Weak writers, strong characters?

I am a part of a DM group on Twitter. We were talking about the weather where we live, and I live in Minnesota. I mentioned blizzards and the potential hazards. I said now that my husband has moved out, this winter may be a little nerve-racking as I’ll need to shovel and get my daughter to school by myself. I have to deal with maybe my car not starting or getting into an accident because some moron doesn’t know how to drive on the snow and ice.

I said, “I’m sorry. I know I sound weak. It’s just nice to have a man around sometimes.”

What exactly was I apologizing for? All the women in my group are married to men. They know it’s nice to have a partner, someone around to help.

In our society today, we encourage strong women. We have #GirlPower. Women are encouraged to raise their daughters to be strong and independent. We fight for equal pay. We fight the glass ceiling. We fight for our reproductive rights. We pay our own bills we make our own way.

glass ceiling

Women don’t need men.

I write romance. I make sure my heroines can take care of themselves. They have jobs; they pay their bills. Sometimes they’re searching for love, sometimes love finds them. My heroines don’t need a man.

But they want one.

Does that make them weak?

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Even in the comics, Diana Prince was paired with various men over the years. The epitome of a kick-ass woman, she still likes to snuggle at night.

I’ve been told, “Don’t make the man rescue the woman.” But isn’t that what a romance is? I mean, rescuing a woman because he has to. It’s part of a mission. She’s been kidnapped because her father is a billionaire. She needs a bodyguard. She’s cured cancer, and people want to kill her. She’s a rock star, and someone is out to get her. There are a million plots to go with that trope. The hero rescues the heroine, they fall in love. The end.

There’s a reason why that trope is popular.

Women take care of themselves (and their children) alone all the freaking time. Reading is an escape. We want our man to step in and say, “Let me take care of this because I’m falling in love with you.” My favorites, and hopefully the kind of books I write, is when they rescue each other. Maybe he can get her to the hospital for her life-saving surgery, but when she opens her eyes, he knows she really saved him, by repairing his broken heart and giving him his life back.

Most times after the “big fight” I have my man go to his woman first. Not because I want to put my woman in a position of power. Not because my heroine wants a man groveling at her feet. But because it’s romantic. It feeds into what women fantasize about. Men saying, “I was wrong. I can’t live without you. I’m sorry. Marry me.”

What I didn’t realize though, is that it takes a strong woman to give a man the space he needs to figure it out and admit that. For him to have time to see his mistakes and go to her.

It takes a lot of bravery for a woman to face heartbreak if the man she loves doesn’t come for her. For her to say, “If he can’t admit he was wrong and apologize and admit that he loves me, I can’t have the kind of relationship I need with him to be happy.”

Women in romance can be kick-ass and still want a man. I’ll never write a sniveling idiot as a female main character.  Men, characters or otherwise, don’t want a woman who acts like that. Women who act like that in real life never find true happiness or true love. 

So in my DM, what was I apologizing for? Because in my group, we are all writers and we all pride ourselves on writing kick-ass women characters. How can I write a strong woman character when I, myself, I am not a strong woman in real life?

kick ass woman

Maybe not this kind of kick-ass. 

I’ve been on my own now for two months, since my husband moved out. I pay my bills with my own money (and a little help from alimony and child support). I work full-time. I’ve always paid our bills so balancing a checkbook was nothing new, I just don’t have as much money to work with. I drive a dumpy car, and it’s not lost on me I’ll have to work a car payment into my budget at some point.

But guess what? I have written characters who have also live paycheck to paycheck. That’s real life.

I have good friends. My sister lives in the same town as me. Even my soon to be ex-husband would help me out if I ever find myself in serious trouble. I’m not alone, and I don’t feel like I am. Our split was amicable, and I haven’t been this happy in a long time.

I am a strong woman even if at times I don’t feel like it. We all need love, security. We all want love, someone to protect us, have our backs. That doesn’t make us weak.

I write romance.

My characters fall in love.

They aren’t weak, either.

They’re human.

The Scary World of Amazon Marketing Services

Writers need to get their books out there. Twitter doesn’t sell books. Neither does Facebook–at least not on your personal profile. There are only so many copies Aunt Edna wants. And she’s not going to pay your bills. (If she is, that’s no one’s business but yours.)

So what is an author to do? Well, you can write more books. You should be anyway. What else? Instagram the shit out of your life hoping to draw some attention to your fabulous #writerslife.

