Category Archives: WRITING: LIFE

Planning Ahead

There was a time when I never knew what my next writing project was going to be. Writing was something I did in the privacy of my room, never intending for anyone to see it. Even when I started getting serious about my writing, I was more of a pantser, even when it came to what I would write next. Somewhere along the line that changed — even if Myrtle the Evil Muse sometimes throws my plans out the window.

I’m not sure when that started changing but, as I sat down to work the other day, I realized that was no longer the case. My calendar has project dates on it now — dates showing when I need to have drafts finished and edits done, when I need to send work out to beta readers and when I need it back. What gremlin has been working with my electronic devices when I wasn’t looking? Surely, my process hasn’t changed that much.

But it has.

It’s had to. With four active series right now and several stand-alone books planned, I’ve had to get more organized about what I’m working on. What surprised me, however, was finding that I’ve made actual notes, some very detailed, about where two of the series are going over the course of the next few books. I’ve made less detailed notes about the other series and the stand-alones. But that is something I used to never do. I have a plan and it scares me.

Why does it scare me?

Because that is when Myrtle the Evil Muse usually rears her well-coiffed head. With a smile, she then tosses out an idea I can’t ignore — for something that is totally unrelated to what I’m working on.

So far, however, she’s being good. I have finished the final draft for Nocturnal Challenge, the fifth book in the Nocturnal Lives series, and have started the final edits. I have the next Honor and Duty novel mapped out (as well as some other exciting things in the series I’ll be announcing later). There’s one novel and several novellas mapped out — and one novella basically written — in the Eerie Side of the Tracks series. Best of all, inspiration has finally hit for the third book in the Sword of the Gods series. It is very loud right now, not loud enough to write but loud enough that I can jot down some plot notes for later.

Of course, Myrtle isn’t one to cooperate for long. She tried pushing a story — or two — on me last week. In fact, she gave me this opening and is all but daring me not to drop everything and get to work on it.

I was five when they came for my brother. Two men, one tall and thin the other short and stocky. Both wore uniforms I had never seen before with lots of medals shining on their chests. Mom cried. I’d never seen her cry before and Dad’s hands shook as he read the paper the tall man handed him. Then, with tears in his eyes, he told Mom there was nothing they could do. Before I knew what was happening, Aiden was gone and I haven’t seen him since.

I was thirteen when they came for me.

Not that I’m going to fall for it. I have saved that, as well as notes for the other story, in my future projects file and I’ve crossed my fingers — and my toes — that Myrtle is satisfied with that. In the meantime, I’m finishing the edits on Challenge, preparing to write a quick novella in the Eerie Side of the Creek universe. Then it will be the next Honor and Duty book followed by the third Sword of the Gods book. There’s more in the hopper but, if all goes as planned, there will be a new title, either short story or novella or novel, every other month. You see, if I don’t keep that busy, Myrtle gets bored and that’s when she’s her most dangerous.

In the meantime, here’s a teaser for Nocturnal Rebellion, coming soon.

***

The bullpen fell silent as Chief of Detectives, Luis Santiago, moved to the front of the room. The look on his face mirrored how they each felt. Disbelief, sorrow and anger – but mostly anger – burned in his dark eyes. They knew why he was there. Every cop, not to mention every cop’s family, faced this possibility each time they reported for duty. But that didn’t make it any easier, especially not when it hit this close to home.

Santiago looked around the squad room, making eye contact with each person there. It didn’t surprise him to find more than the day shift present. He had no doubt were he to check the other squads under his command, he would find the same thing. When a cop went down in the line of duty, no one worried about vacation or sick leave. Every cop, no matter what their rank or their assignment, would report in, ready to do all they could to find the perps responsible. That knowledge made him proud to be part of the long blue line. Not that it made this part of his job any easier. Fortunately, it was not something he had to do often, but even once was one time to many.

Standing there, seeing how each of those assigned to Homicide waited, hoping he had good news for them but knowing he did not, he drew a deep breath. He could have let someone else handle this. But that would have been the easy way out and he had never been one to push the uncomfortable parts of the job off on someone else. Besides, he owed it to them, and to their lieutenant, to make sure they understood that even though he no longer worked cases on the board, he was still one of them. He hurt with them and he thirsted for the same vengeance they did.

“I’m not going to tell you this gets easier. It doesn’t and each of you knows it. Let’s be honest. This squad has faced more than its fair share of challenges these last two years.” He paused and reached up to rub his eyes, burning with unshed tears, with thumb and forefinger. As he did, he felt every one of the last twenty-six hours he had been awake. Twenty-six hours of sitting vigil at the hospital and then talking with family members, of briefing Chief of Police Darnell Culver, and of doing all he could to head off any interference by the feds. Three of his own had gone down and he was damned if he was going to let the feds or any other agency take over the case. Then he cleared his throat and continued. “Each and every time, you have risen to the challenge and done what was necessary to carry out your duties as members of the DPD. I know I’m asking a lot now, but I need you to do so once again.

