The Disorganized Writer


“Hi. My name is Pam. I am a disorganized writer.”

I rarely plan books at all, let alone in detail. A character springs, fully formed, from the black depths of my creative self, and next thing you know, it’s fingers on the keys writing all about where he is and what he’s doing. A Classic Pantser. But at some point, if your gateway writing isn’t producing a coherent narrative, you need to consciously analyze your story and organize the chaos. Your readers will thank you.

Now, in my current NaNoWriMo story that I’m working on, I at least know from what seed the Main Character sprouted. Cue Audioslave “Like a Stone.” Add in less than accute hearing, a silly sense of humor, and you can pick out lines . . .

“By a freeway, I confess I was lost . . . ”

Ah Ha! A poor lost dog!

” . . . you led me on . . . ”

Rescued by a young lady!

“In your house I long to be
Room by room patiently
I’ll wait for you there
Like a stone
I’ll wait for you there

Yep, the plaint of all dogs, when the people go off to work . . .

But you know? I can’t blame Audioslave for him turning out to be a werewolf.

So anyway, with no planning whatsoever I’m tapping away at this story. Or whatever you call it at this stage. And I hit the first problem. Which is a serious lack of a problem. There’s got to be something that matters to Stone, that goes horribly wrong. This is the first point at which I have to grit my teeth and, ugh! ORGANIZE!

At this point I become a plotter. But just for a little while.

Well, okay, for once the story problem is pretty obvious. He was limping down the road after a fight with other werewolves. So they just need to show up again and threaten the (yes, yes, of course she’s a beautiful young blonde) woman who picked him up and took him home with her.

Umm, we may need some extra character development here. Is Stone a Bad Boy who’s changed his ways? And that’s why the pack tossed him? Or was he . . . orphaned and raised by a sweet elderly couple? And he has foolishly sought out his blood relatives to find out what he is? And discovered that werewolves aren’t very nice people.

Okay, we’ll go with that. And kick the plotter mind out the door.

And we write and write and . . . come to the end of the story.

And realized it’s pretty much a disorganized mush.

Now, darn it all, it really is time to get organized. Get back to being a Plotter. This is where I drag out “The Hero’s Journey” and checking to see how many points I’ve hit or missed.


The Classical Hero’s Journey

(1) Start in the ordinary world. This establishes what your hero’s life is like, before the adventure. Often, these days, stories open with an action sequence to hook the reader, then show the more normal life. Think about the opening of most James Bond films. Most of them are not _just_ a fantastic action scene, but help set up the main story problem.

(2) The call to adventure comes. “Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi, you are my only hope.”

(3) Refusal of call. The character refuses the call or hesitates to go. This is sometimes short or even implied. “I can’t go to Mos Eisley!”

(4) Meeting with the guide. This is not necessarily a guide. Some processes call him a mentor. Think Merlin to Arthur. Gandalf, Obi Wan . . . they tend toward short lifespans, as the Hero needs to take over and be the leader.

(5) Crossing the Threshold. “Uncle Owen? Aunt Beru?” There’s no going back now.

(6) Tests, Allies, Enemies . This varies with the novel, but think of the classic fairy tales. The character meets with three people. Each of them gives him or her something that can be used on the journey, or teaches him a skill he will need. You get the point. Send your character to school, hand him a magic sword or BFG 3000, have him find companions, vehicles, whatever your story requires for the MC to win.

(7) Try-fail sequences. At least three for a novel, some of the low points being caused by the previous attempts. Interleaving these with the acquiring of allies, skills, knowledge and equipment is useful.

(8) Approach to the inner-most cave—the black moment—the nadir—the “mirror moment”—the realization—the reimagining—the commitment. Call it what you will. Your character needs to emotionally crash, then come out of it energized and determined.

(9) The TEST. This is the greatest battle. The biggest love trial. Whatever. This is where your character is put through the white hot furnace and melts or not. What the trial is has been set since the beginning – the meeting with the villain, the crossing of the perilous chasm. The hero wins, story over . . . except if you do end it immediately the reader will be upset. A gradual let down is needed.

(10) Reward. Show what the hero gets out of it, immediately. Freedom, money, kiss, whatever. The awkward version is the end of the first Star Wars movie. Try for something more emotionally satisfying than an awards ceremony.

(11) Return to the new normal.
This can be going home—or not.
Or a marriage proposal. Or goodbyes.
It needs to show the development the characters have gone through, how they adjust. Give the reader a glimpse of the future.

(12) And sometimes, the refusal of the return. The character isn’t ready to go back to the ordinary world. This can inspire your readers to reach for something beyond the ordinary. Or it may be a sign that you have a series on your hands.


This is, if you want to analyze a story, a very useful framework.

It doesn’t have to fit well. But if it fits badly, look especially at (6) and (7).

