advice

The One-Page Synopsis

Of all the silly, outrageous things publishers and agents ask of you when submitting your book, the most silly, outrageous request of all is the one-page synopsis. If you’ve ever had to write one before, you’re already groaning. If you don’t know what that is, let me explain:

Most agents and publishers, of course, want a synopsis of your book. Whether they want it at the initial query stage or by request once you’ve piqued their interest, most ask for one. A synopsis a summary of the events in your book–beginning to end, including the full, spoilery conclusion–in a few pages. In a few pages if you’re lucky. Some publishers and agents, more than we’d like, ask for something even more harebrained: that the synopsis be confined to one page. And usually, that means one double-spaced page.

So now you have to detail your WHOLE FRICKIN’ BOOK in one page?! The plot, the characters, the twist, the ending, the theme, all of it. In one page! What are these people thinking?

Publishers and agents will tell you they have a few key reasons for this briefest of brief summaries. Those being:

  1. They don’t have time to read a description of your book that’s almost as long as the book itself.
  2. They’re judging how good of a writer you are from your ability to be succinct and yet engaging (yes really).
  3. They’re judging how good the book is. If it can’t be summed up sufficiently by breaking it down into bare bones parts, it’s probably too rambling and disjointed.

So how do you sum up an entire book in just ONE page? That is, about five paragraphs? I’m going to give you an example here, using a story we all know: Cinderella. I’ll go paragraph by paragraph.

PARAGRAPH ONE: Introduce your main characters–that is, only the ones who really matter and move the story along. You can’t jam your main character and sixty side characters in there. Only talk about who is important. In this case, it’s Cinderella and her wicked stepfamily. Yes, she gets her Prince and she has a fairy godmother, but we’ll mention them later. Also the dancing/singing mice, if you’re going by the Disney version, are not important. You should also introduce the premise in your first paragraph.

After the death of her father, Cinderella languishes in a life of poverty and servitude at the cruel hands her wealthy, wicked stepmother and stepsisters. Forced to do their bidding, she dreams of a life free from chores and degradation, and is prone to daydreaming to escape the unfair realities of her life.

(I always wondered about Cinderella’s father–why did he marry such a nasty woman in the first place? Was it for her money? Did he work for her Dad?)

PARAGRAPH TWO: Describe the conflict. What is happening in this story that, well…makes it a story?

When the Prince of her kingdom throws a ball with the intention of finding himself a wife, Cinderella is desperate to attend. She sews her own dress and gets her hair and nails did, but her stepmother and stepsisters dash her hopes, destroy her dress, and leave her at home to wallow in despair.

(Apparently, to find a wife all you gotta do is throw a party. Was the Prince just going to pick one like you’d pick out a cantaloupe in the produce section?)

All the best plot twists come out of absolutely nowhere, with no foreshadowing. Trust me on this.

PARAGRAPH THREE: The climax. What is the pivotal moment in the story?

To Cinderella’s amazement, she learns she has a Deus ex machina fairy godmother, who conjures up a wealth of finery for her and sends her off to the ball. There, the Prince meets and falls in love with her, but Cinderella must flee the celebration prematurely–for the spell is broken at midnight. In her haste to depart, she leaves behind a glass slipper. The Prince vows he will not rest until he finds the woman whose foot fits the special shoe.

(Let’s not even get into the impracticalities of glass shoes and it being a size that only a single woman can wear. Also WHY does the spell break at midnight? You can turn a pumpkin into a coach and mice into horses, but you can’t hold a spell past 12:01?)

PARAGRAPH FOUR: The aftermath. What happens after the pivotal moment, how does the story conclude (tell this fully)?

Though her stepfamily tries to keep her from trying on the shoe, when the Prince arrives at their house, Cinderella manages the opportunity to put it on. The Prince realizes Cinderella is his dream girl, and Cinderella gets her man, and the life she’s always dreamed of. Upon leaving her stepfamily’s house, Cinderella burns it to the ground and her stepmother and stepsisters are forced to beg in the streets for the rest of their days.

(This is my version.)

PARAGRAPH FIVE: Wrap up the synopsis, with some notes on theme.

Through struggle and hardship, Cinderella finds a light in the darkness. She learns that being humble and good-hearted brings its just rewards in the end.

(And also a Prince who picks out his wives based on the size of their feet.)

