When Competition is Motivating

I’m a very competitive person.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shut up.

I’m beginning to realize that rather than discourage me, the success of others motivates me to work harder, to reach farther, to branch out into areas I otherwise would be afraid to go.

A few years ago, my fellow Scribe Emmie Mears had a run of great news in her career, securing four book deals in one summer for both fiction and non-fiction books. At the time, I was 1.5 years into being on submission for my first book, Daughter of Destiny, and I was starting to see cracks in my relationship with my agent. So while I was happy for Emmie, I was also feeling insecure, which led to me being VERY jealous.

Not long before Emmie’s announcement, my agent had told me the editor who had my book at the time was so certain we were going to get an offer that she wanted me to write a non-fiction book about the Celts so she could tie it into my Guinevere books. I thought she was nuts. Me? A non-fiction author? Right. I didn’t think I had the education or skills for that so I dismissed it out of hand.

I was in Chicago on vacation when I found out about Emmie’s good fortune. Of course, I stewed for a while, but then I thought, “If Emmie can get a non-fiction book deal, why can’t I?” Over the next two months, I researched my little heart out and ended up with a proposal and a 50,000 word book. Sadly, we never got to send it to the editor because the publisher ultimately passed on Daughter, but it made me do something I never thought I would. (I never have published that book. Maybe someday. I have since published non-fiction, though!)

Then just last week I found out a second author I know online, Chanel Cleeton, had her book Next Year in Havana chosen by Reese Witherspoon as her book club pick. When this happened to the first of my friends, Kate Quinn (for The Alice Network, such an amazing book), I wasn’t jealous, just very, very happy for her. But for some reason, Chanel’s announcement really got to me. (My best guess is I am feeling insecure again and that is probably right because I’m looking to go back to traditional publishing for my next few books after three years as an indie author.)

But again, after a few hours of being jealous, during which I created the graphic to the right, it energized me. I thought to myself, “well, if that’s going to be me someday, I better get a move on.” Now, at the time I was editing one book (fiction) and working on a proposal for another (historical non-fiction). What did I do? Began putting feelers out for yet another non-fiction book to determine if there is enough information on my subject to warrant a biography (I can’t find evidence that one has ever been written on this woman, but there might be a reason for that.)

My point to all of this is that you can take a negative emotion like jealousy and turn it into something positive. It just takes a little creative thinking. If I can use all the success of my amazingly cool author friends to power me on, I should be to the moon in no time!

Now I need one of you to do something else really awesome so I can get my butt in gear for the historical non-fiction proposal I really want to get out to agents soon. All I have left is researching and writing the sample chapters. Go! Do! Succeed!

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My Writing Process

This was about a year and a half ago at the Chanticleer Author’s Conference.

When I put out a call on Facebook for topics for this post, my fellow Spellbound Scribe, Shauna, suggested I write about my writing process. Honestly, I don’t know that I have one, but I’ll give it a go.

Step 1: Research
Because I primarily write historical fiction and non-fiction, the very first thing I do is research. Even with romance/women’s fiction, there will be research involved because I’ll need to know about a character’s job or a location or something. I find that research often gives me the “bones” of a plot that I can build upon. I won’t bore you with the details here, but I do teach a class on it at Professional Author Academy (the class is actually on writing historical fiction, but it is mostly on research). And here’s a post I wrote a while ago on using Amazon as a research tool.

Step 2: Plotting
Plotting is an interesting step. Some of it I do as an author, and some of it I do alongside my characters. They talk to me and tell me what they want to happen. (One of my friends said she thinks I actually have the gift/powers of a medium and I’m starting to think she is right. Only instead of talking to the dead, I use my gifts for my writing. Maybe all authors are mediums?) My characters even name themselves. For example, in Been Searching for You, I wanted to call Annabeth’s best friend and co-worker Malik. Nope. He told me his name was Miles, which is a name I never really liked. But he was insistent and it stuck.

