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.


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:
Post your profile:

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.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Want to write great fiction? Know history

Lately, I've been studying World War 2 and the Holocaust . It has been a dark study and difficult for me at times because I'm a pretty upbeat and optimistic person and it's hard to look at the evil and dark things of this world. But one good thing that has come of it, for me, is an increased understanding of how and why people do bad things, become evil. How weaknesses become vices, become sins, become horrors.

To tell honest fiction, fiction that inspires for good, then we as writers must understand evil and be able to portray it so others will recognize it for what it is. Such classics as Lord of the Flies and 1984 endure, not because they are fun to read but because they help us feel repulsed, wrong, angry. In another post here at the Cove, I talked about books of that sort as "broken", meaning they show evil winning, or good losing, or the world left in a wrong state. These books still can, and do, inspire us -- they prompt us, urge us to walk away from their pages with a determination to fix the wrongs of the world.

When I was fifteen, I lived for a few months in Germany, and as part of that stay I visited the Dachau Concentration Camp. It was a shock for me to realize the extent of man's inhumanity to man. To see gas chambers and firing walls and cremation ovens, so institutionalized, so systematic. To see pictures and film of the walking dead, dressed in rags, skin stretched tight over skeletons. Of the tortures and atrocities, the human experimentation committed by Nazi socialists on the "inferior" races.

There is a huge statue in one corner of the compound. From far away, it looked like a giant iron section of barbed wire. When I got closer, it became clear that it was a sculpture of twisted human bodies. As I stepped up to the base of the artwork, I already felt to echo what the plaque said, written in a dozen languages: "Never Again".

That creative work marshaled the feelings I had from viewing everything at Dachau. It helped me feel a resolve to move forward and always be on guard against tyranny. That is what great art can do, it can change us and thereby change the world.

Wow, right?

Knowing history helps us become better creators in so many ways. In writing fiction, we are trying to tell the story of mankind from its heart, which may arguably be as true -- or truer -- than telling it as history does, from its head and its hands. Understanding all sorts of things from history helps us to do this. I've learned this from my son whose passion is history. We were watching The Hobbit a few nights ago when he burst out with, "Hey, the Elves are patterned after the Greeks and Romans! Just look at that architecture, and that helmet is totally Spartan!" which led to a discussion about whether the Dwarves represent the Mongols or Vikings or what. It enriched our experience to see the links between history and fiction. They were links that Tolkien certainly intended.

 I remember once hearing someone ask Orson Scott Card what sci-fi books he had enjoyed recently, and he replied that he didn't read much of it anymore, but instead read biographies and histories to inform his writing. I didn't really get that at the time -- but I do now.

So how has history deepend your appreciation for story?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Getting To Know Your Target Audience

If you haven’t read David Farland’s “Million Dollar Outlines”, you might want to check it out. He drops some interesting psychological tidbits about what appeals to certain age groups.

He talks about his experiences with film. Basically, movie studios can predict fairly accurately how well a film will do, based on the emotional appeal of the story to specific groups. Consider these things as you choose your next story idea and target audience. 

I am going to shamelessly draw from Mr. Farland’s wisdom. He says:

If you want to succeed, pay attention to what the most powerful draws are for your audience age and cater to their tastes.

Here are some of the emotional draws that are important to know:

Very young children – ages 0-5: like wonder and humor in that order. Note that spooky stories may attract them, but can easily terrify a toddler. Mysteries can also attract a little one.

Children – ages 6-11. Wonder, humor, and horror are the top three attractions, with adventure beginning to draw young men. A great example of what you’re trying to accomplish can be seen in R.L. Stine’s Goosebump series.

Girls – ages 11-19. Wonder, humor, and horror are still important, but by age 13-16 romance becomes the primary draw. Also, note that this is the time when girls become more interested in coming of age stories. They’re trying to understand the world and cope with their own growing powers, and they’re trying to understand their place in society.

Boys – ages 11-19. Wonder, humor, and horror are still important, but by age 11 adventure becomes a primary draw for young men, so they find themselves enticed by stories set in football camps or on road trips. By age 16, young men also will become more drawn to sexual content.

Women – age 20-40. By age 20, women are drawn primarily to romance, but they also enjoy humor and horror, mystery and some drama. As they age, the interest in romance declines, and drama and mystery become much stronger draws.

Men – age 20-50. By age 20, men are drawn primarily to adventure, and this remains the strongest draw until about age 50. As men age, they too become more engaged by dramas and mysteries, leaving behind the wonder literature in their youth.

Mr. Farland explains these things in detail in his book, as well as many other pearls of writerly wisdom.

I’ve attended classes he’s given at WIFYR (Writing and Illustrating For Young Readers), and have been quite impressed. For anyone writing mid-grade, or literature for younger children, consider this tidbit of his—in his own words: “Food is to young children what sex is to young adults”. In other words, all those feasts, Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, and butter beer in Harry Potter? Gold mine.

Mind you, as you look across Mr. Farland’s lists above when considering Harry Potter, you’ll see that J. K. Rowling hit the bull’s eye – wonder, horror, humor, adventure, little bits of romance, and yes, many edible things.

Small wonder, that besides the fantastic writing, the books did so well. Hm. Food for thought, no pun intended.

P.S. (The book bomb is still going to benefit David Farland’s son who was in an accident. If you’d like to help, simply buy any of his books. If you’re interested in “Million Dollar Outlines”, it’s an e-book for only $6.99.)
Here is the Amazon link:
And the Barnes and Noble link:

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Jonene's Awesome News

Leisha here.

I missed my week to post due to the perfect storm of sickness and children. Ugh. BUT I'm jumping in now to post for Jonene. Actually, I locked her in a closet and hijacked her post because she won't brag about herself. Luckily, I'm good at bragging about my friends. It's a skill.

Jonene locked in a closet
Jonene has been sitting on some fabulous news for a while now, and it's time to shout it out. Jonene signed with an agent! I'm going to write that again because it's just that awesome. Jonene signed with an agent! (See, awesomesauce!) She will be working with Judith Engracia of Liza Dawson Associates

Judith Engracia not locked in a closet
I met Judith at LTUE in Utah this spring. She is brilliant, kind, and a perfect match for Jonene, who is also brilliant and kind. Jonene is a fabulous writer, and her book is absolutely delightful. She and Judith will make a great team. I'm so happy for both of them. Congratulations Jonene! I can't wait for your book launch. I'll be the first in line.