The Years Between Us is Available!

It’s May 1st, and The Years Between Us dropped out of pre-order and it’s available! I just approved the paperback so that should pop up on Amazon shortly.

The book has been in pre-order for so long that I forgot it was out there. Since I finished it up and listed it, I’ve written the first book in my Wedding Party series and close to finishing the second book with about 15,000 more words to go.

I’ll chat with you about a couple things, and then I am off for the Sell More Books Show Summit in Chicago for the weekend, hopefully to learn how to market my books and put them in the hands of eager readers. I’ll recap that when I get back.

For now, I’ll let you know I only did pre-order to give myself some time to write. I released All of Nothing in October, and everyone says that six months between books is way too long. I agree. For most indie romance writers, three months is probably the maximum they leave between books, some even publishing 50,000 words every month. I still think I write pretty fast considering I have two children, three cats, and I work a day job to pay bills. I also see my sister once a week, I try to walk and catch up on podcasts, and I write this blog. So it’s not like when I’m not writing I’m sitting around twiddling my thumbs. But even if I could sweep all that aside, I don’t think I could produce more than three books a year, and that’s okay. I don’t want to write less than 70,000 word books (now that my novella streak is over) and sometimes that means plotting a little more and taking time with character development.

At any rate, the pre-order I did wasn’t to gain sales during the pre-order period, and that’s a good thing since I only had ONE pre-order on Amazon. I actually clicked the wrong button on Draft2Digital, so I didn’t know until a couple days ago my book was already available through them since April 17th. I would have been upset had I been trying to do a proper launch, but in my way of doing quiet, (AKA not telling anyone) launches, no one probably knew about my mistake.

As my 13 year old daughter likes to say, Whatevs.


May Goals

I have a few May goals.

  1. One is that I need to redo my trilogy covers.
    They are okay as far as being homemade, but I’ve gotten better at my skills, and well, trends have changed since the two and a half years since I published them.  Last night I took a look at the top 100 in contemporary romance on Amazon to get a feel of what’s out there. I’ve been looking at www.depositphotos.com to find new couples. For the amount of open door sex scenes in my books, my couples have too many clothes on. I’ve come to realize this through reader feedback and the fact that Freebooksy, when I did a promo for Don’t Run Away, wanted to put it in the sweet romance category. So I’ll be looking for couples who have a playful, sexy, fun vibe about them. As always, this took some doing because I needed to find couples that looked like they belonged together since’s it’s a trilogy. I’ve also been studying font and the color of the titles. A hot pink/fuchsia is in, along with a hot aquamarine in a handwritten font. I think I got it, but now I have to go through the trouble of creating them, and swapping them out with all the other vendors. Including Ingram Spark if I decide to keep my books listed there. Is it time for a drink yet?
  2. Finish book two of my Wedding Party Series.
    I have book two almost done, and I probably could have finished it if I wasn’t going out of town this weekend. I also realized that book two is stronger than book one, and since the stories parallel the same timeline, I can move book two to into book one position without too much rewriting. Jared and Leah are going to need a bit of rewriting anyway. I wrote on half before my surgery, the second half after, and I feel the ending isn’t as strong as it could be. I’m being very careful how all these are written and published because I want good read-through. To read more of my thoughts about writing a series click here. 
  3. Start book three. 
    I should  be able to start book three. I have the characters and their backstories mapped out. I have an inkling of some things that will happen, but I still need to sit down plot out the BIG BAD and of course, make sure I add some wedding stuff in there. Like, I don’t know, Marnie and James’s actual wedding. They aren’t going to be a premiere couple, but they are the reason this series is in creation, so I better get them married off.
  4. Start and finish an editing project.
    I’m helping a friend of mine edit the sequel to one of her books. I’ve already done one sweep, and she sent it to me again. It shouldn’t take me long to get through it, so I can’t even count this as a goal, just something that I’ll be working on the first week in May. I’m excited for her, and I love helping her. I’m proud of the work she’s done on her books because like you and me, we have a lot going on but she doesn’t let that stop her.

May looks to be shaping up into a busy month, but now that the weather has finally cleared up, my cat isn’t sick anymore, I’m healing from surgery just fine, and whatever else little things I was going through seems to have tapered off for now (knock on wood for me) I should be able to to cruise through writing this series and being able to publish them toward the end of fall/beginning winter of this year, into the rest of winter of 2020. All the while, of course, writing another book, which will be a new standalone that I’m already quietly plotting out.

A writer's work is never done. There is always a new story to tell.


It’s also not lost on me that I’ll be needing to look at promos here soon, and what exactly I can do to bump up sales. The new covers to my trilogy will be a start. To be honest, I’ll probably need to redo the cover to All of Nothing, too. I’ve gotten some reader feedback that Jax is so much of an ass that readers didn’t care for him all that much. Rewriting the blurb and redoing the cover to better prepare readers for his unlikable personality may head off more negative reviews. While I try not read reviews, when opinions make it to me, I try to listen. All of Nothing is very love it or hate it, and if I can prepare my readers by changing the cover to more of a bad-boy type, and rewriting the blurb to focus on how damaged he is, that would be a win for me.

By the beginning of 2020 I’ll have ten contemporary romance books out in my genre. They will be good, solid books, and there’s no reason why I can’t start making some money. I’ve been waiting to build a backlist, which I am doing, quite well, if I do say so myself. Now I just have to put my books to use because there’s no point in writing them if no one is going to be reading them. AmIright? 


If you want to take a look at The Years Between Us, it is live on all platforms. Zia Bishop is in love with an older man, and you’ll have to read to see how that turns out! Click the photo to be directed to your favorite retailer! If you’re waiting for the paperback, that should be available soon. There’s no reason why KDP Print should find anything wrong with it.

Thanks for reading and have a lovely weekend!

The Years Between Us Paperback Cover

Sad Endings versus Happily Ever Afters

And they lived happily ever after!

My friend Sarah wrote a blog post about Happily Ever Afters or HEAs. I wrote a response to that, but she said it was lost in the ether and it never posted. Anyway, I figured my response would be a good blog post so here are my thoughts about endings and happily ever afters.

