Hello friends. So you may have noticed, from time to time, we’ve missed a week here or there on the blog. Unfortunately, we’ve found, as a whole, that life in this new world is catching up with us and maintaining this little beastie of ours isn’t as easy as it was in the past.
But. We all still love this space and you dedicated readers who’ve stayed with us through the good and the bad, so we don’t want to give it up entirely.
That being said we are going to be posting less frequently. Instead of weekly posts we’re going to move to dedicated monthly posts and the occasional post when Something Important happens for any of us and we find we want to share it with you.
I know it seems strange to hear that we’re struggling with posting once a month each, but I think we can all understand that things are just different now and life really gets in the way. For example, I usually have my post written and scheduled at the very latest, the day before I’m scheduled, so this post should have gone live a couple of hours ago, but then a family emergency slammed into our day yesterday and stole all my mental bandwidth for the rest of the day and all thoughts of a planned blog post went right out the window. So I’m here now, trying to catch up.
We hope everyone understands our new approach. We’re not even sure how popular blogs are anymore thanks to other, more flashy social media platforms, but we do know that sometimes blogging helps us, so we aren’t quite ready to retire this little space yet. I imagine we’ll see how the next few months go and then re-evaluate things. But for now, we’re still here, we’re still writing, we hope you’re still reading.
That being said, to share something more book related, I was invited to post over at Shepherd to reminisce about my time writing World of Ash and what books inspired me. It was nice to get back to that time Before. If you’re looking for some new-to-you books in the apocalyptic, dystopia, post-apocalyptic genre, head over and have a read!
This post comes out of a couple different places. One, I’ve been pondering my goals for next year. Two, I made more money from book sales this year than I ever have before. (I also spent more this year, and after almost ten years of publishing, have yet to break even.) And three, I’ve expended a whole lot of time and energy over the last couple weeks making Christmas presents.
See, secretly I’m an embroidery nerd. I’ve done cross stitch, crewelwork, needlepoint, black work, and hardanger embroidery, and to a limited extent, I’ve designed my own projects. Needlework was my main hobby in my 40s, until I blew up a disc in my back and couldn’t sit for long periods of time. I couldn’t sit and stitch, but I could lay on my belly and write. I started with journaling to keep from going crazy, moved on to short stories, and voila! A writer was born!
I also crochet, but that’s more of an addiction than anything else. It keeps my hands busy and it’s less toxic than smoking cigarettes.
This morning as I was putting the finishing touches on some hardanger embroidery ornaments – here’s the link to hardanger’s Wikipedia page in case you’re unfamiliar with the style – I started thinking about how much time it had taken to make each one. The two smaller ones took about four hours each. The larger ones took….longer. The materials don’t cost a whole lot, but even so, for me to earn at least minimum wage, I’d have to sell the small ones for around $75.
The large ones would be…more. Which is why I’m giving them as gifts and not trying to sell them on Etsy.
You can find hardanger ornaments on Etsy, though, and for a lot less than I’d charge. (This one is pretty.And so it this one.) Which means either I’m slow (probably) or the market won’t support what the sellers’ time is really worth.
I mean, if you’re selling a hand-made ornament for $10, either you can finish one in 30 minutes or you’re earning what was minimum wage when I first entered the job market – $3.35/hour.
Which brings me back to publishing. I honestly don’t know how many hours it takes me to write a book, but for the sake of discussion, I can use last month’s NaNoWriMo challenge. I wrote 50,000 words in November, or a little under 1700 words a day. It takes me about 2 hours to write 1700 words, longer if I’m distracted.
My best selling book this year, Soulmates, is about 75,000 words long. Rather than challenge you with a story problem, I’ll just say that, assuming I write 1700 words in 2 hours, it took me 90 hours to write 75,000 words. Cool. I made decent money, if I only count the writing time. That hourly rate gets lower when I add in the editing, with all the false starts and rewrites that went into the final draft.
And after I back out the cost of the editor, the cover artist, and promotion, I’m lucky if I’m making minimum wage….for 1976. ($3.35/hour!)
