Category Archives: ideas

The Price of Evil

I watched the first Lord of the Rings this morning. Yes, again. Don’t ask me what got me started on that–though I mostly blame seeing the preview for The Hobbit when we went to see Brave over the weekend. I can’t get it out of my head.

A lot of stories show the price of evil in the smackdown of the bad guy at the end. Yay, we all like a good smackdown.

Lots of stories show a price for fighting evil. Superheroes pay this a lot in dead girlfriends and other loved ones who have to be avenged, loved ones who have to be left behind for their own protection, etc. Heroes pay a price for their decision to fight evil in loneliness, physical injury, and sometimes death.

What I saw in Fellowship of the Ring this morning was a price paid for…consorting with evil. For living with it. Frodo took up the burden of the ring, right? This, like, tangibly evil thing. And we get to see it work on him throughout the trilogy. Even his physical appearance is altered. We see the evil working on everyone, causing them to argue, to let fear and pride get in the way of things. We see it work especially on Boromir, who is supposed to be the weakest link, as far as character goes. By the end of the trilogy, Frodo’s so altered that he can’t do what he most wanted to do–get back to life in the shire. (That was a real bummer, wasn’t it?)

Well, anyway, it just struck me as I watched it and paid particular attention to that thread of the story, that it’s an interesting one. The idea that, even when your intentions are noble, there’s a price for consorting with evil, for carrying it, because it taints you.

The Buffy series seemed to play with these ideas, especially in the later seasons. They find out about how the Slayer line was created. Buffy dies and comes back. There’s a point where she faced, confronted, and consorted with so much darkness that she begins to see herself as one of the dark things.

Basic stuff we know… Interesting characters care about things. They want things. It’s like dukkha, the noble truths, that whole Zen thing where you suffer because you want, and if you’d just let go of the want you’d feel better. Their dissatisfaction creates personalities that make for interesting reading. Their motivations play into interesting dramas.

When I make characters, I do think about what they want and how that affects them. I do think about making things hard for them and their being a price to pay for doing the heroic thing. But this idea of paying a price for associating with evil isn’t something I’ve played with very much in my head.

It’s insidious.

I kinda like it.

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I Want To Think We’re All The Same. What Happens If We’re Not? and #ROW80 too

To get the update out of the way, ROW80 continues to go well for me. I’m getting back into my social media stuff, and I’ve been working in the Talent Chronicles universe and getting stuff done. School started today, so after I get done staring at the wall far at least a day, I hope to embrace the new schedule and get more done than ever. But that’s not really what I want to talk about.

Here’s something that’s been rolling around in my head lately and writing here was inspired by a bit of this post by Jami Gold. She was musing on a post by Kristen Lamb in which Kristen mused: Are we born to create?

I think the default setting for humans is to assume that other people are like us. This is the basis for much misunderstanding in the world because we relate to others based on our own experience, an experience which they don’t share. And this leads to wrong thoughts about the motivations others, misunderstanding their actions or what they say, all kinds of things, because we’re not objective. We don’t automatically see all possible sides or points of view. We view the world and others from our own perspectives.

One notion I’ve had is that humans are creative. Besides that humans are fantastically capable of wondrous acts of creation, I’ve thought that everyone has a creative drive. I mean, why wouldn’t I think that? I’m surrounded by creative people all the time who share my need to make something out what seems like nothing. (As I try to write this, my daughter is creating a space opera with Roo and Buzz Lighthorse.)

Opposites may attract, but like also finds like. We dig those people who mirror us in some way, who give us a yes! to something inside us that means something to us.

So here I am, bopping through life, not giving much thought to the fact that I really believe that everyone wants to make stuff. And if you say you’re not creative, I just figure you haven’t found an outlet yet. Or you are creating and you don’t even realize it. Or something. Because everyone wants to create. Everyone needs to. Everyone I know. So it must be true.

So I read something recently that Holly Lisle wrote. I think it must have been in her motivation course. It was something about the way she tries to give back and how she felt like she needed give what she had, make it accessible to everyone. And then she realized that not everyone wants it. Not everyone wants to create. Some people go through life perfectly content to use what others have created.

Huh. Really, Holly? You think that? Well, I respect Holly and it sounded like something out of The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged, so I went to my husband with this forming epiphany. And he says,

“Really? You don’t know this?”

Now my husband is one of those people who will tell you he’s not creative. But he builds things for a living. And in everything’s he’s ever done there’s a thought process of putting things together and creating solutions whether he’s working on troubleshooting software issues or designing a staircase to fit a certain space, budget, and building code.

And then I start to wonder what happens between now and when Star Trek happens? I mean, when we reach that point in society where our basic needs are seen to by technology and we’re all free to be creative and go out and explore and shit, what are all those people who don’t have those drives going to do with themselves?

This seems like a serious problem, but my husband’s convinced they’ll all be happy to occupy themselves on Facebook all day.

Thoughts?

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Why the Talents Have Potty Mouths

Now, obviously, the simplest answer to that is: because I do. As you know, I’m back from a weekend up home, having seen some peeps I went to school with, and have been talking to people who use “f**kin’…” the way other people use “uh…”. This is the way we talked, from middle school on, much more gratuitously foul than the language that went into Hush Money.

Now, this isn’t confined to the place or people of my childhood. When I was a military wife, it was the same thing–only taller. And you’ll notice that while the girl Talents also cuss, it’s more often a matter of emphasis, while the boys tend to be more conversational about it.

Now, this post comes out of some of the reviews I’ve had that give me a bit of a wrist-slap and a 1-star demerit for the language. I want to say, up front, that these demerits are COMPLETELY VALID. One of these days, maybe I’ll write a post about reviews and the disconnect between writers and readers in that regard, but the short version is that writers (as I’ve read them around the ‘net) tend to think readers should be evaluating their book on some kind of objective criteria, while readers tend to rate a book based on how it affected them personally. So if my cussing kids diminished your enjoyment of the story, and assuming that a rating reflects a reader’s enjoyment of the story, then what do I expect them to do, lie? No. That would be dumb. So there you are.

Anyway, on with the behind-the-scenes stuff.

When I started to write Hush Money, I really put myself back in that time.  When I felt my way into these characters, the language just came out. Right away it gave me pause. I hadn’t really set out to write YA. When I started the book, I actually didn’t know that writing about teens would automatically make the book YA. I found this out soon after beginning the book, and I was very concerned. I’ve read YA that I consider far worse than mine in terms of adult content, but not a lot of it. Kait told me, “Don’t worry about it. Just get through the first draft and edit later.”

And, of course, that’s always excellent advice.

So why didn’t I tone down the language in the edit? I’m fairly good with words. I probably could have taken all those problem elements and re-worked them into something that still carried some strong emotion, without the actual cuss-words, right? It’s not like censoring a movie for TV and having Johnny say, “No, flip you, Dad!”

I kept the language because it’s not just words or emotion. For kids, forbidden language is part of posturing. And, as some of you may recall, posturing is very important in the wild. For those of you who went to schools where the threat of violence seemed pretty constant, maybe you’ve had that feeling that you needed to have a facade that was a little harsher and a little less vulnerable than who you really were. And maybe that’s not something all readers relate to. But I do.

The Talents live in that kind of fear state, under a constant threat, and they build walls. When I went to do the edits, I couldn’t see reworking the language as anything but removing bricks from those walls and weakening my characterization overall.

I’m not defending it like I want to change anyone’s mind. If a reader doesn’t see that, it’s probably because they either don’t relate to those feelings, or because they have personal values which override them. No book can be all things to all people, and while some people enjoyed the style of the book and have said the characters seemed very real to them, in part because of the language, others didn’t like that. I totally get that.

The point of this post was more just that it’s a thing I’ve struggled with, and I thought maybe you’d be interested in a little insight into my world.

I’m not defending it like I want to change your mind or anything. It’s more that you had mentioned being able to talk to authors about the books, and I thought you might be interested in how that particular element developed for me and why it remains.

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Filed under author blog, characters, Hush Money, ideas, insecurities, Talent Chronicles, writing

The Facebook 15 Authors Meme

I’ve been tagged twice for this on Facebook. Maybe after I finish up here I’ll figure out how to do it there.

You’re supposed to write a list of 15 authors who have influenced you and will always stick with you. Part of the directions: “Don’t take too long to think about it…”List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes.”

Oh no, honey. Thinking is what I do!

1. Ayn Rand- There are so many reasons her work will always stick with me. Reading her fiction, and The Romantic Manifesto…well, she changed my life in some ways. The way I think, my ability to cope with some of the crazy I see around me–I don’t want to get too into that stuff. As a writer, she helped me understand the concept of Hero in a way that reading a few hundred romance novels hadn’t quite done yet. And she helped me see the usefulness in the character arcs of secondary players. Perhaps most of all, she taught me that a great novel is more than just a story. A great novel is about something, and the concept of theme is not something that should be left behind in High School English class.

2. Johanna Lindsay- I read the few dozen of her historical romances that were available when I was a teen. At that time, Harlequin was very tame and pretty much PG. Lindsay’s books were my first exposure to the rated R world of adult romance. While I think those books probably did more for my interest in costuming, sewing, and medieval housekeeping than the writing stuff–because historical = research = OMG no–I definitely got stuff from all the Lindsays. The way she could pull out and develop secondary characters to star in later books, the humorous interactions between characters who are close to each other, ideas about what makes for likable characters and what can redeem a character or what appears to be a bad or doomed relationship, an understanding that there’s a structure beneath romances and fiction in general.

3. Nora Roberts- I came to Nora kind of late in my reading. I’m not really sure why. Some things I learned from Nora: Characters don’t always have to be orphans to be likable; sometimes family or close friends really add dimension to the story and even make some of the writing a lot easier. Which leads to the next point, the hero and heroine don’t have to exist alone together, in a vacuum, for the entire story. It’s ok to try new things: straight contemporary, suspense, girlfriend stories, family sagas, paranormal, science fiction–and still have it be romance at the heart of it. I also learned a lot about series metaplot from reading her trilogies.

