The Writing Advice I Received, and What I Wish it Was

Every author has “advice” for new writers, and every new writer wants as much of it as they can get, for obvious reasons. We don’t know what we’re doing when we get started. This is a hard business that, for the most part, doesn’t pay well considering the time and effort we put into it. Those of us who stick with it long-term do it more for the love of the written word than the paycheck because seriously…if we relied on it as our main income source, we’d all be pretty hungry.

I think the largest problem I had in my first years was that I tried too hard to listen to the advice of others and emulate them. And you know what? It didn’t work for me at all. It put me in a bad place that I don’t ever want to go again, and after all this time I’m just starting to dig myself out of the funk and figure out who I am as a writer and where I want to be in ten years.

So for those looking for advice on how the system works and what to do, let me offer you my advice: don’t take anything I say for the rest of this post too seriously.

Sh*t People Told Me

Advice: You don’t need to worry about grammar and punctuation. That’s what editors are for.

My Response: First of all, this is the one piece of advice every single one of you SHOULD listen to, because it’s the truth and pretty much any publisher and/or editor worth his salt will agree with me: YOU NEED TO UNDERSTAND HOW THE TOOLS WORK IN ORDER TO USE THEM PROPERLY.  If you don’t understand the basic mechanics of the language, then you are in no capacity to be using it in a professional manner. You, as the writer, cannot rely on an editor to “fix” you. An editor is there to make you better, not rewrite your shit. They can write their own books without your assistance.

Oh, and if you write poorly and chose not to use an editor before slapping it up on Amazon, then you really don’t need to be part of the writing community because you’re not presenting a professional product. Sorry, kids, but them’s the breaks.

Advice: Just write every word that comes into your head without editing. You can go back and do it later.

My response: Uh, no…but thanks. That might work for some people, but it also opens the door for lots and lots and LLLOOOOOOTTTTSSSS of mistakes. I am very much a proponent of “write how it feels right to you”, but I want to caution against letting your creative side get too far ahead of your technical side. Freewriting is fine, but remember, kids, it’s much harder to self-edit because your brain automatically fills in the blanks and reworks the things your eyes take in because you know how it’s supposed to work.

I wish someone had told me to forget all the BS about the best way to write and just told me to do what comes naturally to me.

Advice: Read a whole bunch of brand new things on the market and write just what’s trending now.

My Response: Nope, nope, and nope. Here’s the problem with this scenario: trends change quickly. It takes at least three months start-to-finish to write, edit, and publish a book. By the time you get your book out and into the ring, the trendsetters will likely have moved onto the next bizarre and frightening new “thing”.

My advice…write the book you want to read. If you love it, you’re going to be more inclined to give it the care and attention it needs. If you love the final product, other people will love it too.

Advice: Just write the same book and change the names. People won’t notice.

My Response: Yeah, someone actually said this to me. No, I don’t think it’s fair. I never underestimate my readers. I like to think you’re all at least as smart as me and will notice if I plagiarize myself. I write a new story every time.

Advice: Write sex scenes with all the detail you can. People really like it when it’s dirty.

My Response: Guys, I don’t want to smell the smegma. I am a voracious reader – we’re talking a book a day most days – and nothing pushes me away faster than an overly complicated sexual act with too many limbs and way too many sensory triggers. I have a good imagination, so when you start talking about tastes and odors like you’re reviewing a new restaurant… yeah, I’m gonna put that down and walk away.

Seriously, it’s okay to not be up in the chick’s hooch while they’re going at it. Again, I say do what works for you, but I much prefer a carefully crafted scene that presents the illusion of beauty and pleasure without being able to count pubic hairs.

Advice: The format isn’t important. You just have to tell a good story.

My Response: Yes…yes, it is. Speaking as a formatter for multiple publishers and self-published authors, I can tell you that writing in the proper format is ESSENTIAL to being a good writer. Refer to statement one and the “know how to use yer shit” requirement. Proper manuscript format gives you a clean presentation, makes you look like you can follow directions, and ultimately shows you what your book is going to look like in print…to a certain extent. You need contact information so the person you submit it to can reach you – ’cause lemme tell ya…they don’t sit there and read your work with the email browser open so they can immediately praise your brilliance.

We’re slush, guys, and if we don’t give the ones potentially buying the rights to our books what they want to see, they’re going to kick us out and move onto the next one who can follow directions.

THIS SITE has a fabulous example for you to follow. It’s easy…just read it.

That Having Been Said…

The best advice I can give you is this: Do what works for you. Write at your pace in your style with your voice. There’s only one you, and you have to make your writing work. You can take my advice to the letter, but I wouldn’t recommend it.  And for the love of Pete, please follow the directions.

Almost…Maybe…

We’re finally getting somewhere! So the important stuff is done and back in place, but the pretty bells and whistles? NOPE. Not yet. Working on it.

I do at least have my books up. I know who I am again. You can also sign up for my mailing list…not that I have anything interesting to say at the moment.

Though I’m thinking about giving stuff away. If I decide to do that, I’ll let you know. That having been said, stay tuned. I’ll be back.