“The next few days are going to be difficult for the entire force, but especially for you. You not only lost one of your own yesterday but others of the cop family as well. I’ve spend a great deal of time with the families of our fallen brethren and they’ve asked me to let you know arrangements have been made. They thank each of you for all the time you have spent with them since the ambush. They have asked that, until the funeral, members of this squad continue to be with them. They know you were all family and they will feel better having someone who knew their loved one with them. Sergeant Collins, I’ll leave it to you to arrange schedules to accommodate this request.” He glanced at the squad’s acting commander and she nodded, her expression grim.

“In three days, we will lay the first of our fallen, to rest. I expect each of you to be there in dress uniform, representing not only this squad but the best of the force. Show the city that we bleed blue. Then show them that DPD does its job, no matter what. Find the bastards responsible for the ambush and bring them in to face justice.

“It would be easy to seek vengeance. I understand that feeling because I share it. No one, no matter who they are, is allowed to kill one of our own. But we will not lower ourselves, or the rest of DPD, down to those bastards’ level. Find them and bring them in. We will let the courts deal with them and, when the time comes, we will be sitting on the front row of the viewing chamber when they are brought in for their executions.” He glanced around as detectives, uniformed officers and clerical workers nodded grimly. “Do your lieutenant proud and find those bastards before they manage to kill anyone else.”

As one, everyone present turned to look at the darkened office with its closed door and silence so profound it felt almost alive filled the squad room. Then a tall blonde with short cropped hair, her expression stone-cold, pain reflected in her eyes, stepped forward. The others waited, watching as she approached Santiago.

“Sergeant Collins, the squad is yours,” the Chief of Detectives said. “Close this case before the feds try to take over. We will not step aside for anyone, not this time.”

The blonde nodded. As she did, she blinked back the tears swimming in her eyes. “Yes, sir.”

He nodded once and shook her hand. Then he turned and left the squad room. As the door closed behind him, Pat drew a deep breath. Whether she liked it or not, the squad was hers and she had a duty to do, a duty to the DPD, her partner and her squad.

“The Chief’s right,” she said softly. She did not try to hide her grief. Each person in the room shared it. “We have to work this like any other case, but let’s be honest. This isn’t just any other case and it never will be. We will have the press looking at everything we do, questioning each move and every word spoken. Worse, IAB is going to be nosing around.” She held up a hand before anyone could protest.

“Hear me on this. No one likes the idea of the rat squad poking around. This squad has first-hand knowledge how they can twist things to meet their own needs. So I want every i dotted and every t crossed in this investigation. Work this case like your life depends on it because it very well may. We have cop killers running loose on our streets and none of us are safe until we find them. So, when IAB comes calling, we will answer their questions. The quicker we do, the quicker we get them out of the squad and out of the investigation. Don’t play games with them. If they ask or allude to anything that sets off your warning bells, let me know.

“From now until this case is solved, it’s all hands on deck. All vacation time is canceled until further notice. If you call in sick, you’d damn well better have a doctor telling me you are on your death bed. Work your contacts and get your CI’s on the street and asking questions. Finding these bastards is our priority now. That said, make sure your other cases are worked as well. Don’t miss any court dates. But hear me,this is our priority. We will find the bastards behind the ambush and we will be the ones to bring them in.”

With that, she strode across the bullpen. Pausing before the door to the office that had been her partner’s she reached down to turn the knob. As she did, her hand shook. A sob rose in her throat. She choked it down. She had to maintain control until she was behind closed doors. The squad was hers, at least until Chief Culver found someone to replace Lt. Mackenzie Santos, not that anyone could ever fill her shoes as a cop or as a partner and friend.

Damn it, Mac. I wish you were here.

***

Nocturnal Origins is the first book in the Nocturnal Lives series.

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.

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Filed under AMANDA, WRITING: LIFE, WRITING: PUBLISHING

Here comes the halfway mark

Welcome to June; almost half the year has now gone by. How are you faring on those goals you set at the beginning of the year? This is a good time to evaluate, regroup, and start again. For those of you who are or want to become full-time authors, and even those of you who don’t, now is a good time to put down your author hat, pick up your business manager hat, and answer a few questions for yourself.
1. What is your total word count for the last 6 months? For each month? Week? Day?
2. What is your average word count per month, week, and day?
3. How many hours did it take you to write the last story/novel? (Hours actually spent writing, not calendar time from start to finish)
4. What was your average words per (actually writing) hour?
5. What time of the day is the most productive for you to write?
6. Was that increase in productivity at home or away?
7. What other factors led to it?
8. How many hours a day do you spend on writing business other than actual writing (including research, billing, marketing, etc)?

If you haven’t been keeping track, then how do you know what will help you, what works best for you, and just how good you can be when everything is awesome? How can you plan a production schedule if you don’t know what it takes to produce your product? If your method of creating new work is to sit down at a keyboard, sometimes, and hope that a novel shoots out of your fingers… hope is not a business plan. Keep your day job a while longer, and get ready to quantify your creative side.

If you have been keeping track, or you can pull some rough numbers off files and blog posts, now is a good idea to take a look at the story that the numbers tell. Are you more productive in the morning or evening? When you have 4-hour blocks to write, or when you have an hour to squeeze in? When you’re at home or at the coffee shop? (Or, in one writer’s case, in the van at the grocery store’s parking lot, getting “one last thing I forgot” and really finishing a chapter without the kids interrupting?) Do you write better with music or without? Does it go faster if you can write every day for multiple days in a row? How often did you lose a week to being sick, or other emergencies?

