Swearing, Sex, and Drinking . . . What Do Your Characters Do?

I’ve always appreciated a well-timed, or a well-placed, “Fuck.” Especially when it’s supposed to be funny.

When I was in my lower teens, I read a lot, and I read one book where the character–and for the life of me I can’t remember who it was (I want to say it was Detective J. P. Beaumont, in the detective series by J. A. Jance, but it could have been in any of the books I read back then) who said, “Jesus Christ on a bicycle.” It cracked me up, and to this day, if I hear it, or if I read it, I laugh.

The phrase may be offensive to some, hell, I went to Baptist school as a kid and just for a split second, I was offended too, until my sense of humor won out.

My characters swear, and sometimes they swear a lot. This is a bit unusual, as I don’t swear much, in real life, and a lot of times our characters are us, or pieces of us. My amount of swearing depends on who I’m with. I don’t swear around my kids unless I’m telling them to stop being pissy, a futile plea, that, as they are teenagers. But my sister swears like a truck driver (is this really true?) and when she starts saying the F word, it starts coming out of my mouth, too.

I like to try to make my characters swear for a reason. They’re grumpy, or angry, or I, too, like to use a well-placed swear word for comedic effect. Take this excerpt, for instance, from the book I’m writing now, Wherever He Goes:

When Aiden came out of the bathroom, Kat was studying the cappuccino selections across the store. The gas station sold a huge selection of Monster energy drinks, and just as he opened the door to grab his usual, a low-carb flavor, the bell over the door rang.
“Nobody move!”
In the round fish-lens mirror attached to the wall above the restrooms, Aiden watched a tall figure dressed in black aim a handgun at the older lady staring out the window behind the counter.
Aiden rested his forehead against the chilled glass of the cooler.
“Shit.”

Not everyone wants to read characters swearing though, and sometimes the readers who come across it can take it out on you in a bad review:

swearing review

This is a review for Don’t Run Away, book one in my Tower City Romance Trilogy. Never once did I say I write sweet/inspirational romance. I write contemporary, and that is the category my books are labeled under. I don’t try to fool anyone. A lot, if not most, contemporary romances have some kind of swearing and/or intimacy. In fact, had this reader used the Look Inside feature on Amazon, they would have known right away this book contained sex and swearing, maybe even both at the same time (gasp!). The book is long enough I’m going to assume the first two chapters are available.

I didn’t redo my blurb, per that reviewer’s request, simply for the fact that the category I put it under shouldn’t give a prospective reader any false illusions.

But it did make me wonder why readers are so sensitive, and if writers respond to it, or if they still do their own thing.

I read a Harlequin Blaze not long ago, and the author used the word pussy. It’s not such a big deal in the scheme of things–the series’ name says it all, to my way of thinking. But the person who read the book before me inked out all the words she didn’t agree with. I wish I had taken a picture.

When I think of swear words in content, I think about a lot of programs on the CW. I watched Gossip Girl from beginning to end (the show; I haven’t read the books to compare), and I watched a lot of The Vampire Diaries (also the same, watched the show, didn’t read the books).

The writers of Gossip Girl had a fun time throwing in curse words that weren’t curse words. Blair was forever calling Chuck Bass a Basshole. We know what she meant, but in all the episodes I ever watched, she never, ever, came out and actually called anyone an asshole.

basshole

Another favorite was when people would call Chuck a Motherchucker. This one, too, is pretty self-explanatory.

blair waldorf

Why the creators wanted to keep the show “clean” is beyond me, as all the characters drank like fish–whether they were old enough or not. The same is true for The Vampire Diaries–even though I guess you could say that Stefan and Damon were “old enough” to drink, even while portraying high school students. When you Google “Damon and Stefan drinking” there are a lot of images that come up. I could post pictures all day of them knocking back scotch!

damon drinking

And while Elena starts the show at 17-18, I would assume she turns 21 at some point. But her age doesn’t stop her from having a little fun.

elena drinking

These characters were also having sex, some of it open door, some of it not, but it surprises me that the creators would show, or even imply, underaged sex.

So, underaged sex is . . . not worse than swearing?

What is a reader’s tolerance when it comes to books? I think swearing is natural–you can’t get away from it in real life, and writing a few curse words into your books could crank up the reality factor a notch or two.

Depending on your genre, sex, too, is also natural. A detective in a high-stakes thriller could have sex to take the edge off. Most romances and chick-lit have sex in them, sometimes even funny sex. Erotica has the most sex, of course, and it’s up to the author to submit their books to the proper category when publishing.

My characters drink–probably not as much as they do in The Vampire Diaries, but they like to have a drink now and then. So do I.

