All Hallows Write

The Rules:

#1 – Provide a BRIEF description of your novel before starting.
#2 – Don’t use the same character for more than 3 answers.

Okay, so here is my brief description of my novel:

Sixteen-year-old Nerissa Dey must do her father’s ghost’s bidding by bringing his murderers to justice.

More of a log line, but whatever.

The Questions:

1. It’s Halloween night! What is your protagonist dressed up as?

Probably something she could just pull out of her closet. She’s not the type to have planned ahead and bought a costume. She might put on a gown and some makeup and be a starlet, or just wear a lot of black and go goth for the night.

2. Who in your cast refuses to dress up and shows up at the Halloween party without a costume?

Well, if that’s an option, probably Nerissa.

3. Which character wears the most outrageous costume, and what would it be?

Nerissa’s mother Ophelia. She loves attention. So she’d definitely be in something slinky and eye catching. Maybe the Queen of Hearts.

4. On Halloween, werewolves, vampires, and zombies are on the prowl. Which of your characters gets caught in their clutches, and which creature do they subsequently turn into?

Poor Gwendolyn. This might be her fate. She’d be a werewolf, but a very cute and sweet one.

5. Who wins the contest for best costume?

Rosalind? Probably Rosalind.

6. Who hands out toothbrushes to the trick and treaters?

This is unintentionally funny (you’ll see why when you read the book). Um, Uncle Eoin. Cuz he sucks.

7. Which two of your characters decide to pair up and do an angel/devil costume together?

Rosalind and Gwendolyn would do this. Rosalind as the devil, of course, and Gwendolyn as the angel.

8. Someone is too scared to even attend the Halloween party. Who is it?

This could also be Gwendolyn.

9. Who overdoses on Halloween candy and ends up sick?

Liam? He’s kind of big and dumb and

10. Which character is most likely to place a curse/hex on someone and who would they curse?

Ophelia (Nissa’s mom) is nasty enough to do it. But I don’t think she’d curse Nerissa since she (Ophelia) is very aware of appearances. So she’d curse Nissa’s best friend Bea, just to get at Nerissa, or possibly to drive them apart.

Your turn! You can grab the rules and questions from this Tumblr page. #AllHallowsWrite

WIPjoy #12

12. Song/s on your MC’s playlist.

She would never admit to this, but she likes some of the music her dad listens—or listened—to. Like Fleetwood Mac and Elton John and The Police and (very, deeply secretly) Jim Croce. And the usuals from that period, too, like Pink Floyd and Queen. Maybe a bit of Moody Blues. Classic rock, basically, and while she probably wouldn’t be teased for it, Nissa errs on the side of caution and doesn’t really talk about her taste in music. Her friends can blare the latest radio pop star and she’ll just nod.

Playlist would include:

“Friends” by Elton John
“A Kind of Magic” by Queen
“Operator” by Jim Croce
“Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” by U2
“Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac
“In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel
“Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” by The Police*
“The Road and the Sky” by Jackson Browne
“Breathe” by Pink Floyd

*This is the one Nerissa dances to in her room when no one else is around.

WIPjoy #10

10. Describe your MC with a phrase for each of the 5 senses.

Nerissa’s skin is smooth, but her attitude is rough around the edges. Marc Jacobs’ Daisy wafts from the swing of her hair. Her tongue—her very voice—is the cracking of a whip. “I wish I could tan,” she says, “but I’m so pale, I practically glow at night.” Her words tend to be bitter, but at the core she’s sweet.

WIPjoy #9

9. How would your MC use Twitter?

Actually, I think she avoids Twitter, and I’ll tell you why. Her dad is famous. If Nerissa tries to go on Twitter, all she gets are requests for pics of her dad, questions about her dad, etc. Even if she makes up a name and identity, she gets ferreted out. Her dad advises against bothering with most social media, so Niss mostly texts and Skypes or FaceTimes her friends and that’s about it.

She might have Instagram though.

WIPjoy #7

7. A writing tip that has helped you.

There must be so many . . . I remember my thesis advisors telling me to watch for the word “just” because I used it too much. That was helpful. I know that it’s important to get a draft out and not pause to self-edit because then I’ll never finish the draft. That’s a useful tip, though I admit I struggle with it. Which is why it takes me forever to finish a draft. I’m trying to get better about that, though. Learning to query only agents at first and then publishers if I didn’t find an agent—that was good information, too. (I made the mistake of querying both simultaneously with one of my early manuscripts.)

In short, there are a lot of helpful tips out there. Some you’ll be able to implement, some may be harder. Some may feel unfair, like when I say, “Don’t rely on dreams and visions to move your protagonist through the story,” and then you see a successful author like Rick Riordan do that all the f***ing time, and you wonder why you can’t. The answer is: you’re not Rick Riordan. (And, really, it drives me up the wall when he does it, too.)