So why do it? Why spend all the time and thought and energy on a project with little hope of financial reward? We’re only allotted so many hours in this life, and given that I’ll turn 60 on my next birthday….well, you do the math. Is publishing where I want to spend my time?
I’ve talked about retiring from my hospital job in the next couple years, with an eye toward earning enough in book royalties so I won’t have to tap my retirement accounts right away. To do that, I’d need to do more than break even, an elusive goal so far. It means I’d need to keep up the 4-books-a-year pace, and I’d need to pay more attention to the ‘Zon categories so that my upcoming projects align with what’s selling well.
I’d also need to layer on the butter. (See 7 Figure Fiction by T. Taylor for how to use Universal Fantasies, what she calls butter, to sell books.)
But do I want to do all that? I’m still pondering. Over the last ten years, I’ve invested a lot of my time – my self, my spirit, my creative drive – in this publishing project, and I’d like to see it pay off. Or maybe it already has paid off, in the satisfaction I feel knowing I sent some really good stories out into the world.
If you need me, I’m the one with the crochet hook and the wild eyes…
When my youngest kid was in middle school, he had knee problems. He couldn’t play football, but all that energy needed to go somewhere, so I signed him up for swim team. He went to one regional swim meet and I was impressed (confused? befuddled?) by the sheer number of kids who were rotating in and out of the water. His coaches reinforced the message that the kids weren’t racing each other as much as they were racing themselves. Winning gold was nice, but getting a personal best time was better.
That philosophy fits pretty well with an idea I’ve run across more than once in writing classes, often in terms of inspiration and motivation. We’re told that rather than waste time in jealousy or envy for another author’s success, each author needs to define success for themselves. For example, in a master class at last weekend’s Emerald City Writers’ Conference, Angela James started her presentation by asking each of us to describe what success looks like, and then leave a comment in the chat (we were on zoom) sharing some aspect of it.
People piped right up with comments like, “I’ve figured out what success looks like for three months, six months, and a year.” Which, okay then. LOL. I was happy for them – sincerely – yet there I was, still parsing the question.
See, if you ask me to list my goals for whatever time increment, I can do that, no problem. Weekly, monthly, one year, five year? I got this. (Well, five years might be a little vague.) And generally, I’m pretty good at accomplishing the goals I set for myself – or coming up with a damned good reason why I haven’t.
However, I’m not sure meeting goals and “success” are the same thing.
Clearly they’re related concepts. Checking things off a list feels good, whether it’s this week’s Trello to-do list or January’s goal to publish 4 books this year. And you know, according to the dictionary, that’s success.
So why am I balking? Why do I think success is bigger than just checking things off a list? Why don’t I feel like a success?
I think it’s because whenever I meet a goal, in the next breath I’m already planning the next one. Published 4 books this year? Good for me. What’s on deck for 2022? Pulled off a successful writing conference? Cool. When’s the next one?
I swear if I ever hit the New York Times bestseller list, I’ll immediately start figuring out how to raise the bar.
The thing about goals is they need to be concrete, measurable, and within my control. I’d argue that success is none of those things – unless it’s only about meeting goals. To me, it’s bigger than that. Success is satisfaction and happiness and pride, a complicated emotion that isn’t easily quantified.
I also think that defining success depends on where you focus your lens. The second bullet point in the dictionary definition is “the attainment of fame, wealth, or social status.”
And all of those values are relative.
Like, in my day(night) job, I’m a nurse practitioner in the NICU of a major university medical center with a national reputation. Does that make me famous? Probably not, although pretty much everyone in the world of neonatology has heard of my unit. (And if you google the name that’s on my ARNP license, you almost certainly won’t come up with hits about vampire romance. LOL)
Am I a success? Well, this gig is seriously my dream job, the reason I went back to school for a masters degree, and after working in a couple different places, I can honestly say its be the best utilization of the NNP role that I’ve found.
But it’s still a job, and I still have to pump myself up to go to work every night.
My husband and I have owned a house for over 20 years. To someone who’s worried about making rent every month, that might look like success. To me, it looks like unfinished projects and the garden needs work. I’m planning on taking early retirement at age 62, which might look like success, but it’ll only work if I write more books.