As far as the author part of me plotting, the first thing I do is look at the genre expectations of what I am writing and fill in what I know. Then I go to Michael Hague and Larry Brooks’ story structure templates and think about how I am going to shape my story. Then I look at Michael Hague’s character arc advice and think about each of my main character’s wounds, essence and identity. This often takes me a while to puzzle through, but it is worth it because it helps me see how these characters will change over the course of the story.

And I also meditate. I think that may tie in the whole medium idea, as it stills my mind and puts me into a receptive state to be able to see the scenes in my head.

Step 3: Writing
I can write pretty much anywhere, but most of it happens on my couch or backyard patio. For some reason that is where I’m most comfortable. I’m also extremely productive in airports and during flights; I think it is because I am a captive audience.

I have tried all kinds of things to get into writing mode, such as wearing certain clothes, drinking certain teas, etc. But what seems to work for me is lighting incense (I prefer campfire because it reminds me of the cabin I stayed in at Hedgebrook when I took a master class from Deborah Harkness, or peat because a lot of my books take place in Great Britain) and listening to film/TV scores (which already have the emotional highs and lows and tension of storytelling built in).

One thing I have learned is that I can’t drink alcohol when I write because it kills my creativity. But I can when I edit. Go figure.

I have a whole process for editing as well, but I don’t know interesting that would be to people. If you are interested, I teach a class on that as well.

By now, as my sixth book is in the editing phase, all of this has become to automatic, I don’t really think about it anymore. I guess that is why I didn’t think I had a process, when I really do.

Any questions about my process? Anything you want me to elaborate on? Let me know.

When is Enough Enough?

As many of you no doubt have observed, we writers suffer from occasional bouts of impostor syndrome and feelings of inadequacy. Some of that is our artistic souls being sensitive; some of it is demands from the industry and ourselves; and some of it is competitiveness. We don’t need help from a major industry player to feel like we aren’t doing enough.

Yet, here comes BookBub a few weeks ago with what has to be their most asinine post yet. (Which is unusual for them; I’d say 95% of their blogs are great.)

How to Write 12 Books in 6 Months to Grow Sales & Populate a Backlist

Yes, you read that right: BookBub is pushing a post that advocates for writing 12 books in six months. That’s a book every two weeks, my dears. My reaction?

HOW THE HELL CAN ANYONE BE EXPECTED TO DO THIS? And maybe more importantly, WHY?

Ahem.

Let me count the way that this is a bad idea:

  1. Let’s put quality first to get it out of the way. Any book written at that speed will likely be crap. It takes even the speediest of writers several weeks to write and edit their books. THE INDIE BOOK MARKET DOES NOT NEED ANY MORE CRAP BOOKS. We have a hard enough time convincing people *cough* St. Louis County Library*cough* that our books are legitimate without people pumping out books like this.
  2. Related to above: that schedule gives you like zero time for editing. I have to break this one down into sub-points. A) One of the keys to good editing is being able to take time (even a day or two) away from your MS so you can approach it with fresh eyes. This schedule doesn’t allow that. B) I don’t even see how her beta readers (which she claims to have) have time to read the books. I give my betas at least two weeks to read my books, but that is the sum total of her ENTIRE production time for each book. C) Most writers do at least some editing themselves before their editor sees it, but again, where is there time for that? D) The author mentions in the comments that she has an editor, but I can’t imagine the pace the editor must have to work at to keep up this schedule, especially if he/she has other clients. It doesn’t strike me as very productive for either of them.
  3. Even my writer friends who are full-time authors think this is a ridiculous pace to set. (They told me so on FB.) So if they think this is untenable, how are people like me who have a full-time job expected to do this? Seems to me you are setting yourself up to fail.
  4. If this is what we’re pushing indies to, we are pushing burnout, pure and simple. I’ve gotten close a few times at my own pace; I can’t imagine how quickly I would implode if I tried to make this happen.  I am actually shocked that the article doesn’t have more negative comments on it asking “what the hell are you smoking and can I have some of your Limitless pills?” And I’m worried by the number of “OMG, this is so helpful” comments. These people will figure out pretty quickly that this new idol of theirs doesn’t have a sustainable or replicable model. I just hope they don’t make themselves sick or kill their confidence in the process.

