Starting Fresh

I know, I know, fellow Scribe Liv just wrote a post about New Year’s resolutions. But it’s that time of year when we all look back on the old year and welcome in the new, and I’ve been doing a fair amount of reflection on the things that have served me that I want to welcome along with me, and how to say goodbye to the things that didn’t.

2018 was a big year for me! Most notably, it was my publishing debut year. That came with a lot of incredible firsts for me. My first glimpse of the cover artwork for my book, which coincided with another big landmark–my 30th birthday! I signed nearly twenty thousand copies of the book for a total of six (!!!) different book subscription boxes, and then had to keep that fact a secret for nearly six months. I got my first trade reviews, including my first run in with the dreaded Kirkus monster. I got my first glowing peer reviews, and then I got my first scathing peer review. I corresponded with my first “fans.” I tried to ignore being tagged on social media for one-star reviews.

I laughed. I cried. I tasted each sugary high and bitter low and tried to savor them both, because they were all part of this crazy dream coming true at last. But now–just over one month after release–I’m looking into 2019 with a few new intentions, while also trying to bid farewell to a few old habits that are no longer serving me.

Overcoming the sophomore novel slump. Oh, friends. Let me tell you, the sophomore jinx is real. I’m not allowed to give any details about the book I’m writing yet, but I will say that it is breaking me. I was warned about this by friends, fellow writers, even my agent, and I’m ashamed to say I didn’t believe them. “But I’ve written five-full length novels before!” I said, carefree and cocksure. “How could this be any different?”

Well, it feels super different. But I plan to keep reminding myself that this book begins with a first line, and ends with a last. I’m the same person who wrote my debut and all those other books before it, and that means that I’ve only gotten better than before. I have to keep trusting myself and my writerly instincts, and putting in the work until the thing is done.

Breaking up with my phone. Hi, I’m Lyra, and I’m an addict. It’s gotten pretty bad, people. I feel like I’m constantly reaching for my phone in every spare moment, scrolling mindlessly through my social media feeds or swiping dully at Candy Crush or some other dumb games. I really really want to cut down on phone time, so if anyone has any genius tips or apps (ironic, I know) to help cut the proverbial cord, let me know!

Inviting more ambient creativity into my life. Somehow, along the journey of turning my writing into a profession, I forgot how to create for fun. I used to draw, and sing, and write bad poetry, and read for pleasure. Now it seems like I’m either grimly plugging away at a book or story I’m trying to sell, or dicking around on my phone (see above) while watching Netflix. I want to pick up a pencil and doodle. I want to journal again. I want to try my hand at a Bob Ross tutorial. I want to join a choir. I want to write something no one else will ever see, in long-hand.

Sometimes I feel like by becoming a writer, I opened a front door of creativity but then closed all the windows. I want to open those windows again, to let some of that light back in.

What are your intentions or resolutions for the New Year? Let me know!


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In the Mood for a Holiday Read? Try a Christmas Anthology!

So, a Christmas anthology that I’m  part of, Tangled Lights and Silent Nights, was just published this past Sunday. I’m really excited because I’ve wanted to be part of an anthology since I was a teenager and read Return to Avalon, an Arthurian anthology. It always felt like it would be such an honor to be asked to write alongside others in your field, and it is! I don’t normally write short, but I challenged myself and managed it – hopefully well. You can be the judge.

There are several cool aspects to this anthology:

  1. All of the stories tie into previously published books by the authors. So, for example, mine is about Victoria Woodhull and crew, who are featured in Madame Presidentess.
  2. It is multi-genre, so there should be something in there for everyone. We have women’s fiction, crime thriller, fantasy (epic, urban and contemporary), historical, romance (contemporary and dark), mystery (cozy and general), humor and LGBT stories.
  3. All proceeds benefit Life After, a charity dedicated to educating about and helping those who suffer from suicide, substance abuse, and domestic violence.

My Story: A Vanderbilt Christmas
In 1872, Victoria Woodhull made history by becoming the first woman to run for president of the United States. But four years earlier she was still struggling to overcome her shameful past and establish herself in New York’s high society. She has finally secured an entre into that glittering world by way of an invitation to Christmas Eve dinner at the home of railroad and shipping magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt. But when her uncouth family crashes the party and threatens to send her social status spiraling, it will take a Christmas miracle to recover her reputation and keep her dreams on track.

