Behind The Scenes

The Gang’s All Here

For most of the first part of this week, I was down with the flu. Ick. I always seem to fall prey to the flu or a cold in late February/early March. I don’t know why, it’s a strange cycle for me. Even if I do my best to avoid sick people during that time frame, it finds me. Anyway, being sick meant lots of down time, and I thought to myself since being sick frees you of all obligations, maybe I’d get some writing done. Ha!

Instead, I binge-watched the first two seasons of Shameless on Netflix. If you’re unfamiliar with the show, it’s a dark comedy about a seasoned, neglectful (and wholly irredeemable) alcoholic and his six children (ranging in ages from 21 to 2) who are left to fend for themselves since he and his ex-wife have essentially abandoned them. The oldest, 21 year-old Fiona, becomes her siblings’ surrogate mother and fights hard to make ends meet and keep them from ending up in the foster system. And the show is, in a word, hypnotic. It’s also very, very adult, if you’re considering watching it, so be warned!

The thing is, I LOVE ensemble casts. Whether it’s in TV, movies, or books, I like a big, robust roster of characters who interact with each other but also have their own storylines. From the Lord of the Rings trilogy, to Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, to heck, Star Trek, I love a world populated with fleshed-out characters, not just background and side characters. My own Siren Song series is pretty much an ensemble cast, but I wish I had written it in third person omniscient, so I could have followed the lives of some of the other characters more closely. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll re-write it that way.

That’s not to say I don’t like stories that focus more tightly on just several characters, because I do. But a huge cast of characters feels like I get more bang for my buck, that I get many stories instead of just one.

How about you? Do you like lots of characters with lots of stories, or would you rather write/read a more tightly-focused character study?

Have a great weekend!

A Wild Week

Apologies for the lack of meaty posts on the blog this week. White Witch Magic came out this past Tuesday and I’ve been wrapped up in new release stuff and promotion. I promise next week it will be back to your regularly scheduled blogging, starting with a guest tour and giveaway! Until Monday…

The Evolution Of Writing Tools

I’ve had a lot of writing tools over the years. I started out in high school writing in notebooks. I got a manual Brother typewriter for Christmas when I was 12 or 13, but even by the standards of the day (goodness I’m dating myself, but 1989? 1990?) it was archaic, clunky, and hard to use, and the keys always stuck. The only way to correct typos was with white out paper (remember that stuff?), though you could buy ink cartridges with a correction ribbon as well. Nevertheless, I did type out a short story on it and sent it to a magazine. Hilariously, they sent it back unread because the typesetting was so bad as to be nearly unreadable. I was 14 and more optimistic than smart, what can I say?

My first ‘technological’ writing tool was a Brother word processor. MUCH better than a manual typewriter, but by today’s standards still a cumbersome, difficult piece of equipment. They keyboard part (which was also a typewriter) weighed about seven hundred pounds, and the cables to hook it up to the monitor were plentiful. Despite it being a huge advancement over a typewriter, its technological capabilities were limited. Printing anything took years, as it printed by literally typing out everything on the screen (and to print out an entire book took about six ink cartridges). It did take 3.5 disks though, which I saved tons and tons of stories on. I can no longer access those disks because the files on them can’t be read by newer technology. Nevertheless, I wrote many stories and books on it and submitted them to magazines and contests. I even got a short story published. I also had a ‘laptop’ word processor, but I didn’t have a printer to hook it up to so I mostly wrote fan fiction on it.

And then, in 2000, we got our first desktop computer. Oh, the ease of writing! The technology! The mountains of stories and books I wrote and submitted and had rejected! Truly astounding. The internet also enabled me to become a hugely popular fan fiction author, which is where I cut my writing teeth to full sharpness (I won’t tell you the fandom or my screen name, to spare my dignity, but there’s a few friends who read this whom I actually met through that writing).

And then on to laptops, eventually. With each new machine came better technology and a better version of Word. Just recently, I replaced my old laptop because I’d had it nearly four years and it was getting to the point it was usable, but not very efficient. Kind of like that one light switch in your house that’s wired backwards so you have to turn it off to turn it on, or the toilet handle you always have to jiggle. It’s comfortable and you know the workaround by heart, but why not fix the issue and do it without the unnecessary jumping through hoops and voodoo spells you have to cast to make it work right?