In the meantime, watch the trailer for the new Curious Incidents: More Improbable Adventures. And in case you’re wondering, the mad surgeon is mine.

Because Shit Happens.

Yep, we’re starting over again.

Because my site crashed. Again.

Because I lost my SQL database. AGAIN.

Because it’s Tuesday and not enough stupid shit happens on Tuesday.

Stay tuned, kids…I’m rebuilding. Or go buy my stuff on Amazon. That might help. Then I could afford a webmaster to do this for me.

In the Shadow of Death: A #HoldOntoTheLight Post

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Last year, I told a very painful story, one I wish for the whole world to read, then read again. It’s hard, so please forgive me if this post carries all the tact and diplomacy of a sledgehammer through a plate-glass window.

I’m still hurt, still angry. Still seeking vengeance. Still praying that by shoving Angie’s story down the throats of anyone who will listen, her tragedy might open some eyes…might save someone else’s life.

AngieOn November 6, 2014, I lost a good friend to domestic violence. She died sixty feet from where I stood, face-down in a parking lot, four bullets neatly in the back of her head at the hand of her estranged husband. This was the climax to a three-week long horror story wherein he burned their house down, tried to turn their children against her, stalked her, tormented her, stalked me trying to get to her, and then blamed her when his sorry ass lost his job for not showing up to work. Then the son of a bitch turned the .45 and put it in his mouth before any of us had a chance to see him properly punished.

I know what you’re thinking.  You want to know why I’m being so selfish and conceited, right? Why I think my thoughts and opinions should matter.

Simple. Because I’m still here. And because I hurt, goddamn it. I LOST SOMEONE I LOVE.

I miss her.
I love her.
I’m lost without her.

But I’m not the only one. Angie left behind two sons – two handsome, well-mannered, intelligent young men who are now orphans. They’ve been left to fend for themselves at the mercy of their father’s family…the same family who has tried desperately to canonize the murderer they call son and brother. And you know what? I understand that. I can accept their need to rationalize his behavior…because you never want to admit someone is capable of cold-blooded murder. It’s hard for them.

But it’s also partially his family’s fault. With multiple family members in law enforcement, he used bullying tactics to keep Angie at bay. Her attempts at a protective order were blocked. He was a good guy, just ’cause he was someone’s brother in the department.

That, my friends, is a disgusting misuse of authority. I blame his family for her death as much as I do him. They could have stopped him, but they enabled his behavior, enabled his abuse. Because they didn’t want to see him as something capable of unspeakable evil.

But back to those boys – they’re both adults now. Thankfully, despite the trauma of their loss, they’re okay. One is in the military and the other is making a good life for himself out of college. I still think about them, still worry about them all the time. I want to be there for them since she can’t be…it’s the least I can do.

So the point I’m trying to make here… Domestic Violence hurts more than just the victim. It hurts everyone involved. Angie left behind two beautiful children. Her mother and brother – estranged from her or not – were devastated by her death. All of her friends, our coworkers…everyone that knew her. We all still hurt. There are still days, even two years later, where I pick up the phone to call or text her, but then I remember she isn’t there. Her number is still in my phone, no doubt passed on to someone else by now. I have a recording from a commission meeting that took place about two weeks before she died where she filled in for me. I still listen to it from time to time just to hear her voice. As long as I can hear her voice, she’ll still live on in my memory. I wouldn’t trade that ten-second soundbite for the world.

You would think after two years, the tears would have mostly stopped by now. But they don’t. They keep coming. It’s hard to see the screen as I write this because my vision has blurred almost to the point of blindness.

In closing, I ask this of anyone living in an abusive situation: Take Angie’s story to heart. GET HELP. Get away. Go to the police. A shelter. A friend. Just leave and don’t look back. Have children? Take them with you. Save their lives and yours. It’s okay to be afraid. But the longer you stay, the harder it is to cut those strings.

He only hit me once, but he apologized. That’s how it starts. It ALWAYS escalates. By the time you’ve had enough, you’ll be well on your way to dead. I don’t want you dead. I probably don’t know you, but I’m here for you. I’m in your corner.

He’s connected to the law. SO? Report his ass anyway. Then go to a neighboring jurisdiction and report him again. Then go to a shelter and get a lawyer.

He’ll try to kill me if I leave. Possibly, but he WILL kill you if you stay. Shelters and counselors are equipped to handle this kind of situation.

Angie left and she died anyway. And let me tell you why… Our staff panicked when he showed up. She went outside to keep him from killing all of us in the office. She protected us. She sacrificed herslf to save us because she knew he wouldn’t stop until one of them was dead. Her situation escalated to an unstoppable conclusion. Yours doesn’t have to.

Don’t stay. Leave while there’s a chance. Tomorrow might be too late.


there is a way out

SC S.T.O.P. Domestic Abuse Program

Rock Hill Area Safe Passage

Safe Harbor Domestic Abuse Center

About the Campaign

#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.

Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to http://www.HoldOnToTheLight.com and join us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/WeHoldOnToTheLight

Just Pay the Writer, Already!

