Monday, May 30, 2011

FEVER and WITHER Arcs - Oh My!

You know you want to... and even if you don't, I do:

Personalized ARC's, people.  Personalized.  Arc's. 

Go here:

Friday, May 27, 2011

Hate Propagates Part Deux - The Competition Equation

Note from the Author: Wow, guys.  Thank you so much for the all the generous tweets, comments and general discussion yesterday.  It was so encouraging to me personally.  You have my genuine gratitude - and excitement.  I felt a real sense of comraderie amongst writers yesterday.  #woot!

Of all the comments and tweets I received regarding my last post, one thing became clear: Many attributed Hater attitudes to jealousy or stress. 

This is an important point because it identifies our core understanding of things like business, branding and audience / platform development.

My last full time job was as Project and Client Manager for one of New Zealand's leading visionaries in Branding.   This was a guy that pretty much introduced New Zealand to the concept that:

Branding isn't about logos.  It's about building a community of like-minded people.  It's about telling customers that buying into your service or product means they're into a group of people they want to identify with.  Good branding means developing business strategies primarily based around the message a business communicates, rather than the produce or service it's selling.

(I can talk about that stuff all day, so if you aren't familiar with it, feel free to drop me a line.  I think it's crucial for writers to understand the truth about branding and marketing - and that those things are no longer primarily visual.)

Right, so, back to the whole jealousy thing...

I received several tweets regarding yesterday's post that reference jealousy, tall poppy syndrome, etc, etc, etc, as a driver for writers hating on each other.  There were also one or two comments that touched on it.   The word that kept popping up was 'competition'. 

But I believe writers need to stop seeing each other as competition. We are part of one of the few industries in which 'competition' isn't mutually exclusive.  (Ergo, it isn't really competition).

True competition means the purchase of an item from one establishment precludes the purchase of that item from somewhere else. 

That means book stores are in competition because on any given shopping trip, they're hoping the customer walks into the establishment to buy your book from them.

(Side Note: That also means self-publishing companies are in competition with each other over their customers: the Writers.  They want you to choose their service over someone elses).

Competition doesn't mean "Do I like that story better, or that one?".

The whole idea behind being a writer is to come up with somethign unique.   The assertion that if a reader buys Lauren DeStefano's Awesomesauce Book it means they won't buy mine is laughable.  Real readers are voracious.  Most can't afford to buy as many books as they can read.  They're 'reduced' to taking books out of the library (another worthy customer). 

If a reader wants your book, they'll find it, one way or the other.  We aren't competing with other authors - we're only competing with the subjective measure of what the reader is looking for.

If I walk into a bookstore and don't find anything really interesting I walk out without buying.  I don't pick up a book off the shelf because it's the best of a bad lot. 

Readers don't read The Hunger Games then refuse to ever pick up another author.  Quite the contrary.

I believe there's an argument that a really good book whets the reader's appetite for more - from other authors.  A great writer selling lots of books can spur an entire movement in the reading world (Wizards anyone?  Vampires?).

Fiction readers are looking for an experience. If your book promises what they're looking for, you're in.  If not, you're out. 

So the only point authors actually compete is in garnering a publishing contract in the first place.  There are only so many successful agents out there.  There are only so many slots on the Publisher's lists. 

Once you've got your name on a book, you're just like everyone else.  It's the reader's chance to decide whether you've got a desireable product or not.  And that is where the rubber hits the road.

If your story doesn't sell, don't hate on other writers.  They didn't write it. 

Let's stop seeing each other's successes as a measure of our own failures (or visa versa), and start celebrating the fact that readers keep reading and we have an ongoing opportunity to develop a story to catch their attention.

As long as you keep writing, you have an opportunity to sell a book. 

No matter who else is out there, if your story isn't good enough, it won't get picked up.  Don't whine about it.  Keep writing.  Make that book better, or write another one.  If it is good enough, you'll sell it and readers will find it.

Let your story do the talking.  Not your slam-stick.

