Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Few Writerly Thoughts for the Holiday Season


"The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one."

-Mark Twain
If you've set yourself writing goals for the holiday season, try not to mental out looking for perfection in a first draft. Just write. A few sentences become a paragraph. Several paragraphs become a scene. Before you know it, you're further ahead than you thought. Let your Christmas present to yourself be permission to follow your heart and write with abandon.
"Like many things in life, nothing worthwhile comes easily. But if you have a great idea and are persistent, you will eventually succeed."
-Michael Hyatt (Chairman, Thomas Nelson Publishers)
Consider spending some time over the vacation away from the keyboard and in your own head. Goals are great, but sometimes the end-result takes longer than we want it to. What can you do today to find satisfaction and fulfillment in this part of the process?  Next month? Next summer? Sometimes recognizing the things that give us joy and pursuing them alongside publishing goals can ease the burden of waiting for that elusive moment of "success".
"Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness."
-James Thurber

In my opinion, the best writers are those that live - then recount their understanding of the human condition inside the parameters of a fictional world. So if you don't have time or compunction to write these holidays, that's okay. Be a thief of life. Enjoy the people you love - or enjoy your solitude. Experience something and consider it. Learn from life and look for what is important. When you are at the keyboard again, these will be tools in your box.
Those are the thoughts in my head as 2011 draws to a close. I want you to know how grateful I am to you all for sticking with me this year. Your comments and emails and tweets have continued to make me smile and laugh and think. I can't wait to see what 2012 has in store for us all.
Until then, I pray this holiday season will be a refreshing, enjoyable and fulfilling time for us all!
Your Turn: Do you have writing goals for the holiday season, or will you put your computer / notebook aside? What are you hoping to see in 2012 and how can Seeking the Write Life help you do it?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Guest Post: Finding Success as an Independent Ebook Author

I met Lindsay Buroker (otherwise known as @goblinwriter) on Twitter and immediately took a liking to her hairy knees... Wait. *ahem* That came out wrong...

Lindsay's publishing story is one I admire and I asked her a while back if she'd be willing to give us some insight into her journey. Wonderful goblin - I mean, lady - that she is, she's offered something that just might change my mind on the whole self-publishing equation.

What about you?

Finding Success as an Independent Ebook Author

A couple of years ago, I was the sort to tilt my nose up and issue a haughty sniff at the idea of reading self-published fiction. Well, it might have been more of a snort of derision (I’m not ladylike enough for a good haughty sniff), but you get the idea. I certainly wasn’t thinking I’d end up publishing the stuff.


1) I got a Kindle.

2) I found out how easy it is to get one’s work into the Kindle Store (and the Nook, Ipad, Sony, etc, stores as well).

3) I found out you make a lot more on each sale if you publish your ebooks yourself (70% versus 25% of that 70% or about 17% total, not including an agent’s cut).

4) I found out how tedious and slow the traditional publishing process is. I’m not the most patient person, so the idea of playing Query-Go-Round did not appeal, nor did I want to wait months to find an agent (if I found an agent), more months to find a publisher (if I found a publisher), and more months before my first book was actually on a shelf somewhere (if the delivery truck didn’t get hijacked by bandits on the way… Okay, that probably wouldn’t happen, but the other ifs are valid).

For me, all those numbers added up in a way that said self-publishing made sense.

In November of 2010, I started my official “fantasy author” blog, and in December I published my first novel, a fantasy adventure called The Emperor’s Edge. (If you’re interested, you can try samples of any of my fantasy novels on my site.) I went on to publish three other novels in 2011 (one was already written, but I’ve penned two more in my Emperor’s Edge series as well), as well as some shorter works.

So, what’s happened since December, you ask? What is this “success” mentioned in the title? Well, I’m not selling a bazillion copies of my books like Amanda Hocking or John Locke, but I’m doing well. It took time to get things off the ground and to build up my blog and social media presence (tip for up-and-coming authors: start building your platform before you’re ready to release your first book), but I haven’t earned less than $1,500 a month since June, and most months have been in the $2,500 to $3,000 range. November was higher since I released a new book in my series. December is looking to be higher still, thanks to my first book appearing for free in Amazon (lots of people are getting into the series that way and trying the others).

