How Butterflies Saved My Book

When I sat down to write IN THE AFTER, I was battling two forces.  The first being writers block and the second being an undecided ending.

Writing a novel, it’s not easy work.  So much depends on how “in the game” you can get your head, and how much the characters are willing to share of themselves with you.  Without those two things, you’re fighting a losing battle.  And, I had neither going for me.  I was coming off the back end of abandoning a story I been fighting with and for since November … and IN THE AFTER was nothing more than a rough outline and few character sketches.

IN THE AFTER revolves around the story of two women, Emmy and Sidney, they very different women with one commonality … they are best friends.  They never picked their predestined friendship, it was born before before they knew better, it was willed upon them by their mothers who traveled in the same circles.  And still, they never outgrew it.  Each needed the other because, or spite, of their differences.

When Emmy disappeared on April, 7th 2010 … Sidney’s world changed forever.  Gone was the girl Sidney had always known and now she was forced to face not only all the ways she failed Emmy over the years, but the emotional backlash of a loss like that.

I knew, as I stared at the cursor, where I wanted to focus my energies.  The story is lightly based in reality, but blown up to fictional proportions for the sake of “a novel” … and I knew who they women were destined to become to the reader and how I could tell their story respectfully to the underlying current of domestic abuse.  But how did it end?

In a story like this, there is no “add water” ending.  It can’t be a happy one where they skip off into the distance to live forever and ever because something that easy wouldn’t do justice to the other aspects of this book.  But the thorn in my side was the how — how do I create a compelling end to a novel that will stand up against the rest of it, so that when someone does read, they are left with the bigger picture.

Suddenly I was faced, again, with the prick of writers block … and if you’ve ever felt that, then you know, you can’t fight it … it needs to work itself out.  And as I learned, it would …

My husband and I were out running errands one Saturday afternoon when I came upon the thing that would essentially blast my writers block to hell.  It was as benign a coffee cup.  No, I didn’t find the answer I was looking for at the bottom like some tea-leaf fortune … it was written.

“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was ending it became a butterfly” – proverb

And I had it — all the answers and all the resolution and the final chapter.  It was really that stupidly simple for me.  So, essentially, butterflies saved my book.  How that will be … I guess you’ll have to read to find out …

Now, I have this weird thing I do … before I go to bed at night I write.  A few minutes and sometimes a few hours.  I’m writing patchwork style and every day is something new and totally non chronological as I tie up the trail of breadcrumbs.  After I close the lid of my computer and climb into bed, I mentally ask my characters to tell me their story … and then, I dream about them.  And when I wake up in the morning, I do have a clearer vision of what they want from me and how I can live up to that.

But, the bigger point is … when you’re feeling like your piece isn’t sewing itself to your side … open your eyes.  LOOK for the resolution you need because it could be out there hiding, waiting to be found.  For me, it was a mug … for you, it may be something else.  Writers block can be disheartening and hard and scary — I know I wondered if I’d be a one time writer, never to publish again — but I believe that good stories can be hard to tell, because if they were easy … everyone would do it.

On a side note, because I’m so tickled by this — while looking deeper into the quote, I’ve discovered how much those words mean to people.  Literally, girls have them tattooed on their ribcages.  And I think that is so special, and I’m so excited to bring that quote to life in this novel.  I just can’t wait for it to be finished and out there!

 

 

 

Back To The Days Of Brick & Mortar?

For the past few years something has plagued Amazon … that something would be sales tax and the battle surrounding it.

If you’ve ever shopped with the online retail giant, you know, part of the glory and the low price structure of the site at large is the absence of sales tax.  This goes for nearly everything in stock.  The reason Amazon could pull off such a thing when other stores can’t is simple … the entire practice of no-taxes hinges on the little law that states without a physical presence in a state, the retailer is under no obligation to charge sales tax. Hooray!

This has perhaps been part of Amazon’s appeal … especially when it comes to big ticket items like the 50 inch LCD television right down to the $200 Kindle Fire.  Couple that with the Prime free shipping … customers on the site really do pay retail and not penny above.  May shoppers, myself included, will scope out items at physical stores only to return home and order them online … Chicago has a crippling 10% tax structure in place … as you can imagine, this has saved me many a dollar over the years.

But, in the past few days this tax-free model has changed and changed drastically.  Amazon has inked a deal with California (the biggest bitcher about the tax-free stance of Amazon) as well as a handful of other states.  By fall of 2012 expect to spend a bit more on your purchases via Amazon.com if you live in one of the taxable states. So what does this potentially mean for Amazon and the consumer?

It means that Amazon may very well be taking itself offline exclusively and branching out into the trade of brick and mortar store fronts.  With no more incentives to remain captive behind your computer screen, the online retail giant may just end up taking it to the streets.

No, you won’t be able to find that obscure sock for your golf club in store if this ends up coming to fruition … Amazon is said to be exploring the idea of selling their wildly popular Kindle family as well as exclusive books in brick and mortar store fronts, and the plan is to start with their home base, Seattle.  So … yeah … in a way Amazon is going back to their roots while simultaneously exploring uncharted territory.

Lets go back to the beginning, shall we?

Amazon originally was a book store  (back in the dark ages it seems now) … and all started in the garage of Jeff Bazo’s home where he attacked the internet by offering below-retail books online.  And then, it grew.  It quickly became the Amazon we know today, offering the consumer vitamins to vacations and nearly everything in between.  But Amazon has always been, and will always be, a book retailer first and foremost, it was their bread and butter and remains steadfast in their role (don’t believe me?  Visit the site, tell me what shows up on the welcome screen) … so it seems almost natural that if they were going to break a proven, successful business model … it would be for the love of books.

