Stronger Together

Stronger Together

A poem – I wrote this today, it is a free verse poem and may come across best if you read it aloud, or imagine me or someone reading it aloud. I’m not looking for hugs or well wishes. I just … just check on your introverts and ask them, honestly, what they need. Because chances are, if they have kids at home, or extended family in the house they’re stuck in, they’re frazzling just as bad as the extroverts.

—  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —

Stronger together until the ties that bind us becomes the rope I hang by

Until the fabric of our close-knit society becomes the blanket that smothers me

The funeral shroud

And even then

Even dead

I’ll know the peace and quiet

Of honking horns

Stronger together until I just can’t take it and I’m screaming until my throat is bloody and raw

LEAVE ME ALONE

Alone to think to dream to learn to BREATHE

But it’s easy you’re an introvert you like staying home

Until home becomes full to overflowing and I am tired of swimming and I drown

There is no quiet

There is no peace

There is no alone

And everything exhausting about the world the outside the TOGETHER has come home

My home

My space

My heart beating too fast too often as I struggle to maintain composure

Too many feelings to silence too many toes to avoid stepping on too many buttons to avoid pushing

Silenced

Self-censored

Don’t tell them you —- their —– or wish they’d —– their —- and —— you —–

You might offend someone

Stronger together until I’m ready to move to the tip top of a mountain and stay there wrapped in my tears and my thoughts and my hard won peace until my mind and heart finally reset and I can come down and deal with together

 

A Different Kind of Diversity

I’m seeing this discussion on the YA Twitter feeds this morning and want to put in my 2 cents. But I hate typing on my phone and it’s a long rant so here I am on my blog instead.

The discussion is about how YA books are skewing too old/mature currently. This means that the content tends to be aimed at 17-19 year olds instead of 14 year olds. Middle Grade fiction tends to be aimed at 8-13 year olds, with younger MG aimed at 8-10 and older MG aimed at 10-13. The biggest difference there is age of protagonist and reading grade level.

YA is supposed to cover 14-19ish and NA (New Adult), in my opinion covers 17+. Again, difference should be age of protagonists (YA has 14-21 year old characters while NA tends to have 19-35 year old protagonists). There’s also a difference of theme with YA covering first crushes, first dates, first kisses, first jobs, high school drama, identity seeking, trust issues, and developing independence (and however these translate into fantasy settings). NA deals with college or post-college, first steps towards a career, first serious relationship, coping with increased financial and personal independence, paying bills, and adulting (and however these translate into fantasy settings).

There are several problems with this.

  1. Age does not directly correlate to reading level.
  2. Grade level does not directly correlate to reading level.
  3. Age alone does not determine the content maturity level kids and teens are ready for.
  4. Which means that grade/reading level does not at all correlate to content maturity level.

There are 12 year olds who were bored to death with Babysitter’s Club (which features 12-15 year old characters in the lead roles) and there are 12 year olds who loved them. I worked with 14 year olds who were reading at an adult level and 17 year olds who were reading at a grade 8 level. That 17 year old doesn’t want to read about little kids going on dorky adventures – they want to read about their peers doing relevant things but they need the words on the page to be easier. (We had specially written books called Hi-lo. High interest, low reading level. … oh, right – I worked as an educational assistant for about 3 years).

As a reader, I was reading Stephen King at 12. And Poe. And Agatha Christie. I was reading Laurel K Hamilton before I was 18. (I watched Clive Barker’s Hellraiser at 15).

As a writer I’m acutely aware that there are teens with a high reading level who don’t necessarily want graphic content so I write clean books that will appeal to 12 year olds with a high reading level, 14-18 year olds with a standard or high reading level, and adults looking for quick fun reads. I also write MG sci-fi that will appeal to 9-10 year olds with an advanced reading level, 11-12 year olds with an average reading level, and 13-15 year olds looking for easier reads that are still exciting. I do that by blending reading level (grade level) with higher or lower content maturity levels.

While a lot of this debate deals with content maturity levels (like 8 year olds reading about periods or 12 year olds reading about college life) and whether or not content of a certain level will even interest kids of certain ages (FYI, majority of teens/kids want to read about their peers so 1 year younger to 5 years older than the target reader), a big part of the discussion centers on graphic content. Sex to be exact.

Are the characters having sex at all even if it’s not shown “on screen”? If the answer is yes, it is no longer MG fiction but clearly YA.

Are the characters having sex that is shown “on screen”? That skews it in the adult mind to older teen fiction.

To be clear, there are differing levels of graphic depiction. You can write a sex scene that centers on emotions, on the awe and wonder, the newness, the excitement, the raw nerves, the awkwardness, the buzz afterwards, or the regret, or the shame, or whatever suits your story. You can write a sex scene where you never talk about what the penis is doing at all. And you can write a sex scene that sounds like the “Audio captioning for the visually impaired” track for a porno, with great physical details of their bodies, their actions, their emotions, their physical feelings, the sweat, the passion … (I ghost wrote erotic fiction for a while). There’s a big difference in how authors can handle it.

Personally, I’m okay with sex being a part of stories for younger teens. I’m not okay with 18+ porno style depictions of sex being a part of stories for younger teens. And I’m not okay with anything for younger teens that shows abusive relationships, gas lighting, or irresponsible sexual behaviours in a positive light. But that may be me as a parent speaking.

I’m working on a new teen contemporary drama, and it involves a teen pregnancy. Several of the major characters are navigating dating and sex as part of their story arcs. Some of them are in dangerous, red-flag relationships. And it’s up to me to decide how graphic or prevalent these scenes and arcs will be. And it’s up to me as an indie to market my book to an appropriate age group.

Honestly, I think YA books were previously marketed to an older audience than they should have been (meaning, books for 12 year olds were being pushed on 14 year olds). I think our current YA content and marketing is more accurate, especially considering things like the #metoo movement, climate change, a global pandemic, gun violence in schools, and teen pregnancy. Our teens are living in complicated times – they need fiction that reflects that, not fiction that reflects a rosy Leave it to Beaver world. (They need good role models and happy endings, of course, but they need characters they can relate to as well).

What we expose our children to is always a razor’s edge balancing act. We cannot overshelter them or censor them but at the same time we must guide them, educate them, prepare them, and protect them.

We’re not going to get it right overnight.

The 2020 Supportive Creative Challenge

I have a challenge for you. Yes you. You artists, photographers, novelists, poets, playwrights, actors, sculptors, potters, creators of all stripes. I have a challenge for you.

When was the last time you gave another creator a shout out? Why? How many? On what platform? When was the last time you recommended a fellow local creator? A small-timer? An ‘I’m just starting out’ friend? An indie?

It’s late fall and everywhere professional organizations are releasing best-of lists and honouring folks with awards and accolades. Best photos, best art installations, best novels … are they really? Or are they just the best ones to be noticed? The best ones with lots of financial backing? The best of the ones with professional distribution and media attention?

I belong to a non-profit author’s collective. We’re supposed to support each other. We’re supposed to offer each other advice and assistance so new authors don’t get scammed, so we don’t publish with horrible blurbs or ugly covers, so we can split the costs and risks of promotional ventures. We’re supposed to shine a light on each other so more readers can find us. And too often I feel like I’m holding all the candles.

I’m burning out.

It’s my job to find events, pay the fees, find authors to split the costs, coordinate people coming and going from events, set up times, displays, and so on. It’s my job to post people’s readings and launches to the public page, to say “hey, there’s a new release here, check it out”, to add people’s covers and links to their albums so their books are visible. I share events. I invite people. I walk from table to table at conventions and invite new authors to join us.

I love my job. I signed up for this. I volunteer to do this. And everyone I work with is full of thanks and gratitude, and for the most part, they are polite, cooperative, and on the ball. (And since I know a few will pop over to read this, I honestly have ZERO complaints about the work I have done on the group’s behalf these last 5 years).

I’m not saying any of this to complain. I’m not. I do my job and I don’t expect others to do it for me. What I’m talking about here is the above and beyond. I’m talking about the Tweet that went across my feed today asking for #canlit recommendations, the one I retweeted with my own list of local 2019 releases attached. I’m talking about the threads in writing groups asking for favourite authors, new release recommendations, favourite book you read this month, etc., the ones I respond to ONLY with the names and titles of local indie authors, or indie authors I chat with online on a regular basis. I’m talking about having a reader in front of me at a convention and writing SOMEONE ELSE’S NAME on the back of my business card so they can check out an author who isn’t me. I’m talking about loading every new release by every author friend I have onto my grandmother’s tablet every other week because she’s a voracious reader and a random $2.99 ebook sale on someone’s dashboard might be the difference between them writing the next book or giving up.