My story is a tie-in to my biographical historical fiction novel Madame Presidentess. Victoria Woodhull may seem like an odd choice for a Christmas story, and I agree. Actually, she wasn’t my first choice. I had two drafts of stories involving Guinevere from my Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy Arthurian legend novels. But given our strict word limit, I was having problems explaining the Celtic winter solstice rituals and telling my story in the allotted space. Anything winter solstice or even early Christian Christmas is so different from what we know today that I didn’t want to risk not doing the stories justice. (For example, in fifth century Christianity, there was no Advent season yet and the Christmas celebration actually included three different Masses, each with their own symbolism and meaning.)

Then I remembered that one of the scenes I deleted from Madame Presidentess took place at Christmas. (It involved Cornelius Vanderbilt asking Victoria’s sister, Tennie, to marry him, which really did happen. She had to say no because she was already married to a gambler who abandoned her. Seriously, history is stranger than fiction.) This was a much better choice because the Victorian period is when some of our most beloved Christmas traditions became popular: Queen Victoria made Christmas trees a widespread thing, Christmas cards began being sent in the mail, and Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol.

As it turned out, the story I submitted was totally different from the scene I started with, but it got me on the right track. And I had a lot of fun researching what was served at Victorian Christmas dinners, what people wore and what the decor would have looked like. If you want a sneak peek into my brain, check out my Pinterest board on the story. (That hideous plaid dress is what Victoria’s mom wore to the party.)

I ended up placing the story right when Victoria and Tennie were starting to become comfortable in their life working with Cornelius Vanderbilt. Victoria is ambitious as always and she sees her coveted invitation to Christmas Eve dinner at Mr. Vanderbilt’s mansion as a way for her to get a foot in the door with the New York elite, whom she longs to be a part of. But as happened so many times during her life, Victoria’s low-class family comes along and nearly ruins it by inviting themselves to the dinner. You’ll have to read the story to find out how, but it involves a brawl, a fire and some stolen Christmas gifts…

As usual, when Victoria’s family is around, trouble is sure to follow.

Order your copy today! But hurry, the paperback price goes up next week! Remember, all proceeds go to charity.

Do Writers Have Worth Beyond Their Debut?

Are debut novels magical?
(Source: Adobe Stock)

It has long bothered me that the publishing world gives massive attention to debut authors. I know it is in keeping with they “hey look, shiny and new!” mindset of Hollywood and the world in general, but I feel like it is disingenuous to all other authors. Last weekend’s New York Times Book Review really irritated me because they devoted an ENTIRE issue to fall’s debut authors.

Oddly enough, the New York Times itself addressed the issue of the attention given to debuts in 2016. One of the contributors writes, “A debut novel is a piece of the writer’s soul in a way that subsequent books can’t ever quite be.” I don’t agree with that. Yes, the debut author was able to tinker with it without the pressures of business looming (more about this below), but I don’t think just because it is your first time doing something that means it has more of your soul. I care deeply about each one of my books, and each one is a part of me, no more or less on my sixth than on my first. If that ever changes, that is the day I need to stop publishing.

Why does the attention to debut authors bother me so much?

1) It gives the impression that only debut authors matter. Yes, we all like to know what/who is new and up-and-coming, but there is a reason wisdom comes with age and experience. Rare indeed is the author who hits it big with their first (or even first published) book. Even publishing industry insiders admit they have no idea what will hit and what won’t. From the same NY Times article: “It’s impossible to know for certain whether the top picks will become huge stars or disappointments who never fulfill their extraordinary promise.” So why to they persist in that model? Her answer boils down to (and I’m paraphrasing here) “Hey, life isn’t fair. No one said publishing was a meritocracy.”

I get that. But still, the constant trumpeting of debut authors leaves everyone else in the shadows. “Oh, this your second/fourth/seventh/twelfth book? Yeah, no one cares…Who’s the hot new debut?” is not a mindset that helps authors who may have not been struck by lightning the first time around and had to write their way into learning how to produce fantastic novels (which is 99.5% of the authors out there).