There’s been much controversy this week over whether artists should be paid for their work. Until now I’ve remained silent because I didn’t want to have a knee-jerk reaction. I wanted to know my facts and present sound evidence as to why these arguments are so ludicrous.

Some of those arguments include:

  • I can’t afford to buy books because I don’t make much money. [Understandable, but not an excuse. KU is cheaper than Netflix, btw.]
  • I deserve to read any book I want without paying for it because I’m a special snowflake [yes, I’m paraphrasing this one specifically to be spiteful].
  • Authors shouldn’t make the same amount for the first copy as they do for the 500th since each copy isn’t a new item. [Let’s address this in a minute.]
  • Art should be free for everyone to enjoy. [And some art is. Enjoy that.]
  • If an artist wants to be paid he/she should get a patron. [Ha!]
  • I’m not really stealing. I just downloaded it from someone who did steal it.

Let’s address that last point:

Yes, 95% of us on the internet are guilty of downloading illegal content at some point in our lives. My point here is not to villainize those who don’t know any better. It’s to educate people so they understand why what they’re doing is wrong. Sadly, the majority of those involved in this self-entitlement hoohah are too young to remember the Napster incident. I admittedly still chuckle at the Napster Bad videos and comics making fun of Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield from Metallica. On a serious note, while they may appear more Neanderthal than man, they do have a point. File sharing sites are bad, because they subvert the system.

First and foremost: COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT IS ILLEGAL. ACQUIRING PHYSICAL OR DIGITAL GOODS WITHOUT PAYMENT UNLESS RECOGNIZED AND PROVIDED AS A GIFT BY THE OWNER OR CREATOR IS THEFT. It does not matter if you’re just getting it from someone else; you’re still stealing. You can go to jail for this, and you will deserve it.

I’m sorry to burst your bubble, sweetness, but that’s the cold, hard truth. Your “innocent” actions are breaking the law. You aren’t special. You can’t break the rules and expect preferential treatment [We are not even going to talk about that little jackass rapist in the news right now or I will have a stroke.]. END. OF. DISCUSSION.

PoePoe
Because we need some levity. And because the police are coming for you, you damned, dirty thief.

MOVING ON.

I sat down and did something very unusual for a literary type: I did math. [Insert awestruck gasps here.] Anyone who has a job should be able to appreciate what’s coming. This is a salary breakdown for writers. We as artists would love nothing more than to make our art our full-time jobs, but most non-artistics don’t understand just how much work goes into the things they think don’t deserve a price tag. So let me break it down for you.

THE NOVEL:

Let’s assume I write one novel which tops out at 80,000 words, and I’m going to publish this novel in a traditional manner (i.e. through a publisher, small or otherwise). This means I’m not paying for edits, artwork, or formatting.

Now, let’s assume I’m an average-speed writer, fairly clean. I’m going to write 1,000 words per hour for decent copy. First novel draft: 80 hours of work.

Now we have revisions. Assuming clean copy and minimal self-editing is required on my part, we’re going to estimate another 15 hours for reading and revising. Accumulated total: 95 hours.

Then I hand my labor of love over to the publisher. I will then have at least one, possibly two or three, more rounds of edits with a professional editor. Let’s assume two rounds of edits at another 15 hours each. That’s 30 additional hours of work for this one book. Then it’s released into the wild.

Final total: 125 production hours.

For one book. Base rate. We aren’t going to factor into this the endless hours of promotion which goes with the successful release of a novel. Right now it’s irrelevant and the cost will increase so exponentially it will outweigh the benefit of writing the book. Today we’re figuring out how a writer can be full-time based on today’s financial standards JUST BY WRITING BOOKS.

THE CONTRACT:

Say my publisher is a generous one and offers me 40% of the net royalties for my book. If we list this ebook on Amazon at $3.99 (which, by the way, is MORE THAN FAIR for an 80,000 word novel), Amazon is going to pay the publisher at a 70% royalty rate, or roughly $2.80 per domestic copy. This, in turn, means I’m going to see approximately $1.12 per copy sold.

US LABOR STANDARDS:

Minimum wage in the United States is currently $7.25. This means the average full-time minimum wage worker brings home $15,080 per year, pre-tax. Net income is going to hang out somewhere around the $12,000 mark.

Now, let’s compare minimum wage standards to a single title, shall we?

THE UGLY TRUTH:

125 hours at $7.25/hour is $906.25 pre-tax. Once we make it, we’re going to have to put back 20-30% to pay our taxes because we’re contractors, not on payroll.

Assuming we’re steadily selling books, that’s 809.16 copies sold in a year JUST TO BREAK EVEN.

Now there’s a national movement to raise minimum wage to $15/hour because we’ve firmly established that American inflation rates make it impossible to support a family on $15,000/year. Let’s revisit the numbers under this new standard.

$15/hour means a gross annual income of $31,200 pre-tax.

125 hours at $15/hour is $1,875.00

That’s 1,674 copies I have to sell in one year. 140 copies per month.

This means an author making minimum wage writing full-time (while only being reimbursed for the time accrued by writing and editing) would have to publish 16 ½ novels a year. That’s 1,320 hours of work to produce enough fiction to make a living.