4. Shannon McKenna- She’s not a big name, but man, can she write some heroes. These are probably classified as erotic romantic suspense. They’re definitely romantic suspense, but there’s a lot of sex and it’s pretty hot. McKenna’s heroes are amazing in the same way as Suzanne Brockmann’s Navy Seals–only I think they’re even better. They’re these over-the-top Alpha males on the outside, with this creamy center of insecurity and desperation when it comes to the heroines. I think I’ve understood attraction to a flawed hero from my teens and the bodice-ripper novels, but McKenna showed me how to appreciate weaknesses.

5. Linda Howard- She’s great at coming up with story concepts. In a romance, you know the characters are going to be together at the end of the story. Howard makes me want to know how. She’s also great at choosing elements that eventually come together as scenes that move me. And that’s what I want from fiction: I want to be moved.

6. JR Ward- Who doesn’t love the Black Dagger Brotherhood? Her heroes have that same ultra-Alpha on the surface, but kind of messed up and in need of TLC quality that you now know I’m into. Another thing I get from Ward: be brave. She’d gotten plenty of criticism about her use of language, her names, her creative spelling, deus ex machina endings, but hey, I’ll bet the piles of money soften the blows. This is her world, she’s running it. People claim to be annoyed with this or that, but she stays true to her world and ultimately they keep reading because she’s just that good. She makes me want to be that good.

7. Kate Forsyth- Here’s an author who just made me want to create a fantastic world, and to people it with a cast of heroic characters in an epic struggle. Fantasy isn’t always easy for me to read, but this world was just so incredibly rich, the storylines so amazing, the characters so wonderful…And as to that, the villains were so well developed. Can’t say enough about these books–certainly I shouldn’t say “so” again.

8. L. Neil Smith- The Probability Broach is an amazing book. While as a writer, this was one of the books made me want to write libertarian fiction (but for girls), I think it’s always going to stick with me as the first time I was able to read about anarchy without simply dismissing it.

9. Laurell K. Hamilton-Her early work made me want to write a kick-ass heroine, and the change in her work made me really appreciate how much I loved the early voice that she lost. Part of the delight for me in the first few Anita Blake books, was the freshness of Anita’s voice, the unexpected Dr. Seuss references, that kind of thing. She was part of waking me up to the power of voice.

10. Janet Evanovitch- Stephanie Plum: not the most kick-ass girl I’ve ever met, and she showed me the power of creating a character who had some room to grow, someone readers could identify with and really root for. Evanovitch is another one for amazing voice. So much about One for the Money makes me smile just because it reminds me of home, of people I feel I’m familiar with. She made me want to sound, not like a writer, not like an amalgamation of all the books I’ve ever read, but as the me I am in my head and with my friends.

11. Anne McCaffrey- I don’t think you can spend any time in Pern without being touched by it.Not only did I fall hard for Lessa, kick-ass, underdog heroine, not only was I drawn in hard by the relationship between Lessa and F’Lar, but the storyline and the world-building were incredible. After the first books, going backward in time to see how it started, and then filling in the gaps in the history of the world–it just blew my mind.

12. Diana Gabaldon- Look, Outlander was the only one I could read, but it’s not going anywhere. Jamie, his capacity for bravery and sacrifice, but also the innocent sweetness of him, is always going to stick with me.

13. Harlequin- The retired Harlequin Gothic and later Harlequin Intrigue lines pumped out romantic adventures every month that even a babysitter could afford, and then dream on. These books replaced the YA I had been reading partly because they could ALWAYS be counted on to be about the romance. I guess this was when I really started to understand about commercial genres, and really started to get serious about penning my own romances. There was a lot to be learned from these, and a lot of it was about what not to do, but that’s no less important. I learned what I like in a story and in characters, what works for me as a reader and what doesn’t, and I found some authors and stories for my keeper shelf.

14. Debra Webb- is one author I found through Harlequin Intrigue. I loved her Colby series, about a private detective agency. In addition to being good stories, very well written, I learned a lot and started to get ideas about how I might one day structure books in a series. I learned about spinoffs, plots that carry over several books, using an epilogue for good (instead of to annoy me).

15. I know we all love books, but, to me, fiction is fiction. Often I think we should do a better job of learning the names of the writers behind the television and movies that really stick with and influence us. Obviously, Joss Whedon’s work is huge for me, but there’s no way he can do all that alone, and I feel like I should know more names in this category. A few random shows that have caught at my imagination: Buffy, La Femme Nikita, V, Battlestar Galactica (1978), Battle of the Planets (G-Force), Superfriends, Batman, Thundar the Barbarian, X-Men, Wonder Woman, He-Man, Dungeons and Dragons (animated, 1983), Days of Our Lives, Santa Barbara, Voltron, Veronica Mars, 90210, Firefly…

So…take on the meme if you want, but I’d love it you’d share your thoughts on any of the above, or if you’d like to share one or two of your own favorites, and what they’ve meant to you.