And….that might sound like a whole lot of bellyaching, like my cup’s half empty. It’s not. I’m very fortunate and very grateful. In thinking all this through, though, I have reached one conclusion.
If I’m not going to define writing success by meeting goals, there needs to be another way of looking at it. If I take away the goals – the yearly plan, the Trello to-do lists, the orange banners from Amazon – what’s left? The dictionary would say it’s wealth, and yeah, there’s the money, the number of books I sell minus what I spend on production and promotion.
But do I really write books to make money? Maybe a little, although I’m leery of picking a dollar amount to define success, because I can’t truly control how many books I sell. I can put together a good product and do my best to let buyers know it’s available, but I can’t make them buy.
So if I’m not successful because I meet my goals and it’s not about how much money I make, what’s left?
I think for me to be a successful author, it’s about the writing. It’s about being engaged in the process, the nitty-gritty draft and edit and read and learn and polish. It’s bringing characters to life and exploring the world through them, and it’s readers who tell me they love my work. It’s the alchemy of creativity and craft, organizing words into thoughts and recording them with care and attention so they’re telling the story’s truth.
I may not have an Olympic gold medal – or an NYT best seller – but I am writing. And by that measure, I’ve been a lot more successful than I realized.
Here’s the deal. I had a book release on September 4th and I’ll have another one September 23rd. I’m helping organize the Emerald City Writers’ Conference in October, and I’ve also stepped in as president of the Rainbow Romance Writers chapter of RWA. (And tbh, I believe in what the the organization is trying to do, but right now supporting RWA is exhausting.)
Also, also, I’m trying to plot the next book in the Soulmates series, and I’ve got research to do – like, two books to read, for starters – for The Pirate’s Vampire (sequel to The Vampire’s Pirate that released last week). And any day now Irene will be sending me the next scene for Benedictus, Book 3 in our Hours of the Night series.
That’s…a lot. (If you have read last month’s post, you might notice I haven’t mentioned the 1950s murder mystery I had on my list. I’ve decided to keep it on the back burner in the interest of honing in on my brand – vampires/paranormal – which is in itself a good subject for a blog post. Maybe I’ll do branding next month.)
You might be wondering how I’m keeping up with it all. Heh. I’m wondering that, myself. There are probably as many ways to stay organized as there are writers, you know? The way I see it, though, a successful approach has to include both the big picture and the daily work in a way that makes sense.
I’ve tried a couple different strategies that didn’t work particularly well. For years, every January I’d come up with a list of goals. I’d use Word or Excel and try to block out what I wanted to get done when.
And then I’d ignore those lists and spend most of the year jumping from thing to thing.
Then 3-ish years ago, I joined a Facebook group dedicated to the use of planners for authors. I bought a pretty, spiral bound notebook planner and actually used it, more or less. I liked that I could make weekly to-do lists, but it still didn’t give me a fluid way of connecting my annual goals to what was happening on a week-to-week basis.
I’m pretty sure that someone in that Facebook group first mentioned Trello. It’s a project management app, and while I probably use about 1/10th of its functionality, that 1/10th is exactly what I need. There are a kajillion different templates for all kinds of business and educational applications, but I use a series of very simple boards.
I don’t know why Trello works for me. Maybe it’s the pretty pictures or the way I can change things with a couple of clicks, but I’ve been more successful using it than any other organization tool I’ve come across. For sure, the phone app makes it easy for me to add to my to-do list when I remember something random and to check things off when I’m not at my laptop. Trello is the easiest way I’ve found to translate goals into action, and I’m pretty danged proud of what I’ve accomplished this year.
If you’ve got a cool organizational tool, leave me a comment. I’m still open to learning something new!
Yesterday I saw a “What are you working on?” query on FB and responded with “I’ve got this, and this, and this, and this in progress.”
And those are just my actual writing projects. I’m also involved in two different chapters of RWA (for Reasons) and both have ongoing projects and then there’s the day(night) job, which has apparently decided to seek revenge for the month I took off in April.
It’s all good stuff, but I’m a bit fried.