Unless an author is already established with a wide following, selling 1,700 copies of a book will take longer than a year. The average indie author is selling somewhere between 5 and 50 copies a month. Which means assuming the best (50 copies per month), we have to triple our output to 49 books per year. 

3,920 hours of work in one year to make a lower-middle class salary.

Let me point out here that a full time job consists of 2,080 hours of work per year. 40 hours per week for 52 weeks. That means to break even at “minimum wage” standards, we authors have to work 1,840 hours more per year than the average fry slinger at Mickey D’s without receiving overtime pay. That’s 75.39 hours of work per week to make the same money you make in 40… with no guarantees that we’ll even meet that minimum.

So please allow me to call bullshit on this self-righteous notion of art for art’s sake. You can take that shit back to MGM and let them keep it on their logo.

To those who want to say an author’s work should be prorated and they should make less per copy the more copies they sell, I pose this question to you: how would you feel if your boss approached you today and told you the following: “Yeah, we really like your work but you’ve been here several years and we’ve already paid you your value. We’re going to start paying you less money for each hour you work.”

You’re pissed just thinking about it, aren’t you? It’s unfair, right? Well guess what, sugarbritches… THAT is EXACTLY what you’ve suggested for us. It’s disgusting. It’s despicable. And to us, you’re now an asshole.

These epithets aren’t coming from the minimum-wage crowd, either. This is coming from the middle class – people who have the luxury of cars, cell phones, blu-ray players, coffee addictions, and expensive hobbies. You can pay $5 for a cup of coffee to enjoy once, but you’re too damned cheap to spend $3 on a book which will last forever? If that’s the case, then you don’t need the book. And if you’re willing to go to jail over $3, then please have a nice life, wherever it may lead you.

By the way, the days of patrons are pretty much over. The plebeians don’t need the support of the patricians because they can do most of the work themselves. That and the patricians tend to be the ones demanding freebies, so your argument is invalid.

This is why you need to stop poor-mouthing and pay the damned writer.

But you still want free books because somewhere five years ago your mama told you that you were special and you can have anything you want. Well, you can. And you want to know how to get them?

Become a book reviewer. Reviews are a form of currency in the literary world. Most authors and publishers are more than happy to hand over free books to reviewers – to people who actually leave reviews. Unfortunately, Amazon’s system is built on a review-based algorithm, meaning books with more reviews receive more visible promotion space. If you leave a review, good or bad, you’re helping that author.

Even if you insist on stealing the book to read, the least you can do is review it. If you refuse to pay money, you can significantly lower your douchebaggery level by giving two minutes of your time. And for god’s sake…don’t tell the writer you think all of their stuff should be free and pirate sites are a good thing.

There’s a pretty good chance you’ll get punched in the face.

We Don’t Really Talk About That

Everybody knows the point of writing a romance novel is to keep it sexy. But as I was going through my evening routine last night, I got to thinking… There really is a whole bunch of stuff we leave to the imagination, and with good reason.

Nobody suffers gastrointestinal discomfort in romance novels. Our characters don’t face the sudden urge to pee that sends them out of bed and fleeing for their lives to the bathroom. They don’t have to worry about foot odor or chafing or rashes. It’s rare we see our heroine going through the motions of shaving her legs or waxing her eyebrows, because she doesn’t have to. She doesn’t agonize over her man seeing that little pimple on her shoulder, because that pimple doesn’t exist. Our heroines are always runway perfect, even when they have bad breath and bed head. Hell, even their bad breath is somehow adorable. It’s part of the charm of being a fictional character, I suppose.

We all know the truth, but refuse to admit it: no woman wakes up gorgeous. Yes, there are some women who get up ultra-early with the specific intention of making certain their husbands/boyfriends/whatever never see them without makeup, but most of us just aren’t that person. We write our heroines that way because we’re writing to the romantic, to the illusion of perfection. As artists we’re taking creative liberties with reality, filtering out the unnecessary and unsavory, to give the reader a condensed, sexier version of life.

And since we’re selling fantasies, chances are our hero and heroine are going to appeal to most everyone. I like to write my characters with somewhat vague descriptions so my readers can superimpose the faces they want on them. Of course a few things are always going to happen: we will assume our hero is packing heat like Ron Jeremy and our heroine has huge knockers because those things are the fantasy. But this is where the real-life itty-bitty-titty-committee has the advantage… Us well-endowed girls always suffer from the curse of boob sweat. It’s a real thing, and it can be enough to make us run for the shower at the first thought of personal contact. But even if the chick in the book is packing triple-D hooters, she’s still going to be ready to get it on without a second thought…

Because boob sweat isn’t sexy. Neither is the act of getting the bra strong enough to contain them off. We leave those details out, again, to present the beauty without the reality. It’s much more fun to witness our hero sliding the bra strap off the girl’s shoulder and kissing the spot where it was. That’s a pretty image. Utilitarian bras are not.

Random: Have you ever noticed how nobody talks about the horrible things corsets do to the body when the heroines wear them? Those things hurt like a mother.

