Category Archives: what not to do

Lessons from the Universe Continue to Plague Me

Some days are just full of headaches and embarrassments.

The headache is mainly just that I’m sick with one of those nasty, painful colds. At least we didn’t have a snow day for the THIRD day in a row. I know I’m not supposed to consider school my babysitter, but come on.

Anyway, I feel terrible about this, like I just have total promo fail. I can’t believe my reach is still so small that I can’t even give away 10 copies of a book. And it may be partly that Imogen and I have been doing cross-promo and she’s already tapped as much of my small network as she’s gonna. And it’s probably also that I had to go our around 12:30 yesterday, didn’t get home until 8pm, and then just crawled into bed, so the PM world didn’t really know about the giveaway. So basically, everyone who commented yesterday wins, and I appreciate it. I’ve already sent those out.

So a friend of mine, who is somewhat down, has written to me with some questions about self-publishing. And like the indie fiend that I am, I’m responding with a long letter, attempting to take advantage of his frustration and bring him over to the Dark Side.

And while I’m doing this, an email I wrote a few weeks ago come back to haunt me.

While I was away for that reunion thing over Thanksgiving weekend, I got this email from the people at BookBuzzr, basically saying: hey, since you’ve been with us, your rank has gone from this to this. Do you know how that happened and have any marketing tips we could share with our readers?

Well, now, you guys know that I am always happy to babble about that stuff, so I did. With my husband tapping his foot, I furiously typed this really long email in which I brain-dumped everything I could think of, most of which you guys have already read. Only, you know, I thought I was just talking one-on-one, and I was pressed for time, and I left out the self-effacing humble stuff that I actual feel, but just didn’t have time for that morning.

So in the middle of what’s supposed to be a kick-ass, indie-rah email to my friend, I get a promo in my inbox that mentions my name in a link. And follow it to the reprint of this previous email.

Now, don’t get all mad on my account. I say I didn’t know it was coming out, but I’m sure it was a misunderstanding on my part and I’m not mad. You’d be AMAZED and frightened by the amount of stuff that goes over my head and that I just plain forget. If you’re one of those writers who goes about in a fog most of the time and makes the absent-minded professor look like Franklin Planner-Man, you know what I’m talking about. (I am, actually, the antithesis of Kait Nolan. And suddenly the Anti-Kait has a ring to it…) But it leaves me sort of nonplussed and kind of embarrassed, and concerned about whether, perhaps, I came off as a big no-it-all with a huge, bloated head. Plus I might have tried to sound more smarter than I do around here, talking with you friends.

The lesson here, for all of us, is to remember to be careful in our communications with others, to pay attention to whether or not we’re projecting what we intend, and that what we say electronically can live on for a long time in ways we didn’t originally expect.

Heroes ‘Til Curfew, for enquiring minds who want to know, is going fairly well this week. I enjoyed the 2500+ words I wrote yesterday from Dylan’s perspective, many of which were written in Burger King, with its wonderful indoor playground. You know, when I mention fast food playland, NO ONE takes their kids to unhealthy places like that. Oh well. Deal. I got words down and no one had to die, and if someone had to suck down some chicken and fries for the cause, so be it.

I have now exercised two days in a row, and three times within a week. Now, I will grant you, it hasn’t been a lot of exercise, but I have turned on the Wii and done something, and I demand at least partial credit for this. Plus, there was water consumed that was not even carbonated. I know, right? But I did it anyway.

That’s it! That’s all the babbling you get for now. I have things to do, tissues to destroy, and vulnerable writers to corrupt, and I must move on.

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15 Comments

Filed under Contests, Heroes 'Til Curfew, Increasing Kindle Rank, Laws of the Universe, links, self-publishing, Talent Chronicles, what not to do, word count, writing

Rantus Interruptus Continuous: In which the Universe has a lesson for me

Arg, I am an idiot.

I do things I know I shouldn’t do, because I know I’m just going to frustrated and pissed off, and that’s just going to make my whiny and depressed. And I have no right to be whiny and depressed.

But then, as I was writing this post about how I wasn’t going to rant about this, the world shifted again. And people, when the Universe gives you a sign, you need to work through what it means. Which is what I’ll be doing, should you choose to continue reading this.

And now that we’ve had THE most confusing beginning to a blog post EVAR, I’m going to go back to the beginning.

Last night, in my email, a Twitter notification of a new follow by @JamiGold. So because Twitter can’t just give me everything I need in the email, I have to actually go to Twitter to read her bio and follow her back. And what’s her latest tweet?

I know, I know! I should never have clicked that. What was I thinking? I was thinking that I should not be clicking that. But I’m just going to peek.

And then it’s scroll scroll scroll through a lot of opinions that are making ZERO sense to me, and I am taking it WAAAAAY too personally. And it wasn’t a mean, nasty angry thing AT ALL. It was just…insensible.