I’m always learning as a writer. I think that’s important. Publishing is a rapidly changing industry, and trends are also always in flux. (That’s another tip: don’t write to trends because by the time you’ve got a finished manuscript, that trend will likely be over.) So stay on top of what’s going on. And write what you like, what you feel passionate about, because it will show in your prose. Your enthusiasm as a writer is part of what pulls your readers in.

There must be a million more tips that have helped me but that I’m not thinking of right now. When I get good advice, I adopt it and it becomes part of my process, so integrated that I don’t even think about it any more. Meanwhile, be sure to follow #WIPjoy on Twitter for more great writing tips!

This Handbook for Mortals Thing

I won’t go into the details—there are plenty of articles all over the ‘net that will give you the blow by blow if you want it—but the basic story is this: a new YA novel titled Handbook for Mortals suddenly turned up in the #1 spot of the NYT Bestsellers List. That’s not so outrageous, one supposes. Nothing can stay at #1 forever, and The Hate U Give had been there a while. But this was a book and author no one had heard of. It hadn’t climbed the list, it just sort of appeared. Like magic.

Some curious parties went sleuthing and discerned that someone—the author, her publisher, maybe the would-be producer of the film version of this book—had gamed the system by calling NYT-reporting bookstores and placing bulk orders for HFM. Never mind that physical copies of the book are not available (or weren’t at the time). Apparently whoever was ordering all these books “for an event” wasn’t concerned about, you know, not having them. ??? Seems weird. Especially since every order came in at just under the number of books that would have flagged the order as a corporate sale.

The nail in the coffin seems to have come from associates at the bookstores who mentioned being asked whether they were NYT-reporting stores before the mysterious caller(s) placed the order. Way to be subtle, yo.

The author, Lani Sarem, denies any knowledge of such antics. She says they had encouraged stores to order in bulk in advance of upcoming events and conventions. She also says the marketing for the book has been targeted at said conventions, which is why the book wasn’t well-known in wider YA circles. In other words, just because no one has heard of her in one circle doesn’t mean she can’t sell a bunch of books. Because there’s more than one circle.

Though, usually, if something is getting traction at conventions and such, I feel like the publishing world keeps track of that too. The publishing community is seldom sideswiped by something or someone in its blind spot.

That said, I got curious. I wondered if maybe HFM was just a really good book, an underground hit rising to the top. So I went and read the free sample on Amazon.

Um . . .

No.

It’s really not very good. (That being my personal opinion, of course.) Boy does she love the word “basically.” And the author seems keen to hawk her ties to the entertainment industry and all her famous friends. Much of the criticism lodged at Sarem and her book is based on the idea the “marketing” (aka, the buying of a top spot on the NYT list) was designed to launch investor interest in the movie version rather than sell the book at all. Per IMDb, the main character will be played by Sarem herself. Which is probably why the book reads like a bad Mary Sue story.

But here’s the truth: publishing isn’t a meritocracy. Good books aren’t always what sell. Great writers are often buried by popular trash. Someone who takes the time to lovingly craft a story is going to get run over by the writer churning out half-baked manuscripts because these days it’s quantity over quality if you want to make any kind of money.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t take the time to write a good book, get it edited, etc. I’m just pointing out that readers aren’t always as picky as the writing community. All writers should be readers, but not all readers are writers, and the readers who aren’t writers aren’t looking at all the details writers do. Anyone can admire a beautiful house, but a builder is going to look for the nuts and bolts. Or whatever houses have.

I will say, the cover of HFM leaves one to wonder whether artist Gill Del-Mace gave permission to have his work adapted? Per the copyright page, they did at least get permission for some song lyrics.

Do I think HFM tried to game the system? Evidence points that way, but who knows? Maybe there are people really buying and reading the book. It hardly matters now since the NYT revised their list and restored The Hate U Give to the #1 spot. Handbook for Mortals is MIA.

The Order of Parts

Writing has a lot of steps. People who don’t write don’t understand that. Sometimes people who do write still don’t understand that. So I thought maybe I’d break it down a bit.

1. Writing
2. Critiquing
3. Beta
4. Editing
5. ARCs
6. Release

That’s a simplification. In truth most of these stages loop.

You write, and you get your critique group to read your writing. Then you rewrite and get it critiqued again. You keep doing this until you feel like you’ve got something worth showing your beta readers.