Do all books need one? While I write romance, and I’m required to give one in my books, maybe you’d be surprised when I tell you that not all books need a happily ever after.

But.

But there needs to be some kind of ending that offers a sense of satisfaction to your reader. Something that offers closure.

We do this for a couple of reasons:

  1. Because readers have spent quite a few hours with you by the time they reached the end of your book.
    Look, reading a book takes a few hours, if not a few days. Maybe a couple of weeks. Anytime a person gives you that time, and pays you for the privilege on top of it, they deserve a little respect, don’t you think? Life is busy. We have jobs, kids, pets, spouses, and other responsibilities. When a reader sits down with your book, that’s an honor. And one you as a writer shouldn’t take lightly.And they lived happily ever after! 2
    Authors do, though.
    We see it in the way they offer books that haven’t been edited, or are formatted incorrectly. We see it in the way they offer stories with flat characters, plot holes, and endings that don’t make sense. And I have to ask, why would a writer disrespect their readers that way? It happens way too often, and readers don’t have time for it. With so much content out there now, and free, too, readers don’t have to waste time with you. Yet writers get offended when a reader points out a book’s flaws. This includes an unsatisfactory ending.
  2. A reader has just spent 10 plus hours going through hell with your characters, and readers want to know that through all that, at least they are on the right track to a better life.
    When readers go through hell and back, it’s nice to know that meant something. Otherwise, what is all the pain for? Your characters can’t go through 250+ pages of fire and brimstone without getting something out of it, right?
    What’s the point of the pain and the suffering without the offer of hope?
    That was something I heard when I listen to a couple people talk about The Walking Dead. I’ve never watched it; zombies aren’t my thing. But the woman said she stopped watching it because there wasn’t any hope, and the despair week after week brought her down.
    Humans need hope.
    Prisoners of war survive for years with the hope that one day they will be rescued. I just finished watching the documentary series about the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. Her parents have to have hope that one day their daughter will be found or they would just shrivel into a ball and die. Is the offer of hope enough for your book? That depends on your plot and the journey your characters have gone through. But your readers need the promise that there is a very good chance your characters will be okay because they learned enough on their journey to make better choices.
  3. Life is hard enough as it is.
    Readers read to escape. That doesn’t mean you have to give them rainbows and sunshine, but our lives don’t end on page 305. Real life consists of good days, bad days, super great days, an horrific days. But we keep on. When a reader reads a book, they expect, I’d venture to say,  a happily ever after, even if there isn’t much happy. In a kidnapping case, maybe the child is never found–but the kidnapper is. The parents will never find closure, but the detective working the case had, technically, done his job. Would you be happy with such a book? Or would you be happier if the child is found as well? In real life, missing children stay missing. Sometimes their abductors are found and punished. A plot like that is realistic. My friend says she writes realistic fiction, so a plot like that would be acceptable to her, more than likely.
    But does it belong in a book? Do the parents deserve closure? What about the detective? He’ll carry that burden for the rest of his life. What feels right for the story? What feels right for the characters? What feels right to the reader? As the author, you are in control. What feels right to you?

And they lived happily ever after! 3

There is a saying out there that a story is never-ending, the author just chooses to stop writing. I suppose this is true, and it amuses me to think about my characters living life without me, maybe breaking up when I fought with my laptop so hard to push them together. Maybe this is why series are so popular. We get attached to characters and want to keep reading. Does that happily engaged couple really get married, or do they break up after all? Does that detective finally find love despite his long hours and alcoholism? Does that one serial killer who got away finally get caught? Or in the case of that missing child, is she finally found and reunited with her parents?

Humans are hardwired to find the happy. There are a lot of trite sayings about happiness. Happiness is a journey, not a destination. Learn to be happy with what you have. Happiness is a state of mind. The list goes on, but with books, I think we can say that yes, happiness is a journey and it starts on page one, but it is also a destination and it’s found on the last page of your book.

And they lived happily ever after! 5

Here’s the thing. If your reader comes away mad at you, not only do you risk losing them as a future reader, you risk losing the next sale. Writers don’t write for money, but authors publish books for the sale. Why would you leave money on the table offering or reader a mediocre ending at best?

Think of any TV show that wasn’t ended properly. Castle, Lost, Seinfeld. Think of how you felt when you invested years of your life to be rewarded with a lukewarm ending. Now think of shows that weren’t ended at all, just cut off because they didn’t bring in the ratings.

You feel cheated.

And then you wonder, as an author, why people would be angry at you if you didn’t deliver a satisfactory ending.

quote-the-first-page-sells-this-book-the-last-page-sells-your-next-book-mickey-spillane-131-21-05

Writers, readers, and TV watchers aren’t different. We want the hope, we want the idea these characters can make something of their lives despite the hell they just went through. Is why Scarlett O’Hara makes such an imposing figure on that hill, her family soil clutched in her fist. She’d lost Rhett. But she wanted him back. She fought for Tara and won.

“Tomorrow is another day,” she said.

Your characters won’t have another day.

Unless you write the sequel.

Scarlett did have a sequel. Alexandra Ripley wrote her one. Scarlett’s happily ever after was hard-won.

But she did it.

How will your characters find theirs?

There are a lot of resources about endings. James Scott Bell just came out with The 50 Last Pages. Check it out here. 

Happy for Now? You Decide:
https://bookriot.com/2016/03/14/should-romance-novels-always-have-happy-endings/

https://writingcooperative.com/hea-vs-hfn-aea4ad42f7c5


Still writing my Wedding Party series! Check back often for an update!

Callie and Mitch blog graphic

all pictures except Mickey Spillane were found on pixabay.com and made with canva.com. Mickey was found in a Google search and taken from https://www.azquotes.com/author/13953-Mickey_Spillane

My Going Wide Adventures–ebooks (and last post)

I started the process of going wide some time ago, and I can say that for now my ebooks have been successfully published wide.