I mean, what I kept reading, over and over, is that because the books aren’t vetted, self-published books aren’t a good risk for these readers. They acknowledge that there might be great indie reads out there, but trad-pubbed books, while not a sure thing, are a safer bet. Ok, yeah, that’s totally logical, if you’re looking at a new trad book vs. a new indie book, all things being equal and no buzz, no reviews, etc. But here we have people saying I wouldn’t buy a book by an indie unless I met them first.

So you can see how this would make me sad. I just don’t get out much.

And the problem is that when I read this stuff I take it whack-job personally. In my head, I’m whining at these people going, what the hell? Compare my sales rank, compare my cover, compare my reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, check out the page of links to blog reviews I have on my website, READ a few pages to see if I’m literate. Judge my book on the things that matter in a book. And then decide if you want to sink the whole 99cents and a few more hours of your time into it.

Maybe it just comes down to this: no one likes to be dismissed. And I think that part of the way these comments touch me is because that feeling of dismissal, that what I can do (write an entertaining book) doesn’t matter because of what I am (an indie author), feels so much like the frustration of being a powerless child.

Here’s what I came to when I decided I wasn’t going to harp on this– and I’m sorry to cuss because that makes me sound angry, but I’m trying to have a personal power moment over here, so indulge me: This shit does not apply to me. Not in some way of I put the awesome IN the mutha-fuckin’ sauce! and this shit don’t apply to me, but more in the way of this is not my readership right now, and their opinions are not relevant in my world right now.

I’m not going to win these readers over by arguing with them. (Oh don’t worry, I didn’t get involved.) There are so, so many literate people in the world today, you guys. Do you know what’s been the most surprising thing to me since publishing? How many non-writing readers are out there embracing indies, supporting indies they love, and how many more just aren’t aware that we’re even out here, that there’s really a difference. If a book looks crappy, they avoid it. If it looks good, they try it. So many readers out there judging books on the book stuff. I think you’ll find, overwhelmingly, that the people who are most negative about indie books are other writers, for whatever their reasons, which are not my business.

Part 2

So yeah, all set to just let this all go and write you this quickie post about how I wasn’t going to rant about what I was going to rant about. And then the Universe stepped in.

Last night, after reading a lot of those disheartening comments I got whiny and tweeted (is there a word for a whiny tweet, like twined?)

A few friends showed up to say cheering things to me, and remind me that I had nothing to be depressed about and I did feel better. And while I was worrying about this crap that I can’t fix, I sold my 3,000th copy of Hush Money and totally missed it. I mean, how far up your ass does you head have to be before you notice you’re being an asshat?

Nevertheless, this morning, I found myself still ticked off enough to be composing a ranty post in my head. Then I got hold of myself, decided to post the Rantus Interruptus instead, and move on with my life. And then, as I was writing this post, @JamiGold shows up. And she says,

And I’m like…Really? Seriously, I was rendered kind of panicked and speechless. Which, if you’re an introvert or social phobic, you might understand. Or if you can imagine Joss’s reaction to, Well heck, Joss, everyone knows who you are. [cue garbled choking sounds]

And also a little…Really? Like, I’m doing this right, this marketing/platform stuff that I was so sure I fail at and would be the ultimate reason for my bookfail?

Oh yeah, dude, it’s totally all dramarama like this in my brain all the time. You do not want to live here.

Ok, so now my brain is totally melted. There are people on Twitter I want to attempt light banter with, but everything’s scrolling by while my mouth is doing floppy fish thing. And @JamiGold says,

(There was one in between where she said she hasn’t read mine yet due to the scary TBR pile from Hell with which we are all familiar.) Wow, Jami, condense all my effort into 140 characters of pure validation. :sucker punch:

No, this is not hyperbole. I’m very emotional. Quit rolling your eyes and embrace this special moment we’re having together, dammit.

Because this is why I decided to tell you the whole story of my stupidity in reading that comment thread. Because we don’t ignore the things the Universe tries to tell us. Especially when the Universe talks via Twitter, because then you really know it means business. Maybe. Whatever. Fine. Have we learned anything?

1. I must not read comment threads about prejudices against self-pubbed books/authors. Evar.

2. Those are not my people. You are my people. Later on, some of those people will hear about my books, be intrigued. They’re NOT the unreasonable people I thought I saw last night. That’s silly. They’re people who love books. They’ll look at my books, at the fabulous cover art, at the reviews, and they’ll judge us on the book stuff. Someday.

3. Until they do that, I’ve got a lot of other things I need to put my energy into. Like getting you guys Heroes ‘Til Curfew. And, to that end, I’m leaving you with a link while I go work on finishing the shit that I started.

The above link is mandatory for all writers, although adult language and beverage warnings do apply.

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Filed under book blogs, books, goals, insecurities, Laws of the Universe, me me me, rant, self-publishing, Signs, what not to do, writing

1000 Sales, Giveaway, Mini Writer Conference, and a Puzzle Piece

Hush Money went over 1000 total sales last night, within 12 weeks of release, and, naturally, I’m very happy about that. I’ve passed my break-even point as far money I’ve put into the book. Next financial goal would be to earn enough to pay for the art and copyright for Heroes ‘Til Curfew.