There you have it. Writing a one-page synopsis is never easy, and you’re probably going to feel like you’re leaving tons of things out, but it can be done. Focus on the main characters, plot points, and theme, and you’ll keep it brief. Or, barring that, write a long synopsis and keep whittling it down until you have one page. Or use smaller font so you can get more on the page.

(Don’t do that, I’m kidding.)

Making It In the Writing World

This past March, I celebrated the second anniversary of my first book being published. It’s not the first thing I had published, but it was my first full-length book and the ‘big deal’ that kicked off my career as a published writer. Of course, I use the word career in the literal sense, because I’m by no means making a living off it, which is an entirely different thing.

In those two-plus years, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned things I never thought about before I got published. I’m still learning, trust me. I don’t think there’s an end to this education, no matter how many books you publish or how long you’ve been around–that’s largely because the industry is always changing. Not even the biggest, most bestselling authors you’ve ever heard of can just sit back and dust their hands off because they’ve learned everything there is to know.

Today, I’m going to share with you some of the things I’ve learned, give you some advice, and no matter where you are on your publishing journey, maybe you can take some wisdom from it.

Here’s some of the things I’ve done/learned since I’ve gotten published:

DIVERSIFY

My Siren Song series is published with Kensington Books’ Lyrical line, which is by far my biggest publisher, but it’s not my only publisher. Kensington isn’t one of the Big Five (which used to be the Big Six), but it’s the largest and oldest independent publishing house in the US and definitely considered a prestigious New York publishing house. I make more money off my books published with them than all my other publishers combined. This is, of course, because they are a big publishing house and therefore their publicity and promotion efforts are huge, they have a vast reader base built in, and they have high visibility. I should want to publish all my stuff with them, right?

Except, I decided early in my career that I don’t want to put all my eggs in one basket. I’m also published with five other, smaller publishing houses. Those being Tirgearr, Muse It UP, Siren-Bookstrand, House of Erotica, and most recently, Evernight Publishing. There’s three key reasons why I would diversify like this:

One is that it keeps my options open. If I write something and one publishing house rejects it, I have other publishers I can send it to. Also, I might want to write something that doesn’t fit in a certain publisher’s catalog. That’s all right. I have other options. Also, once you’re an in-house author it’s much easier to get other works accepted by them.

Two is that it increases my luck. I wrote a post about the role of luck in author success a few weeks ago, in which I discussed ways to get ‘closer’ to luck. One of those ways is to get yourself into as many circles as you can so luck has a higher chance of finding you. Being involved with different publishing houses expands my chances of running into the right person or big break that I need. Maybe I’ll catch the eye of a huge reviewer who likes to read things from one particular publishing house, or I’ll come across an industry professional who can promote my career. It’s always good to try to meet and mingle with as many opportunities as you can.

Three is for the simple fact that I want to test the waters. Not all publishing houses are created equal. Some have a huge base of readers who might love your book, some are very involved in your promotion and some aren’t, and they all treat you a little differently, give you different levels of editing and creative and practical support, and have a unique brand that appeals to different audiences. Myself, I want to try as many flavors as I can at the buffet and then decide which ones I like best. If a publisher doesn’t work out for me, I simply won’t submit anything to them in the future.

LEARN TO PLAY THE GAME

Make no doubt about it, at the end of the day, publishing is a business. That means if you want to be part of the publishing world, you have to treat it like a business. Be professional, follow the rules, and always put your best face forward. You might not agree with the processes you run into, but they’re in place for a reason and bucking the system won’t get you far.

I’m constantly dismayed at new writers who think they’re going to ignore guidelines, do want they want, and still be so awesome and special they get a publishing contract. I blame this on the fact that in all industries, we tend to focus on the ‘trail blazers’ and people who ‘didn’t follow the rules’ and still became successful. The thing is, once again, these people ran into some luck. They also aren’t telling you about all the times their deviant behavior didn’t work out for them or set them back. Also, even ‘innovators’ followed the rules to a certain extent, they just found new, unique, and more creative ways to do things that made sense.

There is a game you have to play in publishing, and that’s figuring out where and when you can jump in the mix and have it work out for you. I can’t fully explain it, but after you’ve done it for a while you’ll start to recognize it and you’ll develop a knack for it. You’ll start to see opportunities and know how to do the backflips and cartwheels that will land you in the right spot. You’ll figure out how to work things to your advantage, where you have the best shot at succeeding, and the right things to say to get the appropriate attention.

But remember, it’s still a business, and you need to be a business person.