I got tired of waiting for my trilogy to drop out of KDP Select, so I took some advice and emailed Amazon and asked them to be taken out. I made it easy by giving them the ASIN numbers for the books. They were very prompt and my trilogy was taken out of Select the next day.

canceling select blog post picture

I didn’t waste any time publishing my trilogy on Draft2Digital and Kobo. When I uploaded them onto those platforms, I priced Don’t Run Away for free. Amazon won’t let you do that; they prefer you enroll in Select and use their free days in your marketing plans. Kobo and Draft2Digital had no problem with pricing my book for free, and after Don’t Run Away was published, I emailed Amazon with the buy links to Kobo and Barnes and Noble proving Don’t Run Away was free, and they price matched. blog picture kdp free book

don't run away free amazon buy page

This will be my permafree book to hopefully draw readers in to my other books that they’ll want to buy. I hate that Don’t Run Away has so few reviews, and I still have that one stinker of a review saying she hated it because of the swearing. So I think I’ll be concentrating a little bit on some cheaper promos to see if I can’t bump up those reviews a bit. While this blog post is about my process of going wide, not marketing strategy, I have to remember that Amazon isn’t the be all end all of my sales any longer. Any promo is good though, so I’ll still throw a little money at it anyway. The trilogy is strong, I think, and when it was in KU I got decent read-through. So we’ll see.

books on draft to digitalbooks on draft to digital2

You can see I haven’t made any money, but going wide is a process, and I haven’t done any marketing yet.

Kobo is the same.

books on kobobooks on kobo2

Besides emailing KDP to pull  my books out of Select, things went fine, and emailing KDP wasn’t even a big deal–I just felt bad doing it. But as I tell my friends, this is a business, don’t take things personally. I’m sure the KDP rep who pulled my books out of Select didn’t give a crap what I was doing, he was just waiting to go to lunch. So, no harm done.

The Years Between Us will be released soon. The pre-order ends May 1st. I needed a bit of time to get ahead with my series, and I hope by the time The Years Between Us is released, I’ll have book two almost done.

I don’t have the paperback loaded into Ingram Spark yet, only KDP Print. I’ve already gone over the proof, so all I need to do is hit publish when the ebook is released. The Years Between Us is on pre-order through Draft to Digital as well as Kobo, and you can pre-order it at any retailer here.

The Years Between Us Paperback Cover

I use Universal Book Links to create buy links for my books. They’ll pull from everywhere your book is sold and when a reader clinks on the link, they will be directed to a retailer page so they can choose which vendor to purchase your book from. When I clicked on the buy link for The Years Between Us above, this came up:

universal book link result

Then all your reader has to do is click on the logo of the store where they want to buy your book. That way you don’t have to have a million different buy-links when you do an ad or something. You can thank the team at Draft2Digital for putting that together for us indies.

The other thing I did was email Kobo and ask for access to the promotions tab. The promotions tab is for Kobo readers only, and allows you to ask the Kobo Writing Life team for consideration for certain promotions the website hosts. You need to email them for access though, as it doesn’t automatically pop up when you list your books for sale there. I’m excited to start making use of those promotions, and now that I’m done with some administrative work going wide created, I can spend more time marketing.

I only put my six contemporary romances wide. I did that because 1) The Corner of 1700 Hamilton was my first book and could use a good editing sweep, which I’m not willing to take the time to do right now, and 2) Summer Secrets is erotica and not the genre I’m going to write ever again. They aren’t in Kindle Unlimited, either, because I didn’t want to get anyone grumpy at me for only have part of my library in KU. I could always put them wide and make them permafree, but I don’t think that would do much for me as I don’t intend to write those genres again, and while Don’t Run Away will always be free, the main point of going wide and writing in one genre is to find a readership and sell books. Selling books usually, if you do it right, means making a bit of money, and who doesn’t want that?

If you have any questions for me about going wide, please let me know! I’ll cover paperbacks in another blog post.

Thanks for reading!

Callie and Mitch blog graphic

 

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Suspending Belief in Fiction. How much is too much?

Suspending Belief in Fiction. How much is too much_

As authors, we ask our readers to open their minds and believe the unbelievable. Writers of fantasy and sci-fi, paranormal and horror wouldn’t make a penny if readers couldn’t put aside reality and enjoy a good story. The Martian would never have taken off, and we would never know who Luke and Leia and the rest of their universe are, never mind them being household names.

Writers who write in those genres have a flexibility not all of us have–yet they are still held to some kind of realistic expectation. Why do characters behave the way they do? Why are things the way they are? It’s why in comics and huge worlds like Game of Thrones and Star Wars, origin stories are so popular. Knowing why helps us understand.

Writers who write contemporary fiction stories that take place in the real here and now struggle with this, too. More so.

When I wrote All of Nothing, I struggled with what I could get away with and what I couldn’t. If you read my reviews on Goodreads, you’ll see that to some people, I failed. Jax Brooks accidentally shot someone, and I made him suffer for it–for 15 years. I got called out on it. No one would suffer for that long, or to that extent, for 15 years. Or would they? Did I make him suffer for too long? Should I have shortened my timeline?

Raven Grey was homeless for 13 years. That’s a long time to be homeless. I didn’t write her with a mental illness or a drug addiction, so anyone who wasn’t afflicted with something like that . . . would they have let themselves live on the streets for that long?

I asked the reader to believe she would have. I’ve never been homeless, or feel that hopeless. So I guess I truly don’t know if someone would drift through life that way when they had resources at their disposal to help them. But when she did turn her life around, it made it that much more poignant. Did making Raven homeless for so long add to the story, or did the implausibility of her situation take something away?

We’ve all read books that ask the reader to set aside real-life expectations. But how much is too much depends on the reader. I stopped reading Stephanie Plum at number 15 because after so many books, I just didn’t find the character believable anymore. She fumbles around as a bounty hunter suck in a love triangle, and she never changes. After so much time you’d expect her to take self-defense classes, or at the very least, learn how to shoot her gun. But she doesn’t do anything because Janet Evanovich relies on Stephanie’s ineptness as a bounty hunter to give us a laugh. And that’s great. I did enjoy the first fifteen books, and the couple of books that took place between the numbers. But eventually, and this is where real-life comes in, people need to grow and change. Most writers who aren’t writing a series only have one book in which to show us that their characters have changed, grown up, learned a lesson. That Stephanie Plum hasn’t grown, changed, in 15+ books (I think Janet’s up to 25, but I lost interest a long time ago) just makes her character worse.

stephanie plum

Katherine Heigl as Stephanie Plum. Her expression says it all. You can read the article and see more pictures at cinemablend.com or by clicking here.

