Thursday, October 29, 2015

How do you NaNo? Or rather, writing as a social exercise....

Writers, brace yourselves!

It's that time of the year again... pumpkins abound, ghosts and vampires and blue-clad Let-It-Go-singing toddlers all over the place...

Yes, that's right! It's almost November, time for the 

Our very own Lisa has already posted a bunch of stuff you can do before November 1st and that dreaded Empty Page moment. I'm not going to bother you with the Stack of Things To do Before You Embark on the Adventure (although I could tell you plenty about what I like to do beforehand...). 

Instead, I want to ask you (whether or not you plan to NaNo this year or if you ever did) about your social habits...your writerly social habits, that is. 

Many writing groups I've come across (ok, maybe that's because I DO, in fact, NaNo) have their roots in NaNoWriMo feedback/discussion/encouragement groups. Writing a novel in a month is very much set up as a social exercise, with twitter sprints and forums and a general sharing of the ways and woes of writing over 1600 words a day in order to reach that elusive 50 000 word deadline. 

So here's what I want to talk about today: How (much) do you talk about your writing? 

I have a few good friends who occasionally get thrown a chapter or two of what I'm working on. I'm also notoriously unable to finish my stories so there's no actual proper first draft of anything for anyone to read (bad Tessa, I know). Lots and lots of stories that hang somewhere between idea and three-quarters done, but nothing that deserves to be called "first draft" of anything. 

What I am known to do, however, is talk about writing in general, my characters (and how annoying they are at times), my (endless) list of ideas and all the little things that surround you when you write.

I blog both here and (occasionally) on my own blog, and I've been known to tweet (@tessasblurb), too. Lately I've been pretty bad at both, but I plan on pulling through this November. 

How do you do it? Do you talk about your writing? Online, with friends, with family? Who is allowed to read your work, and at which point do you let a story leave your hands to face the steely gaze of someone not you? 

I'm actually very leery of letting anyone read what I write - I'm always, always, absolutely convinced that my writing is rubbish, my story is inconsistent, and my characters are complete and utter (unlikeable) morons. I do give out bits and pieces, scenes, mostly, but hardly ever more. I also tend to get (very) stuck if I show my writing to someone when I'm only half done. 

Worst case scenario: letting family read it. I don't know why, but that thought really scares me. 


What about you? Anyone who's most definitely last on the list of who gets to read your story? Someone who's always first? 

And what about the flip side? Do you like giving feedback on other people's writing? Are you always completely honest or do you sugar-coat? Are you a "Grammar Nazi" or do you focus on the story and the characters? 

When you ask for feedback, what exactly are you looking for? Someone to proofread, or someone to tell you, honestly, where your story doesn't jibe? 

And here's a really difficult question: How do you deal with criticism? (I know I suck at not taking things personally, even though I KNOW I should not...)

Let me know what you think of the social side of writing, and the ins and outs of sharing your work (before it's published), I'd love to know! 



Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Want To Self Publish?

So your manuscript is done! You’re thinking about shopping it around to agents or editors. You’re also thinking about maybe self publishing, but you’re not sure what goes into it. How do you decide? How do you figure out what needs to be done?


There’s a lot that goes into self publishing, just to get the story to the marketplace.

Yes, the artistic freedom is amazing. You can take your project, and present in in exactly the way you envision. But with that freedom comes a great deal of responsibility.  You’re responsible for the editing of the book, something that can be very challenging for an author to do effectively his or herself. You’re responsible for a great cover. You’re responsible for formatting. You’ve got to figure out where to sell, and in what formats.
This is all doable. But without your best efforts on each of these steps, the chances of successfully self publishing drop precipitously.

You’re going to have to be a publicist as well as an author.

Now, for many authors who publish with small publishers, this is a fact of life, and one that they’ve had to face already. Many authors are in charge of part or all of their publicity regardless of whether they self publish, but for authors who self publish, savvy marketing is a must.
This means figuring out who your audience is, and how to effectively reach them in a cost effective manner. This isn’t an easy thing to do, and for most people involves a great deal of false starts and trial and error. Don’t worry—we’re all figuring out what works best for us. The best way to do this is keep records on numbers so you can tell what’s working, because without numbers it often feels amorphous and like you’re shouting into the wind.

You’re going to have to be a bookkeeper.

