August Falter

2017 has been a good year for me so far in terms of my writing. Both Brynnde and the collected Sherlock Holmes stories have done fairly well. Alas, August has been a bit of a dip. I had half as many page reads and sold less than a book a day. I don’t know if it’s due to everyone focusing on going back to school? I also think I probably should have spaced Brynnde and the SH stories a bit farther apart. Releasing two books (one new, one a compilation + audiobook) at the beginning of the year means the end of my year might not have as much oomph.

I did hope/expect to have something done for the end of the year, and my current WIP is coming along at a nice clip, but I don’t know when it will actually be published.

By law of diminishing returns, maybe the high point of my writing year is already behind me. I hope not! I’d like it to at least remain steady. Hopefully August was a fluke and September will be a pop fly that somehow sails right out of the park.

(Am I using the baseball metaphor correctly? I like baseball, but I don’t always get the lingo right.)

P.S. Remember you can read many of my books for FREE via Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited! And you don’t need to own a Kindle to do it! You can use the free app to read on your phone or tablet!

How Do You Build Your TBR Pile?

I’ve written about this before, but I’m wondering what makes you, as a reader and/or fellow author, pick up a book to read?

There was a debate in one of the Facebook groups to which I belong—how much do reviews matter? By which was meant Amazon reviews, reviews left by general readers. Do you take them into account when choosing a book?

When posed with this question, I tried to mentally go step-by-step through my process. There are variations depending on whether I’m seeing the book online or in the store or library. After all, a library requires less commitment from me than spending money on a book.

Okay, so, best I can tell, here’s how it works for me in a store or at the library:

  1. I see a book. The cover and/or title are interesting.
  2. I pick it up and read the blurb on the back. If that sounds promising…
  3. I open to the first page and read a little bit of the actual book. If it’s good…
  4. I borrow or buy the book.

Now for online books I think it’s harder to sell me. Which sounds weird, right. But the product is not right in front of me, even if it’s an ebook. It’s not something I’m picking up and handling. So say I’m browsing Amazon and I maybe see something in the “Recommended” section*:

  1. The cover and/or title are interesting.
  2. I glance at the star rating. Here is where I may or may not continue. I’m pretty forgiving, but if the star rating is less than 3, I probably won’t bother. Still, if the cover is pretty enough, I might still look to see if I can figure out why the rating is so low.
  3. I click and read the blurb. This will usually give me a sense of whether the writer can actually write. If the blurb is a wreck, forget it. If the blurb is good…
  4. I click the “Look Inside.” If there’s no Look Inside, I probably won’t buy. I don’t want a nasty surprise. If the sample is good…
  5. I buy the book.

Extra points for books I’ve heard of or seen around the ‘net. They say we need to see things repeatedly some 7-10 times before we’ll take them seriously, which means getting your book in front of readers about a dozen times (and in different places) is necessary to boost sales.

And of course I’m more likely to risk 99 cents on an unknown author than $4.99. So while I agree we shouldn’t devalue our work, I think having at least one free or less expensive book makes a nice gateway for potential readers.

So how do you find books to read? What’s your process for selecting a book?

*On Amazon there’s so much content that it’s pretty impossible to find a book unless you already know what you’re looking for, or the recommendations are good. If you’re an author, few people are going to stumble across your book by some blessed accident. Which is why you need to do all you can to be where readers will find you.

IWSG: Pet Peeves

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 pet peeves when reading/writing/editing?

Well, I used to work in publishing as an editor (and sometimes still do freelance work), so I have a healthy list of peeves. I think the thing to keep in mind is: there’s a difference between things that are correct and incorrect versus preferences. Certainly, anything incorrect is annoying, and when an author seems unschooled in basic grammar, that’s a problem for the reader. “Bad writing” can therefore be listed as a peeve. But many writers can at least put a sentence together. Some just have “tics”—little writing quirks. You see it in even the most established authors.

I know one writer who is what I call “comma happy.” I mean, I use commas pretty freely myself, and this guy outstrips me by a lot. Most of the commas are unnecessary, though not “wrong” per se, though I find reading his work halting because of all the pauses the commas create.

Tense problems are something that bother me, and they’re a common problem. Even I make those mistakes. Every peeve I have is one I’ve committed, probably more than once, at that’s what bothers me most.

As for peeves when I’m reading or writing or editing: noise and interruptions, of course!

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.

(Not So) Famous First Lines

Really, just my first lines. Because I’m curious to see the progression of them over time.

First lines are pretty important. They’re often referred to in writing as “the hook.” That is, they need to grab the reader. So I began to wonder: Do mine do that?