No one is going to believe that in all the time that goes by, if Stephanie really wanted to take a real stab at being a bounty hunter she wouldn’t try to improve her skills.

But do readers care?

Janet Evanovich is a bestselling author, so I’m guessing most readers are along for the ride and don’t care Stephanie still can’t shoot, still can’t choose a man, and still blows up every car she drives.

I read something once that said as writers, right away we’re asking our readers to believe in a coincidence, an act of fate. Like the man meeting just the right woman at the beginning of a romance. Or a man killing the wrong person at the wrong time at the beginning of a mystery, or a child kidnapped just as a famous detective travels through town on vacation. How was it that Hercule Poirot happened to be on the Orient Express?

coicidence and fateAlmost every inciting event will be a coincidence, and readers accept that because that’s how a story starts.

But anything you ask her reader to believe after that just builds up until the reader throws the book across the room in disgust because the writer has asked them to believe too much.

Readers aren’t stupid, and you can’t write to them as if they are, yet some writers can get away with asking their readers to believe the impossible.

In 50 Shades of Grey, Christian Grey is a self-made billionaire at twenty-seven. Doing what, who knows. It is possible, but not likely. Not unless you’re working from your mom’s garage creating the next big thing that will replace Facebook.

Anastasia Steele was the same way, professionally. Would she really be an editor at an distinguished publishing house because her boss was fired? Probably not. She majored in English Literature. A publishing degree is a real thing.

How do you know how much is too much?

Unfortunately, you probably won’t know until you get feedback. Hopefully that is in the form of beta reader feedback and not bad reviews.

Here are some guidelines to keep in mind:

  1. How old are your characters?
    If you have a 20-year-old who is running a million-dollar company, ask yourself why. Why is your character 20? Is he a genius? How does his age contribute to the story? Could he be 30? 40? Could he have a different occupation? Are you writing the next Doogie Howser?
  2. Keep technology in mind. 
    All of Nothing Paperback Cover

    Do you want to check out All of Nothing? It’s now WIDE and you can click here for your favorite retailer.

    Today, anyone can know anything with a touch of a few buttons. If you’re keeping your characters in the dark about anything they could find out online, you better have a good, and believable, explanation.
    I walked a thin line of that myself in All of Nothing. Jax didn’t know the identity of the person he shot, and Raven’s parents didn’t know the identity of the policeman who killed their son. How did I explain that? The city paid Raven’s parents not to ask questions, and they kept Jax in the dark to help him put the accident behind him. That’s why I put the accident so far in the past. I didn’t need social media interfering in my story. These days, everything is splashed everywhere online. Especially police brutality. Everyone knows everything in an instant. Maybe even with a video. I couldn’t afford that because the whole premise of my book were the facts Jax didn’t know whom he shot, and Raven’s family didn’t know who took her brother’s life. Yeah, this blog post revealed a big spoiler, but did I pull it off? You’ll have to let me know.

  3. Keep your timeline in mind.
    Unless you’re writing the next 24, your characters are probably going to need time. People don’t fall in love in a day. Murders aren’t solved in a day, or even a week. People trapped in a cabin during a blizzard with no food won’t live two weeks without something to eat.
  4. Because I said so.
    If you have to say this, or any derivative of this phrase to someone asking about details of your story, you’re covering up lazy, sloppy writing. Because I said so is for children who don’t want to eat their vegetables. If you have to explain any aspect of your story, you’re doing it wrong. You can’t be over every reader’s shoulder trying to validate and justify all your choices. Your reader may come away from your story loving it or hating it, but they should always understand it.

    Suspending Belief in Fiction. How much is too much2

Human nature is weird. There are things people put with for years and years, and in the same situation, a different person would tolerate it for only a moment.

Sometimes you can get away with it. Soap operas do. After a few years watching Days of our Lives, I finally asked, “If living in Salem was so miserable, why didn’t they just move?” You can’t tell me Bo and Hope wouldn’t finally have found some peace and quiet if they would have moved out of Salem and away from Stefano DiMera.

When I was writing The Years Between Us, I confronted this possibility as well. The whole book depends on blackmail and lies, much in the vein of a soap opera. I had a few beta readers read it and I asked them if it was too much, and all of them said no. I hope it isn’t. I hope the plot is still believable. I hope that what people willing to do for love is enough of a reason to carry the story along. You’ll have to decide.

Your readers will only accept so much. You can’t please everyone, of course, but at some point you are going to have to keep an eye on what is believable and what is not. You’ll have to decide if inconsistencies and discrepancies are intentional or the byproduct of lazy writing. Plot holes are never okay, and explaining why a character did something by saying “She was crazy, that’s why!” isn’t good enough. Even crazy people live on their own plane of reality, and it’s your job as a writer to show us that.

Suspending Belief in Fiction. How much is too much3

As writers, we are always going to be asking our readers to believe something that has a small chance of happening in real life. But after that initial leap, keep your story grounded in facts, otherwise you are going to lose them.

Fiction is fiction, we read to escape, but your story needs to make sense, or the next thing you know, your bounty hunter will have been on 25 jobs and still won’t know how to shoot a gun.

And that’s just not realistic.

Callie and Mitch blog graphic


picture attribution:

Andy Meyer from Pixabay” cellphone with castle

coincidence and fate

woman with books, canva.com

woman on stability ball, canva.com

Writing is a Bitter Business

I was talking to a friend the other day about blogging. I enjoy her blog posts and I asked her why she doesn’t blog more. She said, “I think I sound bitter.” I thought about that, and while I didn’t think that was true, I realized she had a point.

Writing is a bitter business.

When I say writing, I mean all aspects of it. Finding the time to write, the building of your writer’s platform, publishing, and finding readers.

