then the person looked at my profile, saw I was a writer, and decided to buy one of my books. While a lot of people disregard Twitter as a marketing tool, let me tell you a story:

When I first setup my @emtippetts Twitter account, I wrote a blog post about one of my favorite TV shows, Being Erica, which was produced for Canadian network television and ended up being syndicated in over 70 countries worldwide. I tweeted out links to it and also a hello to the star of the show, Erin Karpluk. Then I went to bed. Come morning, I had a response from Erin with a compliment on my blogpost. The moral of this story? Do not underestimate the power of Twitter. The 140 character format makes your moments of contact very accessible. An actress isn't going to respond to every tweet and will certainly not click on everyone's bio and follow links to their blog, but she can because the 140 character message doesn't demand a lot. For that matter, I have had several ongoing conversations on Twitter that have blossomed into friendships because a tweet is very non-threatening. A tweet is like passing someone in the hall and waving, maybe asking a quick question, your posture showing that you'll move on in a second. It should never come off as the equivalent to cornering them and pelting them with questions.

So don't waste valuable social networking space with rote auto-tweets. That doesn't mean don't schedule tweets. I do that all the time, to have them go out while I'm away from Twitter, but I write each one myself. People know that my feed has a lot of retweets of events my formatting clients are doing, and tweets from me about what's going on in my career at the moment. People even stop to read those. Make your tweets count.

12. No Means No: When a blogger turns you down, accept it. Personally, I'm shocked that Ritesh even had to say this. What does anyone think they have to gain from antagonizing a blogger? Why would you want to be reviewed on a blog that initially turned you down and now feels like they have to do it anyway? Also consider this. By accepting that no means no, you let the blogger focus on the books they want to focus on. Eventually you'll find a blogger who is able to review you because they want to, and because everyone else they turned down accepted their decision, leaving them time to review books like yours.

13. Behave Yourself on a Blog Tour: Ritesh gives a long list of what not to do. Read it, and I hope you have this overwhelming sense of "duh." If you don't, go read it again. Memorize it. Abide by it, always. I'm not going to reiterate what he has to say. I'm going to tell you another story.

This one's about Carey Heywood, an author who's got multiple books out, and who has been hit with some pretty harsh reviews. For a few releases there, before she found her target audience, her ratings were a little low for someone who went on to hit the New York Times Bestseller List last month. Here's my personal experience with Carey. She doesn't know me, but we're Facebook friends. I had a client who wanted to give away keychains as swag, which Carey did once, so I messaged Carey to ask what site she got the keychains from. A minute later I get a response with the link. I test it, see that it's down, and say, "Oh, they're out of business now, but thanks so much." Immediately I get a response that says something to the effect of, "Maybe that's the wrong site. One moment." A minute later she messages me with another site link, and a smartphone picture of the return address label on the package that the keychains had arrived in. This definitely counts as her going out of her way. Even if the box was right next to her, she didn't know me from Adam. Most people wouldn't bother. I thanked her again and we signed off. Now, I don't think sweetness alone made her break through, but it certainly doesn't hurt. Furthermore, it made an impression on me that someone who has had her detractors and one-star reviews didn't come off as the slightest bit bitter or defensive.

The kind of temperament she showed me is one that wins supporters. If you ask me now what I think of her, I'm unreservedly positive. She's great. I'm really, genuinely happy to see her selling so well. She accomplished this in three quick Facebook messages. The impression you make, even in short interactions - or I should say especially in short interactions - matters. Always be on your game. Always behave as if people are on your side. That, in a nutshell, is what professionalism is all about.

14. Commenting on Blogs: I touched on this before. When you're on tour, visit the blogs that post for you and respond to comments. I'll be doing that this evening after I post this post here. Don't ever just let blogs post stuff for you without going to respond to any questions fans ask in that venue.

15. Replying to Negative Reviews: Okay, go read what Ritesh had to say, and then remember this rule of thumb. Don't. Now am I hypocrite here? Yes, because I sometimes do reply to my negative reviews. I had one where the person hated the book and ended with "Sorry," and I said, "You don't have to be sorry about being honest" and I thanked her. I had one that ripped a book of mine to shreds with some factual inaccuracies, and that one caused problems because I started to get messages from people saying they'd never read the book because X and Y happened in it, when in fact, nothing like the person described had happened. The person also made some personal attacks on me. So what did I do? I responded with, "Just to clarify, X and Y didn't happen in this book." But then here's where you have to be careful. Because the person had attacked me personally, I had to make it clear that this didn't bother me, and that's hard to do in print. "Really, it's fine that you think that," will often come off as defensive. So I took some time to craft another paragraph supporting the reviewer in her opinions, because everyone's entitled to their opinions. I just had to intervene before I got more messages reaming me out for writing a book about X, when X literally did not happen anywhere in the pages of that book.

Replying to a negative review is nearly always a bad idea, and I would say don't even attempt it unless you really are fine with bad reviews. I am. Truly. I spent ten years in a high powered writers group getting ripped to shreds by professionals, most of whom made their living from writing. No fan can come anywhere near the impact of George RR Martin telling me what was wrong with my process. I'm also weird. If you are uncomfortable with getting one-starred, you're normal. And don't respond to your negative reviews.