So, when was the last time you did something like this? When someone asks you to recommend a photographer, do you pull out the big-business’s information or the up-and-comer? When someone asks you for reading recommendations do you repeat what Oprah said or do you suggest someone local, someone self-published? Do you buy your friend a mass-produced print from Target for their house warming or a print by a local photographer?

Maybe it’s just the way I grew up. We had paintings and prints and art in our house, the majority of it by local artists we found at flea markets and street festivals. The giant oil painting in the living room was done by my friend’s father. It’s brilliant. I don’t think he ever got a gallery showing. He deserved one. We bought locally authored books from small presses long before self-publishing started. We frequented small, locally-owned stores over chain stores long before #buylocal got a hashtag. We went to indie muscians’ CD release parties and stopped to talk to authors sitting at the book store with a table full of books to sign. I grew up valuing local, and indie, and handmade. I want to share that with others.

So, what’s the challenge?

I want you, Dear Creator, to boost other creators. I want you to spend 2020 lifting other people up. I want you to seek out “what should I read next” posts and list self-published authors as recommendations. I want you to tag your artist/photographer/crafter/maker friend in every post that might land them a client. I want you to review local short films and local music videos and locally authored books. I want you to visit local coffee shops and shop at local Mom and Pop shops.

Challenges are supposed to have a number, right? Something catchy? 20 in 2020?

I honestly don’t care about a number or a catchy title. I want you to put your favourite creators and artists and authors on blast. I want to start word of mouth wildfires. I want you to push yourself. Do 20 in the year. Do 20 every month. Do 20 every week. Do what your time and energy and budget will allow for. Help as many people as you are capable of.

We’re all awesome at sharing #shoplocal memes. Now lets support local in more active ways – share, recommend, review, buy when possible, show up when possible, and help shed some much deserved light on as many awesome creators as possible.

Who’s with me?

Race to the Bottom

Race to the Bottom is a phrase that is most often associated with rapidly decreasing prices or quality controls within an industry. As it applies to write, it can refer to book prices, book quality, and burn out.

 

“If it’s not free it costs too much.” With the advent of e-books, followed closely by independent publishing platforms, we’ve seen a steady drop in e-book prices. A lot of readers won’t pick up an ebook by a new or unknown author for more than $2.99.

The way I see it, a book’s price should reflect its length more than anything else. 99 cents is great for a novella or for an introductory offer (say, the first book in a series).

$2.99 is minimum for a full-length YA or adult novel (so, 250 6×9 pages if it was a paperback). For writers, this is roughly 65,000 words. $4.99 is still decent for this length. I often pay five and six dollars for an ebook without batting an eye. It’s still half the price or less than the paperback.

$9.99 is about the most I will pay for an e-book unless it’s a monster (400+ pages, dense text).

Really, you should charge no more than 50% of your paperback price for your ebook. Yes, you have editing costs and cover design costs, but that 50% mark puts prices at a reasonable place for both writers and readers.

Sadly, a lot of readers look at $4.99 on an ebook by an indie author and balk.  They email authors and ask when the book will be available for free giveaway. They go to places like Quora and ask for links to free books. (And users on Quora are happy to provide links to pdfs of popular books for free. And Quora doesn’t care one bit that its platform is being used to pirate books.)

This leaves writers in a bind. How do we compete? I don’t have a well-known name like Stephen King or JK Rowling. I don’t have a publisher’s stamp of approval, or a publisher’s distribution network, or a publisher’s marketing budget. A lot of indie authors look at this situation and think, “The only way I can compete is to be cheaper, more readily accessible to the reader,” and that’s sound logic – if consumerism worked that way.

I understand where readers are coming from – poorly edited indie books, indie books with bad plots, book stuffers, it all leaves a bad taste in the reader’s mouth. They don’t want to spend their money on a product that may or may not be satisfactory, in production value or entertainment value. Short of adding “this book has seen 5 rounds of copy edits” to the description, what can the writer do to prove to readers their book is worth taking a chance on?

There are no easy answers. Contrary to what a lot of book coaches and marketing gurus will tell you, there is no fast track, no one-size-fits-all solution, no magic wand or magic hashtag. I do have a few ideas, but they’re slow, they require a lot of people to get on board, and they smell an awful lot like work and waiting.