Take F. Scott Fitzgerald for example. His best-known book is undoubtedly The Great Gatsby. It was his third book. If he had been one of the chosen debut authors today, he would constantly have had to live with This Side of Paradise, his debut, as the measuring stick by which all of his other books were judged. Paradise did well, but it wasn’t a huge money-maker. By today’s standards, it may not have earned him a second book, much less that fated third.

2) It puts enormous pressure on those debut authors to succeed. If they did well enough with their books to get major media attention, chances are good they also have large advances to try to earn out, which is enough stress. And honestly, especially in the area of literary fiction, most of those highly-touted debuts were meticulously workshopped in MFA programs, which gave the authors a chance to revise, revise and revise again, something they won’t have once they are under contract. To take an example from popular fiction, look at Veronica Roth. Divergent was FANTASTIC and it was her MFA book. The next two books paled in comparison. And she was one of the lucky ones who attracted enough of a following who stuck with her.

Many of these OMG prodigies disappear after their debut or second or third book because they were either dropped by their publisher when the next book(s) didn’t do as well or they burned out from all the pressure. Harper Lee is a great example. Now, I don’t know her story well, so maybe she was only ever intending to publish one book, but it seems more like she was stifled by her own success, a theory that The Telegraph seems to espouse. “Much more common is the writer who is effectively destroyed by a single huge success. The burden of fame and acclaim weighs down particularly on the creative faculties.” Or as my mom would say, “if you start out on top, there is nowhere to go but down.” Honestly, I feel sorry for these authors.

3) It gives the impression that your first book is the only one that will matter or is the best you will deliver. I don’t know about anyone else, but my books get better with each one (if I do say so myself). That is because I learn and grow and change and expand my skill set with practice. I mean, Daughter of Destiny was good and won a lot of awards, but when I read it now, even I can see how much my writing has changed and strengthened. I am grateful I didn’t have someone presenting me as the greatest thing since sliced bread back then because I wasn’t. I’m still not. Maybe someday I will be. But one thing obscurity has done for me is allowed me to make mistakes and grow and change at my own pace.

These highly-publicized debut authors don’t have that. They will always have to measure up to the bar set by that first book. And that bar often is not set by how good the book is, but by how skilled its publicist is. If they blow a crappy book out of proportion, then the author has to hope they will do the same for the next however many it takes for their work to not be crappy. Whereas if the same debut was treated like any other book, they would only have to live up to or surpass a realistic standard.

Don’t get me wrong – some debuts are totally worth all the press. Take J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter for example. But I don’t know that I would want my debut to be considered my masterpiece. If it is, then what else is there to strive for? What is the point of the rest of your career?

I could talk to the New York Times until I’m blue in the face and they wouldn’t listen. But I think the focus on debut authors is a relic of the old model of publishing that is daily proving itself in need of an overhaul. The same writer I argued with at the opening of this blog also noted, “Sometimes it is the case that a novelist, debut or otherwise, writes a great book that doesn’t reach the right readership and fails by sales standards, which makes her less appealing to publishers next time around. That’s a dangerous model.”

It’s an irony of the industry as well because as many new authors (and several of our Spellbound Scribes) can attest, publishing houses are reluctant to take on debut authors for the simple fact that they are unknown and untested. But yet, when they do, they make a big deal out of some of them being the next big thing. I know it all has to do with making money, but it makes no sense, especially in an age when we can choose to publish our debuts ourselves.

I have no answers. I just wanted to get this out there. What are your thoughts on the subject?

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!

Behind the Scenes of Self Publishing–Paperback Edition

As you know, if you’ve been following along with my posts, I have a new release coming out on June 1st–less than a month away, EEEEEP!

Being self-published that means a few different things than it does for a traditionally published writer–including being able to try out a Friday release instead of the traditional Tuesday. And, as we’re all writers here, offering insight into the whole writing process, I thought I’d share a little bit of that with you guys.

The beginning is exactly the same. We all start with a spark of inspiration, then develop that into a story, then kill ourselves over the next 4 to 156 weeks trying to write the damn thing.