Everything in moderation.

It’s a concept the Salvatore brothers didn’t understand, but I guess, there’s nothing else to do in a small town like Mystic Falls.

Taste is subjective, and it’s easy to get freaked out by a poor review, but what an average amount of swearing is to one could be an overuse to another. Contemporary romance is light on sex, but I have yet to read a contemporary romance where the couple didn’t do it at least once.  How graphic the scene turns out to be is up to the author.

I expect swearing, sex, and drinking in the books I read.

How about you?

Happy writing Vania Margene

 

 

 

If you’re interested, the New York Times printed an article about sex, or lack thereof, in current YA. You can read it here.

The fuckety index: how much bad language is allowed in your novel?

For Fuck’s Sake! – The Art Of Swearing And Cursing In Fiction Writing

How to Use Profanity And Other Raw Talk In Your Fiction

Author Interview–Aila Stephens

Everyone loves to hear how a launch goes. Was it successful? How many books did they sell their first day? Their first week? How many page reads did they have if they were enrolled in Kindle Unlimited?

Book launches are exciting.
◊Cover reveal!
◊Excerpts!
◊Author interviews!
◊Blog tours!

But what about after? There is always going to be someone else who releases a book and our attention will be jerked away by a shiny new cover.

What happens after the launch? What happens months after the first week of sales? How does an author keep the momentum going?

I spoke with author Aila Stephens to find out. Listen in—maybe she’ll tell us all her secrets.

astericks

You launched Sex, Love, and Formalities, the companion to Sex, Love, and Technicalities in November of 2017. How did that launch go for you? Can you give us a quick rundown of what you did to prepare? You hosted a giveaway, as well, correct?

Sure! I drank a lot of coffee. I panicked a little…no, no. I mean, yes, I did those things, but really, I talked Formalities up on social media a little more than I did when I launched its’ predecessor. I had much better-looking bookmarks printed up, and I spent a little more time and money on the book trailer than I did for the first one. I love having a book trailer for my books. It’s mostly a total vanity thing, but they’re still fairly rare in the indie community. Giveaways are pretty hit or miss, I don’t think that’s a secret, but I look at them as a necessary evil.

I did have a giveaway. It’s no secret that giveaways are pretty hit or miss, and there’s never any rhyme or reason to how many participants you get, but this one had decent participation. I gave away two signed copies of my books along with coffee and tea, a mug, and even a nice shawl to throw over the shoulders as it was quickly turning wintertime.

That was a great giveaway! I was bummed I couldn’t enter. You also did a free book promo for book one during the launch of book two using some of your free days allowed to you in the KDP Select program. Can you explain how you promoted that, if you did? If I remember correctly, your stats for that free book were rather impressive.

I promoted using Twitter and my Facebook author page.

I am going to strangle myself for this, but I cannot for the life of me remember exactly how many free copies of Technicalities were downloaded during those days, but it was several hundred—maybe even closing in on a thousand. I’d tell you concretely, but apparently, Amazon won’t let me go back that far. Whatever it was, the top ranking I got on Amazon that day was #14, for Women’s Fictions > Crime, and I believe it was #20 for Women’s Fiction > Romance.

That’s fantastic! Did your free promotion for book one bolster sales for book two?

In the weeks following that free promotion, I did have several thousand “normalized pages” of Formalities being read on Kindle Unlimited, which was very nice.

…If only all those free books and KU pages led to reviews, right?

It’s hard to tell if the sales of Formalities since then have been directly related to that free promotion, though I suspect most are.

Did you find it easier to launch book two since it was a sequel?

I did. I had so many—so very many—mistakes I learned from with Technicalities. I think that’s kind of a great thing though, learning from one’s own mistakes. I made a few with Formalities which I hope to avoid with the next book, and I’m sure I’ll make some with it that I’ll try and avoid with the one after that…and so on and so forth.

What are you doing, four months after your launch, to keep sales going? And are your methods working?

Still drinking coffee, still panicking. Ha! No. It’s not in my nature to go for the hard-sell. I do share pictures of my covers from time to time on Instagram, though it’s fruitless. What I think has helped me the most to see continued sells and KU reads has been my blog. I didn’t have the best track record of consistently blogging, but after my launch, I decided to make blogging my second priority to writing more books. I blog every Monday and every other Thursday. I’m still trying to wean myself from blogging just to other writers and figuring out how the heck you blog for readers, but I digress.

At the end of every blog post I include a small, hopefully unobtrusive, advertisement I made for my books and I link it to them on Amazon. I have noticed that I usually sell something on Tuesdays and/or Fridays, and my KU pages have remained rather steady.