The peanut gallery seems divided on this venture of Amazon’s.  Some outspoken individuals are questioning the sanity of Bezos as his plans come to light … wondering aloud why, in the dawn of brick and mortars going under at a neck-breaking pace, Bezos would gamble with a venture that seems and feels slightly ancient.  Others are just excited … and by others, I mean the independent authors who stand to have some shelf space in a store that, by all intents, could be as big (if not bigger) than Barnes & Noble where shelf space if typically reserved for the trade published.

But, why … that seems to be the million-dollar question on everyone’s lips.  Why would Amazon tinker with their success when book stores are going the way of dinosaur?  For me, the answer can be found in the behind-the-scenes antics of it all.

Last week, Barnes & Noble broke the news that they were drawing a line in sand — any book that was exclusively sold through Amazon (aka Select) wouldn’t be welcome in their stores.  And on the heels of that, Books-A-Million made a strikingly similar announcement.  Now, it’s pretty common knowledge that B&N isn’t the most Indie-friendly ground and for what it’s worth, it was exceptionally rare for an Indie to secure space in their store anyway.  In my opinion, it was no great loss for us but a tremendous loss for them.  They essentially were telling the customers, we don’t care what you want to read … we only care about having the upper hand.  This announcement was cloaked under the “fair trade” moniker … we saw the same thing with DC Comics this past Holiday season.  But, B&N is doing little more than whittling away at their own nose, since they hardly practice what they preach signing an exclusive with REAL SIMPLE and announcing it proudly mere hours after chastising Amazon for doing practically the same thing.

Whatever.

My suspicions is this: While there is a revolution in play for us writers … there is an all out war for the bookstores, one that could use the muscle and aptitude of a business like Amazon.

Amazon has always been keen on fleshing out fresh talent and growing itself as a business to include imprint publishing and a self-publishing imprint.  They are forward thinkers, always evolving to meet the needs of consumers as the consumers needs grows and changes.  And while the day of the book store may be slipping away, the era of Amazon is on the cusp of breaking free.

Amazon is creating rules as easily as they are breaking them.  They don’t look at PUBLISHING as an old-boys club where the “do-no-wrong” mantra is chanted throughout the empty halls … they look at it honestly and see the flaws … and then, they work tirelessly to correct them.  Now, they’ll do the same with BOOK STORES.  I can see them spinning B&N like a top … recreating the consumers idea of a “book store” by putting their own twist on things.  And for that, I’m excited!

 

 

 

 

Trestle Press Is Falling Down … Falling Down … Falling Down

Imagine this … if you will …

Years of hard work collecting on your hard drive, years of reject letters collecting on the corner of your desk.  Writing short story after short story for so long you’ve nearly lost count.  And then, you get a direct Twitter Message … from a publisher … a small publisher, but who cares, it’s a publisher!  And he … without query and without approach … wants a read of your work.  Imagine that moment.  Some of us have been there, standing on the edge of “a read” waiting with our hopes and manuscript in hand.  Now, imagine, the head of company, the man out in front, e-mails you and saying the magic, three-letter word … yes.

This, is the Trestle Press Game … and perhaps it will go done in history as one of greatest Author Beware fallouts of all time.  Perhaps it will, as new authors emerge from their home offices with finished manuscripts, become the thing of lore … the thing other, seasoned authors warn them about.

Trestle Press touts themselves as a “legacy publisher” … which is comical, as publishers don’t tend to use words like “legacy” or “traditional” … they are simply publishers.  We, you and I and everyone else, have been the ones to establish the hierarchy … The Big Six, Vanity, Legacy, Traditional … those are our words for them … not their own.   That is, perhaps, the first of the many red flags in the Trestle Press Game.

In the past twenty-four hours, and probably for a bit longer than that, Trestle Press Publishing has been falling down.  It’s hard to pinpoint where the fallout began, but it’s layered.  This is what we know:

Trestle has been creating covers with beautiful images … images that were, for all intents and purposes, hijacked.  That’s right.  Trestle has taken to using photos … stock and not … without the permission of the artist.  In case you didn’t know … HUGE NO-NO.  And this is the justification give for such deceitful actions …

“We stand by the fact that if we have used any copyrighted artwork that we have contacted the artist or made every possible attempt to contact the artist. In many cases, we have requested usage permission and made payment when asked.
In cases where no contact was made or no copyright holder found, we apologize for the usage and have removed the identified images.
It is and always will be our intent and desire never to never infringe on anyone’s intellectual property without their consent” 

Some of these images include a still shot from the 1980’s movie “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” … another, from the upcoming movie “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” staring Nicholas Cage … and still, another image from the video game “Hit Man”.  I’m almost proof positive that there was no way those images were used with the slightest hint of consent considering the source.

Authors, in the last twenty-four hours, have taken to their individual blogs in force, lamenting that their works were poorly edited, terribly formatted and theorizing that their submitted work not even read prior to publishing.  So much for the merit and weight of yes.

Rather than apologizing for the obvious foul, Trestle has told their authors — the ones that keep the lights on and pad their bank accounts — that there is no need “to draw this out” and that they would not share “where the images came from” since it was obvious in questioning at all, the author was clearly “showed where they were” … and that trust was a “two-way street” … to which I have stress, trust in earned not given.

Others have come forward in this mess to discuss the contract … or lack there of.  Often time no more than a single paragraph, that was total rubbish … and, yes, in case you’re wondering, Trestle Press has published the works of a fourteen year old — whether his parents were aware or not remains to be seen.

