Friday, February 28, 2014

Oh Beloved Library!

Friday!!! Not that it means that much to me anymore, but still, Grimm is back at last, and that's a reason to look forward to Fridays.

I was kind of a slacker this week, but I got my work time in yesterday. I was making good progress in rewriting the first half of the book to fit with what I realized the story was all about when I hit a scene that needed a lot of work, and then the changes ended up putting one of my main characters in a real dilemma. He's surrounded by a group of beings who are becoming allies, and then they're attacked by an enemy group of the same kind of beings. He's armed to fight this kind of being, but anything widespread he does to fend off the attackers will also hurt his allies. That kind of rock/hard place dilemma is wonderful for fiction, but it's really hard to write. I spent quite a bit of time last night trying to think my way out of the situation. I may have a solution. We shall see.

Tomorrow morning, our renovated neighborhood library reopens, and I think I will have to go over for the ribbon-cutting/opening celebration, even if it means interacting with (ugh) politicians. I might possibly trample the mayor on my way into the newly opened building, where I will immediately fling myself on the nearest bookshelf and sob, "Never leave me again, oh beloved library."

Or maybe not. I don't usually go in much for dramatics, but this is a library, so it's a special case.

And the fact that I'm going to pick up some reserved books today will not at all dampen my enthusiasm. Yeah, I could wait until tomorrow, but I finished my last book last night, so this is a crisis.

And then once I pry my fingers away from the bookshelf, I may go to the Irish festival downtown for some good Celtic music fun. That almost counts as work research. It should be a nice day for it before we get yet another cold front with a possibility of sleet.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Avoiding Idiot Plotholes

I had a minor success with the kids last night. The next song we're doing for church is rather slow and kind of boring, so I was worried that they wouldn't be into it. And they weren't, really. But then I had them dance to different songs at different tempos to let them see the difference in the way you move to fast and slow tempos, and I snuck that one in again. It's a slow waltz, and I was really surprised that a few of them even picked up on that and held hands with each other to do a waltz (or at least pretend to dance like in a ballroom) -- and then they asked to do it again when the song ended. On the other hand, one thing I thought they'd get into flopped big-time. After next week, I get a break because of spring break, and then we're into the final run up to the end of the year. I have a feeling we'll have attention issues because we're having a jazz pancake supper before the Ash Wednesday service, and the supper (with a jazz band playing) starts about fifteen minutes before choir ends. We may go listen (and dance) to the jazz if it's loud enough to be distracting.

I've been low on productivity this week, but today I have no excuses. I did my errands (car safety inspection and grocery shopping) this morning and I don't have to go anywhere tonight. I have to fix a scene because I forgot to check the sunset times for that date and location and I'd established what one of the characters in the scene does after dark, so now I have to move the setting and context slightly, and I think it will make for a more interesting scene. But it is annoying to get to the end of a scene and go "oh, wait, what time is it?" I'd already had to change things after going back and re-reading the previous scenes because I'd forgotten who knew what, and I had characters discussing something that it turned out neither of them knew. Fortunately, it helped that neither of them knew because I'd have had to patch an idiocy plothole if they did know and didn't realize earlier what was going on.

I may need to start keeping an easy-to-reference file of all the plot elements, who knows about them, when they learned and how they learned. Or I could write faster so I don't forget what was in the last scene.

Now I'm going to go make some chicken noodle soup.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Traditional vs. Self Publishing

Because there's been a lot of discussion in the publishing/writing world lately and because this is top of mind after an interview I did a week or so ago, I thought it might be a good time to discuss the pros and cons of traditional and self-publishing. Just a few years ago, I was clinging to the old ways, where we thought of self or independent publishing as something kind of sleazy. Now it's opened a lot of new opportunities for authors to be in control of their careers. I'm basing this on my experiences as a "hybrid" author who's worked both ways -- with multiple publishers and going it alone. Mind you, it's all changing so fast that this advice may be out of date next week.


In traditional publishing, you may have some degree of input, but the publisher has the final say on most things. You have the most control over content, but the editor can refuse to accept a book if you refuse to make changes the editor deems absolutely necessary to make the book publishable, and your agent and maybe even lawyers might need to get involved. You may be given some input on the title and cover, but it's possible that your input will be entirely ignored. You generally don't get any say on release date or price. On the other hand, the people who make these decisions are professionals who've worked with a lot of books and have a good idea of what works and what doesn't.

In self-publishing, you're in control of everything -- you have final say on the content, formatting, title, cover, price, distribution and release date. This can be both good and bad. It's nice to be in control of your book, but it's also a lot of responsibility and work. If the cover turns off readers, it's your fault. You can't say the publisher failed you. In order to make the best decisions, you'll need to do a lot of research and consult with people who know what they're doing. Even if you hire a professional cover designer, you should probably study books similar to yours so you'll know if a proposed design is likely to fit well enough in the genre to signal to readers what it is while also standing out. Likewise, you'll need to look into sales patterns to get a sense of what release schedule and pricing is likely to work best.

Bottom line: It depends on how big a control freak you are and how knowledgable you are which one would be best for you.

In traditional publishing, the publisher covers all the cost of producing the book. You usually get paid an up-front advance that may be divided into payments upon signing the contract, upon acceptance of the final manuscript and maybe even upon publication. Depending on the publisher and on your contract, that can range anywhere from a few hundred dollars to millions. A first book with a major publisher tends to average in the $5,000-$20,000 range, unless the book goes to auction and is in high demand. The author usually earns around 6-15 percent of the cover price for print books, and the e-book rate seems to be in constant flux, but 25 percent is in the ballpark. Once the book has earned royalties that go beyond the advance, you'll receive royalty payments twice a year. If you had a high advance, your book may never earn out and receive extra payments, or it may take years to earn out.
In self publishing, you pay up front for costs related to producing the book -- editing, copyediting, formatting, cover design and art, marketing, etc. Depending on the sales venue and your cover price, you may earn around 70 percent of the cover price. How much you earn depends on how well your book sells, which is nearly impossible to predict. You get paid monthly, usually starting the month after your book goes on sale, though different venues have different payment schedules.