Are you with me?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Hate Propagates - Lets Be Writers-in-Arms

I've been trying to figure out for a long time why, as a group, writers seem so determined to either stifle any Writer who holds a different viewpoint, or slay any Writer who doesn't live up to whatever standard that individual has determined to be appropriate.

I read it all the time in blog comments and it really bothers me.  Seriously.

Then this morning Rachelle Gardner wrote a post about Readers being the true key to writerly success...  (Bravo!).  However the comments of that blog quickly turned into another debate regarding self-publishing vs. traditional.  (*Raspberry*)

Also, I was kindly re-tweeted a few politically-minded tweets from someone who clearly doesn't know where I sit on the political spectrum.  Rather than hating on anyone, I just clicked through to block the original tweeter to make sure anything else from them wouldn't show up on my feed... and discovered they had more followers than I did. 

That surprised me.  Not because it's uncommon for people to have more followers than me, but because my brain had a conversation without permission that went something like this:

Why does a hater like that have more people interested in what they have to say than I do?

Because people who polarize others are attractive in the same way a car-accident makes us all slow down to look.  Remember those blog-posts you wrote, when someone accused you of using controversy to drive blog-traffic?

Yes, but I wasn't doing that.

Doesn't matter.  The subject was emotional for people.  They can't just sit back and watch it happen.  They have to get involved. 

But they aren't just 'getting involved'.  They're Hating.

Haters are the best ones.  They make everything dramatic.  Whether you agree with them or not, they're fun to watch.  They draw the numbers.

Haters propagate.


*Cut to mental slide-show of reality tv shows where the most popular 'characters' are the ones who create the most drama.*

What's my point?

Well, I'm hoping we can all start asking ourselves why we get so up in arms about other writers who disagree with us.  Is it because these issues are important - or because we're drawn to the drama? 

Can we really expect to change someone else's mind when we hold to our own views with such vitriolic glee?  It seems to me, even the slightest insinuation from any blogger that another group of writers might have it wrong unleashes a torrent of accusations or abuse.

- Traditionally published vs. Self-published.
- Literary vs. Commercial or Genre
- Adult vs. YA
- Your debate of choice HERE

Pick a fence, choose a side and start slaying.

The problem is, no one is denegrating writers except other writers.

And can I say, that it looks to me like even when writers aren't denegrating other writers... other writers often think they are? 

To wit:  In that post on Rachelle Gardner's blog the real focus was the future of publishing and who would end up coming out 'on top'... (her answer: whoever gives the readers what they want).  But, as usual, the comments section has turned into an 'Us vs. Them' of traditional vs. self-publishing.

The thing is, there's a comment buried in there which, I think, raises the right point:

The commenter's name is Sophie.  He / She discusses (very well, in my opinion) some of the attitudes regarding traditional publishers as 'Gatekeepers'.  In relation to how good a job these Traditional 'Gatekeepers' do, he / she says:

"...Their guess is little better than the average joe (arguably better, because they spend their time reading books, but arguably also worse, because spending your time reading books makes you picky about things normal people don't care about)."

And that, dear writer friends of mine, cuts to the core of this issue.

In the end, whether you're traditional published, self-published, adult or ya, literary or genre... it's the reader who will determine your level of achievement.  Not other writers.  Not the publisher (or lack-thereof).  We can argue until we're blue in the face, but it's the numbers that are the litmus test.

So, rather than trying to push each other to the floor to give ourselves a higher podium, why don't we just listen to what readers are saying?  Why slam each other when we could be helping bolster each other up?

Hate propagates.  You can troll and burn and criticize as much as you like.  And maybe you'll gather a following of like-minded haters who applaud every acid word twanging off your keyboard.  You'll certainly build a platform that way... but what makes you think that platform will be any more loyal to you, than you are to the other writers you're hating on?

Haters fuel Haters.  Building a following of Haters won't further your career one iota if your book sucks.  They'll just start Hating on you.
So maybe we should all try to be Helpers instead.  Listen to each other.  Advise each other.  Applaud everyone's effort and celebrate anyone's success.
That's the writing circle I'd like to belong to.
What about you?