What else?

Pay for promos, maybe. I’m assuming I’m still getting some KU page reads from a Freebooksy promo I did a few months ago. (To read about that, click here.)

I’ve come to the conclusion after a few years on Twitter, the only way to find readers is to write books and tell people (who aren’t on Twitter) about them (you know, actual readers). I’ve decided to dip my toes into the world of Amazon ads.

amazon adsNow, lots of people have told me that they don’t work. I bought Brian Meeks’ book, and he tells me they do. But you gotta be smart, and you gotta be patient, and you gotta test. Test and Test. And Test.

Oh, by the way, you have to have a decent book, good cover, good blurb. Because if you don’t have a quality book, no amount of advertising will sell your POS. (Sometimes people forget about that part.)

So, I’ve been running ads for a couple of weeks. Brian says this isn’t hardly any time at all, and I agree. Buying and running ads on Amazon isn’t the magic trick to selling books and getting famous. You need to have patience, and you need to know what you’re doing.

At first, I bid low (like Brian advised–he walks you through the entire process), and piecing together information from other sources, I realized this was way too low. I write contemporary romance, and it’s a highly competitive market.

The thing with Amazon ads is you need to bid high enough that Amazon will show your ads, but not so high that if someone clicks on your ad but doesn’t buy, you don’t go broke paying for clicks that don’t turn into sales.

It’s called a sweet spot, and from what I can tell, few people have the patience to get there. Or they are too scared they are going to waste a lot of money trying.

I’ve been running ads for 13 days, and this is what I have so far:

ams ads so far june 18

Remember, 13 days isn’t hardly any time at all. But for anyone scared to run ads, take a look: I have 12 ads running right now, and I’ve spent 35 cents. Not dollars, cents. None of the ads are doing particularly well, and I assume it’s because I’ve bid too low. The ad for Don’t Run Away that has over 3,000 impressions, hasn’t cost me anything. But those impressions could have given me a few page reads in KU if someone saw the ad, but didn’t click and just decided to try the book in KU anyway. Where and when someone decides to read your book if it’s enrolled in KU will always be a mystery.

Here are my KU page reads for DRA. I took this screenshot on June 18th. The same day I took the screenshot of my ad dashboard.

sales and ku reads for dra

Nope, I don’t have any sales yet. But I haven’t gone broke trying, either.

So anyone who is wanting to try this but is afraid of losing money can err on the side of caution, figure a few things out, and go from there.

I’m surprised that DRA is getting impressions, as the second set of ads I did for Wherever He Goes is a higher cost per click (which you would think would buy me more exposure), and I think the cover for WHG is better than DRA. But maybe the blurb is better written, or the characters resonate better with readers.

So where do I go from here? I plan to bid a bit more for WHG, and see if I can’t get some impressions, at least. Maybe I could even do another set of ads for DRA at a higher bid, and see if that doesn’t ramp up my impressions even more and hope those turn into clicks. Or I could do nothing, and wait to see what happens, because 13 days of ads is hardly any time at all.

But I’ll keep an eye on it. I just wanted to let you know a high daily limit doesn’t have to scare you.

And if you take anything away from this it’s this: if your ads are successful, and you are getting a ton of clicks but they aren’t turning into sales–you need to look at your book. You need to look at your cover. Your Look Inside pages. Your blurb. Don’t pay for ads for a crappy book. Make it better.

I’ll keep you posted!

The Wedding Date–A crabby book review

the wedding dateWhen I saw The Wedding Date at Target, I picked it up. The premise was a trope I have always enjoyed–a fake date that turns into a real relationship.

When Alexa meets Drew, it’s in a hotel elevator that has stalled. Drew is there to be a groomsman at his ex’s wedding. Alexa is at the hotel visiting her sister. They get to talking; sparks fly.  That she is black and he is white does nothing to the story. In fact, because the author does not use the character’s skin color as neither a negative or positive plot device, I forgot by the middle of the book they are even different in that way. I didn’t care, anyway.

Drew and Alexa are from different California cities, and throughout most of the book, they are flying back and forth to see each other on the weekends.

Drew is a pediatric doctor, and Alexa is the chief of staff for her city’s mayor. Their occupations are thrown into the plot as little side bits in an attempt to deepen their character arcs, and it doesn’t work that well. (More on that later!)