Bottom line: Self-publishing requires some investment but can pay off. Keep in mind, though, that the people making millions are generally outliers -- you hear about them because they're unusual. There's more money up-front with traditional publishing without the financial risk, but you keep more of the money from self-publishing. The cover price is likely to be lower with self-publishing, but you get more of it.

Traditional publishing doesn't move very quickly. It generally takes about a year from the time you turn in a manuscript until it's published. My next traditionally published book took more than a year to sell, and it will be published more than two years after it was bought. Publishers generally don't publish more than a book a year from any one author unless they're doing a special promotion where they do back-to-back books to build an author or series.

With self-publishing, you can turn around quickly. My last self-published book was available for sale within two months of me finishing it. You can put out as many books a year as you can write.

Bottom line: Success in self publishing tends to come from frequency, so if you're a one-book-a-year writer, it may not be for you. But if you can write faster than publishers can publish, you can get your books out there, and you can take advantage of market trends much more quickly.

Traditional publishing has gatekeepers -- you have to find an editor who likes your work, and then the editor has to convince the publisher and the beancounters that this book will make money. Most books are rejected. Sometimes they're rejected because of quality, but sometimes they're rejected because the topic doesn't fit a trend, because the perceived audience is considered too small or just because they don't quite know what to do with a particular book that doesn't fit any obvious niche. However, because of the gatekeeping, a traditionally published book is generally considered to have a stamp of approval that makes it eligible for most revue venues, and the authors are considered professionals by organizations and events.

Anyone can self-publish anything. This can be both good and bad. Books that don't fit an obvious niche can find an audience, but there's also less quality control, and that has given self-published books a bit of a stigma. Unless the author has an established reputation, readers may hesitate to take the chance of finding a badly written, unedited book after they've been burned a few times. Many revue venues won't consider self-published books, and unless the authors have really made a name for themselves, they're not considered eligible as guests at conferences and conventions and may not meet professional organization membership requirements, though this is changing rapidly.

Bottom line: This is probably the biggest reason I'm publishing a lot of my own work, since I don't fit the trends or niches, but I have the advantage of also being traditionally published, which gets me through the door for a lot of promotional opportunities.

A traditional publisher has a marketing and publicity department with a lot of established connections. They promote books to booksellers and libraries and make review copies available to the media. They can arrange booksignings at the corporate level. Your book may be available in brick-and-mortar bookstores. However, most of the publicity and marketing effort is focused on booksellers. You'll still have to do much of the outreach to readers. You'll have to produce your own web site and marketing materials, unless you're a huge bestseller, and you'll probably have to buy any advertising you want.

A self-published book can be available, even in print, at the major online booksellers but is less likely to get brick-and-mortar distribution, though that's becoming less important as chains close and shrink and more people buy their books online. You can make review copies available at NetGalley. You'll have to do all the publicity work yourself or hire someone to help.

Bottom line: Publicity is a lot of work either way, and the changing landscape is changing the importance of physical distribution. This is one of those areas that's really in flux.

You probably should have an agent for dealing with traditional publishers because their contracts are so complex and you want to make sure you hold onto as many of your rights as possible. But getting an agent can be a real challenge.

You don't need an agent to self-publish your books, but if you've had some success there, you might want an agent to help sell foreign translation rights, audio rights, film rights, etc. Agents may also be able to get deals where you keep electronic rights and just sell print rights to a publisher to get your books in stores. Some agents facilitate self-publishing, using their resources and their clout with the various bookselling venues. If you've been a bestseller on your own, it'll be a lot easier to get an agent.

Bottom line: You're probably going to eventually need an agent if you're going to make a career out of this (though I've seen a number of authors disagree about this).

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

What's Not on the Shelf?

I ended up getting very little accomplished yesterday, but then I figured that even the evil PR agency employers gave me comp time if I'd had to work all weekend. Plus, it was June last year before I'd worked as many hours as I've already worked this year, so I'm doing better. I did outline the next scene I need to write, so I'm ready to charge in today.

I don't have a book report this week because busy times meant I didn't finish anything that wasn't a reference book. Instead, I'll talk about books I'm not reading because either they don't exist or I can't find them. This topic has come up in a number of places lately. There was this "Dear Author" post about what's not being published that you want to read, which got into the issue of whether these books don't exist or whether you just haven't found them. The topic also came up in an interview I did a week or so ago in which we got started talking about the things that can happen with independent publishing.

One thing that's kind of cool about independent publishing is that my threshold for profitability is a lot different from Random House's, so an individual writer can go after a smaller niche. A particular kind of book may not meet the threshold for a major publisher's balance sheet, so it doesn't get published, but there may still be enough readers out there who want that kind of thing that an individual author can make money by offering it. While we hear a lot of buzz about the more erotic stuff doing well in self-publishing, apparently one of the really hot niche genres is sweet (non-sexy) Western (cowboy/rancher/pioneer) romances. I can pretty much guarantee that you won't find a single one of these outside the inspirational section at a bookstore, and I'd also bet that if you submitted a non-inspirational Western historical romance without sex scenes in it to a romance publisher it would be rejected, but it seems that if you can write these well and self-publish them, they sell like crazy, probably because there are people who like that sort of thing and can't find them at a bookstore.