NETWORKING

No writer is an island, and you don’t want to get stranded on one, either. You have to make connections in the publishing world, even if only superficial and strictly business. This opens up doors you didn’t have the keys to previously.

Let’s be clear on this, though: you need to have realistic expectations about networking. Telling a publisher “I’m friends will Big Time Author,” will never get you a publishing contract on its own. Even if Big Time Author gives you a glowing recommendation, that’s not an automatic in. Publishers will judge your work based on the merits of your writing alone, and decide if they want you on their team. Even if JK Rowling descends from Heaven with your manuscript clutched to her breast and delivers it directly into the publisher’s hands, this will still not get you a publishing contract if your writing isn’t up to snuff.

However, Big Time Author might give you a guest spot on their blog, or a shoutout in their newsletter, or recommend your books to their readers. That’s something.

There ARE people who can help you get published though, people who have actually had their hands on your manuscript–an editor you worked with before, an agent who found your work appealing but couldn’t represent you for various reasons. These are the sort of people you want to get a rapport with too. Networking is part of playing the game.

These are a few of the things I’ve learned in the past two-ish years. There’s a lot more, of course. Maybe this advice will be helpful to you. Have you learned some things you’d like to share?

Fetishizing The Process

I haunt a few writer’s groups/forums online. Most of them are populated with people around my own skill/experience level, that is, people who have been in the writing game for a while and have a few things published. One of them, however, seems to be largely populated by newer writers–ones who are just starting out, or who haven’t been published yet or haven’t been at it very long. The contrast between these two types of groups is glaring.

I once saw someone coin a brilliant phrase which has stuck with me for years, though I can’t for the life of me remember where I read it. The phrase is “fetishizing the process.” This means focusing on the superficial aspects of something rather than the technical skills involved. I’m talking about wanting a picture for your Instagram of your neatly-organized desk, as you sit behind it with your scholarly glasses on, gazing out the window at a serene landscape, a bookshelf behind you (full of other people’s books), or the person who takes pictures of their expensive Macbook in a coffee shop or on the beach with an open (empty) Word document on the screen. That’s all well and good, and you might do this from time to time, but it actually has nothing to do with writing. It doesn’t matter what you write with, if it’s a paper notebook, an electronic tablet, or a laptop with some complex writing software, you can write anywhere and on anything and still be a writer.

Look how organized and perfect he is! I bet he’s writing 2,000 words right now!

We never see pictures of writers hunched over their laptops, hair wild, in their pajamas, with a quickly-cooling cup of coffee next to them; or with a pet in their lap as they write, or screeching children dancing around them. No pictures of a writer tucked in a corner, desperately trying to escape these things in order to get a few words down. No action shots of a writer trying to find a clean spot on their desk to jot a few notes while they type. And unless you live next to the beach or in some exotic vacation-type spot, most writers will tell you those are awful places to try to write, because you’re distracted by the scenery and the knowledge you could be out there having fun instead of writing.

Here’s a few things I’ve noticed new writers tend to ask on the less-experienced forum. If you’re a new writer, take heed, this may ease your anxieties a bit:

  • How many words do I need to write a day to be a writer? Stephen King says he writes 2,000 words a day! Should I write that many? Is 1,000 okay? What if I write a lot more? Or less? Here’s the truth: some days you might write a lot, and some days you might write absolutely zilch. You’re still a writer. There’s no magic number. Writers just write and set their own goals.
  • How many books about writing should I read? Should I read Stephen King’s On Writing? Is that a prerequisite? What are the best books about writing? While it’s all well and good to learn about your craft and take the advice of others, don’t procrastinate on your actual writing by reading about writing. It’s easy to get caught up in learning instead of doing. By all means, read and learn things, but again, writers write. By the way, I love Stephen King and I’ve been writing for years, and I’ve never read On Writing.
  • How soon after my first book is published can I quit my day job? Can I buy my dream house after a year? Hahahahahaha. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.
  • Do I really need to be good at spelling and grammar? You might think I’m joking, but I’m stunned at how many new writers don’t put a lot of weight on having a strong grasp of grammar and spelling. True enough, if you’re a brilliant writer otherwise an agent or editor might overlook it, but almost probably not. Some agents and editors won’t even read past the first page of something that’s riddled with errors, even if your pitch is amazing. Yes, you have to have a firm grasp of, if not VERY good grammar and spelling skills. Agents and editors don’t have time to teach you.
  • Should I get a Macbook? Yes. No writer has ever been published without the aid of computer that costs at least a thousand dollars. Sorry.