If you’re serious about this author thing (and if you’ve finished a manuscript, chances are that you are serious,) and you want to self publish, you’re going to have to be a bookkeeper.  This is very sad news for some of us, myself included. There is little I hate more than balancing a check book, but as a self publishing author, you’re in charge of All The Numbers. You need to keep track of the expenses of producing the book, the publicity expenses, what comes in during each accounting period you choose and from the outlets you’ve chosen to use to sell your book. You need to become familiar with profit and loss comparisons, and to set aside income to pay your taxes at the appropriate rates.

Self publishing can be a very rewarding endeavor, both personally and financially. You’ll certainly learn a great deal, and you get the freedom to present your work in your way without others “vision” of how that looks intruding.  You don’t have to share the lion’s share of the profits from your work with a publisher.  Just be aware that to  self publish, you take on all the work of the publisher, all the work of the author, and all the risk of the endeavor. Still want to self publish? Come on in—the water’s fine!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Tips for NaNoWriMo-What You Can Do Before November

Halloween is fast coming upon us. For many people it means carving pumpkins, wearing costumes and passing out candy. But for some writers, it marks the last day before November, better known as National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). If you are one these writers, taking advantage of this time to do some preliminary work on your new novel will save you time while you are in the thick of NaNoWriMo. Below are some tips to get you prepared for November:
  • Write out the story goals in detail. What is at stake? Get a sense of the larger picture and the personal picture. What does the character want? What would it mean for the story if she gets it? What would it mean if he doesn’t?

  • Create a plot outline.  Some writers are meticulous planners, which helps them stay on track. Other writers are “free-writers” who prefer the spontaneity that comes from not knowing what going to happen next. I would suggest something in-between: a broad outline of the plot, so that you have an idea of where you need to go with the story, but still have room for experimentation and discovery.
  • Get to know your characters now.  This will alleviate the time you’ll spend during NaNoWriMo guessing at your character’s responses to important decisions and how they should act when they encounter unexpected challenges in the story. 

  • Design the world ahead of time. Or at least, have a good idea of the environment your characters are going to exist in. This will save you from getting bogged down in world building during NaNoWriMo.  Hone in on the details of the world, including weather, geography, people, and objects, letting these details reveal the character who would be observing or experiencing them. And although this world may be very familiar to your readers, describe it in a way that is unfamiliar, strange or foreign. In other words, let the unfamiliarity and unique perspective of the character seeing it for the first time come through.  If the story is set in an exotic, strange or alien place, try to describe it as if it was familiar, demonstrating the ordinariness of the world.

  • Do any preliminary research that you think you’ll need to know, or at least have on hand. Research can easily become a black hole and make you lose momentum while in your NaNoWriMo groove.  While you can’t anticipate every piece of research you’ll need, you might be able to do a little research to help you understand how to get your character to a particular plot point or what the motivation is behind a character’s action.
  • Start setting aside time to write now. Get into some kind of writing regiment (you can do these exercises to fill that time), so that when November starts, your NaNoWriMo efforts won’t feel like a sudden shift in your daily life.
  • Set up a support system with other writers. There are some great resources and blogs about National Novel Writing Month, but start with the official NaNoWriMo site first.  Sign up for free and get help and support in just about any aspect of your NaNoWriMo experience, from planning to staying motivated throughout the month.

In following these tips, you’ll be able to start your new novel with a more grounded picture of the world and a clearer understanding of your characters. And if you are only able to do just some of these exercises, you'll still be better equipped to handle the challenge of writing every day in November. 50,000 words can seem daunting but a little preparation can not only give you a good start, it can help you maintain your writing momentum and keep you on track to meet your NaNoWriMo goals.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Authors Open for Business

So, you want to be an author. Are you prepared to also become a public relations wiz, marketing guru, entrepreneur, and international sales rep?

I was at a workshop recently, and the take away message from a panel discussion seemed to be that as authors we must treat our passion as a business.

It all starts when we sit down and write that first word. Think of it as owning our own manufacturing company. Our novel is a time-consuming, rewarding labour of love, and with any manufacturing process, our job is to create a compelling, dazzling product to shake up the market place. But our investment isn’t finished when that manuscript rolls off the production line. Whether we traditional publish, or self-publish, we have to generate sales. What business can survive without healthy revenue and income streams?

With shiny new book in hand, we must understand our market niche and promote to that target audience. We have to knock on doors, cold call, hand out postcards, business cards, and bookmarks. We must find creative ways to engage potential readers on social media, hosting launch parties and giveaways, joining groups and forums, and commenting on blogs. Gone are the days of just writing a book and waiting for readers to find you.

