Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Good Kind of Pain

No pain no gain, right?

Riiiight. When I'm running and my knee hurts, it's gain, right? Riiiight.

Okay, so not all pain is gain. But pain relating to writing can definitely be gain. I was with my critique group a week ago where I had submitted a chapter. It was good, because I had gone a long spell without submitting anything. [insert plug about how critique groups are awesome because they can give you a writing goal you need to meet.]

Anyway, the critique of my chapter started something like this:

"It just didn't flow"
"Yeah, it was boring"
"It wasn't exciting at all"

My first thought was: aaaaauuuuuuughhhhhh.... what a world!
And my second: I'm never submitting again!

Once my critique group got past deflating my head a bit, they pin pointed issues in the chapter. While I think they may have started harshly, the feedback they gave was useful.

So I took the pain of that moment and rewrote it.

This week they had much better things to say!

Sometimes we need to hear the painful things so our writing can grow and our writing can get polished.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

I Don't Believe in the Publishing Fairy Anymore

Once upon a time, about nine years ago, I finished writing a book. I wrote those glorious words, THE END. It was THE END of years of dreaming, hoping, wishing, and working. It was THE BEGINNING of my education in the other half of what goes into making one of those rectangular, paper things with shiny covers that you find on the shelf at the library. Now that I'd written a book, of course the next step was to get it published. But that was going to be easy, right?

I had this idea in my head that if I was a good little girl and fed the mice and did my chores, the Publishing Fairy would descend with gossamer wings and a sparkly wand and grant me a publishing contract. All I had to do was sit quietly my the corner by the sooty fireplace and send out a few query letters now and then.

Eh, it ain't happening.

I'm a proud admirer of the members of our crew here at the Scribblers Cove who didn't sit around waiting for the Publishing Fairy, but instead went and got their own ride to the ball. Sue and Emily have both found success in the self-publishing arena. I know they both work hard at self-promotion, but that's not much different from authors who go the traditional publishing route. At our last SCBWI-Hawaii conference I asked a friend who recently published with a traditional publisher how her second book was coming along. She rolled her eyes and said, "I had no idea how much less time you have for writing after you're published." Then she went on to talk about book signings, school visits, and all the things she does on the internet to promote her book.

No matter which way you do it, publishing isn't a happy ending. It's another beginning.

I'm still all starry-eyed about going to the ball, but I'm taking a different approach now. I don't want to have to run off at midnight because I'm afraid my gown's going to turn back to rags. No, I want to be there because that's where I belong. Not long after I finished my first manuscript, a friend of mine gave me a great book on writing style that was even better than a magic ball gown. My writing improved almost immediately, and I went on to read and study several more books on the craft. About five years ago I started going to writing workshops and conferences, which not only taught me more about how to create great books, but built a network of helpful, supportive friends who were doing exactly what I was doing. Since that first time I wrote THE END, I've written four more books and now I'm about to start a fifth. Most of all I'm trying to develop habits that will carry me not just to publishing, but sustain me throughout a full writing career.

See you at the ball.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Time Off for this Crazy wRiTeR

See them lovely waves a'lappin' round them sandy shores, Cap'n? Well, that be where I be. Enjoyin' life from a hard day's sweat in the sun. More like a hard day's work from writing.

Though writing is my first love after God and family, I've decided to take a 9 month break from it because of my pregnancy! My brain cells seem to vanish and my creative juices all head toward my baby. Hehe. But if you look at the calender, time's nearing for Junior to be born (March 10th is his expected birthday). So fast, isn't it? Wait a cotton pickin' second, me thinketh that a hard day's sweat in the sun is where I've been this entire time, carrying a wee bairn ain't no picnic. Oh well.

I've been doing lots of sleeping and decluttering of the nest as well as making sure that my other chikadees don't starve--that's a double fulltime job with baby growing. Whew!