If your MC is not meeting people, learning things, or gaining useful tools—that’s something you really need to look into. While it sounds like a Fantasy Trope, it’s also extremely important in Mysteries. Interview people, find clues. Get emotionally attached to the Women-who-everyone-thinks-dun-it, pick up an amusing sidekick . . . whatever.

And the try-fail sequences. (Ouch! Think I’ve just found a problem!) In a short story, even one failure, followed by a deep dark emotional dip and finding determination before winning gives a story some emotional impact. In a mystery, you’ve found proof someone else did it, only to find out contradicting evidence (three bloody times!) Black moment. “She’s going to be convicted and executed!” Then you put the clues together differently, and Voila! You arrest the amusing sidekick! (Sorry about the sense of humor, there’s a reason I’m not a big time mystery writer)

Well, going back to my werewolf, how do you actually fit a story into the HJ?

I’ve found that I have to physically manipulate the scenes.

I print out the first paragraph or so of each scene, just enough to bump my memory. A separate page for each scene. Lay them out in order and write on them, where they match one of the steps.

What’s missing? (What? Zero try/fails? C’mon, Pam you know better!)

Would it work better in a different order? (Should the blonde find out earlier that he’s a werewolf? When should her brother-in-law the FBI agent find out?)

So I shuffle pages around, make notes. Figure out where to put in the try fails . . .

Another thing to look at, somewhere in my—and possibly your—disorganized flailings, is a look at the genre, and the genre expectations. For instance, since this is showing signs of at least a strong romance thread, there needs to be a lot more togetherness. And if, as I fear, we’ve fallen into a Sweet Werewolf Romance I’m going to need a lot more togetherness. And probably a pen name.

I fear it may wind up as silly as this one:


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Return to the Extreme Pantser’s Guide: Meet the Internal Editor

(Work has Kate snowed under and she asked me to post this for her.)

You’ve finished your first draft, you’ve given it a decent amount of time to sit (trust me, for pantsers this is essential), and now it’s time to edit. As with all things pantser, particularly extreme pantser, it’s not that simple. Editor time is when you need to take this thing that’s lived inside your head for months, and put it through the shredder – and most of the pantsers I know (yes, including me) have major problems letting go enough to do this.

Probably the first and simplest tool in the kit for turning on your editor-mind is to phase-shift: to look at the piece in a different format than the one you wrote it in. Print-outs work for this. So does making a copy of the file and getting the copy onto your ebook reader or smartphone (preferably one with annotation or editing capability) and reading it there. The different format is usually enough to keep you out of writer mindset (or worse, “this is my baby” mindset).

Editing somewhere you don’t write is another tool that, while simple, works. The goal of moving is to put yourself somewhere your subconscious doesn’t recognize as writing-space. If you wrote the novel on your laptop while taking the train to and from work, don’t edit it there – or at the very least, don’t mark it up there. It doesn’t matter whether you mark up in approved editorese or not: you’re the only person who’s going to see this stuff, so you’re the only person who needs to worry about it. Highlights on a kindle with a one or two word note to say what it needs are just as effective as handwritten comments on paper, or comments embedded in a word processor file.

A word of warning here: if your word processing application uses any form of auto-formatting turn it off. There are multiple versions of Word in the wild, Word Perfect still happens, and then you’ve got Open Office and its clones, as well as any number of other applications that will create something more or less like RTF (aka “Rich Text Format” – which is text with fonts, bold, underlines and some other formatting, but not the fancy stuff). They don’t all use the same internal codes for anything that is not an obvious keystroke. What that means is that the beautiful file on your Mac ends up looking like someone threw confetti all over it with all manner of weird characters involving tildes and accents where you thought you had a quote mark.

Actually, that’s two words of warning. Do not use your word processor’s embedded comments feature. Not everything you’re likely to be playing with is going to be able to support that. My preference for this is to use something that won’t appear anywhere else in the manuscript as a flag character. So I’ll be writing along and there’ll be something like [add more description] in the middle of the text. That tells me what I’ve got to do and where I’ve got to do it. Sometimes it’s a plot note, sometimes flagging a really crappy sentence, and sometimes a note to remind me that a character’s name needs to change.

For stuff I need to research but don’t want to lose I use the same trick – a sudden burst of [research this] will get added to the story as I write. When I’m done the markup pass-through, I can search for [ and do what needs to be done. The benefit of this is that you can do it with anything, even Notepad (well, if the book isn’t too big – Notepad can’t read very large files. Although if the file is that big, you have other problems).

Okay, so you have your internal editor. Guess what? The editor popped over from Evil Bastard Central, and will cheerfully tell you what you’re doing sucks rocks, while leaning back in a recliner drinking your virtual booze. This is quite normal. I know it sounds like split personality, but heck, we pantsers already host a ridiculous number of personalities anyway. What’s one more?

Quite a few authors externalize the editor-mind, even going so far as to give it a name. Julie Czerneda calls hers the “Great Editor Voice” aka GEV, and posts interesting conversations between her and her GEV on her newsgroup.