It’s a disaster with multiple authors frantically trying to rescue their stories from the grips of the publishing house while simultaneously trying to salvage their careers by expressing that they will soon announce where their stories will be published … as soon as they can figure it out themselves.

In the center of this crumbling bridge stands Giovanni Gelati.  The one man band who has always said his “workers prefer to be anonymous”.  And, now, his little bridge is falling down … down … down.  You might want to know who this mastermind is … where he comes from … and just where he gets off.  There isn’t much out there about him personally, other than his blog-radio, Gelati’s Scoop.

The message in this new fallout is simple … authors, be so careful when it comes to who you get in bed with.  It’s easy to get swept away when you finally get the sort of response you’ve been chasing.  Know who you’re dealing with, be involved and vocal.

THIS Is What’s Wrong With Publishing … And It’s A ‘Shore’ Thing …

And here we can see our best selling author, Snookie, hard at work!

::Insert eye-rolling, grumblings, nausea, and a little bit of wondering what the hell is wrong with this world::

Yesterday … The Kindleboards were down … we’re talking 16.5 hours of silence on the home front.  In between doing some beta reading and review reading (of two fabulous forthcoming releases, by the way, … yea for sneak peaks!) I started mulling around the internet for bookish news I could eventually spin into a blog.

Than I found it, and I almost died … Nicole “Snookie” Polizzi … is … a … best … selling … author … ranked … on … the … New … York … Times … Holy Grail … List.  And, apparently, this is ‘old’ news.  Well people, this is ‘new’ news to me … and I’m just not having it.

Before I launch into a total tailspin and mock the world of publishing at large, let me share with you some choice quotes from our “New York Times” best selling author:

*Word of the day: sympathetic. That’s a big word. (Really, NYT best selling author … sympathetic is a “big word”?)

*I’m not sure what lobsters eat, but I think they eat like insects or something… so I was gonna feed them worms. (Good God, lady)

*[Vinny]’s like my big brother, I love him … but usually you don’t have sex with your big brother. (No, Snookie, you shouldn’t ever have sex with your big brother … and if he just feels like a big brother, you probably shouldn’t have sex with him either.  That’s good advice, girl … you can take it to the bank.)

*I wanna go on a boat, an island.. filled with gorillas. (High aspirations, I see … way to dream big girl, way to dream)

Oh, sweet Jesus.

I’ve watched The Jersey Shore … I own the fact that I do like trashy reality television and the train wrecks that join up, ironically, I view it as a break in reality — because no one really acts like that … right?   But, they do, and that’s the hook … kind of like animal’s in a zoo … you watch them from behind glass, because it’s safe there … and you laugh because sometimes they do cutely hysterical things.  But that’s where they belong, along with their antics … safely away from the public at large.

Snookie’s book, A SHORE THING, topped out as a NYT best seller.  It’s a bubble-gum book, totally YA, a beach read that will probably have zero impact on your life:

It’s a summer to remember . . . at the Jersey Shore.

Giovanna “Gia” Spumanti and her cousin Isabella “Bella” Rizzoli are going to have the sexiest summer ever. While they couldn’t be more different—pint-size Gia is a carefree, outspoken party girl and Bella is a tall, slender athlete who always holds her tongue—for the next month they’re ready to pouf up their hair, put on their stilettos, and soak up all that Seaside Heights, New Jersey, has to offer: hot guidos, cool clubs, fried Oreos, and lots of tequila.

So far, Gia’s summer is on fire. Between nearly burning down their rented bungalow, inventing the popular “tan-tags” at the Tantastic Salon where she works, and rescuing a shark on the beach, she becomes a local celebrity overnight. Luckily, she meets the perfect guy to help her keep the flames under control. Firefighter Frank Rossi is exactly her type: big, tan, and Italian. But is he tough enough to handle Gia when things really heat up?

Bella is more than ready for some fun in the sun. Finally free of her bonehead ex-boyfriend, she left home in Brooklyn with one goal in mind: hooking up with a sexy gorilla for a no-strings-attached summer fling. In no time, she lands a job leading “Beat Up the Beat” dance classes at a local gym, and is scooped up by Beemer-driving, preppy Bender Newberry. Only problem: Bella can’t get her romantic and ripped boss Tony “Trouble” Troublino out of her head. He’s relationship material. Suddenly, Bella’s not sure what she wants.

The cousins soon realize that for every friend they make on the boardwalk, there are also rivals, slummers, and frenemies who will do anything to ruin their summer—and try their relationship. Before July ends, the bonds of family and friendship will be stretched to the breaking point. Will the haters prevail, or will Gia and Bella find love at the Shore?

For everyone who loves MTV’s hit reality show, Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi’s sweet, funny, and sexy novel perfectly captures the heat, the energy, the fun, andthe drama of Jersey Shore.

So, our lead Gia Spumanti (or as I affectionately call her — Vanilla, Chocolate, Pistachio) and Bella Rizzoli are essentially fluff … slutty, tanned, men-chasing fluff.  Nice, Simon & Schuster … way to shoot for the stars … way to save yourself with literary integrity.

It’s not Snookie’s wild success with A SHORE THING that kills me … I can find value in all sorts of books, and appreciate their shelf value through the eyes of their individual demographics.  What kills me is this:

I remember the Golden Age of books.  For me, I was a senior in high school taking a self-guided reading class.  For an entire semester, we’d go into class with a journal and a book of our choosing, we’d sit at our tiny desks for the expanse of fifty minutes and read.  I have always been a fast reader, and gravitated towards thick, heavy, very wordy books … I made it my goal to read every book on Oprah’s list that semester.  And, I did.  It was there that my eyes really opened up towards the genre of Literary Fiction.  I was captivated by these stories of all different values — some heartbreaking, others hopeful … but I fell in love with reading in a different way in that class as I was asked to navigate a book and lean on my own interpretations.  It’s a love affair that has continued on since.