But in some ways the glossing over of real life almost feels like cheating. I mean, you can’t play in the Olympic games if you don’t train, right? Half the fun of the mating ritual is the pre-game. The anticipation. The tension. The hope that your hard work will pay off. I suppose there are worse things than filtering relationships though rose-colored glass though. Considering the luxuries of Western civilization we take for granted, we can’t really complain about our bushy eyebrows, can we?

Here’s to a New Year 1/4 Done.

I don’t make resolutions.

It’s a personal thing. I know me well enough to know that resolutions only put undue pressure on me; to make resolutions is to set myself up for failure. So I just don’t do it. Resolutions are by their very nature promises we aren’t intended to keep. Lose weight, quit smoking, stop drinking… Promises which remove our crutches and vices and require us to obsess over the largely unimportant simply to distract ourselves from the task at hand. Torture devices, if you ask me.

There’s a reason for this rant, ladies and germs. I intended to write this blog post in January. As you can see, things don’t always work out the way I plan. The good news about this is there’s been time for reflection in Camp Roddey. Unfortunately I can’t say I really like everything I see.

2015 wasn’t necessarily a bad year for me, just unproductive. I spent the majority of it pregnant and sick so I accomplished very little. I also spent a large portion of the year concerned over my employment status and what the managerial transitions at the day job would bring. Queue skyrocketing stress levels on all sides. But all in all I came out of it okay. I’m still gainfully employed and my children are all happy and healthy. I’m a little sad at the state of affairs in this world, and disappointed in the shitstorm my children and their generation will inherit, but there’s still time for me to change the world. I just have to find people who will listen and use common sense.

 

If you feel like I’m ignoring you, well… I probably am. I don’t say that to be mean. I say that because I ignore most of the internet right now. I’m frightened by the state of our political system (as I’ve said before) and tired of the bullshit rhetoric. I don’t want to lose respect for anyone else over their choice of candidate, so I choose to remove myself from the fray. And no, this statement does not give you the right to preach at me about the forty reason why YOU think I should vote for Donald Trump. I refuse to discuss politics in public because I have serious problems with most of the candidates. I will, however, say this: I refuse to believe the bigoted bullshit spewed forth by Herr Trump is what everyone else in this country is thinking, but if it is I’ll likely be moving to Canada come November. We have a lot to gain this year, but we also have a whole lot more to lose.

But enough of that.

I’m also ignoring the internet because the internet, with it’s anonymity, breeds assholes. Entitled douchebags who spend all of their time looking for reasons to be butthurt and start flame wars. Again with the largely unimportant… There are real problems in this world and the candyasses on the internet are out there painting whole social groups with single brushstrokes of stupidity and bitching about who’s allowed to get married and which god everyone should believe in. In this age of hurt feelings and bullshit triggers, I often wonder what the point in continuing on this path is. (By the way, making EVERYTHING a trigger which requires a warning kind of defeats the purpose of triggers… And life. Just sayin’. I know real PTSD victims, and they’re not nearly as touchy as the internet world have us believe. Beating on someone in public is a trigger, not posting a photo of a dead deer on its way to the processor. Seriously.)

The writing market sucks. It’s over-saturated, people don’t care about the products they release on their quest for “look at me, look at me!”, and it’s too easy for the pirates to steal things. Publishers are going down in flames left and right. More and more people are turning to Amazon to get famous in the wrong way. I get so frustrated by the state of affairs. Then I remember that even when I second-guess myself over my writing, I’m still doing what I love. If I can change the world for even one person, then I’ve accomplished something. Maybe if I keep taking, someone will eventually listen.

So back to those resolutions… I don’t make them, but I can give myself a few targets so I know what direction I’m aiming. I’m not going to require myself to write so many words or finish so many things. I’m not going to promise to lose weight or stop using swear words. I won’t demand those things of myself because I will fail. Going forward, I intend to be a little less chaotic neutral, a little friendlier to the world in general, and a lot less tolerant of bullshit. I have to learn to speak freely and be completely honest regardless of who might be offended, and to stop allowing this pedantic behavior to continue in my presence. Let’s face it, folks…The only way we’re going to be able to speak freely is to just do it and show the whiners that nobody cares. We have to take opinions back.

I will continue to love everyone equally regardless of race or creed, to speak up when someone is in trouble, and to remind everyone that the world is only as good a place as we make it. I’m not going to talk about politics with anyone. I will not acknowledge those who preach at me about bullshit topics such as how two men shouldn’t love each other (seriously, love who you want) or how all Muslims are monsters (again with the broad brush of stupid…they’re just people, people!), or who gets to use what bathroom (seriously…I go to the bathroom to pee, not to look at everyone else’s junk and I really can’t be bothered to care about who’s in the stall beside me). I will not tolerate social injustice for anyone. Everyone gets to be equal in my space. Nobody gets to be more equal than anyone else, and nobody gets a second chance. There have been too many second chances already. It’s time to grow up, now.