Why is writing a bitter business?

Let’s explore:

  1. Writing is hard.
    No one appreciates what you go through on a daily basis. Writing words is hard, and lonely. And no one can make you do the work. It’s not like going to a real job where you get paid every two weeks, and you can get fired for not showing up. Sometimes it takes months to earn royalties; sometimes it takes years. Sometimes the only payment you receive for your writing is your own sense of of accomplishment. If that isn’t enough for you, how do you keep going? What makes you turn on your laptop or open that notebook or open that Google Docs app on your phone day after day after day? Besides raising children and being a faceless trash collector, I can’t think of a more thankless job.
  2. There’s no pay.
    I touched on this a bit in number one. Not only is writing hard, you’re not getting paid. I’m not getting paid for writing this blog post. I’m not getting paid for the books that are on sale on Amazon right now. I don’t get paid to tweet, update my Facebook author page, or write a long description to go with a photo on Instagram. If you feel bitter because money isn’t flowing to you, you need to think about what you can do about that.
    Do you not have books for sale? That should be your main priority. Do you offer helpful, evergreen content on your blog? Maybe sign up for Ko-fi and ask for consumers of your work to tip you for it, or start a Patreon account. The problem is, when you’re new and just starting out, getting paid is hard. No one knows who you are. But to be fair–this happens in every profession. They are called interns.

    intern joke

    taken from pinterest

    And they work for free. Sometimes if the internship is a part of their university curriculum, they PAY to intern for credit toward their diploma. I pay to blog. I pay for my domain name, and I’ve upgraded my WordPress plan.
    I’m doing the opposite of getting paid, and probably so are you.

  3. No one cares.
    This is a big one, and the one that trips up my friend. In a sea of writers and free content, no one cares what you’re doing. I feel this myself when I release a new book. I press Publish and get on with my day. There is no big cover reveal, there’s no blog tour, there’s no FB author page takeover or FB party. There are a couple reasons why I do this. One, I’m building a back list; I’m always writing the next book. And two, I know on certain platforms like Twitter, that’s not where my readers are, and announcing it won’t do anything for me. Sure, there might be a couple of people who will congratulate me, and that’s nice. But anyone cultivating their social media accounts hoping for sales will come away bitter. So I publish and keep writing.
  4. You feel like you’re screaming into the void.
    Let’s be real–that’s what blogging is at first. You blog to no one. You have zero followers, and when you check your analytics, you have zero visits.
    But that happens to absolutely everyone who starts a new blog. Everyone. It’s made even worse when you don’t have a solid social media presence to announce your blog on. Blogging is hard for writers. Do we blog for other writers? Do we blog for our readers? How do we do that if we don’t have a book out yet? What do we blog about that hasn’t been said a million times? You put in a couple of hours writing, making graphics in Canva, push Publish . . . all for nothing. It’s very easy to become bitter. To read my thoughts on starting a blog, look here.
  5. You don’t have support at home.
    Your significant other says you’re not making money, so you’re better off investing your time somewhere else. Like at a real job. Your kids want you to play. Your husband won’t help with chores. No one wants to walk the dog or scoop litter. You get accused of wasting time online when you’re trying to build a social media platform and/or write through a sticky scene in your story. Laundry needs to be done. You feel like a trout swimming upstream and some days you feel like there’s no point in fighting all this resistance.
    The problem with this is everyone needs their own life outside of who other people perceive them to be. You’re more than just a partner, a mom, a dad, a daughter or a son. People can’t see you writing, or rather, they can’t see the results. When you relax in the bath, you’re taking an hour to yourself. When you go for a run, you are doing something for your health. When you spend an hour doing almost anything else, people can see that. Appreciate it. Why is writing different? You spend an hour in front of the computer for months, sometimes years, and you walk away with your hands empty. Never mind that during that time you might have published two books digitally on Amazon. It still looks like you’ve wasted all that time. And if you don’t have sales, it’s easy to agree with the crabby husband who wants you to get a job, already. Yeah, it feels like all that work was for nothing, and bitterness takes hold.
  6. There are too many of us.
    Holy cow–the writing community has exploded on Twitter in the past couple of months. There are more writers online than lice on a kid’s head during an outbreak at school. It’s easy to feel invisible. What’s worse is we all want the same thing. We want agents and book deals and readers. And it hurts when we see other writers

    candle quote

    picturequotes.com

    earn those things. (I do say earn, because querying is hard work!) We’re told over and over again there’s only so much shelf space at the bookstore, there are only so many agents, so many publishers. While Writer Twitter is supportive, no one can deny there’s a current of competitiveness underneath the goodwill. We’re competing against each other. The saying is true–lighting someone else’s candle won’t put out your own flame–but it’s hard to watch someone get what you want. Especially if you are really trying your best.


What can we do to shake the bitterness?

  1. Define your success.
    What does success mean to you? For some people that simply means finishing a book. For others, it’s pushing the Publish button. Still for others, it’s their first five-star review. The thing with success is you need to be realistic. We all know EL James didn’t become famous over night, nor did Hugh Howey. We all start somewhere, so you need to start small and celebrate the small successes, no matter how tiny they are. That might mean buying a bottle of Prosecco for your first ten blog followers, or going out for a night of dinner and dancing with friends when you finish the first draft of your book.
  2. What do you want from social media?
    I know a few people with a love/hate relationship with Twitter, and I understand the struggle. I do. You put all this time in engaging with other people, tweeting, connecting, networking–and for what? That depends on why you’re on there. If you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it. It will show in your lack of engagement and lackluster content. If you don’t like Twitter, focus on a Facebook Author page or cultivate a following on Instagram. Because the fact is, you may hate social media, but even if you do the bare minimum and only have a website for an author landing page, you still need somewhere to announce you have one. This is especially true if you’re not publishing and you don’t have back matter in a book to use to direct your readers to your website or newsletter sign up.
    So what do you want from your social media platform? Twitter is a great place to connect with other writers. A Facebook Author page can give your readers a place to find you. Start a Facebook reader’s GROUP and form a book club or place to talk about books. If you live in a cool place like my friend who lives in Hawaii, or you have lots of pets–whatever you think will interest an audience–if you’re more visual, maybe post pictures on Instagram. But the sooner you realize that social media is more for being social and networking than selling whatever you’re peddling, you may form a truce with start to enjoy yourself. I like Twitter. I keep up care about other peoplewith industry news that way. A ton of agents and book bloggers hang out on Twitter. If you ever plan to query, befriending agents and creating a professional connection can’t steer you wrong. Social media is about caring about other people. Think of the 80/20 rule. 80% of your content needs to be about other people. If you care about other people, other people will care about you.
  3. Realize that writing is a long game.
    No one got famous overnight for writing. It just feels like they did. That debut that turns into a blockbuster is few and far between and usually has a team of people behind the launch. This year will be my third year in indie publishing. I don’t make much in sales. I only have 226 people subscribed to my blog. I have barely 100 likes on my FB author page. I have 14.7 followers on Twitter, but when I tweet something I’m lucky if I can get five likes. I could get bitter about it, but why?