You don’t need to go that far. If it helps to do something like this, go for it. Otherwise, don’t worry. So long as you can flip to editor-mind when you need to, that’s enough.

Of course, the other side of this is getting back to author-mind when you’re done with the editor-mind. That’s… interesting. It’s also crucial – you don’t want to be in editor-mind when you’re writing, any more than writer-mind is good when you’re editing. While the toolset is much the same, they’re used in different ways. The writer-mind is applying the paint, building the picture and framing it, while the editor-mind applies a scalpel to clean up the bits that got smudged, and takes the sander to the frame to smooth off all the rough places and hide the marks where the hammer didn’t quite go where you meant it to, and so forth. Not all writers are good at editing, and not all editors are good at writing.

Depending on how clean your drafts are (in the sense of dangling plot threads, odd byways you forgot to come back to, ideas that hit halfway through that you need to go back and seed and other such pantser oddities), you might not need much in your edit passes. Mine are typically pretty light: there’s a pass for plot/character issues where I’ll usually pick up most of the typo and grammar as well, and a second pass that takes a closer look at phrasing and tightening. After that will depend on what Amanda and Sarah, my long-suffering beta readers and in Amanda’s case editor as well, have to say. You might need dozens of passes to clean things up.

Or not. Pantsers have a horrible tendency to over-edit until there’s no life left. We really can’t edit our work until we’ve had a chance to forget it, and we’ve got to be careful about who we listen to. If you try to fix everything everyone says, you’ll end up with flat, rolled out tofu. Very dead tofu, at that. Instead, look for the possible problem that sits under what they’re saying, and work out how to address that.

And that, fellow pantsers, is that. Go thou forth and explore the pants.



Ah, the Romance

For those venturing unwary into this realm, be aware the meaning of romance has changed a lot in the last few decades…. er… century, whatever.

In my grandfather’s day what Dumas wrote and what Sir Walter Scott wrote were romances.  They were more or less what we’d call “fanciful adventures set in another time.”


Now things have changed, but perhaps not the way you think they have.

PARTICULARLY if you’re a man who has never given a thought to reading romances, and for whom romances are pink-covered books in some woman’s shelf (in Portugal they were mostly blue covered and at least the imprint my older cousin read was mostly about bullfighters, or at least that’s what I remember.  Also the Portuguese notion of happily ever after is that he dies a brave death, possibly because of her, and she mourns him the rest of her life and possibly becomes a nun.  Chacun son gout) your notion of romance is possibly completely far afield.  As is your notion of erotica, I might add.  (And since this is mostly about placing things on Amazon where potential readers can find them, please don’t tag things “erotica” of mature content.  Put some warning on the description, but do not tag them that way, or no one will be able to find your book, sometimes not even with a direct search.  You’ve been warned.)

Romance is not just a story in which two people find each other.  Or even a story in which there is a couple who fall in love.  Those do not count as romances, and please don’t even SECONDARILY tag them as romances, unless you REALLY like a lot of bad reviews.

Romance is THE story of two people finding each other.  All other plots (and there are often a lot of them and I’ll get into it in later posts.  In fact, when historical mystery was declared no longer welcome in traditional publishing, 12? 15? years ago, a lot of the writers moved on to historical romance.  I was delighted to find them again, and didn’t mind that the thrust of the book had changed.  Of main importance now was the romance, and the mystery was the subplot.

Mind you, some authors balance it so carefully that you have to think hard whether it’s romance or mystery, and it could be both, but if you’re aiming to write (and tag) a book as romance, you still need to give the romance AT LEAST equal weight.

We all know the plot of romance, right?  Boy meets girl (or boy.  Girl in this case just means the love interest, same as boy.  It’s easier to do it this way, but there are plenty of m/m and f/f romances out there.  And some of them even sell) boy loses girl, boy gets girl.

This plot sketch is about as accurate as saying that science fiction is about “new gadget changes things; guy solves gadget problems; guy is hero” or mystery is “Murder happens; person solves murder; the end.”

There are beats in romance, there are cookies, there are various things the readers expect.  Romance stretches from historical to near erotica (erotica is something different) and they’re no more the same than the various type of sf or fantasy or mystery.

Romance is normally despised, not particularly because it’s a genre for women, but because it’s both a genre women like and that intellectuals and feminists despise.  My brother, one of each, ditto, told me romance was the opium of womanhood, and that I should not read it, with the result I didn’t find Heyer until my friend Dave Freer shoved her under my nose and demanded I read her, well into my thirties.

I’m not a hundred percent sure why this is, except that feminists seem to believe a “perfect” liberated woman is a sort of ersatz man. They’re caught in the cross hairs of women being better and being EXACTLY like man.  I say it’s spinach, and I say to hell with it.