This is a comfortable way for me to garner attention to my books without me feeling like a spam-artist.

Again…if only those translated to reviews.

What have you learned from either of your books to help you launch and maintain momentum for your next book?

I want to give a little more time between finishing the book and launching the book. With this next one I want to seek out ARC reviewers on YouTube (which, honestly, excites me and kills me a little on the inside), and I also want to spread out smaller, but still impressive, giveaways. I am still researching some launch tactics, but these are the main ones I intend to employ this go-round.

Do you have any tips for those who are seeing declining sales after their launch?

I would ask them what they’re doing to keep putting it in front of people. Like I said, there isn’t a soul out there who can say I’ve sent them an auto-DM going, BUY MY BOOK!! But I endeavor to have a quality blog I drive traffic to several times a month, in the hopes that by the time someone gets to the bottom, they’re intrigued enough to take a look at my books.

You can’t publish a book and then expect people to find it without a little elbow grease.

Have you ruled out paying for ads or promotions?

Not at all! I just don’t want to do it for two books. Once my next book comes out, I’ll shell out a little money for advertising and see what comes of it. Three is by no means the magic number, but I will chalk it up to research, too. I can’t afford to be anything except financially prudent with this, but I’m excited to see what happens with it.

I’ve read the best advertisement to promote your work is to write another book. Do you believe this is true?

Absolutely. I wish I had the ability to write full-time so I could crank them out faster. I think in today’s world, we’re all so accustomed to instant-satisfaction that we don’t want to fall in love with a book or an author if they’re not producing anything else. It’d be like watching The Paradise on Netflix and falling in love with it only to learn they shucked it after two seasons. We binge-watch in this day and age, and readers binge-read. This is why there is so much advice out there saying book series are the moneymakers.

…says the girl writing a standalone book right now.

Think of Harper Lee. To Kill A Mockingbird is a priceless piece of American literature, but for the longest time—fifty-five years!—there was only one published out there by Ms. Lee. I don’t know how well that sort of publishing schedule would work in this day and age. 😉

I guess the secret is to write such a thought-provoking, moving book, that your book is mandatory reading in all schools! Thanks, Aila, for taking the time to chat with me!

Vania, thank you so much for sitting down with me again for such a lovely interview! I am always honored and humbled that someone of your talent and expertise has time for little ol’ me.

And to all of your amazing readers, thank you so much for taking the time to get to know me!

Love ya, mean it!  -Aila

Aila always makes me blush. I hope you enjoyed her interview and maybe learned a little something about how to keep the momentum after your launch from drifting away. Help keep her momentum up by downloading free copies of her books here (March 27 and 28) and give her Amazon profile a follow while you’re there. 🙂

Aila is leaving her mark all over the interwebs, and you can follow her Instagram account, Tweet with her on Twitter, like her Facebook author page, and definitely give her blog a peek. She’s in the middle of a wonderful writers’ resources series you don’t want to miss!

Thanks for reading!

 

Quotes taken from the websites in the photo captions, and photos taken from http://www.pixabay.com and http://www.unsplash.com. Graphics created with these photos in http://www.canva.com.

Your First Novel–Book Review

Writing a novel is daunting. Not only because of how long (many words) a novel can typically be, but because of all the components a novel contains. And if your novel is missing any of those pieces, a reader may not enjoy it which could translate into a poor review. Worse, if you plan to query, if your novel doesn’t have all the parts an agent or acquiring editor is looking for, your book will never be picked up.your first novel

One of the biggest problems a writer can face is writing a book and not knowing their novel is missing pieces.

I have never queried any of my books, and may not ever query anything I write, but I still found Your First Novel to be a very informative read. Written by an agent and a published author, (Ann Rittenberg, Laura Whitcomb, Camille Goldin, Dennis Lehane (Foreword), Your First Novel walks you through the writing and querying process.

The first half of the book explains what a good book needs to contain in order to catch the eye of an agent or editor. If you don’t plan on querying, that’s okay. Your first book still needs to have all those elements or you may find your book has flat characters, not enough of a plot, or both. Remember–your agent wants what a reader wants–a good story told well.

Part two contains information about what to do with your book once it’s written. There are chapters such as What a Literary Agent Does–and Why, and Before You Submit your Manuscript.The authors of this book offer information a writer could find useful if querying for the first time–or helpful hints on what to fix if querying didn’t go how an author envisioned (rejection letters).

There are pieces of advice a writer may take offense to, such as on page 163 of the paperback. The first couple sentences of Chapter 12 read, “As any seasoned novelist will tell you, most first novels are not actually first novels. The real first novel is locked away in a drawer, never to see the light of day.” Or on page 166, “Agents and editors should not be your first readers.”