For that matter, don't respond to the positive ones either, or be very careful. People who write reviews would be a lot less likely to continue the practice if it became obvious that the writer read them. Reviews are for readers. Even if the review was positive and you say "thank you," you've changed the dynamic. You've invaded their space. The review was a place for them to talk about you, not to you. A lot of people will stop leaving reviews once this happens. Respect the role of reviews and treat it with respect.

But yes, when someone on Goodreads said they found one of my novels, bought it as an ebook even though they didn't have an ereader, figured out how to read it on their computer, and endured a massive headache as a result, and left 5 stars, I did have to ask, "Why the heck would you go through that kind of trouble for an author you'd never heard of before???" We had a lovely conversation in which I learned the power of the GR recommendations engine (which was useful to know), and then I ducked back behind the curtain, explaining that this was really where I belonged and why.

The End: That's the end of Ritesh's series, and mine on this subject. Hope it's been useful. I've gotta go post links to all the blogs that hosted me on my last tour, check the comments, and compose tweets to direct my followers to go to those blogs. And then I need to write my thank you notes. Because this is how don't screw up a blog tour.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Are We Having Fun Yet?

image from http://www.freeimages.co.uk



We've all seen movies where it looks like the actors aren't having any fun. They can't wait to get off the set and go over to the catering truck for a snack break. They look a little embarrassed to be there on camera, actually filming this boring story. Those kind of movies aren't any fun to watch, either.

I've heard that when a writer isn't having any fun writing a story, the readers can tell. A week or so ago I stopped in the middle of a project I was working on and read it from the beginning and realized I didn't seem to be having much fun. I was making myself write because that's what I do. I was doing it on automatic. Like the way I wash dishes.

No one wants to hang around and watch me wash dishes.

So last night I decided to think wa-a-a-y back to what got me hooked on writing in the beginning. What was it, when I wrote that first science fiction story in third grade, or that fantasy novella in junior high, or that graphic novel I never finished in high school, that made me feel like I was taking the first plunge of a giant roller coaster and I wanted to throw up my hands and shout "WHEEEEEE!"

Here are the answers I came up with:
  • FEELING:  The words, words alone, could make me feel like something exciting, important, terrible, and wonderful was happening, even though I was only sitting there, scribbling in a notebook. I could tell myself stories in my head that would charge up my emotions, and then I could write them down, read them later, and get the same emotional buzz.
  • CHARACTERS: I liked to hang out with my imaginary friends. What can I say? It was almost as fun as hanging out with my real friends. Sometimes it was more fun, since my imaginary friends had space ships and could do magic.
  • PLACES: I never had to be where I was. Working on a story transported me. It felt like exploring, traveling, going on an adventure.
  • PUZZLES: Figuring out how to get my characters in and out of totally awesomely horrible situations without breaking any rules of the game always kept my brain very, very happy.
  • TIME: The hours flew by when I wrote. My internal clock is usually merciless, always driving me to get things done on schedule. When I wrote, the gears would slip, and I'd be totally free.
So what makes writing fun for you?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Ch 3.4 How to Be Brave

(This is part of a book I'm blogging, Indie Author Survival Guide. If you want to know when it releases, please subscribe to my newsletter.)

Ch 3.4 How to Be Brave

Writing is an emotionally risky thing to do.

You discover things about your characters. You discover things about yourself.

(You fear, perhaps, those things should remain undiscovered. This is never true.)

When I posted an article on FB by Brene Brown about Why Vulnerability is Courage, the talented and fabulous Angela Ackerman pointed me toward another of Brown's TED videos about Shame. It was held up in a forum as a way to write complex characters, but I think it speaks not only to our characters, but to ourselves (as these things often do). 

In short:
People need connection - it's the most important thing in our lives. Shame is the fear of losing that connection over something we've done or something we are. Being vulnerable means taking action that allows people to see the things we fear will be shameful.

Here's the key: Being vulnerable is a measure of courage.

“Vulnerability is courage in you and weakness in me.”

It is precisely when we are feeling vulnerable that we are being courageous.

Part of me knew this intuitively from very early on; part of me is just now getting it in full.

Example
A lot of people tell me I'm brave. This isn't something that's happened since I've started writing or self-publishing. This has been going on my entire life, and on a fundamental level, it perplexes me. My own mother was telling me this ever since I was 18 months old, climbing out of the crib and heading for the 6 foot chain-link fence that separated our apartment complex from the freeway.

My mom: You had no fear! Fearless, I tell you! You would have climbed right out onto that freeway if we hadn't stopped you!

Me: You nearly let me crawl out into traffic?? Well... that explains a lot.

Growing up, I dreamed big (wanted to be an astronaut) and went after things that seemed to make other people cringe. It wasn't that I was tremendously brave, I just never let my fears and anxieties stop me from the things I wanted to do. It perplexed me that not everyone did this, and I figured that maybe other people didn't experience fear in the same way. As I grew up, I explained my apparent bravery as "not letting fear stop you," but I knew that was an incomplete understanding of it. Because there were times that the fear stopped me. However, most times not, and I began to see the ability to be afraid and keep going as a strength.  