For today’s post, I thought it would be fun to run through my spinning plates, so you know what’s on the horizon…
Dáire Malone has been undead for over 200 years when he is summoned to the home of a would-be queen, a vampiress who possesses an unnatural potency. She declares that Malone will not leave without giving her a pledge of loyalty.
He’s been held in thrall before and would rather face his final death than let another have power over him.
Thomas Clifton is a pirate, or rather, a privateer. He too is summoned to the vampiress’s home and commanded to pledge his fealty to her. Clifton’s allegiance lies only with the man he sees in the mirror, and his first impulse is to run.
But Dáire Malone’s aura of mystery and his melancholy beauty appeal to Clifton, and Malone won’t leave until they destroy the source of the vampiress’s magic. Caught between opposing impulses, Clifton must choose.
Leave, and lose Malone, or stay and risk his freedom…and his life.
First up, THE VAMPIRE’S PIRATE! A sweet little novella that poses the question, “what if Bridgerton had vampires?” Actually, PIRATE is set in 1805 New Orleans, so the time period similar to Bridgerton, even if the location is different. This book’ll be available FREE as part of a multi-author giveaway that starts tomorrow – Friday, 8/20/21. Here’s the link to the promo so you can bookmark it. The giveaway runs until 9/3/21 and after that, PIRATE will be available at all ebook retailers.
There’s no easy way to come back from the dead…
…and Connor MacPherson is living with the consequences. He may be back in Trajan’s life – and in his bed – but the trust they once shared is gone.
Some days it feels like David is the only thing holding their threesome together.
When Trajan and David stumble over a murdered kitsune, Connor is drawn into the investigation. He uses that murder to cover a second inquiry, one he’s bound by his oath to the Elites to keep secret – specifically from Trajan.
Then David uncovers his covert search, and if Connor’s own internal conflict is painful, seeing how it hurts David makes it even worse.
But they don’t know the secret Trajan’s keeping, a command that could destroy everything. Trajan’s maker has ordered him to kill, and if they don’t rebuild their damaged trust, this time death will be permanent.
TESTED is book 2 in my Soulmates series (m/m/m paranormal romance), and I’m busily editing the manuscript so it’ll be ready for a 9/23/21 release date. The official cover reveal will be on JoyfullyJay‘s blog 9/2/21. I’m sooooo excited for this one!
The next spinning plate doesn’t have an official cover yet. Heck, it doesn’t even have an official title. I’ve been working with The Blue Sky Murders, although that title is subject to change. Basically, the BSM is the start of a mystery series set in 1950 Seattle, about a PI who was an MP in the second World War. He’s hired to follow a young man who just inherited a whole bunch of money and he shows up just in time to see the young man get murdered. He then spends the rest of the book solving the crime and fighting his own demons. Fun stuff! I’ll be (hopefully) pitching it to a couple of publishers this fall. (Also, a red Cadillac plays a key role, so pretend the Mustang is a Caddy.)
The project I’m arguably the most excited about, is BENEDICTUS, book 3 in the Hours of the Night series I co-write with Irene Preston. We started this book in 2017, y’all, but life has a way of messing with even the best plans. At any rate, here we are, four years older and four years wiser, with four years more experience as writers which’ll hopefully pay off as we bring Thaddeus and Sara their happily every after.
But first we’re going to mess with them in a big way!
Just a couple other bullet points to share. One of the bigger projects I’m working on is the Emerald City Writers’ Conference, put on by the Greater Seattle Chapter of RWA. The ECWC will by 10/15- 10/17, and it’s on-line only this year. Registration is $150, and we have a fantastic line-up of presenters, as well as agents and editors who want to hear your pitches!
And FINALLY – for reals, this time – if you’re in the Seattle area, the Shanty Tavern is having their grand reopening on Friday, September 10th. The Shanty’s over on Lake City Way, one of the last survivors of the days when Lake City was it’s own place. The Shanty only opens Friday nights and there’s always live music of both kinds – country and western. (Random Blues Brothers reference…lol…) At any rate, for their first post-pandemic show, my husband’s band The Fentons will open for the 1Uppers, so if you’re in the ‘hood, come say hi!