My new laptop types beautifully, has more memory, better graphics, more storage, and Word 2016 runs as smooth as butter, the words just flowing from my fingertips onto the screen like the technology is right inside my head. I’ve come all this way from pounding sticky keys and cramping my hand with a pen and notebook. Do I miss the old ways? No, not at all. But nostalgia isn’t always about wishing you could do something the hard way again.

How have your writing tools evolved?

Multitasking For The Creative Author

For most of my writing life, I’ve been a pretty single-minded author; that is, I only work on one project at a time. Writing a book is a task that takes focus. Every day you go back to the keyboard, pick up where you left off, and continue the story. It’s a lot of mental work that can sometimes be difficult and stressful. At other times it’s a joy, of course, and that’s why we still do it. This has usually been my method: keep plodding forward on the same trail until I get to flatter, clearer ground and the going gets easier.

Lately though, I’ve decided to start trying to work on multiple projects at once. I had an idea for an interconnected series–the books aren’t dependent on each other but set in the same world–and each book is a different story. I figured I’d try writing all three at once. Well, not really at once, but at least simultaneously. My reasoning is that if I get stuck on one, or I’m not feeling a story on a certain day, I have the other stories I can work on and I’m still writing.

Is it working? Sorta.

There’s pros and cons to working on multiple things at once, and of course, those pros and cons are also based on your own writing style, the way your creativity works, and what you’ve trained your brain to do. Here’s the bad and good I’ve found so far:

Pros:

  • Keeps your brain from getting burnt out on any one idea.
  • You can remain creative even when you’re not feeling like working on something–you can still write, just switch to another project.
  • Working on one project may give you ideas to break through a block on another project.
  • It feels really productive to have so many things going at once.

Cons:

  • All the projects take longer to finish.
  • It’s harder to keep focus, since you’re often changing subjects.
  • You start to feel guilty if you pay too much attention to one project and not enough to another.
  • You need to produce more ideas.

I’m still experimenting with this, and I also know I’m working against the way my brain has always functioned when it comes to writing. Still, it gives me options when I come to the keyboard and just can’t muster the energy for a certain project. I can switch to another one I’m feeling instead, and I’m still writing. I’m still producing content.

How about you? Do you work on multiple projects at once, or can you only focus on one thing at a time?

That’s A Lot Of Stuff

I’ve been writing since I was 13-14. I have tons of written work that is lost to the ravages of time and technological advancement. Notebooks full of stuff I wrote when I was younger, the ink and pencil now faded, and tons of 3.5 disks which can no longer be accessed because the technology I wrote them on is archaic (ah, my first Brother word processor!). I’m mostly okay with that because my writing back in those days was unwieldy and unpracticed and truly awful, and if I read any of it today I’d cringe. But I remember writing it, and so it still exists in a metaphorical way.

There’s also tons of writing I can still access: uncountable stories, books, half written things, chunks of unused work, abandoned writings, and writings that were finished but never followed through on. Those are on my laptop, or in a cloud, and I can still go look at them any time I want. Many of them will eventually end up on some lost trail behind me as I keep on writing and producing more things, but they exist too.

The point is, I’ve probably literally written millions of words in my writing life. Millions as in plural. Two million? Three million? Maybe more. I’ve written a lot. There’s no way to know how much. Even if I counted up what I have access to, there’s still all that stuff lost in the past. Sometimes I’m quietly impressed by it and give myself a little pat on the back. Most of the time, I don’t even think about it. Churning out all those words is just who I am.

If you’ve been writing for a long time, you probably have just as much in storage, be it literal or theoretical. If you haven’t been writing long, you probably still have more words behind you than you realize. Most of us writers have a half-formed, clunky body of work that follows us around forever, most of which will never be seen by eyes other than our own. That’s okay, because that’s what being a writer is.

I’m using this as an inspiration today, and you may need it too, because right now I feel like I’m in a dry, bitter, fallow period with my writing. I feel like I can’t get anything down on the page and I’ll never produce anything of worth again. I’m having one of those dramatic, hubris moments of I WILL NEVER BE A REAL WRITER. The well is giving up just a few ounces of muddy water and I will never write much again.