I remember very clearly telling my husband (before he was my husband) that, "Being able to be emotionally vulnerable is strength." What I meant was that "not letting the fear stop you" was a strength, not a sign of severe mental illness masquerading as reckless abandon in decision-making (which was how he described many of my actions).

He clearly thought I was nuts, but he married me anyway. (A topic for deeper analysis, to be sure.)

An aha moment for me came when I read Brown's article about vulnerability being courage: I realized that all along, all that fear that I had - about not being a good enough writer, about failing as an author, about writing things that were too dark, or too sexy, or too emotionally raw - all of it was me feeling vulnerable while doing something brave

I've known for some time that being brave isn't about being fearless. The fear is always there. But the aha came in realizing that the fear wasn't weakness, something you overcame by not letting it stop you, but that...

Fear is part of courage itself.

Fear is the sign that you're letting yourself be vulnerable.

You're taking the chance of exposing your weaknesses to the world. Brown found in her research that it was precisely these people - the ones who risked being vulnerable to the world - who were the most connected and had the strongest sense of worthiness and belonging in their lives.

Wow.
"The courage to be imperfect. To tell the story of who you are with your whole heart." - Brené Brown

Thank you, Brene Brown, for being brave enough to point that out.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Writing Wasteland

I finally got a work laptop a few months ago -- I named him Ziggy. I got it so I could make better use of the spaces between things I have to do, like waiting to pick up kids and also so I can close myself away in my only non-toileted lockable room (my bedroom), a la Virginia Wolfe.

I think it's a wonderful setup, and I keep imagining that I'm in a wonderful writing groove. The only giveaway that all may not be wonderful in Oz is Ziggy himself. Whenever I open the lid and wake Ziggy, he tells me he needs to restart to finish installing important updates.

I'm starting to think he says this just to keep me from writing.

Apparently, the reality is that I write so rarely that teams of Windows update programmers have time to come up with important fixes while I can't seem to get a complete scene written.

I suppose this post is a friendly reminder that anything can be a Ziggy... and that we must never ever get derailed, deflected or distracted from our writing dreams.

How? How do we keep going when it feels like we are making no real progress? I think perspective is key here. I read a book recently called The Dream Giver by Bruce Wilkinson, and it describes the journey you take when you pursue a dream. It begins with a parable, a story where the main character, Ordinary, lives in a familiar place doing all the familiar things you'd expect. He begins to pursue a big dream, which takes him on a journey that has several stages, including traveling through a wasteland and fighting overwhelming giants.

There are several dreams I've had in life that feel like this kind of journey, and in several parts of my life I feel like I am conquering giants and coming through victorious.

But with writing, wow, writing really feels like a wasteland. A wasteland -- ever feel like that? A huge, vast, dry, desert wasteland. A graveyard with no end and no life. I can't seem to cross it, it goes on forever. That could be pretty depressing and I think we writers do sometimes feel depressed by the wastelands we experience on the way to the writing land of promise.

So, like I said, keeping perspective is key. I have to remind myself that every word I type counts toward my proverbial million words I need to accumulate before I am a master Jedi writer. Until then it's all Padawan training. Okay, it's late so my metaphors are all mixed.

Please, if you feel like you're in a writing wasteland, just remember that it will end if you keep pressing on, and that in so doing you are in fact becoming the person that can accomplish great writerly things. You don't have to -- you could just give up. But if you give up, some very important stories won't happen. It is BECAUSE of the writing wasteland that you'll be prepared to live the writing dream, with all its giants and challenges... and hard-won joys.

Truly, the "joy" is in the "journey".

Write on!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Character Motivation and Desire Lines


Several years ago, I took a class by the brilliant and wonderful Martine Leavitt (writer of many amazing books such as:  Keturah and Lord Death, and My Book of Life By Angel; winner of many prestigious awards; teacher extraordinaire – she has a Master of Fine Arts degree from Vermont College, where she’s also an instructor; and she’s just an all-around nice person who knows how to teach writing. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martine_Leavitt)

The biggest thing I took away from her class was learning to address my characters’ motivations and make them real. I’d like to share her wisdom.

Some of the questions she had us ask ourselves were:

What does your Main Character want? This is their desire line that will pull them through the story

Why does your MC want it?

What will happen if they don’t get it?

Why should I care?


Let’s talk about Desire Lines (DL).

From the moment of birth we want something. Desperately. Air. Warmth. Love. Nourishment. Nurturing. Comfort.

Those needs never stop. As we grow older, yearning at its deepest level reflects our desires - which tend to get more complicated, based on our experiences and unique needs. And it's a very individual thing as to what we want the most. The one solid truth is, no matter who you are: everyone yearns. Everyone wants. Everyone needs. That’s part of being alive. That’s what makes us feel. It's also what makes us unique.

This needs to be carried over to our fictional characters.

Good fiction is all about connecting on an emotional level with your readers. If you make them feel something you make them care.

But how do you do that?

For starters, you need to understand your characters, and know exactly what their deepest, most secret desire lines are. Those desires must drive their every decision.

Let’s start with the basics, your MC’s Concrete and Internal desire lines.

Concrete: What does your MC want to physically accomplish or gain by the end of this story (or series)?

