IWSG: February 2019

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.

What am I insecure about these days? Getting any writing done thanks to general upheaval. 1. We’re (hopefully) selling our house and (hopefully) moving. 2. My doctor says I need surgery. 3. I’m working with a nutritionist and so am on a new diet… that I hate… I’m overwhelmed and exhausted, and writing has fallen by the wayside.

ETA: We did sell our house, and we have bought a new one! Now all my insecurities can be about the actual move!

Question of the Month: Besides writing, what other creative outlets do you have?

I guess it depends on what you consider “creative.” Sometimes when I can’t find words, I go throw paint on a canvas. Just abstract, you know, because I can’t actually paint. I also love to sing. We do family karaoke nights regularly. But I also really enjoy puzzles and big LEGO kits… Do those count?

Have you read Faebourne yet? If not, pick it up on Kindle (free via Kindle Unlimited!) or in paperback!

An Obscure Author?

Back when I would devour Victoria Holt books, there was another author whose works I likewise snapped up: Sara Hylton. She seems to have quite a bibliography to her name, but at the same time, I’ve never heard anyone talk about her. So I don’t know if she’s less well known, or if I just don’t talk to the right people.

I discovered Hylton’s books when I found The Talisman of Set at the library. It was exactly my kind of thing: an Englishwoman who keeps having dreams of Ancient Egypt and then is given a talisman that connects her to (if I remember correctly, though it’s been a couple decades since I read it) a past life. Oh, I adored that book! Found a copy of it in a thrift store and bought it, and I still have it on my shelf. (Well, we’re moving, so my books are packed, but it will be on my shelf again when we unpack.)

I also have a copy of Easter at the Lakes, which is another book by Hylton I enjoyed. Truth is, I don’t often come across her books in libraries or even used-book stores. Not these days, anyway. When I was younger, our library had a number of books by her that I read, often more than once: Caprice, The Crimson Falcon, The Whispering Glade, Jacintha, The Hills are Eternal… I’d say if you enjoy Victoria Holt and Daphne du Maurier, you’d probably like Sara Hylton’s work as well.

I don’t know much about Hylton herself, but her most recent books seems to have been published almost a decade ago, and she started in the 80s, so she must be older now.

What authors have you enjoyed that you’ve never heard anyone else mention? Are there any you wish more people knew about? Or maybe an author you read years ago that you only recently rediscovered? I’d love to hear all about it!

IWSG: January 2019

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.

Question of the Month: What are your favorite and least favorite questions people ask you about your writing?

I love being asked about my writing, and I can’t think of any questions that annoy me or that I don’t like to answer. If anything, I wish more people would ask me about my work… Maybe I just like to talk about myself!

I suppose there are offensive questions, but that’s usually based on how the question is asked. I get accusatory-sounding questions about why I make characters gay, for example. “Why did you have to make them gay?” Look, I know that’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but sometimes as I’m writing a character, I come to understand things about him or her. I don’t plan it; my characters grow organically as I write. A lot of mine happen to be gay.

When I first started writing The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller, I had planned for Peter to be a womanizer. Alas, he had different ideas, and it was Jules who stepped up to chase the girls. (I still have ideas forming in the back of my mind for a book about Jules.) When I was writing Faebourne, I had planned for George and Edward to get together, but… If you read the book, you see how that went.

That’s another thing I do get tired of hearing: “Oh, but you should be in charge of your characters and make them do what you say!” I find that creates stilted characters that are bound by plot. When reading, I can always tell when a writer was determined to stick to their outline because the characters don’t seem to breathe or act of their own accord. They do things that seem out of character or don’t make sense, and it’s usually because the author forced them.

It takes me a long time to write a draft because I’m a bit like Michelangelo, chipping away at the stone block and seeing the story take shape. I have a general sense of the story and what’s going to happen, but my outlines are very loose and free flowing. After that arduous draft, however, the refinement takes far less time. This is why it takes me about a year to write and publish a book: ~9 months of drafting and ~3 months of rewriting and editing.

Still, as long as people are respectful, I don’t mind answering whatever questions they may have.

Embracing It

Today I read an article giving many good reasons not to seek an agent or traditional publishing contract. They were all reasons I’d heard before, but these came from an established author who’d been published by big houses from 1987-2008. He pointed out that the world has changed a lot and… Traditional publishers haven’t. Why keep using a dial-up modem when Wi-Fi is so readily available?