But, if you’re feeling this way too, here’s what you should do along with me: look at that big, ugly, misshapen pile of work behind you and ask yourself, do you really think you’ll never be able to write again? Do you really think you’re not capable of producing more words? All those words in the past seem to disagree.

Now, get back to work, self. And you too.

Have a great weekend!

5 Reasons You Should Start A Blog

On Wednesday, I talked about the reasons you should write a book. Even if the industry has too many books and not enough readers, that doesn’t mean we don’t need your book, or that you don’t need your book. If you’re looking for reasons to keep typing, go check it out.

Today, I’m going to tell you why you should start a blog.

I blog three days a week–usually Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, though sometimes it varies. So you may be surprised to hear that I, for the most part, freakin’ hate blogging. More often than not, I’m wracking my brain for the next blog topic and it’s aggravating. I never know what I’m going to write most weeks, unless I already have something lined up. I’m a tour host for Goddess Fish Promotions, because I want to promote other writers, but also because on average it gives me one ready-made post per week. I’m part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group because it’s an awesome, fun group, but it also gives me a blog topic once a month. I like when it’s easy.

So why do I blog, if I don’t really like it? Well, after you read the list below, maybe you’ll understand.

And here are some reasons why you should add another blog to the internet, because clearly what the internet needs is more blogs:

Five reasons you should start a blog:

  1. It’s cathartic to talk to yourself. When you start out, probably no one is going to be reading your blog, except maybe a few friends who are too nice to tell you no when you ask them to follow you. That’s okay. Blogging is kinda like a diary when you first start out, and it helps you sort your thoughts and learn how you feel about things. It also gives you time to practice before people actually start reading your blog. The more you do it, the better you get at it, and the more interesting things you have to say. It’s okay to fumble around when you first start. Somehow, miraculously, after two years of blogging I have over a thousand subscribers. That means I have to provide some content instead of just talking to myself–and hopefully, I’m managing that. Talk to yourself first, and you will learn to talk to the public.
  2. If you suck at social media, it will give you a platform. I really suck at Twitter and Facebook. I had a personal Twitter a long time ago, and loved using it, but eventually my Twitter fever went away. I have a personal Facebook I’m much more active on than my writing one, but it’s locked to friends and family. My writing Facebook, Twitter, G+, and everywhere else I’m expected to be are mostly full of promotion and regurgitating my blog posts. At least with a blog I’m still reaching an audience, and I can say more here anyway. I can be present without having to be good at everything.
  3. It’s great for procrastinating on your writing. I should be working on the book I’m writing right now, but I’m blogging instead. And I can still say I’m ‘working.’ Ha! Take THAT, productivity!
  4. You can reach people who don’t even read the kind of stuff you write. I know that most of my subscribers don’t even read romance and erotica, but we’ve made friends and enjoy talking to each other because we’ve found each other through places like the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. This is why I started a general writing blog instead of focusing on one genre of writing. I’m more interested in engaging other writers than specifically engaging other romance writers. This is up to you, though–but remember, if you make your blog very specific, you need to find a way to reach that specific audience. Sometimes broader is better. It also gives you a lot of freedom in topic matter, too.
  5. It provides site content. If your website is lacking content, if there’s not much to put on there, a blog puts some meat on the skeleton of your online presence. Also, it can be really good for driving traffic to your site. People come to read your posts and check out the rest of the site–that’s a big bonus!

Whether you have a blog already or you’re considering starting one, you should know this: the internet is infinite, and there’s room for you. If you want to blog, then blog! You have a right to express yourself just like everyone else. And even if you find it aggravating, there’s a lot of good reasons to keep at it

Have a great weekend!

10 Reasons You Should Write A Book

If you follow any writing industry blogs and/or news sites, you’ve probably read the disheartening information a million times: less people are reading books these days! Book sales are down! Print/ebooks (whichever one they’re predicting doom and gloom for this week) have had a huge dip in sales and will be obsolete by this time next year! The exact genre you write in is trash and no one is buying those kind of books anymore!

I take most industry ‘facts’ with a grain of salt, largely because I read statistics on one site and the exact opposite projections on another. It’s true we live in a weird age for books because it’s a much more digital age where people are consuming their entertainment in varying forms in ways they’ve never been able to before. I know publishing is very different now than when I first started writing many years ago. It’s true that publishing is easier but it’s harder to get people to read our books, because they’re not a limited commodity that only has one specific path to access anymore.

So under this landslide of books and this lack of readership, why should you still write a book? Because, you’re a writer! And here’s some other reasons why:

Ten reasons you should write a book:

  1. Because non-writers think it’s cool. Seriously, most people in my life who don’t write, no matter if they’re readers or not, think I’m performing some kind of arcane magic. They think I wave a wand when in reality I grit my teeth and yank my hair out a lot.
  2. It gives you reasons to be on your laptop. When people are like “are you gonna stare at that screen all day?” you can tell them you’re working, and shh, please leave me alone I’m trying to concentrate really hard. Make sure you minimize the tab full of cat memes first.
  3. You can get out of boring social situations. Feel free to turn down that invitation to your aunt’s goat’s birthday party by telling her you have a deadline to meet.
  4. You learn how to write blurbs/taglines. Every time someone asks you what your book is about you get a little bit better at telling them in as few words as possible. This trains you to write those short descriptions that have to encapsulate the entire book in one breath. The WHOLE book, in ONE sentence? Are you playing with me right now, Mr. Editor???
  5. On that note, you learn how to deal with disinterest. When people ask you what your book is about, and you tell them, and their eyes glaze over, this prepares you for when no one cares about your book on release day.
  6. Real life is boring. You get to create the fun, fast-paced, exciting world that you wish this one was, so you don’t go crazy like everyone else.
  7. It gives you something to talk about at social gatherings. At least for the first twenty seconds until people’s eyes start to glaze over.
  8. It’s fun to commiserate with other writers. Like ones who write humor-filled yet harrowing lists about what it’s like to be a writer.
  9. If you don’t write, you’re going to have to find some other creative outlet so your brain doesn’t eat itself. And frankly, no one is impressed by my ability to draw a mean stick figure.
  10. Because even if it’s true less people are reading today, and the book market is oversaturated, and it’s harder than ever to make it, somewhere out there, there’s an avid reader who is longing to get lost in the kind of worlds you create, and you need each other.

It’s a hard knock life being a writer, but most of us wouldn’t trade it for the world.

On Friday, I’ll give you five reasons why you should start a blog. Because like books, what we clearly need is more blogs!

Self-Pubbing Check In

I have about two months under my belt now with my self-publishing experience. My first self-published book, Black Mountain Magic, went live November 15th and I put it on sale for 99 cents on December 15th. I made a post talking about what I learned when I first started this adventure and I’m going to make another update now.

As of today, I’ve sold 218 copies on Amazon, 22 on B&N, 4 on Kobo, 5 on iBooks, and 1 on Smashwords, for a total of 250 books sold. About 75% of those sales have been the result of paid advertising, which I haven’t broken even on, so don’t cheer for me yet!

Here’s where I’ve done promotion. If you’re looking into doing paid promotion, my experiment may help you out:

Total: $203 spent on promotion.

Out of all these promoters, the only two who were any good and worth the money were Ereader News Today (which is ALWAYS gold) which netted me 106 sales on Amazon, and Bargain Booksy, which netted me 73 sales on Amazon. However, I paid twice as much for Bargain Booksy for less sales, so take that as you will. Would I use them again anyway? Absolutely.

The others got me between 0-10 sales. BKnights gave me back my money (I didn’t ask for it) but in the form of a credit to use on Fiverr. Books Butterfly guarantees your sales or your money back, but in the introductory email they tell you this is just ‘store credit’ to try their services again (also they weirdly track your visits to their site and list them in the email). Since they didn’t work for me I’m not even going to bother asking for a refund and chalk it up as a learning experience. Maybe it was my genre or the timing of running the promotion on a holiday (I didn’t pick the date of the promotion, they did).

Ereader News Today (usually referred to as ENT) continues to be the BEST site for promotion outside of BookBub (which is incredibly difficult/expensive to get into) and I’ve used them for almost all my books in the past. Some authors don’t use them because they mistakenly believe you have to have a certain number of reviews for them to accept you.  This isn’t true, you simply have to have an overall decent rating if  you have any reviews at all.

What I’ve learned so far: you gotta spend money to make money. But spend it in the right place!