Internal: What does your MC want emotionally? What is his/her emotional arc? How will the events of the book change him/her? We need a sense of who he/she is on the inside. Eventually that should come out. And this desire should be reflected in the concrete desire as well.

Knowing what your character wants is how you create true suspense. False suspense, where the writer withholds vital information through gimmicks, is used way too often. Wondering if your MC will obtain their desire line is the real thing. Here are some examples of desire lines:

Lord of the Rings
Concrete: To throw the ring in the fire.
Internal: Frodo just wants to go home.

Holes
Concrete: Stanley doesn’t want to his family to suffer from being poor anymore.  
Internal: Stanley wants friends.

Harry Potter
Concrete: Harry needs to stop Voldemort in order to survive and save his friends.
Internal: Harry wants a family.

Hunger Games
Concrete: Katniss has to survive in order to protect her sister.
Internal: Katniss wants to be worthy of love.


Here are some more questions to help you flesh out your MC and find their DL’s: (You can use this on other characters in your story as well.)
What does your character want?
What do they want emotionally/internally?
What do they want physically/concretely?
Why does he/she want it?
What will happen if they don’t get it?
How does your MC struggle to get what he/she wants?
What additional hardships does the MC face?
What is their weakness?
What is their strength?
Who is the most important person in your character’s life?
Best memory?
First memory?
Worst memory?
What sets this character apart from other people?
What one thing would the character change about himself/herself?
Character’s flaw?
Biggest fear?
What they are afraid to lose and why?
What happened in the past to make him/her who she is today?
Why has this character come out to tell this story?
When is it hopeless?
How does the story end?
How is your character changed?
What is surprising about the ending?

Here are some exercises to help develop desire lines:
1)      Have your character write a letter telling you his/her darkest secret, things he/she hasn’t told anyone.
2)      Write a scene showing your MC’s desire line – showing him/her wanting it. This DL has to be strong enough to carry him/her through the whole story/series.

I wish you the best and look forward to reading your very real stories!

Friday, July 12, 2013

All Hail the Librarians

My husband grew up in a tiny town in southern Utah, population 800. It hasn't changed much in the couple decades since he left, and due to extenuating circumstances, I find myself living in that very town. I'm here alone with my five children, while my husband finishes his work obligations near our old home, 2 1/2 hours away. My in-laws, who have been so kind as to welcome us into their home, are rarely here, so I'm mostly on my own to entertain the masses all summer long.  The pickin's are slim.  We have one desktop computer with a few games, a wii with a few more, we have some summertime work books which I have used gratefully for the past 5 years, and--praise be--a little library branch just down the street.

Here in town, everyone knows just about everyone, so even though I couldn't conjure up faces to go with the library staff's familiar sounding names I found listed online, I called the little branch and told them I was Kelly and Vicki's daughter-in-law here in town for the summer.  "Oh, hi!" they replied cheerfully.  Funny how when you come into a large family or a small town, it's well nigh impossible to remember the name for every face, but somehow they have no trouble remembering you.  I went on to ask about whether I could get a temporary library card for the few months we would be staying here, or whether they knew if my mother-in-law already had one.  She hadn't gotten one yet, but that was no trouble, I could just come on down and they would take care of us.

So, baby in the sling and four kiddos in shoes later, we wandered down the desert-heat-baked sidewalk, stopping briefly to rest at great-grandma's house where my husband used to go when he "ran away."  She'd share a glass of lemonade, a hug, and a classic movie with him before mom would come pick up the stray.  Continuing our journey, it was across the main drag--the only two-lane road in town--and past a local fast-food hangout to the tiny branch library.  My kids, more accustomed to the sprawling new city library at our old home, were a little disenchanted by the tiny, average looking building, but they knew what they'd find inside, and not to "judge a book by it's cover." (hehe)  So in we went.

It was a good collection.  All the staples of children's and YA literature were easy to find, especially with a little help from the two friendly librarians.  Their faces were familiar from church and other social events we'd attended in town, and they loved to praise my husband while they had my ear.  In ways, he's a little of a town celebrity, I guess.  One that flew the coop and did something impressive.  He still has a very soft spot for his hometown, though, and for all small towns, in fact, and that's something I really love about him.

But beyond the kindness of the praise and the small-town chit-chat, I was just happy that these two delightful ladies were keeping watch at that little sanctuary of literature, eagerly helping us find our books, putting in orders to get in what they lacked so my kids could have something to do besides just play video games all summer.  It's got to be a lonely vigil.  I wonder how often they have patrons come in.  From their enthusiasm (despite the noise of my brood, and the fact that my toddler kept rearranging their artistic floor display) I would say it was a real treat to have someone there.  And how grateful I was to be there.  It is like water in the desert to have access to free books, and without those librarians to draw the water from the well for us, we'd be pretty desolate.  So here's to librarians everywhere, small towns and big cities alike.  Thank you for keeping the gate!