So how badly has my writing suffered? Well ...
Interesting enough, I've had many inspiring stories to write, but I've jotted them as mere summaries in my notebook for later times. During my first trimester, I co-authed a trilogy with my sweetie 16 year-old. Boy, she sure is a spitfire of a partner, one that makes dreams come true as well as stories! She rocks the ship with such fierce devotion as well as creativity. I had entered Eros into Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Contest, but didn't make it to the first round, but at least I polished it and uploaded the cover that took me over 3 hours to paint. Gorgeous, isn't it?

I be hopin' to join the crew to par with more published books at the wheel, but til then, mateys, baby comes first.


Friday, March 8, 2013

Blog Tours, and How to Screw Them Up

I've been indie publishing my novels for just over a year now and have had a crash course in how to do my own publicity (that was my motivation for going indie with one of my pen names, to learn how to do this.) Now, I have *not* made every mistake I'll touch on below, though I have made a few. To get a really good list of mistakes, I'm going to rely on a book blogger, my friend Ritesh Kala, who blogs from Mumbai, India and has done some truly fantastic reviews. Last year Ritesh had his fill of poor behavior by authors and wrote I Am a Blogger..., part 1. As you can tell from that title, it's a series of posts, but they're each worth focusing on individually - and this'll fill my agenda for blogging her on the Cove for a little while. I'm going to summarize Ritesh's issues in each one and give my own ideas for how to avoid these mistakes. By all means, click over and read Ritesh's post either now or after you read the rest of mine. He tells you what not to do, I'll explain what to do.

By way of introduction for any author who hasn't worked with book bloggers, this is one way to build publicity. When you've got some income, you can hire a blog tour operator to set up reviews and promos on book blogs for you, but when you're starting out, you might want to do all this on your own. I spent my entire first year as an indie author on a constant blog tour, querying every book review blog I could find. One of them was Ritesh's, and he reviewed my chick lit even though he'd never read one before and his review is the top rated one on Amazon for the book. He knows a thing or two about how to be a good blogger, and here's what he and others have taught me about being a good blog tourer.

I'll copy the outline of his post, using the same points:

1) Read the Review Policy. Sounds straightforward enough, so what could I possibly add to such clear advice? I've got two things:
a) Dig for that review policy. Whenever you click on a book blog, it may or may not have a tab labeled "review policy." Sometimes it's in the "contact" tab or the "about me" tab. Not all book bloggers post a review policy, but if they have, you better have read it. Take the time to make sure. 
b) You can break their policy but you must pay the price, and that price is an apology up front and a really good excuse. i.e. "I notice you don't normally review indie books, but you asked me about my books at that party we were at last night, so here's a synopsis and links for you." Emphasis on a good excuse. "My book is just so awesome, you'll want to read it anyway" is not a good excuse.

2) Draft Personal Review Requests. When you query a lot of book blogs, you will develop a one size fits most form, but you *must* personalize it. Ritesh has a hilarious but embarrassing example of a query he got once. Now, obviously, don't do what that writer did. Here's what I would also add:
a) Find the blogger's name if at all possible, and really dig for it. This can be hard, it may be in the "About Me" section, it may be in the "Contact" section, it may be on their Twitter account, their Pinterest account, their FB page, or their Blogger profile. Only open with generic, "Hello!" or "Dear Blogger" if it's *abundantly* clear that this person is staying anonymous on purpose. Absolutely the number one most important thing. 
b) Include every piece of information they ask for. Follow guidance in the review policy to the letter. Book bloggers get a lot of requests and can afford to throw every non-conforming one straight into the trash, so they mostly do.

3) Don't Attach Your Book to the Review Request. Now, I know one fairly big name book blogger who advises the opposite, to always attach your books, so I do that whenever I query him. I've found, for what it's worth, that "don't" is the more prevalent rule of thumb. While for some it's a convenience to have it right there with the query, most consider it presumptuous and it'll earn you a black mark.