I just hope the remaining 3/4 of this year gets a little better than this first bit. What I’ve seen so far isn’t pretty, and I don’t like not pretty. I, however, will be doing my small part to make it a little lighter for those around me.

Manic Monday: State of the (Writing) Union Address

Guys, I’m having a moment, and it’s not pretty.

So I found myself wandering through the digital racks of Amazon this morning, perusing the freebies in the hopes that I might find a fun new author (like I really need ANOTHER book to read) or discover interesting new concepts not yet apparent to this world. Unfortunately, the farther I wandered, the more disheartening and, quite frankly, disgusting, it became.

People are giving away their blood, sweat, tears, and time for chump change. Books are releasing and within a month have hundreds upon hundreds of glowing reviews – none of which come from verified purchases, mind you. From my research, the majority of the verified purchases appear to give these “masterpieces” one star and generally tell prospective readers the equivalent of don’t freaking bother.

All the goodies are hanging out there, cheap and/or free, in the hopes someone might stumble by and happen to snatch that particular piece of low-hanging fruit.

Now we all know I’m not the world’s best or most prolific author. At this point in my game, if I’m completely honest with myself and y’all, I’m still struggling to attain mid-list mediocrity. My own fault, yes, but that’s another rant for another day.

I bust my butt to produce quality work and I take pride in the finished product. I’m not out there schlock-hocking, writing to a formula or a trend for the sake of making a buck. I don’t just slather words on a page and slap a pair of half-naked people on it to throw up on Amazon for free just to get attention. I’m doing my best to do this the right way.

[Pause: I’m not saying self-publishing isn’t the right way because (1) I’ve done that too, and (2) there is no right way to go about publishing… what I’m saying is I make sure my work meets a certain standard in editing, artwork, and overall production, which is what readers deserve.]

The problem I have is this:

I just find myself dumbfounded time and again at the low quality and lack of concern people have for literature. Everyone and her best friend seems to be thinking these days, “Oh, I need to make a quick buck. I’ll just go write a book and be a bestseller!” And you know what, kids? Goshdarnit, it just don’t work that way.

I hate to break it to you, but not everyone in the world is cut out to be an author. You might have the best, most original idea ever conceived, but I have a pretty strict policy around here – if you don’t have at least a basic grasp of grammar, punctuation, and dialogue, you are not a writer. And you’re dragging down the quality of something I love, so step off.

Writing truly is a dying art. And that cold, sad fact makes me want to sit down and cry fat, ugly tears. This rise in I-can-do-it-myself-ness has made a complete mockery of what we as professional authors do.

Guys, we can’t let this stand. We have to take back our craft, to rise above the masses of people scrabbling for the petty change at the bottom of the basket. It’s going to take some work, but we can do it if we stick together and demand that change.

Screw that… we’re not going to demand change and wait for it to happen. We’re going to make the change.

Well, yes…but how?

I’m so very glad you asked! It appears the problems with our market boil down to five simple rules, and we’re so busy keeping up with the Joneses that we’ve lost track of what’s important.

1. DON’T GIVE AWAY THE GOODS.

no-freebies-480_thumbMy mother is a voracious reader. So am I. So are the people by whom I’m surrounded. Yes, we do troll the bargain bins from time to time, but that isn’t where we spend the majority of our lives.

We, as respectable authors, need to step out of the cheap-trap. If our work is truly worth its salt, then we need to recognize and respect it by not giving it away. Promotions are one thing – go ahead and have a freebie week to gain interest. Give a short story away as a teaser. But don’t fork over a three-novel set for $.99 because you think it’s going to get you somewhere. By giving away your best work, your readers will come to expect it of you. Now that’s not to say a short story can’t live at that $.99 mark for it’s entire life. But you don’t want to take that kind of horrible cut on a novel. You’ll never get anywhere like that.

Price your books accordingly. Let the tramps have their pennies. Eventually the readers will tire of wasting good money on subpar writing and start looking back toward the more reasonably-priced works, where you’ll be hanging out in the henhouse with us.

2. DON’T FALL INTO THE NICHE TRAP.

Let’s face it…by the time we recognize a trend, we’re already behind it. Unless you’re writing ten of everything out there right now in the hopes the market will circle back around to your favorite type of critter, you’re never going to be that guy who writes that book and becomes the next Stephenie Meyer. Writing to the market may make a few people marginally successful for a month or two, but it’s never going to sustain a career for anyone. Rather than doing what’s already been done, we should be focusing our strength and energy on creating the next thing. We should be writing the books which will define the new trends, not follow in the footsteps of someone else. Sure, werepenguins are the hot thing right now, but that doesn’t mean the wereskunk will follow.

Be original. Write your own story, and let the trendy schlockfest continue without your participation. Make yourself that new and different thing everyone wants to read.

3. HIRE SOME OUTSIDE HELP.

You need an editor. You need a professional cover. You need proper formatting.

I repeat: You need an editor. You need a professional cover. You need proper formatting.