That’s going a little better, in that I think I’ve figured out why anything I manage to write has been so chock full of suck lately. Now that I know the problem, if I can figure out how to work through it, I should be able to get back to writing like crazy to get this book out by late December/early January.

I was really inspired by our mini conference over the weekend, which some people would call lunch, but whatever. Those of you who follow Kait and Lauralynn will already know that we drove from all directions to a central point to have lunch and spend a few hours talking about writing and indie stuff. Then Lauralynn and I met Zoe, who wasn’t able to make it to the lunch, and spent some time with her, too. I had a lot of fun. More importantly, I have been living so mojo-free since September, that it was a really big deal for me to get inspired by all the writer talk and actually whip out my notebook to jot down some ideas for my WIP when I got home.

The last bit of news I’ve been meaning to come and tell you comes from a lovely email exchange I had with one of my readers who is also an ebook enthusiast, just as I am. Except that, rather than stamp her feet over availability issues like I do, she just has multiple e-reader devices. Possibly this makes her my new hero.

Anyway, I’m not going to clip the email because I neglected to ask her permission, but she told me that she found me in a “Hot New Releases” list on her Kindle. I was on the romance list, on the 41-60 page when she found me, read the excerpt, and bought the book in mid-October. This coincides with the period of crazy sales I had on Amazon at that time.

Thank you, Amazon!

So why did Amazon put me there? Why Amazon does anything could probably be its own In Search Of… style TV series, but my theory here is about reviews. There’s been a rumor going around that 20 is the magic review number that gets Amazon to start recommending your book to others. I don’t know if that’s true. But I looked through my reviews and I can see that I got my 20th review on October 4th, so just after 8 weeks. I had also broken into the top 1000 for the first time by September 28th. Maybe it was a combination of those things that inspired Amazon’s algorithms to choose my book for that list.

I don’t know anything about the list itself, like how long I was on it, how often it updates, etc. I had broken into the top 1000 a two weeks before my reader saw my book on the list, but the sales I had around that time I know I was on it were the days I was firmly in the 600-700 range, when I hit my current best of 623.

Long story short, those reviews really count, and that’s as much of a lesson for readers as it is for writers. If a book made your day, if you want an author you enjoyed to succeed so she can keep writing, an Amazon review is a big deal and something that doesn’t have to take a lot of time.

Writers, make it easy. I should start counting the number of sites and blogs I visit where authors talk about their books and don’t link directly to the book on Amazon, or even mention anywhere one can purchase it. Admittedly, half of these are traditionally published authors who may think facilitating purchases is not their job for some reason. I don’t know. I’m not suggesting pop-up ads (don’t make me hurt you), just don’t make me search. I’ve got a lot on my plate.

[ETA: Now that PubIt! is finally here, a lot of us have been looking to generate more reviews over there for the Nook crowd. If you’d like to copy and paste your Amazon review to the PubIt! listing, I’d be grateful.]

Oh, did I say giveaway? Ok, in honor of the 1000 sales, how about if I send out a signed, paperback copy of Hush Money to someone who leaves a comment between now and October 31st.

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Filed under book review, Heroes 'Til Curfew, Hush Money, Increasing Kindle Rank, self-publishing, Talent Chronicles, tips, what not to do, writing

Love and Romance: Do You Believe in Magic?

Before I get onto this, a few things:

  • Hush Money is featured today at Indie Books Blog
  • It’s doing really well. It broke into the Kindle top 1000 early last week and though it’s fallen out a few times, it’s been holding position fairly well (it’s at #888 while I’m writing this).
  • Coming up, I’m going to have a post on getting to the top 1000 within the first 8 weeks of release, talking about some things I did that I think helped and a series of posts that concentrates on those things in a bit more detail.
  • Still have the Help Me Find My Dylan contest going.
  • You know the paperback is out, right?

And now, on to the post…

When it comes to Love and Romance, I absolutely believe in magic. Here are some things I believe in:

  • Love at first sight
  • True love
  • Fate
  • The idea that there is a perfect mate for every person
  • The idea that you can fall in love in a week, in a day, in a moment

And I’m going to cut that list off there before the sweetness of it gives us all cavities.

For me, these, and similar notions found in romance lit, are true possibilities in our world. Even if some of them haven’t happened for me, I can still believe in them in the same way I can take your word for it that things are made up of molecules, or that the Earth orbits the Sun.

  • I don’t have to experience everything in the world in order for it to be true for someone out there.
  • I know that people experience different things, and experience the same things differently.
  • I WANT to believe.

And so do other people. For a lot of them, that’s why they read romance.

Some people absolutely do not believe. These things haven’t happened for them, or, if they have, they didn’t see it that way. After all, love and romance, like anything good in life, require effort, work. And when you frame love as something purely mystical (which I don’t think it is), it confuses the issue for some people. It’s doesn’t make sense for their somewhat more practical take on matters.