This isn’t about forcing you into a rigid schedule. This is about helping you realize what you need to be at your best, and about how much time it really will take you if you’re trying to plan out the next book, the next series, the next year. It’s about “The cover artist needs at least a month, so between the beta readers, the copyeditor, the cover artist, etc. I’m looking at a release roughly in this month… and I can reserve a slot roughly by then, because I’ll know if I’m on track, which means the final draft won’t have to sit waiting for ‘next available’ slot with anyone else.”

Writing is a very personal thing, that takes place a lot in solitude and in our own heads. This means that the immediate moments, and the low points and high points, tend to overwhelm all the day-to-day, and the story we tell ourselves of how we’re doing and what works best for ourselves… may not actually match reality. This is why I like numbers: they take all of the crisis-of-the-moments and the unique cases and let you step back and get a bigger, broader picture. They also let you focus on things you can change, and do better – because what you measure, you can alter.

Sometimes they say things we don’t want to hear, like “You’ve only averaged one day a week at the gym in the last 3 weeks. This is why you’re not getting any better. It doesn’t matter what the reason is this time, last time, the time before… you’re not going to get better until you go three times a week.”

Sometimes they say things that we really didn’t expect, like “While you feel more productive writing at the coffee shop, you really are only pulling the same numbers as you do at home, and have the driving time and the extra cost of lattes.”

Sometimes just tracking forces a change in habits, like “If I start writing with my first cuppa, I can get 1,000 words in. If I check the news first, it’s hit or miss if I write anything at all… oh, look, I realized this and now I’m skipping news in the morning, because otherwise I have to record a big fat zero in my daily word count…”

And sometimes it’s simple little things like “My writing speed doubles when I get to the scenes I’m really excited about. Huh. Maybe I ought to find or make something about each scene that’s cool and interesting, or skip ahead… because if they’re boring me to write, are they going to be just as boring to read?”

You’ve got a little over half a year til 2018. What are your goals and plans for the second half? What are you going to track?

For an awesome goal accomplished, Tom Rogneby got three novellas rolled into an omnibus: Quest to the North, Lost Children, and The Lady of Eyre are now all available for only $4.99 in Coming Home! https://www.amazon.com/dp/B072M6JX5H/

It’s a good set of tales – if you haven’t been following the saga, and you enjoy heroic fantasy and the antics that small boys (and their dogs) can get up to, check it out! You don’t even have to pick up the earlier books in the series to enjoy this set – but once you read this, you might find you want more…

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Filed under FYNBOSSPRESS, WRITING: LIFE, WRITING: PUBLISHING

Where do story ideas come from?

Or, probably more importantly, how do we make them our own?

No, I’m not going to lecture you on how to find inspiration or how to file the serial numbers off of something to make it your own. What I am going to do is give you an example of how inspiration can hit without warning and when you aren’t looking for it.

Those of us in the United States just finished the Memorial Day weekend. This is seen as the official beginning of summer, a time when schools are let out for the year (or they used to be). A time for sales and picnics and family. It is also a time for remembrance and tradition. One of my family’s traditions is to watch the Memorial Day Concert from Washington DC.  The first concert, aired by PBS, was held in 1989.  The emotional impact of the concert comes not from the music but from the stories, real stories, read by actors, of the men and women who have sacrificed so much for this country. It is their story, and the stories of their loved ones, that remind us so powerfully of the reason behind this holiday.

This year, one of those stories was that of a young girl growing up in during the Viet Nam War. Her father was in the Army, a Green Beret if I remember correctly. She loved her daddy and missed him so very much. Every day, she wrote him. She waited by the mailbox for his next letter to arrive. Then, one day, her letter came back unanswered. She asked her mother about it and, like most of us would, her mother did her best to put on a brave face and reassure her daughter there was nothing to worry about.

Then the call came in one night not long after that. Her father had been on a mission and he, along with others, were missing. MIA. Missing in Action. No one knew what happened or where they were. They didn’t know if this little girl’s father and his squadmates were alive or dead. They were just gone.

The family waited, as so many others did during those long days of the war, for word of their loved one. When news came that the North Vietnamese were releasing a number of POWs, the little girl ran into her room and started packing her bag. She knew they would be going to meet her daddy. Finally, after so many long months and years, she was going to see her daddy again.

Only they didn’t make that trip. One of the hardest things her mother had to do was tell this lovely little girl, this daughter who never gave up, that her daddy’s name wasn’t on the list of POWs being returned. Their wait continued. When the girl’s brother was old enough, he followed in their father’s footsteps and joined the Army. I can only imagine the fear the girl, now a grown woman, and their mother felt as he was sent into harm’s way in service of the country.

But they didn’t try to stop him. They understood he was driven by the same values as the much beloved father had been.

That phone call, the one they’d been waiting decades for, finally came. The North Vietnamese had released remains and a tooth — A TOOTH — had been tested. It was their father’s. He’d been dead so many years. Their questions had been answered and yet, in many ways, knowing was no better than not knowing. At least before there had been hope, fading yes, but hope he might one day return.

The son, still in the Army, escorted their father’s body home. Daddy was laid to rest with all appropriate honors.