As most long-distance relationships go, there are disagreements and misunderstandings, and I have to admit by the middle of the book I started to skim.

The book ended how I would assume a romance would–happily ever after. And no, she didn’t relocate–he did. As a romance writer, I can appreciate the author made her male main character give a little, as a lot of times in books it is the woman who makes the compromises to keep the relationship going.

But also, as an indie writer and self-published author, I have to ask, “How the F did this get published?”

This is probably one of the most annoying things about traditional publishing. Traditional publishers can publish crap, while good indie writers can’t get an agent to save their lives.

I’m not saying this book is crap or didn’t deserve to be published–but I am saying this book could have used a lot more editing.

One thing that turned me off almost from the start was the use of repetitive words and phrases. As an indie, we’re taught word needs space–but this also includes phrasing. Can your female main character look up at your male main character 10 times a page?

Yes.

Does it read well?

No.

I would have loved to get ahold of her Word document and do a search for a list of “naughty” words.

Someone needed to because Drew kept putting his arm around Alexa’s waist, and every time I read it, it made me itch.

The story itself began to grow repetitive and mundane, and like I said, about the middle of the book I began to skim. There were only so many times I could read about them flying back and forth, having sex (that mostly faded to black, so I didn’t even have the sex scenes to look forward to) and taking the texts they sent each other when they weren’t together in the wrong way.

The ending came out the way I expected, but Alexa’s job, her sister’s backstory, and a kid with cancer made the plot some kind of soupy mess.

I want to be clear here. I am not blaming the author. She had a good premise, and she put forth a good effort.

Who I am blaming is her publishing house and the editing they failed to give her.

There are a few reasons for this:.

  1. They wanted to push the book out for marketing reasons or to catch a trend.
  2. Maybe the editor who acquired the book left the publishing house and little attention was paid to the book after that. (After listening to podcasts about the publishing industry I am surprised at how often this happens, and how much this hurts the author and the book.)
  3. The editor the author was stuck with was new or had too much on his or her plate.

No matter what the reason, however, it is frustrating for an indie author to buy a traditionally published book full of mistakes we are told to stop doing in our own work.

And it’s frustrating to know an author can get a book deal when indies who have stellar books in their possession can’t find agents.

There are probably reasons for this, too. She knew someone in the industry and she used her connections. She may have won a contest. Or simply, she just got lucky.

But that won’t give me my $13 back plus tax.

And I suppose the one thing that makes me the most upset is that the midlist is shrinking. Big publishers go for the big books, the books that will bring in millions like James Patterson’s and Bill Clinton’s The President is Missing.

Few midlist books are printed every year. In fact, there are imprints who publish digital only books like Carina Press. This is disappointing to an author who hopes to see their book on a shelf. Any shelf.  Even Target. Maybe especially Target. It’s not an accident the book section is across the aisle from Toys.

What can a writer hoping to query and publish a book take from all this?

That the publishing industry is broken?

We knew that already.

It says to me I may never want to be a part of a traditional publishing industry.

Because I expect that if Roxane Gay, who is a New York Times bestselling author, would be willing to blurb a book, and that book is a Target Club Pick, it’s going to be good and worth my money.

And again, this isn’t a blast on the debut novelist. It’s a blast on the publishing industry that would publish a book that needed so much more work.

I know books aren’t for everyone and this particular book, or perhaps even author because I’ll never read her again, just wasn’t my cup of tea. (I drink coffee anyway.)

But a scan of reviews on Amazon told me it wasn’t a cup of tea for others as well. (Who also may only drink coffee.)

Even someone reading The Wedding Date as a reader and not a writer can still say a book grated on their nerves even if they can’t pinpoint why.

I don’t expect to like every book I read–that’s a given. But with the resources of a large publishing house–this book was published by Jove, an imprint of Penguin–I shouldn’t dislike a book because of the editing or lack thereof.

jasmine guilloryI wish the best to Jasmine Guillory.  I hope she can come into her own as a writer without help or she seeks it out on her own (if she happens to read reviews) because her publishing house certainly isn’t going to give her any assistance.

What do you think of the plight of a first-time querying author? Do we have a chance, or should we just give up?

Let me know!

How Do You Create Well-Rounded Characters?

From time to time I’ll read a book written by an indie author. I like to see what’s going on in the world of self-publishing and what my competition friends are writing. But I’ve happened upon a common theme–new authors don’t understand the concept of three-dimensional characters. Or if they do, they can’t correctly express it on the page.