When I was growing up, my town had a magnificent public library. Downstairs was the children’s section. It encompassed everything from board books to chapter books. Many of my favorites, like Susan Cooper, Lloyd Alexander, and Madeleine L’Engle, were relegated to this section, because of the age of the characters or the perceived audience for the content. We’d now probably call this Middle Grade, but I selected books from these shelves well into high school, because the stories rocked and the writing was epic. Upstairs, they had a small but dedicated Young Adult section, featuring the likes of Tamora Pierce, Vivian Vande Velde, and Jane Yolen. I spent a lot of time here, and read so many amazing stories. But the selection was frankly a little sparse. Which meant that eventually, I wandered into the wide, weird world of Adult. Which in my library, at least, meant everything else.
The thing was, there was no road map out there in everything else. I read dry classics that had zero kissing, let alone anything spicier. I found graphic novel series that triggered existential crises (Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, in case you’re looking for a spectacular mind-cuss). I stumbled upon novels with way more adult themes than I was looking for (thanks for the mental scarring, Mists of Avalon.) The point is, once you pass Young Adult, there’s very little in the way of guidance as far as content goes.
That was the late 90s/early 2000s, but the problem I ran into as a young teen still remains. Although some have made a concerted effort to add a new category to the ones we’re already familiar with, New Adult–or NA–fiction has failed to achieve lift-off. And I think that’s a shame.
For those of you not in the know, “New Adult” was coined in 2009 when St. Martin’s Press held a writing contest calling for “fiction similar to YA that can be published and marketed as adult—sort of an ‘older YA’ or ‘new adult.” Since then, the genre has faced criticism and push-back. Some claim it’s nothing more than “smutty YA,” while many booksellers believe it’s nothing more than a marketing farce. Some publishers will throw your manuscript right out the window if you frame it as NA, while others look for books in the genre but want to either age them up or down to fit into YA or Adult.
Look—I write YA. I read YA. I love YA, and always will. But there really is an odd little liminal zone between YA and Adult, both for readers and authors. I grew up on YA and will read it until the day I die, but I’m also a 33 year old woman who occasionally likes a little spice in her books, if you catch my drift. As an author, I also struggle with the bounds of YA—sometimes I wish I could age my characters beyond their teen years and give them bigger responsibilities and bigger problems without automatically pushing my book into the Adult genres.
And the weird thing is, New Adult does exist, whether the label officially does or not. There have been a mess of books out in the past few years that I would personally class as NA. Anything written by Sarah J. Maas seems to fall in the category, but one of her series is shelved in YA and the other is shelved in Adult despite both having similar themes and content. Shelby Mahurin’s Serpent & Dove series seems a perfect fit, but is billed as upper YA, whatever that means. Jennifer L. Armentrout’s runaway hit From Blood and Ash is billed as Adult, but with a late-teen protagonist, plenty of coming-of-age themes, and a lot of ahem hands on action, it seems pretty much made for NA. Basically, there are plenty of people reading and clamoring for books featuring the originality, quality world-building, and well-drawn characters we’ve come to expect from modern YA, but with more mature themes, characters, and yes, a little spice.
So whether it’s named or not, New Adult exists. We may all be more familiar with the traditional categories of Children’s, Middle Grade, Young Adult, and Adult. But those categories are all pretty arbitrary themselves. So why not make space for a new category? Come on, publishing industry! This isn’t just some fad that’s going to disappear. We want New Adult, and we want it now! (At least, I do.)
Do you read “New Adult” books? Or do you prefer the genres as they stand? Any thoughts welcome in the comment section below!
I am over-the-moon excited! I’m finally a hybrid author! This has been a long time coming and I am so excited to write these books. Here’s a little more about them:
Sex and the City: A Cultural History This book will provide cultural context and analysis of the famous show, both how it affected cultural as it aired and also how it looks now 20+ years later. Some topics include:
Looking at what it means to relate to each of the girls (ala, Are you a Carrie? A Samantha? A Miranda? A Charlotte?)
What the men in the show illustrate about masculinity and what that means about the kind of men women are attracted to.