Several tests have shown that women (STATISTICALLY, this does not mean the woman down the street or any woman.  It means the statistical woman which means perhaps nothing for one woman, a little bit for another, and a whole lot for another.  Not understanding and yet using statistics is the bane of our age) PREFER stories about people and interconnections between people, while men prefer stories about events.  When teaching writing (voluntarily) to my sons’ classes starting in elementary I can tell you that preference starts very early, and no, I’m not going to discuss whether it’s innate or not.  It’s lots of fun to discuss “if we made society gender neutral” but cultures are not so easily taken apart and replaced with another and all events in which this was tried throughout history ended in mass murder.  So it’s a nice thought experiment, but no.  If it happens it will be over millenia (and it might, since safe, reliable contraceptives have changed that equation and if we get artificial wombs it will change again more so) and is of no interest to us just now, except to those who write such speculative things.

There could be said to be evolutionary reasons for that too, but a lot devolves into just so stories.

Anyway, so, women who like romance don’t like it because it’s fluffy, or silly, or whatever the few remaining chauvinists (some of them male feminists) think, but because it is about the relationship between people.

And for those of you who are smacking lips, waggling eyebrows and going “eheheh relationship.  Is that what they call it now?” Stop that.

Romances CAN be near erotica.  They can also be “traditional” or “sweet” meaning ALMOST no sex.  True, traditional publishers (no doubt afraid of being considered prudes) gave these short shrift, but they’re blooming in indie, like other despised genres such as historical mystery and military sf.)  Don’t assume “romance” means erotica.  That’s a stupid assumption.

So what defines a story as “romance” across the various subgenres?

Well, you remember that formula above?  Find, lose, win?  What it’s missing is the connection between those.  A romance is the story of two people becoming worthy of each other and of loving each other through and despite trials and flaws.

The BIG emphasis in romance is character growth.  Now, it’s specifically character growth with a view to love and happily ever after, in this case.  But it’s the psychological growth of both that makes it a thing.

Next up: Jane Austen, mother of the romance genre.



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To NaNo or Not to NaNo

November is almost half over and all across the internet you will find writers and wannabe writers talking about NaNoWriMo. Some are gleefully extolling on and on and on about how they have been meeting their daily word counts and will make their 50k word goal for the month. Others lament about how they haven’t been able to keep up with their goal, but they are continuing to try. Some will tell you about the book they started in last year’s NaNo or the year before or the year before, etc. Then there are those who will boldly tell you that you’re a fool for taking part.

Each year, I see someone — usually several someones — condemning anyone who takes part in NaNoWriMo. These oh-so-superior authors are convinced that nothing good can come out of NaNo. They cling to the belief that no one can write 50k words of publishable material in a mere 30 days. To them, NaNo is a gimmick that does nothing more than make fun of their craft. And, yes, I have a mental image of these authors sipping tea, pinky fingers lifted, as they look down their noses at the peons laboring away in the writing trenches.

If you haven’t already figured it out, this attitude more than bugs me. It tics me off. First, it completely misses the point of NaNo (and full disclosure here. I’m not a big fan of NaNo for reasons I’ll go into later). Second, it assumes that every writer works at the same pace as these so-called authors and who are they to tell any of us what pace we should set when we are writing?

So, what is the purpose behind NaNo? That’s simple. Some years ago, a couple of friends got together. During the course of their conversation, someone said no one could write a 50k word novel in a month. These guys took up the challenge and NaNo was born. If you take part and if you follow the original concept of the challenge, you start a new novel on November 1st and work through the month with the goal of writing at least 50k words.

The goal isn’t to have 50k words of publishable content. It is to set a goal and meet it. To simply sit the butt down in the chair and write. Editing comes after that. This is what makes NaNo an effective tool for a number of writers. It is committing to a goal and working to reach that goal. It has been the impetus a number of writers have needed to move past writer’s block or the various distractions that all too often take us away from our writing.

There is another benefit to NaNo, at least for some writers. There is a huge NaNo community. During November, there are meetings you can go to, even write-ins. For a number of writers, especially beginning writers, this means getting to know in meat space others like yourself. That’s important because writing is a solitary profession and all too often our families don’t understand the demands of the career.

My issue with NaNo is that 50k word goal. There are a number of writers who are terrified of that number. They won’t sign up because they know they won’t be able to meet the goal. In other words, they aren’t going to give themselves the chance to “fail”. When asked about it by other writers, I tell them they don’t have to take part in the “official” NaNo. They can simply set their own goal for the month and then do their best to keep to it. One way of doing it is announcing the goal on social media, on their blogs, etc., and then doing daily or weekly upstages. That will keep them honest.

I hear some of you out there asking if I do NaNo. I don’t. I have in the past and, in most instances, I met the goal. However, with my writing schedule, I am rarely in the position any longer of starting something new at the right time for the challenge. That doesn’t mean I ignore the spirit of NaNo. I have weekly and monthly writing goals. Sometimes I meet them and sometimes I don’t. In November, I do my best to hit at least 50k words. It might be on a single project or on several different projects, depending on when I end one and start another. Sometimes, it might be an editing goal. There are times when it is both.