The World Ends at Five and Other Stories

I put out this anthology in 2008 then reissued it in 2012. Since it’s a series of stories, it’s really the first line of each story that matters. But let’s look at the first line of the first story, which is titled “Aerwyth, born Beverly.”

I remember seeing her in person when I was six years old.

Eh. Okay. It invites a question that may or may not cause the reader to keep reading. “Seeing her in person” . . . Who? Someone famous? One expects the story of this chance meeting now, and so might be intrigued enough to follow through.

Meanwhile, the title story has this opening line:

“Fifteen minutes until the end of the world,” she announced as she sailed by.

That is, I think, more interesting. And this story gets a lot more praise from my readers, too.

The K-Pro

You can actually read the entire first chapter of this book right here on this site (see menu at the top of the page). But it’s kind of a fib because there’s actually a *gasp* prologue. So the first sentence (and it’s rather long) is:

The torch is the only light in a sea of darkness, and the goddess holding it stands in its glow, beautiful and terrible in the way of goddesses, her hair the same gold as the flame, her dress a marvelous white.

Not bad. Paints a picture for the reader. Makes them want to know, perhaps, which goddess this is and what she is doing there.

The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller

So the first line in this novel is a line of dialogue, which is a no-no, and wasn’t originally the first line at all. In fact, this line didn’t exist in the first draft, but an agent wanted rewrites and this became the first line when I revised per his feedback:

“Get him out or take him out.”

I don’t love it as a first line, but I’ll admit it stays with me. I remember it.

And it’s punchier than the original first line:

There were more people than Peter had expected, clusters of them milling and gossiping, everyone with a drink in his or her hand.

Which sets the scene but isn’t all that interesting. What do you think?

Changers: Manifesting Destiny

Only family could stand in the circle during the Relinquishing.

Hmm. I still struggle a bit with the whole opening scene of this book, and it’s been out for almost a year now. It’s an important scene for setting up the world but the first line feels very “generic fantasy” to me. I suppose in truth the first line is actually the little pull-out at the top:

Upon first transformation, the Placement Officer will be immediately notified to contact the Clan of Origin and arrange for Relinquishing.

I actually love that I began each chapter with a pull from the various laws and codes of conduct and whatnot. That was fun.

Brynnde

Again, you can read the whole first chapter right here on the site. But here’s the first line:

Brynnde’s thoroughbred kicked up dust as she spurred him up the tree-lined carriageway.

Starts with action at least.

The New Sherlock Holmes Adventures

Well, again these are three stories collected under one cover. The first story is “The Monumental Horror” which begins thusly:

I had not long been living at 221B Baker Street when one morning as I exited my room, I discovered Mr. Sherlock Holmes seated at the breakfast table with a traveling valise beside his chair.

Again, the line begs the question of why the valise, etc. And we know Watson will end up roped into whatever is about to take place.

Hamlette

A work in progress, but I do enjoy the first line:

I didn’t even make it home for Dad’s funeral, which sucked enough without everything that came after.

Faebourne

Another WIP, and I strove to begin in the style of Austen to some degree:

Duncan Oliver was in every respect an unremarkable gentleman.

Changers: The Great Divide

Have I done any better than the first book? You decide.

Annice took an involuntary step back from the window.

(You will need to have read Manifesting Destiny to understand why we’re picking up with Annice and the window.)

So there are a handful of first lines. Thoughts? Comments? Which opening lines in literature really grab you? Do any stick with you? I always remember Watership Down: “The primroses were over.” Richard Adams does a lovely job of bringing his novel full circle, as I recall the book ends with the primroses beginning to bloom. Maybe I’ll do a post on last lines sometime.

Lessons by the Foot

Someone mentioned the other day that I was taking the whole broken foot thing rather well. I had to stop and think that over. And I guess I feel very fortunate, really. I’m lucky in that I have good health care, for example. I’ve been through times when I didn’t, so I can certainly appreciate it now.

In fact, I appreciate everything in life, or try to. I’ve come a long way, and as a child I don’t think I could have imagined living the way I do now. Oh, sure, I imagined things like being a famous magazine editor in NYC, but let’s be real. A lot of people don’t move very far from where they start in life. I mean that in distance but also economy, experience. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have opportunities to extend myself. I’ve traveled, I’ve lived a lot of different places.

And this isn’t to say I was raised in a ghetto and had a tough childhood and somehow clawed my way out. I had an amazing childhood, filled with love and friendship and steady upward mobility. Which is exactly why I can appreciate what I have now. Because I’ve been through this sort of spectrum of life. I try not to take any of what I have for granted because I know what it’s like not to have as much.