  1. Value yourself, your work, and your brand. That means taking pride in how you present yourself to potential readers (a clean, easy to use website or blog, well-produced covers, good response time to comments and queries), but it also means setting your prices at an appropriate place (high enough to say ‘I have value’ but low enough that the reader doesn’t feel ripped off).
  2. Produce quality work. Get a beta reader or three. Get an editor, a paid professional. Take the time to polish your work instead of rushing to publish. The only way we can change the reader’s mind about the quality of indie work is to change the quality of indie work – let’s make the crappy stuff the minority. Make sure your interior formatting, be it for paperback or ebook, is professional and to industry standards.
  3. Review everything you read. Even if you just leave a star rating, it helps. And this goes for readers and writers both. If something is good, review it. Put in your review “this book was clean of technical errors” or “the editing was really good too” so other readers know they’re not wasting their money on garbage. And if you find a book with a lot of errors, here’s the polite way to write that in a low-star review: “I feel this book could benefit from further edits” or “It feels like the author rushed to release this book and did not take the time to make it the best it could be”. Again, this alerts future readers to poor quality products. Indie authors don’t answer to the traditional gatekeepers, so we need new gatekeepers, and reviews is one way to provide that. Keep your comments polite, to the point, and professional.
  4. Be a mentor and an advocate. If you are a member of a writer group or two, or if new writers seek you out for advice, emphasize how important the editing is. Let’s teach this to every up-and-coming hopeful author – HIRE AN EDITOR. There is no skipping this step, there can be no cutting corners here. Also, stress the need for professional covers. This goes with point 1. Let’s teach new writers to have pride in their work and their brand.
  5. Be respectful of costs. Editing and cover art cost money if you want the job done right. Just as we want readers to pay fair prices for our finished books, so too must we be willing to pay a fair price to the people who work for us – editors and artists. Familiarize yourself with the Editorial Freelance Association rates and respect people who follow these rates in their pricing. Share information on professional artists and editors instead of advising people to visit fiverr and other such sites (because these are causing a similar race to the bottom in editing and art that is frustrating our fellow creators and freelancers).
  6. If you edit or ghostwrite – charge fair prices. Value your work, don’t undercut other freelancers, and demand a fair wage for what you do. As a ghostwriter, I was making less than a penny a word and I was still being undercut.

This is an uphill battle for all of us on all sides of this. The economy isn’t great. Everyone with a love for books thinks they can be an editor and everyone with photoshop thinks they can make covers and that floods the market with cheap options that undercut professionals and make it easy to resent people who want to make a living doing what they are trained to do. If we stick together, work with professionals who value themselves and us, and refuse to cave to the “free or cheap” consumer mentality, maybe, just maybe, we can salvage the indie e-book industry before we’re all reduced to monkeys at typewriters.

World Building Part 2 – Building Setting

Much of your world building is going to help you build your settings, the concrete places in which the scenes of your story will take place. Yes, in part, this is the countries and continents you’re building, but more specifically it’s the church buildings, the towns, the castles, the forest camps, and other such sets.

Not only is setting individual, concrete locations, but also the concrete, specific details that we choose to describe these locations. Saying ‘a forest’ is one thing. Saying ‘a dark, dense forest of ancient oaks’ is far more interesting. Use tight, specific, direct language when crafting your setting. This will help create a vivid sense of place, and, if you choose carefully, can help you avoid info dumps.

As writers build fantasy and science fiction settings they borrow from real world climates, cultures, and experiences. This is a normal part of world building. You need to select a societal age and tech level. This will narrow down the architectural choices you have for the style of your buildings and the size and layout of your villages or cities. If you’re writing a Victorian steampunk, for example, your physical setting will be based heavily on Victorian London, or Victorian-era Paris, or Prague or whichever city best suits your story. Onto that base you’ll add your steampunk technology, tweaking the style of clothes and décor and buildings to fit the additions.

If you’re writing a period fantasy set in a blend of Feudal and Late-Middle-Ages with heavy European leanings you’re looking at castles and moats with villages springing up around their walls. You’re looking at placing major cities near waterways, in strategically defensible positions, or near key resources. For architecture, you’ll want to peak at period-appropriate buildings around the world and blend them together. Keep in mind that without magic you’re stuck with building techniques that fit your technology level.