On the walk home we also stopped for ice cream at the fast-food place on the corner, and once again I was grateful for little oases in the desert, especially ones with awesome caramel shakes.  In fact, I think we'll do that again this afternoon.  I'm in the mood for a little readin' and eatin'.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

My Inner Editor

Meet my inner editor:
At our family reunion last month, my brother, Jonathan Hoffman, gave us a sculpting class. This might not be your typical family reunion activity, but your typical family doesn't include a Pixar shading artist. In his spare time, he makes really cool stuff out of Sculpey, like this glow-in-the-dark octopus woman and this giant hairy warrior dude:

 At the reunion we didn't have time to make a full sculpture, but Jon showed us how to make heads. He had all of these great sculpting tools, like rubber brushes and various things for cutting, scraping, and scratching.
Jon said it would be best to start out with some kind of alien creature, or else someone old and ugly. That way it would still look good even if it looked bad. With that in mind, I decided I wanted to see what my inner editor looked like. If I made her, I could put her on my desk and stare her down instead of having her stuck in my head, telling me I wasn't any good.
Yep, that's her all right. Old Sourface. My new reminder to stop listening to self-criticism and just write. So what does your inner editor look like?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Climbing for Competence


So, way back in the 1970's, some psychologist named Noel Burch got this theory about how people learn things that he called THE FOUR STAGES OF COMPETENCE. Though two of them are actually stages of INCOMPETENCE. Whatever.

According to this theory, learning only begins when you figure out that you stink at something.

The first stage of competence, or incompetence, is what Burch called Unconscious Incompetence. You can't do something and you don't even know you can't do it. The scary thing is, unless you clue in to the fact that you can't do it, you'll be stuck in this stage forever.

The second stage is Conscious Incompetence. Now you know you're bad. Like the time I joined my daughter during free skate after her weekly skating lessons and ended up mopping the ice with my backside so many times the instructor came over to ask if I was all right. Before I got out on that ice I had no idea that I was so pathetic. After I tried it, both me and the largest muscle group in my body were very well aware of my incompetence.

Next comes Conscious Competence. At this stage, you're getting somewhere. You've studied, practiced, done whatever it takes to get out of incompetence mode. But it still requires a lot of effort to perform. You have to think, focus, and fight your way through (I, uh, never got to this stage in ice skating because I haven't put on a pair of skates since that day I hit stage two).

The final, most glorious stage is Unconscious Competence. Now you've been doing this thing for so long, it comes naturally. You don't have to think about it too much anymore, like walking, or speaking your native language.

Now I'd like to add my theory, which is called THE FOUR STAGES OF WRITING COMPETENCE (OR INCOMPETENCE).

Unconsciously incompetent writers have no idea that there's anything wrong with their writing. In fact, if you try to tell them something is wrong, they won't listen.

Consciously incompetent writers have moved up a step. Now they know they don't have the skills they want. They may feel overwhelmed, discouraged, and disillusioned.

The consciously competent writer has to work hard to produce good stuff.Writing isn't always fun, but something of quality is coming out.

Last of all, at the stage we all envy and admire, the unconsciously competent writer makes it look easy. Genius flows from their mind to their fingertips to the keyboard. They've mastered the craft, and can pop out two or three novels a year without  breaking a sweat.

And now for the point I'd really like to make. TOO MANY WRITERS ARE STUCK IN THE STAGES OF INCOMPETENCE BECAUSE THEY DON'T KNOW HOW TO CLIMB TO THE NEXT LEVEL. They don't even know that they can.

I'm here to tell you that you can climb. Here's how.

First, let me clarify that all writers are at different stages when it comes to different skills. A writer might have reached unconscious competence when it comes to prose style, but still not have a clue how to create sympathetic characters.

The first step is to admit that there might be something lacking in your writing. Then go out and find out what it is. Asking other people for help at this stage is essential because remember, you can't even tell that something is wrong. You need to ask the right people for help, though. There will be plenty of friends who will tell you that your writing is all wonderful. Others might gleefully point out every flaw and make you feel stupid for trying. Pure gold is a someone who will help you see clearly what's good and what needs improvement, with the attitude that you can fix whatever is broken.

Once you've picked out some writing skill you need to work on, you've made the first leap. Now you're consciously incompetent. Congratulations! This is a great place to be. It's all up from here. But it's going to take study and work. Do some research. Read authors who have mastered the skill you seek. Ask others how they do it. Try new things. Keep at it until you get it. And you will. Trust me.

So now you've got it. But it doesn't come easy. You are consciously competent. You have to think about doing it right, or it doesn't happen. That's okay. Keep practicing. All you need to do now is keep going, and you'll eventually get to the point where this thing you're working on is a part of you.

And now at last you've made it. That thing you couldn't do at the start is as easy as breathing in and out. Guess what! Time to pick a new writing skill to work on.

The very good news is, no matter what you can't do now, you can learn to do in the future. All you have to do is realize what's missing, study and work at it, and then practice until it becomes second nature. It's a never-ending upward spiral.


Now I'm not saying you have to get EVERYTHING right before you publish. Writing fiction is such a complex process, with so many facets, there's always more to learn no matter who you are. Once you've mastered three or four major areas, you're probably ready to go. But finding success in publishing isn't only about skill. There's some luck involved too.

While you're waiting for your luck to arrive, keep climbing the stairs.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

a Baby's Life for Me and a Bottle of Milk!

I love my baby toes!


Roughly nine months ago, I decided to take a break from writing. My little one was born recently. Cute and healthy! My writing projects have taken a backseat for a bit, it has been difficult setting time aside for them.