Other things I’ve learned from self-publishing:

  • If you think understanding your sales with KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) will be easy, you’re gonna have a bad time. Amazon continues to lead the market in not making a lick of sense, so don’t expect the various confusing parts of your sales dashboard and your sales rank to correlate or reflect each other accurately at any given time. Just smile and nod, and understand if you want to get anywhere with self-publishing at all, you need to be on Amazon.
  • Smashwords has a hilarious attitude about Amazon, to the point I’m pretty sure they try to gaslight their customers into believing there’s no such thing as a Kindle. Don’t mention the word Amazon anywhere in your book. In fact, if you wrote a book about the Amazonian jungle, you’ll probably want to avoid publishing it on Smashwords. They seem to believe they’re going to be bigger and better than Amazon. Just smile and nod.
  • Send your book to reviewers and review sites yourself. Don’t pay for reviews, as this could get you kicked off Amazon for life. Of the 1,000 sites you send a review request to, about 10 will say they’ll review it and 2 will. However, don’t believe the scare tactic of “Reviews are the only way to sell books! Ooooh!” It’s not true. I’ve sold 250 copies with one review. I would rather get them organically than pander.
  • Trying to size book covers correctly is the devil.
  • If you’re not a super-duper popular author, the only real reason to produce a paperback copy of your book is so you can buy insanely discounted copies for yourself to not sell to people who don’t want them (also so you can run a Goodreads giveaway because you can only give away physical books).
  • Just keep writing.

So that’s my two-month report. The second book in the series, White Witch Magic, will come out February 21st and I’ve already racked up a wonderful 16 presales for it! I’m a superstar!

A Memorial To A Friend

Six years ago today, a friend of mine named Chris passed away. We met when I started working at my very first serving gig in a restaurant that doesn’t exist anymore. Everyone there was like family, and until this day, at all the places I’ve worked, I’ve never found friendships or bonds like the ones we created there. If the place was still around today I’d probably still be working there. I keep in touch with a lot of those old friends via Facebook and meeting up from time to time.

Chris was a wiry, scruffy guy who looked like John Lennon (though he hated when people pointed this out). He was a true dank hippie, loved jam bands, was a huge fan of Phish and The Grateful Dead, and did all sorts of drugs not to get high, but for the existential experience. That sounds like some old stoner who was a teenager in the 60’s, but he was actually only 30. He could tell a story like no one I’ve ever met, and his tales of ‘enlightenment’ were so mesmerizing I believed that I, too, could drop acid and see the face of God (I’ve never done acid, btw). He had an incredibly interesting life and had done so much in his short thirty years it boggled my mind. He also had so many friends it was surreal–and not just acquaintances, honest-to-God friends. He was known and loved by everyone, a truly gregarious and outgoing person, and he always made everyone feel equally important.

He was spastic, a prankster, and loved to make people laugh. He was a trickster with a heart of gold. He was one of my best friends, a brother to me, and we had so many good times together. One of his last pranks, which will live on forever, is that he would change his birthday on Facebook every day so it would alert all his followers that every day was his birthday. Because of this, some people now believe December 27th is his birthday (his real birthday was in July, like mine). It’s bittersweet, because when I see that notification pop up on Facebook it reminds me of his humor, but it also reminds me what the next day is.

He was a writer, too. He was working on his memoirs, Triumphs of An Open Mind, most of which contained stories I’d already heard from his mouth. Since I was a writer too we constantly shared ideas and advice. He was my writer friend and everyone knew us as ‘the writers’ where we worked. He hadn’t gotten published yet, but he was working on it. We both had big dreams of bestsellers and stardom.

Then, a few months before the end of 2010, he was diagnosed with Graves Disease after suffering heart palpitations and weakness. I was adamant that he was fine, and reminded him of this when he’d get down on himself about it or start feeling hopeless. I remember saying “You’re not going to die!” about a hundred times. I was convinced he wouldn’t, that he’d have a long happy life telling wild stories and bouncing off the walls.

A few days after Christmas, he proved me wrong. (Some of my friends still joke ‘he died to spite you’ because it’s the sort of joke HE would make.)