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Then we put the book away (or at least, we should). For me, I’ll set a book aside for between 1 to 6 weeks depending on how difficult the book was to write. Then I print it out and go over it for revisions/edits/plot holes/etc. Then I put those changes into the computer. It’s at this point I awkwardly ask betas/critique partners to read it for me.

And then you wait.

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Once I get it back from them I compare notes. Then it’s revision time again.

Then, on to the editor!

Some self-published writers will try to avoid this step because it is the most expensive step, but there’s a reason for that: editing is the most important thing you can do after you’ve written the book. You need an editor to rip that thing apart and fix it. I don’t care how awesome you are. I have a New York Times best selling author I used to love, but I could tell when she finally made it to the point where she could include a no-edit clause in her contracts. I don’t read her books anymore.

At this point, when the book is with my editor, I’ll start on the cover. Now, depending on the book, either I will do it myself, or I’ll hire a digital artist. I cannot stress this enough, if you are not savvy with digital art, don’t do this yourself. I will only do simple covers. If my cover is for something more magical or detailed, I hire someone experienced. And when I do it myself, I don’t just pick a stock photo and stick my title on it in a white bar in simple font. I edit and digitally paint/alter the photo to fit the mood of the book.

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An example of something I feel comfortable enough doing myself.

Water before and after
And something I would have commissioned because holy crap, how do you even?

I pour over my title in fonts until I find the right one–just picking out the fonts can take me a few days–even if I’m having the cover commissioned, I like to pick out the fonts unless my artist has a better one in mind, which she often does. I go through photo sites for the cover for days until I find the one(s). I spend at least a week in my art program putting the cover together, usually mocking up three to choose from before I’m sure I’ve made something that fits the book and sells it. This takes a lot of time even without all the tricks my preferred cover artist does. Your cover is important. Even if you’re not going to do hard or paperbacks, the cover is still important. When someone is scrolling through the Zon or B&N or Kobo or wherever, the cover might make them stop and look at your book.

(If you’re on a tight budget, the two things I would recommend you spend your money on are an editor and a cover artist. And if you’d like to use mine, you can find my editor here and my cover artist here.)

Usually this is when I’ll set up pre-orders. Now that all the online retailers have finally allowed Self-Pubbers to set up pre-orders, we can finally get in on that action. Once I have the cover ready, I’ll write my book blurb and set it up the pre-order pages with temporary files for the manuscript (once you have the final draft, you come back and upload the final file before the publication date).

Now, once the book is edited and the ebooks are all taken care of, I’ll start on the paperback.

No, self-published writers don’t sell nearly as many physical books as traditionally published authors do. But I like to have the option. I just do paperback, mostly because I have so many titles, setting them up with hardback would be cost prohibitive for me. With Createspace I can get my paperback onto all the online retailers including libraries and BookBub.

And they have a guided, step-by-step process to help you get your book ready for publication.

You pick your book trim size and they give you a Word template to format the interior of your book. At this point, you want to make sure your line spacing, font size, page numbers, and chapter headings look good. Don’t forget your title page, your copyright page, your table of contents, dedication if you want, all before the first chapter page.

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Then, once you have that sorted, you can tell the site your dimensions (book size, paper color, page length) to get a cover template. This is the file you would send to your cover artist to ask them to expand your cover to a paperback cover. Or you use it yourself to make yours.

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Then, once CS approves it (or emails you and tells you you screwed up, fix it please and you do it all over again and again until you get it right), this is what it looks like.

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Another cover I did myself — I even took the photo on the back cover!

And you can see what the inside looks like too!

digital proofer for blog

You can either approve the digital proof or, and I highly recommend this, you order a proof copy to be printed and mailed to you so you can see if the printing is perfect or screwed up.

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See how the spine wrapped around to the front cover on the top one, but not on the bottom one.

But, once it’s all done, and all perfect, then you can step back and admire your beautiful books on a bookshelf.

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This isn’t for the impatient. I promise you. Yes, there are people who you can pay to go through all of this for you. You tell them what you want your book to look like and they’ll do all the formatting for you and just email you the files you need to upload to CS and be done with it. And if you have the budget for it, go for it. But if you don’t, with a little patience and practice, you can do this yourself, I promise.