Or there's the feast/famine thing that happens with publishing trends, where one kind of thing is all they publish for a while, then it goes bust, and then they don't publish anything at all like that. And yet, did the people who were buying those books during the boom suddenly stop wanting that kind of book, or was it a case of that same group of readers not being enough to support the glut of books, so sales were spread across more books, looking like a drop? When chick lit tanked, publishers dropped it like it had cooties, but I've heard that chick lit sells really well in e-book form, with authors doing quite well by reissuing their old books and writing more to publish independently.

The trick, though, is finding those unmet need niches. In my PR days, one of my clients did software for supply-chain management, with added demand prediction features. Supposedly, they could evaluate sales data to perfectly predict what the store needed to re-stock so that customers never went to the store and didn't find what they wanted. I brought a meeting to a standstill once by asking about how they accounted for the needs that weren't being met. They could only predict based on sales, but if what the customer wanted wasn't on the shelf, there was no way of capturing that unmet demand and making sure it would be there in the future. I used my personal example of constantly going to stores to buy clothes, finding things I liked, but not finding my size. If they didn't have it, I left the store without buying anything, but the store wouldn't know that they would have made more sales if they'd had more of that size. We had to change the way they phrased things in promo materials (and I think I gave the programmers some real headaches).

So, a publisher or bookseller would never know that, say, sweet Western romances were in demand because no sweet Western romances are being published, so there's no sales data to evaluate. Authors are a little closer to readers and have a better chance of hearing what people want, but then it's hard to tell how much of what they're hearing is a real trend or just a few loud voices. The comments to the post I linked to get pretty contradictory, with some people crying out for the exact opposite to what other people want but can't find. And then there's the issue of how to find books, especially with the huge number of self-published books available now. These books may exist, but how do you find out about them, and how do you know it's any good? I don't think even Amazon has a good enough search engine to help you narrow down specific preferences (see my annual search for chick lit-type books set during the Christmas season).

I've been trying to think of what would be on my list. I know I'd like more lighter contemporary fantasy -- without horror elements, with more fun and whimsy. I like my romance to be on the sweeter side, and I like a slow build, even taking place over multiple books, with the romance coming about as the characters deal with something else together, so I guess you might say I want romantic fantasy, romantic science fiction, romantic mystery or romantic adventure instead of actual "romance." I'd like chick lit -- romantic comedy -- with smarter heroines and the plot not revolving around mistakes made while very drunk (that plot got to be old during the "boom" years -- "oops, I got wasted and did something stupid, and now I must find a way out of this fix").

I'm hoping that more people want quirky hybrid stories with slow-build romances and lighter fantasy, since that's what I write, but that's not a clear-cut niche. Is there something you'd love to read that you can't seem to find?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Avoiding the Debate

The Monday after a convention is always a bit of a challenge because while there's a part of my brain that's revved up and inspired, it tends to get shouted out by my body and the rest of my brain, which just want to rest. But this is going to have to be a busy week as I try to come up with ways to start revving up the marketing machine for next week's big push. And then there's that pesky book I need to be writing.

Nothing really earthshattering came out of the convention. It was a pretty small, quiet con, which meant it was mostly good for hanging out with my friends. We're so busy running things at our own con that it's nice to hang out at one without having real responsibilities. We dubbed it "sofa con" as we spent most of the time sitting around on sofas in the hotel lobby and chatting as people passed by or joined us.

The Star Trek vs. Star Wars debate turned out to be not so much a debate as a discussion of the two franchises, their influences and their influence. The panel wasn't really set up to be a debate, with "moderators" for each team instead of a moderator throwing out questions to the two teams, and many of us on the panel could argue either way. I've never been big on the "vs." mentality that's so common in fandom, where you have to pick a side, and anything said in favor of the "enemy" is taken as a personal insult. I'm just generally keen on things with "star" in the title and spaceships, and I get different enjoyment from each of those franchises. I wouldn't want to give up either one, and both of them were big influences on me or inspirations at different times in my life. Kevin J. Anderson was the Star Wars team moderator, and I was the Star Trek team moderator, and we decided between us to just make it a discussion.

I will say that one possible factor in me agreeing to this was the fact that there were a couple of fully armored Stormtroopers in the audience. That wasn't exactly an incentive to argue against Star Wars.

Since FenCon has some prominent guests from the worlds of both Star Wars and Star Trek this year, I think I'm going to propose that we do have a proper debate with a moderator posing questions, and maybe even a time limit on responses and a formal rebuttal opportunity, like in a high school or political debate.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Zzzzz ... Huh?

I have a convention starting today, but I don't have programming until Saturday, so I'm not sure yet if I'm going to head over this afternoon just to hang out. The allergies have been nasty, so I have that foggy, tired feeling. It might be a better idea to rest today so I can be "on" for the events I have the rest of the weekend. I'm contemplating a nap, though, so maybe I'll have more energy later.

I have picked and timed a scene to read tomorrow morning for my reading. I also have outfits planned and have learned to wrap a toga. The theme for FenCon this year is "University of FenCon," so our room party at this weekend's convention will be a toga party. I have a feeling that photos of this will end up all over Facebook, so I'd better do it right. I made a color-coordinated belt that matches the sheet I'll be using. Now I just have to figure out what to do with my hair. I kind of wish I had an Athena helmet and a stuffed owl, but then again, this is supposed to be like a frat party, not mythology costuming. On the other hand, it's geeks doing a frat party, so mythology costuming is probably appropriate.

That nap is looking like a better and better idea since I just dozed off at my desk between paragraphs. I'm lucky I didn't fall out of my chair or fall forward and hit my computer. And I got plenty of sleep last night. Ah, well, maybe my body is trying to tell me something.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Mental Olympics

The Olympic figure skating is now over, and I can return to my regular schedule. It's one of those weird things where I enjoy it when it's happening, but I'm glad when it's over because I like getting that time back. I suppose it's time to finally give up any hope of winning an Olympic skating medal, considering that I'm now older than many of the coaches and never learned to skate beyond going in wobbly circles around the rink. Even so, every four years I catch myself mentally picking out my music, designing my costume and choreographing my program, and I'm more motivated to exercise for about two weeks. In spite of motivation, though, I think I'd better skip dance tonight because a front came through, whipping up the wind and bringing in enough dust that the sky is now hazy. The allergies are kicking in again, and I think that I'd better stay inside and not breathe in too much of that, since I have to be "on" this weekend.