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Filed under books, characters, ideas, love, me me me, romance, story structure, writing

Konrath’s Cross-Pollination: What do you think?

This post is eventually going to be about character cameos, guest-appearances, and working with other authors on the same book. It’s inspired by this post on Joe Konrath’s blog. Readers, I would love to hear what you think of these ideas.

I’ve talked a lot about Kindle rank lately and one thing I think about often is that it’s going to be harder and harder to break into those higher numbers as more authors/publishers seriously enter the ebook market. (Seriously as in stop insulting us with higher-prices for digital than paper, $10+ ebooks, etc.) As we continue to analyze what works and more motivated people do what they need to do to move up those ranks more quickly.

And, as Joe Konrath keeps hogging up all the slots and filling more…

Did you read that post? Does it make you grind your teeth how you’re pushing for a few hundred measly words a day, and he’s at a point, reached through a combination of talent, drive, experience, and discipline, at which he makes it look like child’s play.

Yes, I greatly esteem him. And not in an Elinor Dashwood way, though I’ll admit that past posts of his have induced Misery-inspired thoughts from time to time.

But beyond being boggled by the output, and by the amount of different stuff he must be able to hold in his brain at any given time, the massive amounts of creativity, I really enjoyed that post because the concept of working with other authors to cross-promote is one that has been very attractive to me.

Besides talking about his own characters crossing into different series, he also talks about working with other authors, having his characters appear in their series, and vice versa, writing stories together, etc.

Since Kait Nolan and I talk every day, work so closely together, and have complimentary specialties when it comes to writing fiction, we’ve often said that we should write something together. But it never happens. And there are good reasons for that. She has multiple jobs and not enough time to write her own stuff. I have to spend a lot of time spinning my wheels with this whole emo-artist persona that I wear around the house like bunny slippers. But I sort of think that, at the end of the day, we just  might not be ready to do that yet. I think maybe ego-wise, and probably mine more than hers, we might not be ready for that level of sharing and cooperation yet.

We do have a super-seekrit project proposed with a handful of other authors. An over-arching world concept under which each participating author would be able to write their own, autonomous story or stories. Sort of like writing fan fiction, except that the aforementioned concept was an original one that Kait came up with, not something taken from a book, movie, or TV show.

This was a marketing idea that captured my attention when I saw the Legend, TN website, the group of authors who created it, and read their first collection of novellas. I stumbled across that while Googling for something else and was intrigued because the fictional town is where I lived. The concept was able to get me to read not one, but four authors I had never read before. I thought it was quite brilliant.

It was not a new idea for me. Have I ever showed you my wall of Harlequin Intrigues. Remind me to dig up a photo when I have more time. Need a few hundred of those from the 80s and 90s? I need to move them and the idea of recycling them is too sad. Anyway, Harlequin’s done a lot of short series branding, having a few authors write books about the same family or bits of the same over-aching plot. A great idea that had customers looking for the next book in the story, no matter which Harlequin author had written it, possibly generating new readers for some of their authors.

I’m not really optimistic about us getting around to the super-seekrit project any time soon. Everyone is really busy with their own worlds right now, but fictional and real-life.

I’ve recently been offered a spot in an anthology. I would LOVE to be able to participate in that. It was an honor to be asked, as there are really good indie authors involved, and I’m sure it would help me find new readers. And yet, I’m not sure about my ability to write something at the requested length. I’ve never done a short before. But I’m going to try.

Anyway, I’ve gotta wrap up this rambling, so…

Q for writers: What do you think about the idea of working with other authors? Think you could do it? Think you could let another author write YOUR character into her book? Think you could stand back and let someone else tinker in your universe?

Q for readers: What do you think about these ideas? Do you buy anthologies for a single author’s story and find new authors to love? How would you feel about trying a new author in order to follow your favorite character?

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Filed under author blog, books, characters, ideas, Laws of the Universe, self-publishing, Violations, writing

Wanna Nano Buddy?

Yeah, I did it. I went and signed up all fresh and new this morning. Here’s my profile, if you think you might like to buddy me. It’s a little slap-dash. I have no idea what years I’ve tried to do Nano before, but I can tell you that I’ve never finished. I think I’ve had two accounts, the second one because I couldn’t get back into the first one for my second year because of all the website problems. This year, though, I’ve put all the past behind me, all the hiding behind a handle, afraid to tell anyone that I write, and I’m there with my real name. So there. [self-directed “so there”]

I’m working on Heroes ‘Til Curfew. I know that, technically, it’s supposed to be something fresh and new. I had hoped to have HTC out in beta and be able to possibly start the rough of the third book for Nano. Well, there’s a dream that’s long behind me as I fall further and further behind. I really feel like I need something to get me going right now. And trust me, I’ve got at least 50, 000 new words left to write in this draft.

I’m not sure how I’ll do with the goal. I’ve never finished. Nano is a difficult concept for me. The idea of waiting to start something until a set date, setting that date around one of the busiest and most stressful parts of the year, and then all that just writing whatever to get words out, the frantic output to be fixed later–that’s not really how I work at all. So I may end up plodding along at my own pace and being behind, but I think it will be nice just to be part of Nano fever, because just the energy that surrounds it is sometimes helpful–if you don’t let it stress you out and drive you mad.