I looked up the author and she has written over 70 books in multiple genres. Even Nora Roberts, with as fast as she writes, isn’t that prolific. It’s taken her 40 years to get to her 225 books. This woman, on the other hand, appears to be in her 40s. She must have been using this method for her whole career to hit a number like that. Granted, her books are about 125-250 pages long, which is probably about 50,000-70,000 words. That is on the short side – especially compared to what I write – but still respectable, especially in the romance genre.

Implications Beyond This Article
I think one of the reasons this hit me so hard is because I’m always trying to find ways to do more. I’m coming at this as someone who is already burning the candle at both ends. I mistakenly thought once I got through my year of publishing four books in seven months (they were already written while I was on submission with traditional publishers, so don’t get too excited) that I’d be able to settle down to 1-2 books a year, which is all I can manage with a full-time day job.

I’ve come to find through experience that pace isn’t enough if you want to keep your sales up, which is likely how this BookBub article came to be in the first place. So even though I plan to keep self-publishing, I decided to focus on books that I think I can get traditionally published, which hopefully will help boost sales of all my books. In order to do that, I’m currently working on three books: the last one in my indie Guinevere’s Tale trilogy, a biography, and a non-fiction book on feminism.  And I’m really pushing myself on the feminism book because it will tie into an upcoming event that’s likely to have LOTS of media publicity so I really want to get it done on time. I know what I have taken on and how insane it is, but I want to try it and am praying I don’t burn out before it gets done.

With all that weighing on me, this is about the last bit of advice I needed to see. It makes me feel like a failure, like I’m doing something wrong, like I’m not cut out for this author business. Luckily, I’ve been around long enough to know that isn’t true and that I should just ignore this and move on and keep doing things in the way that works for me.

But not everyone is at that point. They will see a New York Times bestselling author with a RITA award and three additional nominations under her belt and think this is the path to success. And they will try to emulate her and many will fail. Some will quit writing either because they couldn’t make this kind of method work, others because they never want to write again since they turned themselves off the whole thing by trying to do too much, too fast. And that is the last thing the writing world needs. I’m all for sharing your methods and giving advice, but within reason. And reason is the main thing lacking here.

What do you think about this method? If you think it is possible to do, please explain to me how. I genuinely want to know how to make this work. If could make it work and still produce quality books, I could rip through all 50 ideas (yep, I keep a list) I have in my head in only a few years.

Questioning the Happily Ever After in Romance in 2018

Does romance always have to end this way?

I’ve only written one romance, Been Searching for You, but there is a romantic element to everything I write, so I do (sometimes reluctantly) identify as a romance author. The Romance Writers of America (RWA), of which I am a member, will hate me for saying this publicly, but I don’t buy the rule that they espouse that says in order to be a romance, a book has to have a happy ending (a happily ever after or HEA) or at least a happily for now (HFN). They classify anything else as a tragedy or at best a love story, not a romance. *eye roll*

I know I’m going to make a lot of romance writers and readers mad by saying this, but personally think the “romance must have an HEA/HFN” rule is crap created by the publishing industry to condition readers. Now, I love a happy ending as much as the next woman, but some of the greatest love stories ever told did not have a happy ending: Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, just to name a few. (I know, I know, those are love stories not romances. Whatever.) In the romance industry documentary Love Between the Covers, author Eric Selinger points out that the 1920s and 1930s were when American publishing began to insist on happy endings in order to distinguish their books from the British version of romance. As I said, artificial.

Anyway, my larger interest in this has to do with a recent Huffington Post article that notes the rising trend of women choosing to remain single on TV. As the article asks:

So what happens when, for the first time in American history, you have a critical mass of unmarried women over the age of 30 who choose to or simply find themselves in a position to build family structures, financially stable careers and homes independently? Do the stories ― even the fictional ones ― we tell about these women expand along with their realities?”

According to the U.S. publishing industry, no. At least not yet.