The money is nice (hey, what author doesn’t dream of quitting the day job to write full time?), but what’s been even cooler (and, yes, I mean this) is seeing how many people are enjoying my books. Sure, there have been bad reviews, but there have been many more good reviews, and I’m touched with all of the enthused emails I’ve received. Someone made an RPG game setup based on my world, and someone else sent me my first piece of fan art the other day. In short, all the things I always assumed only happened to well-established authors who went the traditional route are happening for me. And, yes, I’m quite tickled with it all!

Does this mean I believe self-publishing is the wave of the future and that the traditional model is on its way out? Not necessarily, but I’m seeing a lot of evidence that it can be an alternate route to a traditional deal for those who decide they want that. Once you build up a fan base and prove you can sell, it’s easier to attract an agent and a publisher (and everyone I know of who’s gone this route has gotten a significantly better deal than typical debut authors are offered).

That said, it’s certainly not easy to “make it” as a self-published author.

I don’t personally think it’s more work than going the traditional route (I mean, everyone has to market and promote these days, right?), but it’s a different kind of work, and not all authors find the idea of investing in and controlling their own destinies appealing (hire my own editor…wha?). I’ve met lots of writers who would rather hand a manuscript off to an agent and say, “Here, this is your baby now.” I’m not sure that it actually works that way for anyone any more, but that’s the perception amongst many new authors.

What I have learned is that if you choose to self-publish, and you do it well, you can get to the point where you’re writing for a living more quickly than with the traditional route (both because you can publish more quickly and because you make more per book sale). Self-publishing isn’t necessarily for everybody, but it’s become a viable alternative to the traditional (and, let’s face it, slow) publishing system.

If you’re interested in hearing more of my blathering (scintillating stuff, I know), you can find me at Savvy Self-Publishing and on the afore mentioned author blog. If you’re a fantasy fan, or just want to take a peep at my work, you can try one of my free fantasy short stories at Smashwords (all e-reader formats, including PDFS, are available there). Thanks for reading!

Your Turn: Do you have any questions for Lindsay, or have you decided to go the self-publish route? If so, can you tell us why?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas is a Time for Laughter...

...So, I had to share this:

Don't you hate it when someone tweets something AWESOME and you can't RT it because there isn't enough space? (I work off Hootsuite - a great way to ride on the coattails of other people's brilliance). Well, that happened me to a little while back. And I thought it was so snort-worthy, I saved it for a day I wanted a giggle.

So, for your pre-Christmas treat, I give you the funniest tweet I wish I wrote:

Google: "I have everything!"
Facebook: "I know everybody!"
Internet:"Without me, you all are nothing."
Electricity: "Keep talking, b&!#%s."

(Via @therealhenny)

Your Turn: What's your favorite funny tweet / pithy quote?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Are You Getting to the Heart of Your Characters?

I recently critiqued a book of the crime / terrorism ilk. The writing was sublime, but three things came across very strongly to me:

1. It doesn't matter how dramatic your events are, if they don't carry emotional weight, they quickly become two-dimensional words on a page. Otherwise known as "Meh."

2. If the character's actions aren't consistent with the information the author provides, their intentions and motivations appear flimsy. As I reader I no longer trust the protagonist.

3. It doesn't matter how tight and smooth your prose is, if your character looks dim-witted or gullible, I won't care about what happens to him / her.

Now, I can assure you, the very talented writer whose manuscript I read never intended for their protagonist to appear implausible, gullible or inconsistent. But that's our eternal problem, isn't it? Communicating what's in our heads to what's on the page.

So here's a few tips from my experience. Please feel free to share any you've read or discovered in the comments:

1. Never, ever, explain. If you're getting critique notes that indicate readers find the character, motivation, or plot implausible, resist the urge to explain in the narration. If they aren't convinced by the picture, they won't be convinced by your reasoning. Take the time and energy to more fully develop your protagonist, your villiains, your world building... whatever it takes to show the reader why the things that are happening are totally belieavable.

2. Don't develop character traits in narration (at least, not primarily). Let your characters meet situations which allow them to demonstrate how they think through their actions and reactions. If your character is short tempered, don't have another character say "Gee whiz, I sure don't wanna talk to George. He gets mad so easy!" Instead let George snap at students in his classroom, or make cutting comments to his wife. Little things that can be woven into the rest of the plot as it's progressing.