Note the difference between critique partners and beta readers. Your CPs are going to be other writers and people who know about things like grammar and punctuation. Your betas are going to be people who just like to read. They may know when something is misspelled, but that’s not their chief function. Their job is to tell you whether your story is confusing at some point, if they notice a major plot hole, if a character is annoying—all the things you talk about if YOU read a book and have issues with it. That’s what they’re going to do to YOUR book. And it’s as fun as it sounds but also really necessary.

After your betas have ripped your baby to bits, you get to fix all the problems. Then you can do another round of critiquing and beta reading. Then, when you’ve finally crawled back from your beta round with minimal pain, it’s time to hire a professional editor. You may also at this point begin exploring cover artists if you don’t already have one.

Your editor may find more issues (a good editor almost always will). After you’ve edited and polished your manuscript yet again, and once you’re relatively sure it’s as good as it can possibly be, you can start looking for ARC readers and advance reviewers. These people are NOT meant to give you feedback so that you can fix the book. They’re meant to tell other people whether or not the book is any good. If they say it’s not, then something in the previous steps went horribly wrong. Or you’ve tapped the wrong audience to read your ARCs. That’s actually also possible.

Finally, you can release your book into the wild. Yes, let it go. Try not to hover. Don’t pin all your hopes on this one title, no matter how much time and effort you’ve put into it. You should be getting on with your next book at this point. Looking forward not back.

“What about marketing?” I hear you asking. And of course that is important, but that’s another post for another time.

2016

If you follow publishing news at all, you’ll have read that the Association of American Publishers announced revenue was down 5.1% in 2016 (from 2015). Adult fiction declined 0.9%. But children’s and YA grew 5.9%, and almost 90% of those sales were in print.

My current WIP is a YA novel, and I won’t give it to anyone who won’t do a print copy. In fact, I’ve decided I won’t give any book to anyone who won’t give it a print run. If that means I self-publish, so be it. I’ve had more success with my self-published books anyway.

Some of it is simply that I want my books to be, well, books. Sure it is. I think many authors want that. But some of my motivation stems from the fact that it’s much harder to market just an ebook. I can’t show it off at conferences or put it on author tables for people to peruse. No one browsing a bookstore or library is going to stumble across it if it’s only in electronic format. And I can’t do a Goodreads giveaway for something that isn’t a physical book.

Also, ebooks fell 16.9% in 2016 from 2015. Almost everyone I talk to who reads prefers actual books. Many will read ebooks if they have no other choice, but most still show a preference for the “real” deal.

Yes, yes, a book is a book no matter its format. I agree in theory. I also read both physical books and ebooks. More and more books are only in e-format, so . . .

But if I examine my own behavior, I will almost always reach for a real book over trying to find something to download. My Kindle is full of books I may never read because I’d rather have a physical book in my hands. This article talks about how we don’t take in information the same way from a screen as from a page, which explains why some of us have such a strong preference for the printed word.

I don’t think ebooks are going away, and I’ll continue to put my books out in e-format as well, but I do feel as though I’m cutting my potential market short if/when there isn’t a physical book on offer. So often at author events I’ll have a my printed books on the table and a sign posted presenting my other works (ebooks). And people will point at the sign and ask, “Do you have this one?” And I have to tell them it’s only online. Then one of two things happens: (a) they take my card and say they’ll look it up, which may or may not ever happen, or (b) they say, “Oh, I don’t have an e-reader.” Either way, I’m left with disappointment and so, in a sense, are they. And I don’t want people walking away from my table feeling disappointed.

“So don’t post about your other books,” you say. But I don’t think that’s fair to me, curbing my ability to showcase my work. I write a lot of different things, and don’t want readers to miss out on something they might enjoy, might even be looking for.

“Print books don’t sell.” I hear that a lot too. But they can and do if you find the right places to market them. I don’t sell as many print books in a year, possibly because I don’t attend as many author events as so many other authors I know. But I find my print books to be great for giveaways and to get my name under people’s noses in a way ebooks just don’t. Readers still prize a physical book above an electronic one. For as long as that’s true—for as long as my readers would rather have a “real” book—then as an author it must necessarily be true for me, too.

Becoming a Writer: Step One

Someone asked me the other day, “So what do I need to know about being a writer?”

For context, this person is working on his first novel. I’ve read enough of his work to know he has the basics down: grammar, spelling, punctuation. He reads a lot, too. I feel like you have to read if you want to write well.

So all the nuts and bolts aside, my answer was: “You need to know what success looks like for you.”

This is the first step.

As-yet-unpublished writers will find so much information online. A swell of it, a tide, a flood. They will read of new authors getting six-figure deals with big publishers, and they will read about self-published authors building empires in which they make six figures a year, too. Then these new, young writers will get dollar signs in their eyes and think about how rich they’re going to be, just as soon as they write this novel.