In fiction, a disconnect between author and reader often comes about when the story falls too close to one end of this magic to pragmatic continuum.

You have that story where two characters meet, they feel this immediate, overwhelming attraction, connection, and even things like devotion and intimacy, which possibly should grow and evolve out of what they experience with each other, just kind of magically exist between them. This kind of romantic setup will be accepted by readers far at the magical end of that spectrum, but you won’t go far along the line before readers are finding this weak, thinking the author was a bit lazy in supporting the romantic elements, and the pragmatists are throwing the book at the wall and using words like “tripe.”

For me, the incredibly logical characters can be just as maddening. These are characters who are SO practical, who need everything proven to them, everything spelled out. They can be so unwilling to just feel. To take leaps of faith. Isn’t love worth taking a leap? Sometimes they come across, to magical me, as so ungrateful of the gift they’re being offered in the story. They’re so unwilling to allow themselves to feel within a context that (to me) is supposed to be about feeling.

Just because there are two people with relationship potential, doesn’t make it a romance.

What I’m getting at here, is that there’s a middle ground. A good romance finds it, finds a way to please the widest range of readers. Showing the evolution of a relationship, supporting the True Love and Fate angles with moments that allow the readers to say “this is when she fell for him” (and “oops, I just fell for him too”), deepens the experience of the romance even for the reader who would have accepted the magic of it. Allowing the characters to just feel things because they feel them, even if they need to question those feelings, allowing them to sometimes act on things they don’t quite understand yet, and to just go with the flow once in a while, can create and ebb and flow of tension, rather than frustration for the reader. It can make the characters seem more real, since sometimes people have unguarded moments, sometimes they do take chances, just because they want to, even if it doesn’t make sense.

Romantic elements, unsupported, can seem ridiculous. Characters who approach love like Mr. Spock can be maddeningly unromantic and frustrating.

But in the middle ground, between the ridiculously love-struck and the frustratingly logical, there’s room to create something special, something more than just magical.

Romance.

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Filed under books, characters, love, romance, tips, what not to do, writing

Fire bad, tree pretty, sequel hard

It seems simple enough, right? You already know a bunch of your characters, you’re comfortable in your world, you’ve got a solid story under your belt, and you know what you’re doing, right?

Oh, no. This is not as easy at it looks.

But you knew that, right? I mean, you’ve read enough sequels to know that getting it right is a dicey business.

Here’s my problem with reading sequels: I read them back to back. I hate waiting to find out what’s going to happen next, and waiting six months to a year?? Oh no. Lack coping skills. So yeah, I have to stick my head in the sand to avoid spoilers, especially on the big ones, but it’s a small price to pay. Equal opportunity binge-er here! I also don’t watch TV and instead wait for the entire season or, preferably, series, to be out on DVD before starting to watch the episodes back to back.

Anyway, when you don’t have six months to forget the details, when you’ve just read the book, tossed it aside, and pounced on the next one, eager to find out what happens, re-reading everything you just read is incredibly frustrating. As the ebook trend grows, as “out-of-print” becomes a thing of the past and more people are able to find all the books in a series, in order, whenever they stumble upon it, this will be an issue for even more readers.

The answer, I think, is to start each book like it’s totally new and fresh. Forget about the previous book and every adorable word you put in there, every remarkable moment you lived through with those characters that you want to reminisce about (but suggesting that they want to reminisce). The reader’s here to find out what happens now.

In the first book, when you’re starting out, you know that you’re developing a character for the reader. You’re not dumping her, her vital stats, living arrangements, most traumatic moments, and grocery list on page one. You’re doling out tidbits as you go, as they become relevant to the story.

Well book two? Same goes. The event of book one are now part of the character, part of the backstory of book 2. You know better that to dump a lot of unnecessary backstory into your book, right?

Objection, your Honor! Relevancy?

Now, in case you haven’t figured this out, this is me, talking to myself. Heroes ‘Til Curfew is kicking my butt. What I know about not bogging a story down with irrelevant backstory and useless detail, and what I seem to really want to write, are two different things.

This is way harder than I thought it would be.

I’ve never written a book two before. I’ve never completed a book one I thought was worth following up on before. So now I’m in this whole new world in which I see this whole series of books before me…

This is a skill-set that I seriously need to learn. And I will.

While I work on this, any thoughts? Advice? Commiseration? Are there book twos you’ve just thrown at the wall because you didn’t want to hear about book one anymore?

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Filed under Heroes 'Til Curfew, Hush Money, story structure, Talent Chronicles, tips, what not to do, writing

Indies: Why I haven’t read your book

The #1 reason is simply that I haven’t found it yet. But since I shop a lot and meet with a lot of buyer frustration, I thought I’d make a list of the most common reasons why I don’t click the buy button. You may have your reasons, and that’s your business. This is one person’s experience and what you do with the info is up to you.