Should I say it again? Because I will. And here’s why you need those things:

Because if you’re fighting the good fight, you want to put your best foot forward. A reader is not going to want to pay fair market value for an unreadable turd, which is why a professional product is the bet thing we can ask for at the end. Yes, sometimes it’s a pretty hefty outlay of cash on the front end, particularly for good editing, but it’s worth it in the end [this is where the credit publishers never get comes into play…they pay all of this for you so you don’t have to]. A professional product will go the distance and will likely suffer less returns than an unpolished hunk of words.

I learned to format out of necessity. I had a background in digital artwork so I was ahead of the curve with covers. I got lucky in that one of my good friends has a Master’s degree in English and will cut me a break. I also offer these services to other authors for reasonable rates because I want others to succeed. I can’t fix your technical ability, but I can make your book pretty.

Your readers deserve quality, so give it to them.

4. DO NOT PURCHASE REVIEWS. EVER.

Product_review1.jpgThe Perfect Review DOES NOT EXIST.

You might think you’re doing yourself a favor and putting yourself ahead of the game, but YOU AREN’T. Trust me on this… if you’re going to shell out huge chunks of cash for something, see Step 3. A review from a verified purchase is going to go much farther than some nobody giving you the digital equivalent of a tongue bath. Because the dirty little secret is this: 300 good reviews from a questionable origin will not hold a candle to that one verified critical review. Readers who consider reviews are going to read those low ratings first because those are the ones which tell the truth.

Now that’s not to say you can’t offer your book to reviewers for an honest review. I’ve done that. Yeah, it’s bitten me in the butt a time or two, but you know what? I’d rather have an honest opinion than a “OMGILOVEITSOOOOOOOMUCH” review any day. You know why? Because honest reviews keep me honest, and show me my mistakes so I can learn from them.

Expend your resources elsewhere, kids. You owe it to yourself to be honest.

5. WRITE WHAT YOU WANT TO READ.

I believe this, above all others, is the most important rule. If you aren’t enjoying what you’re writing, how can anyone else enjoy reading it? Writing on autopilot reads on autopilot. Believe me, I’ve read enough poorly-executed, trend-trailing garbage to know the difference between a story with heart and a kc-readstory for cash. I love reading as much as I love writing, and I often find myself disappointed by what I’m reading because it doesn’t share the love I feel for the craft. Emotion plays heavily into writing. I want to feel what the characters feel and see what they do. I don’t want to go through the motions of being in love because this chick is supposed to fall for this half-vampire werepanther. If she’s going to be in love with something so sensational, I want to suspend my disbelief and be in love with her. Likewise, if a psycho clown is on a killing spree in my bedroom, damn it I want to feel like I’m next.

We’re readers, not statistics. We aren’t dollar signs. And if we aren’t willing to pick up what we’ve written and read it, then we’re writing the wrong thing. As I said, it’s time to take it back, to do what we love for the sake of the craft. This…this is how we’re going to do it. We have to rise above, to band together and stay strong.

Yes, the market sucks at the moment. But with persistence and forcing quality back into our products, we can turn that around. Who’s with me?

The King is Dead. Long Live the King

At 3:30 this morning, I dared to go on the internet for the first time in a week, and I cried.

I cried for the loss of a man I’d never met, yet feel like I’ve known my whole life. I’ve never in my life cried over the death of a celebrity, but this morning I couldn’t stop myself. When I saw the news of David Bowie’s passing, I immediately took to the Google, praying it was yet another horrid hoax. I wanted to believe it was, then more and more news sites began reporting it and I knew it was real. And my heart shattered.

Like many of my friends, the man had a huge impact on my life. From my first coherent experience with Bowie as the Goblin King all the way through to Blackstar, the man has been one of the few constants in my musical and emotional education. His voice, antics, and showmanship have been a beacon, not only to me but to all the other weirdos like me. Ziggy Stardust made it okay to be different. His songs gave us permission to push the envelope.

In short, without him, I wouldn’t be me because I very likely wouldn’t know I was allowed to.

It appears nobody knew of his illness…and I suspect that was by design. God knows if it were me, I wouldn’t want the entire world on death watch. While it came as a great shock, I suppose it was for the best. This morning is the first time in years (literally years) where my Facebook feed has been nothing but an outpouring of love and support. It’s the first time in a long time I wasn’t inundated by hatred and bigotry. That fact did little to ease the pain my chest.

On July 28, 2002, a carload of us headed up to Manassas, VA for the Area2 festival with the sole purpose of witnessing the spectacle that was David Bowie. It’s the closest thing to a religious experience I’ve ever had… it was magical, the culmination of so many years of searching and questioning. Watching him made all the pieces fall into place, and it happened with some of my best friends by my side.

Now, for the first time in a long time, I don’t know how to process what I’m feeling. Grief, certainly. But this deeply profound sense of loss… I thought this was meant to be saved for family and close friends. But then again, he’s about the closest friend I’ve ever had even though we never met. He brought me friends, was by my side as I lost others, and has always had just the right words for whatever situations I faced.

This makes no sense, I know. Grief and loss don’t make sense. They aren’t supposed to.