Cover and Title Reveal!

So, I am very nearly done with the eighth installment of my Urban Fantasy series: The Matilda Kavanagh Novels.

One of my most hated favorite things about books is figuring out the titles. Seriously though, they’re hard, but once you figure out the title, it’s awesome. Seven titles in, all being one word and a magical reference, I was stumped on this one. Until, suddenly, it hit me. I wasn’t sure until I did a mock up of the cover, and then seeing it? Yeah, I knew that was the title.

I’ve kept things pretty uniform with this series, creating a brand for it if you will, so once you get this far into a series you start to worry you’ve push it too far. Over done it and now it’s all starting to blur together like the same cover again and again. Some people may see it that way, but I think I’ve managed to keep them individual enough and I still dig em.

Anyway. I hope you guys like it, and if you’re a Matilda Kavanagh reader, the release date will be 9/5/17–just two months away! If you’re looking for a new series to binge, might I suggest this one? *end shameless plug*

Hexed

Pre-order links:

Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Kobo | Smashwords

Read, Watch, and Think Happy Thoughts

I’ll be honest, I totally forgot I had this post coming up until I got a notification on my phone last Thursday. As you can imagine, it was the last thing on my mind, but I knew I still had to write something.

Anything.

On the podcast this week, Kristin and I decided we’d just talk about stuff we’re geeking out about to keep it upbeat and positive for the listeners. That seemed like the right, and important thing to do. It ended up being a pretty cathartic experience, so I decided I’d do something similar for this post. In the spirit of positivity and happy thoughts, here’s a little list of some fun and lighthearted books and TV shows that might help take your mind off what’s going on in the world.

heroine-complexHeroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn

You probably think it’d be cool if your best friend was a superhero. And if you could be her sidekick, that would be pretty rad too, right? Maybe not so much.

Heroine Complex is the story of Evie Tanaka, personal assistant to her very demanding and very superpowered friend Aveda Jupiter. Evie is always playing second fiddle to Aveda, forced to cover for her antics and clean up her messes. But when Aveda is injured in combat, Evie is forced to stand in for her superfriend. And guess what? Evie had powers of her own!

This is a super (lol) fun and smart romp that highlights the important bonds of both friendship and family, even when trying to deal with burgeoning superpowers and battling demons from another dimension (demon cupcakes even!)

genrenautsGenrenauts by Michael R. Underwood

If you asked me what my favorite “type” of SFF or comic story is, I’d be hard pressed not to pick “Adventures Through the Multiverse”! Comics have done this a bunch of times, but I don’t see it as much in prose. Genrenauts does it, and in a spectacularly fun fashion.

The story follows floundering stand up comedian Leah Tang, who is given the opportunity to travel the multiverse to fix unraveling stories. Each world the Genrenauts attempt to save represents a different genre trope – western, sword and sorcery, romance – while at the same time turning those genre conventions on their heads.

The stories are lighthearted and adventurous – Leah is a snarky but loveable main character and her surrounding cast is full of diverse and engaging personalities.

steven-universeSteven Universe

I wrote a post about how wonderful Steven Universe a couple months ago on the Scribes, so I’ll keep this one short. While that post was mostly about how the lessons of SU can be applied to writing, it also gives you a good idea about the major themes of the show and how incredibly positive it is.

Steven Universe is one of the most heartfelt and inclusive shows I’ve ever seen. It eschews the bleakness and coldness of the real world for a warm, pastel-colored vision of place governed by the love of friendship and family.

 

 

 

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Azumanga Daioh

Okay this last pick is a bit of an oldie, but if there’s one piece of media I’d describe as “comfort food”, it’s Azumanga Daioh.

This anime is a simple slice of life comedy about a group of Japanese high school girls and their teachers. There’s no huge overarching plot, not big stakes that must be resolved, just a glimpse into the everyday lives of a quirky group of students and teachers.

It’s a low key and charming series, that can also be uproariously funny at times as well. Wrap yourself in this show like a warm blanket and let the worries of the world melt away.

Also there’s a cat who may or may not be Bill Clinton.

So friends, care to share some of other positive and uplifting media are you’re enjoying right now?