I listened to fantastic ideas outlining opportunities to promote yourself, all of which involved understanding your core market first—after all if you don’t know who wants to buy a book like yours, how are you going to go about promoting it to them?  I took notes and admired the creative ways proposed to engage with readers, for example, if your book is about dogs, meet your local pet store owner and see if they would be willing to carry your book. The presenters spoke about business plans, clear objectives, and a narrow focus—know your audience and focus your efforts there. There were lots of suggestions on how to get your book or cover in front of readers e.g. ads of Facebook, Google, Goodreads, Twitter.

But a business? To me, that label took the creativity, spontaneity, and fun out of the process and turned it into something sterile and cold.

Here’s a couple articles on highly successful people: 

The traits that struck me most were passion, integrity, persistence, communication, and drive. We can embody all of that without looking at our chosen path as a stuffy, starched collar, stiff tie entrepreneurial business. We need to show up and do the work, I appreciate that. We need to write like the wind, devote a certain amount of time to understanding the needs, desires, and values of our readers, and we should all be looking to engage, delight, and inform. We can promote and sell as needed, but do we have to do it from the confining space of a business mentality?
I realized a few things in this workshop, but specifically to this train of thought: just as there are plotters and pantsers when it comes to one’s approach to writing, there are plotters and pantsers when it comes time to deal with the other myriad aspects of being an author.

I know a lot of people who approach their writing career as a job. They wake up, section their day into the ‘business’ side of their affairs and the ‘writing’ side of their job. They plot, plan, make spreadsheets, and graphs. I also know other people who take their passion just as seriously, but their approach is more organic. They might try something new every day—a new way to engage with readers, a new promotional idea, a new outlet or avenue never explored before—but they are not trapped by expectations or measuring conversions.

I can also tell you, neither group appears to be more ‘successful’ (such an interesting term and very subjective when it comes to defining what it means personally to be successful) than the other.

I’m curious. What do you think? What’s your approach to writing and letting the world know you’re out there?

In gratitude,

Marissa xo

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Twitter Writing Contests: #PitchWars2015

This summer my blog partner, Lisa Abellera, wrote about Twitter contests from the agent perspective. With Brenda Drake’s PitchWars approaching the finale, I've tackled this Twitter contest with a Q & A from THREE different perspectives. 

What exactly is PitchWars, you ask? 

A contest <check> 
Publishing industry crash course <check>
Twitter hangout for writers to procrastinate <uh..>
Super fun <check>

Yes, it is a contest. But it's also so much more. Published/agented authors, editors, or industry interns choose one writer each, read their entire manuscript, and work with said writer in a “Mentor” capacity for two months in preparation for the agent round.

The competition for Pitch Wars is fierce with more than 1500 applicants for 101 mentors. The agent round begins Nov 3 and FOUR dozen agents will be perusing the offerings and making requests. 

Now, with PitchWars 2015  coming to a close, I have interviewed three participants:
Mentee, Anne Lipton (@AnneLipton) Mentor, Nikki Roberti Miller, and Agent Uwe Stender.
I asked all three participants the same five questions, noted below:

1) How many times have you participated in PitchWars? If more than one, please state the capacity. 

Anne: I also submitted a manuscript in 2014

Nikki: This is my second year in Pitch Wars. My first year, I was a mentee who was mentored by the talented Rachel Lynn Solomon. Within two weeks of Pitch Wars, I landed my own agent. This year, I’m paying forward by being a mentor myself.

Uwe: This is my third time, always as an agent.

2) What were [are] you looking for in PitchWars?

Anne: A mentor who can help me revise my manuscript to its full potential

Nikki: Last year, I was looking for that extra level of revising that I hadn’t explored before. I learned so much from Rachel as a mentee, and it really revolutionized my writing. Not only that, but it prepared me for the intensity of agent revisions. I try to apply everything I learned to each manuscript I CP for, and this year for Pitch Wars, my main goal is to help another author just like I was helped. Learning to revise is the best skill anyone can have, but it takes a lot to get there.

Uwe: I am looking for GREAT projects. I am actively looking for brilliant clients.

3) What words of wisdom do you have for the Mentees the morning of Nov 3?

Anne: Eat a good breakfast. We have a really supportive Facebook mentee group and I will probably go hang out there for moral support.

Nikki: First piece of advice: DO NOT STRESS. DO NOT OBSESS. 

Seriously…walk away from the computer refreshing. It’ll be okay. And know that even if you get no requests from the agent round, you can still query (including the agents who participated). I had five requests on my entry but ended up with seven offers of representation between the agent round and querying---and most of them came from querying, including Pitch Wars agents who didn’t request during the agent round.