I don't really have any cute choir stories from last night. The kids were reasonably well behaved (the two biggest problems weren't there), and I kept them busy enough that when the parents started arriving to pick them up, one kid said, "But we just got here!" The real fun will come Sunday, when they sing in the early service. For me, that will be after a late night at a convention.

Speaking of conventions, I mentioned last fall as we were getting ready for FenCon that I was working on a video project. Well, it finally got posted online, so I'll share the results:

The convention flight safety briefing.

This is what happens when you start doing improv at dinner with the convention chair. Next thing you know, you're getting an e-mail asking when the script will be ready. We shot that in a day, and then I learned how to edit video on a computer (I learned video editing back in the dark ages) to put it together. I guess I need to be thinking of something for this year so we can start work earlier than August.

Now I need to find an excerpt for a convention reading. And laundry would be a good idea.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Upcoming Developments

I may be moving a bit slowly today because I not only took the intermediate/advanced ballet class last night (and was back to feeling awkward and clumsy), but I stayed to take the jazz class. My body is a little angry with me this morning, and I can imagine how I'll feel starting this afternoon. I was stretching some this morning while watching figure skating, so maybe that will help avoid some soreness, though I may need to take a hot bath before I can deal with the kids this evening.

After a pretty harsh winter (for Texas), we're getting a bit of an early spring, so yesterday I took advantage of that and put my new patio chairs to use by working on the patio. I was doing some pen-and-paper work, so it was good timing.

I guess instead of being coy about what's up, I may as well discuss some of the upcoming developments.

For one thing, the first four books in the series (the Random House books) haven't been released in English as e-books outside North America. Since I hold those rights, I'm getting ready to self-publish those for English speakers in the rest of the world. Some of the hang-up has involved the covers. While I own the content, the covers were done by the publisher. It took some tracking down, but it turns out that the actual artwork is still owned by the artist and was just licensed by the publisher, and there aren't any restrictions on what she can do with it, so I've managed to license the original cover art. The design of the cover -- the lettering, etc. -- will have to be a little different, though. And the cover blurbs have to be different (although I contributed a lot there). So, yesterday's work was writing new cover blurbs, which required getting back into that mindset without looking at what was on the Random House books. I don't have a firm date for when these will be released, since we still have to do some formatting and get the covers designed, and all that.

The other thing I hinted at is something I don't really control, so I guess I've been hesitant to say much until I'm sure of it. But what the heck. The original publisher saw some great results from lowering the e-book prices on the books they control, so now in the first week of March, they're going to do a special promotion and make the e-book of the first book in the series 99 cents and do some promo stuff around that to see if it will draw new readers to the series.

What has me kind of excited and motivated to be slightly obnoxious with promo for a little while is that I've seen a couple of people who've had books as old as this one reduced in price like that end up making the USA Today bestseller list. And that would be seriously cool. Not only would it be making a point to the publisher and bring me new readers, but it would mean that for the rest of my career, I could have "USA Today bestselling author" on my book covers. The trick will be finding ways to promote to people who haven't read my books, though I suppose existing fans who had the first book in hard copy might find this a good way to get the e-book copy. Most of the people I can reach are following me because they've already read my books. But I would appreciate any help my fans can give by tweeting, blogging, Facebooking, posting to Goodreads, holding friends and family at gunpoint, etc., when the time comes. Don't worry, I'll be reminding you when (if) it actually happens.

Now, one more morning of figure skating to go. I've managed to get a lot done in the living room between skaters, but it still throws off my day a bit.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Priorities Come First

Ah, back on track. I met my writing time quota and got past the scene that was blocking me. Today I've already taken care of a couple of nagging errands I was procrastinating on severely and bought groceries. That means I can devote the afternoon to another task I've been procrastinating on and get some writing done. Then tonight I have ballet and I may stay for the jazz class to make up some of the classes I've missed.

I guess I need to needlepoint a throw pillow to remind me that priorities should come first. Any time I let myself get caught up in other stuff before I do the things I'm supposed to do, I never get around to doing the things I'm supposed to do. Duh. The fun things should be a reward for finishing my work, not what I get bogged down in to the point that I don't get around to my work.

And I'm not allowed to use designing a needlepoint (or, more likely, cross-stitch) pattern saying "Priorities Come First" as a way of procrastinating.

I also need to make some time for marketing activities because there are some potentially fun things about to come about, and maximizing the opportunity will take some supreme evil scheming. I may even allow myself to be obnoxious for a week or two.

Oh, and I've got a convention this weekend. The big event I'm involved in is a Star Trek vs. Star Wars debate. The guest of honor is Kevin J. Anderson, and he's heading up team Star Wars. I can argue either side, as I've been a very long-time fan of both, but I ended up as head of team Star Trek. I'll have to take a good look at the parameters to see exactly what I have to argue, but I figure just about any argument can be won here with one word: Prequels. Enough said. Though I guess they could strike back with Voyager and Enterprise, or with the one word "salamanders."

I'll also be doing a reading from the new series that I'll be releasing later this year (the one with the kick-ass ballerina heroine). Now I just have to find a fun scene I can read in about fifteen minutes.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Dedicated and Diligent

Another day, another messed-up schedule. Today it was a dentist appointment (no cavities!). And now I really need to get down to writing. I was bad and didn't do that work I planned over the weekend, but I did vacuum the living room, bedroom, bathroom and stairs, so that should count as something. The stairs in particular are a real chore.

