Greetings from France!

I’m currently attending a writing retreat/workshop at La Poterie in Château-du-Loir. I’ve only been here one full day, but already I’m learning so much. Also feeling nourished by the fresh air and beautiful environment. I don’t know that I’ll be updating much because the goal is to focus on writing, but I promise lots of pictures when I return home next week!

WIPjoy #14

From a side character: what gives you joy in life?

Michaels, Duncan’s valet, has volunteered to answer this one.

Michaels: I enjoy being in town, where we can gossip and be on the inside of all society’s flow of information. Being in the country is so dull by comparison. I like to be where the bustle is . . . And where there are better chances for stealing kisses from cute maids in neighboring townhouses.

Self-Publishing

This is not by any means meant to be a comprehensive list of how to self-publish. But someone sent me a message on Facebook asking for self-publishing guidance, and I wrote, well, a lot. Like, a really long answer. And it occurred to me that others might like this information, too.

The important thing to remember is that there is no “one size fits all” in self-publishing. It’s a living, organic system that changes regularly. But some of the core steps remain the same. The goal is to produce a really good book, and that’s not something you can rush.

So here is my long-winded response to the person who asked for advice:

Okay, for starters you need to know *why* you’re self-publishing. Is it because you already tried agents and publishers and didn’t get anywhere? Or because you prefer to do it yourself? I was telling my writing group that you either invest time—queries—or money—self-publishing.

But what are you hoping to get in return? Is it about making money or are you really just looking to get your story out there? (They don’t have to be mutually exclusive, of course, but will you feel “successful” if you only sell a few copies? What will make you happy? It’s important to know.) I highly recommend the FB group For Love or Money. Lots of self-published authors there with lots of great advice.

Assuming you’ve answered these questions for yourself, you have to (a) write the book, (b) get feedback from critique partners and beta readers, (c) rewrite, (d) get more feedback, (e) repeat the revision-feedback cycle until the book is polished and shiny, (f) get it professionally edited, (g) get a cover made, (h) format the book, or hire someone to format it, (i) decide if you’re going to be exclusive with Amazon or “go wide” with other publishers—well, you’ll need to know this when formatting, actually, (j) build buzz, (k) set up a pre-order, (l) build more buzz, (m) finally release the book and continue to market it while writing the next one.

It’s a lot of work.

And I’d say definitely go ahead and start a blog, Twitter, FB author page—whatever social media you’re comfortable using and think you will use consistently. DON’T start a blog if you don’t think you’ll use it because a blank blog is worse than no blog. But you want to start sending out little tidbits, reaching out to other authors in your genre, maybe ask them for guest posts on your blog or ask if anyone is willing to host a post by you. It’s a trade economy. “I’ll post about your book if you post about mine.” Start getting your name out there, catch people’s interest so they begin to anticipate your book.

That’s for starters, anyway. If you have more questions, I’m happy to answer. And I can point you to more resources, too, like the 20booksto50k FB group as well. The boards on the Absolute Write forum can be helpful, too, but overwhelming.

All of it can be overwhelming, actually. Which is why I broke it into steps. Don’t be scared! (But it’s okay if you are; even after years of this, I’m scared every time I write a new book.) Deep breaths, and tackle it one item at a time. Or two if you want to multi-task. And remember there is a very supportive community out here. We love helping—and go on and on as per this message. Sorry about that.

On the flip side: don’t take anyone’s advice too seriously. You’ll only freeze up. Go with what feels right and natural to you and your process. It’s different for everyone, can be different for every book even. Try stuff and decide what works for you.

Hope this helps. ~MPL

I’ve had my best success as an author through self-publishing. Which isn’t to say I don’t love my publishers, too. I’m so grateful to them for taking chances on me and my work. But it’s a simple fact that my self-published books have done better for whatever reasons. So I’ll continue to self-publish at least some of the time. I judge whether to query or self-pub on a book-by-book basis.

Anyway, as I state, I’m always happy to answer questions if and when I know the answers. And there are many wonderful resources out there. You don’t have to—and shouldn’t—do it alone! Writing may be a solo endeavor, but publishing is not.

WIP Wednesday

Haven’t done one of these in a while! Here’s a little bit more from Changers 2: The Great Divide

Cee’s gaze traveled up Marcus’s form to the curve of his neck and the dark gloss of his curls in the sunlight. She couldn’t see his face, but the slight turn of his head showed her a clinched jaw.

Don’t swoon, said Livian.

Who’s swooning? I’m not swooning.

He will never love you the way you want him to.

I know. And Cee tried very hard not to think, but Diodoric will. Does. Because there were some things she didn’t want Livian—or herself—to know.

Writing Women

By which I mean, writing female characters. It’s an ongoing topic of discussion, the center of many a college course, debated and mused upon. We use the term “strong women,” usually interchangeably with “kick-ass heroine.”

I don’t write kick-ass heroines, so I guess maybe I don’t write strong women, either.

There are other ways to be strong, of course. The woman who doesn’t need a man and is out to prove it usually ends up with a love interest anyway. Oh! But we’re supposed to believe she’d be fine without the guy, that this is a choice she’s made—to let the guy into her life, make him part of her world.