Anyway, if you’re doing Nano this year, feel free to add me.

I’m feeling really reflective today, and I was just thinking about what I said above, about how I had been hiding behind internet handles and how I avoided telling any one in real life that I was a writer. It’s been really interesting, and very nice, to be able to do this with a shiny book in my hands and my name on the cover. People in my life have been very kind, supportive, and downright enthusiastic. But I’m not sure what it would have been like without that shiny book, and I wonder if I ever would have done it.

A lot of Hush Money is about fear. I know I said this in an interview somewhere, that one of the movie lines that repeated in my head while I was writing, and continues to live there when I think about the story, is from Pump Up The Volume. It’s the part at the parent meeting when Paige Woodward, the girl who blew up her kitchen, takes the stage and passionately tells the crowd how she’s just been going through the motions of being perfect. “We are all really scared to be who we really are.”

And didn’t think too much, until I started to out myself as a writer, how much of Joss’s secrecy was actually mine.

I got another bit of fan mail this morning, from someone who hasn’t quite reached the end of the story, but wanted to tell me how much I made her feel like she was there, in school, living this life. (As a writer, I should have better words for what those messages mean to me.) Looking forward to her finishing the book, wondering how she would feel at the end of it, I started thinking about the ending of the book myself, and how I lived it.

Writing that ending was very exciting. There was a sense of Oh my God, this is finally over. That feeling of exhilaration was both Joss’s, having just come through the other side of this battle and solved this big problem that had been hanging over her, as well as mine, having come through it with her, and also having come to the end of a struggle of my own. I felt like I had conquered something too. As I was typing her thoughts, I was thinking, this is starting to sound like the end of an after school special.

And then I decided that was just fine.

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Filed under books, characters, Heroes 'Til Curfew, Hush Money, ideas, insecurities, Laws of the Universe, nano, NaNoWriMo, Signs, Talent Chronicles, writing

The quick lame post jumped over the lazy blogger…

…and commences making excuses for lack of content. My randomness is spewed below. You have been warned.

Just checking in and saying hey. I had some thoughts for you, but I gave them away. No, really. There were a few things rolling around in my brain from the series last week, so I wrote them down. And then I handed them over to Reena Jacobs who recently asked for indie-related articles for her blog. So you can read my thoughts on the parts of your listing over which you have control, focusing on blurbs and your sample. The post will be titled: Never Too Late To Change.

So that’s tomorrow (Thursday, 10/21). On Friday, I’ve got an interview with Chris Kelly. He’s a writer who’s passionately indie, he’s way into Steampunk, and he’s Scottish. I can’t imagine what more you want, people.

In awesomesauce fan mail news this week, I got an email from a reader in Spain. Yes, Spain! Ok, maybe you don’t think that’s too exciting, but it appeals to my inner need for world domination. Also, last night, yet another of those snarky thanks a lot for making me stay up until the wee hours because I couldn’t put your damned book down emails. Those make me happy.

Speaking of things that make me happy, another book blogger showed Hush Money some love last week while I was out of town and couldn’t tweet about it, so I’ll mention the Fragments of Life review now.

People keep telling me they hate Marco. There should be club. What’s the opposite of a fan club? All I’m coming up with is lynch mob.

I may reach 1000 sales this month. That would be amazing. Because of the number of copies I’ve given away, I’ll almost certainly reach 1000 downloads. But 1000 sales, 1000 people who actually paid money to read my work? I know I say awesome a lot, but come on. Not sure; I might need just a bit of a push in sales to squeak by, but we’ll see.

I’d kind of like to do something, but I’ve no ideas. And no budget. Any ideas what might be fun? (and cheap?)

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Filed under blogs, book blogs, Hush Money, ideas, Laws of the Universe, links, love, me me me, progress update, Signs, Talent Chronicles, tips, writing

Increasing Your Kindle Rank: Friends and Cross-Promotion

Ok, for those of you just dropping in, I want to mention that this post is part of a little series where I’m talking about things I did that helped me make it from a complete unknown to the Kindle top 1000 within 8 weeks of self-releasing my first novel, Hush Money. The first post is…here.

You know, I think I mostly covered the “friends” angle yesterday when I talked about social media. So for review, we’re talking about sphere’s of influence. I’m not the most motivated blogger, nor am I great at developing a large following on social media sites. But I have friends who are good at these things, who maintain quality networks with followers who trust them. And because my friends believe in my work, they’ve mentioned my book to their friends, who sometimes even mention the book to their friends. So it doesn’t HAVE to be about who has the most followers. Sometimes you can just be yourself, a good writer and good person, and that will get things going.