Preface: I’m an avid ebook enthusiast and I DO NOT OWN A KINDLE! Clutch the pearls, I know! You just don’t even know what to do with that one, do you? The fact is that there are a number of people who, for whatever reason, pass on the Kindle in favor of other ebook device brands. These brands include, but are not limited to: Sony, Nook, Kobo, iPad, Cybook… In fact, let me just link you to a list of examples. As far as I know, Kindle is the only dedicated reader device that reads the secure (DRM protected) Amazon format(s).

With ebook sales currently representing such a small percentage of the total book market, I am constantly asking myself why indie authors choose to alienate any part of that population by not offering their books in other formats.

So, we’re already into the list:

#2. You DRM’d your book on Amazon. Amazon has become THE place to shop for indie reads, without question. I go there first. And I try to buy there because I think that buying your book in Kindle format helps your rankings there which will ultimately be more helpful to you than if I buy it elsewhere.

But I can’t buy it there if you DRM it. In the details, it must read “Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited”. That’s the only way I’m going to be able to convert it to a format my reader can use after I buy it. And if I wanted to read it on my PC, I would hardly have dropped a couple hundred bucks on a device, would I? And I’m a reader, not Gadget Girl. I’m not about to run out and tie myself to a cell phone contract, with an extra $15-$30/mo tacked onto it, to get a phone I can’t figure out, so that I can read your book on its dinky display. (Yes, the next shock, I neither have nor want an iPhone.)

#3. You’re not on Smashwords. That’s usually the next place I go to see if you’ve got other formats available someplace else. I search the title first, and then the author. I usually don’t find what I’m looking for.

(If DRM is the deal-breaker for you, if this “protection” is what keeps you from offering your book to ALL ebook device owners, I urge you to do two things: read up on some of what Joe Konrath has to say about ebook piracy on his blog, The Newbies Guide to Publishing [here’s one link, but there are more], and poke around MobileRead forum to see what formats have already been broken [um, all of them?]. Understand that the pirates don’t care about DRM because they’re the ones who CAN and DO break everything. You’re only keeping your books out of the hands of those who wanted to pay you. Do not flame my comments, because I do not want to argue about piracy.)

#4. Rarely, but it does happen, I will do a web search for you and your book, in hopes that you have a website at which you offer your book for free download (ok, I can hope), or offer the various formats through a service like Payloadz.

#5. Your book is too expensive. It’s not about what your work is worth, it’s about my budget. (It’s not you, it’s me.) We’ve gotten past the auto-no part of the list that’s just about availability, but now you’ve priced yourself out the market–the market of me, anyway. What I want to spend on an unknown is $.99. I will spend up to $2.99. I probably won’t spend more.

I rarely spend over $5. If I do, it’s because someone else really liked your book and told me I have to read it, or there was something so incredibly intriguing about the concept that I pretty much had to. But that is sooooo rare. Seriously, if you’re not selling like hotcakes, please don’t count on this. A 70% royalty x no sales = $0. A 35% royalty on $.99 is more than that.

What if you got me to read that first book for $.99? What if I bought your next 3? What if I told my friends?

(Those of you who have given your books over to epublishers who are trying to price you like NY books, while not making you look like NY books…I’m sorry. It’s just too high. If I wanted to pay that, I’d buy from an established name.)

#6. Your blurb/product description didn’t grab me. More than likely, if I take a pass on your book because of the product description, it’s because it actually turned me off. Maybe it wasn’t well-written. Maybe it failed to describe the story or made it seem like you and I wouldn’t be a writer/reader match. Often I see product descriptions that look like the author just didn’t try.

#7. I couldn’t get through the excerpt/sample. Now, I do a lot of impulse buying, but I’m really trying to get in the habit of taking the time to read at least a page or two of the free samples provided. This will save me a lot of pain. I’ll admit that I read and pay attention to the excerpts A LOT more when the price is higher than $.99. Because that purchase is a bigger decision.

This is finally where it gets to the point about your work. It may not be that I think it’s “bad”. Sometimes I just feel that it’s not for me. If your language is the really…flowery or purple, if it feels overwritten to me, or clumsy, or drags… These are things that make me suspect I’m not going to enjoy the book and it’s going to be a pass for me. I do the same thing to paperbacks in the bookstore when I can, so you’re getting equal treatment.

#8. Only after all that do I even get down to the reviews. Seems odd because reviews are something I go to right away for trad published books. And part of that is because trad published books are all pretty much equally available to me through various outlets, priced at about the same rate, generally have more compelling descriptions, and may or may not have excerpt material. I read reviews of trad published books because, again, the price makes the purchase a much more significant buying decision and I need to be careful about it.

To be honest, I’m hardly buying any trad pubbed books since the Agency pricing model for ebooks put the smackdown on discounting and made trad pubbed books in my price range practically extinct. I’m getting a lot more of my reading from the library than I was before Agency pricing. (The library and Adobe DRM support: the reason I don’t own a Kindle, now you know.)