If your setting is Earth, past, present or future, this has some shortcuts, as well as some interesting challenges. If you’re writing historical fiction you’re left to decide which historical facts to include and which to leave out. If you’re writing alternative history, you need to decide what changes, and how that will ripple out through your culture. If you’re writing in the present you need to choose whether you’re setting your story in a real city/town, or creating a fake one that is, in all ways, realistic, just doesn’t actually exist (like Stephen King’s Derry Maine).

Writing a future Earth presents unique challenges and opportunities. You have a setting that is familiar, and yet you must make it different. You look at the current state of environmental affairs and you must project a likely path into the future.

Rising tides? Nuclear war? An earthquake finally turns California into an island? A volcanic eruption? Whatever the case, something happens and the world changes.

Maybe it’s not environmental, maybe the change is political. Maybe the change is in population density, or technology. Is this a dark, grungy, dystopian future, or a bright, shiny, hopeful one?

Keep in mind, with a modern or futuristic city, that your architecture will not have a uniform look. Unless there’s a reason for a building to be torn down (disdain for old things, structural instability, major event that levels entire city streets) your cities will be a blend of old and new buildings. Often you have historic districts as the city will grow in sections, each section modeled on the period it was built in. You will have areas that are industrial and areas that are residential. You’ll have areas that are old stone and areas that are newer.

And this can and should translate over into fantasy and science fiction (alien world) settings as well. So often we see whole-planet cultures of shiny metal and glass buildings and futuristic vehicles. What about the alien that drives the equivalent of a classic car? What about poor districts, or historic districts? What about blended cultures, or distinct cultural areas (like China Town in a larger city)? Writing a single culture across the entire planet is easy, but doesn’t reflect “reality” well. Try expanding your fantasy and science fiction to be more diverse and exciting by building complex settings for your story to take place in.

Like what you’re reading? Stay tuned for more world building fun. Or hop over to Amazon and order your copy of The Ultimate World Building Book for geography, settings, characters, cultures, and more.

Altered Carbon Review

Just finished watching season 1 of Altered Carbon (currently the only season) at the recommendation of my father. Altered Carbon is a science-fiction mystery with a touch of noir.

I wasn’t sold on the actor for the main character until more than halfway through the show. I think that’s because I really like Kovach’s birth sleeve (okay, a little back story. Everyone has a “stack” a bio-disc that contains their personality and memory. They refer to bodies as sleeves. You can “spin up” a stack in any sleeve, or in VR. The main character, Kovach, spends most of the show in the sleeve of Riker because, well, lots of reasons). The acting was good, and maybe me not liking him is a plus because the character is supposed to be a bit of a hard-ass and the sleeve belonged to a angsty cop.

The supporting cast was amazing. The cop, Christine Ortega, and her entire family of Mexican-Catholics were priceless. Just perfect. I mean, she’s a kick-ass, no-nonsense, woman with strong convictions, a loving family, and a heaped helping of smarts. She’s stubborn and compassionate. She fights with her mother but there’s still a lot of familial love to go around. And, they regularly speak Spanish.

Ortega’s current partner and mentor is an older Jewish man who is implied to have a casual, familiar relationship with Ortega’s widow mother, much to Ortega’s dismay. There’s an AI hotel named Poe (the hotel is called The Raven, go figure) and he stole the whole damn show as far as I’m concerned. Equal parts graciousness and sass, he provides deadpan humour and some much needed emotional support. Elliot, Ava, and their daughter Lizzie have a heartbreaking story arc and play a huge role, not only in the mystery, but in Kovach’s character development.

The rich people are assholes, or whiny snivelling brats, but they never feel flat. They have motives, they have opinions about themselves, they actually come across as complex. And the twist regarding the “bad guy” was well-played, subtle, and full of emotional impact. I felt some of the bad guy’s motivation wasn’t fully explored though.

There is a strong theme of classist exploitation and sexual violence/exploitation in this show. Elliot’s daughter is beaten to the point of sleeve death and her stack is stuck in a trauma loop. Later, Elliot must pose as a rich elite general and is confronted by the sickening sexual perversions the rich indulge in and you can see his rage and pain and his need to safe all these young women from these rich assholes. That scene is worth watching the whole show for. His face, his expressions, his reactions, they’re all so damn visceral, so real, it’s a punch in the gut.