4) Don't Assume Your Book Is the Best Thing Since Sliced Cheese. Or as we say in the U.S., since sliced bread. The gist of this one is, don't be arrogant. Don't bother with pointless hyperbole about how great you are. In order to sell a book, you need to find *your* readers, not jam the the book down the throat of every reader. Absolutely no one writes books with universal appeal, so bear in mind when you're querying that you're trying to assess, along with the book blogger, whether or not you're a good match for each other. Explain the premise of your book and the approach you took to it, and if they aren't interested, that is not necessarily a bad thing. You don't want to collect negative reviews from bloggers who aren't interested in the type of thing you write, and any book, with the wrong reader, will get a negative review.

5) Give out Review Copies. Frankly, this one surprised me, that Ritesh would even have to say this. I'll restate what he said, and then add a little more of my own point of view. To restate him: If you're asking for a review, you are offering a free copy of the book to the reviewer. That is how this works, with book bloggers or even with big name reviewers in newspapers and such. Some reviewers only review books they buy, but those don't take requests. Okay, so to add my own points on to that:
a) Don't worry about piracy. Listen, if your book sells, you are going to get pirated and not by book bloggers. Pirates have their own ways of hacking DRM or sneaking books off the gray market. It's one of the facts of the business, so being a jerk to people who offer you a service like a review won't prevent piracy and it'll alienate some of the people who can help you most. 
b) If you aren't willing to be generous, you are thinking too small. I say yes to every giveaway opportunity I'm offered and every book blogger who requests a copy from me gets one promptly. Furthermore, I will provide any format they want, including a paperback. There are some books of mine that, some months, only "sell" paperback copies when I send them to reviewers. In fact, that's one of my top reasons for doing paperbacks, to get into review sites that review those exclusively. All my giveaways are open worldwide on all formats, and yes, this can get expensive sometimes. Mailing out 30 books worldwide for a Goodreads giveaway a couple of months ago cost roughly half the month's revenue, so why would I do that? Because the reading public is far, FAR bigger than you can imagine. A top selling author can move thousands of books a day. It is easier to dream too small than to dream too big. You may not even realize you're doing it, so take a good look at your motivation for limiting your opportunities. My philosophy is grab every opportunity, and if you're worried about things like piracy of the ebooks people win, a simple way to deal with this is to learn how to autograph your own ebooks - just insert your autograph in the ebook file as a graphic. It might still get pirated, but it'll look a little stupid if it's autographed to someone in particular. A person might edit the file and remove the autograph, but anyone willing to do that kind of work for that purpose is going to get your book some way or another. That's an inevitable pirate. You can't avoid those. See my last point.
I highly recommend Ritesh's whole series of posts, beginning with: I'm a Blogger... part 1. In my next few posts here on the Cove, I'll go through the rest of the series, point by point. And authors, please do add tips and tricks you've learned in the comments section below!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Wisdom from the Tack Board

When I get ready to start a new writing project I like to clean off the tack boards that surround my writing desk. They're covered in layers of drawings, maps, pictures, and note cards scribbled with important plot points, midnight inspirations, and quotes I've collected. Before I clear everything off and file it away I'd like to share a few of the quotes I've accumulated over the past year. For some of these, I know the source. Others I didn't attribute when I jotted them down. Still more are my own summary of something I read or heard. Enjoy!

Audiences know what they expect, and that's all they are prepared to believe in. -Tom Stoppard

I decided I'd do my best in future not to write books just for the money... If I did work that I was proud of and I didn't get the money at least I'd have the work... The things I did because I was excited and wanted to see them exist in reality have never let me down, and I've never regretted the time I spent on any of them.
- Neil Gaiman

Keep Calm and Carry On

Don't Buy the Liverwurst

Real Motivators: Autonomy, Mastery, Making a Contribution

Don't only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets. -Ludvig Van Beethoven

Temple Grandin's Three Principles to Manage Anything: Improve the Environment, Provide Instruction, Monitor and Reward Desired Behaviors.

Middle grade readers want to escape the real world and to understand the real world.

You rarely go to a place that isn't on your map.

Find out what you do best and have the sense to do it. -Paul Darcy Boles

Evil mainly works by getting good people to believe in lies.

We have only just begun to write.