The words aren’t there, but my love is.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OtoXxsuikOQ

NaNoWriMo: A Writer’s Perspective

It’s November 15th. Yes, I know… thank you, Captain Obvious… but I say that for a reason: It’s November. We’re nearly half-way into that lovely Writing Nightmare known as NaNoWriMo. Don’t know what it is? Click the link back there and the website will tell you all about the organization that hosts it, the event, the philosophy, and the craziness surrounding it. Want the Reader’s Digest version? It’s an event sponsored by a non-profit organization that encourages people to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November.

I participated in NaNoWriMo for five consecutive years. I even “won” two of them. Personally, I have a love/hate relationship with NaNo which ultimately stems from my published work.

There are pros and cons to this.

Let’s start with the pros. I polled my writer friends on Facebook awhile back, and I got some fabulous answers. Here are a few of the positive opinions I received:

Rie Sheridan Rose: “I love it because it gives me a deadline to stick to. I don’t always finish, but I have three finished novels and a first draft from NaNo, two of those finished ones published. I try every year since I started in 2003, but I don’t feel pressured to make 50k words if something happens in November. I think it is a great tool, and a good discipline builder, even if I’m not particularly disciplined.”

Lucy Blue: “I have to say, it’s a powerful motivator. I’m a very lazy writer; my usual pace is about a chapter a week. So far with NaNo, I’m averaging about a chapter a day.”

Vicki Locey: “I love it. It teaches discipline big time. Once you`re disciplined it`s amazing how much writing you can get done.”

Chris Garrison: “I love it for the deadline to keep me focused, and the focus to keep the novel in my head every day. That momentum is what makes it possible, and lends a breathless intensity to the resulting books. I love the reckless abandon of writing now, knowing I’ll have time to fix it later.”

Amber Kallyn: “I think it’s great to get people in the habit of writing, which can be used the rest of the year. Plus, it’s a fun community writing event.”

Helen Davis: “I’m just having fun with it. And joining the National Bandwagon means that my family and friends actually respect the time I spend on it. “I didn’t mop the floor because it was a NaNo catchup day flies a lot better than the truth “I was lazy and just wanted to play.””

Ali Justice: “You know I fully support NaNo, I have been doing NaNo for 3 years now, the first year I failed misarably the second I wrote the 50,000 words and loved every minute of it. It’s not all about Winning and losing though. Its about getting to know other writers, newer people finding out that they love writing, it’s about coming together as a writing community and thriving. It doesn’t matter if you write 50,000 words or 10 words. It’s just an outlet and I think it’s a great one!”

Now, my positive opinion:  The idea of NaNo is a great way for fledgling writers to learn the process of writing a book. It teaches consistency and determination. It gives new authors a support system and a feeling of belonging. It comes with its own cheering section and forums to discuss the process among like-minded people.

The key here is discipline. Any self-respecting writer knows consistency and discipline are what we need to get to the end of a manuscript.

As a general rule of thumb, I try to write 1,000 words a day. To accomplish NaNo at a reasonable pace, one must only write 1,667 words a day. There isn’t a big difference between the numbers, but in terms of writing a book, that additional 670 words is enough to cause serious damage. On a good day, I can write as much as 5,000 words. That’s a huge accomplishment for me.

Unfortunately, now that I’m an actual working writer, that’s where my love affair with NaNo stops.

The last few years have been hell on wheels for me in a personal sense. I know that doesn’t have f***-all to do with my professional front and the need to push out word counts and secure book contracts. It’s an excuse, but unfortunately it’s an unavoidable one. The majority of 2015 has been spent staring at a blank page, unable to think of a single interesting thing to write. This year, I have finished two short stories. That’s it. Two. We’re talking about less than 20,000 words of marketable material. And the idea of subjecting myself to the breakneck pace of NaNo for the sake of winning a badge to display on my Facebook wall makes me physically ill. I’m talking serious panic attack material here.

The pressure to finish can be constricting. For someone as competitive as me, it’s crippling. I’m the type who typically doesn’t want to start something I know I won’t finish, and the idea of strapping on a hefty word count every single day knowing my personal state of mind scares the Bejesus out of me.

You see, I don’t believe in writing for quantity. I believe in making each word committed to paper count. That’s not to say I don’t go back and delete whole sentences or paragraphs or sometimes even chapters. What that means is I don’t believe in writing words simply for the sake of padding a word count. When I write, I edit as I go. I think about what I’m writing. As an author, I’ve learned to self-edit as I go and make sure I’m really saying what I want to say as I put words on paper. I’m a relatively slow writer, but I’m okay with that. I’m writing for the love of the words, not the length of the book.

I even considered trying NaNo again this year just to get myself back into the habit of writing all the time, but the idea of physically signing up and showing the world that I’m doomed to failure made me stop dead in my tracks and walk away. I do, after all, have a newborn child and a three-year-old to contend with, and getting any sort of legitimate word count with my little girls around ain’t easy, folks.

So when it comes down to it… if you’re a NaNo fan and participant, great show and I wish you the best of luck for the remaining 15 days of this nutty month. For those of you like me… look me up and let’s talk. Perhaps we can find a better way to motivate ourselves and each other without fear of psychiatric committal.