Issues like diversity or lack thereof, treatment of sex and sexuality, LGBTQIA portrayal.
How the show made New York a character, built brands, influenced fashion and reflected third wave feminism.
And a lot more!
I have an end of year deadline, so hopefully the book will come out around the time the reboot, And Just Like That, airs.
Fierce Females in Television: A Cultural History
This book will briefly discuss the nature of physically strong women on TV from the 1950s-1980s, but will focus specifically on the 1990s to today because that is when we saw a major ramp up in the portrayal of these kinds of women.
Shows covered include: Xena: Warrior Princess (1995-2001), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003), Charmed (1998-2006), Alias (2001-2006), Nikita (2010-2013), Agent Carter (2015-2016), Jessica Jones (2015-2019), Game of Thrones (2011-2019), and Homeland (2011-2020).
Some of the topics include:
An analysis of the main female characters on each show.
The meaning of female strength and friendships/family.
The influence of third- and fourth-wave feminism on the shows and their characters.
Treatment of sex and diversity.
The role of redemption narratives and change in female lives.
This book will be out sometime in 2023/24.
Between these, the League of Women Voters book (due Oct. 4) and at least one work of historical fiction, you know what my next few months and even my 2022 will look like!
The other night I took part in an author panel for the ConTinual: the Con that Never Ends Facebook page and the topic was beach reads. Since it seems like we’ll actually be able to go to the beach this summer – even those who don’t live near one because travel is opening back up – I thought it would be fun to share ideas about what makes a good beach read and maybe suggest one or two.
When I say “beach read”, what kind of book do you think of?
Tbh, my own definition is fairly broad: books that have words strung together in sentences. (That’d be all books, lol.) Maybe it comes from having attended the University of Hawaii, where it’s possible I lugged nursing textbooks onto the sand to “study”, but I’ll read just about anything on the beach.
Having done this panel, though, I know some of you have higher standards. The general theme of our discussion was that beach reads should be both low angst and escapist. Fluffy, if you will. Or if not fluffy, at least not so demanding that you can’t put it aside when it’s time to take a dip or to order another one of those little umbrella drinks.
Based on the (highly unscientific) panel, I can confidently say that the best Beach Reads fall into a handful of categories. Ymmv, but here’s what I learned, along with a suggestion or two for each one…
My first suggestion in the Romance category is Totally Folked by Penny Reid. She’s a fantastic writer and a very cool person, and while I haven’t read all of her books, this one looks like fun. I’m always here for intelligent characters acting naughty and falling in love. (lol!) Totally Forked doesn’t come out until July 20th, which’ll be great timing for a late summer getaway!
For those of you who like historical romances, I can absolutely recommend The Labours of Lord Perry Cavendish by Joanna Chambers. It’s actually the 4th book in her Winterbourne series, but it’s the first featuring a pair of side characters from the earlier books, so it reads like a stand-alone. If you’re intrigued by the idea of a Regency cinnamon roll hero falling for a fussy artist, this is your book!
Urban fantasy series make good beach reads because they definitely take you to an altered version of reality and they’re spooky but not too scary. Tbh I haven’t stumbled on a new UF series in a while, so I’m going to recommend a classic of the genre. The Hollows series by Kim Harrison features the witch Rachel Morgan and a whole host of other paranormal creatures. The worldbuilding for the series is complex and interesting, and I’m still angry about a certain death which tells you how real these characters are to me. Highly recommend!
And while we’re at it, my fellow Scribe Shauna Granger writes urban fantasy-adjacent stories. Check out her Elemental books or her Matilda Kavanaugh series, because girlfriend knows her way around the paranormal and her books are a whole lot of fun!
Are you into podcasts? One of my favorites is Shedunnit, by Caroline Crampton. She’s a huge fan of Golden Age mysteries, books that were written between WW1 and WW2. (Think Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers and other authors of their era, and you’ll be right on.) The podcast slices and dices all angles of those Golden Age books, and I generally end up hitting Amazon or Powells Books after each episode. (lol!)