Their story became part of our nation’s history, and hopefully our conscience, with the reading of the letter that little girl sent and had returned unopened.Seeing Mary McCormack, the actor who read the girl’s letter and told us her family’s story, embrace that girl now grown, her brother and mother, brought tears to my eyes. It also reminded me of other stories I knew, some of which I’d forgotten. Stories of those I went to school with during Viet Nam, of those whose older brothers and fathers went off to war. Many of those returned, some injured some not. Others never returned. Each one had a story behind them, a story to remember and, in some cases, to tell.

It reminded me of my mother’s friend who opened her mailbox one day and pulled out the latest Life or Look Magazine and saw her son’s death in Viet Nam documented. It reminded me of my Uncle John who, during World War II, ran away from home to join the Navy at the age of 13. When the Navy realized what he’d done, they returned him home where he told my grandparents they either signed the waivers to let him officially and legally enlist or he’d run away again. He served from the end of World War II through Viet Nam. He was a POW more than once and, when he had the chance to leave Nam and return home, he refused as long as the rest of his men — he was a senior non-com — remained.

I remembered Uncle Joe, my father’s older brother. He who enlisted in the Army in World War II and served in both Europe and Japan. He was part of those troops who, as they pushed through the territory held by the Japanese, saw the atrocities we tend to forget. He came back changed and suffered from what we now call PTSD for the rest of his life.

Being a writer, as I remembered these stories, my brain went to work. By the end of the evening, I had not one but two novel ideas in mind. I hadn’t meant to do anything other than watch a concert with my mother and remember our own family and friends who have stepped up to serve the country the love so much. Now, I have two books to write and I pray I can do not only the stories but the inspiration for the stories justice.

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Filed under AMANDA, WRITING: CRAFT, WRITING: LIFE

Managing Viewer Expectations with social media

No, not reader expectations in books. Y’all are authors, and there are better authors than me to talk about that. Let’s talk about your online presence. How much social media do you have to have?

Well, actually, you don’t.

There, I said it. It’s heretical in the age of Everything Always Online!, but it’s true. There are some authors who have an almost entirely offline presence. There are some who barely check in on one or two forums, and their websites were last updated in 1998, and still they sell. This doesn’t mean they don’t market; it means any marketing they do may be in person, or by selling short stories to magazines and anthologies, or by placing ads in trade magazines with their target market. One lady has almost no online presence for her cookbook, but when she shows up at a gun show with a gingham checked tablecloth and plates of lemon bars as free samples, recipe is on page such-and-such, she sells gangbusters.

Anyway, your online footprint. First, the most extreme case: don’t be That Gal On Twitter, the one who hadn’t published yet but was sure Larry Correia was a total loser, because she had way more twitter followers than him. *migraine salute* Yes, they exist. And folks like that are a useful lesson that having a million followers doesn’t pay the bills.

Second: the writer who has a website for the planned sweeping book series, a presence on twitter, facebook, google +, you name it, he’s there. He’s poured 500,000 words into facebook arguments in the last month alone! But nobody’s buying the one book he has out, despite spending 12-15 hours a day building up his online presence! What marketing trick is he missing? *full frontal facepalm* Write the next book. Seriously, get off mytwitface, and write the next book.

Here’s where viewer expectations start to come into play. You see, if you’re active all over mytwitface, and suddenly you disappear off to go write the next book, two things are going to happen to the people who follow you, and you get to decide which is worse: most people won’t even notice you’re gone, and some people will constantly try to drag you back because they miss your content.

If you could steel yourself to taking a full week off mytwitface, without some Dramatic Announcement that you’re going offline, you’d find when you got back that the majority of folks never even noticed. Social media platforms are designed to make the user feel like they’re drinking from a firehose of content, and they don’t notice when something’s missing.

Personally, I’ve varied facebook from daily to once a month, and people don’t notice when I’m gone; they only notice when I post and they see it. So no, you really, really don’t have to be on them as much as you think you do.

As for the people who try to drag you back? That tells you a lot about what kind of content you’re known for. “We miss pictures of the lambs and how the dogs are doing!” vs. “Hey! This guy is wrong on the internet! Let’s you and him fight!” Neither one of these is bad, just different – but they are different, and let you know a lot about how you’re known. Think about what sort of time, emotions, and energy you want to put into that.

On your online persona: Alice Cooper has, when mentoring young musicians, been extremely firm about the need to seperate your stage persona and your private life and sense of self. If you don’t, you’ll burn out and crash hard. Turns out it’s true with social media personas, too, when you start performing for the public.

I have an acquaintance who’s known for being Angry On The Internet. She’s constantly called to come pour vitriol on trolls, knuckleheads, Someone Is Wrong On The Internet, whatever. I’ve seen her on a slow day when there’s no one to be furious at… and she literally was reaching out to people, trying to find something, anything to be vitriolic at, and getting desperate, because her online persona was her true self, and she couldn’t cope without being furious. Now, that works for her, but I sat and wondered what the long term mental, emotional, and physical damage has to be of living All Drama, All The Time. (Other than teenagers, and even those bouncing balls of out-of-control hormones manage a lot of chill and happy moments.)

So think about what you’re known for, and what toll that takes, and if that’s what you want. If you don’t… change it! You’re not dead, you can too change.

Third online footprint: the daily blogger. Blogs work at optimum for crowd draw if they have new daily content 2-3 times a day, to keep people coming back. This is, however, not feasible for most people. (Even Mad Genius Club is only a daily blog, and that’s with all our contributors writing!)

Generating enough means finding or creating content, and that can take hours of a day itself, to the point that the blog rapidly becomes a chore instead of a joy. Several ways to make it much easier are to build a buffer, mine your archives, acquire contributors, have cross-blog conversations, and grow commenters.

If your viewers expect new content daily (or multiple times a day), it’s just not human to expect that you’ll never have disruptions to your schedule – so generate your content ahead of time, and schedule it to appear on a regular basis. (I am, for instance, writing this early last week, and scheduling it so it’ll post while I’m busy dealing with a funeral.)

If you have sufficient archives built up, feel free to mine them for material: audience turnover & new audience growth ensures that something three years old will be brand new to the viewers who just started coming regularly in the last 6 months. (Whether you label this as old material or not is up to you: I’ve seen it done both ways, but haven’t yet talked a daily blogger into running an A/B test to see which generates more traffic. I suspect it’s when it’s not mentioned as being a rerun.)

Other contributors, often called guests posts, take some of the content-generation burden off your shoulders. Even aggregators like The Passive Voice has people with keys to the blog to manage comments and contribute posts while the blog host is on vacation. The main drawbacks of guest posting are that your fans come for your material, so traffic goes down proportionally with the number of guest posts run, and getting / filtering guest posting offers appropriate to your blog. On the bright and shiny, hey, free material your viewers will like, and driving eyeballs to nifty people who ought to get more exposure and sales. Can be awesome!

This, by the way, is where “blog tours” come in. Originally conceived as guest posts across several high-traffic targeted audience blogs, they can work… as dashing out a bunch of posts and then posting them in sequence to low-traffic blogs that are nothing but guest posts, they’re hard work and heartbreak.

Cross-blog conversations are one of the great things about writing blogs online: it’s a chance to take somebody else’s blog post, and explore it in depth on your own, then engage in an extended conversation with them. I’ve seen a bunch of first responder blogs do a round-robin where they came up with a 911 call scenario, and then each person wrote about the fictional incident as it passed through their part of the first responder world – police dispatch, police, EMS, ER Doc, hospital nurse – from both a technical “Here’s how it goes down” and a emotional impact on the responders, and on the community, level. Don’t be afraid to engage in the social part of social media, and link to others for more than just an excerpt. More than one daily blogger maintains a sidebar of folks they find awesome and interesting – and if life happens, they can post “No free ice cream today – go check out the folks on the sidebar.”

Finally, growing commenters: a few minor notes.

first, the shorter and smaller your comment box and comment space, the shorter the comments your audience will tend to leave. The bigger the comment box / comment space, the longer people tend to be. The longer the blog post or comment area, the more in-depth discussions tend to get, and the lower-drama they get. Twitter’s 120 characters is optimized for bumper-sticker philosophy, and the road rage levels of stupid drama that engenders. Facebook’s promotion of “shorter is better” by putting more than 120 characters below the fold, and increasing font size on shorter updates, again promotes drama at the expense of clarity – by design.

Second, the way to get comments is to ask questions, and to respond yourself in comments. Even then, its’ very hard. And the questions can’t be obvious comment-bait; that doesn’t work when a masseuse is going “If you like the new tattoo, like or favourite this video!”, it doesn’t work on the blog equivalent, either.

Third: moderation in all things. Whether you plan to have a comment section where only sycophants are allowed (I don’t recommend it; it’s generally unhealthy and vicious), or one where anyone can join in, you will need moderation. Because trolls exist – they range from a psychopathic stalker with a fixation on short Asian chicks and some of the worst writing known to man, to paid positions whose job is to show up anytime a product, service, company, or political position is mentioned, and either promote it or denigrate any opposition to it. Neither of these are interested in conversation or growing your web presence, and should be removed from the comment stream. On the other hand, even the best spam filters often catch innocent commenters, and need to be regularly checked.

And yes, this takes time and mental energy. Factor that in to your social media plan.

And when all else fails, manage your viewer expectations with the Big Dramatic Announcement that you’re cutting back, and here’s the new schedule. Make it a manageable schedule for you, and then stick to it! Webcomics still thrive on a M-W-F release schedule (Girl Genius), and some even on a Tue-Thu release. (However, you must stick to the schedule. Nothing kills site traffic faster than inconsistency with updates despite a posted schedule – and kills the discipline and motivation to continue updating!

Accept that you’re going to have a steep traffic hit when you implement, because you will – but again, while eyeballs are important, having books to sell to those eyeballs is far more important than eyeballs alone.

Peter recently did this on his blog, Bayou Renaissance Man – he took his lowest-traffic day, Sunday, and announced it would be a one-post day, focused on music. While it did drive traffic off a cliff on Sunday, it didn’t affect the rest of the week – and he has one day a week now where he can be offline, recuperating and working entirely on other projects.

He’s also, as I type, working on other posts and queuing them up, and there’ll have been a notice that due to death in family, posting will be light and inconsistent. This way, even if we are completely swamped with real life and not near, or paying no attention to, online – the viewers will be informed, happy, and come back when there’s more content.