The cast as diverse, the story fast-paced, the mystery twisted and dark. There was a fair dose of politics and religious debate but it never felt tedious or preachy. No one was really right or wrong about stacks and their use/misuse.

I can’t wait to see what they do with season 2.

Love, Death + Robots – A Review

Anyone here remember Animatrix? It was a collection of animated shorts but different artists/artistic teams that all took place in the universe of The Matrix. It was good, as good or better than the series itself.

Love Death + Robots is similar in that it is a series of animated shorts, in differing styles. Unlike Animatrix, there is NO common thread between them, no shared universe, no linking character or setting. It’s just random.

So, I guess it’s more like the old Heavy Metal Magazine, with the random comics.

The shorts range from 5-20 minutes in length. Some are done in 3D CG that is so good you have trouble telling they aren’t real people. Some are done in rotoscope. Some are done in edgy comic book/graffiti styles. Some are straight up 2D Sunday morning cartoons (but not family friendly).

The stories are gritty, but fun, for the most part. They all have something dark to them, something about survival, sacrifice, greed, stupidity … There’s a lot of violence, and a lot of nudity. And yet, it all stays classy somehow.

They’re stuck in my head. I mean, 97% of the shorts I watch end up stuck in my head for DAYS. I mull them over, admiring the concise storytelling, the expertly executed twists, the bland apathy of the robots touring a post-apocalyptic city, the deeper meaning behind the desert hallucinations, the subtle criticisms of colonialism or war, the strength of spirit, the depth of loyalty … And I admire the art, the clever writing, the uniqueness and audacity of the whole thing.

It just steps out and goes “fuck it, we’re doing this” and it’s so refreshing.

I’ve probably got 4 or maybe 6 episodes left, that I can’t watch until Friday night because I have to wait for my husband (we’re watching together and I’m not a ‘watch ahead cheater’). But I’ve been so blown away by the first dozen or so episodes that I can’t wait to review it.

No, I can’t wait to say “Go watch it!”

If I had to review every episode individually there’s one or two that might get 4 stars and so far only one that I would give 3 stars to. The rest get 5 out of 5. 11 out of 10. They’re good. They’re great. They’re “watch 17 episodes in one night and then watch them again tomorrow” good.

Seriously. It’s on Netflix. Go watch it. You won’t be disappointed.

Dear Authors, Write Crap

No, really, I mean it. This is one of the BIGGEST, HUGEST, MOST IMPORTANT pieces of advice I ever got, and I got it at twelve or thirteen years old and it changed my whole outlook.

You see these posts for artists about how your taste and your skill aren’t on the same level yet, that you draw your best and feel it’s not good enough because you’re comparing your “drawing #257” to a professional’s “drawing #20,985”. It takes time and practice to get the stuff coming out of the pencil to look as good as you want it to.

Same goes for writing.

In this lovely writing group I now belong to, I see a lot of posts from obvious beginners asking “how do I start”, “how do I get good”, “how do I get this book to publishable quality”? The answers? You write, you write lots of crap, and you don’t because it’s crap and you need to hide it in a drawer and write more crap until one day it won’t be crap anymore.

Give yourself permission to fuck up.

Give yourself permission to suck.

Yeah, classes and workshops and books on writing can help. Yeah, reading widely helps a lot. In the end, the only thing you can really do is put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and write. And accept the fact that it will suck. Your first novel will suck and should not be published. Your sixth novel may still suck and might not be salvageable. Your tenth novel … well, that might suck too, but you’ll get there at some point.

I have binders full of printed off stories, novellas, and starts of novels, not to mention discs my computer can’t even read any more FULL of stories, that I wrote from the time I was 13 until I was 28 and published my first novel. I WROTE FOR 15 YEARS WITH NO HOPE OF BEING PUBLISHED.

Let that sink in.

I’ll say it again.

I practiced writing for 15 years. So, don’t ask me how to get that first attempt published. Because you don’t. You write years worth of practice garbage first.

That’s the biggest problem with the indie market. Don’t get me wrong, I love being an indie author and I firmly believe the traditional publishing gatekeepers were keeping the gates too firmly shut. Indie publishing allows non-traditional voices that wouldn’t be able to get books to the public via the Big Five a space in the publishing world. And that is beautiful. But now everything thinks that you just slap words on a page and call yourself an author. You don’t.