Moving on to cross-promotion. This is largely for indie ebooks. While at the 70% rate on Amazon, there’s a little bit of fee involved in how long your book is, for the most part, you can put in as much extra material at the back of your ebook as you want. When someone finishes the ebook version of Hush Money, they can go on to read excerpts from two other indie authors in my genre whose work I recommend: Imogen Rose and Stacey Wallace Benefiel. In addition, I have promo for some other indie authors I like in a related genre. (I have promo, not excerpts, because these friends write adult PNR and I write YA. If it were the other way around, I’d excerpt away.) I also have informational blurbs for all these favorite authors at the back of my print version, and I have a line at the end of my Amazon product description, recommending these authors.

In exchange, I have the beginning of Hush Money at the end of Portal and Glimpse, and I have a line of pimpage in the product description of Glimpse and Forsaken By Shadow.

Does it work? Check out “Customers who bought this item also bought…” on those pages. And look at this category list that Portal and Hush Money hang out on. We’re often very close together, sometimes with no books between us.

A lot of the time, when you read a book, you want more of the same. Right freakin’ now. When a teen paranormal book junkie finishes Portal or Glimpse, they can go right on reading the beginning of Hush Money, without even getting up. Until they get to the end of the excerpt and are forced to buy it because they’re a junkie and they’re hooked on another book already. And yay!ebooks again for giving them instant gratification on that.

So how do you get yourself in someone’s back matter? Um, carefully? How did I ever get the nards to approach two authors I didn’t know about doing this is a better question, but maybe not as important and I still don’t know that anyway. While it’s cool to do this while you’re in the final stages of getting your stuff ready to go, you can do this at any time. Find those books that are most similar to yours. You’re looking for books that will be enjoyed by the same reader. Portal, Glimpse, and Hush Money all have teen characters, supernatural elements, and romance. (And they’re all vampire-free, but that’s more by coincidence than design.) They’re all books that could be enjoyed by the “Twilight crowd.”

I only chose books I had read all the way through, books I enjoyed and believe in. Books I feel good recommending to the people who are paying my author salary. And that’s in terms of quality, but also in terms of genre.

I cold-contacted both of these authors before Hush Money was released. I had put up an excerpt on my site, just for this purpose, and linked them to where they could start reading. That way, I wasn’t a stranger trying to send them an attachment, and they could check out the quality of my writing and decide if they wanted to spend more time on me. In the email, I was clear about what I wanted: I would include excerpts of their books at the back of my ebook, and they would do the same for me in exchange. I was polite, and business-like. I didn’t wheedle, pressure, or sales pitch. I left it open to them to contact me if they were interesting in reading the full manuscript, and I was clear that I would completely understand if this offer wasn’t for them.

And I meant that.

Both authors were completely gracious and enthusiastic about the idea, and I’m sure we’ve all benefitted.

When looking for books, beyond looking for books similar to yours, I would also recommend not looking at the top of the charts. Notice that, even though “Twilight fans” is in my head as an audience, I did not ask to trade with Amanda Hocking. Yes, I would love to ride that comet, but I also wouldn’t have asked Stephanie Meyer if she were an indie. That just seems a little too “poor relation,” if you see what I’m saying. Amanda was already so far ahead of me. (Imogen was farther ahead than uneducated me realized at the time, but lucky for me she’s awesome and nice to me!)

Once you find these authors, consider yourselves a team. You already believe in their work. Promote each other. Do not keep score as far as who’s got a line in their description and who doesn’t, whether you’re in both their Smashwords AND Kindle editions, etc. Do EVERYTHING you can to help your teammates succeed. Be a friend.

Steps for Cross-Promotion:

  • Find authors who write books like yours, those which will appeal to the same readers.
  • Read the books and make sure you can recommend them without reserve.
  • Approach authors in a no-pressure, business-like manner.
  • Do what you can to support your indie team, don’t keep score– bad karma
  • If you approach an author who is not interested, be cool. If you can’t, don’t do this.

I was going to talk about pricing in this post, but it went on longer than I thought it would, as things always do, and why am I surprised by this? We’ll do pricing next time. Thanks for stopping by.

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Filed under books, Hush Money, ideas, Increasing Kindle Rank, insecurities, self-publishing, Talent Chronicles, tips, writing

Increasing Your Kindle Rank: Goodreads, Giveaways, and Reviews

I wrote recently about reaching the Kindle top 1000, 8 weeks after releasing my first-ever novel, Hush Money. This post is part of a series talking about some stuff I did that helped me get visibility and sell books.

So I said the other day that Goodreads was described to me as “Facebook for book people.” I think that’s pretty much true. It’s very social networky, and yet the only thing anyone’s talking about is books.

I didn’t spend much time on Goodreads before I released Hush Money. It’s one of those things I probably should have done, but…need I tell you again that I’m not great with the social stuff? If you’re not either, try making friends with just a few people who are active there.

One of the cool things about Goodreads are the update emails. People who get those get a digest list of things their friends are doing on Goodreads. Things like: adding a book to their “to-read” shelves, posting ratings and reviews, updating their progress in reading any given book.

Additionally, members who have their Twitter and Goodreads accounts linked are sending out tweets about books with every status update, so you’re getting your name out there on two platforms at the same time in those cases. (I suppose this is also true of Facebook? I’m not a Facebook person at all.)