Not only does this situation call the “traditional” definition of a romance into question, it may beg a bigger question about what the romance industry is saying to single women with this whole need for an HEA/HFA. As a single woman, I’ve felt the pressure inherent in that setup for a long time. (In fact, I wrote Been Searching for You as the happily ever after I haven’t actually experienced.) I’m 38 and have never been married. I haven’t really dated much. Romance books sometimes make me feel inferior because my love life is often non-existent and I’m not sure if I will ever get my own HEA. I honestly don’t have time for a HFA right now; I’m too busy building my career to devote proper time to a relationship. But as a romance author, I also know I’m required to give my characters an HEA or HFN if I want my book to qualify for a RITA (the American romance industry’s version of an Oscar). So I’m conflicted.

For example, I am going to (eventually) write a story in which my heroine, Violetta, is perfectly happy being single and is not letting it stop her from living a very fulfilling life. That is, until her ex, Miles, comes back into her life and she slowly realizes she has room in her life for someone else. Right now I don’t know if it will end in an HEA or HFN, but it will be one of the two. But given the article above, I’m wondering what message I’ll be sending to single women reading the book. I certainly don’t want to take a strong woman and turn her into someone inferior just because she falls in love. I’m hoping I’ll be able to show how Violetta and Miles compliment and strengthen one another and how the romance is a natural evolution for her, rather than her suddenly capitulating to societal demands. To once again quote the Huffington Post article,

Being single, even when you are satisfied with and excited by your life, does not preclude a desire for a romantic relationship that fits.”

Personally, I’d love to write a book where a strong heroine chooses to remain single. But if I do, it won’t qualify as a romance; women’s fiction, maybe. To me, the very fact that this distinction between genres exists is sad. I don’t get why the heroine can’t metaphorically be her own happily ever after. I know I am very happy and if my life were to end today (don’t get any ideas, Universe) I would consider this an HEA or at least an HFN ending, even though I am single. But according to RWA standards, my life story would be a tragedy – maybe a love story for a short period of time in my early 20s – not a romance.

Maybe in the future this will change. The romance industry in America is dealing with a lot right now, such as much bigger issues like racism and consent/harassment in the age of #MeToo, so I don’t expect things to change on this front right away. They may not ever. After all, several generations of women have been conditioned to expect happy endings from romance novels, even if that no longer accurately reflects life for all of us. But then again, they were also conditioned to believe (as an agent once told me) that romances could only be told in third-person POV with alternating chapters from the female/male POV. That is beginning to change, albeit slowly, with a number of successful first-person POV romance authors like Colleen Hoover, Jaime McGuire and Alice Clayton, so maybe this will, too.

Interestingly, the Romantic Novelists Association (of which I am also a member), which is based in Britain, does not have the HEA/HFA rule that RWA does and includes women’s fiction in its purview. So if American romance doesn’t change its definition, at least writers who feel like me will still have a home. (Or maybe I should just move to Britain. That’s never a bad idea!)

For what it’s worth, I have no desire to argue with writers/readers who feel that RWA’s definition is right. I respect that you feel that way. I just ask that you respect that I do not.

On Women, Strength and Competition

Last week on International Women’s Day, I was exposed to the most wonderful poet: Fleassy Malay from Melbourne, Australia, and her incredible poem, “Witches.” It’s actually not about witchcraft, but strong women. Please take a moment to watch it.

If you liked it, you can buy a print of the text on Etsy. Until March 18, 50% of the proceeds will be donated to The Global Women’s Project.

I seriously have a girl crush on Fleassy now and immediately followed her on Facebook. The other night she posted a Facebook Live to explain why she wrote the poem, which isn’t necessarily why you might think. Among other things, she said something like “we’re really good as women at calling each other out on our shit, but we don’t really have a system for celebrating one another.”