Being an author, a professional author, a GOOD author, means practice. It means being humble enough to learn something through critique and lecture and practice. It means admitting that this scene or that character or an entire freaking book is not working and needs to be edited, cut, or tossed in a bin and burned.

Being a good author takes time. And that is something that our fast-paced, production-driven, star-struck social media world has forgotten. You don’t publish everything you write. You don’t publish the first thing you write.

This goes hand in hand with my previous post. Slow down. Get to know yourself as a writer. Give yourself time and space to evolve and develop a style and a voice.

As the dearly beloved Ms. Frizzle says “Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy”.

Writer garbage. It’s good for you. Just don’t publish the garbage in your haste to “be published”. The rest of us will thank you for waiting.

Hey Writers, Slow Down

I joined a very active writing group on Facebook where authors of all stripes (published and yet to be published, self and trad, seasoned and fresh) can ask questions about anything writing related, from plot twists to book blurbs to sentence structure. I like that most posts get 10+ replies and many go into the triple digits as the conversation builds. I like that, for the most part, people are polite but pull no punches. We could be a little more tolerant of the spelling and grammar errors since we have a lot of EAL members, but hey, no group is perfect.

One thing I am noticing is the number of people looking to the Facebook hivemind to do their brainstorming for them. Not just help them with a sticking point (is this detail or that twist believable/plausible) but entire chunks of plot.

For example:

64 years old married man, in a search of new husband for his 55 years old wife. What could be the reasons?

how do i start a feud between brothers

how do I start a feud between a male and female friends

I want to end a relationship in the book I’m writing but can’t come up with a good enough reason, any suggestions? I want something that will completely traumatise the guy.

(Description of character set up and scene)  I stuck there. I am not able to come up with conflict. Could you guys please suggest for further?

My advice to these authors? SLOW DOWN.

If you’re an outliner like me and you’re hitting these roadblocks during the outlining stage, take a break. Take a walk, do the dishes, talk to a friend about what you’re planning and why you’re stuck – not online, but in person, out loud. Let it sit in your head for a bit. Work on something else for a while. Skip that part of the outline and jot down what you know. I’ve been stuck like this, I have interesting projects on the back burner because they’re stuck exactly like this. I have a character and no plot yet so I let it sit.

If you’re a pantster (someone who just writes with no outline) and you find yourself frequently stuck to the point of abandoning projects, maybe you need to try outlining. If you have tried outlining and it’s not for you, try the same tips as above: take a walk, talk to a friend, do a mindless chore, have a shower, let it sit, let your mind mull it over. I’ve been here before too. I get up and stretch, run through my taekwondo patterns, make a snack, write a different scene and come back to it.

We’re obsessed with productivity (I’m one to talk, right? Setting word count goals and project deadlines like a mad woman) but we’re allowed to have slow days. When I’m stuck on my novel I work on my memoir. Or I work on world building and catch the words up on a later day. Slow down. You don’t have to complete an entire novel every month. You don’t have to be the fastest. Slow down and think for yourself. This is YOUR story, YOUR novel, write it the way you want to.

And don’t worry about your productivity speed. I’ve been waiting 7 years for the next George RR Martin novel to come out. Write at your own pace, and take time to recharge your creativity. Do your own brainstorming because the book is ultimately yours.

And yes, when all else fails, that is what a writing group is ultimately for. But I get the feeling that the second these writers hit a snag they jump on Facebook yelling “bail me out! This is hard! Give me the answer!” Writing is hard. It takes a lot of braining. Creating is exhausting and draining work, no matter what or how you create. Recharge, slow down, take breaks, let your mind wander at its own pace instead of the pace the world has set out for it.

 

Publishing Tips for New Writers

I’ve been seeing this a lot lately, so often that it’s scaring me. It’s a question, or a variation on it, and new writers are asking it over and over again: how much should I pay to get published?

The short answer: YOU NEVER PAY TO BE PUBLISHED. ZERO. NADDA. NOT A DAMN RED CENT.

The long answer is, well, long, and involves some important terms.