But that means I really need to get some work done today. I can't get online to dish about the outcome of the ice dance event or about last night's Downton Abbey until after I put in my time quota of work. It's a rule.

See, this is me being dedicated and diligent. We'll see how this works.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Busy Friday

The day's gotten away from me! I had a phone interview with a reporter that went on much longer than I expected (it was a good talk), and before that I was getting ready for the interview and doing some housework. Now it's late afternoon!

I've decided that I'm going to have to work Saturday to make up for my lackluster performance this week. I've been so scattered, and I think it does have to do with rebooting the book and having to think back through it, on top of having a few other things I've had to take care of, which has spread my focus out a bit too far. Next week, I'll force myself to do better and not fall back into bad habits.

I did make it to a ballet class last night. It was a beginning class, so I could ease my way back in, and I really love going to the beginning class because it makes me feel so very accomplished. I was the one being called on to demonstrate for the others. It will be a different story in my usual class on Tuesday.

This is the day when I'm supposed to say something about romance and love or else talk about Valentine's Day being a fake holiday. But I think for me it's become kind of a nonentity. If people want to celebrate, they can. It doesn't hurt me. I'm very happily single, so it's not like I even need a singles awareness day. I'm just mad that it's on a Friday because that means half-price chocolate day is on a weekend, and I don't get an advantage from being free to hit Target on a weekday morning.

And now I have more stuff to do today so I can spend Saturday writing.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Off My Game

I actually made it to choir practice last night. It wasn't always pretty and there was some throat clearing, but it felt so good. I also didn't have a bad time with the kids, possibly because I only had about half the usual class. They pleasantly surprised me a couple of times. Once, there was a song I was using to supposedly teach rhythm. We were supposed to clap with it. But it had a kind of calypso beat, and next thing I knew, the kids -- all on their own -- had formed a conga line around the room. So I went with it. For the art project, I passed out construction paper, heart stickers and markers/crayons and let them make Valentines. Half of them gave theirs to me, so now I have my yearly quota of Valentines. Nothing says love like red construction paper with heart stickers on it and "I love you" written in very careful letters in crayon.

In spite of feeling better (or maybe because of feeling better), I got off my game in writing this week. I've been easily distracted. And one of my distractions can kind of be blamed on Moon Moon.

This is one of those Internet things that for some odd reason has really tickled my fancy. Apparently, it started with a "what is your werewolf name" quiz on some paranormal romance site, with two columns of names like "Grey" and "Shadow," and you pick one from each column based on the first letter of your first name and the last letter of your last name. Unfortunately, they had "Moon" in both columns, and someone responded that their werewolf name was "Moon Moon," which sounded like the lamest werewolf ever (paraphrasing slightly, as the language was hardly politically correct).  So, someone came up with the saga of Moon Moon the wolf. And then people started coming up with more of these, finding funny photos of wolves or wolfish dogs and giving them captions relating to Moon Moon.

I'd seen some of these individually without knowing the backstory and found them mildly amusing. And then I saw a page compiling a bunch of them and found myself laughing until I was in pain and had tears running down my face. That was distracting because at random moments when I was trying to work or sleep, I'd think of one of these pictures and start laughing again. Days later, I can think "Moon Moon" and start grinning like an idiot. It may be even funnier in the context of those paranormal werewolf romance novels. I wonder what Moon Moon's human form would be like.

I might also be somewhat thrown off rhythm by spending the mornings watching figure skating. And there's the fact that I've been rebooting the book I've been working on, and a major mindset shift tends to set off procrastination.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Professional Behavior

Previously, I talked about getting feedback for your work. Having your manuscript as close to perfect as possible is an important part of professionalism, whether you're submitting to a publisher or publishing for yourself. That brings up the topic of behaving as a professional, which may be even more important if you're self publishing. Here's some advice from the trenches from someone who's published both independently and traditionally.

1) Only put your best work out there.
If you're working with a publisher, the editor will help you polish your book, and you'll have a copy editor, but you'll improve your odds of being published if your work is just about good to go to begin with. If you're publishing on your own, invest in your career by hiring professionals to edit your work. Don't treat your customers like beta readers. You look amateur when you have high school-level grammar mistakes in a published book or keep issuing new editions as you edit and polish.

2) Develop a thick skin.
This is one reason why I suggest at least trying to go through the traditional process of finding an agent or publisher. Sometimes you need to hear that your book may not be the best ever, and getting rejections helps you thicken your skin. Way too many people have torpedoed their careers by having a raging public hissy fit over a negative review. No matter how brilliant your book is, there will be someone who doesn't like it or doesn't get it. Get over it and move on. Even better, see if you can learn something that you can use to make yourself a better writer.

3) Be careful about engaging with reviewers.
This comes under the category of having a thick skin, but is important enough to elaborate upon. It's okay to thank a reviewer for a positive review. Think about thirty times before responding to a negative review. If there is a major factual error in the review, you might want to gently point that out in private communication, but think about how much that error really matters. If it's a matter of opinion, disengage. You're not going to change a reviewer's mind by throwing a temper tantrum, and you'll just make yourself look bad to potential readers. Believe it or not, sometimes even the F-grade reviews can really sell books.

4) Also be careful about engaging with readers.
There are places where interacting with readers is appropriate, such as forums designed for such interaction or on your own blog or Facebook page. Before barging in on any other forum, take some time to figure out the ground rules of that forum. A lot of reader-oriented sites aren't crazy about authors participating in discussions of their own books because it tends to shut conversation down, even if the conversation is positive. I've noticed this on review blogs. On a site where normally the comments can number in the dozens for both positive and negative reviews, the moment the author chimes in, even if it's just to say thanks for the nice review, all discussion comes to a screeching halt. You don't want that. Buzz happens when people talk about your book. Don't shut down the buzz.