So bottom line? You don’t need nearly as much social media as you think, but if you’re doing a blog, you need consistency and consistently good content to keep people coming back. However, you don’t always need fresh, original content created by you. And no matter what, the most important part is writing the next book.

Speaking of the Next book, Tom Rogneby just released Lady of Eyre! Swinging between high fantasy and everyday adventures related in a high fantasy tone (The derby of the pine chargers! Yeah, anybody who’s been a boy scout or a boy scout parent knows where that one’s going…), it pretty awesome. Fair disclaimer: I wrote the blurb. I wrote the blurb because I like the story! I did not write the story – it’s better than if I had done it!
https://www.amazon.com/Lady-Eyre-Minivandians-Tale-Book-ebook/dp/B071HWPNYK/

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Filed under FYNBOSSPRESS, MARKETING, Uncategorized, WRITING: LIFE

D.I.Y.

Saturday at the Torgersen house usually means do-it-yourself home fix-up. I spent all day yesterday running brand new 12-2 through the studs on the south wall of my garage. As well as hammering up new switch, light, and gang boxes. Like any other room in my (perpetually being renovated) home, the garage offers me the opportunity to put an outlet (or two, or three, or twelve) anywhere I damned well please. If the original 1962 contractor put in far too few outlets, using the (for our time) inferior ungrounded “silver sh*t” wire, I am (in 2017) putting in an overabundance of outlets, using coil after coil of 12-2, and enjoying myself capitally. Because I know once the wall is finished, I will never in my life ever think the thought, “Gosh dammit, I wish there was a place to plug in here!”

When I finish re-wiring a room, there is a place to pug in, everywhere. 🙂

It occurred to me — as I snaked my way through the attic, running new line to the breaker box — that fiction publishing is, now, perhaps more of a do-it-yourself business than it’s ever been. We are all expected to do our own promotion (whether we’re trad, or indie, or hybrid) not to mention bringing our own platforms to the effort. On the indie side, we have to provide the editing, the proofing, the formatting, the cover art, and rustle up our own blurbage. We operate our own public storefronts. Create our own ancillary media. This is no longer an industry where you can simply write a good story, and that’s enough. Ours is now an industry which requires an author to develop half a dozen different professional skill sets. Including accounting, tax prep, and so forth. Do you know how to do a Form 8829, with your Schedule C? If you don’t, you probably should learn how. Same goes for tracking your paper inventory. And carving out a percentage of your take (from the conventions) so that you can file the money.

And no, I am not saying it’s any fun for me either. The only thing I enjoy doing (beyond writing) is building covers — because I’ve got graphic design chops, and years of experience going all the way back to high school commercial art classes. The rest? Especially taxes and self-promo? It’s work.

But if you expected this racket to be easy, you wouldn’t be reading Mad Genius Club. Right?

Good business is where you build it.

A friend recently asked me why I still keep my hand in with short fiction — despite having a ready road, where novels are concerned. I told him that I get asked for stories on a fairly frequent basis, almost always for anthologies, and I work really hard to not say no. Because I never know if or when those stories might turn out to be lucrative. Just recently I netted a very handsome payday (second in as many months) for a story I put into an indie anthology which offered zero up front. Yet that story is now worth $0.15 per word, and climbing. Just as all my other short fiction continues to increase its net value, in the form of the collections I do through WordFire Press. Everything earns. And while not every story can be a four-figure whopper (like my last novella for Analog magazine) they comprise a nice hunk of my annual five-figure cash flow. Not to mention the fact they keep my “brand” current in the marketplace, during the long Mt. Everest effort of novel(s). Keeping my brand current is a big part of promotion.

But it definitely takes work. There is no royal road to becoming (or staying) known as a quality short fic man.

A different friend recently explained to me the concept of WIBBOW: Would I Be Better Off Writing? I’d never seen this acronym before, but I liked the question it posed. Because we each have to find the sweet spot between creating fresh prose, and devoting time and effort to things which are part of the writing business model, without actually being writing. WIBBOW is probably something a lot of people enamored of workshops and seminars could ask themselves, simply because I’ve noticed (over the years) that a great many individuals adore the energy and atmosphere of a writers’ event, but never seem to get down to the actual writing part — which is the single most crucial element of creating and keeping a career. (In fact, SFWA is filled to overflowing with people who write very, very little, but who will devote untold hours to the social politics of the thing.)

I don’t belong to any critique groups anymore. Have not belonged to any, for a long, long time. I’m not sure I was any good at them, both in terms of what I offered, and also in terms of what I received.

I am also no longer part of any “closed door” writing forums, clubs, message boards, etc. For the same reason.

Is that bad?

Still another friend posted this interesting article. Are we — authors — too wrapped up in the concept of community? What happens when community becomes expected? Compulsory? Lord knows the SF/F sphere prides itself on having a long, long history of community. To a fault, one could almost say. But is the best work being done by the people who devote the most time to demonstrating fidelity to the flock? Or is the answer really out there in the lonely wilderness, where you can make the things you want to make, and not have to care if you’re being sufficiently community-minded?