The main reward of Pitch Wars is your shiny MS and new skills. Embrace it. Trust it. Be proud of what you’ve done. And keep querying. You’ve got this!

Uwe: Enjoy the process. Don't take it personally. If you don't get any requests, it does not mean that your book is not publishable. If you get many requests, it does not guarantee an agent offer and/or publication in the future.  Have fun with it, no matter what happens! And if several agents request it and I am one of them, send it to me first! 

4) The PitchWars selection process is comparable to the query process in the publishing industry. What advice do you have for querying writers? 

Anne: Submit. Revise. Repeat. Read blogs on how to write a good query. Write yours a million times. Read other writers’ queries. Have other writers read your query. Contests can help, too. Read submission guidelines. Personalize the query. Keep the query under 300 words and your bio not more than one to two sentences.

Nikki: Make sure your queries and manuscripts are as polished as they can be. Polished does not mean proof read your rough draft. It means sharing it with others, tearing it apart, and putting it back together. Put in the work first to avoid querying too early. 

Uwe: Be persistent, be polite!

5) What is the single best thing about PitchWars for you?

Anne: Receiving invaluable feedback from my mentor to improve my manuscript. Than you Max!

Nikki: The online writing community. I have loved every moment of getting to know my fellow writers, and they have truly kept me sane during the ups and downs of this industry. Meeting them has been the most rewarding. 

Uwe: That I will see many projects that normally may not have come my way in the regular query process.

And there you have it.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Curious ROBOT Visits the Library

Inspired by one of my favorite childhood stories.

This is ROBOT. He was a good little android and always very curious.

Today ROBOT and his friend, The Cyborg in the NextGenSkin, were at the library.
ROBOT couldn’t believe the number of books on the library shelves. He’d never seen so much paper in one place before. The books were covered in a thick layer of dust, and cobwebs stretched across the bookends.
ROBOT and The Cyborg in the NextGenSkin pushed the cobwebs out of the way as they read the titles, trying to find the right one.

“Wherever could it be?” ROBOT muttered to himself.

They’d gone to the library for a particular book. An out-of-print book that wasn’t in their memory bank, a book they heard might be dangerous for NewSociety.

A banned book, purported to exist in only one location.

“I found it,” The Cyborg in the NextGenSkin said. “Over here, in the back.”

Curious ROBOT made his way to the corner, and took the damaged, faded book from his friend. ROBOT examined the cover, the insides, the brittle binding. He held it to his nose, inhaling.

Ick. No wonder NewSociety closed down all the bookstores and libraries. It was a terrible aroma that reeked of old paper held for too long by human hands.

“That’s the one,” Curious ROBOT said. “Let’s go.”
“Aren’t you going to read it?” his friend asked.
“I don’t need to,” Curious ROBOT replied. “I read about it. Same thing, right? Don’t you just love the challenge of finding books that aren’t in the system? Like a puzzle.”
“Sure. I guess.”

Curious ROBOT and The Cyborg in the NextGenSkin took the banned book outside, set it on fire, and watched it burn down to ashes on the concrete.

Then they went home.

**Support Local Libraries**

Friday, October 9, 2015

Self-Publishing Journey Part II

The last time I was here, in early August, I talked about deciding between traditional publishing (including Big-5 houses and mid- and smaller-sized houses) and self-publishing.

I talked a lot about what you need to consider if you choose to self-publish, like acquiring a good editor, finding reliable beta readers, marketing, marketing, marketing.

You may remember that I mentioned my co-author, Merissa, and I had decided to self-publish book one of our MMA-based romance series. Here we are in October, and we're well on our way to realizing that goal.

In the meantime, though, I also decided I wanted to write a series of novellas and self-publish those. It started as kind of a frustrated tantrum that some tropes seem to sell better than others, so I wanted to experiment and see if I could do well with a series if I followed tropes.

Hence, the Caine Brothers series was born. It's a series of erotic romance novellas about six alpha brothers (a billionaire, a biker, a SEAL, a fighter, a rocker, and a shifter...and one of them will have a stepbrother/stepsister romance). Yes, it may seem cliche, but I'm putting my own twist on all the stories, and really, it's an experiment in self-publishing. Can I create something that will sell by chasing the trends?

So between the two projects, I've been hard at work learning the ropes of self-publishing. Thankfully, I'm involved in several Facebook author groups where some of the authors are also self-published, and many of them have been very generous about schooling the newbie.

From here on out, when I say "I" I mean both I and we. I did all the work on the novella, but Merissa and I have worked together on the novel.