The truth is, writing isn’t always pretty. It’s easy to get caught up in having everything ‘perfect’ when you begin writing, but it’s not necessary. You don’t need a stack of books about writing, or Scrivener, or the exact right kind of coffee. Say it with me, kids–print it out and stick it on the wall, tattoo it on your forehead:

WRITERS WRITE.

The Role of Luck In Author Success

This post might be a little hard to swallow for some. I know when I read up on this subject it opened my eyes to a lot of things I hadn’t thought about before.

Very recently, I stumbled upon an online discussion where the participants were talking about the role that luck plays in success. Quickly, someone pointed out a logical fallacy called Survivorship Bias. In a nutshell, humans tend to vastly underestimate the role that chance and luck plays in their individual success. We tend to focus on the ones who ‘made it’ and forget about the thousands upon thousands who didn’t. Probably because it’s much more heartening and positive to look at the few survivors instead of the scores who sank below the waves.

This happens, in part, because all our favorite celebrities, authors, and public figures like to tell us that hard work, talent, and dedication can get us to the top. If we just strive and struggle and sacrifice enough, we can be just like them. ANYONE can be President, after all! While I absolutely do believe successful people put a lot of time and effort in, it’s also easy to debunk this myth by looking around us at the people we know. For every bestselling author rolling in money and movie deals, how many authors do you know who have fought just as hard, worked just as diligently, and haven’t even gotten a book deal? Maybe you’re even one of them. How many millions of authors in history gave just as much blood, sweat, and tears to their art and never got anywhere near success?

The problem is, there’s no surefire recipe for making it. You can’t be assured to get to the top, or even to a comfortable place, if you give THIS amount of effort, or have THAT much talent. This is true of any profession, not just writing. For every celebrity chef, there’s hundreds of chefs who work just as hard, toil just as much, and are just as creative but will never have their names known. For every platinum-selling rock band who plays arenas, there are bands who sound just as good and work just as hard who will never get beyond playing their local bars. Why?

Because, most successful people will talk about their hard work and effort (and again, I do believe they give those things), but only rarely mention how some big-time author happened to read their book and give it a recommendation, or it got picked up by a well-known book critic who made the public aware of them, or they just HAPPENED to write about something that was becoming hugely popular around the time their book was released and they rode the lucky wave of zeitgeist. When a celebrity tells you “if you just work a little harder you can be me,” it’s like a lottery winner saying “if you just sell your house and use the money to buy Powerball tickets, you can be like me.” What about all the lottery winners who won because they only bought one ticket? And what if you sell your house and none of those tickets win?

This all sounds very depressing, doesn’t it? The thing about luck is that it can strike anyone, but the odds of it striking you are small. However, there is a positive side, at least the way I look at it.

Hard work, knowledge, dedication, and talent DO matter, even with the wild card of luck thrown in there. Why? Because those things shrink the betting pool and give you better odds. Those things get you into networks you didn’t have available before, they give you access to people and places you wouldn’t have otherwise, and they increase your chances of running into just the right person or situation at just the right moment that will catapult you into success. Your lucky break is out there somewhere, and work, know-how, and honing your talent will put you closer to its vicinity. The reason humans hate the idea of outcomes hanging on luck is because it’s not something we can control and we hate to feel like we’re out of control. But, you can control how close you get to luck, at least. Will someone out there blindly stumble into luck without putting in any hard work first? Of course they will, and it’s going to make you furious and frustrated. But hey, it could be you someday, too. That’s the hope in luck, at least. And that’s what people really mean when they say “make your own luck.” It actually means work hard and try to throw yourself in luck’s way.

I hope you get lucky. Or at least, you work hard enough to have a brush with luck. Here’s some (un)inspiring words from Bo Burnham to get you through. (And yes, I did steal my lottery analogy from him–sorry, Bo! Just trying to get lucky!)

Never Say Never

I’ve been writing for a lot of years. Way, way too many years (I’m old, folks). Sometimes it’s funny to look back on those years and reflect on the attitudes or ideas I had at any given time, and how that directed my work. I believe when you write, and stick to writing for a long time or maybe even your entire life, you’re always growing, learning, and evolving. New attitudes and ideas come along, your skills grow, and you try more new things than you ever imagined you would. It makes sense, because there’s very few creative and artistic people who stay stuck on one theme forever. You expand. You branch out. You give your ‘nevers’ a try.