3. Trust your readers to understand. Most readers have been reading a long time. Consciously or not, they understand the rules. When stunningly handsome man walks into the room, you don't have to say "He was STUNNING" to get the message across. Describe him (creatively, if you can) and let us gauge his hubba-hubba-factor by the heroine's reaction to him. Then, when Stunningly Handsome Hero throws a dismissive remark over his shoulder at the Heroine, don't explain to the reader how that felt. Just show her reaction. We get it. Really.

4. "Emotion" is more important than "Explosion". Seriously. It doesn't matter what the emotion is - it could be fear, tension, revulsion just as easily as the wistful ache of unrequited love. What is important is that the emotional journey is accessible. It's something the reader can relate to. Because then you can take that character anywhere, to face anything, and the reader will go with you eagerly. But if you depend on nuclear devastation, or bloody murder to carry a book, the reader will quickly tire. They're reading to live the danger / tension / fear / love vicariously. But they have to care first. (If you aren't sure about this one, consider the difference between your reaction to hearing a murder story on the news compared to hearing your best friend's spouse was killed. When you care, you're invested. Deeply. Not just for a few minutes of tragic empathy).

If you take the time to develop your writing to create these effects via the story (rather than just telling the reader how to think and feel), your story will love you for it. And so will your readers.

Your Turn: Any questions? Or do you have other tips to offer to help other writers make their stories more authentic / emotional?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Your Story CAN Go ANYWHERE. Really.

Yesterday I had the following conversation on Twitter that really got me thinking about what makes a book "work":

He did WHAT?!

AUTHOR (Who shall remain nameless): If someone chewed a fetus from its mother in one of *my* books, people would say I was just being gross. But this is OK in YA, apparently.

@AimeeLSalter to AUTHOR: I think it's an example that you can do ANYTHING in fiction if you establish the characters / motivations strong enough.

AUTHOR to @AimeeLSalter: or just an example of something really silly :)

@AimeeLSalter to AUTHOR: That too. Like I said, you can do ANYTHING...

And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the age old 'plausibility' factor isn't dependent on your plotpoints. At all.

Bestselling Examples (10 points if you can name all the books without use of anything but your grey matter):

- Children killing each other for televised sport.
- "Demonbabies" bitten out of human mother's tummy by vampire father.
- An entire magical realm hidden accessed via a London train platform.
- Greek mythological Gods alive and well in modern-day America and hiding their children behind 'stinky' stepfathers.

The list goes on - fallen angels who fall in love with humans, reincarnated lovers, a world where everyone dies before they reach the ripe old age of 25...

See what I mean? I write fantasy, so believe me, I hit this a lot.

If you describe plot-points out of context you'll get everything from blank looks to revulsion. But that's because taken in isolation, most fiction is purely unbelievable.

The skill is in weaving a world so tangible, characters so relatable and (the element lacking in many maiden manuscripts, I think) the motivations so solid that the reader can't doubt them.

The technical term is 'suspension of disbelief' and it means that you've captured the imagination of the reader so completely, they stop asking questions.

The problem is, suspension of disbelief, that magical moment in which anything is possible, requires engagement of the logical brain. (Reader says, "Say what?").

Bear with me:

Element #1 - World Building. Set the rules, then stick to them. Readers are fine with a different kind of law, just as long as the author is an adherent. Problems only arise when you change the game - when the author springs something unestablished into the mix to save the day.

Element #2 - Relatable Characters. Your protagonist can be human, creature, past, present or future, or a conglomerate of everything. But whoever they are, they must experience real emotion. (And you should define 'real' as: What the reader believes someone would feel if they were in the Protag's shoes). The thing a reader resonates with isn't the world. It's the character whose eyes they're watching the story behind. If that character doesn't feel in realistic ways, no manner of world-building or plotting will save your story.

To hammer the point home: Feeling realistically doesn't mean author-telling-reader how to feel. It means letting them see the events unfold, see the body language of the other characters, and giving them enough information about the people to measure the emotional journey for themselves.

Element #3 - Established Motive. Let's take the currently abhorrent-to-some plotpoint of a certain book / movie in which the vampire father of a half-breed baby literally bites the child out of the (conscious!) mother's womb.

Taken at face value like that, it sounds horrific. But for readers of the series, who've bought into the world and fallen in love with the characters, the development is so logical as to barely warrent notice.

- We know the physical strengths and limitations of these characters (including the child).
- We know the world they're in, and the clear and present dangers.
- We know the apparently brutal physical interaction is actually a desperate attempt on the father's life to keep his wife and child alive.
- We know the mother has risked her own life to this point for the sake of the child, and wants the people around her to do anything to save it.