5) And be careful about sucking up (or looking like you're sucking up).
I've seen aspiring or new authors who glom onto bigger names and start name-checking them on Twitter and Facebook or constantly commenting on their blogs. Ditto for blogs/Twitter/Facebook of editors or agents. I'm not saying you shouldn't do this if you really enjoy discussing those authors' books or discussing the topics the editors/agents talk about. But try not to look too much like this is your marketing campaign. I doubt any editor or agent has requested a manuscript due to a brilliant blog comment, and querying via blog/Facebook/Twitter is right out, unless the editor or agent has asked for pitches that way. I've looked at my agent's Facebook page and cringed when I see the number of "could you look at my book?" posts.

6) Behave like a reasonable human being in professional venues.
Even if you're attending a convention or conference as an attendee rather than as a speaker, behave professionally -- without setting yourself up to look like you think you should be the headliner. You may be a fan, but if you want professionals to take you seriously, this isn't the venue to act like a raging fan. At the same time, you're not going to make a good impression if you attempt to throw your weight around when you don't yet have the metaphorical weight to throw. I think just about everyone who's attended a convention has cringed through the scene of the person with one self-published novel who's not even on the program trying to lord it over someone else without realizing that they're attempting to lecture a veteran bestseller about how to be a novelist. Until you're the guest of honor, listen more than you talk.

Just following these few steps will help you avoid some of the worst career-limiting moves or will keep you from going viral as the latest clueless author who gets piled on by the entire Internet.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Book Report: A GOOD Urban Fantasy

I'm kind of time-shifting my week, since I discovered that the way to watch the Olympics is on the NBC Sports cable network, where they show the figure skating live in the morning. Unlike on the prime-time show, they show the whole competition instead of just the Americans and the really famous skaters from other countries, and they just show the one event instead of bouncing around and dragging it out. There are minimal fluff pieces, and few commercials. Plus, I like the announcing team better. So, I guess I'll be spending my mornings watching skating and then moving most of my work to afternoon and evening. That's actually not a huge difference from the way I usually work.

Yesterday, as I was working through my villain's evil schemes, I had a brainstorm about the B plot of the book. What I was doing seemed to lack purpose and was only about finding something to do with that character. But once I figured out what was going on, I came up with an even better idea. This is going to require a fair amount of rewriting, but I'm barely at the halfway point, and I'd rather rewrite parts of half a book and then move forward in the right direction than rewrite a whole book.

I have to thank whoever recommended the series by Ben Aaronovitch because I read the first book, Midnight Riot, and I think this comes the closest I've found to being a Harry Potter for grown-ups. It has that similar British whimsy and tone and the juxtaposition of the real world and the magical world that I like.

The story involves a young rookie police constable who gets stuck guarding a crime scene overnight until the evidence collection team can get there, and a witness to the crime approaches him -- but the witness is a ghost. The fact that he can communicate with the ghost brings him to the attention of what's essentially Scotland Yard's X-Files unit, and soon he finds himself apprenticed to the wizard Inspector who runs the unit. Now he's training to be a wizard, studying Latin, and trying to solve an odd case of normally non-violent people who are erupting in violent rages. Meanwhile, he's got to mediate a dispute between the spirits representing different segments of the Thames.

It does get a bit dark and gory in places, but I love the voice, the bits of humor and the characters. It kind of reads like what you'd get if Terry Pratchett decided to write something like the Dresden Files. I'll definitely be grabbing the rest of the series. But I have to say, the covers don't do the books any favors. I'm not sure I'd have picked this off the shelf if I hadn't known something else about it.

Now I have to work to get my singing voice back in shape because the choir director called me this morning to say he wants to do a piece that involves a soprano solo that he thinks would really work for me. Eeep.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Suffering for Fun

I had a bit of an epiphany over the weekend: writing genre fiction is the art of doing horrible things to people you like. And the really odd thing (if you think about it), is that the more a reader likes these people and the worse the things that happen to them, the more interesting the book is.

Up to a point, of course. In genre fiction, they generally ultimately prevail over the bad things that happen. It's not quite as much fun when it's a case of bad stuff happens, the end. And each reader has his/her limits and preferences. There's that "grimdark" fantasy in which life just generally sucks and only a few characters come out sort of okay. Not my thing, but it has a huge readership. I'm kind of a weenie, actually. There are some authors I can only read when I'm in a particular mood and have the time to finish a book in one sitting because they torture their characters so much, either physically or emotionally, and don't let them prevail until the very end, so I can't put the book down midway without being depressed. I also have issues when the horrible things that happen are the character's own fault -- bumbling into trouble by being too stupid to live -- and humiliation is probably more disturbing for me in a book than physical torment, probably because I can mentally gloss over physical woes while reading (it's only as bloody as you let yourself imagine it being) while I find that I feel the character's humiliation.

All this came up as I was working out that problem of not having put my main characters in any kind of jeopardy. I should have known better. One of my favorite authors is Dick Francis, and the thing I love about his books is how he pushes his characters to the very edge. They usually have a few close calls earlier in the book, and then the climax is a true ordeal. It's not so much that I enjoy their suffering as it is that I enjoy seeing them overcoming it all, being able to put aside the pain and think their way out of their predicament. Perhaps my favorite Francis book is the one in which the hero writes survival manuals, and the killer is getting ideas for the traps he sets for him out of those books, which means the hero is really put to the test of drawing upon everything he knows in order to survive.