What do we mean when we say readers want a well-rounded character?

When you read editing books, (and shame on you if you aren’t!) you’ll read a section on show, not tell. Show me your Female Main Character is tough, don’t just tell me she is.

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This is so much harder than it sounds because you need to begin your character-building from page one and continue the building through the entire book.

Say your FMC is moving, and she drops a box on her foot. Or she’s hanging a picture and she slams her thumb with a hammer. She doesn’t cry. She’s tough. You’ve shown us she can hurt and not give in to tears.

So what?

That means nothing to the reader. We want to know why. Why is she tough?

Did her father beat her mother whenever she cried, so your FMC has trained herself not to cry? Maybe her father beat your FMC for being weak. (Gotta love some horrific backstory, right?)

This makes your character tough. Now we have a reason. How does that tie in with the story? Because it always has to tie in. Your characters’ traits need to blend into the internal conflict and external conflict.

Your characters’ traits are involved in your characters’ emotional growth. And your characters’ emotional growth is propelled forward by the plot.

Readers need the emotional arc to care and invest in your characters, their lives, and their problems.

Let’s have a quick example:

Felicity is starting a new life. She’s tough–life has made her that way. She grew up watching her father beat her mother. Her new apartment in a new city is a fresh start.

She clicks with a mover who delivers her new furniture. He has a temper, and after dating she realizes he has anger management issues. He reminds Felicity of her father. She gets scared of him, though he would never hurt her, or anyone, for that matter.

We have some fabulous internal conflict now:

  1. Felicity is tough on the outside, but as you write her backstory and weave it into the plot, we’ll see she’s actually vulnerable on the inside.
  2. The man she falls in love with brings her back to fearful and unhappy times.
  3. He loves her, but can’t control his rage enough to make her feel safe around him.
  4. She needs to learn that not every man she meets is like her father.
  5. He needs to learn he has to calm down and get help or they have no future.

This isn’t enough for a full plot, of course. Maybe someone is after her (she’s running from something/someone) and she has to trust him despite being scared of him.

Maybe he already knows who she is, and he was assigned to protect her–but he knows if he can’t control his temper, she won’t trust him and he won’t be able to do his job.

At any rate, we have reasons and backstory. (I focused on Felicity, but we see that our MMC has issues as well, and you could make up a fabulous backstory for him, too.) We have an explanation as to why they behave the way they do.

Your characters are people who have traits that have been cultivated by events in their lives.

For your reader, it’s not enough to make your FMC a bitch, or moody, or pissy. Readers need reasons tied to backstory and internal conflict, or all they have is an unlikeable main character.

Even your villains need reasons for being evil. Some of the best villains are characters readers feel sorry for, even relate to.

Jaime Lannister is a good example. Everyone despised him for pushing Bran out the window in A Song of Fire and Ice. But when his hand was cut off in A Storm of Swords, we almost feel sorry for him. And, possibly, everyone wanted a romantic relationship to develop between him and Brienne. Even though there wasn’t a character less deserving. (Oh, that was only me? Sorry. Must be my romantic coming out in me, again.)

Make your character a bitch, and all she is is a bitch. Make your character a bitch with reasons, feelings, and a desire to change, or she’ll lose what matters most, and you have internal conflict and a character growth arc.

The best books are both plot-driven and character-driven.

Readers want change–to go on a journey with your characters. They need internal/emotional growth while going with your characters from point A to point B.

Some of the writers I’ve read have the plot down, but haven’t yet perfected revealing backstory, explaining why the characters behave the way they do.

Sometimes this can be easily solved by getting to know your characters better. Spend time with them. What are their hopes, fears, ambitions, and flaws?

An author will have a difficult time introducing their characters if they don’t know who their own characters are. And if the writer doesn’t know, the reader sure as hell won’t.

Traits, negative or otherwise, does not a well-rounded character make.

For more tips on writing a well-rounded character check out WRITERS HELPING WRITERS®. The assortment of books for traits and emotions can go a long way to helping you figure out who your characters are and how to write them in a way readers can understand and empathize with.

 

Creating Character Arcs is another good book written by KM Weiland. Check out her blog here. She dishes out fantastic tips on writing, and I own all of her nonfiction books.  Happy writing!
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