It was in that class I discovered Tawni O’Dell and her book BACK ROADS.  It was dark, disturbing, and exceptionally graphic … and I ate it up with a spoon.  I swallowed her words and invested myself in story and have been a huge fan of her writing ever since.  That’s the book I relished when I was “of age” to be consuming YA.

Now … in that class, with the teacher I loved so much for her nurturing the written word and her value of the English language, I can image a girl walking in with a copy of A SHORE THING and it makes me feel sort of sick.  Is that what coming generations are going to see as a good, worthy book?

I get it, kind of, that publishers are aching.  Gone are the big advances given to new writers … they want, ironically enough, the sure (shore) thing.  They know the massive fan power behind Snookie, and many of her NYTBSing counterparts. Popularity, in their mind, will flow-chart down into sales numbers. It has become less about the merit of a book and more about the reputation of it’s writer (though, I’d imagine many are Ghosted).

When people talk about the slaughtering of Traditional Publishing aka The Big Six, they think it will be because of the Indie Revolution taking root and then blooming.  I disagree with that stance, always have.

If we were talking strictly Big Six vs. Indie and the battle to the death, I’d say … whoa, wait, there is room of everyone.  If one dies, we all die.  Keeping everyone in play is in the best interest of books in general and at large.  The readers will be the ones who will suffer if one goes under.

But, I think the momentum of the Indie Revolution has less to do with the popular “us vs. them” mentality and more to do with what is in the market place.

If the Big Six are publishing books like A SHORE THING, then they will polarize an entire nest of readers who don’t find that sort of novel remotely valuable.  Those readers will make the decision NOT to spend $16.00 on a copy.  They’ll find a book they would prefer … or several books … from independent authors for a fraction of the price.  And that will be the ultimate undoing the traditional publishing, in my opinion.  It will ultimately boil down to a lack of viable, salable books which will be rooted in the fear of failure on the part of the Big Six.

Snookie is not to blame for this.  She’s just part of the bigger machine.  My guess would be that the publishers approached her … rather than the traditional, other way around.  My guess is that they offered her a Ghost and an advance and all she had to do was agree to sign her name on the dotted line — I find it hard to believe a writer, of anything, would consider sympathetic a big word.  And for that … I’m sympathetic towards her, because she has caught the brunt of people feeling outraged and disgusted — myself included.

I guess the moral of the story is this …

If you want a deal with the Big Six:  Get a reality show, act like a complete asshole on camera, and then wait for the offers to roll in.

2001

2011

My Little World

This, I love ... my leaded glass book sign ... I feel very much like a bibliophile.

Everyone needs a little inspiration, right?
The computer … complete with Washington State

In my novel, THE MILESTONE TAPES, my protagonist Jenna is a writer.  And part of her world includes the most beautiful office, as she mused … it’s where she constructed worlds to perfect to really exist .

I think, when I writing the book that making Jenna’s world the way I did was almost purposeful since I had literally no dedicated work space myself.  I ultimately was living vicariously through my character.  And, of course, my desire for a space manifested itself into what I would consider the perfect home office for a writer.

I primarily wrote THE MILESTONE TAPES in two places … my bed and my kitchen table, but I also wrote on a plane, by the pool, on the couch and in a hotel room.  Obviously, not ideal.  But hey, whats a girl to do?  Build an office?  No … that’s what husbands are for 🙂

Last fall I left the house, off to another full 10 hour day at my “real-world” job.  It was a national holiday … so though I was working… my husband, Mark, had the day blissfully free.  Little did I know, I’d come home that night to the manifestation of my greatest wish … a real writers workshop in the comfort of a spare room.

So, I think since I’ve shared so much about writing … I should show you were I actually practice what I preach … This is where the magic happens

My little place in the world ... welcome to my writers enclave.

 

Writing, yes … it’s easier when you have a place to do it.  I’m more productive, less haphazard and happier in my office than anywhere else … though, I still find myself crunching out blogs and pages in bed or on the couch or anywhere I can.  But in my office, I can shut the world out for thirty minutes or six hours, I can be lost in the world I’m writing about … alone with my music and my story.

Since I live in Chicago and write about Washington, I’ve made a point of surrounding myself with things that smack of the Olympic Peninsula.  From the wall color down to the accents, it makes sense that even being far away I can feel connected and draw inspiration from what’s around me.

What's a writers office without a library?

This is where I get to tell stories!

 

 

Gold Star Stickers!

THE MILESTONE TAPES is now a “live” book on Goodreads and has been for a couple of weeks now.  I have a giveaway chugging along … and surprising, I already have two reviews.  How is that possible one might wonder, since neither of the reviewers have actually read the book. Girl, I don’t know!   But, I’m not really complaining … 5 stars are 5 stars … and 5 stars beside the title of your book is really a beautiful thing.  I’ll admit, when I noticed that my unpublished, never-been-read book had garnished such high accolades I was beside myself with happiness.  And then the amazing happened … a sudden upsurge of requests for those 5 lowly copies.

The almighty power of the review.  

Before I was a writer, I was a reader.  I channeled a lot of my energies with the written word into reviewing the works of others.  It got to the point where I would buy little known books just to take the chance … actually, that’s how I discovered THE HELP before it became the blockbuster success we know it to be now.  I am a lover of good stories … I’m not one to isolate myself by genre, or by author.  I am an equal opportunity reader … always have been.  Reading made me a writer … it wasn’t the other way around.