I did manage to update my website with a handful of books coming soon! I created the covers for them (below). Can you see my daughter and her friend in Hidden? It was fun taking it! As for RockStar and Eros, those took me about 3 house a piece. Kursed was also accepted by PDMI Publishing--the cover which I created a few weeks ago took me over 12 hours as I had documented it for prosperity's sake! I will reveal that soon!



PDMI has also hired me as their in-house illustrator! Yay! So excited. Also wondering how I'll manage to keep up with a new baby ...

My current project is to finish my YA inspirational, Baby's Breath (I plan to use my baby and teengirl as covermodels!)--about a young girl who finds herself  unexpectedly pregnant. She hides her growing belly and becomes terrified as desperation blinds her. My love for babies has spurred me to write this and it is my intention for my royalties to assist Project Cuddle in their goal for rescuing unwanted babies. I'm really excited about this and hope to find time to write this in between baby and hyper kids at home before the upcoming school year arrives!

What are your projects? I'd love to hear how you accommodate your love of writing!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Blog Tours and How To Screw Them Up Pt. 2

A quick moment of self promotion: I've got another book out! Love in Darkness, the sequel to Castles on the Sand is out and $.99 this week.
Alex had everything when he was with Madison. But the darkness within him wouldn't go away. After two years apart, he returns to Pelican Bluffs and to the girl he never wanted to leave. 
Madison wants to give their love another chance, but Alex can't fight fate. He is what he is. Ruined. Crazy like his mother. And Madison deserves so much more. When his secrets spill out into their small town, Alex has a choice to make. Hide away in the darkness forever, or let love in.
Head on over to any major book retailer for your copy!

And now on to the second installment in my series about how not to treat book bloggers or conduct a blog tour. Part One is here. Again, I'll use the same outline as my friend, noted book blogger, Ritesh Kala, used in his I'm a Blogger... series. Today I'll go over the points he made in I'm a Blogger... pt. 2.

In this post, Ritesh gets a little more general about what to do when publicizing a book anywhere, so it's got a broader focus than just blog tours, but nevertheless, the advice applies to blog tours as well.

6. Put Out A Good Book: Everyone, not just book bloggers, is tired of slogging through badly written, badly edited books. For this, let me take a business person's perspective. As far as the arts goes, novels and publishing are one of THE CHEAPEST types of venture. Think about it. Would you try to produce a film without getting the right camera, the right editing equipment, and putting your best foot forward to film festivals? Even with all the advances in digital filmmaking, it's pricey. Consider painting, or music, or quilting, or... well, you name it. In comparison publishing is pretty darn affordable. Do not try to break in for free. Invest in yourself, and I'd suggest setting aside a budget of $1,500 to spend on 1) editing 2) copyediting 3) cover design 4) formatting 5) publicity and marketing. If that dollar figure makes you choke, then indie publishing isn't for you. If you don't think you can sell enough books to make that money back, then your book isn't ready for prime time.

A publisher would spend upwards of $15,000 or more on a novel, and that's a novel they aren't investing much in, to be honest. There the author got almost no advance. So if you're into indie publishing to be more cost effective, that can work. If you're into it because you refuse to part with any money, you're not in indie publishing. You're in vanity publishing. All you will gain is the right to say you have a book out. Period.

I'll add one caveat, you can do this for cheaper if you train yourself, but that means a serious training investment. I've got the full Adobe Creative Suite on my computer and have studied Photoshop and InDesign pretty extensively. Thus, I'm as qualified a cover designer and interior formatter as most people who hang a shingle out, and starting next month, I will have a shingle out as a book designer. People have started coming to me to ask how I make my interiors as pretty as they are because I don't just do it competently, I do it better than most, and that was my aim when I decided to do it in-house. Two of the three novel covers I've designed have made it to the top #300 books on Amazon. Another good example is Colleen Hoover who had very little money, couldn't afford a cover designer, but spent twelve hour days blogging and interacting online to do her own publicity. She compensated for what she couldn't afford in cash by investing vast amounts of time. That can work too.

7. Help the Blogs in Return: Bloggers and authors should have a mutually beneficial relationship because they're after compatible goals. The author wants to sell more books. The blogger wants more traffic to their site. Hence, you want to drive people to the blogger's site, and the blogger will in turn drive them towards the sales listings of your books. There are some very simple things you can do to show proper gratitude:

1) Tweet, FB link, and link the review from your blog. I link the reviews a couple of times because this creates backlinks, which helps the blogger's blog rise in search engine results. With twitter, I tweet the review regularly; right now given how many reviews and content about my books is out on the web, you'll see the same tweet about a review every 10 days or so, and I intend to keep doing that regularly for a very long time. Thus, bloggers who reviewed you two years ago still get a little residual traffic trickling in and will be more likely to feature you in the future.

2) When on a blog tour, make a Twitter list of all the blogs participating and RT their tweets for the duration of the tour. Make them like hosting you because you drive people to their site.

3) And most importantly, when a blogger features a guest post by you or an interview of you, keep that page open in your browser for a week and refresh it a couple of times a day. Answer any comments that come through, again creating interaction and thus more hits on the page. The blogger has given you a forum to interact with new potential fans. The appropriate thing to do is to make use of the opportunity, and I let me tell you, this can earn you big brownie points with a blogger.