If you are going the traditional publication route, here are the things you need to know:

  1. Getting an agent is difficult but useful. Agents are “governed” by a professional board of ethics thingy that forbids agents from asking for reading fees or editing fees. Agents get paid when you get paid and the amount is in the contract you sign with them (generally a percentage of any advances and/or royalties you earn on manuscripts they represent for you). If an agent asks for a reading fee, or sends you to a “professional reading company” or “screening company” that charges a reading fee, it is a SCAM.
  2. You can pitch directly to SOME publishers, but it limits the number of legit publishers you can reach out to. Many only accept submissions through agents.
  3. A traditional publisher foots the bill for cover art, editing, proofing, and layout. IT WILL NOT EVER COST YOU MONEY TO WORK WITH A LEGIT TRADITIONAL PUBLISHER. They will pay you royalties on EVERY book sold. They make their money back, and make a profit, on the rest of the cover price (the part they don’t pay you).
  4. If you get a publisher that is well-established, you may get an advance. This means “An advance on future royalties” and they don’t have to pay you anything else until your book earns back that advance and starts turning a profit again.

If you are publishing independently (self-publishing), here is what you need to know:

  1. The act of publishing the book, as a paperback or e-book, costs ZERO DOLLARS.
  2. You may need to hire one or more various PUBLICATION SERVICE PROVIDERS to help you get the manuscript ready for publication. This can include editors, proofreaders, cover artists, interior artists, and interior formatters. Whatever you are not comfortable doing yourself, you need to pay for. A service provider provides a service, for a fee, and that is it. If a service provider is requesting rights to your book or royalties IT IS A SCAM. You pay someone ONCE, either you pay upfront for a service OR you pay part of the cost of the book.
    1. SPECIAL NOTE: When I did my picture books I worked with a friend who did my illustrations. We have an agreement to split all royalties 50/50 because I could not afford to pay him upfront. This was mutually agreed upon.
  3. You need a SALES PLATFORM. Most commonly, people use Amazon, via KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) for both e-book and paperback. It costs NOTHING to upload your manuscript and cover and you earn money for each book sold. Amazon also makes money on each book sold. They hold no rights to your book. Other platforms include Lulu.com, Smashwords, Draft2Digital, Kobo Writing Life, and IngramSpark.
    1. SPECIAL NOTE: Ingram Spark charges a 1-time set up fee of $50 per title BUT they offer much wider distribution options on their paperbacks AND a return policy. I have many friends who use this service and are more than happy with the quality.
    2. SPECIAL NOTE: Many sales platforms and distributors and printers offer various publication services as listed above. If they are optional, it is more likely to be a legit company. IF IT IS A MANDATORY COST TO HAVE YOUR BOOK PUBLISHED WITH THEM IT IS A SCAM.
  4. If you are doing paperbacks, you need a printer. You can find small printers local to you (in Manitoba we have Friesen’s Printing). A printer’s only job is to take a digital file of your book and make it a paperback. Some are Print-on-Demand (POD), which means there is no minimum order size. KDP is POD, so when a reader orders your paperback on Amazon, KDP prints one copy and ships it. This is a little more expensive per copy, but you have no unsold stock sitting in a warehouse somewhere. Some printers do have a minimum print run (anywhere from 50-500 so be careful, it took me 4 years to sell 400 copies of my debut novel) and the bulk print run could save you as much as 30-50 cents per copy but you now have to store all those books. Printers may charge a 1-time set up fee, in addition to per-book costs. They do not get rights to your book, or royalties on books sold (unless, like Amazon, they are an automated POD system that is handling your sales as well).
  5. If you want books in retail stores, you need a distributor. These are the people who handle the orders from the store, and handle the returns for you. They get a cut of the cover price for every book they move on your behalf, and may also charge a warehousing fee for books in storage. I would skip this step unless you have high sales (1000 books a year or more) or are running a small press of your own.

 

The best rule of thumb to keep in mind is this: money should always flow to the author. My second rule is this: You either pay a person coming, or going, not both. That means, you either pay for a service upfront, or you pay royalties/cut of the book price but not both.

If you are unsure of a contract or company ASK. There are dozens of writers’ groups online and there should be a local writers’ guild or union close to you that you can join.  Do a search for the company but add “reviews” after their name to see what other people are saying about them.

If you have any questions about this article, or if you feel I’ve missed something, contact me. Just over 4 years ago I stepped off the deep end into the indie publishing world. We don’t have time to make all the mistakes ourselves, we have to learn from each other.