Because I'm an English teacher with a masters in writing, I felt relatively qualified to edit my own work. This was an advantage because it saved me time and money by not having to pay for a professional editor.  Once the drafts (of the first novella and the MMA book) were done, I edited them then sent them out to beta readers.

Having reliable beta readers who are also authors, or long-time readers with some advanced skill in understanding story structure and/or mechanics, is extremely important because they can help you find holes in your plot or characters, which you can then go back and fix.

Once I was sure the manuscripts were clean and ready to go, I had to attack the hard work of figuring out what came next.

It turns out, you can't do anything else until you have a cover, so cover art was the next step. For the co-authored novel, we chose to have an artist do the cover. We love the artist and the results, but it wasn't cheap. You pay for quality, which we were willing to do. For the novella, I felt reasonably capable of creating my own cover, which I did. However, I know my own limits, so I kept it simple and clean.  

With covers completed, the next step was formatting. I found a formatter in one of the Facebook book groups, called her and chatted. I'd read some of the books she'd worked on, and after talking to her and interacting with her online, I liked her so I chose to use her. She did a fabulous job on the novella, so we'll be using her for the novel as well.

The next thing I needed to figure out was how to get the book uploaded to the different digital media sites. I talked to other self-published authors and learned about KDP and Draft2Digital. The novella will only be digital, and although the novel will also be in print form, I haven't done the work/research on print yet. That's another step.

Since the novella will release October 19, I'm currently deep into figuring out how to let readers know it's there for them. I'll be hosting a Facebook release party, I've been posting in every book group I can find, and found a lot of reviewers in response to some of those posts. Some of those reviewers were excited enough about the book that they wanted to join a fan group, which I set up on Facebook, also.

I'm not going to pay for a publicity company to do a formal blog tour or other marketing for the novella, but we will do that for the novel. We're still shopping/researching on that front.

So far, everything seems to be moving along nicely. Of course, I won't be able to draw any conclusions until either of the books release and we see how they do.

What have I learned so far?

Self-publishing is a lot of work. There's a lot to learn. I haven't written any new words for a while since I've been so busy learning. However, the learning should be a curve with a steep incline at the beginning and a smoother plateau (or at least a very reduced incline) from there. Once I know what I need to know, I won't have to spend that time learning it again.

My hunch is that the hardest part of the whole deal will be hawking the books--finding readers, establishing a fan base, getting the word out. Once I/we crack that nut, hopefully things will be easier.

The next time I'm back, I'll be able to report on releasing a self-published book and what I've learned about marketing. I might feel completely differently on the other side of that effort, so stay tuned to see what happens!


Monday, October 5, 2015

A Career as an Author: The Reality

As a literary agent, I see the starry eyes of newbie writers everywhere.

  • "Did you know Stephenie Meyer had a dream and Twilight was published 6 months later?" 
  • "Amanda Hocking made 2 million dollars self-publishing." 
  • "JK Rowling went from sleeping in her car to becoming a billionaire."

You hear these recycled lines everywhere on forums and in writing groups. The stuff of legends. The writers who made it. These anecdotes give hope with each rejection, fuel the fire, keep the dream alive. It's like the waiters in Hollywood dreaming of becoming the next Brad Pitt or Halle Berry without the star-studded veneer.

The other side of the coin though, is these anecdotes give rise to high expectations. I've met so many writers who believe by self-publishing they'll be the next Amanda Hocking, or by finding a literary agent they'll be the next franchise. It creates an unrealistic perception of what it means to be a career author. And when a literary agent sees that idealism shining through a newbie writer's pitch, they run the other direction.

Because, writing is a career. And like any other career it takes time. On average it takes about 10 years to get your first book published. And that's probably not the first book you've written. Following that, it takes about six successfully published books for you to start earning a living as an author. That's a few decades. That requires a lot of patience and dedication.

For every legend, there are thousands of writers who haven't made it, whose rejections litter the pathway, whose debut novel was a dud, who gave up, because the dream was taking too long and was too much work. My favorite response to those who ask how long it takes to become a successful writer is to ask, "if you started a job tomorrow at an entry level position, would you expect to be the CEO within the year?" Not to say that it hasn't or won't happen. Just be ready to fight to keep the dream alive for more than a few years. 

So before you approach your next literary agent or editor or consider self-publishing, ask yourself, are you willing to do the time? Once you know and accept the reality of becoming a career author, the more likely you are to succeed.

And don't forget to submit to me when you do have it figured out: