Skip to content

Archive for

Ten Ways to Leave your (Writers’) Group

Ten Signs You Should Leave Your Writers’ Group

I’ll be honest: it’s been close on twelve years since I had a writers’ group, but I didn’t leave so much as the group fell apart due to various reasons beyond our control, mostly relating to jobs, free time and where we each were at the time. Two attempts to restart a group never got off the ground, one due to my own time issues at the time, the other to the fact I realized no one in the group was actually going to give me a critique, so there was no point.

I have friends who read my stuff — different friends for different books – and a group of dedicated fans who beta for me, and who are completely unafraid to tell me when I dropped the ball.

However, recently, a meme on facebook with a writers’ group critique of an Emily Dickenson poem reminded me of all the friends, mentees and acquaintances who’ve been permanently maimed by writers’ groups.

Does this mean I advise you to stay away from writers’ groups?  I don’t know.

The ten years I was in a writers’ group were my years of highest productivity.  That alone caused some advancement.  Did the critiques also help? – most of the time I either ignored them or “interpreted” them in my head.

A writers’ group is essential for one thing.  If I may paraphrase a very ancient writing, it is not good that writer should be alone.  We tend to get lost in our own head, and become fascinated by our own concerns and tics.  Left to my own devices, I would probably never have finished anything, because around the time we started a group I’d managed to convince myself every short story needed 3 months of polishing.

What I was doing to them, in fact, was turning them into recital pieces, stiff and lifeless.  But that wasn’t obvious until this year.

Meeting with other writers, even once a month, finding out where they are, what they’ve discovered, and what they are working on, and what they’ve promised to write, having someone check your productivity, and simply hanging out with someone who knows that you’re not completely insane just because you have voices in your head.  (Your workaday acquaintances tend not to get it at all when you say things like “But the character didn’t want to do that.)

There is a balm to the heart and soul – and the stomach if the group runs to cookies – in knowing others are going through the same struggles.

But on the other hand…

I used to advise that everyone get a writers’ group, even though it was difficult to find one that didn’t do more harm than good, because you simply couldn’t be informed about every editor, read every magazine, and have contacts in every con.  Having the connection of a writers’ group helped, both shape your writing so that it fit better with what the publishers were looking for, and with what the market (which meant selling first to publishers) expected.

Nowadays?  I still advise you to have beta readers.  This is important because you can do the strangest things and not notice, since it’s your story and you lived with it so long.  For instance, in Noah’s Boy I cloned a car.  It stayed in the parking lot, went to the forest, then must have vanished soap-bubble like because no one fetched it back.  (Sigh.)

So you need second and third eyes – and I recommend establishing a group of ten trained betas (if you are good at it, they’ll arf for fish 😉  I’ve yet to get one to balance a ball on his/her nose yet, though.)  Preferably betas who don’t know each other though you’ll inevitably end up with a committed (married or otherwise) couple or two in there.  That way if three people hit on the same thing “Jonny needs to be a guy.  She’s not working as a girl” or “I don’t like this fight scene” you can be sure they mean it, and they’re not just saying it because someone just before them gave that critique and they thought “oh, yeah, that’s kind of true.”

Because that’s the problem with critiques in a group: because humans are social creatures and try to atone to the group they’re in.  (Whether virtual or in person.)  So people agree with the most forceful personality, not necessarily the best critique.

I know two writers who stopped writing for years because critique groups convinced them they do not nor ever had “what it takes” (though the one of them who’s resumed writing has more what it takes than I do.)  I’ve known a half a dozen writers who became obsessed with whatever the particular bugga boo of their group was, like “Don’t mix latinate and anglo-saxon words” to the marked detriment of their prose.  I know writers who continue writing stuff that obviously will never sell, not because it’s what they want to do, but because their group has convinced them anything else is selling out.  In fact, I’ve known more harm than good caused by writers’ groups – particularly now when you take in account that conforming to “the one way of writing that will sell to NYC” is no longer an object.

Now, I’ll put in a caveat that part of this might be personality. I was never very good at submitting to group judgment and the older I get the less I wish to.

However, these are the ten signs you should leave your writers group, even if they have really good cookies.

 

10 – You’re the only one who writes in your field in that group.  You might think good writing is good writing, but let me tell you sister (or brother) you’re wrong. It’s not just that each genre has conventions – you can get around those.  It’s that the conventions can dictate things like plot. The first few romances I read (five years ago – grin) puzzled me a lot.  There are things that are not and cannot be realistic, like, the one kiss where you know it’s forever.  Then I realized that it’s as stylized a form of storytelling as a fairytale.  I shudder at what I’d have done to a romance writer who gave me their stuff to critique before that.

 

9-You’re the one who writes the most in the group.  Now, this was more or less always true for me.  I’m prolific.  BUT it’s a big difference between the fact that most of the time I was doing a short story a week I was also doing a few chapters on a novel, but everyone else was doing a short story at least every other week, and groups I’ve seen where no one ever writes, except one lone member.  If you’re the only one writing you’re improving and learning, and leaving them all behind and their critiques will become less and less relevant.

 

8- Every critique starts with a detailed enumerating of all the commas you missed and how wrong your word choice was.  While there is a place for grammar and syntax (I assure all my copyeditors past, present and future – including Ms. Thistlewist who committed suicide rather than edit me again – that I honor grammar and syntax.  I honor them so much I tend not to use them, lest their shine wear off) it is not the be all/end all of your critique.  For that you have copyeditors.  Also, given how idiosyncratic punctuation (and even word choice) can be in English, nine times out of ten the mavens of grammar are just using it as a stick to beat you down. My group did this right.  Such things were marked on the manuscript and could be followed through on or not – but they weren’t spoken of.  (Critiquer’s Secret.  What a name for a grammar book for fiction writers.)

 

7 – Revenge critiques are the norm. You’re afraid to tell Bob what you think of his sex-with-alien-cats novel, because you know that no matter what you bring in next time, even if it’s as good as Pride and Prejudice – or better – he’ll tear it down from the first word to the last.  And you’re still getting revenge critiques from Jennie because you thought she failed to establish the scene setting in her fantasy world romancing.  You tried very hard to not do anything that was ad-hominem and you didn’t say “this is the stupidest world building I’ve ever seen.”  Instead you concentrated on how the character who made the crops grow is starving to death and that makes no sense.  Because this pretty much killed her novel, she’s been telling you that your worldbuilding is wrong, your characters are unbelievable and your grammar sucks for the last three years.

 

6- Ad hominem critiques.  Usually this come from confusing the writer with the character and sometimes from misunderstanding the story in the bargain.  The two worst ad hominem critiques I ever had, both of which I stood there with someone screaming at me were because the person failed to understand the story AND viewed it as a failing on my part what they thought the story was saying.  The first one, I got accused of not researching and being anti-gun.  The reason?  I talked about burners.  Burners, in my universe are laser weapons.  That’s what they’re called, like we say “gun.” Now this was a time travel story but – yes, I did – I established that up front, as well as that my character was using a future weapon.  The critiquer must have skimmed.  He went on and on and on about how I used “burner” to avoid doing research on guns and went on from that to make (wrong) assumptions about my beliefs.  It was highly amusing.  To his credit, after he heard the other critiques, and after the meeting he came and apologized because he realized he’d got it all wrong.  The second one I was accused of moral turpitude for a short story where there was NO open sex.  The reason?  The critiquer read the five or six characters involved in an alien association as an orgy with homosexual males.  (No, truly, you don’t want to know.  Yes, I used “he” as a pronoun because “alien” is not a pronoun.  These creatures didn’t even have sex organs as such.)  Now, my story wasn’t very clear.  It’s one of the ones I’ve never published because well… I don’t like aliens and I don’t write them well.  BUT TRUST me when I say that there was a jump in imagination involved – it would be like thinking spaceship docking is sex – and to go from that to infer ANYTHING about my moral beliefs was yet another step. If you’re getting these, at best they’re not reading you, and at worse they really don’t like you and are looking for excuses.

 

5 – They have started coordinating their taste in literature, and particularly their taste in what they critique.  Some of this can be alleviated in beginning groups, by simply requiring written critiques, which are then discussed at the meeting and making it a rule that no story will be discussed between members before the group.  The rule will be broken, of course, but at least people will try to hide that.  In older groups… well, we’re all human, right?  In our group, (not the same group referenced above) with a resident gun nut, we all learned to be very disdainful of incorrect gun scenes.  Now, this was by and large harmless, except a stranger to the group would think their whole story should be discarded because they had a safety on a Glock, when in fact we were just coordinated-over-reacting.  Most groups get in a coordinating thing on some aspect.  If it’s to the point they all sound alike, leave.  Leave now.

 

4 – They all like authors you don’t like.  This is usually determined when you go in or within a very short time, but even if these people read in your genre – if all the people they admire and cite as examples are people you threw across the room at the second sentence, you probably don’t want to stick around.  I mean, unless you’re perverse enough to use their critiques in the reverse.  (I don’t have to confess anything!  You’re not the boss of me!)

 

3- They dismiss your stuff with a couple of words and a comparison to someone you don’t know.  “Oh, well, if you want to write like Jacques Prevert, we can’t help you.”  On reading up on the man you find he’s a French absurdist and you are neither gratified nor shocked, because you have no idea how your story about alien robots can be compared to that. After all it’s not even in the same universe.  The wrong thing to do is decide you’re very ignorant and these people will improve you.  The right thing to do is to leave.  NOW.

 

2 – You’re the only one in the group who gets bad critiques time after time after time after time.  Now, this happens to all of us for a month now and then.  Not just because all of us go through valleys of suckytude now and then – disease, being busy, getting enamored of some French absurdist – but also because group mechanics develop that way.  Say there are six of you and you all turned in sucky writing (this is fairly normal before the holidays, when everyone is phoning it in.)  But Jennie’s cat just died.  Bob is worried about his son who was caught selling pot.  Mike is in the middle of the slow collapse of his relationship of ten years. Fay’s mom has just been diagnosed with cancer.  Mary was laid off last week.

None of those people are getting the critiques they deserved because you all – even you – are pulling punches.  But you just got engaged and still have a job.  Yeah, you’re gonna get it.

But if this goes on month after month, it either means they don’t like you personally or more likely that the group taste has moved away from what you write.  It’s time to leave.

 

1-And the number one reason to leave your group: You’re never critiqued.  EVER.  They will note your typos, maybe, if you’re very lucky, but even those are presented with a sort of reverential “and if you don’t mind, milady.”

This is fairly normal when you’re the most (or the only) published author in a group.  It’s not inevitable.  My betas poke holes in my stuff all the time, though few of them are published at all.  BUT group dynamics being what they are, it’s fairly normal for groups who meet in person.  Now, if it’s a critique group, you want a critique.  If you’re so far above the others they see nothing wrong even with glaring mistakes, it’s time to pack it in and move on to a system of betas or something.  Or perhaps it’s time to change your critique group into a “Writer and indie publisher support group” – something I’m considering starting myself.  There you can have the cookies (yay, cookies!); discuss what is selling of your stuff, and what isn’t; and trade names of proofreaders, ebook “typesetters” and programs that have worked for you.  It’s an idea whose time might have come.

Of finances and prices and more

It seems appropriate that coming on the heels of my post about visiting the local Barnes & Noble, I read an article this morning about how B&N has adjusted its profit and loss statements for the last three years. According to the report I read (and, when I find the cite again, I’ll post it), B&N now claims it didn’t lose as much as first reported in 2010 and 2012. Instead, according to the report, B&N basically said that purchasing directly from publishers instead of from wholesalers messed up its accounting procedures and it took this long to get accurate reports. Considering how many concerns I have about this statement, it doesn’t surprise me that investors didn’t buy it either, even though the report increased BN’s profit for 2012. In fact, BN’s stock fell after the announcement. That most definitely is not a vote of confidence for the bookseller.

As I said, I have some concerns about this report and the reason BN gave for not being able to give accurate figures for what basically amounts to a three year period. First of all, why would buying directly from a publisher instead of a wholesaler cause accounting problems? It is still basically a system of X-number of units in, Y-number of units sold and Z-number of units returned. Sure, there might have been some tweaking of software to allow for new vendor information, etc., but if it takes three years to identify that and implement the changes, there are much bigger issues at hand.

Then I have to ask how this restating of profits and losses will impact the authors of those books that were so difficult to track by B&N. If you’ve been reading MGC for any length of time, you know what most of us here think about BookScan, that oh so not wonderful way too many publishers use for tracking book sales. Will there be an adjustment to their arcane formula so the authors whose books weren’t counted to begin with get credit for those that were actually sold? Somehow I doubt it.

But what gets me is the idea that it is easier to keep track of sales of books bought from wholesalers than it is of books bought directly from the publisher. I’ll admit I’m no math genius. In fact, most days I’m number challenged. I blame the “new math” and then the “new new math” that hit when I was in elementary school. By changing teaching techniques and attitudes three times in three years during my formative school years, it did nothing but confuse the heck out of me and make me throw my hands up in the air and ask why I should bother learning it when it would just change again in a year. But that’s getting off-topic.

Still, my math-challenged mind aside, it shouldn’t matter where B&N buys its books from. At least not for accounting purposes. It should all come down to simply knowing how many books come into a distribution center and how many go to which store. Then you figure out how many of those books are sold — not difficult since your inventory should be computerized and each book has a bar code that is scanned when it is sold. Next, input the number of books returned after purchase, also easy thanks to those handy dandy scans and computers. Finally, how many books are returned to the publisher or whomever. As I said earlier, it may take tweaking the accounting and tracking program some, but that isn’t all that difficult.

Then I have to ask myself what the impact of BN buying from a wholesaler vs. direct from the publisher has on the cost to the consumer. This is something I have no data on. But it would seem to me that it would increase the cost to the public. I could be wrong and I freely admit it. However, logic seems to say that I’m not. I know I can go down to the farmers market and buy fresh fruit and vegetables cheaper than if I go to the store to buy them. Why? Because I’m not paying for the middle man and for the middle man’s overhead. Whether that applies to the BN situation or not, I don’t know. It’s just another of the questions this report raised that makes me wonder.

BN has also reported that it will continue to close more stores than it will be opening, at least for the near future. To put numbers to that, BN plans to close 15 – 20 stores this next year while opening only 5. From the report, BN basically feels it is in the best geographical locations now and doesn’t plan to expand into new areas. I do agree that BN needs to quit opening a mega store at every mall. Yet I find myself hoping that BN will consider going back to smaller stores, stores that reflect the company’s roots.

But that wasn’t the only thing to catch my eye this morning as I was looking for something to blog about. I’ve done my best to ignore the outraged howls on Facebook and other social media sites about how the evil that is Amazon is once again trying to destroy indie bookstores. If you aren’t aware of what I’m talking about, Amazon has deeply discounted some books, Dan Brown’s latest is an example. But, after seeing how the American Booksellers Association, as well as others, have written to President Obama decrying Amazon, I have to call out the Amazon haters again.

Let me start by reiterating — again — that I do not think Amazon is pure good. Far from it. However, to try to place the entire blame on Amazon for all the ills in the publishing industry and for the demise of the small bookstore is ridiculous. As for this particular issue, the deep discounts of certain books, Amazon didn’t start this. It is Amazon’s response to Overstock deeply discounting books in their inventory. It is no different from a price war between service stations or grocery stores. What really bothers me is how those who have fixated on Amazon being the Big Evil so obviously overlook the causation of this particular price cut.

But then, so many of them forget that the small, indie bookstores were already well on their way out before Amazon was on the scene. They were the victims of the large chain bookstores, the Barnes & Nobles and Borders as well as others. Amazon simply sped up a trend that had already taken root. Has Amazon hurt the big chains? Sure. But so have the business practices of those companies simply because they did not adapt and adjust to meet changing demands and changing technologies.

I have no problem blaming Amazon when they truly are to blame. But for those who want to condemn Amazon, I say this. You hurt your own arguments when they are valid by blaming Amazon for everything, especially when it is so easy to google the cause and effect for price cuts.

I leave it to you guys now with a quick apology for the disjointed post. I’m in the final stretch on the current work in progress and my brain is focused on that and not much else. So, what are your thoughts about the BN situation or even about the current condemnation of Amazon?

Joining the dots

I’m quite stupid sometimes, so maybe there is a big something here I am just not seeing, something that is as obvious as can be to everyone who doesn’t have to take their shoes and trousers off to count to twenty one. (It’s my tail I’m talking about. You just connected the wrong dots.) You know what I mean: there is a pattern of dots… and as dots they don’t make much of a picture, except perhaps of a Dalmatian. But what humans (and surely particularly science fiction writers) do, is to join the dots of known things and say: “look, I see a fresh paw-print (dot a). It is large and cat-like (dot b). I see no other paw prints. (dot c) I do see some scratches in the bark of the tree. (dot d)… The picture I am getting is that there is leopard in the tree above me, and they like to eat monkeys and humans are a kind of monkey. The rest of the picture I get in my head is me taking rapid evasive action, and keeping my spear point straight up.” Or alternatively to say: “oh look at the cute paw-print. Let me kneel down and take some photographs… and the rest of the picture involves some bloody splatters.

Extrapolation is what stopped something digestive having taken humankind to extinction long ago and far away. Writing a story – unless you are doing it very badly, involves setting up circumstances which could logically be extrapolated to what happens next. If you’re really really good, the reader scratches their head and says ‘It’s so obvious, why didn’t I see it coming?” If you’re merely good the reader takes that as a natural possible progression of events and thinks no more of it (which, trust me, is an achievement of no small order). If you’re rotten useless, the reader thinks… oh drivel, loses their suspension of disbelief and does not continue to read, often with a book flung at the wall, and that author off the buy list. To take this a bit further: If you’re a good pantser you are literally putting your characters in a scenario, and working out what they would be most likely to do, based on their characters and the circumstance. Literally joining the existing dots to make the picture, generating more dots as you go. If like me, you’re a plotter… (And especially if you’re a good plotter, possibly not like me) you know what you want the picture to be, and manipulate the positions of the dots (the circumstances and the nature of the character) so the outcome is believable and plausible… and achieves your picture. Well, mostly. Sometimes the dots cannot be shifted enough to get to your planned outcome, and you have to settle for where they take you.

It ought to make you quite observant of dots, even ones which seem to have nothing to do with each other and very good at interpreting how they can fit together to give likely, or at least plausible outcomes. Of course some authors just get very good at providing dots for drawing leaves, and don’t even see the forest, but people like the leaves and buy those. Fantasy, to my mind has a lot of good leaf artists. Hard sf… should be more forest… (But that’s just how I extrapolate the dots of data).

So let me talk about some of the dots I see in the writing and wider world… and I’d ask you to tell me if you get the same possible pictures as I do, and if not – what have I missed?

Recently we’ve had a huge fuss about sexual harassment at sf/fantasy conferences. (Translated, complaints about men, white, heterosexual, doing/saying (or even looking or just being present) an unwelcome something (defined as anything unwelcome to the complainant) to women at Science Fiction/ fantasy conferences. (dot A)

Dot B Many well-meaning (as well as some opportunistic camp followers) have demanded something be done. They are female, have female friends, daughters and the future to think of. Typical among these is the white male heterosexual (you know, people from the group who are being complained about and labeled as a group of identical perps.) who say in tones of horror they have young daughters they want to be able to safely go to sf/fantasy cons without having to complain of being harassed. Part of this assuredly genuine care for their children, and part of it is wanting to state, very clearly, that they do not support the harrassers.

Dot C Involves a great deal of reaction, mostly aimed at looking after complainants, and making the making of complaints easier with less possibility of the accuser ever having to specify what was done, or take any consequence for doing so. The group of identical perps is guilty unless they can prove otherwise, and there are considerable barriers put up to their possibly being exonerated. Trial by internet is fashionable and acceptable.

And that seems to be where most folk stop joining dots. They like the picture they’ve drawn.

But there are a lot more dots… some of which are part of the picture. It’s a very big picture. The end one I am seeing is not good for daughters (or grand-daughters) the society we’ll leave them, or even sf.

Dot D – there is a clear correlation between reading and education, especially tertiary education. It’s hard to tell which is causative, but they go hand-in-hand. Tertiary education proportions have become substantively skewed to females (7:3 in some colleges), particularly in the arts, where the ratio is even worse. It must make things very… interesting, in terms of dot G.

Dot E – there is a negative correlation between educational achievement and sexual violence.

Dot F – thanks to testosterone men are bigger, stronger, and more prone to physical violence, and have a higher sex-drive. (Ergo, if you have to choose who in a society gets to reading, being educated, that’s worth thinking about.)

Dot G – Evolution has seen to the fact that most humans are heterosexual. Girls are interested, by-in-large, in boys, and vice versa. Only a small percentage aren’t. Take the opposite sex out of a meeting/conference/whatever, and the opportunity for courtship and possibly sex away, and it will lose much of its attraction for those not already in a relationship.

Dot H – despite the silly-stunts played with census/survey/stats abused for their own ends, if you’re looking for Hetero English speaking males there is about an 85% chance they’ll be white. Even if you take the ‘English speaking’ requirement out, they will be at 70% +. If you want sf/fantasy reading, tertiary educated (or able to be) first language English ones with a similar cultural background to the average white girl… guess what they’re most likely to be? Yep, your standard-model villain. (And given dot D and G, you’ll be lucky if there is one for every 2.5 women at the same or better social/financial/educational level.). Of course if you allow for generations of breeding, those numbers might be different, but it is hard to see how they could be better in terms of dot J

Dot i — Humans push the limits, and are bad at judging precisely where those limits are, without some clues – whether we’re talking about attempts at courtship behavior, or just how many apples/candies you can eat before the boss thinks you’re taking advantage of the system… most of us need those pointers. Remove any policing or obvious border, and people will increasingly push at it, whether you’re talking about taking undersize fish or reporting harassment. Inevitably this has very predictable results, both as to where it goes to (too far), and what happens then (all of the perk/limit/trust is removed). No obvious borders or penalties on harassment and it will go too far. No obvious borders or penalties on claiming harassment and that too will go too far.

Dot J – Evolution has put strong pressure on women to ‘trade up’ – or at least get the best in their mate choice. Think of it in practical terms – big/strong/powerful/wealthy/clever offered the best survival potential for women (because of dot F) and their offspring.

Dot K (which links very neatly to dot D) Male writers (an indicator of readers- the proportion of writers will always be representative of readers, unless for some reason writers of that group are excluded.) and readers are a rapidly declining species.

Hmm. The picture I’m starting to form is one in which horror of the daughters and certainly the granddaughters complaining of sexual harassment at sf cons… is a worry of which my picture relieves their minds. Given C, D,I,G &K, there won’t be any sf-fantasy cons, or if there are they’ll be smaller than cow-poo modelling societies are today, and having gone through a phase of being only visited by men with a partner and permanent camcorder attached. The predatory lesbians (yes, they exist too) will find them disappointing hunting grounds, because dot G will remain. So will the daughters of sf writers looking for a potential mate of similar interest and background. If there are any boys there, who fit dot J, the complaints about sexual harassment, in a ratio of 1 male: many females, will be rare, and suicide for her chances (not a good situation, surely not one any feminist and/or doting parent wants their daughter to be in). Most of these beloved daughters and grand-daughters can, as a result of D &K, be expected as a result of Dot G, to lose out on Dot J, and have to settle for men of lesser education and a higher propensity for sexual violence who don’t read (dot D, E and F). How this is a win for feminism is something of a puzzle for me. Perhaps they join the dots to have man-less households That’s worked really well with the statistical outcomes for children from them, as well as being almost effortless, juggling children and a job. The daydream that the father will pay (if he has a job, if, as less-educated than his child’s mother he can earn as much as she could) hasn’t come out too well so far. Still, maybe there is a dot I haven’t seen. A rich state going to provide welfare payments… oh, wait. Anyone still falling for that daydream needs to do some serious economics dot-joining.

That’s the rather grim picture I see. What have I missed?

I love my genre. I like writing it. I have some hopes that dot sequence I can see coming out of Indie will lead to the Dot D (education and reading) and Dot K being positively affected. I do want to see my grand-daughters (none yet, but I hope, and will love them) able to find partners of the same or better reading status at least. That’s the picture I want. Now as a plotter… how do I best move those variables around do get a different outcome? It’s not social engineering (that is what is being done), it’s playing strategy with a long term view. I can see some places we can add dots and shift them around a little bit.

Can you?

And yes, I do the same thing with the future of publishing, the future of the human race… and with my book plots. Maybe you think they’re just as crazy.
The stats for this month for A MANKIND WITCH
and THE FORLORN

are AMW 62 (105 last month) and Forlorn 12 (5 last month)

A trip to the bookstore

Sorry I’m late getting this up this morning. After more than a week of what can only be called a writing marathon, I had to come up for air, look around and return to the real world yesterday. There were bills to be paid, a couple of meetings to be had and a yard to be mowed. Today isn’t going to be any better writing-wise. The laundry is started and pretty soon I’m going to have to do a quick clean before a grocery store run. Then it’s off to pick my mother up at the airport after her yearly jaunt to the North. So, if the post is a little disjointed, I hope you’ll forgive me. My head is still working on the current work in progress even though the rest of me is doing more mundane things.

One of my meetings yesterday was at the local Barnes & Noble. This was the first time I’d been in the store in two months or so. One reason I hadn’t been there for awhile is simple: this store was one of those B&N built several years ago (probably five or six years ago) when the company was in its superstore phase. The store it replaced was less than a mile from this one and across the freeway from the local mall. The old store was nothing special on the exterior but inside you knew it was a bookstore. As you walked in, you saw books and magazines. The cafe was off to the side but basically hidden by the magazine area and half walls lined with books. Computer games and related items were through a side door, part of the store but separate. There was a feel to the old B&N that was warm and welcoming. You were greeted with smiles and nods from those who worked there and they knew their stock. It was, in short, a bookstore. Almost as important was the ease of getting in and out of the store. Because it was across the freeway from the mall, you didn’t have to deal with all the traffic. In and out or stay as long as you wanted. That B&N fit your needs.

I knew when the owners of the mall started developing another retail area next to the mall things would change. The strip mall where the B&N was located seemed to be struggling. Then word came out that the store would be relocating into the new area as one of the anchors. I wasn’t happy but I understood. Any retail store with a physical footprint relies on foot traffic for that impulse customer. Being part of a more vibrant shopping area could only help the bookstore. So I hitched up my big girl pants and decided I could weather the increased traffic in order to get my book fix.

The new store had all the glitz and shine of any of the new B&N superstores. But gone was the warm feeling. The new floor plan wasn’t conducive to author readings, especially if more than one author was involved. It felt too commercial, too crowded. Add in the increased traffic and the fact it was much more difficult to get to off the freeway and, well, my trips to the store became more and more less frequent.

For the last two years, those trips became almost non-existent. Yes, part of the reason is Amazon. Most of my reading these days is done via e-books. But there are still physical books I want because there are certain authors whose books I collect. But our local Half Price Books, less than half the distance from my house than the B&N carries new books as well — and I don’t have to buy a membership to get lower prices there. So why face the aggravation of getting to B&N, finding a parking space and probably not finding the book I wanted anyway because the book selection seemed so much less extensive than it had been at the old store?

Then came the push for the physical stores to sell the Nook. In this particular B&N, the moment you open the door and step inside, you’re not greeted with the newest books to hit the shelves. Nope. You’re greeted with a kiosk dedicated to the Nook and then row after row of Nook accessories. To my mind — which I admit is more than a bit warped — that seemed like B&N was shooting themselves in the foot. At a time when sales from their physical bookstores were falling, corporate had those same stores pushing a device that encouraged readers NOT to come in.

BLINK.

Because I’ve been critical in the past about the way B&N has handled not only the e-book side of their business but also the physical store side, I was curious to see if any changes had been made over the last few months. I wasn’t encouraged when I stepped into the airlock. You know what I mean: those few short feet between the doors leading outside and those leading into the store. This particular B&N has always used that space as a clearance bin. Books on deep discount are displayed there. It was no different yesterday. Worse, it seemed like there was more space dedicated to pushing books folks hadn’t been buying that making it easy to get inside the store. It felt cramped and not really inviting.

Then I stepped inside and paused, looking around. The Nook kiosk was still there. One or two models of the Nook were there for customers to try but no one was in the kiosk to answer questions or to even call people over to try to get them interested in the e-book readers. But there was a change. Small, yes, but a change nonetheless. There wasn’t as much space devoted to Nook accessories.

The problem was that the freed up space wasn’t devoted to books either. In fact, looking around it appeared as if there were fewer displays but that shelf space hadn’t increased. So the store was less crowded — always a good thing because you want your customers to be able to move around — but still without the book inventory the old store used to carry.

So I checked out the rest of the store. Standing just inside the front entrance, looking to the back of the store, the first thing to catch your eye is the Nook display and accessories. At the back of store, under a large sign, is the music department. If there’s anything in between, I don’t remember it.

And that is the problem. B&N is supposed to be, first and foremost, a bookstore. Yet, when you enter, you don’t get that feel. You see the e-book readers and everything you might want to go with it. Then the signage draws your attention to music. Where are the New Releases or Best Sellers? Where’s the Mystery or Romance or Science Fiction section? Where are all the wonderful new non-fiction books?

In this store, they are off to the side or along the back of the store, just before you get to the music department, intermixed with displays for board games and cards and who knows what else.

I was pleased when I made my way to the cafe to recognize the woman who served me. She’s one of the managers of the store and has been with B&N since long before the new store opened. She’s one of the dying breed of employees in such stores — someone who loves books and is knowledgeable about her stock. But that joy was a bit overshadowed by concern. I arrived at the lunch hour and yet the cafe was only half full. This despite the fact the parking lot outside was fairly full. That meant people were shopping — but not at B&N.

That bothered me more than I thought it would and I found myself thinking about that as well as the store during the course of the evening. I think the problem B&N faces is that it is in an identity crisis. Most people still think of it as a bookstore. But when you walk in, that’s not the feel you get. People passing by see the posters in the windows for the newest “It” book and yet, once inside, there is no distinct and easily seen display where they can grab the book. Worse, there are no displays between that area and the cash register where more impulse book buying can be had.

Add to that the fact that the superstores might not be the way to go right now. Bigger isn’t always better. Perhaps it is time for corporate to rethink their business plan and return to smaller stores. Locate them near but not necessarily on mall property. Give readers incentives to come to the store and make the stores as inviting to local reading and writing groups. Let them hold their meetings in the cafe or near it. Think about it. Become part of the community.

As writers, we need to think about the same thing. Just as the exterior windows of B&N promise customers certain things — the latest best seller by Stephen King or the newest CD by Pink or the latest DVD starring  Bruce Willis — our book covers should clue our readers into what the book is about. There should be certain clues to the cover design that tells your reader if your e-book is fantasy or military SF, romance or humor. What brought this to mind was looking at books online last night and seeing how some publishers are “branding” lines with covers that are so similar to one another that I had to check the title and author to make sure they weren’t listing the same title over and over again. Similar cover themes are all right but not if they are so similar the reader/buyer thinks they’ve already bought the book. (Ask Sarah about how too similar covers helped kill one of her series.)

Back to the original topic. The trip to B&N reminded me how much I miss neighborhood bookstores. I cheer the news that more and more indie bookstores are cropping up around the nation and are not only surviving but thriving. I anxiously await one coming to my area. How about the rest of you?

Open Floor

Hi, Everyone. Apologies, but the Dark Forces have combined this week to prevent me from getting my blog together. I’ve been looking at new power supply technologies for space-based missions and I promise an interesting look at a new application of an old (200 year old) technology next week.

Anyone got any interesting space news?

Meanderings

I was thinking earlier today (I know, bad idea) and it occurred to me, there’s something a lot of writers do that can get us into trouble – mostly because what actually happens is a hell of a lot less sensible than what we do…

See, like economists (shaddup and listen, this will take a while to get there), we’ve got this tendency to do our world and character building based on the concept of a “rational actor” (economics term. Translates roughly to “someone who thinks about things logically and chooses what’s best for them”). The problem with this is that there ain’t no such beastie. If one existed it would be agonizingly slow because to really evaluate any choice based on the evidence at hand you’ve got to do a whole lot of thinking and digging and so forth… This explains the relationship between economists and reality rather well.

For us, unless you’re an extreme pantser, the tendency is to build the cultures and characters according to what makes sense – which can easily leave things feeling a bit “flat”. (If you are an extreme pantser, you’re more likely to spend a lot of time wondering why in the heck you wrote that in).

Things don’t make sense in the real world, and they often don’t make sense in real cultures, either. Perhaps they made sense a long time ago when they started happening, perhaps not. I’ve heard rumors that the stereotypical “upper class English twit” accent is the result of a member of the royal family having a speech impediment and all those in his set wanting to sound just like him. The Chinese (okay, Imperial Chinese) insularity largely stems from court infighting where the explorer faction lost (this back in (if the stainless steel lint trap is correct) the 1400s-ish) to the “none of those barbarians have anything to offer us” faction (Yeah, it was largely true, but still…). Stuff happens, people remember it, not necessarily all that well, and the things they do to work around the stuff become ingrained. Just ask any woman who stores the tea towels in the third drawer because that’s where her mother kept them so that’s where tea towels go. Chances are her mother used the third drawer because that’s where Grandma kept them. And so on.

As for how people make decisions, well… that’s – at least as far as the research I’ve read says – largely a matter of the subconscious pattern recognition routines meeting the emotion routines and picking the path of least resistance. Weirdly enough, it usually works out fairly well – sometimes better than the obvious choice via pure logic (although a more rigorous decision making process – which takes much longer – will often get to the same place as the gut decision). Of course, once the decision gets made, another set of subconscious routines kick in, these ones dedicated to making you happy with the choice you made.

Which, seen through the right filter, does make sense. If our many-times-distant ancestors constantly second-guessed themselves, they wouldn’t have been able to decide that person of the opposite sex was just the thing for a bit of nookie, much less take action on the decision without wondering if they’d have been better off choosing someone else (something that has never been a good idea when dealing with relationships). We’re descended from the folk who saw the big predator and did something (whether running or trying to kill it) instead of wondering what the best thing to do might be.

So, yeah, all that angsty gray goo? Totally unrealistic. Only emo kids and Feminist Glittery Hoo Haas angst over everything.

And don’t be afraid to let your character do something that seems out of character – just make sure you slip in something later to show that yes, there is a reason for this odd action, or have them wondering what the heck they thought they were doing.

Guest Post By Peter Grant

*Guest post by Peter Grant, author of Take The Star Road one of those Indie books that have done enormously well — like both of Ellie Ferguson’s books — Peter describes how he came to write, how he came to choose to publish Indie, and what went into making his “overnight” success. Peter’s second book Ride the Rising Tide is now out. I thought you’d enjoy reading about his road to publication)

The Road to Indie

Peter Grant

Good morning, afternoon, evening, or whenever it is that you read this. Sarah’s very kindly invited me to contribute a guest article to her blog. She suggested I describe how I’ve experienced the process of breaking into the independently published fiction market as an outsider. I hope you won’t find my story boring. I’ll do my best.

 

My first book (on a religious/spiritual topic) was published in the USA back in 1984 (I was living in South Africa at the time, where I was born and raised). It sold something like 20,000 copies over the next decade before going out of print in 1994. I wrote several articles for various periodicals at about the same time, but the burgeoning civil strife in my country of birth (caused by the policy of apartheid), and my involvement in trying to help its victims, torpedoed my ambitions to write more. (I’ve written about some of those experiences on my blog – for example, here’s the night Christmas became real.)

 

Over the next couple of decades life was far too busy and complicated for me to do much in the way of writing. I was active in the business world, the military (on a reserve basis) and humanitarian work through the early 1990’s, when I began studying for ordained ministry. I came to the USA in 1997, and pastored a small Louisiana church and worked as a part- and full-time prison chaplain for several years. (I’ll be publishing a memoir of prison chaplaincy during September 2013.)

 

In 2004 I suffered a permanently disabling injury, which made it impossible for me to carry out many normal activities for any length of time without increasingly severe pain. At the same time, for other reasons I’ve discussed elsewhere, I found myself unable to continue in the ministry. I was awarded a small disability pension; but I’d been raised to believe that a man should stand on his own two feet and provide for himself. I was determined to find another way to support myself. Since normal work was no longer open to me, particularly given my new physical limitations, it seemed logical to return to writing. I decided to find out whether I could master the art sufficiently well to earn a living at it.

51Az7BAeyQL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-69,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_

From 2005-2012 I wrote something like two million words of fiction – most of it execrable! I had to learn the art of not just writing, but also entertaining, and I wasn’t very good at it at first. It was humbling to receive rejection letters, or be told by ‘helpful’ volunteer readers that my work ‘sucked’ or ‘stank’ or the like. However, I knew they were right – and I knew I didn’t have a chance of making it in the book market unless I could produce quality work. I kept plugging away at it. I considered trying to attend a professional writing seminar or course, but those with good reputations were impossibly expensive for someone on my limited income (not to mention the travel and accommodation costs to attend them). Furthermore, my physical restrictions would have made it very difficult to get the most out of them.

 

As part of my writing self-training, I began a blog, ‘Bayou Renaissance Man‘, in January 2008. I set myself the target of posting multiple articles every single day. My objectives in doing so were threefold. First, I wanted to train myself in the discipline of producing work every day, never slacking off. Second, I wanted to practice actively communicating with an audience. I knew the quality of my work would be measured by whether or not people came back for more. If they didn’t, that would tell me very clearly that I’d badly misjudged either my skills, or the ‘market’ for them in the blogosphere, and force me to rethink my approach. Finally, I was strongly influenced by an article, ‘1,000 True Fans‘, that appeared in early 2008. I’m a former businessman, manager and director, and the article’s marketing perspective seemed logical to me; so I wanted to build my own ‘fan base’ through my blog. My ambition was to have several hundred ‘true fans’ by the time I felt my fiction was of a sufficiently high quality to put it on the market.

 

I was encouraged by the success of my friend Larry Correia, who self-published his first novel, ‘Monster Hunter International‘, in 2008. I helped him publicize it through my blog, and when he was signed up by Baen Books, a quotation from my blog review of MHI was included on the back cover of its Baen edition. (It’s still there, which pleases me greatly.) Larry was also kind (and funny) enough to base one of his MHI characters on me. (Here’s a hint; his title begins with the letter ‘P’.)

 

Several years passed. My blog readership grew considerably (I currently have an average of 2,500-3,000 readers every weekday). However, I was getting frustrated about my fiction. I didn’t seem able to craft a novel that would attract and hold a reader’s interest – at least, I couldn’t do so according to my standards. (I grew up in a household with thousands of books, and became a voracious reader. As a result, my expectations of authors – including myself – are very high.) Nevertheless, I’d taken to heart the advice of several eminent authors that if one wanted to write well, one first had to write! Several of them suggested that one had to produce a million words or more in order to develop basic competency. I kept plugging away at it, and slowly, over time, my work improved – although not fast enough to suit me.

 

A new factor entered my life in 2009. Through a mutual friend I’d made e-mail and telephone contact with a lady in Alaska, whom many of you know through her comments on this blog. Dorothy and I fell in love long before we met – in fact, when I flew to Alaska to meet her for the first time, I took an engagement ring with me. (She was wearing it when I left!) Our relationship was complicated by a heart attack I suffered later that same year, which was probably partly caused by the after-effects of the injury I’d suffered in 2004. Fortunately, I survived the experience, and Dorothy and I were married in 2010. We settled in Nashville, TN, where we’ve lived ever since.

 

Dorothy doesn’t enjoy military science fiction or space opera, but she heroically set herself to help me improve my writing. This turned out to be a real blessing. Precisely because she disliked the genre, she tried very hard to read my manuscripts with more care and attention than she’d normally have given them; and because she was familiar with other genres in science fiction and fantasy, she could (and did) make very trenchant comments about my shortcomings. (She didn’t pull any punches, either – I think some of my extremities are still a bit scorched!) That sort of input and constructive criticism was exactly what I needed. If I could write well enough to hold the interest of someone who had little or no interest in the genre in which I was writing, the odds were pretty good that my work would appeal to someone who did like the genre.

 

By mid-2012 I was fairly sure I’d improved to the point that I could produce something publishable. I spent the next year writing the first two books of a military/space opera sci-fi series, and the first draft of a third volume in the series. I also reworked a memoir of prison chaplaincy that I’d written a couple of years earlier. I’d learned from reading about the fiction field that a big part of one’s success or failure would be determined by the volume of material one had on the market. I wanted to be able to put out several books very close together, so as to build up a ‘critical mass’ of work available to my readers. Hence, the effort to write several books before I published any of them.

 

I knew I’d have to publish my work independently, as it was (and still is) very difficult indeed for a compete outsider to break into the ‘normal’ publishing world. I therefore applied my business background to work out a marketing and promotion plan. It was built around three major elements.

 

1. I’d rely on my blog readers to be the initial market for my books. My numerous friends in the blogosphere would, I knew, help to publicize my book to their readers as well. I counted on this publicity to provide an initial sales impetus. Blog readers would have to buy enough copies to lift my first book out of the vast anonymity of the hundreds of thousands of independently-published works on Amazon. If I could sell a few hundred copies over a few days, that would be enough to get the book into Amazon’s ‘Hot New Releases’ lists (perhaps even into their ‘Best Sellers’ lists) in my chosen genre and sub-genres. If I could achieve that, I knew thousands more pairs of eyes would see my book and (hopefully) decide to at least skim through the free preview chapters. If my book was good enough, it’d sell itself from that point – and subsequent books would be that much easier to promote.

 

2. I had to find a way to make my work stand out as being better than the average independently published novel. I did some research, finding that most of the complaints about such books concerned – as one might expect – poor plot, characterization and dialog. I figured I’d learned enough to be at least competent in those areas. However, a pet peeve of many readers was the abysmally poor standards of editing found across the board among most independently published books. It seemed to me that if I put in a major effort in that area, I could produce a book that was as well edited as any professionally published work. That, in turn, would probably attract buyers who looked for such standards. Accordingly, I placed great emphasis on editing as part of my pre-publication preparations.

 

3. Book covers would be critically important. Dorothy and I couldn’t help but notice that many indie covers are very poorly thought out. They often don’t stand out visually in thumbnail size on Amazon.com and similar Web sites, which are their main (often only) sales channels. Most potential readers will only see them as thumbnails; so unless they capture their attention at that size, the opportunity for a sale will be lost.

 

We therefore put a great deal of effort into selecting cover images that were crisp, clear and professional, with a central element that would stand out clearly at thumbnail size. We enlisted the aid of our friend Oleg Volk, who’s a well-known photographer and graphic designer. We outlined our clarity and readability requirements, and provided our chosen images. He then edited the images and added fonts, colors and other design elements. I think he’s done a great job with my first two books, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he’s got up his sleeve for the next two.

51TM602UzrL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-69,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_

I’m very pleased to report that even at this early stage, things are going well. My first novel, ‘Take The Star Road‘, was published in mid-May, and had sold about 3,500 copies by the time my second novel, ‘Ride The Rising Tide‘, joined it last week. As I write these words the second book is selling an average of over 100 copies per day, which is very satisfying for a previously unknown, independently published author like myself. The third book in the series will be published in the mid-November to early December time frame, God willing. As anticipated, my blog readers and those of my blogging friends provided sufficient sales impetus to lift both books into the ‘Hot New Releases’ and ‘Best Seller’ lists within a day or two after publication. I’d like to keep them there as long as possible! There have also been reader comments at Amazon.com praising the quality of editing, which makes all that hard work worthwhile, as far as I’m concerned. Print editions of both books are now also available, although I don’t think I’ll sell as many of them as I will e-books.

 

In mid-September, I’ll publish my memoir of prison chaplaincy. I have high hopes for that one, too. It’s in a completely different field, but it conveys an ‘insider’ perspective about a hot-button issue in the USA today. I want to contribute to the discussion about crime and punishment, and provide a rather different point of view to those normally encountered.

 

I hope that by the end of 2013, I’ll have published four books in a seven-month time frame. If they all sell as well as the first two, I should be looking at a solid foundation for future growth. My 2012 business plan had forecast that I’d sell at least 5,000 books (across all titles) during my first year on the market (i.e. through May 2014), and hopefully up to 10,000. It turns out I’ll hit the former figure by the end of this month, and probably exceed the latter target well before Christmas! I’m very happy about that, as you can imagine. I’m now hoping to make at least 20,000-25,000 sales during the first year that my books are on the market.

 

Most exciting of all, I’m already approaching the sales and earnings figures of a typical mid-list author, and I hope to do even better in future. If so, I can foresee the day when I’ll earn enough from my writing to be able to terminate my disability pension. That means a great deal to me. I was raised to believe that one shouldn’t ‘suck on the public teat’, as my father rather picturesquely put it, except in dire need, and then only for the shortest possible time. Back in 2004, a neurosurgeon predicted I’d never recover sufficiently from my injuries to earn a living through my own labor. I may not have recovered any better than he foresaw, but nevertheless, the prospect of proving him wrong is very satisfying!

 

 

To dream or to do

Last night I was talking with Sarah via IM and asking what I ought to blog about today. Normally finding a something to blog about isn’t a problem. The problem is usually finding one that isn’t such a hot button topic that we’d be invaded by trolls and an epic flame war would erupt. But the last five weeks have been filled with family issues to deal with, illness and, finally, writing. Lots and lots of writing. My brain is wrapped up in plot twists and turns and thinking in bloggish isn’t what it wanted to do. So, I turned to mentor and friend and twin by another mother, Sarah.

We’d been discussing various magical creatures and whether or not we need a “bible” for the shared world some of us are going to be writing in. The unanimous response is that, yes, we do. Not a true story bible, but at least one with basic world rules in it and then some references to some of the creatures we’ll be using. That, of course, led to a discussion of contract terms. The long and the short of that is, once we agree on the contract, one of us will be posting it here as an example of what we see as a working and fair shared world contract between authors. Even now, we’ve agreed that copy right will rest in the individual author, just as it does with any other optioned novel that isn’t a work for hire. Rights will revert back to the individual author after a set time unless the parties agree to extend the contract, again for a set period of time. If a publisher approaches one of the authors wanting to bring out that book or another in the world by that author, there will be mechanisms in the contract that will allow for that. Reporting of royalties will be quarterly, possibly monthly. That hasn’t really be settled yet. There’s more, as you can imagine, but these will be our individual works, based in a world we share. I’m excited about it and scared because I know I’m the novice in the group. But, scared or not, I’m looking forward to this new project and hope I do the others proud.

When I told Sarah that, I could hear her chuckling even though we were on IM. Then there was the figurative finger snap and she suggested that I write on Writers and Dreaming. I’ll admit, I was non-plussed by what she meant at first. Was she talking about how some writers have their plots come to them in dreams? Or was she talking about how being a writer is a “dream job”? (Pardon me while I laugh hysterically at that. Sorry, but a dream job is one that doesn’t require this much WORK.) Maybe she was talking about dreaming about how your family will finally understand that writing is a job and not something that can be turned on and off just because someone needs a shirt ironed or a sandwich made.

Turns out it was all that and something more. Writers are dreamers. We dream up these wonderful stories in our heads and do our best to get them down on paper — or electrons. We have closets or drawers or thumb drives filled with stories and notes and images that help us visualize our stories as we write them. Most of all we dream of having other people read what we write and like it.

It is that last dream that is so enthralling and so frightening at the same time. Look at how long it takes for most writers to even admit they are — gasp — writers. Many of us still haven’t told family or friends. Why? There are any number of reasons, ranging from fear of someone you care about making fun of your chosen profession to fear of letting a parent or loved one down. Still, we write. We dream those wonderful plots and those intriguing and often times irritating characters become family in their own right.

As writers, we have to ask ourselves if we are writing for ourselves only — and there is nothing wrong with that. I have a lot of things I’ve written that will never see the light of day. Why? Because they are too close to me. They were written to help deal with things that are not meant to be public. Most of us have different coping mechanisms. Mine is to write. So those things are often destroyed after they have served their purpose. No, these aren’t what I call bonfire fodder. These are my coping mechanisms and mine alone. These are my personal demons or others’ and no one else’s. — or writing so others can read our work.

And this is where the ultimate dream for most writers happens. Most of us do want others to read our work. At least that’s what we say. But how many people do any of us know who say they want to write but they don’t know how? Or they sent something off to an agent or publisher and that person didn’t like it and now they won’t send anything else out ever again because it is obvious they aren’t good enough? Then there are those who want to write so others can read their work but they want to be published by a “legitimate” publisher so no way will they pollute their work by self-publishing it or sending it to a small press?

Then there are those writers who, for whatever reason, write but never finish anything. The writers who have reams and reams — or megs and megs — of work stored away, just waiting for the conclusion to be added. These are good stories, maybe even great stories, but incomplete. Why? Is the author just a victim of popcorn kittens or are they afraid of actually finishing something and sending their baby out into the cruel world?

The why doesn’t matter. What does is that we, as writers, have to understand that the publishing world has changed. That means we have so many new and viable avenues available to us, avenues to publication that were not there just a few years ago. Most readers don’t give a flying flip about who your publisher is. Heck, most readers couldn’t name their favorite authors’ publishers on a bet. They have loyalty to the author, not the house (okay, this is a generalization. I don’t want my fellow Baen barflies coming to “remind” me about them. I did say most readers.) Readers want a story that entertains or engages and is well edited and formatted. That’s it. They don’t, on the whole, demand that story come from Random Penguin or MacMillan or Harlequin.

So that means, my fellow writers, you have to decide what you are going to do. Are you going to continue to hang onto the old guard, crying that you won’t publish anything until it comes our from a “real” publisher or are you going to look at what your options really are? Are you going to quit dreaming about being a writer and actually do whatever it takes to bring a quality product to the reading public?

Suffering for your art is over-rated. I don’t know about you, but I like having three squares a day and being able to spend time with my family. I don’t like getting rejection letter after rejection letter because what I’ve just submitted doesn’t fit with what Publisher A is looking for right now or my novel, while well-written and entertaining, just didn’t “speak” to Agent B. I don’t appreciate spending hundreds, maybe thousands, of hours writing a novel and then editing it and only getting a small percentage of the sales price in return. Because I know the book wouldn’t exist but for me and for my work and dreams, I choose to find ways to bring it to the public that rewards me for my hard work, not someone else who may give me a token payment some time down the road.

But the whole point of this is simple: as writers we are dreamers. We have to be. But there comes a point where we have to ask ourselves if we want someone else to read our work and, hopefully, pay to read it. If that is our goal then we have to quit dreaming and take steps to make that dream a reality. We have to persevere, understanding that none of us will get rich overnight. Writing may be our dream but it is also our profession, our job. We have to treat it that way. So, sit butt in chair and write. Then send your work out to your alpha and beta readers. While they are reading it, start on your next project and, at the same time, decide what you are going to do with the finished work once you get it back from your readers. Then follow through. That is the most difficult thing for many of us. But, in order to make our dream come true, we have to.

Quit dreaming and start doing. My TBR stack is getting shorter. I need something else to read. In the meantime, here are some of my titles I’ve kicked out of the nest and sent into the big bad world. Check them out, buy them so my cat and dog will quit nibbling at my ankles 😉

N51t3Z2-LznL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-47,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_octurnal Origins

Some things can never be forgotten, no matter how hard you try.

Detective Sergeant Mackenzie Santos knows that bitter lesson all too well. The day she died changed her life and her perception of the world forever.It doesn’t matter that everyone, even her doctors, believe a miracle occurred when she awoke in the hospital morgue. Mac knows better. It hadn’t been a miracle, at least not a holy one. As far as she’s concerned, that’s the day the dogs of Hell came for her.

Investigating one of the most horrendous murders in recent Dallas history, Mac also has to break in a new partner and deal with nosy reporters who follow her every move and who publish confidential details of the investigation without a qualm.

Complicating matters even more, Mac learns the truth about her family and herself, a truth that forces her to deal with the monster within, as well as those on the outside.But none of this matters as much as discovering the identity of the murderer before he can kill again.

serenadecoverthumbNocturnal Serenade

In this sequel to Nocturnal Origins, Lt. Mackenzie Santos of the Dallas Police Department learns there are worst things than finding out you come from a long line of shapeshifters. At least that’s what she keeps telling herself. It’s not that she resents suddenly discovering she can turn into a jaguar. Nor is it really the fact that no one warned her what might happen to her one day. Although, come to think of it, her mother does have a lot of explaining to do when – and if – Mac ever talks to her again. No, the real problem is how to keep the existence of shapeshifters hidden from the normals, especially when just one piece of forensic evidence in the hands of the wrong technician could lead to their discovery.

Add in blackmail, a long overdue talk with her grandmother about their heritage and an attack on her mother and Mac’s life is about to get a lot more complicated. What she wouldn’t give for a run-of-the-mill murder to investigate. THAT would be a nice change of pace.

nocturnal hauntsNocturnal Haunts

Mackenzie Santos has seen just about everything in more than ten years as a cop. The last few months have certainly shown her more than she’d ever expected. When she’s called out to a crime scene and has to face the possibility that there are even more monsters walking the Earth than she knew, she finds herself longing for the days before she started turning furry with the full moon.

Weave to Knot

I had a plan to write a fairly complex post today, and as usual real life intervened – the current story is going well, a friend asked me to look at a piece of land he fancies, dealing with a project discussion between Amanda, Sarah, Kate and I and possibly Chris and then my computer decided to inform me Windows had detected a hard drive error. Hasty back-up and running checkdisk… took a lot of time. So here am I, not wanting to rush the post I planned, and also not wanting to go to bed at midnight… and also vaguely expecting the computer to crash. Happy camper. Not.

So I thought I’d write a post, kind of peripheral to what I wanted to talk about, which has more to do with the place I found myself in today, both with the story I was working on and real life… You see I am at the end of a multi-thread story… and as most writers find out, sooner or later, all those threads have to weave together, and knot off, or you find yourself in all sorts of trouble…

Firstly they unravel, and secondly you have irritated readers TBAR your books and never buy another. Look single strand books or stories are great, first person is ideal for this, as are short stories. You’re only dealing with the variables affecting one strand. That can be complicted enough. When it turns into hell is when you have (as in the Heirs of Alexandria books) many threads, many points of view… and the finale requires they come together. Rather like the story of my day, which actually had a lot of things happening at once… only you can’t write that easily, especially when they’re happening to a bunch of different characters in seperate settings… The equations – and variables – which ofen affect numerous threads start getting a bit large the old monkey brain. It is rather like playing multiple games of chess, and working out your opponents possible moves, and your responses, and their responses… and you’re playing multiple games at once, and some moves make affecct the moves you can make on other boards… Well. That’s if you’re me. Gradually, you start to close down the moves that can be made, and then… the trick is to reach checkmate if not together, at least in close order.

Because… if you win each, one at a time, you may finish the story, but I assure you, you’re going to lose the reader. It’s a continuity issue, and it can be a bastard. Yes, you’re the author , playing God with imaginary lives and situations… they still have to mesh. The owner of the Kayak has to show up at the right time. So he has to have a reason to be in the right place at that time. And he cannot accidentally run into the search party early. And you cannot invoke more than the mildest coincidence, and pretty rarely even that. And the character needs to say the right thing and leave out the crucial bit of information… and the other character must somehow have that piece but not be there at that juncture… It’s complex. Of course real life is more complex – as I hinted at above, and far more simultaneous, and you can’t do that, but you do need to simulate simultaniety (I’ve wanted to say that for years. Indulge me: ‘simulate simultaniety’. I just had to say it twice

Sounds good…So how do we cope with writing this? Me, I make copious notes to myself (mention Freddy’s obsession with herpetology. Mention French cooking before Freddy’s obsession… etc.), and backfill a fair bit as I go along. And, true confessions, I head-hop a lot when they do come together. When the characters are apart, I try to keep to one POV for long stretches, and stay within one scene. But it does get tough when you have a lot having to happen, seemingly naturally – when multiple character threads intertwine.

It makes my head hurt. It’s a popular thing in a lot of ‘thrillers’ or high action books.

Anyone got any recommendations?

Mine is Dick Francis.

computer hassle

If no proper post has appeared by 10 AM my computer is dead (being funny right now)