Life is an Analogy: The Two-Faced Friend

(May 24th: Apologies!  We're suffering some technical difficulties here at Seeking the Write Life... this post has pushed itself to the top.  For the most recent post, please see the Laughter is the Best Rule-Breaker  post below...)

Remember that friend you had back in high school who was always really nice, but when she said things like "Your hair looks really good that way," you got the impression she didn't really mean it?

Or the Manager at work who, every time you ask him about impending layoffs, smiles and tells you not to worry... in a way that makes your blood run cold?

What about the woman whose kid is bullying your kid, yet insists their child 'never has a problem with anyone else'?

My point is, we all have instincts.  There are times we know things aren't necessarily the way they seem - and just having someone tell us something doesn't mean we'll believe it.

I belong to two writer's groups, so I read a lot of WIPs.  One of the most common mistakes I see in early drafts (and have been prone to in my own first drafts especially) is the tendancy to replace plot development with character narration. 

Uncertain or unable to figure out how to lead the reader to a concept via events and 'showing', the author replaces the necessary foundation building with protagonist ruminations.

Or worse, rather than building the story layer by layer, characters just suddenly 'realize' something - something they know with absolute certainty, despite the fact they've been given little or no evidence to prove it.

Let me tell you, the reader sees through this easier than a plastic-wrapped toilet at a frat party.

The phrase 'suspension of disbelief' doesn't mean a reader parks their intellect and intuition at the book cover.  Quite the contrary - the best authors use a reader's natural instincts to help them build the case (so to speak) for whatever technically implausible plot-twists are coming. 

Suspension of disbelief means the author has given me (the reader) so much practical, logical and reasonable evidence or plot-foundation, that when the impossible creature is revealed, the improbably super-hero power is brought to bear, or the incredibly executed murder is solved, I don't question it for a moment.  The story and characters are so solidly grounded in reality, that to question the impossible is unnecessary.

So, while this means we as authors absolutely must put the work and brain-time into figuring out how to lay trails rather than blaze them, it also means we can trust the reader to understand.

They might not register the tiny clues when the tiny clues are presented... but when your twists, reveals and climactic events unfold, they'll remember them.  And applaud you for your skill and dexterity.

Yes, that's right.

You got skillz.

Oh, and PS: Those of us writing for YA need to be particularly careful.  A teenager's Crap-o-Meter is usually on high-alert.

Your Turn: Which books have you read which so perfectly directed (or misdirected) the reader that the great reveals were both satisfying and surprising?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Laughter is the Best Rule Breaker

This whole rapture thing has been really bugging me. But this blog isn't about spiritual beliefs or the accuracy of the Bible. It's about writing a book. So, reminding myself about the recent post on author commentary wherein I talked about not preaching, I kept my mouth shut.

Then I saw this picture, which got me thinking about an addendum on the "No Preaching to the Choir" rule:

If you're funny, you can get away with a lot.

If someone is funny, you find what they're saying less abrasive. 
Even if the point isn't something you'd normally agree with, or the subject isn't one you'd be interested in, a real laugh will keep you focused and waiting for more. 
If something is funny, it can get you thinking without putting your defensive walls up.
When you're laughing, you like people better - you can appreciate someone for the humor they inject, even if you don't necessarily want to think about what they stand for.
And, perhaps most importantly, when you're laughing, you're more likely to swallow a 'moral to the story' without choking on it.

Whatever the issue, humor makes anything more tolerable.

'Nuff said.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Dirty Business of Writing - Part II

We interrupt this blogpost to bring you a message from the author:  I was really grateful for all the positive support on my last couple of posts.  Thanks lovely writerly friends.  You've made blogging fun again. 

Now back to our scheduled programming....