Tonight on The Kindleboards an author posed an interesting question about 1-star reviews tanking the sales of his books.  As writer, I cannot speak to that because I have no idea and zero experience … but as a reader, I’m well versed.

Like it or not … in our lifetimes as writers, we will have the ultimate fail … the 1-star review.  And, it’ll sting because that is so NOT what we wanted to see about our beautiful little book.  But, I want to explore WHY 1-star reviews are important to our careers.

As a reader, I’ll own it, I’ve given 1-star reviews.  And when I do, they come in two forms.

The first being the analytical 1-star.  The prose of book is wrong, there are grammatical errors that I cannot read through, the story fumbles all over itself and loses the momentum.  These complaints are technical at heart.

Then, of course, there is the personal 1-star.  This is the 1-star based on the life experience of the reader, totally and entirely personal through the eyes and baggage of an individual.  As my favorite quote on reading goes … we bring ourselves to the books we read.

Example Number 1: 

Early last year I read, okay — half-read — a book that was wildly popular at the time.  I could barely make it to the 30% of the book before I had to cry UNCLE.  I simply could not follow the story … and no, I’m not dense, dumb or stupid.  The writing was a mash-up of here, there and everywhere.  I couldn’t keep up with the writer’s mind and ergo, her prose was wasted on me.  The book, in my opinion, faltered on a very basic level … keep the reader reading.

This was my review:

I bought this book with the best of intentions and struggled through the first few chapters keeping my fingers crossed that I hadn’t just wasted money. I wanted to like this book, honestly, I wouldn’t have bought it otherwise…but sometimes you just have to admit defeat. TITLE DELETED, while covering a very interesting, very relevant subject matter, is severely lackluster. The writing doesn’t capture the reader, and the author jumps from one era to the next leaving the reader feeling very disjointed. 

I’m sure, at some point, the story picks up…but I never made it there, unfortunately. And so the book is abandoned in my Kindle…oh well. 

If you’re looking for a good mystery, try one of Gillian Flynn’s books instead. Either Sharp Objects or Dark Places is a much more easily digested read with solid character/reader connections.

Example Number 2: 

Again, last year I read a book that I devoured in one day.  The writing was concise, crisp and the story line was impressively short for the scale of events covered.  Then, I finished and gave the book the almighty 1-star review.  This, was personal.  I liked the story, I’ve read works by the author before and enjoyed them immensely … but the writer failed me when it came to the characters and her development of them.  The story was deep — like heavy and dark — the way a reader would inhale that is through the characters … but the characters weren’t fleshed out and so the story sort of fell to pieces.

This was my review:

This book is all steak, but no sizzle. I missed the sizzle. 

I read this book, start to finish, in one day. It was the type of story that a reader will undoubtably find hard to put down…you simply **need** to know what happens next. So, for the that reason alone, this book is a consumable read, and it won 1 stars. But, if it was worthy of an entire day’s focus, why not 5? Here is why.. 

Good books, really, really good books make you *feel* for the characters. You fall in love with them, and that is the sizzle a novel can stand upon. The ability for a character to shine, good writing or bad, happy ending or sad, is what I describe as a literary gravity–they pull you in and don’t let you go, even after the final page. 

AUTHOR NAME REMOVED wrote a book with potential. She created a web of characters whom are relevant and modern. AUTHOR NAME REMOVED created drama, passion, heartbreak and a pinch of redemption. It was a pretty solid recipe when it comes to Chick Fic. 

But… 

AUTHOR NAME REMOVED fails to make you *love* the characters and she rushed the book along at a pace, while enticing and page turning, leaves much, much, much to be desired. The relationships don’t build and blossom, they have more a cold/hot tendency…the characters are “here” then “there” and the reader is just expected to keep up. So, eventually when you do reach the major turning points for these characters, you’re not as emotionally involved and devastated and relieved as you could have been had more focus been given to the “sizzle”. It makes it borderline unbelievable. Huge chunks of this story are missing, and it is in those chunks that your connection, as the reader, to the book would have been built. 

At the end of the novel when I was thinking about this review, I felt like AUTHOR NAME REMOVED either burnt out or was under a deadline. She simply doesn’t provide enough “time” in her book to do the job 100%. It wasn’t BAD, and I’m not trying to convey that…I’m simply saying it was LACKING in a key way.

The really interesting thing is that the reviews I get the most “likes” on … the ones that actually DO influence browsers to either become a reader or pass on the book, are the PERSONAL ones.  You wouldn’t think so … but, that’s how mine break down (caveat: I am not trying to create a bell-curve here, folks :))

I don’t relish giving bad reviews.  I wish every book I read was a smash that made me feel like it was true literary greatness, but unfortunately, that just doesn’t happen to be the case.  But, as a writer, I see the value in honesty … as a reader, I appreciate the candor of those who came before.  It’s where we can learn to be better and work harder.  It’s pivotal to ongoing success.  A 1-star view is an opportunity cost.

The same author started another thread about how to react to the 1-star review … and … his response actually startled me some …

I call the author who refuses to find merit and value in 1-star reviews the “gold-star-seeker” … remember in elementary school how every paper and every homework assignment came home with a the gold star?  Well, that was then and this is now … but some people refuse to outgrow that stage and feel genuinely slighted when their best isn’t good enough.  They are, at heart, very literal beings … 1-star = bad … 5-star = amazing.

Since there seems to be a fair bunch of “new writers” who follow this blog, I thought I’d touch on etiquette for a moment.