It’s a choice women make in real life, too: whether or not to pursue relationships with people, male or female. Who to allow in, who to keep out. A woman doesn’t have to be fighting vampires or whatever to qualify on that front.

Think about strong women you know. In what ways are they strong? Why do you see them as strong?

I know, I know, you’re writing fiction. You want characters who do more than the average, everyday human. That’s fine, but . . . I dunno. I’m kind of tired of all the kick-ass women. (Except Wonder Woman. That movie was awesome.) Especially since the kick-ass women in most books have emotional dysfunctions that eventually only end up being “fixed” by that love interest I mentioned before.

Everyone has problems. But we don’t all have to be dysfunctional, emotionally distant, bitchy, off-putting . . . Yet these are the character traits that I often see being used as shorthand for “strong.” Even in male characters.

I really meant to go into this post discussing the Bechdel Test and the Mako Mori Test. The thing about the Bechdel Test is that it was taken from a comic strip whose punchline was that, if you were to only watch movies that pass that test, you’d never go see any movies. (Even when the comic character says she went to see Alien because two women discuss a monster instead of a man—I mean, come on. How is talking about a monster significantly different from talking about a guy?)

If you’re not familiar with the Bechdel Test (called a “rule” in the comic but now used as an informal test by those looking for sexism in media), a passing grade is achieved if a movie (a) has at least two women in it who (b) talk to one another (c) about something other than a man. In other words, a man cannot be the glue to the relationship.

So many kick-ass book heroines fail this. They usually have no female friends to begin with.

The Mako Mori Test is taken from Pacific Rim. To pass this test, a movie (or text) must (a) have at least one woman who (b) has her own story arc (c) that is not merely a support for a man’s story.

Those kick-ass heroine books pass this one since they’re almost always about a woman who has her own story arc . . . Though usually that arc is significantly impacted by a man/love interest and sometimes becomes about him.

I don’t mean to dump on all these books. It’s just that they all sound and look the same, and I’m not convinced that writing about “strong” women in this way is helpful. Female main characters? Yes, absolutely. Flawed? Of course, who isn’t? But can’t she be strong in other ways? Can we broaden the definition of “strong female character”? (Or strong male character for that matter?)

Maybe it’s a genre thing. I enjoy books by Kate Morton, whose female characters are strong, I think. They have secrets, backbones, determination. Tana French’s books—a couple of them have had female narrators, though they almost always interact with men rather than other women. The historical fiction I enjoy, stories of the Tudor queens, well . . . The women in those books mostly talk about the king and the court, so . . . Still, I’d frame many of these characters as strong, even if they fail the Bechdel or Mako Mori Tests. These are characters dealing with high-pressure situations, having to think and act quickly. These are intelligent women in worlds stacked against them. Women who make difficult decisions and stick to their proverbial guns when it would be easier to let things go.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this. It’s mostly me musing aloud (well, as I type anyway). Tell me about strong women you’ve read or written. What you like and dislike in female characters. Give me some examples of well and badly written women. What makes a character—of any gender—well rounded? Tell me all about it in the comments.

London Bridge Is… (or, Minding the Gap)

This isn’t London Bridge, btw. It’s Tower Bridge. But I think it’s the bridge most people think of when they hear “London Bridge” or even just think of London and its many bridges.

You’ll see I have Kylo Ren and Jim Moriarty there. I’ve often thought I should start a little blog or Tumblr or vlog of their adventures: “Kylo & Jim.” It may yet happen.

I also have Bast on the left and Nike on the right. And a model of Stonehenge my oldest son made when he was five or six years old. (He’s 11 now.)

There’s a card from the artist who did the cover to Manifesting Destiny, and tiny model of Venice’s Piazza San Marco, too.

I do big LEGO projects when I’m stuck in my writing. Or sometimes I do puzzles. Anything, really, to change my focus so my writing brain can just run in the background and sort things out. If I try to do it consciously, it never works. I just overheat and feel more stuck and more frustrated. But if I go do something else that uses a different part of my brain, in a few days I’ll be writing again.

Tower Bridge saw me through tough parts of Manifesting Destiny. Now that I’m working on the sequel, I have another project queued up:

You’ll notice the box isn’t open yet. I’ve been tempted, I’ve been close, and I expect I’ll be building Westminster soon as The Great Divide has me entrenched in a slog at the moment.

These projects are my bridges when I’m stuck, blocked. Isn’t that what bridges are for, after all? To cross places we otherwise could not?

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Posted as part of the WEP challenge for June.

IWSG: Quitters

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: Did you ever say “I quit”? If so, what happened to make you come back to writing?

I’ve quit multiple times. Or tried. Writing is an addiction. Or really, for me it’s a vent, an escape valve for all that builds up inside of me. I keep hoping to be heard—I often feel as though no one is listening when I’m trying to tell them something, that no one cares. Maybe, for me, writing is a semi-permanent thing so that one day someone will read and hear and listen and I’ll no longer be ignored. One day I’ll matter.