    In fact, in a delicious piece of irony, on Twitter I asked writers what made them bitter about the writing/publishing industry. No one answered.

    I love to write and all of the stuff I mentioned would just be a bonus. But I’ll get there. Three years might seem like a long time for someone who wants instant gratification, but guess what? Publishing doesn’t work that way. I’m still a baby in this industry and I’m smart enough to realize it. If you’ve been writing for a year with nothing to show for it, realize this is common. People have wildly exaggerated expectations when it comes to self-publishing and while 12 years ago it could have made you rich like Amanda Hocking, it’s not true anymore. There are too many of us and times have changed. It doesn’t mean you have to throw in the towel, but it does mean you have to change your way of thinking.
    If it helps, think of the intern. She might be an intern now, but in ten years she could be CEO of the company. But she’ll never make it that far if she quits.
    Or lets all those coffee runs make her bitter.

  4. Remember this is about craft.
    Sure, those people who are selling crappy books might have a sales bump every once in a while, but are they are selling to new people all the time, or are they cultivating a loyal readership with well-written stories and lovable characters? It’s easy to get caught up in the other stuff–Facebook, blogging, Twitter likes, but the fact is, none of that matters if you aren’t working on your craft. Build a foundation on good stories.
  5. People may be cheering for you without telling you.
    You could have fans without knowing it! People who want to see you succeed. They follow your blog, look for your tweets. They’re disappointed when you don’t update your author page on Facebook. You can’t assume you’re in this alone, because that probably isn’t true. Snowstorms begin with a single snowflake. Your core readership will begin with one reader. Don’t disappoint her by being bitter.

In closing, I know it’s hard. I’m right there with you. I entered All of Nothing into the RITAs, and it didn’t advance. I tried not to be bitter. Especially since I think All of Nothing is my strongest book so far. And especially since I compared it to the books I had to judge as part of my entry, and especially when I read the list of finalists.

This isn’t anything a writer wants to admit. We should all be supporting each other and be happy for one another. And I’m delighted for the finalists. But I wish I had been one.

women helping women

It doesn’t mean I’ll never have the chance to enter again, and that doesn’t mean I won’t advance in a different contest some day.

But if I let my bitterness win out, then no, there will never be other contests in my future, or other books, either. So I need to keep my focus on why I write.

Because I love it. Simple as that.

And that may not be the case for you. There’s no judgment here. If you can’t write without the support of a loved one, if you can’t blog because no one has subscribed to it, if you don’t want to finish your book because when you tweet about it no one encourages you, then don’t.

Writing isn’t for everyone. Circle back around in a couple of years when circumstances in your life change. Circle back around when your priorities have shifted. Circle back around when you’re ready to put in the time and the work.

Writing is between you and your readers. That’s it.

And there’s nothing bitter about that.

bitterness

Antagonists: Who, What, When, Where

I rarely give out writing advice, preferring to focus on indie publishing, promo results, and my own progress. I feel those topics are a lot more useful than writing tips. After all, you can finding writing tips anywhere. But I was thinking about antagonists and how ambiguous and subjective they are.

cruella de ville

Cruella is a perfect example of an evil villain. Who would want to kill cute puppies for a coat?! picture from pixabay

Antagonists in a story are usually the villains. The bad guys. Twitter chats center around them. What is their favorite color? What are they doing right now? What makes them bad? What makes them evil? What do they eat for breakfast? The hearts of their enemies, of course. Which is everyone.

There are some pretty famous villains in books and movies:

Professor Moriarty, Sherlock Holmes
Lady Tremaine, Cinderella
Annie Wilkes, Misery
Sauron, Lord of the Rings
Darth Vader, Star Wars
Joker, Batman

**For more examples, since I could list them forever, look here, and here.

These are tangible characters; in these stories they are flesh and blood. They do cruel things to our main characters. Who they are is pretty cut and dried.

But sometimes things that aren’t always people can be the antagonist in a story, and sometimes the protagonist will be his own worst enemy, which will also make him the antagonist.

Let’s explore that one first.

When the protagonist is also the antagonist

woman with demons

Characters who have to battle inner demons can be their own worst enemies. photo from pixabay

This happens a lot in romance. Characters have been burned before and refuse to fall in love again. Or they don’t believe they deserve to be in love, of having someone care for them. They’ve done naughty things in the past and they believe they need to atone for those sins for the rest of their lives. This is actually a pretty popular trope in a romance. Where the hero has been in the military and something happened to his team, or the detective/cop whose partner is killed on a case and our hero blames himself. He doesn’t feel worthy of love, or he thinks why bother because he’ll just fuck that relationship up too, or worse, get her killed through his own negligence.

In these cases, the protagonist is also the antagonist. They are battling inner demons. There is a lot more to the plot than that, but in the end your hero’s love interest is supposed to help them see they are worthy of love. S/he feels they fail toward the end of the book and the hero/ine realizes if s/he doesn’t get his shit together, he’s going to lose out on the love of his/her life.

Memories, nightmares, the ex still in the picture, precinct cops who blame your hero for the death of their team member, a child left behind, they are secondary antagonists used to enforce your character’s beliefs about himself.