Somehow I managed to get to a fairly advanced age before reading my first Lord Peter Wimsey book, and I regret not having started before now! Whose Body is thoroughly entertaining, and an excellent introduction to both the character and to the Golden Age sub-genre. I also really liked Patricia Wentworth’s The Black Cabinet, because her language is so good and the characters are so vibrant. Spend your vacation getting busy with the classics!!
Okay, so, is there a better time to read a Stephen King novel about a beach then when you’re actually on a beach? I don’t think so. (lol!) I’m too much of a wimp to read Stephen King any time, anywhere, but for those of you who are braver, Duma Key is an excellent choice…especially if you happen to be on a beach in Florida.
(And fwiw, my fear of SKing stems from having read The Shining while living in a big old house with lots of shadows and creaking floors and whatnot, during November when the sun sets before 5pm. This was in 1980. I promised myself I’d never do that again, and I’ve kept that promise!)
So there you have it! Books I’ve read, books I’m going to read, and books I’m terrified of reading. (lol!) I hope you have plans for a vacation this summer, and even if it’s not on the beach, that you’ll have some time for a relaxing read!
Leave me a comment with your favorite beach read. I’m always up for suggestion!!
And fyi, click HERE to check out the ConTinualFacebook page. There are all kinds of panels and discussions about books & reading, and while our beach reads panel isn’t up yet, there are lots of others worth watching.
Real Talk: as the mom of a six month old, I haven’t yet found any kind of rhythm when it comes to writing. I promise myself that the second she goes down for a nap, I’m going to jump right on my laptop and pound out a few hundred words. But realistically, there are so many things I feel like I have to do around the house or for basic self-care that writing often falls all the way to the bottom of the priority pile. What I do have time for–between marathon feeding sessions and contact naps–is reading. My Kindle has been getting a real work out lately. But as someone with a back-log of story ideas, it can be frustrating to exclusively read other peoples’ stories when I kind of wish I had time to work on my own.
Then, the idea struck me: what if I peppered some craft books into the mix? Then I would at least feel like I was preparing or honing my skills for when I finally had the time to write. The only question was, which craft books? I’ve already read Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, Story Engineering by Larry Brooks, The Hero’s Journey by Joseph Campbell, On Writing by Stephen King, and Romancing the Beat by Gwen Hayes. Fortunately, the answer was dropped into my lap when an author I follow on Instagram mentioned the method she uses to outline–Anatomy of Story, by John Truby.
Now, I usually approach these craft books with a hefty grain of salt. First of all, I’ve been writing for long enough to know that every author’s process is different and what works for someone else is not necessarily going to work for me. No point in trying to fit my square peg into someone else’s round hole. Second of all, a lot of the “beat sheet” methods strike me as underwhelming and a bit unspecific–I struggle with the idea that all stories “must” follow these precise structures to be successful. I want a craft book that will guide me, inspire me, and deepen my process, not boil it down to a generic three acts, seven plot points, and three pinch points.
So far, Truby’s book is that and more. I feel like I’ve been highlighting every other passage on my Kindle! But one line in particular shook me to my core, and I want to share it with you all in case it helps you as much as it helps me.
Step 1: Write Something That May Change Your Life. This is a very high standard, but it may be the most valuable piece of advice you’ll ever get as a writer. I’ve never seen a writer go wrong following it. Why? Because if a story is that important to you, it may be that important to a lot of people in the audience. And when you’re done writing the story, no matter what else happens, you’ve changed your life.
Anatomy of Story, by John Truby
Superficially, this isn’t the most novel advice in the world. It’s a variation of “Write the book you want to read.” But for me, that last line gave me chills. Because it shifts all of the focus from the external outcome to the internal outcome, which is something I’ve struggled with since the very first query letter I sent out into the world. From the moment I decided to “become an author,” I’ve grappled with what success could and would look like to me. Getting an agent? Getting a book deal? Hitting a best-seller list? Selling a million copies? I found that I could never define what success would look like, and whenever I did manage to hit a milestone, I found my own goal-posts had already moved.
In the past few years I’ve tried to shift that focus back to the internal, but it’s harder than it sounds. Even when I tell myself that I’m just writing something for me, or just writing the book I want to read, or just writing for fun, the fact of the matter is that writing books will never just be a hobby for me again. I’ve sunk years and tears and too much love into this career to never try to publish another novel. So how do I balance those external expectations with those internal motivations?