But let’s get real. Most authors are living middle-class lives at best. I’m not saying it’s impossible to land a big agent, a big publisher, or reel in the big money as a self-published author, I’m just saying it’s not something that happens quickly or often. And what you really need to know is: Are you in it for the money? Or are you doing it because you love to write?

Before you start yelling at me in the comments, I know the two are not mutually exclusive. You can love to write and make money doing it. But publishing is a business and kind of a machine, and we all lean a little more one way or the other. Some of us are business people with some creativity in us, and others are creative people with a smidge of biz.

Bottom line: if you’re more focused on your bottom line, you’re going to approach the work a little differently than if you’re more into the writing part. Neither way is right or wrong, just different. Because all of this drills down to how you personally are going to define success for yourself and your work. You need to know this to map the path you want to take.

IF you want an agent and a major publisher, that’s one path.
IF you’d be happy with a small publisher, that’s another path.
IF you’d be content to self-publish, that again is another path.

Decide how and when you’ll feel “successful.” Set that goal. Those goalposts will move later, once you’ve reached your first goal, but focus on one thing at a time.

“I’ll feel like I’ve made it when I have an agent.” <— Is this you?

“My goal is to see my book in stores and libraries, which means I need a publisher with good distribution.” <—What about this?

“I just want to get my book out there. I’m not as concerned about how, and I’m happy to market myself.” <—Maybe you want to self-publish?

Once you’ve picked a road, you can begin your journey. I recommend finding out as much as you can about every possible option. And remember that it’s okay to change direction later on. But don’t let others’ stories of success or failure be what determines your path. Remember that no one gets there exactly the same way, and your journey will be unique to you.

As for me, when faced with these options, I chose to focus on writing things I want and like to write. Many times I’ve been told how much more money I could make if I’d just pick a genre and stick to it, or if I wrote faster. I know it’s probably true. But when I try to write in just one genre, I begin to feel confined. I stop having fun with my work. And for me, it’s more important that I enjoy it. Yes, I’m so happy when others do, too. And I’m flattered when they want more. I can never count out the possibility that I’ll write more of something. But it will take me a while. Because I’m also not a fast writer. I’ve tried, but it only makes me anxious and unhappy. So I go at a pace that is comfortable for me.

tl;dr: To be a writer you must first be a reader. And you also need to figure out your goal: an agent? major publisher? to self-publish? Do you want to make x amount of dollars per month or year? Do you want to sell x amount of books per month or year? Set a definite, concrete goal for yourself, and don’t be sidetracked by all the news of other authors’ successes. Focus only on reaching the goal you’ve set.

The Popularity Contest Writer

I’ve noticed more and more—and maybe it started with shows like American Idol, where contestants rely on voters in order to succeed—that “awards” in writing are based more on how many votes a writer can muster than whether or not their work is any good.

For example, cover art awards offered by various bloggers and reviews sites (InD’Tale, Books & Benches) almost always require a writer and/or cover artist to go begging for votes. So instead of the best cover winning based on merit and design, it’s really the most popular author or artist who wins.

Kind of like high school all over again, really.

Same for many site-based reading awards. Your book or story gets nominated and then rounds of voting begin. Then I’m required to annoy my readers with constant “please vote” messages. I don’t enjoy sending them, and they don’t enjoy receiving them.

I’m not bitter, per se. (Okay, maybe I am a wee bit.) But I’d be much more proud of an award that came from experts who’d actually evaluated the work and found mine worthy of recognition.

And I understand, certainly, that popularity matters in this industry, at least to some extent. Being popular is how you sell books, and sales = success. Or does it? Well, sales = success in the eyes of publishers at the very least. And if you’re successful by that measure, you’re more likely to be given more opportunities. More opportunities = more chances for success = more sales . . . You see how it becomes a loop.

The bottom line is: what’s popular isn’t always what’s actually good. We all know this. We’ve all picked up a best-selling book or gone to see some blockbuster film and walked away thinking, What rubbish. I don’t understand why everyone likes it. And we don’t all have the same tastes, which is part of what makes our world interesting. But apparently enough of us like some things so much that it makes a blip on the pop culture radar. It causes “buzz.” Whether that thing is any good or not.

A lot of the books in these contests are indie books by authors who churn them out and now have a mobilized following. I’m sure the authors write well, though I’ll admit I’ve read few of them. They’d tell me to get a “street team” or something, and then I could win awards via votes, too. But that’s not the point. At least not for me. The point is, an award shouldn’t be based on popular vote. Unless it’s the People’s Choice Awards, I guess. Any award worth bragging about comes from your peers and from people within the industry who have the experience to determine the good from the great.

That said, if my readers—all five or ten of them—ever want to vote for me if/when I’m nominated for a vote-based award, I won’t say no.