IWSG: Pileup on the Writing Turnpike

It’s time again for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Posts go up the first Wednesday of each month. Read more posts and/or join in here.

I have a lot to be insecure about these days. 1. I need to finish Faebourne because it has a set pub date of August 7. (Also a gorgeous cover!) 2. After seeking advice, I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to shelve Hamlette and write an entirely different Shakespeare book (if I want to continue doing the Shakespeare thing, which I think I do, though I feel less sure than before). That’s really a tough one—I put all that time and energy into Hamlette and now it feels like a waste. 3. Changers 2? Maybe?

Question of the Month: When your writing life is a bit cloudy or filled with rain, what do you do to dig down and keep on writing?

Um, sometimes I don’t. That’s probably the wrong answer, but it’s the truth. I’ve never had anything good come out of trying to force it, though. Instead of fiction, I’ll write in my journal or something. Get the emotions out. I find that clarifying as an exercise. If I can figure out what’s really bothering me, I can then make a plan of action to start to feel better.

Brynnde Scores a PW Review

It seems like Brynnde is on an upswing. Yesterday it was featured on the Indie Beginning podcast (see yesterday’s post), and I also discovered Booklife/Publishers Weekly had reviewed it! Read the review here.

All of this makes me ever more determined to get Faebourne done and out into the hands of my readers. I hope you’ll embrace it as warmly as you have Brynnde.

A Random Pile of Thoughts

Well, 2018 is 25% finished. How have you done so far this year? How are you feeling? Looking at the goals I set at the start of the year, well . . . Um . . . I’ve had to rearrange a few things. Here’s what I originally set:

  1. Finish Changers 2. Deadline: 1 March
  2. Find an agent for Hamlette. Deadline: 1 May
  3. Lose 15 lbs. Deadline: 1 June
  4. Finish Faebourne. Deadline: 1 September

Changers 2 is not anywhere near finished. In fact, it’s been backburnered in favor of Faebourne, which now has a pub date of 7 August. So that’s been prioritized.

As for Hamlette, based on feedback from agents, my hopes for it have dimmed considerably. I’m now at the point where I need to decide whether to trunk it or self-publish.

But I’m pleased to say I’ve lost some weight! I now only have 10 lbs to lose.

Revised goals:

  1. Finish Faebourne. Deadline: 20 July
  2. Lose 10 lbs. Deadline: 1 June
  3. Finish Changers 2. Deadline: ???
  4. Decide what to do with Hamlette Deadline: ???

Today is Easter as well as April Fool’s Day. I’m not one for pranks. I don’t have the patience for that kind of thing; I guess I’m too serious-minded. It’s why I don’t watch movies with juvenile bathroom humor. I just don’t find that funny.

Still, the kids hunted eggs this morning. One of the plastic eggs had been eaten through by a squirrel, which makes me worry the squirrel went away with a stomach ache. Eating plastic like that can’t have been good for him. But bravo for the determination, little guy. (And he did take some of the candy out of the egg, too. So it wasn’t entirely for naught.)

We went to a Passover seder last night, too, at my in-laws. So there are just a lot of holidays stacked this weekend. And it’s spring break for my kids as well.

It occurred to me recently that my kids have somewhat posh hobbies. My daughter takes horseback riding lessons, and the boys do fencing. And this morning they were all out back doing archery. I suppose it’s all good until one of them decides they want to take up tennis.

Here is hoping you have a wonderful holiday, whichever you may celebrate, and a wonderful spring in general. And I hope any goals you set for 2018 are beginning to bear fruit—more than mine, anyway!

BTW, tune in to the Indie Beginning podcast tomorrow to hear some of Brynnde! And the following Monday, April 9, will feature yours truly!

Faebourne Cover Reveal!

I’m so excited about the beautiful cover Elena at L1graphics has created for Faebourne! I seriously want to blow it up to poster size and hang it in my office where I can look at it every day. It makes me so happy!

And thank you to everyone who voted and sent me comments on the various cover designs. It seems most of you liked this one best, but I think I would have chosen it regardless. The moment I saw it, I swooned—and that’s the reaction I’m hoping readers will have too!

Without further ado, here it is:

About Faebourne:

When unassuming Duncan Oliver is kidnapped by the Milne brothers, his usually tame life takes a turn for the bizarre. The Milne family is rumored to carry a peculiar strain of insanity—or could it be true that they have fairy blood in their veins? Either way, the lovely Adelia Milne appears to have cast a spell over Duncan . . . An enchantment that, the longer Duncan stays at Faebourne, the more reluctant he is to break.

Publication day is August 7!

It’s Raining Rejection

Rejection is a part of the writing process. Precious few writers don’t suffer it in one form or another: rejected queries, rejected manuscripts, or the rejection of the reading public (often in the form of one-star reviews).

Today I received this rejection from an agent who’d done me the great good service of reading my entire manuscript:

This is an original concept and you’ve done a great job creating a novel with a strong voice and engaging characters. That said, after careful consideration, I just didn’t connect as strongly with this project as I would need to in order to represent it.