You might be asking about my goals for the month and how have I done so far? My goal wasn’t so much a word count goal as a project goal. I wanted to have the final version of Light Magic finished and ready to publish by the end of the month. I also wanted to have the final version of an untitled holiday short story/novella in the Eerie Side of the Tracks universe ready as well. Working drafts of both have been finished. I have also done some work on the expanded edition of Duty from Ashes. But, thanks to a knee injury, I am behind on my goal. Since the short story/novella and Light Magic are time sensitive, they are getting the bulk of my attention right now.

Here’s the thing. No one has to like NaNo. It isn’t for every writer out there. But just because it isn’t right for you doesn’t give you the right to decry it where every other writer is concerned. For those of you who haven’t tried it, or who have tried it and not met your goal, don’t discount doing it again. Remember, there is nothing stopping you from doing your own form of NaNo. If the 50k word goal terrifies you to the point you feel you will self-sabatouge and not meet the goal, set a lower goal. But give yourself incentives to not only meet but exceed that new goal. You might be surprised by how much writing you can get done.

The key isn’t whether you write 200 words or 50k words. The key is that you write. You don’t have to write every day, but you have to write. So many of writers stop writing, not because they have run out of ideas but because they fall out of the habit of writing. Yes, real life gets in the way. The challenges of work, family, school, etc., all have to be dealt with before we can sit down and put ideas to paper. Once we get out of that habit, it is often almost impossible to get back into it.

So, here’s my challenge to each of you. Set a goal for the rest of the month. It can be anything you want. But set the goal. Then set secondary goals. Goals that, if you reach them, you treat yourself to something special. Before you start telling me you don’t have time, give your daily schedule a hard look. Is there some way you can change your schedule or crave out an additional five or ten minutes a day or an hour over the weekend? If you ride the train or bus to work, can you grab your tablet and stylus and make notes (or even just an old-fashioned steno book and pen)? How about giving up five minutes of gaming at night or getting up five minutes early?

You’ll note, I didn’t say you have to write a story. In fact, if you have been having problems focusing on a plot, don’t force it. Do free-writing. When you get up (or before you go to bed), grab a piece of paper and a pen or pencil and just write. Write down whatever comes to mind. It can be your shopping list or it can be journaling. It can even be that letter you wish you could write to your boss or your neighbor or whoever but you just don’t dare. The key is to write.

The key is to write.

And, on that happy note, I’m going to go do just that.



Bleed Red

I was at sea on 11/11 at 11 past eleven… when we remember the guns falling silent on the Western Front. I did manage to notice the time and spend a minute in silence, remembering. Barbs’s father actually served in that war, having enlisted in the Navy, lying about his age, and having had a daughter at 59. It’s not that far behind us. The courage and sacrifice of soldiers is too easily and too often forgotten – particularly by writers. It’s in part why I wrote the RBV books.

I’ve been reading about Beersheba (1917) – the last great cavalry charge of the Anzac forces. It’s a fool, an even bigger one than I am, who does not try to read and learn about the history and people of the country he lives in, and this is doubly true if you weren’t born there, and absorbed it all your life. Besides as a writer, it’s always grist for the story mill… except in this case it isn’t. No piece of modern, plausible fiction could include it. The Australian 4th Light Horse Brigade charged into the face of machinegun and rifle fire and took the trenches of Ottoman Turks, with their bayonets in their hands, rifles on their backs.

Man… I know they were Australians not Scots, but kilts would have been more comfortable for men with balls that size. It’s almost impossible not to respect that kind of courage.

Mind you, just going over the top – as tens of thousands of men did, well, they probably all needed kilts. This – the trenches of Somme – shaped JRR Tolkien. This, in its way, made the LORD OF THE RINGS what it is. It’s a far, far cry from the caliber of self-elected ‘elite’ of modern sf and Fantasy, having tantrums because someone was so terribly, terribly, horribly awfully insensitive and used the term evil ice-cream name ‘tutti-frutti’ in the title of con talk. You have to laugh. We’ve passed through micro-aggressions, down through nano-aggressions, into pico-aggressions. And they’re demanding ‘respect’. I had a few orificers who demanded respect, back when I was in the army. They didn’t get it: it’s not something you can ‘demand’. It’s given, when it is earned.

You have to wonder what ‘great literature’ to rival Lord of the Rings pico-aggression meltdown will produce. I’m sure that it will be Hugo-worthy.

Anyway, to leave irrelevancies behind (they tell us they’re important but, to give you a practical example of the 7000 + hits on Dr Mauser’s post last week… only 5 (Maybe if the post had been in Mandarin it would be different) came from that ‘vital’ multi Hugo award winning site, file 770, where these self-nominated ‘important’ people hang out. Most of them are clients or dependents of various panjandrums in the slowly dying and shrinking traditional publishing industry.) and to talk about what those men – from many countries and backgrounds, who mastered their fears and rode a horse at entrenchments, charged with fixed bayonets at entrenched foes, or poured out of landing craft in the face of withering fire.

Men from many nations. Men from many backgrounds. And yet… very alike. I know, it’s become fashionable to divide the human race, and pretend we’re not alike in any way. We have different cultures, different backgrounds. Maybe Pommie bastards do get on better with Poms than with Frog-eaters. I chose those terms with deliberate intent, and not just to show what an insensitive clod I am – because you all knew that.

You see: Western culture at its apogee, has an odd, admirable trait – we’re kind to the weak, to the small children, or to the mentally incapable. We don’t put them down or take the Mickey. That would be cruel and pointless. That’s for equals – or even superiors or those who are far more powerful, who will give it back in spades, unless they think we’re the weak, small children or the mentally inferior. I’m thus always mystified as to why some people want to denigrate women or people of other races by treating them as if they were weak, children, or mentally inferior — or why anyone would want to be treated that way.

To return to ‘human’. Take Tolkien, again. His family were epitome of Englishness – and yet… The family origin is German. Just as I study to be Australian, to read the poetry, to read the books, to mix as much as possible with the ordinary people of my country, they did, and had become very English. Which kind of brings me, finally, to my point for tonight. Most of the time I think giving the audience pretty much what they want and expect is probably a good selling technique. There is a time however, when I personally can’t do it.

When Eric and I wrote PYRAMID SCHEME – one of my characters was South African – a zoologist, Liz De Beer. Now, those of you who know me, know I was writing just what I know about. The character is loosely modeled on two South African female Zoologists. We got a complaining critique – they enjoyed the rest of the book, but the authors plainly knew nothing about South Africans. Liz was simply an American woman, who sounded and behaved and thought like an American woman with a few irrelevant bits of fake foreign-ness from people who knew nothing about South Africa.

Huh. I wrote her in the entirety. I’d spent a whole 10 days in the US, ever. If Liz sounded and behaved ‘American’, the problem wasn’t my ignorance of South Africans of her background, culture, and education.

The problem was that the reader had their own illusion of what a ‘South African’ was. I realize, now, with the 20:20 vision of hindsight, that what they wanted was for Liz to be their caricature stereotype of a ‘bad white South African’ and I had written something ‘false’ because instead I showed her as just as human as an American woman. I have news for them – people aren’t caricatures, or stereotypes. Not even Pommie bastards or Frog-eaters – we know that, just as we call them that.  I know my French and English cousins well.  The family likeness of character over-rides the differences of language and culture, and we’re very fond of each other, respect and trust each other and insult each other a great deal.  People are varied, and some of them will be very like you in what they do and feel and want. And some vast differences may exist… but I can’t, honestly, write something that fits their delusions to feed their bigotry. And I am far from the only author facing this. This American of Korean extraction found the same situation.

We are different. But we’re not caricatures or stereotypes. And most of us bleed red.


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It’s a Business – A blast from the past

(Brad is still busy with life, family and writing. So I thought I’d do a blast from the past. In this case, from last year.)

There are times when I feel like I’m the crotchety parent sitting the kids down to tell them the facts of life. No, not those facts of life but the facts of life about business. It seems like almost every week there is a blog post or newspaper article about a bad contract or troubles in publishing or writers thinking about hanging up their keyboards. Why? Because all too many forget that publishing is a business and it needs to be treated as such.

I’m not going to discuss, at least not much, the publisher side of writing as a business today. Oh, there is plenty out there. Bad publishing decisions coming back to haunt the publishing company abound. But that’s not the point of today’s post. No, today I’m back on my soapbox reminding everyone who wants to be a writer that you have to remember that this is your business and you have to treat it as such.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve talked with writers, some traditionally published and others indie published, who went into this business with stars in their eyes and rose colored glasses firmly in place. The ones traditionally published just knew that once they signed the contract, the publisher would be spending all sorts of money to promote their book and make it into a best seller. The indie writers who are now wanting to go with a traditional publisher because — duh — they will get this huge advance and will be sent on tours to sign their books and will soon be playing poker with other best selling authors ala Castle.

That sound you hear, that slow thud-thud-thud is my head pounding against the wall.

It would be wonderful to live the life of Castle — less the murderers and other crooks trying to take pot shots at you every week. But that isn’t reality. The reality is that the vast majority of writers who have signed with traditional publishers see little if any real push from their publisher. In fact, the publisher — and the author’s agent — expect the author to do their own promotion. Oh, you might get reimbursed for your expenses if you go to a con or do a book tour but don’t bet on it. Don’t believe me that publishers aren’t spending as much on promotion of those authors they haven’t pegged as best sellers or the newest “best thing ever”? Think back to the last time you saw a book signing at your local bookstore. Now ask yourself how many times a year your local bookstore has such signings. How many of those are authors who aren’t best sellers or local authors?