That really stuck with me. I’m a highly competitive person, so I naturally want to compare myself with others, and I’ll admit to getting pretty jealous when others achieve the things I dream about before I do. Oddly enough, my Twitter friend Summer posted something similar the other day:

I know we all do that to some extent, but I have a problem with it. I’ve always thought it was just a flaw in my personality, something I need to work on – which it is – but now I wonder how much is societal. From what age are we taught to compete with one another, especially with other females? Does it start when we are old enough to watch television or even to consume fairy tales where women (sometimes even mothers and step-sisters) compete over the same man? How and why does this bleed over into other parts of our life? From where does this mindset of scarcity come? It’s not like there is a limited number of men/success/book contracts/what-have-you for which we have to compete Hunger Games-style. Yet we do it. Every single day.

I see memes like this one all the time and I want to say, “Hell yes!” because they are true. But in my heart, I can’t. As a feminist, I’ve long been ashamed of myself for viewing other women first as my competition and second as my sisters. It’s weird, but when the topic is something I’m not competitive about, I’m ALL ABOUT the sisterhood and the congratulations. But throw in something I think I lack and it gets ugly, at least on the inside.

Getting back to Fleassy’s question, how do we create a system to help build up one another? Social media seems to both help and hinder this idea. It helps because we can signal boost each other, offer our well-wishes, etc. And that is a great start. But social media also allows us to see what is happening with others on a much more regular basis than we otherwise would. It shows us the external, polished veneers of other women’s lives, and when we compare ourselves to them, we feel bad, which takes us away from celebrating their triumph. Many people call it the Instagram effect. What we don’t see is the hard work and tears that go into that success or the other issues that the person might be dealing with. This accolade over which we are green with envy might be the only thing keeping that person from despair.

As evidenced by my personal reactions, these platitudes are so much easier to say than to live. I don’t have any easy answers to these questions. It is a change that needs to happen at the societal level, but like everything else, likely needs to begin at the personal level. Hopefully, if each time someone we know/love succeeds at something, we try our best to be genuinely happy for her, we will slowly change the world. Share her posts, lift a toast, and dance for joy with her. Even if our hearts hurt, we can transform that pain into determination to do more/better in our own lives, and that can only make us stronger. And as each one of us glows brighter, we will collectively burn until we’ve changed this mindset of scarcity and competition into one of collective appreciation and abundance. Or so I dream.

I know I’m going to try. And like the rest of my fellow “witches,” I won’t come quietly.

PS – Does anyone else think Fleassy looks like Cosima from Orphan Black?

 

Some Good News in a Dark Time

I had been thinking of a few other topics for this blog post but when I got home last night and learned about the latest school shooting, everything else went out of my brain. (Sidenote: I am so glad I finished school before all of this started happening and that I’m not having children. I don’t know how parents and kids today deal with all of this.) I couldn’t think of a thing that seemed to matter in light of the state of our country right now.

Then this morning, I woke up and realized that what we need right now (besides action, rather than thoughts and prayers) is good news. So, I’m going to share my big news today. I’m in no way saying it is as important as these other issues, but it’s a bright spot at least.

My book, Daughter of Destiny, has won the North Street Book Prize!

It is one of only three winners: nonfiction/memoir, general fiction and YA. They put it in the YA category. It’s not a YA book, but given Guinevere’s age (11-15) and the fact that it is the “coming of age” part of her story, I can see why it landed there. But, I don’t care what you call it, as long as you like it, and the judges obviously did. Here are a few quotes from the official critique:

“Nicole Evelina’s Young Adult novel Daughter of Destiny is a lyrical, imagistic retelling of the Arthurian legend…The writer’s skill in creating a lushly imagistic fantasy world was a major reason for her first place award. Nicole Evelina has suceeded in creating a YA novel that is a pleasure for adults as well as teenagers to read. Although I am not normally a reader of fantasy fiction, I loved being immersed in the misty, magical land of Avalon.”

Here’s the whole critique, in case you are interested. And here’s the official press release.

This huge for me, as big of a deal as my two Book of Year designations. I can’t begin to tell you how thrilled I am that my debut novel continues to receive accolades more than two years after it was published.