If Goodreads member “Jane” decides to add my book, any of Jane’s friends who get those emails may see my book cover when Jane adds the book, when she starts reading it, anytime she updates her progress through it, and when she finishes it and leaves a review. That’s a lot of nice exposure for my book cover, and it’s exposure to a group of people who might be more inclined toward my book than the average person on the street, assuming that Jane liked my book, and that Jane’s friends know their own tastes are often similar to hers.

But how did I get Jane to read my book? Well, if you’ve spent enough time on Goodreads to make some real friends, you might have some people reading you just because they like you and they’re curious about what you’ve been working on. I had a few of these friends, but not enough to really get going.

After setting up my Goodreads Author stuff, I read about Giveaways. Unfortunately, that section of the site is only for physical books, which I didn’t have at the time. But there was the Events section which didn’t say you couldn’t use it to give away ebooks…

First, I wrote up a post for my blog about giving away review copies of my book, so that I would have something to link to when I set up the event on Goodreads. Then I wrote a brief, to-the-point, no pressure invitation:

I’m giving 100% off coupons to download Hush Money, in a variety of ebook formats, to anyone willing to leave me a review here on Goodreads, at Amazon, on a blog, etc. If you’re interested, just send message me via Goodreads or send an email and I’ll hook you up. Offer ends August 23, 2010. Please feel free to invite your friends to this event.

By the way, I think it’s better to keep things like this simple. Avoid playing the friend card, avoid sounding like a sales person. I think the only thing I would add to this would the the 400 character blurb for the book, so that the user didn’t have to click around to look for it.

Two Goodreads friends tweeted me to confirm whether I really wanted to them to invite all their friends, to which I said Yes, please! I had only 8 friends at the time. A very small reach. Once they had sent out invitation, about 350 people were personally invited to come check out my book.

That might scare you. It shouldn’t. How many people on their friend lists are actually active on Goodreads? How many read ebooks? How many are interested in spending their reading time on an unknown indie author? In my case, about 10% responded with a Yes or Maybe. And even had more responded, giving away ebooks costs me nothing. If you think of every giveaway as a lost sale, I’d recommend changing your thinking.

To each of those people, I sent a PM via Goodreads with the information to get my book with a 100% off coupons via Smashwords. While I had a form letter that I pasted in, I tried to personalize the messages any time someone made a comment in their event response, and I used different messages for those who said Yes or Maybe. I spent a lot of time that week responding to PMs and emails. All totally worth it.

By the way, very few people emailed, PM’d, or left comments to my blog. Most response I got was just saying Yes, No, or Maybe to the invitation (you get notified of each of those by Goodreads). So you’ll want to keep close tabs on that and keep track of your replies. You’ll have a few people who do not accept PMs via Goodreads, and for whom you do not have contact information. I don’t know how they expect you to give them anything, and I’m not sure there’s anything to be done about that.

Did everyone who downloaded a copy give me a review? No, not yet, anyway. I didn’t actually expect 100% on that, yet I was very pleased with how many people have come through with reviews. And think of your own TBR pile. This is going to take some time. Smashwords sends out an email to anyone who downloads a book from there, reminding them to come back to Smashwords and leave a review. I think this was GREAT, in that it reminded people they had my book and were supposed to be reading and reviewing, without me having to ask them. I got a small flurry of reviews at about that time.

The event did get a lot of people adding my book, and it did result in more ratings and reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, and Smashwords than I would have had without having done it. All of this increased the book’s exposure.

Another great outcome of the Goodreads event was that book bloggers hang out there, and they love books! Many of them have to buy a lot of the books they read and review, which gets expensive. So many of my responders were book bloggers! Bonus! I’ve had 15 reviews on individual blogs since Hush Money’s release, as well as a few interviews. It’s hard to approach reviewers when you’ve got no author cred, no publisher validation or reviews backing you up. But the event sort of had them coming to me, in a more low-obligation kind of way than if I gone to them and asked them to review my book for their blog.

Now, I had a lot of people read Hush Money before it was released. Eleven beta readers/proof-readers. Remember that not everyone who is your friend is going to want to read your book, and not everyone who reads and tells you they like it is going to write you a review. It’s all percentages and is not personal. But since I had eleven betas, and they were my friends, when I asked for Amazon reviews as soon as it was live, I got 4 reviews right away. So anyone who came across my Kindle page in the early days had something to look at.

Between those reviews from the betas, and the ones that started to show up after the giveaway, it became a lot easier for me to approach book bloggers and ask for reviews because, in my query, I could link to a page full of positive responses to my book. There have got to be very few book bloggers out there looking for stuff to hate. They want to have some idea that this book is for them, and that they’ll be able to recommend it. Many don’t even write reviews of something they didn’t like, so giving time to a book they don’t like is a waste for them. They want to have the sense that they’re going to like your book before they agree.

At the time of this writing, I’ve had 247 adds on Goodreads (and I think most of those have gone ahead and purchased because the price is low), 15 reviews on blogs, 20 Amazon reviews, 15 on Smashwords, and 29 on Goodreads (38 ratings). All of those, plus tweeting about them by me as well as others, have helped make me more visible.