In truth, I still struggle with my desire to have an agent and a book published by one of the “big five.” I’ve done okay with my self-published work, and I enjoy having the control, but… I think many authors are still looking for the validation that an agent and traditional publishing contract seemingly confers. We want to be chosen ones. Even as we know that we don’t have to wait for someone to choose us—we can choose ourselves, believe in ourselves—something inside us still craves it. We’re the girls (or boys) that know we can go to prom alone but deep down still want someone to ask us.

I went to prom with a group of friends—and fellow self-published authors can be that group of friends, too. And the nice thing about my prom photo is that I’m the only one in it. That sounds weird, but it means I don’t have to look at it and think, “That guy.” Not wistfully, or with distaste, or whatever feeling(s) having another person in the picture might have engendered. I can look at that picture and think, Damn, I looked good. And not be sorry.

But maybe still a little sad that I didn’t have a date.

It’s not a perfect analogy, but the sum total is about embracing being single at prom a self-published author. I don’t want to say “resigning oneself,” because it shouldn’t be that. So many people think of self-publishing as a last resort, but more and more it’s becoming many writers’ first choice. The article I linked to gives several good reasons for that. My reasons have become practical ones: self-publishing saves me a lot of time and agony, and my self-published work has done better than my small press-published stuff. I mean, if I’m going to put in the effort to market anyway, I might as well be getting all the royalties, right? And when I self-publish, succeed or fail, I can only blame (or congratulate) myself. It’s a neatly closed circle, tidy, and I like that.

Just like with that prom photo—if I’m going to be sorry about anything, it’ll be how I did my hair or something, not about who I chose to be with. Substitute agent/publisher for that guy in the photo, and… You kind of see it?

God, this analogy is messy.

Unfortunately, there is still some stigma attached to self-publishing. Though the quality of self-published books is largely rising, there are some bad ones out there. And there are readers (and other authors) who again assume that self-published books are the result of “not being good enough for ‘real’ publishing.” Bad enough that self-pubbed authors have to fight that image on the outside. We shouldn’t have to fight it in our own minds.

But we do sometimes. Or I do, at least. I still sometimes think I’m not good enough and wish a fairy god-agent would appear and sell my work to a big-name publisher. It’s an old dream, deeply rooted in the time when that was the only way to publish. Just like a dog that spent its life in a cage will feel vulnerable when first set loose in a yard, will sometimes want to run back to the comfort of its own imprisonment… We know the dog is better off with more room, though, right? And authors are better off with creative control of their work. It’s just that they’ve been told for so long that the cage is safe. Look at it: gilded, lovely. But still a cage, as those who’ve had the door slammed shut behind them can attest.

So. I’m determined to embrace, however awkwardly, the fact that I’m a self-published author and am likely to remain one. No more querying, wasting time waiting for generic responses (if and when they ever come at all). I’ve been pleased by the success of Brynnde and Faebourne and hope to build on that. This is me, alone in that prom photo. No regrets.

Gay or Not Gay? A Handy Guide

It was really only a matter of time that someone would give Faebourne a low-star review because there is a gay romance subplot. I did try to be clear in the book description, and the novel is placed in a gay fiction category besides, but… Ah, well. Not everyone reads the fine print.

Here, then, is a breakdown of my writing in terms of gay/not gay:

My books that feature gay characters:

  • The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller (main character is gay)
  • Manifesting Destiny (one of the main characters is gay)
  • Faebourne (supporting characters are gay)

Gay-free books:

  • The World Ends at Five
  • The K-Pro
  • Brynnde

Where are the Sherlock Holmes stories? Well, while in my stories Holmes and Watson are not gay, there are hints that Mycroft is. So it straddles the fence, I suppose.

I’m considering publishing a short story of mine called “The Zodiac Clock,” and it has gay characters, too. So if that bothers you, don’t read it.

I hope that clears up any potential confusion. Happy reading!

IWSG: December 2018

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.

Question of the Month: What are five objects we’d find in your writing space?

I have a home office known as Little London due to its decor. Amidst the prodigious clutter on my desk you will find my laptop, a cold drink of some kind (Dr Pepper, iced chai, or water), Kero-chan (from Cardcaptor Sakura), Kylo Ren (in two forms: a POP! figurine and a tsum tsum), and a Dalek.

I actually made a video of Little London once:

I’m a NaNoWriMo Failure

To be fair, I hadn’t planned to even try to do NaNoWriMo this year, but… I had this idea, shiny and new, and found myself logging into my old NaNo account and signing up for duty.