Last word on reviews: by the time I’m looking at reviews, I’m looking for reassurance and a reason not to buy.

Other factors:

Cover art- A lot of people say professional cover art is a big deal. It’s not so much, for me, but I know it is for a lot of people. If your cover is really good, it may have a better shot at grabbing me. I don’t know.

Length- I like to know how long the book is, and I’m more likely to buy if I know the word count and what I’m getting into. The likelihood of me buying an indie novel over 100K words is very small. I prefer shorter novels, between 50K and 100K. I have a hard time believing that novels over 100K won’t be full of tangents, thoughtologue, redundancy, and an overall lack of editing and author attachment to every precious word. Maybe yours is different, but it’s probably not for me. I’ve read too much filler in the realm of “full-length” traditionally published novels.

Paper only!- Again, an availability issue. I understand why indie books cost what they do, and I do not hold that against you. But I won’t take that kind of risk with my money. Plus, I don’t want to read paper anymore. I’m in the process of getting rid of my paper books. The only thing I buy in paper anymore is manga/comics, some non-fiction stuff, and books for my little one. There’s just no way I’m spending $15-$20 on a book. But if you put it up in an eformat, at a reasonable price…

If I like your book, I will tell my friends. I’ll probably leave you a review. Maybe post about it somewhere. If you have other stuff, I’ll probably buy it all up.

If you can refrain from arguing with me about DRM and piracy (understand that I do so rabidly detest DRM, and how I feel it’s being used by the distributors to manipulate me as a consumer, and offers you, the author, no substantial protection against piracy–I actually can’t talk about it without getting worked up, so I won’t), I would love to hear why you’re in print only, or only in Kindle format, or how and why you chose your price point, etc.

And for readers, what makes you pass on books? What’s your price-point? What device are you using?

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Blueprint Series part 12: Fleshing Out Part 4

You know what you need to bring your story to a conclusion, but how are you going to make that into a whole quarter of your story? Does it have to be? We’re going to talk about that and some other stuff today as we work prepping part 4 of your story. (Click here for part 1 of this series on story development.)

To answer my own question above, my personal opinion: No, your 4 parts do not have to be equal quarters and your Part 4 doesn’t have to be quite as long as Part 2 or Part 3. But neither should it be so truncated that it seems a lot shorter.

This is one of the many balancing acts we face in writing. Your final act should be that exciting thrill ride we talked about yesterday, full of jarring impacts and forward motion. But it also should not be over so quickly that your reader feels she’s just invested hours in a build-up to something that was over too quickly. That’s a risk if you move from your SPP directly to your final showdown against the antagonist. At the same time, if there’s a long and complicated sequence of events to set up that showdown, your risk slowing everything down and disappointing your reader in a different way.

I just thought I’d throw some worries at you while you think through this, because I’m mean like that. As you’re outlining, you may find that you have more scenes or fewer scenes in your Part 4 than you did in other parts. Maybe it will take you more words to describe all that action, and that will maintain your balance. Hopefully you’ll be writing your climax using the kind of exciting language that will make it a fast read, make your reader power through to keep turning pages to see what happens, and that will provide the balance you need.

What you do not want to do here, is to plan a lot after your exciting climax. Don’t you DARE make me walk back to the Shire with you. Seriously. I’ll go home with your character to see how it all worked out, to see her get her reward, but I don’t need another journey right now, and I certainly don’t want another adventure of any kind.

I’ve got my post-victory buzz on. Don’t bring me down, man.

So let’s look at the Blueprint…

Step 12: Fleshing out part 4

  1. What is the climax of the story?
  2. How do the characters come to terms with their inner demons?
  3. Are there any loose ends to tie up?
  4. What is the happily ever after moment?

Not a lot of questions to work with there, but, at this point, you don’t need them. There is nothing extraneous in your climax. It deals with setting up the antagonist and knocking him down. And to do this, the protagonist overcomes her inner demon, that thing that’s been holding her back all along. It’s her grit, determination, and what she’s made of herself through the training that living through this story has given her, that allow her to win. Not luck, not some guy (unless he’s a co-protag and she saves him right back), not some kind of out of nowhere magic. Your protag saves the day and defeats her foe. She couldn’t have done it back when we met her, but she’s a different person now. Right?

Do you have any loose ends to tie up? Any subplots that need resolving, mysteries to be explained, identities to be revealed Scooby-Doo style? Like I said above, once you’ve impacted the reader with the emotion of the win, getting to THE END as quickly as possible is usually best for everyone. Every page she has to turn after that risks diluting the emotional high she paid for in the book price and hours invested in reading.

(It’s probably obvious that I don’t believe in epilogues. Epilogues that do not advance the series are most often gratuitous frolicking in the story world for an author who just doesn’t want to let go yet. Some readers also don’t want to leave the story world and these characters, and enjoy a drama-free scene of martial bliss 9 months later or whatever. Put it on your website and give those readers a reason to check that out and look at your other projects. The only epilogue type I favor is one with the purpose of dropping a seed that will grow into the next book. Horror movies are good at that type of final scene, but then, making you uncomfortable is the point of a horror movie. And making you feel WIN! is the point of romance, IMO.)