A couple months back I read a really interesting blog from  You can read it here, but in short it is a response from an agent to the following question from a writer:

"What can we do to ensure that an actual agent sees my query? I’ve received rejection letters directly from assistants, therefore I know that the agent hasn’t seen my query or sample work. Perhaps the agent would have liked it, but if he or she wasn’t able to see it, then both the agent and I miss out on what could have been a wonderful opportunity."

The agent's response focused on something she called 'Assistant Attitude' and essentially warned writers never to underestimate the opinion of support staff in the industry.

It's a good post and I'd highly recommend reading it - especially if you've never worked in an assistant role yourself.  I'm lucky enough to have worked as a personal assistant one more than one occasion.  I'd not only agree with everything she says, but take it one step further:

You never know who's listening.  You never know who's watching.  Always conduct yourself as if the person who could make your career is on the other end of whatever you're dishing out.

On top of my experience as a Receiver of Assistant Attitude, I also used to work as a Recruitment Consultant.  Despite the fact that we were in competition with all the agencies in the city, all the Consultants knew each other - many of us worked together at various times.  We went to the same training conferences, attended the same client functions and shared countless contacts.

We talked.  And rarely about the good things.

In recruitment you're always on the lookout for the Freak in Sheep's Clothing.  No one wants to get saddled with Interviews-Well-But-Has-Anger-Issues Guy, or Cries-When-She-Doesn't-Get-Her-Way Lady. 

Why?  Because if I put Cries-When-She-Doesn't-Get-Her-Way Lady in a job and she causes problems, I look bad.  Client is unhappy and starts to question my judgement.  Friends of CWSDGHW Lady don't want to list with me because she's told them I'm a jerk. 

In short, no one wins.

So, we'd talk.  We'd warn each other - and on the occasions an alarm bell or two was ringing, we'd ask around. 

Discretion may be the better part of valor, but it ain't the currency of networking. 

If I apply this experience to the writing industry, that means if I'm obnoxious on twitter, sulky in an email, demand attention at a conference, or accuse an agent of something then other people in the industry are going to hear about it.  I'll be unfollowed, blocked, avoided or downright pilloried. 

This is business.  But sometimes business gets personal.  The way we writers handle ourselves in our online correspondence and networking says truckloads about what we're like to work with. 

So, next time you're tweeting, blogging, querying or commenting, I'd say Think It Through. 

Don't ever believe the comment you make to the Receptionist, or the 'funny' rant you let loose on your blog didn't get noticed. And the worse it was, the more people are fascinated with retelling it.

Stories will be told. Names will be mentioned.

Careers will be stopped in their tracks.

If you want to be part of the population of Publishing Town, suck it up and pretend you're a professional, even if you aren't.

Don't make this author's mistake.

Your Turn:  Have you seen something online (or in person) that gave someone a bad name?  Tell us about it - or better yet, post a link! 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Dirty Business of Writing - Part I - NO MORE OSTRICH

Here's something I've observed consistently in two years of daily reading writing blogs (from editors, agents and writers):

- Some writers don't recognize writing is a business. 
- Some writers see their work as art - but they want to sell it commercially.
- Some writers resent the idea that another person has the 'make or break' call on their careers.
- Some editors / agents are tired of the aforementioned writers.

Maybe it's because my background is in business and marketing.  Maybe it's because I've been self-employed before.  Maybe it's just because I'm wired this way... but I can't understand why writers want to stick their heads in the sand about the business aspect of writing.

I'll make this short and sweet:  If you want to make money - any money - from writing, then you are in business.  Period.

You can pretend you aren't.  You can ignore the implications.  You can pay other people to handle the logistics.  But that doesn't change the fact that you're in business.

And here's the kicker:

If you want to be a cog in the wheel of the traditional publishing machine, learning how to function as part of the mechanism is unavoidable.

Why?  Because broken pieces of machinery are taken out and replaced with sparkly, new pieces that run smoothly and don't make a lot of noise.
You can hate it, fight it, rail against it... but your cog will still be removed... or worse - never given a shot at the BIG MACHINE in the first place.