This book isn’t for a writer with delicate sensibilities or are too precious about their work. The authors of this book want to help you find an agent and get your book published, or self-publish the best book you can. Sometimes that’s more than holding your hand and giving you advice. Sometimes that’s giving you a kick in the ass and telling you to do the work.

Writing a book and signing an agent takes a lot of time and hard work. One of my favorite parts of this book are all the resources it contains. From websites and online articles to more books, there is always something to learn about writing/craft and the publishing industry, and the authors of this book give you a long list to start work through. Keep your ear to the ground–you never know what you’ll hear about that could help your career.

Will this book help you write the best book you can and land an agent? I don’t know, but I do know it’s a good place to start.

Buy Your First Novel on Amazon here.

Other articles on querying:

How Do You Know When You’re Ready to Submit?
By: Chuck Sambuchino

How Do You Know When Your Book is Ready?
BY KRISTINA ADAMS

Are You Ready to Contact an Agent? Take This Short Quiz and Find Out

Results of my ad with Freebooksy

I figured with a few books out now, I should do a little marketing. I’ve been against it, claiming I needed a backlist before I started putting money into my career, but I thought since my trilogy was done, I could do a little promotion.

I’ve heard about various book marketing websites where you pay for exposure, and that’s what Freebooksy is. Essentially, you’re paying to advertise your book in their newsletter for one day. There are other promotions run by the people of Freebooksy if you don’t want to to go free with your book, but I did because 1) it didn’t bother me to give my book away and 2) I was hoping for a little read-through since the other two books were available.

My trilogy is enrolled in KDP Select, and I had never used any of my free days for any of my books before, so I went ahead and chose five days for my book to be free, then I went on Freebooksy and chose a day that I wanted my book in their newsletter. In the future, if I do this again, I’ll plan ahead to give myself time to promote the promotion.

A rep reached out to me, and she was very nice, but she wanted to put my book in the sweet category romance newsletter. I replied that it didn’t belong there as the book had four open door sex scenes. I’m not sure why she wanted to do that, unless she mistook my cover. Nikki and Dane do look cute together, but I didn’t choose to put a steamy couple on the cover because there is a fine line between contemporary romance with sex, and erotica. I didn’t want anyone mistaking my trilogy for erotica. I’ve written erotica, had my “taste” so to speak, and I’m more comfortable writing contemporary romance.

Anyway, this is what the ad looked like that went into their newsletter:

freebooksyad

You’re the one who writes the blurb, and I was afraid I didn’t spend enough time on it. You only get so many characters, and it’s difficult to try to convey what the book is about and still make it interesting in that short space.

My book was free from February 6th to the 10th. I started getting downloads even before my book went out in the newsletter. In total, while my book was free, I gave away 4,458. Between February 6th and today, February 15th, I have sold fifteen of Book 2 and six of Book 3, so you can see there was a small amount of buy-through (not necessarily read-through), and I lowered the prices of those books to .99 to go with the free promotion. Also, my page reads for Kindle Unlimited for all my titles went up from 0 to this:

page reads for KU

It’s not the best, of course, since even all those lines only represent $25.00 in sales. If you do the math, that’s a horrible ROI, at least, on paper.

Return on investment comes in many different forms, monetary being only one of them. I’m hoping now that I’ve given away so many books, people will remember my name, I’ll begin to foster some lifelong readers for future books.

My sales ranking did go up for a little bit, and I can give you a snapshot of those, though I didn’t take a picture every time my book moved up in ranks. And as everyone congratulated me, going up in rank in *free* books looks nice, but it’s not the same as going up in the paid lists.

awesome stats!3

These are the best stats the book got. I don’t know if it did much more than earn me a few bragging rights, but there it is.

Amazon did a nice thing, too and put my books together in an ad on my Author page.

tower city box set

You can’t buy them that way–I haven’t created the box set yet, and that is on my to-do list after I figure out my stupid cover for book three. (Yeah, still wrestling with it to get it exactly how I want it in paperback.)

If you were to ask me the best part about this whole promotion thing, I would have to say that it’s that people are starting to read my work. We all want people to read our stuff, but when they actually do, it’s nerve-wracking. So far I’ve been getting decent reviews. They’ve been saying my editing is solid, and there hasn’t been a complaint about formatting, which is a relief since I do all my own formatting myself.

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Overall, I would say the experience was a positive one.