8. Don't Demand Reviews: Bloggers are, like anyone else, people with lives. They have dayjobs and families and lots of books they want to read. It's not unusual for a new book blogger to bite off more than they can chew and end up unable to read and review all the books they take on. Always show some class in this situation. Understand that this isn't them bailing out on you, this is them trying to help everyone and getting overwhelmed. There are only good motives here. Also, here's a chance to learn something important: Was your book one of the ones they got to no matter what? The top selling books are the ones that were, and that has more to do with your writing and your book than you may want to admit. If your book wasn't that book this time around, note the ones that did make the cut and get glowing reviews and learn a little more about the market for your next project.

There are enough rude writers out there, that being a polite one will yield results. Not everyone I've followed up with has reviewed my book immediately, but some sure have. When they realize that I'm not seething or about to snap at them, they want to work with me. They know I won't do something diva-ish and offensive. Unfortunately, that does make me stand out from the crowd, and it'll work for you too.

9. Price Competitively: This is just marketing advice. Know your market and know the price points. Know where you are in the grand scheme of it all. I'm more established as a writer now than I was a year ago, but I still need to keep a book or two at $.99, because that's the kind of clout I have. It's limited. I may be "Amazon bestselling" thanks to the day one of my novels spent on the Kindle Top 100, but that alone doesn't make people flock to my books. Most people have never heard of me and hence are taking a chance. I need to make that easy for them, and that's just the way it goes. People who set their prices high will attract fewer readers curious to try something new.

A book blogger doesn't want to advertise books that their readers won't buy. It's a wasted post for them if they write up a review and get a bunch of comments that say things like, "$7.99?!? No way!!!" And a book blogger can't afford negative reviews any more than a writer can. If they're not blogging about books their readers will go out and buy, they aren't successful. You need to help them be successful.

10. Don't Go To War: There have been a few flame wars that got so big the parties to them are famous, so I don't know why people take so long to learn this. Do not fight back against reviewers or readers. There's one simple truth here: they don't work for you. They work for other readers. You try to push them around? They don't care, or they just get annoyed. They are entitled to their opinion and have a right to broadcast it. Fight with them and you appear petty and small and worth avoiding at all costs. Even if it's a positive interaction, be VERY careful about responding to a review. I'll respond to someone who asks about when a sequel's coming out, sometimes. Once someone posted a very apologetic negative review and I replied to say they had nothing to apologize for and I appreciated them being honest. Even that is walking veeeeery close to the line. Readers and reader reactions are not something you should try to influence in any way other than shoring up your writing skills and doing a better job on the next book.

Needless to say, book bloggers will not work with authors who start a flame war. It makes the site look bad and gives the blogger more headache than anyone deserves. This includes calls to fans to downvote bad reviews and upvote good ones on Amazon and appeals for "white knighting," which is when someone else goes to bat for the writer and takes on negative reviewers. As sweet as this may seem, if you catch it happening, try to put a stop to it. Express gratitude, but invite the person to take the high road. It's too easy for people to assume that's a fake account you made, or a friend or family member behaving unprofessionally.

The link to Ritesh's post, again, is here. I'll be back when it's my turn to post next with more on this series.

And again, Love in Darknessthe sequel to Castles on the Sand, is now out and is $.99 this week. Go check it out!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

How to Outsmart Yourself and Get More Writing Done

Last time we moved to a new house I set up a corner in the master bedroom that was supposed to be FOR WRITING ONLY. I surrounded the desk with tack boards, hemmed in the space with a huge bookshelf, and set up a computer for one purpose only. Writing. My desktop looked like this:
Two icons, one for writing and one for the trash. Because all writers need a recycle bin handy.

I was really good for a while. Then I started getting in the habit of checking e-mail on that computer. And facebook. And my bank accounts. Pretty soon I was working on my algebra classes on that computer, and letting my kids play internet games. The desk piled up with bills, receipts, and other home office stuff that I had planned to keep downstairs by the family computer. And the computer desktop? Now my desktop looks like this:

When I sit down at my desk in my writing corner, there are so many things to do before I start writing, some days I never get around to it!

All that is about to change. Because the family computer downstairs died last night. Rather than buy a new computer for the family, I moved my old writing computer downstairs. Up in my writing corner I installed a really old laptop we inherited from my father-in-law. This machine is so slow, it's a pain to even check e-mail on it.

But it runs a word processor just fine.

Perfect.

Now my desktop looks like this again:
And I got more writing done this morning than I have in the past week.





Friday, May 24, 2013

School Visits

My husband will be starting grad school in the fall.  Hooray, yay, yadda-yadda, that's great and all, but the sticker shock is killing me.  I've told him he'd better land an awesome role on Broadway immediately after graduation so we can start paying off our loans.  In the mean time, my mind has been mulling over what else we might do for income and I remembered about visiting schools.

Lots of authors and illustrators supplement their meager income with school visits.  Doing a little research I found that for practice or newbies, the typical fee is $0-$150, going up to about $500 for someone with a little more experience speaking and/or publishing.  The average for the whole country is about $1000.  Big names can demand as much as $2500.