What’s your Happily Ever After moment? You’ve just saved the world from a monstrous, soul-sucking demon from hell? What are you going to do next? This is where you give the protagonist her reward, or the clear promise of it, for all her hard work through the story. Because what’s harder than changing and growing? Sometimes part of this moment in your story is about your protagonist realizing what she’s learned and how she’s changed, especially in stories for younger readers who expect that moral of the story, -what we’ve learned from this after school special- type moment. Often stories end with a punch line. This isn’t so much a joke (although it is often humorous and further breaks reader tension) as a bit of an emotional punch, and is often particularly affected when it is seeded throughout the story in some way.

It seems like we’re done (except for writing), but I still have at least one more thing I want to talk about. Tomorrow I’m going to talk about Battling Threads in your story, and how you might consider dealing with your subplots. Even if you don’t plan to add a subplot, there are still threads of different types that weave in and out of your main action story, and it’s important not to leave them hanging or let them grow into a tangle that impedes your main plot.

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Blueprint Series Part 9: Fleshing Out Part 1

Thanks for visiting part 9 of the series. We’re really going to start fleshing out your story this week. In keeping with the 4-part structure we’ve been discussing, we’ll be going over one story section each day and working on some of the things that will help you build your outline. I’ve added a section into the Blueprint that deals with following up with your different threads and subplots. Check the download page to get the latest version. And if you’re just finding the series, click here for part 1.

Step 9: Part 1

  1. What is the hook or question that happens within the first few scenes?
  2. How will you introduce the hero? What will allow the reader to connect with the hero?
  3. How will you introduce the heroine? What will allow the reader to connect with the heroine?
  4. When and how do the hero and heroine meet?
  5. What is the theme(s) of the story?
  6. How will you allude to the theme(s) in Part 1?
  7. What events will you foreshadow and how?
  8. What are the hero’s inner demons? How will you show that?
  9. What are the heroine’s inner demons? How will you show that?
  10. What’s at stake for the hero? When the FPP happens what does he have to gain and lose?
  11. What’s at stake for the heroine? When the FPP happens what does she have to gain and lose?
  12. Are there other characters introduced in Part 1 who will continue through the story? List them, their relationships to the characters, their functions in the story.
  13. How does the FPP come about?
  14. How does the FPP unveil the antagonistic force?

Part one of your story is all about setup. It’s showing us what your character’s life is like before everything changes and she is pulled into the story proper. This is the place where you’re really doing a lot of planting and foreshadowing. You’re showing us what your characters want and need, what they’re afraid of. You’re planting elements that seem like background now, but may become oh-so-important later. When the FPP comes around at the end of part 1, a lot of these pieces will take on new significance for the reader, as she will automatically be in a position to understand how the FPP changes everything. She’ll know, without having it spelled out in exposition, what your character has to gain, what she’s afraid to lose, and why she must move forward into her story. Because you’ve shown all that in your setup.

Opening Hooks: Questions are important to me at the beginning of a story. What will happen next? Will she or won’t she? Why does she feel that way? How did this circumstance come about? What kind of a world is this, where things like this are possible? … Whatever it is, the books that really draw me into a story are the ones that give me some kind of a question that makes me want to turn the page and find out more.

Perversely, nothing turns me off of a story like feeling strung along and left in the dark. There’s a balance between creating intrigue and creating reader confusion. Good critique partners and beta readers will be invaluable to you in deciding if you’ve done your job right. For now, just remember throw the reader some breadcrumbs and answer some of these questions while you create others.

Getting readers invested: Readers follow your story by identifying with, and investing emotionally in, you characters in some way. Figure out what it is about your characters that will make your reader root for them and want them to succeed, whether it’s some need or trait we all tend to have in common, or something compelling that your character really cares about and needs to accomplish. Once you’ve figured out what that is, remember to find a way to show (not tell) it in your setup.

Theme: Some people hate the idea of theme. I love it. I believe in it. And no, I don’t believe writers always have a theme when writing or planning, but theme emerges all the same. I can usually find one in anything that’s been worth reading. It’s really about the question What is this story about? and the answer that doesn’t just summarize the plot. It could be about finding your place, discovering or embracing who you are, the places where Truth hides–this is the place to think a bit dramatically, I suppose. It’s about what you’re saying, beyond simply telling a series of events. It’s about why you’re passionate about telling this story. You may not know what your theme is at this point, but once you find it, you’ll be able to craft details and dialog to enrich the thematic experience for the reader.

Inner Demons: This goes back to your character arc stuff. These are the things your character needs to get over in order to win at the end of the story. In your setup, you can choose to show us what the character is afraid of and why, or you can save the why for later. You can present us someone who’s so distrustful of others that he’s never going be able to be the kind of team player your characters need to achieve the story goal. You can show us someone who is so beaten down by past failures that they can’t even conceive of trying again. Lots of different kinds of demons to slay out there.