Arrrgh! (No, not a pirate. Frustration.)

I really, really want to take consolation from that first line. But . . . If the novel was good, why doesn’t she want to represent it? And since she doesn’t give me any specific feedback or suggestions, I can’t help thinking the manuscript must be unsalvageable. Like, if she thought I could do something to make it better, she’d at least give me an R&R, right?

[For the uninitiated, an R&R is a “revise & resubmit.” Agents and editors sometimes offer that if a manuscript isn’t quite there yet but they see potential.]

There are a couple other agents still looking at the manuscript, but all the rejections thus far have been of that same ilk: “Really good, but didn’t connect.” At this point I don’t know what I’m going to do with this book. Burn it? While I try to decide how to build a suitable bonfire, I’ll focus on finishing Faebourne. That one I’ll publish myself. (Already have a gorgeous cover, so be on the lookout for it in a future post!)

Please Vote!

I’m getting cover designs for my new Regency romance Faebourne and I need some help narrowing things down. Click here to see and vote. Which of those covers makes you want to pick up the book and read it? Thanks for your input!

(P.S. I know two of the covers look almost exactly alike, but the font and color of the title is different. So if you like one more than the other, let me know that too!)

IWSG: Celebrating

It’s time again for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Posts go up the first Wednesday of each month. Read more posts and/or join in here.

Right now I’m caught between the desire to land an agent or [reputable] publisher and the option to self-publish. This is mostly due to my own impatience, but it also comes in part from feedback I received from an agent at the San Francisco Writers Conference. My current manuscript is a YA contemporary update of Hamlet, and the agent said that’s already overdone. That I should go choose a lesser known Shakespeare play to rework instead. She said I could then sit on my current manuscript so I’d have it if whatever fresher thing I wrote took off, or that I could self-publish it. The gist was: it’s good to have another manuscript banked. At the same time, there are no guarantees. And it wouldn’t necessarily work against me to publish it myself since they wouldn’t technically be a series.

Well. I’ve got a couple agencies still reading the manuscript, so maybe not all hope is lost. But if everyone passes . . . I don’t know what I’ll do. At least I’ve outlined a couple more Shakespeare books to write as well.

Question of the Month: How do you celebrate when you achieve a writing goal/finish a story?

Depends on the achievement. If I land a contract (or agent, or option, though those things have then fallen through), we usually go out to eat. If I just finish a draft or something, I don’t do much of anything special. Maybe eat a cookie or something.

SFWC 2018: Beta Readers

There are three types of pre-publication readers:

  1. Alphas
  2. Betas
  3. ARC Readers

Alpha readers are your earliest critics. These are the members of your writing group that see your roughest work.

Betas are the ones we hear about most. They read the manuscript after you’ve tidied it up from the feedback you’ve received from your alpha readers.

ARC readers are seeing the final product. You’re not looking for feedback at that point so much as people to review your book and generate some buzz.

There is one other kind of reader, and those are live readers, meaning people who are reading the book as it’s written. This is specific to display sites like Wattpad, where you may post a chapter at a time to build an audience.

Finally, there is a subcategory of readers: sensitivity readers. Those are people from a certain backgrounds that can advise authors on whether or not the representations in the book are accurate—or potentially offensive. For instance, a white hetero author writing a black transgender character would probably want a sensitivity reader to look at the manuscript prior to publication.

Okay, so why even have beta readers? Well, think of it as similar to a Hollywood test screening. When a studio makes a movie, they’ll host small screenings to get feedback from general audiences. Then they may make changes to the movie based on that feedback. Beta readers allow you to fine tune your book. At the same time, you can build a fan base or community, a group of core supporters who (hopefully) are excited about your book and will spread the word.

How do you find beta readers? The easiest way is to simply ask. Start with friends and family, but also look into online communities where members might have interest in your subject matter. Put a call out in your newsletter or put links in your ebook back matter. There are readers who would love to feel like they’re part of an exclusive group that gets a sneak peek at a new book.

How many readers do you need? The number of alpha readers will usually depend on how many people are in your critique group. If you don’t have a critique group, well, you should definitely find one. But if you can’t, at least try to find around three people to read your rough work. When you’re ready for a beta read, you want more like 10-20 readers. For ARCs, you want as many as you can get. Same for live readers—you want to hook as many as possible.

The most important aspect of getting and keeping beta readers is engaging them. Make them feel valued and special, like they’re part of an exclusive club. Create a Facebook group just for them, and keep in regular touch with them. Give them something to do—be specific about what you’d like from them. And always thank them, even if they’ve given you feedback that’s difficult to swallow. These people have given you their time for free, so they deserve your gratitude.

You’ll get the best (meaning most useful) feedback if you ask specific questions. Just don’t ask too many, or else your readers will feel overwhelmed. I use the rule of three when considering feedback. If one person says they don’t like something, it might just be them. If two people say it, I’d better take a look. If three or more people have the same issue, I need to fix/change it.