Gone With The Wind

Scarlett and Rhett photo taken from huffington post

Scarlett O’Hara had a couple things working against her, namely her immaturity, selfishness, and her love for her family’s plantation, Tara, not to mention, Ashley Wilkes. She wasn’t ready for Rhett to love her, and she had to live through the deaths of her father and two husbands, plus a war, before she grew up enough to understand Rhett. We all know his famous last line, and by the time she gave a damn, he didn’t.

What are other things that could be an antagonist?

Animals

Jurassic Park is a good example of this. There was no antagonist, per se. John Hammond wasn’t evil–he just wanted to open a theme park where people could enjoy seeing dinosaurs. (This brings about the ethical question, “Just because we can, should we?” But that would be the theme of the story, which is a little different than what I’m talking about here.) There were a couple of people around who were selfish and greedy, but they were not the cause of the problems in the story. I’m thinking of the first movie–the old original with Sam Neill and Laura Dern.

Other books/movies that have used animals as antagonists?
Moby Dick Herman Melville
The Birds Alfred Hitchcock/Daphne du  Maurier
Cujo Stephen King
Anaconda director Luis Llosa
Jaws Peter Benchley
Piranha director Joe Dante

It’s important to note that in most cases, humans were not ordering or forcing these animals to attack. They were not weapons. Be it survival, nature, self defense, or rabies, these animals were acting on their own accord.

Disease

Disease is a popular antagonist. In Outbreak, a man who wants to sell a monkey on the black market passes along a fictional Ebola-like virus, Motaba, and all the characters spent their time doing damage control. As with the animals, it’s important to note that in cases where disease is used as the primary antagonist, it is not being used by a human as a weapon, in which case the human using biological warfare for power/revenge/etc would be the antagonist and the disease would be the weapon. In Outbreak, I’m thinking of the movie with Dustin Hoffman and Renee Russo, there were other people who wanted to contain the disease in a different way than our characters, and others who wanted to keep past illegal activity a secret and would do anything to make that happen. Does this make them antagonists? Sure, and they provide more conflict and more hurdles for our main characters to jump over. But the main antagonist is the disease. Without it, there would be no story.

Other stories that use disease:
Andromeda Strain Michael Crichton
Two by Two Nicholas Sparks (a secondary character dies of cancer)
The Fault in Our Stars John Green
Five Feet Apart Rachael Lippincott
My Sister’s Keeper Jodi Picoult

I was taking a look at some other opinions about whether disease could be an antagonist, and I found rather snarky blog post saying of course not. I think she missed the point of using disease as a plot device, and you can read it here.

Nature

The setting of where your book takes place can be a powerful antagonist. When your characters are trying to farm land that won’t grow crops and your characters are dying of hunger, or your characters are involved in a plane crash and they have to escape a mountain covered in snow to survive.

The weather can be a powerful antagonist, as well. Tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters that will put your characters in harm’s way are fabulous antagonists.

Books/movies that use the land and weather as antagonists:
Twister director Jan de Bont
The Mountain Between Us Charles Martin
Alive director Frank Marshall
To Build a Fire Jack London
We Are Unprepared Meg Little Reilly
For other books that use nature as an antagonist, look here.

Mental Illness/Addiction

This may be unfair, but a character with mental illness can be the antagonist. This might take the form of an alcoholic like The Girl on the Train, or a character being a complete psychopath like Gone Girl. I read a book by Lisa Unger where her male MC went completely delusional, living his “perfect life” in his head while his real life fell apart. Characters who believe they are going crazy like The Woman in Cabin 10 are their own antagonists. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a human antagonist, as the case with The Woman in Cabin 10, but the plot is even murkier and the characters harder to trust if they are suffering from a mental illness or addicted to drugs.

Unreliable narrator is what this writing trend is called, or Grip-Lit as Tara Sparling likes to call it. To read her blog post about the subject, click here.

Other books where the character is also a psycho, I mean, antagonist, and/or battling addiction:

The Shining Stephen King
American Psycho Bret Easton Ellis
The Flight Attendant Chris Bohjalian


Antagonists aren’t always cut and dried, like a kidnapper in a mystery, or a serial killer in a murder thriller, but that doesn’t make the story boring when the antagonist deviates from what we normally think of as the villain. I frequently use blackmail and secrets in my stories.

As a new writer, you may not fully realize that an antagonist does not need to be a real person, and you restrict yourself if you feel you need to put a human into this role.

I just finished A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult and while there was a real flesh and blood antagonist holding those people hostage, the women’s center where the story takes place is just as much the antagonist in the story for the feelings, emotions, ideals and heartbreak that building stands for, for the people being held in that clinic.

An antagonist is anything that works against your character to keep them from what they want. If you don’t have a flesh and blood human to do that, what do you have? A cemetery like in Pet Semetary?  A sinking ship like the Titanic? A concept like freedom in The Purge?

Open your mind to what a good antagonist can do for your story. Maybe it will be an AI like Hal, or maybe it’s infertility like The Children of Men.

Whatever you choose–make it hurt.

Those make the best antagonists, and those make the best stories.

Thanks for reading!

jared and leah for end of blog posts

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How Much Research Do You Do?

How much research do you do for your books_

Any writer knows doing research is critical. Different kinds of papers and essays require different kinds of research. Even some of my blog posts require a bit of research–at the very least I like to add additional links to the ends of some of my posts so my readers can look to other opinions and other resources.

This is where the old axiom “write what you know” comes in. Not to get out of having to do research, but because as you are learning craft–character arcs, plot, finding your voice and wrestling with syntax, grammar and punctuation–it’s easier to focus on learning those things without the added burden of researching and incorporating what you find into the story, too, not to mention doing it in a believable way.

How much research do you do for your books2

Writing a police procedural without any law enforcement exposure would be difficult, I imagine, without immersing yourself in research. The same with writing about doctors, lawyers and any other professional occupation with which you may have little to no knowledge or education.

The last thing you want your readers to say is “That’s not right” or “It doesn’t happen like that” or worse yet, someone who actually does the occupation you’re writing about saying, “That’s not true at all.”