I have told several people that I think the purpose of a good writing group, is to strengthen your wings to the point where you can fly solo.

I still think that.

Which is why, when people carry on about how essential their writing groups are to their creative process, I kind of draw a blank. Not that I doubt them. Heavens no. It’s just that my experience hasn’t been like that. In fact, I think I’ve been trending in the opposite direction for some while now, and may keep trending that way. I like my friends, and I like being able to talk shop. But I also think there is far, far more in the world, than writing. I happen to like that world. It’s where all the most valuable experiences — which have made me who I am, as a person — came from. And I also think it’s the place which has the most profound effect on the types and kinds of stories I create. Because those stories are not manufactured solely for the “inside” audience. They are stories which — I hope — can speak to the common person. Who may or may not be a SF/F fan. And may or may not be an avid reader. But who will respond to a compellingly-told yarn just the same.

Which takes me back to pondering the fact that publishing has become such a singles game.

On days like today, I feel like maybe that’s a good thing? Sometimes there is no greater pride and satisfaction, than in doing something for yourself, on your own terms, and doing it well.

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Filed under BRAD R. TORGERSEN, WRITING: LIFE, WRITING: PUBLISHING

The ergonomics of writing

Writing is a freelancing business. Like all other freelancers and most hourly positions, you can’t get paid for new work if you’re too sick or injured to produce more. (And, as a massage therapist friend learned when she broke her arm, hospital bills tend to pile up when the money’s not coming in.) Therefore, it’s a good idea to not only prevent the work-related injuries to hands, wrists, neck, back, eyes, and arms, but to also keep the rest of your body and your immune system in as good a shape as you can.

The first way to stay in healthy & uninjured is to avoid doing things that’ll get you injured. So, let’s discuss your writing setup. While curling up  on the couch with a laptop occasionally is fine, if you’re going to be spending much time on the computer (and all the internet, email, and gaming time counts, too), you should have an ergonomic setup.

This is a link to a good PDF with the proper angles for seated positions at a desk: note that unless you’ve put conscious thought into it, your monitors are probably too low, and contributing to neck and back strain.  http://doa.alaska.gov/ada/documents/OfcErgoAid.pdf

The next step up is to make a standing or walking desk; this allows you to get out of the chair, and give your body a break from sitting. Walking desks range from homemade setups on garage-sale treadmills to expensive custom jobs. If you’re using the standard home treadmill as part of your setup, expect it to die sooner than you expected; treadmill motors made for short bursts of running don’t do well with long periods of slow walking. (high speed low torque motors vs. low speed high torque motors) Do pick up some treadmill lube appropriate for your machine; a well-lubricated belt and regularly-vacuumed motor makes for a much longer-lived treadmill desk. (Youtube has lots of treadmill maintenance videos, to make it easy.)

Peter has a dual-monitor / dual-keyboard / dual mouse setup run between a standing desk on a shelf next to his main computer at his sitting desk (with an anti-fatigue mat to stand on.) This way he can literally switch between sitting and standing by just getting up and walking two steps over.

I use a treadmill desk, because I get more than enough sitting at Day Job. I have a laptop with the monitor set at a compromise point between Peter’s eye height and mine, and a second shelf with a USB keyboard and mouse at best ergonomic arm height. We’re running dropbox, so if Peter wants to use the treadmill desk, he just pulls up the file on my laptop and sets his walking speed – no computer movement required.

(He sometimes carries his laptop and mouse over anyway, because he doesn’t like my trackball. No shared setup is perfect!)

When I do sit, I have a yoga ball to sit on at the ancient media laptop’s desk, which keeps facebook isolated and unable to suck my time away until I sit down there. It also lets me work on core strength and stability, even though I’m sitting.

The second way to stay healthy & uninjured is to take breaks and stretch regularly. You can search for “computer & desk stretches” or “office stretches” and come up with hundreds of variations; pick the set that work for you, and try to work them in regularly.

However, if you’re working from home, don’t feel limited to chair stretches: you can get up and do plenty of other things to loosen up. Whether it’s getting up and doing five minutes on a chore (putting a few more dishes in the dishwasher, sweeping a room, folding a couple clothes or moving a load over to the dryer), or getting out of the house and walking up and down the block while muttering over plot points, you can incorporate giving your eyes and body a break in many different ways. (If you’re in a coffee shop, you might stick to chair stretches, so you don’t lose your seat. But try to look away from the screen and spend a little while people-watching, to give your eyes a variety of focal lengths.)

If you haven’t heard of it yet, check out the pomodoro method. It’s basically breaking your time into 25-minute chunks of writing, followed by 5-minute breaks, and then every 4th break, taking a 15-20 minute break instead. Some writers use it as a way to increase productivity, because mini-sprints that are timed help. Others use it as a productivity increase because “I can only write, not skim social media or check news, for the next 25 minutes.” For ergonomic health if you use this method, please spend some of your breaks getting up from your computer, stretching, or letting you eyes rest by focusing elsewhere – not just switching from Word to MyTwitFace.