In the “real world” if a company selling a product gets a bad review, it’s rather nice of them to reach out and make it right.  A free meal, a replacement, a sincere apology … making it right comes in all forms.  With writing, the response is supposed to be entirely different.  An author should never ever never engage a reviewer.  Don’t you dare offer a refund, suggest they return the book, comment on their shitty taste in good literature  … the best thing to do is to actually to do NOTHING.  Mum is really the word here … doing anything else is such a turn off.

Bad reviews, they will come … along with the good ones and the mid-list ones as well.  They will chew you up from the inside out … that’s for sure.  But if you can take away something brilliant from them–something that makes you a better author, a better story-teller, then they truly can become gold-stars and tend to be more valuable than all the kudos in the world.  Learn from the bad reviews, appreciate the reader who took the time to be frank and honest with you.  Figure out how you can change what you did wrong and spin it into what you’ll do right moving forward.

If you can … you deserve a gold star for that shit 🙂

What To Expect When You’re Expecting

 No … silly writers … this isn’t a pregnancy post!  This is a business post.  I want to discuss what you should expect when you’re expecting something book related … anything book related.

As a writer, an independent writer, you’re not just writing books for the sport of it … you’re running a business.  You’re producing a product in your bed or office or at the kitchen table.  It’s a product that will be bought and sold for years to come and it should, in a perfect world, rise up to meet your expectations of it.  And, chances are, you’ll end up outsourcing some of the tasks involved in the production of that product.  It’s the loss of control that’s extremely hard …

For me, this was equal parts of exhausting and rewarding. When you hand over your vision as well as your money, you are taking a chance — no one knows that better than a virgin-writer with no real connections and zero experience. There are no lily-pads in your pond to hop from. As I prepare to get the second book really moving, and align myself for the best success possible in terms of time management and output, I think taking a hard look at what to expect when you’re expecting is a pretty important thing.

I’m pretty much a pacifist.  I’m easy going, I try my hardest to be nice to everyone I meet and I’m fairly level headed in terms of my expectations.  I might go so far as to say I have a perfectionist streak in my ideals … but I’m not impossible please.  Many, many of my business dealings were amazing, having the resources at my finger tips to ask the important questions and establish a bell-curve of expectations was priceless … but it wasn’t flawless.  I was new, green and fumbling as I like to say, and I had to learn a lot of things … hard things … but with any education, there is growth and … believe it or not … I’m actually sort of thankful for the moments that had me pulling my hair out, because they taught me more for the next endeavor.

1. The people you hire actually do work for you!

I can remember one instance where I was working with someone … going back and forth, “yesing” and “noing” a certain thing over and over and over again … it started to feel like a tennis match of sorts, with this certain thing bouncing between us with no points being scored.  The fun of it was lost in the inability to match up our minds and communicate effectively.  In the end, the person I was working with just e-mailed a few options and pretty much threw her hands up in the air.  That was discouraging.

When you’re paying someone to do a job, what you get in return for your money should be what you were expecting and nothing less than that.  If you’re sensing a mental break-down, either from you or your contractor, take a break.  Shoot off an e-mail and be nice about it, explain that you’re going to take 12 or 24 or 48 hours to think it over.  In the grand scheme of things, the cooling off period won’t make a difference in the timeline … but it may make all the difference in the end result.

Don’t be afraid to say “that’s not quite right” … it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.  When you’re working over e-mail, things can get lost in the communication process, and that’s not really anyones fault.  If you can disguise a criticism as a kudos … even better.  Pick one thing you love and start with that.  Remember to say thank you … that’s important!

Let your contractor know, upfront, what your expectations are.   Don’t roll in during the 11th hour with X,Y&Z … be concise upfront and hopefully, in return, you’ll get the same.

2. Be kind … but firm …

This is sort of piggybacking off of point number one.  But remember, the people you’re working with have lives too.  Be aware that people get sick … that accidents and emergencies arise.  If something like this happens, because it does happen, be nice about it … but let them know that you’re still expecting the work done by such-and-such a date.

3. Work out a contract … and don’t be afraid to ask for a signature!

As a writer, you’ll be asked to sign contracts all the time.  Have one to offer back in return.  It’s an extra step, I know, but when you’re working online with someone you don’t know and you’re sending them your money and freely discussing a novel that isn’t copyrighted, it’s smart to safe guard yourself.  There are tons of online resources that will help you flesh one out … but use it, and keep them filed away by book (if you have more than one).

The primary thing to remember on this front is that until you have some safe guard, you’re wide open.  If you don’t mind that, don’t worry.  For me, however, I worry and so I mind.  I didn’t have contracts on the first go around, I signed some, but never had one in return.  I’ll be a better business woman the next time around.

Key components to remember if you’re going to draw up a contract are:

1. All business dealings should be kept quiet.  The world is a small place.  One disgruntled contractor could sour your good name.  People do this all the time in the name of privacy … you should too.

2. What does the purchasing said work entitle you too?  For a cover … that’s easy.  You want access to use the cover for any and all book related events and swag.  Don’t be blindsided by limitations.

3. Speaking of covers … companies like Createspace has minimum DPI’s you need have for printing … the magic number is 300.  Make sure your artist is aware of that can can create a cover using that as a launch pad.

4. Confirm the price up front.  Whatever the service, make sure that you have a base line fee that won’t be changed last minute … those sort of surprises are awful, even when it’s not that much money.

5. Have an opt out!  This is an uncomfortable thing to approach … but the truth is, people do misrepresent themselves.  If you have the feeling you’re getting run-around or the excuses are piling on, have a built-in escape hatch.  Spell that out.  A settlement fee a portion of the cost is fair … but don’t feel trapped by someone else … ever!