That said, don’t start editing until your results are in and conclusive. It helps to give readers a deadline and maybe send a couple of reminders. Just don’t pressure them too much. Again, they’re giving you their time for free.

When do I beta? I wrote a post a while back about the order of the writing process. You will normally beta after your critique/rewriting loop is done but before the professional edit. This is because a professional edit costs money, and you don’t want to pay for that only to have to change everything due to beta feedback. Still, that’s no excuse for giving your betas shoddy material. It needs to be clean and polished for them in a way it doesn’t need to be for your alphas.

I’ve written all this in a lead-up to introducing a site I learned about while at SFWC. It’s called BetaBooks and I’m giving it a try with Hamlette. So if you’re interested in beta reading for me, please let me know! I’ll be posting chapters on BetaBooks as I revise. I hope you’ll consider reading and giving me some feedback. At the same time, we’ll be checking out how well the BetaBooks site works. Should be fun, so please join us!

A Scene

“Toya is ‘special’ to Yukito.”

. . . Well, until he heard it from Yuki directly . . .

Toya didn’t distrust Yue, exactly—if he had, would he have given Yue his power?

Yes. To stop Yuki from disappearing, yes. Yue, it seemed, was part of the deal.

“Toya!”

As though on cue, Yuki’s voice rang out, and Toya stopped walking long enough for his friend to catch up. Out of breath but smiling, Yukito halted beside Toya. “You have work today?”

“No,” Toya said. He studied Yuki for a sign that what Yue had told him was true. Was he special to Yukito?

Yuki’s smile faltered under the scrutiny. “Is something wrong?”

“No,” Toya repeated. He started walking again and Yuki kept pace beside him. “You seem more energetic lately.”

The smile returned in full force. “Yes! I was beginning to worry, but I feel much better now, ever since . . .”

Toya found he couldn’t look at Yuki. He stared straight ahead instead. “Since?”

“Toya, I . . .”

Something in Yuki’s tone brought Toya to a halt. He looked into Yukito’s eyes and wondered whether Yue was watching through them.

Yuki’s brow furrowed. He placed a hand on his breastbone as though to clutch—or shield—his heart.

“What is it, Yuki?” Toya asked.

Suddenly Yuki smiled again. “Nothing! I thought I’d forgotten my homework is all.”

Toya eyed him. Everything with Yuki was a negotiation. Toya constantly had to decide when to pursue and when to let go. This time . . .

He reached out and placed a hand on Yuki’s cheek. “Yuki. Whatever is troubling you, you can tell me.”

Yuki’s smile went slack and his eyes shimmered as though he might cry. “Toya . . .”

Toya waited. Why, oh why, did every interaction have to feel like being balanced on a knife blade? It was so exhausting. And yet there was still no one else Toya would rather spend time with.

Toya was about to relent, say something glib and continue walking, when Yuki pushed his cheek further against Toya’s hand. “Toya, I . . . like you.”

The words so startled him, Toya nearly dropped his hand. But that would have sent the wrong message, so Toya quickly overcame the impulse. “I like you, too, Yuki.”

“Really?” The eyes were so wide and searching, so hopeful, it pained Toya, even though the moment was a happy one.

“Really,” Toya confirmed. He felt a tightness release with him, a tension he hadn’t realized he’d been carrying. The hard edges of the world had softened.

Whatever else might happen, everything would be all right.

Toya dropped his hand. “Yuki . . .”

“Yes?”

Did you forget your homework?”

“N-no!”

“Come on, then. Maybe Sakura has made something to eat.”

“The Zodiac Clock”

I’m currently trying to find a home for this story I wrote called “The Zodiac Clock.” I don’t write many short stories these days, and I only wrote this one because there was an open call for submissions and I wanted to give that a shot. My story didn’t get picked for the anthology, so now I’m like, Well now what do I do with it? I think it’s a good story (though I’m probably biased), and I’ve been told to maybe write more and put out my own anthology, but before I go through all that, I’m looking for a place that might take the story first.

All this is a very long introduction to what I really meant to write about, which is: How I came up with the idea for the story.

I used to see this ad for a book called The Zodiac Cooks. It’s a cook book based on astrology, I guess? The image with the ad showed this blue cake divided into an astrological wheel/chart. Well, every time I saw this ad—every single time, even though I’d seen it a dozen times before—I’d think it said The Zodiac Clocks. Something about a quick glance at the image, and seeing the words out of the periphery of my vision—the cake looked a little like a clock, and “cooks” at a glance can be read as “clocks.” And I was sort of disappointed that it wasn’t The Zodiac Clocks because to me that sounds like an awesome book.

Well, as they say, if you can’t find the book you want to read, write it.

I didn’t write a whole book though, just the story. It does lend itself to expansion however. There’s potential there. I could either turn the story into a full novel or write more stories in the same world. I just don’t know yet if I want to do that.

Hopefully one of the places I’ve sent the story will want it. Otherwise I’ll shelve it for the time being.

Some stories start with the story and the title comes later. But sometimes you’ve got this great title and just have to find a way to make it happen.