Some professionals who have gone into writing are Tess Gerritsen and John Grisham, a doctor and lawyer respectively.

Wikipedia has this to say about Tess: “In 1996, Gerritsen wrote Harvest, her first medical thriller. The plot was inspired by a conversation with a retired homicide detective who had recently traveled in Russia. He told her young orphans were vanishing from Moscow streets, and police believed the kidnapped children were being shipped abroad as organ donors. Harvest was Gerritsen’s first hardcover novel, and it marked her debut on the New York Times bestseller list at number thirteen. Following Harvest, Gerritsen wrote three more bestselling medical thrillers: Life Support, Bloodstream, and Gravity.”

Wikipedia has this to say about John: “John Ray Grisham Jr. is an American novelist, attorney, politician, and activist, best known for his popular legal thrillers.”

As you can see, it was easy for them to segue into the types of books they started writing because their backgrounds supported the subject matter.

castle_richard_castle_kate_beckett_stana_katic_nathan_fillion_98247_2363x1615Some research is pretty hardcore–think Richard Castle shadowing Kate Beckett in Castle. The chances of a a police department, in New York City, nonetheless, allowing a civilian to shadow a homicide detective seems pretty slim–even if you are a bestselling author who is friends with the mayor. But lots of police departments host ride-a-longs as part of community outreach, and that could be a small in for and of you who wants to write about being a cop. This is what I get when I Google police ride along for my area.

The internet makes research easy–Google Maps can show you pictures of anything in the world. It’s how I wrote parts of Wherever He Goes, when Kat and Aiden were on their road trip. They traveled through states I have never been to before. I even made up the casino they visited in Las Vegas because I have never been to Las Vegas and I couldn’t accurately describe a casino there. I spent hours pouring over photos and descriptions of various parts of the United States to get their settings just right. It was only after they eventually moved into familiar territory that I relaxed.

Settings are hard because not only are you dealing with the actual land formations, you have to think about temperature, climate, and bugs. Kat finds a scorpion in her hotel room. I had to research that, too, because I assure you, I have never seen a scorpion anywhere but behind glass at our zoo. And I plan to keep it that way.

When I wrote Don’t Run Away, Dane owned his own store. I’ve been in a running shoe store many times, but I’ve never run my own business. So I had to talk with someone who had. And yeah, real-life store owners run a tight ship financially–so I wrote Dane broke–but he was doing what he loved.

I’m well aware I’m lucky. Writing a romance ensures I can focus on the romance of the story and not have to get bogged down with details of a character’s occupation.

I like to think I know enough about life in general that if I decide to write a heroine who works at a bakery (or who owns her own) she’s up at 2 am and baking by 3 so she has pastries to sell by the time her store opens at 7. There’s no way she’s going in to work at 9–not unless she has help. And she very well could. Just be sure she can afford to pay her employees.

I’ve written my heroes into occupations I know nothing about, and I’ve done the minimal amount of research required to be able to say, this is what they do, and that’s about it. When I wrote about Aiden screwing up a big case as an Assistant District Attorney, I modeled his case after the OJ Simpson trial. I watched a lot of footage from that trial and read a lot of articles. His story in the book wasn’t about him losing the case, or why, it was about him being able to move past the fact that he did, and what that meant for his career and the rest of his life.

In Romance, their tragic backstories, personal demons, and falling in love take up the most space on the page.

But I’m fully aware that if I ever wanted to stretch my wings as an author (and I know I will want to at some point) or delve into another genre like Women’s Fiction, I’ll need  more than just a romance to carry the plot, and that will probably require more research than I’m used to doing.

I read an interview with Jennifer Egan about Manhattan Beach, and boy, did the woman research. You can read about her process here.

What’s funny though, is when I speak to other writers, they say the more research they do, the richer their story becomes because they have more facts and details at their disposal.

I truly believe this. But as an indie, the pressure to crank out books is stifling, and it’s hard to give up writing time for research no matter how useful it will end up being.

I’m reading A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult, and the amount of research and the number of people so spoke with . . . it’s crazy. Not to mention the hours of shadowing she did. It was more than nailing down the details–she was recording thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about the topics she was writing about that she also gained from the research. She has a bibliography in the back of her book two pages (front and back) long, and an acknowledgement section the same length.

This is another reason why I like romance–I love the idea of falling in love, being in love with love. I’ve had my heart broken. No research required to know how it feels when you fell someone you love them, but you don’t hear it back.

How much research do you do for your books3

It’s nothing short of devastating.

I wonder if this is why some indies start out writing fantasy. Everything comes from the imagination. The government, the currency. Magic, laws. The world-building is incredible. Everything from the ground up. This can be liberating–but it can also scare the crap out of you. To create a world from nothing . . . You still may need to research when you write fantasy–how do you saddle a horse, or do your characters ride bareback? What are the parts of a ship? What are parts of a castle called? When I was writing my fantasy, I had to research those things . . . but the magic, the laws, the kingdom, those were all mine.

Starting with what you  know can definitely help keep momentum going if you are a first-time writer. If you do end up exploring an area you aren’t familiar with, ask for help if you can find someone who is familiar with your subject material. At least they can point you in the right direction, or tell you if you are missing the mark.

Where do you go for research?

Let me know your favorite books and websites!

Here are a couple of mine:

If you want to know about any job occupation, did you know the Department of Labor has a list of job descriptions for everything? Take a look here.

Google Maps/Images has can show you everything you need to know about a setting.

YouTube. You can find almost anything on YouTube. Right now for Jared and Leah, I’m “learning” how to fly a little plane.

The How-To Books for Dummies. Immerse yourself in a occupation, and it can carry you for a long time. Like, if you’re writing a series about a lawyer. A little research could help you write many books in a series.

Thanks for reading!

jared and leah for end of blog posts

photo of Tess taken from https://rizzoliandisles.fandom.com/wiki/Tess_Gerritsen and the photo of John was taken from https://www.penguin.com.au/authors/john-grisham
photo of Castle and Beckett taken from http://www.wallpapercraft.com

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