In light of this win, I have point out one irony. The very first rejection Daughter of Destiny received was from an agent (who shall remain nameless) who said it “read like a bad YA novel.” I kid you not. And here it won in the YA category. 🙂 Just goes to show that you shouldn’t listen to the nay-sayers!

My New Venture: Teaching Online Courses

Every year in autumn as soon as the weather gets cool, I get the same urge: to teach. I think this stems from all the years of going to back to school. Well, that and for a long time now I’ve wanted to be a college professor. The bad news is I can’t afford to go back to school (again – I have 2 bachelors and a masters degree), so that PhD is going to have to wait.

But this past fall I embarked on a new venture aimed at satisfying my inner teacher (while hopefully earning some extra money): creating online classes. After researching many possible platforms, I chose to go with Teachable. Then I developed a series of 12 business and craft classes to launch my school, Professional Author Academy. But between my full-time job and releasing a book in November, I’ve just now launched the classes.

I love this option because it gives me a chance to take all the presentations I’ve done for speaking engagements (and a few new ones) and expand them out to people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to come see me speak. And it gives me something to do with all this knowledge and experience in my head. (In addition to the degrees I mentioned earlier, I have 15 years of professional experience in marketing. Here’s my whole list of qualifications.)

I’m a firm believer that one should never stop learning, so I’ve created classes for different skill levels from aspiring author to multi-published, as well as indie and traditionally published. These courses can be taken anyone:

  • How to Write Back Cover Copy That Sells
  • Marketing Plans for Authors
  • Business Plans for Authors
  • Branding for Authors
  • Websites and Social Media for Authors
  • Self-Editing
  • Writing Historical Fiction
  • Setting and Description

These are geared only to indie authors:

  • Steps to Self Publishing
  • Self Publishing 101
  • Audio Books for Indie Authors
  • Legal Issues for Indie Authors

See a complete course catalogue, including course descriptions. Samples are available for each course (just click on the course you’re interested in from the main page for Professional Author Academy and you’ll see a video on the top left) so you can see what you’re getting before you commit. Plus, if you want to experience my online teaching style, the How to Write Back Cover Copy That Sells course is free, so there’s no risk to you.

Convenient and Reasonably Priced
I know what it’s like to try to fit learning into a life already filled with work, family, writing and other responsibilities. That’s why they are short; most are around 30 mins and none exceed 2 hours. Plus, they don’t require any homework and can be taken at your own pace. All courses include a welcome video and narrated Powerpoint slides. Many also include a recommended reading list and other handouts for reference or use as a worksheet or template.

In addition, they are cheaper than your average college course, which runs about $1,500/course (at $500/credit hour), or even many Writer’s Digest Online Workshops, which average between $200-$600+. I offer a tiered pricing structure based on the amount of information in each course. You can pay all at once or installments.

Mini – Free (so you can try before you buy)

  • Back Cover Copy That Sells

Basic – $100/course

  • Legal Issues for Indie Authors
  • Writing Setting and Description

Standard – $200/course

  • Audio Books for Indie Authors
  • Business Plans for Authors
  • Self-Editing

Advanced$300/course

  • Branding for Authors
  • Website and Social Media for Authors
  • Steps to Self Publishing

Premium – $500/course

  • Marketing Plans for Authors
  • Writing Historical Fiction

Premier – $1,000/course

  • Self Publishing 101 (This course is several courses in one, including Steps to Self Publishing, Business Plans, Marketing Plans, Legal Issues, Web and Social Media. If you bought the classes separately, you’d pay more than $1,400.)

To register, just head over to Professional Author Academy.

Stay Up to Date
I’m planning to add new courses several times a year, so if you’d like to be notified when there is a new course or a current course goes on sale, please sign up for my course newsletter.

But for now, since the classes are done, I’m going to take off my teacher hat and put my writer one back on. It will be nice to think about fiction for a while again! Mistress of Legend calls to me, as does Isolde’s currently untitled story.

Have you ever taken online classes? If so where? What was your experience like? Do you have questions about my courses? What other subjects would you like to see?