I think that’s why this advice from Truby resonated with me so much. He’s not telling you to simply write for fun, or for yourself. He’s not even telling you to write the book you want to read. He’s encouraging you to do so much more than that–he’s encouraging you to write the book that may change your life. He’s asking you to dig so deep, work so hard, and aim so high that the end result will literally transform you.
I find this idea daunting, but so inspiring. No one–not a craft book, not a friend, not a mentor, not even myself–has ever asked so much of me. So I’m going to try to follow his advice. The story I write may not sell a million copies. It may not hit any bestseller lists. It may not even get published.
But what does any of that even matter if I’ve changed my own life?
A necessary evil, or The Monster That Ate Your Dreams?
I got an email this morning from an author who regularly coordinates book promotions and invites all her friends to participate. Today’s email included a link to a Facebook page for authors who are interested in building a supportive LGBTQ Romance community on TikTok.
She had me until she got to that last word. I mean, I know TikTok is a thing, and I’ve heard it’s a great way for authors to connect with new readers. I even know a couple of authors who have made the leap and are TikToking away.
So far, I have not joined them.
See, if I draw a line connecting the authors I know who have jumped on the TikTok wagon, I find a couple of common traits. They’re either full-time authors, or they’re younger than me. Or both.
I shared a link to the FB page with my writing partner Irene, and after some discussion, we decided we were both undecided. (Lol!) She recently met The Gang* for happy hour (*a group of her author friends) and one was all excited about the new platform and shared a bunch of popular hashtags.
I feel like we’ve been invited to join an exclusive club with secret codes and everything.
The thing is, though, Irene and I both have fairly demanding day jobs and are trying to fit this writing thing in wherever we can. And honestly, my goals for 2021 included things like “publish 4 novels/novellas” and “study writing craft through books and classes” and “recruit agents & editors for this fall’s Emerald City Writers’ Conference”.
Nowhere on my goal list was there anything about conquering a social media platform that was invented like fifteen minutes ago.
Part of my reluctance stems from the fact that, while TikTok may well connect me with new readers, I wonder if they’ll be my readers. One of the basic lessons in book promotion has to do with knowing your audience and identifying your target reader. While I know readers don’t always conform to a predictable demographic, I’m also pretty sure that the readers I’m trying to reach skew a little bit older than what I imagine for the TikTok crowd.
Of course, I’m basing this on a guess, because my experience of TikTok is the occasional silly clip my kids share or that I stumble over on Twitter. And they do make me laugh. The people who excel at the format are really, really clever.
Hmm. Maybe deep down, I’m worried that nobody will want to see a grey-haired old lady trying to be funny when all she wants to do is finish the damned novella for the August giveaway and get back to work on Benedictus (Hours of the Night book 3).
As usual with one of my writing posts, I start with a title that suggests I know something about a topic and then proceed to rant for five hundred words, leaving you with a heartfelt suggestion. And today’s suggestion?
You’re going to have to figure it out for yourself.
I don’t say that just to be snarky. (Okay, maybe a little snarky, but mostly not.) Because another basic rule of book promotion is to be authentic. If you like Twitter (bless your heart), tweet away. (Lol! Joking. I’m on Twitter daily.) If FB is your thing, focus your content efforts there. There are about a bazillion ways to promote your books – promos and giveaways and the like – and while some are expensive (Bookbub) others only cost you the time it takes you to write the book and put it out there.
And if TikTok is your thing, leave a link to your page in the comments. Can’t promise I’ll join you there, but you never know…
And just to prove me n’ Irene can change with the times…do you Radish?
Earlier this month, Irene and I republished Vespers (m/m vampire romance with a 100-year old monk and his college grad demon-fighting assistant) on Radish, the serial reading app that’s optimized for your phone. Vespers is now called Vampire’s Sin, and we fancied up the cover (b/c we had to get rid of the text) and you can download the first six episodes for FREE to see if you like it. Click HERE to see more!