But the trick is that you do have to have some kind of purpose to the jeopardy. It's not just bouncing from one predicament to the other. In order to have jeopardy that has something to do with the plot, I had to step back and really think about what the villain is up to and how that would affect the various characters. To figure that out, I ended up spending a lot of the weekend reading history books to find similar situations so I could glean a few tactics of what this person might be up to. Now I have to take all that and put together an evil scheme, and from there I can decide how that scheme will affect my characters. The villain may be offstage for the first two-thirds of the book, but the characters will still be feeling the effects of the villain's actions.

Meanwhile, I have the leading edge of a potential story idea nagging at my head, thanks to watching ice dancing yesterday. It was the story behind a piece of music that I now suddenly want to play with. I'm just not yet sure how.

Friday, February 07, 2014


I'd like to blame the snow for my lack of productivity yesterday, but I think maybe my subconscious/muse might have had something to do with it because I finally realized that there's a problem with this book, so something was dragging its metaphorical feet.

It started with realizing the problem with the scene I was working on. It's essentially the midpoint of the book, a big turning point that's also a bit of a spectacle (if this were a movie, this scene would be amazing). But I was midway through writing it when I realized it was kind of boring, in spite of the spectacle. And then I realized that it was because the protagonists weren't in any kind of jeopardy. I didn't feel any sense of tension or risk. I went back to the drawing board to figure out how to add that to the scene, and then I realized that the whole book is like that. My main characters are never in danger.

Not that the protagonists of every story need to face constant danger, but they need to have something at stake, something at risk. In a straightforward romantic comedy without wizards or fairies, that might be emotional risk, and that's often depicted through humiliating moments or personal revelations. I kind of have the personal, emotional stakes in this story because there's something big that the protagonists are trying to achieve, and it will be a huge loss for one of them if they fail. But that's in the big picture. In individual scenes, there's not much at stake, and this is an adventure-type story, so they should be in danger along the way. I went back and looked at each scene so far, and there's one scene in which we might be slightly worried about the fate of one of the main characters, and he gets out of trouble pretty easily. The other main character is a little too invincible. Otherwise, it's just some of the very secondary characters who seem to be in occasional jams. My main characters help other people who are in danger, but they have nothing at risk, themselves.

After I got done with the groaning and banging my head against the wall, I realized that this is an opportunity. While I like some of the individual scenes, I've always had the nagging sense that something is missing from this book, and now I know what it is. I wonder if I was maybe in a conflict/risk-averse place when I wrote the first half because now that I look at it, I can see a lot of places where there could have been jeopardy, but I shied away from it, like I was afraid of making bad things happen to my characters. Now I guess it's a real back to the drawing board for some brainstorming about how, exactly, to fix this. In particular, I need to really shake things up for my heroine. She's the kind of person who feels like she's always in control of a situation, and to make things interesting, I need to get her into fixes she can't get out of by herself or that at least require serious effort on her part.

So, that'll be my fun for the day.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Let it Snow

The light dusting of snow and scattered flurries that was forecast for today turned out to be a blanket of white when I got up. I'd say there's at least half an inch on the ground, and it's still falling. I know that's not a lot, but it's still more than was expected. The falling snow is very light and fluffy, so I can barely see it while sitting in my office without my glasses on. I can just see movement against the dark windows of the office building across the street. I'm also starting to hear something hitting the skylight, so it might be turning into sleet. I'm now very glad I got groceries yesterday and have nowhere to go today.

I have already had part of my Betty Crocker moment. When I got up and saw the snow, I was inspired to cook breakfast instead of having my usual piece of toast. I'd just bought some fresh breakfast sausage, so I had sausage and grits. I'll be making an Italian sausage tomato sauce for dinner. (Can you tell they had sausage on sale at the grocery store? And it's the store that makes their own fresh sausage that's very lean and quite tasty.) I've considered making a batch of bagels today, since I'm out, but I don't know about that. It depends on how much writing I get done.

I'm nearing the approximate halfway point in the current book and had to stop yesterday when I realized I was at a pivotal scene but didn't know what else should happen other than the main plot point. It's a "set piece" type scene that provides some of the imagery and fun inherent in the premise in addition to providing a plot turning point. So, I had to stop and brainstorm, and I think I came up with some good ideas, so I'm ready to write when I get going today.

If I can stop staring out the window at the snow falling. It seems like it's really coming down now, but I can't quite tell how much is actually falling and how much is wind whipping around the stuff that's on the ground. There's something so hypnotic about falling snow.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Second Guessing in Public

I wrote actual new words yesterday, and it was very exciting. I may not quite reach my time quota today unless I'm very good because I have to run some errands on the way to choir this afternoon, which shortens my day. I don't have to teach tonight, but I do have to direct the choir in performing. I'm iffy on going to my own choir rehearsal, as I still can't sing very much. But I am now sleeping well with no medication, which is wonderful. Tomorrow is supposed to be really cold and nasty, with possible winter precipitation, so it should be very productive for me, unless I go on a cooking binge, which tends to happen in that kind of weather. At the first hint of snow, I turn into Betty Crocker.

I had to go out to get groceries this morning because I was starting to have to get creative with what I had on hand. Last night, I did an oven-fried chicken breast, using a coating of bread crumbs mixed with Parmesan cheese, and since I had the oven on and it used the same temperature, I roasted a mix of sweet and white potatoes. I think that may now be my favorite way to cook sweet potatoes. But now I have plenty of canned tomatoes, so I have more options. I plan to pick up some Italian sausage and some vegetables on the way to church tonight and make a big vat of spaghetti sauce tomorrow. The up side of cold weather is that I don't have to worry about things sitting in my trunk -- unless it's to worry about them freezing. I may have to bring a cooler to insulate the things that aren't supposed to freeze.

I try to avoid saying negative things about other authors in a public forum, but I have been pushed too far, and now I have to get something off my chest:

Please shut up, J.K. Rowling.