If I were to give any advice to someone doing this I would say:

  1. Have more than one book out. I did prove that if you spend money advertising one book, you’re really advertising your whole backlist. Not many people bought books 2 and 3 who downloaded book 1, but it was enough I was happy they were available.
  2. Having a good cover is no joke. It doesn’t seem like a big deal when no one is looking at your books, but the minute you realize people are going to be choosing your book among a selection, suddenly you’re hoping it’s good enough. Be sure it is.
  3. Have a decent blurb. I shortened mine from what I wrote for Amazon, and I worried I didn’t spend enough time on it. Had I spent more time on it, maybe I could have gotten even more downloads.
  4. Have people willing to spread the word. I don’t know how many downloads came from my Twitter followers, or my followers willing to tweet about it. I don’t know how many downloads came from the people who liked my FB Author Page. I was also naughty and told everyone on my personal FB page that my book was free, and I know it’s against TOS to do that. I only did it once, on the day the newsletter went out. And I was lucky a few people shared that post.

I won’t be doing this again anytime soon, but it was fun to try something new and to get my feet wet. A little snowflake can cause an avalanche, and I’m hoping this is true in my case. But now that my trilogy is over and done, I need to relegate it to my backlist and move forward. I’m 31,000 words into a new WIP, and I can’t wait to share with you!

Happy writing Vania Margene

Reusing Plot Devices: Good Idea, or the Devil of Plotting?

Plotting is hard. Thinking up things for your characters to do, the trouble they get into to make a story interesting, fast-paced, is a pain in the butt. Readers want things to happen; they want your characters moving. Characters who sit around are boring, and if they’re not talking about anything interesting, forget it.

hiking-1312226_1920Where are your characters going? How do you get them there?

Sometimes that’s where saggy middles come from. The beginning is exciting, lots of action, your characters are finding whatever trouble they’re going to get into for most of the book, be it fall in love with the wrong person, witness a murder, find a missing person, start a journey, whatever the case may be. The beginning of the book is always thrilling, full of promise, or at least, it should be.

And the end, oh the end! You know how it ends, the happy reunion of those two people in love, the satisfying conclusion to a journey, the missing child found. Endings can make a reader cry, close your book with a sigh and a smile, or throw the book (or Kindle, or tablet) across the room in frustration.

But the middle, the middle is difficult to write. You need scenes to move the story along, when you come up empty, it’s easy to reach for an old standby.

Plotting from A to Z is an art, a skill, a talent. Which is why so many books have been written on the subject.

And because plotting is so difficult at times, it’s easy to get caught up in what has worked for us in the past.

If you have a few books under your belt or saved on your memory stick, you probably have reused something, at some point. But is that a good idea?

Sometimes you have to. Take romances for instance. There are only so many plots to go around: boy meets girl, they break up, they reunite. Be it a case of mistaken identity, ending up in the wrong bed, best friends falling for each other, tropes are reused for a reason. That’s why they’re tropes. Same for mysteries. There’s always going to be the question of why, and how that question is answered.

And while all plots, to some extent, are recycled, that’s not exactly what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the small things that we do in our books that we do over and over again. Take for example the Stephanie Plum novels by Janet Evanovich. I hate calling out authors, but to explain what I mean, it’s the easiest way. For those of you who have never read a Stephanie Plum novel, it’s about an untrained, unprofessional bounty hunter named Stephanie. She works with her police detective boyfriend and another (male) bounty hunter.

You can probably already see where I’m going with this. Love triangle.

And that is fine. It’s perfect. It’s another plot/trope/plot device that lots of writers use. Hell, I have.

But Stephanie, being untrained, can’t do her job correctly. And it’s funny. The first couple times she does something. But the 5th time her car blew up, it wasn’t so funny anymore.

And the love triangle thing works GREAT for the first few books, but when you’re reading book nineteen, you’re practically screaming, “Choose one of them already!”

It’s frustrating.

Not to mention that when Janet tries to be funny using these plot devices over and over again, we’re cheated out of a character’s emotional arc. You would think, in twenty-four books, that if Stephanie really wants to be a good bounty hunter, she’d go to school. Cop school, self-defense classes, at the very least. Gun safety, anyone? There isn’t any character growth, and that’s too bad. But Janet purposely did that so she can write about all these dumb things Stephanie does to make us laugh. And it works, for a long time. But Janet released book twenty-four, and it’s not working anymore. In fact, when did it stop working? I would say around book nineteen when I stopped reading the series.

So when should *you* reuse plot devices?

I ran one of my cool Twitter polls . . .

twitter poll

. . . and it does seem as if writers like using the same plot devices. I don’t know how many books these writers have out, if any, but in one of the comments Chuck said . . .

chuck plot devices

. . . and I agree. It may be easier to use a plot device because it fits, it doesn’t take a lot of work to incorporate it, but will your readers like reading the same thing over and over, or will they drop off because eventually, all your books will start to sound the same?