The third way to stay healthy & uninjured is to exercise. The stronger you are, and the more you work at improving balance and coordination, the less likely you are to fall, and the less injury you’re likely to take when you do fall. I’m not going to specifically advocate one size to fit all writers: do your own research and pick what works best for you. Mark Rippetoe has many very persuasive arguments about the value of strength training at all ages and states of health – and given that a good chunk of physical therapy is indistinguishable from very heavily monitored weight training, I can’t argue too much with him. Cardio, if possible, is also very good for your heart and lungs. Yoga is good for stretching tendons, coordination, balance, and many of the moderately advanced positions are basically bodyweight exercises. Pick something, set a routine, and work at getting better at it.

My day job has started doing 5-minute breaks for stretching that include full-out aerobic exercise… so you don’t have to do either/or, you can combine this stuff.

The fourth way to stay healthy and uninjured is to eat healthy food, in moderation. Diet is a very sticky topic and wanders well away from ergonomics; find out what works best for you. Personally, I’ve found that I feel best if I’m on a high-fat, low-carb, moderate-protein diet (ketogenic is the extreme end of this; I rarely actually achieve it, but the recipes are handy for aiming at that target.) However, again, one size does not fit all (other than to note that sitting all day and eating chips and soda has not proven healthy for anyone yet.)  So do your own research, and take care of yourself.

Writers are in a luckier position than massage therapists; with the stories you already have written out on the market, you can get sales and income even when you’re not up to producing new work. (A massage therapist with a broken arm or tendonitis can’t get money coming in from past work like we can.) On the other hand, masseurs tend to get paid immediately upon receipt of services, where writers can be stuck in the awkward position of knowing the sales this month were great, but not able to meet the mortgage because the money won’t hit their bank account for several months.

Either way, it pays to put the time in now to avoid getting into that jam in the future. Because trust me (says the person whose physical therapist made approving noises as she caught me wheezing through the post-discharge exercises yesterday), physical therapy sucks. You really want to avoid ending up like me if you can!

If you want some good stories to read, this last week was a bumper crop of releases.

Sarah Hoyt’s latest: Darkship Revenge

J. L. Curtis’s latest: Rimworld: Into the Green

Cedar Sanderson’s latest: Tanager’s Fledglings

Full disclosure: I wrote the blurbs for Jim Curtis & Cedar. I’m not getting anything for mentioning them; I just happen to like the books!

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Filed under FYNBOSSPRESS, WRITING: LIFE

Lights Out

I’m sitting here typing early on a Saturday morning, and by early I mean Oh-dark-thirty. I’d intended to write this yesterday, and in fact was sitting here staring at the blank screen trying to dredge up the brilliant idea I’d come up with in the middle of the day while I was at work (why didn’t you write it down? I can’t make notes at work, and besides, my hands were full) when the lights went out.

Sometimes you have to take things as a sign. I took that one as a chance to sit down and finish my paper book (as opposed to the ones I’ve been reading in ebook on my tablet and phone. Now, I could very well have written this post on my phone – I’ve done that before – except that I’d allowed my son to play a game on it and it was nearly out of battery. I posted on facebook to make sure friends I’d been chatting with knew why I’d disappeared, and I shut it down.

It was very, very nice to just sit and read. I couldn’t do anything I’d planned to do that evening, as there wasn’t enough light to make dragons, I didn’t want to make frosting without my stand mixer (I can, but I’d mopped both labs, among other things, and my shoulders were telling me OH H*!! NO! at the idea of creating stiff decorating frosting), and I couldn’t write this post. I have to admit the feeling of freedom and relaxation was a bit giddy.

When I was a girl, one of my mother’s favorite books was Swiss Family Robinson. We read it aloud as a family (more than once) and I grew up wishing that there was a deserted island somewhere I could go live. I still think that from time to time. No work, no worries, no demands, no people…

Last night wasn’t quite like that. I do have kids, and a husband. The kids were discussing how long they could make their electronics batteries last, and lamenting they had not the forethought to charge battery packs. I just picked up my paper book, got under the window over my bed, and read until the light was too low to see well. We have candles, and oil lamps, but there was no need to break them out. When I’d read it dark, about eight in the evening, I curled up and went to sleep.

After a week of fighting exhaustion and feeling fatigue constantly, it was rather nice to wake up with a bright mind and cheerful constitution. I highly recommend it.

What has this to do with writing? Very little, other than the idea that if you don’t take care of the writer, no writing will be done. That, and sometimes stepping away from the screen entirely is refreshing. Nothing new or ground-breaking here. Just the musings of a morning after a sound night’s sleep.

As I get older, and boy, do I feel older recently, I’ve been musing more and more on the passage of time, and how to get everything done I want to get done. Sometimes I think I need to step back, and try to get nothing done for a little while.

Jade Star, the prequel to Tanager’s Fledglings, will be going on sale this weekend. If you liked Tanager, you might also enjoy Jade, although you don’t have to read one to get the other.

 

jade star ebook cover

Click here to buy or read sample

Jade is determined to die. She is old, and useless, when she points her tiny subspace craft at the cold stars. She wakes up in the care of others who refuse to grant her death, and instead give her a new mission in life.

Jade isn’t happy, and she only gets angrier when she learns that her mysterious new home hides a horrible secret. It’s time for this old lady to kick butt and take names. Aliens, death, destruction… nothing trumps the fierce old woman who is protecting her family.

 

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Filed under CEDAR SANDERSON, WRITING: LIFE