And visibility is our biggest hurdle, seconded by credibility.

The reason that I consider the Goodreads giveaway event serendipitous, was because it wasn’t something I had planned to do. It was more something that came out of a marketing brainstorm while the book wasn’t really moving in that second week of release. And it’s really been possibly THE best thing I’ve done so far. (Well, after that whole writing a decent book and putting it out thing.)

So I hope it helps some of you as well. Sorry I’ve run long today. I’ll hope you’ll come back next time, when I think I’ll be talking about Blogging and Social Media. If you think other indies might be helped by the ideas in this post, sharing buttons are located below for your convenience. Thanks!

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Filed under book blogs, Hush Money, ideas, Increasing Kindle Rank, self-publishing, Talent Chronicles, tips, writing

Setups, Flawed Characters, Ginger or Maryann?

Last night I finally got my files uploaded for the print version. They’ve been reviewed, and I had a problem with my title page, so I have to get that fixed this morning, and then upload the interior file again. But it seems like that was the only issue, so I might be able to order a proof copy tonight.

This morning I’m doing some thinking about first acts, how I understand them, and how I approach them. What follows may be a lot of me talking to myself, so don’t let all the yous get to you.

For me, the first part of a book is all setup. The actual story, the thing your characters are going to have to work through—you’re not into that yet. In fact, the point where you actually get into that doesn’t even happen until the end of this section.

Now, you can’t just do nothing here. You can’t just go about describing the characters, their environs, their backstories, etc, and not having anything going on to engage the reader. That’s about as much fun as watching someone else play Barbies. There should be something going on, something the reader is going to want to know more about.

So you’ve got a character (or characters) and a something going on. And part of what the reader wants to know is: how is this something going to affect the character? When is she going to a) either become aware of what’s really going on, and/or b) have to deal with this? And then what’s going to happen? While she’s reading on, to get to that moment when things come together and you come to that point of shoving your character through the door into the story world, you’re feeding her lots of important information about the world and the people in it, you’re planting seeds, doing a little foreshadowing, but, most importantly to me, you’re setting up your character arc.

The stories I love best are those in which a character learns and grows, is changed by the events of the story. I think I probably especially love characters who seem a little hard to love when they’re first introduced.

Take Lost’s Sawyer as an example. (Oh, I’d like to.) He’s not a nice man. In fact, he’s a criminal. Not only is he nasty to everyone on the island with the name-calling and the constant lashing out, he also does things like gathering up and “claiming” as many supplies as he can so that he can profit from everyone’s plight. I think there’s a part of Sawyer that remains inherently selfish at the core, which keeps his character consistent. But in a show in which the challenges presented by the island transform many characters, helping them find the inner hero that may lie within all of us, I think Sawyer is the one whose change is the most dramatic, and therefore the most moving. (Or I could be just blinded by the dimple. It happens.)

Spike is another example of this kind of character. Someone who starts off really enjoying the killing, especially of slayers. Until he falls in love with one, and is changed by that love, and by his story into someone who ultimately—does something spoilery that’s pretty selfless. You know what I’m talking about.

So yeah, I guess I’m into that. Characters need to have a starting off point in which they are somehow less that they’re going to be at the end point. And in a series, in which they’re going to appear in more than one story, that means they’ll need even more room to grow.

They have got to be likable in some way, and often, with flawed characters, that’s a matter of empathy. When a reader talks about characters that seem real, what they’re saying is that they felt empathy, they recognized something that they’ve felt, or at least something that they understand, in something that your character feels. There has to be something they connect to. This is why they tell us to make the character care about something.

Spike had Drusilla, for example, showing that he was capable of some kind of love, even if it wasn’t the nicest relationship to watch. Later, he formed the same kind of obsessive attachment to Buffy. And we really got to see how it hurt him, to be so constantly rejected by her, to feel that she was so unattainable, because he was so unworthy. To feel the hopelessness of that obsession, even if one hasn’t been a vampire obsessed with a slayer who won’t have them–a lot of people can still relate to, and be moved by, those kinds of feelings. And that’s what keeps them tied to Spike as he waits for his moment, his opportunities for growth (internal, not always conscious), and to win the Slayer’s affections (external).

But be advised, it doesn’t work for all readers all the time. If you present flawed characters, not everyone is going to connect, empathize, or wait around for them to get better. Sometimes a reader will be so turned off by something your flawed character did or said that, not only will she give up on them, but the book, and you as an author. Our different tastes, experiences, the issues that can pull us in or make us throw the book at the wall, that’s all part of what it is to be human and sentient, and makes all these varied stories possible.

After all, it’s this variation in taste that makes possible questions like:

  • Angel or Spike?
  • Sawyer/Kate or Sawyer/Juliette?
  • Marvel or DC?
  • Ginger or Maryann?

And where would the internet be without that?

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Filed under books, characters, Hush Money, ideas, love, romance, story structure, Talent Chronicles, tips, writing