Visiting authors/illustrators can do assemblies, individual class visits, workshops, or art projects.  Whatever you do, you should develop something unique to offer.  Use media.  Make a powerpoint presentation.  Show your process. Do something to catch their interest.  Call your local school and volunteer your time and have someone film you.  As you improve, film again and post your video.  Use the internet to network.  Call or email your local schools and ask if you can visit.  Build your repuation.

I once volunteered as a parent to help with a visiting artist.  She seemed really grumpy and not very approachable.  She told the kids just what to do, and left little room for originality.  She seemed a little miffed when I joined the kids, did the project myself, and changed it up a bit.  It was like she was being forced to do this school visit against her will. Don't be like that.  If it's not your thing, don't bother.  But if you love interacting and insipiring, do it!  And reap some rewards, too.

Great resources:
http://www.scbwi.org/Pages.aspx/About-School-Visits
Post your profile:
http://www.scbwi.org/Pages.aspx/The-ABC-s-of-a-Successful-Author-Illustrator-Visit
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Monday, May 20, 2013

The Age of the Empowered Writer

I see the signs of writer empowerment everywhere these days.

A writer-friend in wonder that she no longer thinks of agents as gods. 

Another writer-friend who pulls a manuscript from a Big Six editor, because they were taking too long (months) to get back to her. 

A third writer-friend asking for my help to negotiate a contract with her (new) agent, successfully gaining changes like having the money flow to the writer, not the agent, first. 

My writer-friends' empowerment was fueled by their experiences with indie publishing.

That empowerment - expressed as a willingness to challenge conventions, write different stories, try new strategies, as well as an intolerance for "rules" of traditional publishing, including excessive wait times and bad contracts - was something I felt early on, when I first self-published. And I've seen it in other newly-indie-published authors. There's a sudden flush of freedom, of liberation from constraints you didn't even know were binding you.

What, you mean I can write a story any length I want?

Wait, what if I want to write dark-and-edgy instead of light-and-fluffy? You mean I don't have to change my penname if I don't want?

Hang on, you mean I actually can write to trends? 

In this rush of new-found artistic freedom comes the assumption that everyone realizes this Brave New World is upon us. Sadly, this is not true... yet. The next phase, the one that's slowly starting to show its face but is far from fully realized, is the one where everyone in the publishing ecosystem has adapted to this new age of the empowered writer.

I see the beginnings of it in the freelance artists and editors and narrators I work with, who respect and look forward to creative collaboration with writers - a collaboration based on a balance of power where either party can walk away from a situation that's not working for them. This is creative work as normal commerce - where both parties engage in an activity (creating a cover, editing a book, narrating an audiobook) because they see mutual benefits (money, finished product). I'm a big believer in the free market, and this is free market at its best - allowing for individuals to trade goods and services to their mutual benefit.

It is a far, far cry from the publishing system as it has historically existed - and as it is, still, today.

There are some agents and editors who get it. But we still have a long ways to go before most (or even many) people in the industry realize the power balance has well and truly tipped. There are too many (and I include any company who thinks Author House has acceptable business practices) who think writers are people to be taken advantage of, not worked with. Or at the least, disposable. Because if one writer isn't willing to sign that contract or accede to those edits or wait for months and months for an answer on a manuscript, there are still legions of other writers lined up behind them, willing to sign up for the bad terms and give up their power.

But this doesn't actually concern me.

All it takes is one toe dipped in the cool waters of indie publishing, and that writer will feel the empowerment for themselves. And they'll tell their friends. And another will try. And another.

It's a slow, but inexorable, avalanche of transformation. And I'm patient.

For me, personally, I continue to discover the effects of the transformation. As I mentioned to my husband this weekend, the longer I've been indie published, and the more I understand how bookselling in the digital age works, the more clearly I see the inflexibilities that hinder large publishers. For example, Amazon just recently changed its categories, as well as the way they are assigned. This is something that every indie published author (who is aware of it) is scrambling to take advantage of.
now ranking in Cyberpunk, Genetic Engineering, and Coming of Age

Why? Because indie authors understand that visibility is huge, and are thirsty to use any tool at their disposal. And because we can. 

I also told my husband that, as my backlist grows, I better understand why publishers are hindered from taking advantage of every new thing that comes on the block - because they have thousands of titles, not one or five or twenty. I now have twenty-one titles associated with my author name. Of course, putting out a nine-part serial, with collections, will move you along quite quickly in the title-count. But my point is that managing that many titles quickly becomes a lot of work - especially when you have to go back and re-tool the categories for all twenty-one.

So I understand why publishers lag in doing this. They will never be as nimble as an indie author in charge of her own backlist. And as an author's backlist grows, the author becomes more like a small publisher unto themselves. I'm already thinking about ways I can streamline my production systems (formatting, publishing) - and I think we'll see more services available to authors in the years to come that will facilitate them acting as small publishers. Professionals like upload assistants or marketing/PR people or formatting experts who lend a hand to authors who need support for their growing business. But empowered writers will also be savvy about which services provide good value (like NetGalley) and which cost far more than they're worth. Because the terms have irrevocably changed on how business is conducted for indie authors - they are empowered now.

Eventually, everyone who works with writers will realize this. In good time, the transformation will reach every corner of the ecosystem. 

And I see that as an unqualified good.