Now, look at your local newspaper and tell me how large the arts section is and how many book reviews appear per week. Oh, wait. Sorry. Part of the reason there aren’t as many reviews is that there aren’t as many people reading the newspaper. Reviews, especially book reviews, were some of the first things cut when newspapers started cutting costs to make up for the lower advertising revenue and lower subscriptions rates. Few newspapers have their own book reviewers any longer and the books being reviewed are either best sellers or the newest best thing. Hmm.

But, Amanda, you get those huge advances and you don’t have to work any longer.


And this is where you have to remember that this is a business. Most advances, especially for “new” authors fall in the four-digit range. Yes, some new authors get more but they are the except and not the rule. You don’t get the advance all at one time and you aren’t going to see any more money from the publisher until you have earned out the advance and, believe me, that doesn’t happen very often. How can it when publishers use Bookscan to determine how many books are sold instead of a simple inventory tracker program?

That means you have to make sure you have a way to pay your bills between advances. This is why the vast majority of writers aren’t full-time writers. They have families to feed and are like me. They like having a roof over their heads and food in the fridge. Even if your first book is a success, you don’t know that the second book will be. More importantly, if you are publishing traditionally, you have no guarantee that the readers will remember you two years or more after your first book by the time the second book comes out. Remember, when you publish traditionally, you have no control over when your book is released and you are just one of many the publisher is having to slot into a finite number of slots per month.

I can’t repeat this often enough. Writing is a business and the writer is the business owner. Yes, you might sign a contract with someone to distribute your work (a publisher) and promote it (publisher or someone else) but it is still your responsibility to make sure the job is being done. You can’t just sign the contract and sit back and wait for the money to roll in, trusting the person you contracted with to do the job. You need to understand the supply chain for bookstores and the reality of how long a book is left on the shelves before it is pulled. You need to understand the financial aspects of the business and you need to study the numbers when it comes to sell through, resigning authors, etc.

What started me thinking about this again today was this article. The author in question signed a contract with a major publisher for her first book. It was critically acclaimed and not long before it was released into the wild, she quit her job. Yep, you read that right. The author quit her job — the job that helped support her family — so she could promote her book and write full-time. She did so after signing with the publisher for only this one book. There was no second book that would bring in additional advance payments. Nope. Just the starry eyed vision of living the life of a writer.

Now, I don’t want to kick this woman when she’s down but her story is illustrative of the problems so many writers — and folks who start their own businesses — face. They get a great review for a product before it hits the shelves and based on those reviews, quits their regular job to do this full-time. The problem is that reviews don’t always turn into sales and sales, especially for books, will slow down if the author doesn’t bring a new title out in fairly short order. For those authors going the traditional route, that very likely means no payments after the book is released because the advance isn’t earned out. So what are you going to do for money?

This particular author did finally go out and get a job — for awhile. But what struck me is that she doesn’t really seem to want to work. She would rather be writing but the worry and stress of not having enough money has shut down the writing. But a job makes her too tired to write. You see the circle. I feel for her but, to be honest, she needs to man up — or woman up — and realize that the situation she is in is the same one so many of us face on a daily basis. We face it and learn to live with it as we continue to write and put our work out there.

The lesson to be learned is that if you don’t have at least six months — preferably a year or more — of living expenses in the bank, do NOT quit your day job. If you are worried about putting food on the table for your kids or if you are worried about how you will pay the bills, do not quit your day job. It makes it more difficult to write, yes. But this is a business and you learn to adapt. You find the way to carve out time to write. But having all the time in the world to write isn’t worth anything if you are worrying about losing your home or having your utilities cut off.

It’s a business, damn it, and you need to look at it that way. Have your business plan. Have your promotion plan. Know that you aren’t going to get a regular salary that is the same from paycheck to paycheck.

And since I am a working writer, check out Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1).

War is coming. The peace and security of the Ardean Imperium is threatened from within and without. The members of the Order of Arelion are sworn to protect the Imperium and enforce the Codes. But the enemy operates in the shadows, corrupting where it can and killing when that fails.

Fallon Mevarel, knight of the Order of Arelion, carried information vital to prevent civil war from breaking out. Cait was nothing, or so she had been told. She was property, to be used and abused until her owner tired of her. What neither Cait nor Fallon knew was that the gods had plans for her, plans that required Fallon to delay his mission.

Plans within plans, plots put in motion long ago, all converge on Cait. She may be destined for greatness, but only if she can stay alive long enough.

Dagger of Elanna, the second book in the series will be released soon. You can check out snippets from the book starting here. (Edited to add, Dagger is out and you can find it here.)