In the end, this is your call. Do all your characters eat chocolate cake? Do they all drive clunker cars? Do all your heroines at some point get lost, physically? Do all your heroes have the same tragic backstory?

In my own writing, I’ve been dealing with this. I think, oh, my characters reuniting on the beach would be beautiful . . . oh, wait. They did that in book two of my trilogy. Probably best not to end my new stand-alone that way.

I wanted my characters to find a cat or something, but my characters, yes in book two of my trilogy, found an abandoned dog at a state park. So, no homeless kittens in this new book.

It can be challenging to think of new material, but you can do it. Try a couple of these tips:

  1. Read in your genre, but outside your genre, too. You never know if a character’s situation will spark a whole new idea for you.
  2. Use writing prompts. Maybe a picture or a line of dialogue will land your characters their best/worst situation yet!
  3. Brainstorm. I love to brainstorm plots with people. Just because someone came up with an amazing idea, that doesn’t mean you can’t use it. I’ve used ideas people have thrown out in these sessions, but of course, as you write and as you adapt the idea to your characters, things change. Never be afraid of using something someone has throw out there. In the writing process, you’ll make it yours.

    workplace-1245776_1920

    Brainstorming can be a great way to come up with plot bunnies! 
  4. Listen to music. Maybe a lyric or the way that piece of music is played will spark an idea.
  5. Go for a walk and let your mind wander. Letting your mind think about whatever it wants is an incredible way for new ideas to pop into your head.

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Empty your mind; let it wander. Let your characters speak to you.

Anyway, be careful when reusing plot devices. You’re a creative–you’re a writer. You can think of something original. Keep delighting your reader with new ideas, new situations, and they’ll keep coming back to you and your books over and over again.

And maybe at book nineteen, they won’t drop off.

Tell me what you think!

Vania Blog Signature

Who Are You Writing For? Yourself or Your Readers? Be Honest.

There’s a lot of fear in a writer’s heart. Lots of it. Am I good/smart/brave/pretty/handsome/wistful/*insert adjective here* enough to be a writer? Am I writing books people want to read?

I see this all the time. The fear. The agony of publishing. The waiting on pins and needles for reviews to start coming in. If they do. Then we have to wonder, is a bad review better than no review? Bad reviews mean that someone read my book, right? Or *gulp* tried to.

I have to admit, I see this stuff and I go wwwwwhhhhhhyyyyyyy?

Why_

There shouldn’t have to be this crippling anxiety when you write and publish a book. Not if you do it right. What do I mean by right? Well, I have some ideas.

The first and foremost is be honest who you’re writing for. Are you writing for yourself? Because if you are, then you have no justification to piss and moan when someone doesn’t read your book or want to read your book. Because after all, you wrote it for yourself so what do you care if no one else is reading it? So, be honest. I find that with a lot of indie myths floating around out there that this isn’t so easy. Some of my favorite indie myths? Indie myths

  1. Build it and they will come.
    This is the stupidest thing I ever heard. Your book is not a sports stadium. (And even sports stadiums are built with specifications. Could you image a stadium built with no bathrooms because the owner didn’t want to pay to put them in?) No one is going to find you unless you push your book out there. Even publishing houses make you do most if not all of the marketing for your book yourself. If you’re an indie, this means contacting book bloggers, paying for ads, hosting events on your FB author page. Setting up your own signings at bookstores. How does this fit in with writing for yourself? You can write what you want all day long, but if you’re writing what no one wants to read, why bother?
  2. Writing to market is a cop-out.
    I love this one the most. Do you know what writing to market even means? My friend Holly put it like this: Writing to market isn’t being a sell-out. Writing to market is writing what people like to read. That’s it. It’s not any harder than that. So what does that entail significantly? Knowing your genre. What tropes are used? What kind of characters are in that genre? It can even come down to how many pages does a book in that genre typically have? Know the genre. It’s why your reader picked up your book in the first place.
  3. Experimenting is okay/write what you love/it’s your book.
    I agree up to a point. You have to experiment to find your voice. You have to love what you’re writing because this is your hobby, this is your passion, and if you hate it, you might as well go to work instead and hate it there and get paid for it, too. And it is your book. Absolutely. The choice of genre and POV is in your hands. But you have to stay within the confines of the genre you choose. I don’t know how many more times I can say it. And if, for God’s sake, you have to experiment with a medieval Zombie sex plot, no one is saying you have to publish the *insert derogatory adjective here* thing.
  4. And the worst indie myth of all:
    I DO WHAT I WANT
  5. I’m an indie and I can do/write/publish what I want.
    This is hurtful for so many reasons. One, because what you do affects all of us. You know that saying “one rotten apple poisons the barrel?” It’s true. Indie publishing already has a bad enough reputation, do we need to add to it by publishing whatever crap you decide to write? You hurt me, and I hurt you. And if you think I’m full of crap, think again. Another reason this hurts is because you are hurting yourself on a personal level. One crap book and your reputation is on the line. Readers remember you. Don’t think they don’t. I have a list of readers I don’t like, both indie and trad-pubbed, and you know what? I don’t buy their books. Easy-peasy.