And if you don't believe me, listen to these folk:

Rachelle Gardner
Sally MacKenzie via Jessica Faust
Steve Laube

The next post will be about how we conduct ourselves in the world of Writing-as-a-Business .

Your Turn: Do you see your writing as a business?  What do you do to make your business more successful?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

CONTEST WINNER - First Chapter Critique

Yikes, I am late announcing this!  Sorry guys...

Last month I ran the inaugural First 500 Series where authors submitted their first 500 words for critique.  Every comment on any post in that series gained an entry to the competition for a free first chapter* critique.

The random number selector hit on 57 (Post 5, comment 7), which means....

Congratulations to
who won the first chapter* critique!

Charity, drop me a line at the email address on the right whenever you're ready to claim your prize.

For those interested in getting involved, I'll be running another series in a few weeks.  Check out the previous crits, follow the blog and keep your eyes peeled!

* To a maximum of 4,000 words

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Ethics in YA - Strength vs. Stupidity

If you're new to Seeking the Write Life, this is the third in a series of posts discussing the ethical challenges of writing for Children / Young Adults.  The first addresses violence and perceptions of romantic relationships, the second discusses language, racism and social rules.

A not entirely rhetorical question for you: 

When did stupidity and 'kick-assedness' become synonymous with strength?

I read a lot of bestselling YA - and the reviews / writer discussions of them.  

An overriding theme I see is that in order to be perceived as 'strong', a young woman must fight physically, take no prisoners, accept no slight and (as a blanket generality) act more like a testosterone fuelled gorilla than a girl.

Particularly in writer forums, I've seen teenage female protagonists described as:
- 'Independent' when they sneak out of their homes to break into someone else's.
- 'Kick-ass' when they're manipulated into fighting or killing people who have done nothing to them.
- 'Strong' when they engage in physical fighting - with men.

And believe me, the list goes on.

I don't have any trouble with young characters doing these things.  I have a huge problem with the apparent underlying belief that a woman must do these things to be strong.

There's always a hullabaloo and cry in writerly circles that a protagonist appears 'passive' if she allows an older or stronger male to engage in a physical fight on her behalf. 

But in my (albeit old, married, boring) mind, it isn't passive to pick your battles, it's smart.  And it shows patience, wisdom and a willingness to succeed that doesn't require pounding others into defeat. 

Whatever happened to strength of character?  Strength of will?  Strength to stand alone in the face of serious social pressure?  Strength of self-belief that flies in the face of social norms or trends and keeps the character moving towards a personal goal track despite opposition?

I know these characters are out there, but they aren't what we're holding up and lauding as 'strong'. 

In fact, the only conclusion I can come to is that we seem to believe that in order to be strong a woman must act like a man.

And that, my friends, I find incredibly sad.

Why not write young women who use their heads to get out of tricky situations instead of their fists?  Or who show the leadership and capability to surround themselves with people who's strengths play into her weaknesses? 

What about independent thinking that keeps a character moving forward despite ridicule, obstacle or contempt - rather than defiance in the face of parental rules or mature counsel?

Fantasy elements aside, I think most of our bestselling YA protagonists need a serious wake-up call.  Strength isn't achieved by shoving others down.  It's built by shoring yourself up, finding the truth and living in it, dealing with circumstances as they really are - not the way we want them to be.  And, always, taking measured risks.  Not flying blindly into the night against all adult advice and common-sense.

Don't get me wrong, I don't want to stop seeing female characters in YA fiction stop fighting.  I just want to see them stop equating physical prowess (including illegal activity) with 'strength', and start seeing it for what it is: Stupid and reckless. 

In my opinion, it is much, much harder to write a character who outsmarts or outweighs her opponents than one who simply kicks them to the dust and keeps running. 

So maybe that's my challenge to myself and to you (if you're writing YA): 

Stop equating violence with strength.  Start equating strength with smarts. 

That is all.

Your Turn:  Do you agree?  Disagree?  How would you like to see strength portrayed in YA fiction?