Professionalism and Passion

Picking up a bit from Peter’s post yesterday, but also from something that has been weighing on my mind recently, I wanted to explore what I feel is my responsibility as a businesswoman to be professional. For one thing, when I interact with fans, I am acutely aware that they are where the money comes from. I write for my work to be appreciated, but the mark of appreciation is cold, hard cash. My customer is the reader, not a publisher or an editor or an agent, and after reading Peter’s and Kris’s posts on the topic, I think there are writers out there who have forgotten that the fans pay them, ultimately, not the middlemen who leech off the writer’s works.

We’ve discussed many times here on the blog the value in responding professionally to critical reviews. A professional approach to fans, whether in person, or on the internet, is crucial to developing a long-lasting fan base. You will erode that support when you act like a jerk, even if it makes you look cool to your peers when you do it. Your peers don’t buy enough of your books to pay the bills, I can almost guarantee, so as a sales ploy it’s bollocks unless you’re trying to be recruited by the Right People, and even then it’s more likely to backfire.

If you’re putting it on the internet it is public, and it is permanent. I was reminded of a poorly known example of this today when Tom Kratman asked if anyone had a copy of a certain infamous author’s ragequit letter from Baen’s Bar, an incident which took place some fifteen years ago. I vividly remember it, but didn’t think at the time to screenshot it… However, he got offers immediately of folks who had saved it. They, like me, had been so taken aback by the unprofessionalism that in the last fifteen years they haven’t bought anything with that name on it. It’s out there, and it’s still doing damage. Think before you hit send.

Remember to be professional in your interactions with vendors, as well. One of the things that Indie Authors can be bad about is thinking about their profession as a business. Heck, small presses can be included in this as well. I’m thinking of some examples I’ve seen over the years of conversations that went something like “That’s a nice cover, great art.” “Yeah, I found it online.” “Um, who’s the artist? You can’t just use an image without knowing what the copyright is!” “Oh, I have no idea, I couldn’t find that…” Five minutes later I had it and sent it to them. No idea if they changed the art or reached out to the artist for licensing. On a more personal note, I once had a publisher who had commissioned cover work from me reject the art. I’ve had that happen before, and it wasn’t a problem – my style isn’t going to work for every book. But this time, instead of a polite and professional ‘this art isn’t working for us.’ I got a cruel assessment of my work as ‘unrealistic and cartoonish’ which I took as personally as it had been given, and nearly stopped creating art altogether.

Because the personal passion of our creation is very close to the surface, professionalism gives us a way to build a shield between that hurt of being rejected with hurtful words and the knowledge that it just business, nothing personal. We’ve all gotten nasty reviews on our books. With the professional barrier up, we can analyze those as more reflective of the reviewer than of our work – Dorothy wrote an excellent article on how to read reviews professionally recently. Taken as a whole, the poo-flinging monkeys compared to the rave fan recommendations of our work balance into obscurity, as they should. Thoughtful critique does not look or smell like the review a monkey would fling.

Passionate support of a cause sometimes impinges on the professional, and it’s a very fine line. I’m not going to say that if you come out publicly in support of one thing, it will cut you off from 50% of your readers because I don’t think it’s true. I do think that if the message leaks into your books, that’s one thing. If the leak becomes a flood and your books become a vehicle to convey your passion for, say, the social good of patting penguins in the park, then you are going to start turning off fans who would rather not pat fishy penguins, and prefer to sass squirrels by the swings, instead. I’ve been guilty of supporting causes on my blog – no, guilty isn’t the right word. Passionately provoking the status quo, which when I got publicity due to my involvement in Sad Puppies, got picked up and I still see to this day ‘that Sanderson, she’s the Worst’ because I supported something that the speaker didn’t understand and didn’t like. Was I unprofessional in my passion? No, I don’t think so. I tried to be balanced and polite in my rants, and largely succeeded. Because for me it was about supporting friends and shining a light on the things scuttering and hiding in the shadows. Which it did, and now I’m back to shining the light on my blog with writing about sciency stuff, which is more my style and speed.

But I digress. One of the reasons this had been weighing on my mind was that I am tossed on the horns of a moral dilemma. A writer who is also a friend has a book out, and I would really love to promote it. I am a small voice, not influential at all, but I’m always pleased to be able to use the platforms I’ve built to promote friends and colleagues, not just myself. Other than buying and reviewing books, it’s one of the things I can do to give back to the generous writing community that has welcomed me in over the years. So. The problem is that the publisher is the one and same who nearly shattered my artistic confidence. If friends hadn’t poked and prodded me back into it, I’d have given it up entirely. I still have moments where I look at my work and go yeah, that’s…

I want to support the author, but not the publisher. Sigh. Isn’t that a familiar mantra? So what do I do? Forgive and forget how I was treated unprofessionally? Or take a pass, saying that my support isn’t likely to be huge anyway?

A low-res version of the rejected artwork. Giant mecha and ruined city for the win! (Mecha is by Innovari)