When we're deep in the world and the characters heads, it makes sense.

When you write it down, it looks awful.

So, take heart dear writerly friends - it's my belief there's no such thing as a 'no go zone' in plotting. But, you have to have the character development and motivational foundation to make the scary, gory, freakish or fantastical seem logical.

Your Turn: Have you ever read a book that didn't provide the motivational foundation to let you suspend disbelief?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

How Critiquing For Someone Else Will Make Your Book Better

I've been doing a lot of critiquing this year. If you've never critiqued for another writer, give some serious consideration to doing so. Your writing will love you for it.

I started critiquing as part of a writer's group which included published and represented writers two years ago. I think I've learned more from reading their stuff (and offering feedback) than I have through my own writing. Why? Because I see my own writing flaws from the other side of the fence.

Here's the thing: When I write I see the world in full-color. My characters are rich, deep, fiercely motivated and entertaingly flawed.

But my writing doesn't always communicate what's in my head.

When reading someone else's writing, I see what they've told me - not what they've got in their head. By reading other people's writing a lot I started being able pick out what writers were intending as opposed to what they were actually communicating.

And it showed me how I do the same thing.

Example #1: Crime Writer has a character with a lot of wit and charm. Crime Writer's protagonist has a habit of cracking jokes constantly. And the thing is, they're funny. But sometimes when the protagonist is staring down the barrel of a menacing gun, or in the boudoir with a scintillating woman, yuk-yuk and har-har just don't cut the mustard.

I know Crime Writer intends to let the reader enjoy humor even in the midst of fear. But what Crime Writer is actually doing is diluting tension and creating a sense that the story isn't very real.

How It Related To My Writing: About a year into revising my first manuscript featuring a sarcastic-and-sometimes-witty protagonist, I recieved the following feedback:

"One-liners are good sprinkled through your prose. But when every other paragraph has a punchline, it starts to get into a rythym that isn't funny, it's just irritating. You're breaking up your own flow."

At the time I was horrified (not to mention, a little miffed).  Now I know exactly what the writer meant.

Example #2: Historical Writer wove a very complicated story via multiple points-of-view. With an eye on wordcount and a desire to appeal to the 'younger audience', much of the character building was related via telling the reader what the character felt in narrative.

The story was chock-ful of "Despite the obvious [plotline / dialogue / established backstory], I felt [unlikely emotion] because of [unlikely motivation which requires explanation]. Whatever was I going to do?!"

How It Related To My Writing: My first book was a fairly epic urban fantasy. Sometimes it felt like the sheer number of motivations and deep-seated emotions every character needed established would require a tome of 200,000 words or more. So I took short cuts by simply telling the reader what the character thought or felt and why. (i.e. "Charactername is gorgeous. He makes me go all gooey. Hubba Hubba Hubba..."** instead of describing the attributes of Charactername that make him attractive and letting those elements seep into his actions / reactions).

But when I saw it at play in someone else's writing, it made me understand why critiquers were telling me they were struggling to care about my characters: If I read a story and can't 'gather' the same impression from events that the main characters do (without having it explained to me), it feels like I'm being told what to think. That makes me suspicious that the story is implausible or shallow and I quickly lose interest.

That narrator's musings and reactions should be either primarily a tickbox (i.e. they let me gauge whether my impressions and conclusions are correct), or else they should be enlightening (i.e the character demonstrates an expertise I don't have and can show me the logical extrapolation on what we're learning).

Under no circumstances should it be C) I couldn't understand this without the POV character explaining it to me.***

When a character responds or reacts to what's going on in the story, it should be the way I double-check my own responses / reactions to it. Does that make sense?

So... back to my original point:

1. Critique for other writers. It will help you write better. (Please note: critiquing means analyzing plot, characters, setting, effectiveness of prose, plausibility, etc. It's much more detailed than 'beta reading' which is primarily reading in bulk and responding to what worked and what didn't).

2. Let other people read your writing so you can find out where the picture in your head and the picture on the page don't match. See above for another helpful step in this direction.

**Not an actual excerpt - technique is exaggerated to make a point.

***No, I'm not talking about world-building stuff, of course those kinds of things have to be explained. I'm talking about character motivations, reactions, reasonings, logic, etc.

Your Turn: Have you ever critiqued for another writer? What did you learn from the experience?