Then the shiny idea fizzled. I couldn’t get any traction, nor did I feel motivated to push it.

In truth, I don’t normally participate in NaNoWriMo because I’m now a full-time writer anyway, so it doesn’t feel as important to me as it did when I worked a day job. However, I happen to be a very slow writer, so the idea of NaNo possibly forcing me to not overthink things and just get words out does have a kind of appeal. Part of me thinks that if I were truly disciplined—or even if I wanted to badly enough—I’d have managed to get my 50k words regardless of obstacles like appointments, chores, holidays, etc. That’s true any month of the year, I suppose. In fact, NaNo seems to be just another way for me to feel bad about myself and my lack of productivity.

Still, I know NaNoWriMo is a great tool for many writers, so kudos to all who achieved their goal this month. (Or will in the next 24 hours or so.) As for me, all is not lost. I went back to that old K-Pro sequel and am now working on that. Who’da thunk it? I don’t even know if there’s still any interest from readers in this book, but I sure am having fun writing it!

My November was not a complete failure after all. Though I didn’t write 50k or finish a manuscript, I did get my mojo back. NaNo or no NaNo, I’ll call that a win.

Vanity Publishing

There seems to be some confusion about vanity publishing, and I totally understand that. With more and more authors choosing to self-publish and use “author services” to help them with that, vanity publishers are finding it easier to slither in and grab the unsuspecting. So let’s be clear:

You should never pay a publisher to publish your book.

If you plan to self-publish, you can expect to pay a cover designer, an editor, a proofreader, an interior formatter… You can expect to pay for an ISBN, perhaps several, depending on how many formats you want to publish in. If you’re doing an audiobook, you can expect to pay the talent (that is, your voice actor/narrator). But—here it is again because it can’t be said too often:

You should never pay a publisher to publish your book.

Never, never, never should you pay someone to put their label/logo/imprint on your work. A successful publisher—and that’s the only kind you want—makes its money from selling its authors’ books. It does not make money from authors paying for editing, covers, etc. If that’s how it makes its money, IT IS A VANITY PRESS. Run far, far away and never look back.

They’ll try to make it sound reasonable. “Well, we’ll sell you copies of your book at a discount.” But then they’ll add something like, “You have to agree to buy at least 100 copies.” They’ll tell you that “this is how publishing works.” It isn’t. Publishing works by investing in books they think will sell and then selling those books to readers. Not back to the author.

Vanity publishers will say that it’s only fair that you pay them for all that work—the cover, the editing, etc. That may sound reasonable to you, but STOP. A publisher’s very job is to provide those things to its authors. Random House doesn’t charge its authors for any of that stuff. No good publisher does. A real, true publisher has a staff of editors, designers, marketers who do all that and are paid by the publisher who, again, makes its money by selling books to readers.

Make sense?

A genuine publisher finds manuscripts it believes it can sell. It invests in those manuscripts and authors. It publishes those books and makes its money from those books. (And the author makes money from those books, too.)

Money comes to the author. The author does not pay.

Self-publishing is a bit different because the author is investing in him- or herself by paying out of pocket for the things a publisher would normally provide. Ideally, the book will sell and the author will recoup that money and make even more over the lifetime of the book. This is the crack that vanity publisher try to exploit. They offer the author all those things—the cover design, the editing—but they charge for it AND they intend to make the author pay for his or her own work. Nor will vanity publishers work to sell your book. They’ve already made their money off you; they aren’t motivated to sell the actual book except right back to the author who already paid thousands of dollars for the “privilege” of having this vanity publisher’s logo slapped on his book.

If you can’t find a genuine publisher, self-publish. Not only will it cost far less than vanity, but you’ll keep your rights and have complete control of your work. If you aren’t comfortable self-publishing, put that manuscript aside and write the next one. Keep trying until you find an agent or proper publisher. But don’t fall into the desperate trap of vanity publishing.

Not sure about a publisher? Check with Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware.

Library Talk!

A couple evenings ago, I gave a presentation at the Livermore Public Library about how to produce a polished manuscript. Paul Sevilla, who handles Public Services at the library, was nice enough to take some photos:

Thanks to everyone who braved the bad air quality (we’re dealing with smoke from the Camp Fire north of us) to hear me speak! And thanks to the Livermore Public Library for hosting me.

ETA: Video