So what does all this have to do with the fear I was talking about earlier? Well, I’m willing to guess and say, if you follow the rules (yep, I went there) and produce a good book, you may find that the idea of people reading your book won’t scare you as much as it did.

What are these blasphemous rules I speak of?

  1. Know the genre you’re writing in. When a publishing professional asks, If you were to put your book on a shelf in a bookstore, where would you put it? That’s a serious question. We all dream of being in a bookstore, and I don’t think that means being in the back room because the manager hasn’t got a fucking clue where to put your book. Follow the tropes and expectations of that genre.
  2. Get the thing edited. I don’t care by who. Just do it. You have a typo on the first page, and it can be something as simple as using a period in dialogue when it should have been a comma, you lost me. And probably about 100 other readers who were interested. They aren’t anymore.
    And if this is your first book and you have no idea what you’re doing? Get a developmental editor, too. Your plot needs to move, your characters need to grow. If you have trouble crafting a good plot (ie no plot holes) and your characters are flat out boring, don’t publish.
  3. Have a cover that matches your genre. Seems like a no-brainer, but it’s amazing how many authors do what they want with no sense of what is going on in their genre. This could be because they don’t have a genre, and well, that sucks. No genre, no cover, no bookshelf space, no book. It takes two seconds to Google the hot 100 on Amazon in your genre. If your cover looks like a sweet romance, but you wrote erotica, you’ll piss off a lot of people. And you know that means? Bad reviews.
  4. Write a decent blurb.

If you do all these, and yeah, it takes work, time, and money, and you publish the best book you can, there is no reason why you should be scared people will read your book.

Let me tell you a little story.
A someone told me they were petrified people were going to find and read their book. This puzzled me, as they published the darn thing–they should want someone to read it. Naturally, I looked them up on Amazon. The cover was okay; it prepped me for a chick-lit plot with some naughty bits. Can’t beat comedy and sex. The blurb sucked, but well, writing them is hard, so I gave them a pass. Their author bio was written first person, a no-no, but well, I guess some people don’t know that. I used the look inside feature that Amazon has so graciously set up for us so we don’t waste money, and I found the book was a mess. Their cover didn’t match the serious tone of the book, the formatting was horrible, and it was evident from the first paragraph they didn’t have an editor. They’re scared people are going to find their book? They should be.

There are things you can do to control the quality of your book. Find an editor/critique partner/beta reader who will teach you things, not just blow smoke up your bum. Read craft books. Go to writing conferences and have your first pages critiqued. Read in your genre. For the love of God, choose a genre. It makes writing a lot easier, trust me. And after you hit publish, you did it. Own it.

And seriously. If you are writing for yourself, when you’re done, print it out and shove it under the bed. Maybe the monster under there can edit it for you.

Am I too harsh?

Tell me what you think!

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Indie Book Reviews: My Unpopular Opinion

There’s been a lot of talk lately about writing indie book reviews. You know, it’s a kind thing to do, you’re giving the book a bump in the Amazon algorithms. You see it everywhere on Twitter: support an author, leave a review.

And I’ll be honest, when I jumped into the indie world, I read a lot of indie books. I was supporting my Twitter friends. But when you are just starting out, when you’re new to Writer Twitter, the thing that no one tells you is that there are bad books out there. Maybe I was naive, maybe I was just inexperienced. I was in awe of anyone who had published books. I hadn’t been exposed to the indie world, and I had no idea that a published book could be bad.

So I bought books, tweeted I was reading them, showed my support. The only problem was, some of them were good, some were okay, some were dumpster fires.

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Then I would have to write a review. I admit, I wrote a handful of 5-star reviews for books that were mediocre. (I realize that is a moral dilemma for some, and I have stopped doing it since it’s not fair to anyone). There was a lot of telling, or the characters were flat. Maybe a plot hole here and there.

After I bought two books in a row that I did not finish (DNF), I stopped buying indie completely. Because let’s face it, indie books are expensive. I buy paperback, and to get any kind of royalty, CreateSpace makes you price your book at a ridiculous price. So spending $17.99 on a book I won’t finish is a blow to my wallet.

But lately, the review talk is getting out of hand. While writing a positive review for a book that is well-written and well-edited is one thing, writing a negative review for a book that isn’t good is something else.

What makes a book bad?

Poor or complete lack of editing
The formatting is wonky, so wonky that it takes away from the reading experience
Flat characters
Plot holes
An all-around boring story

I’ve read my share, and if you read indie, you have too. I once read a book that had so many typos in it, I used it as a proofreading exercise (a quick run through Grammarly could have fixed 80% of those mistakes). I’ve read two books that I did not finish because the formatting was so terrible I couldn’t focus on the story. I read one book where nothing happened for three chapters. I was still waiting by chapter four and eventually toss the book aside.

Did I write bad reviews for any of those books? No, I didn’t. Did I reach out to those authors, my friends? No, I didn’t.

See, here’s the thing that you probably won’t agree with, but something that I live by:

When I pick up a book at Target, Walmart, Barnes and Noble, I’m picking up a traditionally published book. I’m reading a book that has been read several times by an agent, by several (and different kinds at that) editors. If the book is bad, say unlikeable characters, maybe a slight plot hole, or just a boring story, several people are to blame for the all the book lacks. I’m also reading that book as a readerI don’t know the author, probably. I’ll never interact with them. I can leave an honest review, and for a traditionally published book on GoodReads I have left, you know, two or three stars (which technically isn’t a bad review anyway).

When I read indie, I’m doing it because they are my friends, or I know them peripherally, or I thought it looked good and picked it up in a show of support. What do you get when you purchase an indie book?

Maybe something that hasn’t been edited all that great due to cost, resources, what have you. Most times editing is a favor, and it’s not always done by someone who knows how to edit.
A book that has a cover that was maybe done by the author to save a few bucks. I do my own covers, and I like to think they look decent. I know decent isn’t what we’re aiming for here, and I realize that if I wrote in any genre other than Romance, I would have to pay to have my covers done. Romance is the only genre you can get away with slapping a kissing couple on the front and adding the title and your name and be able to call it good.
A book that hasn’t been properly formatted. This has always bothered me because CreateSpace has free templates for you to download. And there are lovely templates you can purchase at a low cost you can use over and over again. Copy and paste your book into it, and you’re done. You’ve got your headers, footers, the pages where there should be numbers, and where they shouldn’t be. Gutters, margins. The templates aren’t perfect, and I’ve had to tweak mine, but even just using a template as a starting point will put you ahead of hundreds of authors who don’t know they exist or are too stubborn to use them. Pick up a trad-published book for God’s sake. Copy it. Page numbers, title, author name in the headers and footers. Full-justify the damn thing. Take out the auto spacing between paragraphs. A 200-page book shouldn’t be 600 pages. It costs money, for you and your customers, to print all that space. Stop it.

But you know what, a review is not the place to say all this. By the time the book is published, it’s too late. It’s not your job. You might say, well I have to warn other readers, or I’m giving my feedback.

When you read an indie, you are doing so as a writer, and that is not the same as reading a book as a reader. It’s not the same. When you read indie, you are peer-reviewing their books, and giving a poor review is a low blow. Reach out to them in a DM if you absolutely must, but be prepared for the backlash.

Look, there are a lot of readers out there, and eventually the book you want to “leave feedback on” will receive an honest review from someone the author doesn’t know. That’s an honest review, and maybe if your friend receives enough of them, they’ll pull the book and have it edited, or whatever.

reviews

This blog post is really long, and I haven’t even touched on the thing that makes me the maddest. I’ll write another blog post about it. But anyway, I don’t leave bad reviews for the simple fact that I am a nobody in the world of indie publishing. I don’t have thousands of sales, I don’t make six-figures. And when I do become an authority, I still won’t leave reviews. I’ll write blog posts like this.

Let’s try to save these books before they are published. Instead of reviewing, maybe offer to beta read, be a CP. Tweet informational articles about formatting. If you find services you like, tweet about it! Share when you find a paperback interior template that you LOVE. Share tips, tricks. A good editor that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. Maybe you can get the information out there; even if you can help one person, it’s worth it.

It’s hell for an author to pull a book to fix it, and by then, their reputation may already be ruined. All it takes is one book for a reader to be turned off by an author, forever.

Let’s stop it before it starts. It can only help all of us.

no one heals themsevles by wouding another

Tell me if you leave bad reviews. Feel bad about it? Proud of yourself for being honest? Let me know!

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