In case you missed it, she gave an interview saying that Ron and Hermione shouldn't have ended up together. Okay, so maybe I'm emotionally invested there because I basically am Hermione and Ron was my favorite character, and I noticed the groundwork being laid in the first book, so a huge part of my enjoyment of the series was seeing the relationship develop as they grew up, and I thought she did a rather brilliant job of conveying it all through the eyes of Harry, who was rather clueless about it, so the clues had to be conveyed in a subtle way so that the reader would notice even if the viewpoint character was rather dense. And I loved that it busted the trope of the hero always getting the girl. Finally, the best friend got the girl, instead, and it wasn't even treated so much as a "reward" as it was those two having time to develop a relationship while Harry was busy saving the world. But even if I didn't have an emotional stake in it, I think it's rather poor form for an author to retroactively second-guess her own work in a public forum.

This follows up the many questionable things she said soon after the last book was published, in which she revealed what the outcome for the various secondary characters would be, in some cases outright stomping on what fans hoped for, and outed Dumbledore, I guess to get credit for diversity without actually putting it in the books. There was a newspaper column written at the time with the title "Harry Potter and the Author Who Would Not Shut Up."

I guess the whole concept is utterly foreign to me, as another author of a seven-book series. The series is what's in the books, period. If I didn't put it there, you're free to imagine what's around the edges, and I'm not going to do interviews saying that you're wrong because this is what happens to those secondary characters twenty years later. While there might be a few things I'd have done differently (not that I can think of any off the top of my head), I'd never say so in public. In fact, anything I might want to do differently, I could use elsewhere. If I wanted a relationship to go another way, I'd come up with a different series with different (though maybe similar) characters, and then play it out the other way. I'm not going to say what happens after the series closes because I really don't know. That's why I'm not currently planning to write more books, because I can't see what's happening. These people drew the blinds on me. If I could see more, I'd write it.

The reason I think it's a bad idea to talk about your own work in that way is that it can alienate the readers who liked the way it turned out. I'm feeling a little betrayed for having bought into what she actually sold me, now that I know she herself didn't like it. That's a strange feeling. I'm used to not liking the way things work out, but then it's my problem, and if I don't like it, I can write my own book. But liking the way things worked out and then being told by the author that I'm wrong violates the sense of trust between author and reader. How would you guys feel if I started doing interviews saying that Owen and Katie really didn't belong together?

I'll talk about back story, inspiration, silly little details, etc., but for the most part, I think the books speak for themselves.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Onward, ho!

It's kind of sad when you're looking at sleep as a great achievement, but I managed to really sleep last night without any medical help at all. That must mean I'm somewhat on the mend. I was never really, really sick, but being at a low level of not entirely well for weeks is possibly worse and more annoying than being truly sick for a few days and then getting over it. If I'd had a regular job, I probably would have had to go to work, but I would have felt lousy while doing so. I did get my work done at home, so I suppose I would have managed in an office. I'm not sure about getting up in time to be at an office at eight, though, since I was often sleeping until ten after a night of coughing. Reason number about three zillion why I have to keep making this writing thing work. I'm not sure I could cope with going back to having a regular job. There would be tears.

I spent yesterday re-reading the book so far to get myself into that headspace and to remind myself of what's happened. There was one big question that came up in my second half plotting where I really wasn't sure what I'd written. Now I have that answer. There are a few things I want to adjust in the first part, now that I've revisited it. Then onward-ho!

A couple of little news items:

The Dutch publisher is going to reissue the first three books in e-books and possibly in an omnibus edition. If this does well, they may consider publishing the rest of the series in translation. So if you're a Dutch reader and want the rest of the series, I guess you need to nag people about trying it.

Speaking of nagging people to try … Random House seems to have dropped the e-book price of the first book to 3.99, so if you've been trying to get someone hooked but they only buy cheap e-books, here's the chance. Unfortunately, the other books have the slightly higher price, but they're all still within the mass-market paperback range rather than the trade paperback range they used to be, so once they've given book one a try, maybe they'll be willing to continue. The first book is already back on one of the category bestseller lists. It would be funny if that nearly ten-year-old book suddenly started selling well enough to be a true bestseller, now, after all this time.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Is this Tea?

You know it's going to be one of those Mondays when you realize that you've poured the orange juice into your tea mug. Fortunately, I hadn't yet put the tea in it. It was just sitting on the counter, waiting for the tea to brew, and I suppose orange juice in tea wouldn't be so bad, as I like orange spice tea, but still, it wasn't what I was supposed to be doing and it took me a while to realize that what I was doing was wrong and what was wrong about it.

However, I'm actually feeling much better because I got some sleep and rest over the weekend. I hadn't been sleeping well because of the cough. I didn't even really need to cough anymore, but had that lingering cough reflex so that I was waking up coughing every hour or so. I finally broke down and broke out the prescription cough syrup, and that worked to stop the coughing and let me sleep. I must have been really tired because I nearly slept the clock around two nights in a row. Now I'm close to having my normal energy levels. I was even able to sing a little bit yesterday.

That means I'm ready to start writing again today. Once I send the last book off to the editor, I'm ready to dive in and finish the book I've been working on. All that cover concept brainstorming helped pave the way toward getting back in the mood to work in this world.

And my agent and I finally found a concept we agreed upon. I won't tell which series inspired the idea because I hope it won't be obvious in the finished product. Now to see what the designer has to say about the matter … I've been searching the Internet for reference images to give the designer to give an idea of what's been in my head. The funny thing about this book is that a lot of my mental casting came up after I wrote the book. I did have mental casting for one character, but for the others, it was a case of seeing someone on TV after I wrote the first draft (in one case, after entirely finishing the book) and saying "Hey, that's my character!" Strangely, having a more concrete mental image hasn't at all changed the way I see these characters as I write them. The people I saw after the fact were that close to what I had in my head. Freaky.

Now I need more tea. Without orange juice.