I’d worked an early shift that day and came home, turned the ringer on my phone off, and took a nap. When I woke up I had about 16 voicemails and missed calls from different people, and none of them said anything more descriptive than “call me.” I knew something was horribly wrong. I picked my friend Jodi as the one to call back, and when she answered she was crying and said “Chris died.” He’d passed away in his sleep the night before, from heart failure, at the age of 30. I remember being so disoriented I got up and tried to get dressed and couldn’t figure out how to put my clothes on. Absurdly, Jodi and I went shopping and called everyone we knew before they got the news second-hand. We didn’t know what else to do.

His funeral was massive. I had never seen so many people at the funeral of a person who wasn’t famous. We actually closed the restaurant that day so everyone could attend. I remember thinking ‘I want to live my life in a way that I end up having a funeral like this.’ The place was huge and they still couldn’t fit everyone inside.

A few months later, I had the opening line of his novel tattooed on my arm. I think he would appreciate it, and it gets me through the dark times in my life.

I had a dream about him Monday night, amazingly. We were sitting and talking like we used to, and suddenly I said, “I know this isn’t real, but can I hug you? Because it’ll feel real for a minute.” And of course, it did.

We were both huge fans of Carl Sagan, and so I post this today in honor of him, our favorite essay by Mr. Sagan:

I hope you’re still out there jamming across the cosmos, Chris.

The Language Of Writing

Many years ago, I wrote under a different pseudonym, in a somewhat different genre, and had a modicum of success. The name was Lydia Nyx, if you’re curious, but it doesn’t matter because everything I had published back then is no longer in print/distribution and some of the publishers are defunct. I ended up eventually shifting genres and reinventing myself as Megan Morgan.

However, despite the fact I didn’t write fantasy/sci-fi, I somehow ended up being a panelist at 2011 Penguicon in Detroit (which is a sci-fi/fantasy con). It’s a funny story, and what I learned from the experience–that we, as writers, no matter where we are on our path or what we write, are all in this together–was invaluable.

I ended up at the convention because I made a comment on a blog post of a fellow author who was published in an erotic horror anthology with me. He mentioned Penguicon and that they still needed panelists (I believe he worked for the organizers? I can’t remember clearly.) and I looked into it, despite the fact I didn’t fit the demographic. When I contacted the organizers, they said indeed they would like to have me, and didn’t care what I wrote, they just wanted published writers to speak. I was scheduled for not one, not two…but SEVEN panels. Keep in mind, I had never spoken publicly on writing before, ever.

The convention ended up being a blast. However, on three of those panels, I sat alongside sci-fi/fantasy authors Jim C. Hines, Stephanie Osborne (who had the coolest NASA ribbons), and….*GULP* Brandon F*kin Sanderson. Needless to say, I was way out of my element and way nervous. I was terrified to sit with multi-award winning, bestselling Mr. Sanderson, who, let’s not be modest about it, 90% of the convention goers were there to see. What’s more, I was expected to sit with him and talk to a huge audience about writing, intelligently.

I had no idea what to do, so me and my son just got Steampunk’d.

What did I learn from those three nerve-wracking panels? I learned that despite the fact Mr. Sanderson was at the top of the food chain and I was way down at the bottom, in the swamp, and that we write in radically different genres, our love of writing, the way we talk about it, and the techniques we use to evoke creativity are exactly the same. He was a tremendously nice and polite man. He moderated all three panels (basically directing the flow of conversation/controlling the subject matter/provoking the rest of us to speak) and he was extremely pleasant, encouraging, and helpful. I realized despite our different points on the spectrum we were both writers, and we both thought like writers. We could discuss it on the same level, all other things aside. It was incredibly comforting as a young, floundering author.

Jim C. Hines is also a darling of a man. I sat directly beside him for all three panels and he was just a great conversationalist and gentleman. He eased my nerves greatly before each panel.

It was an eye-opening weekend. I also made several fans at the time who were pleasantly surprised to find an author so radically out of place. I met author H.B. Pattskyn there, before she was published, and she was so wonderful and supportive of me on those days when this young author was so scared. I even had her sit with me on some of my other panels!

The thing I learned that weekend, and I still carry with me to this day, is that we’re all in this together, no matter where we are on the ladder, no matter what we write. Writing is a universal language!

Look how well I fit in! I apologize, my son could only seem to take pictures during earthquake tremors.