6. Anything else that creates worry or stress for you.

4. Establish a timeline 

My first time looked a lot like a hot mess.  I was a mess.  No directionality at all.  This time around, my timeline tentatively looks like the below:

-Write (MS finished and self-editted by April)

-In Appointment with Editor NOW — as in January.

-Converse With My Cover Artist Mid-Feb for image for cover

-Book Goes To Editor In April

-Book Returns In May/Make Corrections

-Apply For Copyright

-Book Goes To Formatter In June/Cover Artist Does Spine and Back

-Book Is Published in July

Will those dates change?  OF COURSE THEY WILL.  But, it holds me accountable to a time table.  I obviously don’t have a publisher breathing down my neck for my next book … and to keep it sort of organized, I set the goals and reward myself if I finish on time or better yet, ahead of time.  Expect set backs but learn to be your own boss, hold yourself accountable.

5. Be calm in the face of crisis

When I was writing THE MILESTONE TAPES I realized that I had totally and completely plagiarized an entire chunk of the book.   Sucks to be me.  That was what I consider a crisis.  But, I did the old … keep calm and carry on … thing.  It worked out fine … but just know, shit will happen … be okay with that, be prepared for that.

So … writers … be excited when you’re expecting … but be smart about expecting as well!

P.S: Don’t forget to enter THE MILESTONE TAPES GIVEAWAY!!

 

 

 

 

 

“I’ve had it for 90 seconds … and I’ve already published a book!”

Apple's Epic Fail

A lot if this and that has surrounded Apple’s announcement of iBooks Author in the last, oh, 24 hours.  But, before you get way too excited, there are some huge caveats that cripple the viability of this free software.

Apple is innovative … I’m an Apple fangirl through and through.  I own an iPhone, my husband has taken over my iPad, I write on an Air that recently replaced my Pro.  I have zero qualms when it comes to the utterly beautiful machines Apple produces and the software that accompanies them — heck, Garage Band taught me how to play two cords on my guitar.

There is plenty of software for the writer … Scrinever (or whatever), Storyist, good old fashion Word, Pages … the options are limited only to how much you want to spend, and free is always going to be a front-runner.  But iBooks isn’t free, as in free-free.

iBooks has a few things going for it, one being the instant format for books that are otherwise complex, like research manuals or math books.  It allows the author to invite a reader on an interactive ride through their work, which is, without a doubt ground breaking.  It also boasts a beautiful interface … as do most applications from this heavy hitting company.  iBooks essentially takes the task of writing and spins it on it’s pretty little creative head.

… BUT …

Buyer beware.

iBooks has some pretty sneaky ways of manipulating the author.  The grandest being that the AUTHOR doesn’t own the work … Apple does.  Of course, Apple will pay you … but, only if they agree it’s publishable … and if it’s not, and you decide to say “f-em … what do they know” … then be prepared to give your work away for free because you simply cannot sell it anywhere else.  Nope, sorry.  Not Amazon, not Smashwords.  You, the writer of this original context, will be crippled by Apples end-all/be-all judgements.

Of course, from what I’ve read, you have the option to export your work elsewhere to another writing software … but … strike all that beautiful formatting, because it will vanish before your eyes.

But, what really sealed iBooks fate on my end was the review left by one user whom shall remain names … he said, and I quote …

“I’ve only had it for 90 seconds and I’ve already published a book.  Incredible” (and 77 out of 120 agree with him)

No, not incredible.  There are a lot of choice words that can be used for what this guy did in 90 seconds … but incredible fails to be one … epically fails, actually.

Incredible is writing a book with merit.  Incredible is taking the time to produce a product worthy of production … can that honestly be done in 90 seconds?  I think not-so-much.  What are we pushing here?  Steamed rice.  You can’t even cook a Cup o’ Noodles in 90 seconds for crying out loud.  I’m pretty horrified actually.

The product detail from Apple reads like this:

Now anyone can create stunning iBooks textbooks, cookbooks, history books, picture books, and more for the iPad.  All you need is an idea and a Mac.  Start with one of the Apple-designed templates that feature a wide variety of page layouts.  Add your own text and images with drag-to-drop ease.  Use multi-touch widgets to include interactive photo galleries, movies, Keynote presentations, 3-D objects, and more.  Preview your book on your iPad at any time.  Then submit your finished work to the iBook store with a few simple steps.  And before you know it, you’re a published author!  

::deep sigh::

I have to look at this … this “software” … as a giant step backwards.  One that makes really sad.  I can tell you whats coming without the benefit of a crystal ball or premonitions … highly unedited books, sloppy writing, and overzealous drag-and-drop users who will grow spiteful with time when their “90-seconds-or-less-book” is rejected … which probably only means they’ll start showing up on Amazon and Smashwords.

This is a sad day for those of us who actually take this whole writing thing seriously.

 

 

 

 

 

Publicity and All That Jazz

I’ve been a bad blogger lately … and I’m sorry.  This blog has been painfully slow as I try to balance writing my second novel with putting the finishing touches on The Milestone Tapes.  I apologize and I’ll try to be better.

Before we jump into this latest post, I have a little housekeeping to do.

1. Please, please, please remember to sign up for the The Milestone Tapes Giveaway!  We have just under a month left!  More information can be found here under the “books and events” page!  Thanks for your continued support as we round third towards home.