Stakes: FPP’s Happen. Should be a bumper sticker. When yours happens, what’s at stake for the character? She must move forward. Why? What will happen if she doesn’t? What will she gain if she succeeds in gaining the story goal? Of course, she’s reluctant to go forward. Why? What will she lose if she tries and fails? Set it up and show us, so you don’t have to tell us.

Other Characters: Since these are notes you’ll be using to develop your part 1 scenes, it’s a good idea to list all the players you need to introduce, so that you can start thinking about at least giving them a mention or a walk-on in your setup.

FPP: If you don’t have some kind of an idea of how your First Plot Point happens by now, you really should. This is the most important moment of your story. The moment that makes it a story. If you’ve got no idea how it happens, make figuring that out a priority.

You might have introduced your villainous character somewhere in your setup. At the FPP, something else is revealed about him. He’s not just the mean, he’s evil. He’s not just greedy, he’s a demon (literally). He doesn’t just casually hate your main character, he actually has a plan in place to destroy her.  What new thing about the antagonistic force are you going to show the reader through the FPP?

There are a lot of questions to think through here, but that’s what makes Part 1 the easiest chunk to put together. By the time you get all of this stuff answered, it pretty much builds itself. Good luck with it.

Tomorrow, we’ll be on to fleshing out the first half of the middle.

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“Yeah, I saw that in 6 music videos and a Gap ad.”

Ok, maybe that’s not exactly what SJP said in “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”, but if you know what I’m talking about then you know that it’s more about how she said it and that what she was saying was: dude, that dance move is so played.

So I’m talking about cliches.  God do I have reader fatigue.  And it’s not fair because I love to read.  Now I understand that “we’re in the middle of a like totally wasted decade; all the great themes have been used up, turned into theme parks…”  Actually, that was last decade, wasn’t it?

Anyway, make it new!

Do not, under any circumstances, think that it’s ok to take a played plot from one genre and plunk it down into another with barely anything changed.  It’s just not.

On a related topic–related to what I spent 3 hours reading today before just plain giving up–

Food fights and throwing each other into creeks is not conflict.

Middles full of fluffy scenes like that are so not what I want to read, and when the blurb promises that the book is going to be about something, it’s just all the more annoying.  Marshmallow filling in the middle is for Twinkies, not for novels.

But then, maybe some people are into that.  I don’t know.  Or maybe, like me, they just keep reading anything in search of something good, and just anything keeps getting published with the knowledge that people like us just keep reading.

/rant.

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You lost me.

I LOVE my library’s online audiobook program.  I just wish they had MORE.  For the most part, everything you want to read is wait-listed.  Today I found myself without a book to listen to while I worked on my sewing stuff, and so I browse the available titles in Romance.

Of course, when the website says Romance, they really mean Women’s Fiction, and so there’s always the possibility that I will unwittingly stumble upon the dreaded Chick Lit which…just don’t get me started.  If you love it, great for you.  It’s not what I enjoy reading and I’d like to a clear indication up-front if something’s going to be romance or some meandering heroine’s journey with a romance on the side.

So anyway, to try to make myself try new authors, when I don’t have any waitlisted reads that have become available, I choose something I’ve never heard of from the available titles and do my best to read it.  My Chick-Lit sensor started blaring as I read the description, but I really needed to just choose something and get on with my work, so I stopped dithering and downloaded.  After all, maybe I’d be pleasantly surprised.

This book starts out with a prologue about a young girl having a traumatic experience.  From there, Chapter 1 says Five Years Later, and starts with the heroine on an airplane.  The heroine is obviously not the girl.  No connection with the girl or the prologue scene is obvious.  What is this story about?

Fully half an hour into the reading, I still don’t know.  I’m JUST finding out where the plane is going, and once the heroine lands and continues her journey to the spot where she’s headed (for no concrete reason) the author finally gets around to the general and not great reason why the heroine has chosen this place she’s going for R&R.  What does the heroine want?  I still don’t know.  And because I don’t know–I don’t care.  I don’t care about the several year history of the relationship she was in with the guy she wasn’t really into, and I don’t really care about her career.

What I do care about is that I can’t go through another 13 hours of listening to this, even if it’s just playing in the background while I work.  And I think that says something about my tolerance–or intolerance–for absolutely killing a beginning with backstory and not letting the reader in on even a hint of what this story is going to be about.

It’s like talking to one of those people who wants to babble on incessantly to hear themselves speak, but really has nothing to say, only you don’t realize it until it would be impolite to just walk away in mid-sentence.  And it’s also kind of like talking to one of those people who wants to play I’ve got a secret! and wants you to beg to be let in on it.

I don’t have to be grabbed by throat in the first line, but please don’t expect me to take it on faith for half an hour that at some point this really will be a story and not a backstory.

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