I’ve had a lot of ‘nevers’ through the years. Things I said I would NEVER do. Things I would NEVER write, or try, or dabble in, or accomplish. Here’s a few of those things I said I would never do and then did them anyway:

  • Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. Many times I said I would NEVER get published. Oh, how I languished, and despaired, and felt inadequate and overlooked. I’d never have a book published. No editor would ever want me. No one would ever read my brilliant masterpieces which were actually awful at the time. Well, check out the sidebar of my blog now.
  • I said I would NEVER write romance. This was back when I was younger and trying to be a horror author. Like way too many people, I dismissed romance as fluffy, silly writing that ‘wasn’t real,’ and was just trash and drivel. Never mind it’s the biggest-selling genre in books since…the dawn of time, possibly. I was young and full of myself and never seemed to realize I was constantly writing romance into my stories anyway.
  • At one point in my life I went through an intensely spiritual, religious phase and swore I would NEVER write horror again because it clashed with my moral point of view. I tried switching to sci-fi during this time and I was really, really bad at it. I don’t know what was going on with me, but eventually I moved on, or outgrew it, and got back to writing about vampires.
  • Hilariously, the Insecure Writer’s Support Group question for this month was about whether or not you’d ever gone back and rewritten an old piece of work. I said I hadn’t, and swore I NEVER would because I feel that looking forward is the best direction. Well, guess what I’m doing right this very moment? Revising an old story for an anthology call. D’oh!

NEVER is a block, a wall, a stone in the road that trips you up. It keeps doors closed and opportunities undiscovered. I’ve found that just because I have a writing ‘never’ today, it might be quite flexible tomorrow. And since I know I tend to dispose of those nevers eventually, I’m trying hard not to create them in the first place anymore.

What about you? What NEVER have you kicked aside and done anyway?

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!

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!

Rules We Love

This past Wednesday, the Insecure Writer’s Support Group question of the month was what writing rule do you wish you’d never heard? I had fun visiting various blogs and finding out what writing rules hurt rather than helped, or annoyed rather than bolstered. Some rules popped up multiple times. Some were unique like L.G. Keltner’s post that hilariously made me realize for the first time in my life that ‘i before e’ is actually not a rule at all because it’s only true about half the time. All in all, it seemed like everyone decided rules are meant to be broken!

So, I thought today I’d talk about the opposite: writing rules I love.

Here are some ‘rules’ (of course they can be bent and broken) that I felt really enriched my writing once I implemented them:

  • Get rid of filtering. This was like finding a hidden jewel. It was something I hadn’t even thought about until an editor brought it to my attention. It means getting rid of language that distances us from the point of view character. So instead of saying ‘she saw,’ ‘she felt,’ or ‘she heard,’ instead describe the sight, feeling, or sound, because we don’t need to be told the person is experiencing it–we just need to know what they’re experiencing. This makes the writing much more immediate.
  • No disconnected body parts. Hands don’t move on their own. Eyes don’t close by themselves. She moved her hands over the wall, rather than her hands moved over the wall. He closed his eyes, instead of his eyes fell closed.
  • Stop piling up actions. Separate multiple actions that can’t be happening simultaneously. Instead of “he walked across the room petting the dog and turning on the TV,” break it up into “he walked across the room, stopped to pet the dog, then turned on the TV.” I actually see this sort of piling up happening even in the books of well-experienced authors.
  • Action beats instead of ‘said.’ I shared this example on emaginette’s blog. One of my favorite ways to avoid using ‘said’ is the action tag: //”Oh my God.” Amy couldn’t believe this was happening. “Why today, of all days?” / “I know.” Roy’s heart ached for her. “On the day of your dead dog’s birthday!” // It shows who is speaking while also getting deeper into what the characters are feeling.
  • Get rid of gerunds. I used to be terrible about using too many ‘ing’ words. Once this was pointed out to me, I went on the lookout for them.

These are some of my favorite rules, even if I do bend and break them from time to time. What are your favorite rules?

You Know Nothing

This post is part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog hop. The first Wednesday of every month is Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. The awesome co-hosts for the January 4 posting of the IWSG will be Eva @ Lillicasplace, Crystal Collier, Sheena-kay Graham, Chemist Ken, LG Keltner, and Heather Gardner!

January 4 Question: What writing rule do you wish you’d never heard?

This is a funny question because I tend to take the teachings of my editors way too far. Once they show me a new rule or show me how something should be done, I then religiously use what I’ve learned to the point of forsaking style and rhythm. Only when I go back and find things feel clunky or awkward because of whatever rule I’m strictly following, I learn the real truth: sometimes, rules are meant to be broken, or at least bent. Preserving readability is more important than adhering strictly and unwaveringly to technicality. Style is just as important as structure.

That being said, what writing rule do I wish I’d never heard? Well, it’s more like one I wish writers would stop telling each other: write what you know.

This is a silly rule taken at face value. If people only wrote what they know, we’d have far less books about detectives, doctors, murderers, medieval kings, and time travelers. There would be no stories about spaceships and werewolves and superheroes. What we don’t know, we can research, especially in this age of technology. Sure, if you’re writing about something you don’t personally take part in, it’s good if you have a fascination or interest in it at least; however, it’s not hard to learn the details of most places, professions, and eras, or to make up rules for aliens and paranormal creatures.

Write what you know should mean to write about how you know people behave in certain situations, how humanity interacts with each other, and what drives us as people. It’s about knowing what it’s like to be a human being who struggles, wants, suffers, and needs. That’s what you know, that’s what all people know. That should be where ‘write what you know’ ends. It doesn’t apply to knowing what it’s like to be a Roman Emperor or a talking cat.

To hell with writing what you know. Write what you like!

Resolutions

It’s that time of year again when we make resolutions and promises to ourselves. The problem with resolutions is that we break them so easily, and the truth is we could choose to improve ourselves and our lives at any time of the year. However, the start of a new year seems to give us a clean slate, at least mentally. I think the reason a lot of resolutions fail is because it’s such an abrupt change. It’s hard to suddenly stop a bad habit and never pick it up again. Some people can, I’m sure, but for most of us it’s extraordinarily difficult. We would do well to start prepping for the change months in advance–that is, start doing little things and eliminating little behaviors that will ultimately set you up for success when you attempt to change altogether on January 1st.

For myself, I’m planning on making some personal changes, and I was thinking how best to make them stick. I haven’t done any ‘prepping,’ so what’s the second best solution? Of course, it’s the opposite of prepping–committing to the changes slowly over time. We see this a lot in people who want to lose weight. If you crash diet, you’re going to put the weight back on. If you lose it slowly over time and gradually change your eating habits and your lifestyle, it sticks much better.

Since this is a writing blog, I’ll address some writing resolutions that you may have, and talk about how to make them stick if you haven’t been gradually building up to your goal already.

Resolutions:

  • I want to write every day. If you don’t write every day now (I’m guilty of this, by quite a lot) you’re probably not going to start writing on January 1st and keep it up every single day of 2017. However, if you start in little increments: say, writing 200 words a day instead of 2000 when you first start, you might stick to it better. You may quickly find you don’t have time in your life to write every single day, but surely you can find the time to write 100 words? 50? It still counts as ‘writing every day,’ and the days you do have more time, you can write a lot more.
  • I want to finish X amount of stories/books in 2017. If you haven’t started on these stories/books, now is the time to start planning them. Project how long you want these works to be and how long it will take you to write them. You can perhaps schedule time frames, even. Also, pick a number that you know is realistic for you, or else you’re going to disappoint yourself and run out of steam. Even just one is better than none!
  • I want to get published. Whether going the traditional route or self-publishing, this takes work and research, and you need to do that first. Learn how to perfect a query letter, compile a list of agents or publishers, or research self-publishing services. With knowledge in hand you’re much more likely to reach your goal. Publishing isn’t just about writing, it’s a business too.
  • I want to be more active on social media/my blog. I’m terrible at social media. I hardly ever post on FB or Twitter unless it’s something promotional. However, I’m not going to be able to just jump in and become the belle of the ball. Start out making Tweets or posts a few times a week, then move up to once a day, and then if you’re really starting to feel comfortable with it, you can start posting multiple times a day and engaging your readers. Some people are just never going to get the hang of social media, and that’s okay, but remember as a writer making personal connections with your audience is important.
  • I want to get myself out there more. You can buy virtual tours, or approach bloggers yourself. Make a list of where you want to promote yourself and start finding ways to get in. Talk to people and seek out who is taking on guests. I’ve found that I can actually schedule tons of promotion without spending a dime this way.

It’s my opinion that resolutions shouldn’t be all or nothing, but should be a commitment to working toward improvement. Giving or picking something up all at once is hard, and will probably fail. However, a dedication to change over time lays a foundation for you to stand steady on.

What are your resolutions for 2017, and how do you plan to implement them?