2. I’ve finally, thank you Jesus, broken the curse of writers block.  Abandoning my initial idea allowed me to tell a story I’ve been haunted by for years.  Like with THE MILESTONE TAPES, IN THE AFTER will hit close to home for me as I explore what it means to really be a friend in the darkest of hours.  IN THE AFTER, unlike with THE MILESTONE TAPES, is a morbid story that will ping directly into current events and hopefully put a looking-glass over the definition of spousal abuse and the ricochet effect it has on relationships.

Okay … now, onto the topic …

Yesterday I posed a question on the Kindleboards about whether a new author would be better served going Select or if they should branch out into the wider distribution of B&N, Smashwords and the like.  I also mentioned that I had hired a publicist to work with me on the launch.

While some people stayed on topic, hashing out the highs and lows of Select … others broke off into the idea of a new author using a publicist to spread the word of their release.

I was told that with one novel my success will be nil and that it’s only with the what I do next that I will see what kind of author I meant to become … of course, I’m paraphrasing, but more or less, that was the gist.  That, rather than investing time and money into my first book, I should be killing myself for the second — dedicating every waking minute available to seeing the second novel through to completion.  Of course, this was from authors will multiple books in their signatures.  I was told that I should just publish, publish, publish … and if, in a year or so, I decide my work reads as “amateurish” … I can always pull particular works down.

…Ummm….

As I’ve said … over and over again … I’m not a seasoned vet, rather, I’m a first timer with no back-list and yes, that puts me a real disadvantage.  Everything I publish will be from the moment, and I will give to it all I can manage.  I won’t ever have the luxury of being a fast and furious author.  If I can publish one a year, I’m doing good.  Each book will come from its own place, literary fiction doesn’t lend itself well to sequels by the nature of it being.  And, the audience of literary fiction is an interesting bunch itself.  There is a set expectation of a book that is written for the genre … and it’s different from YA or SciFi or Romance.

So … let me tell you why I’m still going ahead as planned …

THE MILESTONE TAPES, draft one, was finished in August — or rather — five months ago.  I’ve held on to it now for longer than it took to write.

The editing of THE MILESTONE TAPES was completed November — or rather — nearly three months ago and I’ve still kept it to myself.

The cover, number two that is, was finished in November as well, for three months I’ve stared at it.  But, cover number one was completed in October.

The formatting for THE MILESTONE TAPES was finished earlier this month — I have the proof in hand and it’s flawless, but still, I haven’t clicked “publish”.

Why?

Because it’s not ready. The book in and of itself is as good as it ever will be … and its publishable material.  As I write this entry, the truth is, I could be a published author.  I could have had THE MILESTONE TAPES up for sale for nearly a week now.  Heck, I could have slapped a cover on it and it could have been for sale months ago … but that isn’t my style.  That’s not what I wanted for this story and it won’t be what I want for any story that shall follow… and that’s not how I’m going to step into the publishing world now or ever.

When a Big Six publishes a book there is hoopla.  It gives an author — new or old — a presence.  This mantra of letting the pot boil is one that was honed by trial and error.  They obviously know what works when it comes to launching a book and meeting sales quotas.  I, do not.  But, to my credit, I’m a researcher.  I was a reader long before I was a writer and I that sort of branches out into my quest to get it right.

The irony is, is that when an indie author grumbles about poor sales … the first thing that is often suggested or commented on is promotion.  Why?  Because it’s a way to get the word out, inspire interest, cultivate excitement … as the Big Six regularly do.  In the case of sluggish sales, either the author didn’t do enough or didn’t manage to target the correct areas.  But, in my mind (and to quote Larry the Cable Guy) … that’s like checking on your burgers after they’re burnt.  It’s an after the damage is done kind of thing.  New books have a short shelf life before they become old books.  Strike while the iron is hot is my personal philosophy.  Make as much of that moment as you can, give yourself every opportunity possible and you’ll never wonder what if.

With all of that said, I also know that everyone is on their own journey.  That what works for one may not work for another.  So, rather than make blanket statements about what you must do … I think it’s more pertinent to encourage all options.  Success comes in many forms … and that path too it is often different and designed by an individual.

So … now it’s question time … as a new author, what did you do to spread the word?  🙂

 

 

 

“In Two Months You Will Reach Your Goal”

That was what my fortune cookie said this evening … but, let’s go back to start …

Nine months ago I sat down at my computer to write a book.  Today, on my doorstep, the official proof arrived.  No more spiral bound Kinko’s mock-up, no more hypothetical printed pages scaled down on my computer for review … no, it was really real with a pretty gloss cover and hundreds of creme pages with my name on the cover.  It was really wild moment, opening the brown cardboard box and unearthing the finished product.  A surreal moment … one I’ve waited for a long time.  And yet, it was strangely bazaar … as I held it in my hand for the first time, I was overcome with this feeling of being introduced to something you’ll love for the first time.  You see, I know my book, I just didn’t know it like this.  This is different … and it’s spectacular to me.

And then it was as if my hands grew vines around the book.  I wandered from room to room in my home with it, I couldn’t put it down.

We celebrated the way one does on an icy winter night with the first real snow of the season blowing hard outside … we ordered in.  Chinese food.  Mark walked out with the two fortune cookies and told me to pick … and tonight, instead of playing our ritual game of “in bed” we’d play “with my or your book”.

I suddenly felt like I was making a huge decision … way more serious than dessert should ever be.  But, I played along, mulling over my choices for a solid minute before picking one of the plastic wrapped cookies.

I broke it open … and inside it said … in two months you will reach your goal.

Prolific, right?

Because in two months my book will be published.  I’ve said March all along.  I wanted to give myself the balance of a year to be really ready … to be secure and ready.

Today was a beautiful day … and I look forward to two months time.