To be clear: I always had enough. I always had the important things. Well, except maybe that health insurance…

So what’s a broken foot in the big scheme of things? An inconvenience? A funny story, which for a writer is always valuable. And a reminder of all I have to be thankful for.

Help! Which Organizations Should I Join?

Writing is a solitary endeavor a lot of the time, which is why I find it important to have a critique group and attend conferences—basically, to be around other writers. We need that support, and honestly, I also enjoy giving that encouragement to others.

This isn’t some recent thing. Writers have been gathering for centuries. If not to network and workshop, then at least to drink and grouse about writer’s block.

But besides these forms of connecting, I’m thinking now of joining a professional organization. I’ve heard more than once that it’s a good idea. I’m just not sure which to join. Authors Guild? RWA? (Now that I’ve written one Regency romance and am working on another?) Or, since I also write YA, should I look at SCBWI? Maybe there’s an indie author organization I don’t know about? Should I join more than one? All? None?

I feel really overwhelmed by this, which has kept me from making a move in any direction. I’m sure there are pros to all these organizations, but as someone who writes in many genres it’s tough for me to figure out where to put my weight. And I can’t afford to toss money in every direction. So at most I’d really only consider one or two.

For a couple years I was a member of the Dramatists Guild. When I quit writing as many plays, I allowed that to lapse. Ideally I’ll next join a group where that won’t become an issue. Which is why I’m looking at the broad umbrella of the Authors Guild. I’ll always be writing, but I’m never sure what genre(s). What if I join RWA and then quit writing romances? Sure, right now I can’t imagine that happening, but . . .

I’ll also always be mostly an indie author. So again, maybe I should find a good organization for that.

Anyway, if you have any thoughts or experiences with professional writing organizations, I’d love to hear about them! Tell me about it in the comments.

Stars Upon Thars

What is your immediate reaction to seeing a book or other item that has between three and four stars?

I’m asking because I feel like this is the grayest area when it comes to ratings. 1-2 stars = “not good at all” to “not very good.” And 4-5 stars = “pretty good” to “excellent.” So what’s 2-3 and 3-4?

You’ll notice I’m not talking whole numbers so much as ranges. This is because things seldom have a whole number rating. 4.2 is really good. 3.6 is . . . what? 2.8 is almost a 3, so . . . ???

If you look at it as grades, 5 stars = 100% and 4 stars = 80%. That’s already a B. So is 3 stars a failing grade?

Goodreads helps the process by giving phrases for what each star rating should mean:

In this case, 3 stars isn’t awful. Even 2 stars “passes.”

Yet when I look for things to buy, I often only want 4 stars or better. That’s products, though; I might be a little more forgiving when it comes to books and look at something in the 3-4 star range if it sounds interesting enough. If a book is hovering between these two, I’ll read the blurb along with any reviews to see what the perceived problems were before deciding.

What about you? How do star ratings affect how you shop? And are you okay with 3-star books or do you feel like those aren’t good enough? That a book really needs to be at least 4 stars before you give it a chance?

“Winning”

I’ve told this story before, but I like to do it again periodically for new readers.

My first publishing credits came from small magazines and literary journals. But after that I ran up against the wall of agents and publishers, and I eventually self-published. My goal wasn’t money or fame. I just wanted my work to be out there for people to read.

We’re told as writers that what we should want—that “winning” as an author—is an agent and big publisher. And if that doesn’t happen, as we teeter on the brink of depression and despair, a small publisher will do. Because the important thing, or so we’re taught, is that someone thinks we’re good enough to publish.

When I made the jump from self-published to being published by a couple small publishers, I thought I’d finally “won.” If not the jackpot (i.e., an agent and big publisher), then at least a scratch-off lotto ticket.

But here’s the thing, “winning” as an author is NOT about finding an agent or publisher. As it turns out, my initial instincts were right all along. The jackpot is having your book out there and finding readers. Readers are the jackpot. Not agents, not publishers.

This is nothing against my publishers. I’m so grateful to them for taking a chance on me, and nothing beats experience. I’m only saying that it doesn’t matter as much as we’re prompted to believe it does. What matters is whether readers will pick up your book and, well, read it.

Does having a publisher maximize this possibility? Maybe, maybe not. It might depend on the publisher. It definitely depends on the book.

All I’m really saying is that self-publish does not equal failure. You haven’t “lost” if you self-publish. How you get there matters less than actually getting there.

By the way, thank you SO MUCH for helping me reach my destination! Brynnde is now my most successful book since my Sherlock Holmes stories! If you haven’t read it already, I hope you’ll give it a try. You can read it for FREE via Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited.