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

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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When Friends Turn into Business Partners . . . Sometimes it doesn’t work out

friends to business parnters blog post

I’ve never met a community so full of people willing to help. I’ve met authors who will share anything and everything. How they use ads, how they write blurbs and the resources that taught them how. They share their favorite blogs, podcasts, promo sites, non-fiction books. There are even authors who will share how much they make in sales.

So many authors are helpful and generous. (And if you run into one who won’t share anything, well, keep an eye out. I’ve found those people are users, and you won’t get anything in return for the information you share with them.)

I’ve made a few friends on Twitter. Some are better friends than anyone I’ve met in real life. Some have come and gone. Some needed so much hand-holding it was physically draining to be friends with them. Some acted like their work was the only thing worth discussing, and I’ve faded away because I believe friendship should work both ways.

I’ve had some small successes as an author, and I like to share, too. It’s a horrible feeling to be snubbed when sharing something you’re proud of.

friends or enemies

But there are those who stick around–you feel a kinship, support goes both ways, and you settle into an online routine of touching base, reading each other’s blogs, retweeting news and book cover reveals, and helping with book launches.

Inevitably this will lead to your friendship moving more into a business relationship.

You’ll be asked to edit for someone or do a cover. Maybe she needs a critique partner or he needs a beta reader. It could even be as simple as doing an author interview for a blog.

Friendships can easily blur into business and while the transition feels easy and breezy, if you don’t treat that relationship with the respect it deserves, not only are you risking your business relationship with that person, your friendship will be broken as well.

The culprit of all this is the nonchalance and the cavalier attitude of writers. They aren’t treating their business with the respect it deserves, so they see no harm in treating you the same way.

I treat my books as a business. I always have and I always will. When I do something for you, I do it in a decent amount of time, and to the best of my ability. And that’s always what I’ve done.

business peers

But I haven’t always been treated with the same courtesy.

I paid someone to edit for me, and one day she told me she was editing my book while she was having her hair done at the salon. I guess it was too much to ask that she edit my book in a quiet place where she could focus. I paid another, and she waited months before even starting to edit my book. I have patience–I have two children, three cats, and an ex-husband. I have patience. But when you pay someone for a service, even if she’s a friend, you expect them to treat you with professionalism.

Those people were my friends. Circumstances being what they were at the time . . . they aren’t anymore.

What’s funny is recently one of them asked me for a favor. I guess it wasn’t so funny when I didn’t respond.

Most of the time I can separate friendship from business. (I treat my Twitter account as part of my business, and I rarely unfollow anyone for crappy behavior. Most times the only thing that will earn you an unfollow is if you do it to me first.) And I can stay in touch with someone friendship-wise even if we don’t/didn’t work together so well in the business aspect of things.

I edited for someone, and that didn’t work out like I had expected. We’re still friends because I expressed how I felt, and she apologized. I don’t hold grudges, but just like anyone else, I remember how people treat me.

When you treat someone like crap, you’re burning bridges, plain and simple. The author so quick to help you? They may not be so quick to pull through for you next time.

So what can you do to keep your friendships intact if it moves into business territory?

  1. Set boundaries and expectations.
    Before work exchanges hands, hammer out what expectations are. Does she expect to get paid? Is she doing it for free? Are you sure? Is there an expectation you’re going to help her down the road? Is there a deadline? Can your friend meet it? If she can’t, can you change it? If you’re too rigid with what you need, it’s better for your friend to pass. Which brings me to:
  2. Don’t be angry if your friend can’t meet your needs.
    A lot of indie business is trade and favors. Money doesn’t always exchange hands. That’s common when indies operate in the red–especially when just starting out. You may feel desperate because if this particular friend can’t help you, who will? People who know what they are doing, and willing to do it for free or on the cheap are few. If you need her, it’s YOUR job to bend, not hers. If you can’t, understand where she’s coming from, take a deep breath, and move on. While writing is a business, it will always come in secondary to children, jobs that pay the bills, and maybe even an evening of self-care if she’s had a bad day. If your needs are more important than that, hire out and pay for the priority. Your friend helping you isn’t a right–it’s a privilege.
  3. Keep communication open.
    Maybe you think she’s not working fast enough. Or you haven’t heard from her in a couple of days. Or worse yet, you haven’t heard from her, yet she’s posting on social media. It’s easy to go from simmering to boiling if you expect her to be working on your project but she’s posting a new blog post every day. It’s easy to get annoyed–trust me, I know. Maybe she already had them scheduled, and she IS working on your stuff. You won’t know unless you ask. If you need constant reassurance like daily updates, request it before you give her the project. That way you can remind her you asked.
  4. Keep social media in mind.
    When I edited for my friend, she never stopped posting her publication date. She was building buzz–I get that. But her manuscript needed work, and the more she posted and the more I edited, the angrier I became until eventually I felt like I was doing it for nothing. So remember–you are friends and she can see what you tweet, post on your Facebook author page, blog, and anything snarky by way of a bitchy meme on Instagram. But the same goes for her. If she’s tweeting she’s editing a pile of garbage, or the person she’s editing for is dumber than a box of rocks . . . you may need to rethink if you want her working on your project. A good friend doesn’t necessarily translate into a good business partner. (I would rethink my friendship with anyone who would put something like that out into the world, anyway.)
  5. Know when to quit.
    Ideally, you want to work things out before this step. If you can’t, the next best thing is to back out before your business relationship destroys your friendship. Be clear why you don’t want to work with him anymore. Try not to let hurt feelings muddy the water. He may have hurt your feelings, but that is only as a bi-product of unprofessional behavior that may not have been intentional. And don’t flip out if he has to back out on you. Maybe it has nothing to do with professionalism. His private issues are none of your business unless he wants to divulge them. That depends on how good of friends you are. But if it is due to not being able to work together, learn from the experience and move on. Having a truthful “We make better friends than business partners” talk can salvage a friendship. Don’t be defensive.

Not all friendships cum business relationships are going to fail. I’ve heard of several people who have worked together for years. There relationships are based on respect and a mutual admiration of each other’s work.

It’s up to you how much you can take–and it’s up to your friend what her limits are if you’re the one behaving badly. Publishing is scary and stressful, but alienating people who want to help you makes it more so. And it won’t do your career any good if someone labels you as difficult to work with. You may be passed up for opportunities and you won’t even realize it.

stressed out

If you’re the one slighted, do your best to move on. If that means you’re no longer talking to that person, so be it. Publishing IS stressful, writing, emotionally draining. You need to protect your mental health, too.

Friendships can come and go, but it’s difficult to repair a business connection.

Don’t burn your bridges. You never know when you’ll have to circle back.


To be clear, I didn’t mention any of my experiences to throw my friends and acquaintances under the bus. I mentioned them to demonstrate I know how it feels to be treated in a manner that is hurtful and unprofessional. I have other examples of people using my generous nature against me–to the point of a friend of mine saying I should stop helping people.

I couldn’t do that, though. For every one person who ignores what I offer, five people appreciate any information I can give them. Be it my favorite stock photo sites, or a reminder that KDP Print offers templates to format the interiors of paperback books.

For every one person who ignores my edits, another person’s writing is brought to the next level.

I’ll probably never stop helping people. I enjoy it too much. But neither am I a doormat, and if you treat me poorly, that’s on you, not me.

If you treat anyone without respect and kindness, you need to look inside yourself and figure out why. But the secret is no one has to be friends with you, no one has to do business with you, and one day you may very well find yourself alone.

being helpful

If you enjoy helping and being part of the writing community, don’t let one bad apple ruin the whole barrel. There are lots of people out there who need help–and one day you’ll find yourself in a group of friends you can trust to help you in return.

That’s what the writing community is all about.

photos taken from pixabay or canva. graphics made in canva.com

jared and leah for end of blog posts

Book launches, book anniversaries and other musings about three years of hard work.

This morning I was reading a blog post my by friend, Sarah. It’s her book baby’s birthday today, and she’s celebrating her book turning one! And while I admit I’ve never celebrated a book’s birthday–hell, I rarely announce a launch–her blog post encouraged me to take a look back at my publishing milestones.

I don’t have my publishing dates memorized or anything like that, so I’ll need to go on to Amazon and take a look:


Under lock and key

I thought The Corner of 1700 Hamilton was my first book I published, but according to the dates, I actually published Under Lock and Key a week before on July 7th, 2016. It’s a novelette that I wrote from a writing prompt a dear friend of mind, Liz, tweeted one day. I haven’t read it for a long time, and no doubt it needs another edit. When I go wide, I’ll put it everywhere for free. It’s gotten some so-so reviews, but I can’t expect anything too great as it was the first thing I published.

 


the_corner_of_1700_h_cover_for_kindle

A week later, I published The Corner of 1700 Hamilton. This is a trainwreck of a book, as first books are wont to be. The original cover was horrible, and even with a beta reader and an editor, it still wasn’t up to par. Recently I went through one of my old paperbacks and edited both novellas, but I’m not sure if or when I’ll ever put them in. Even the “new” cover needs work,  but my mantra has always been “always look forward.” Having a sub-par book for sale doesn’t make me want to celebrate, however. So I may try to find time one day to fix it up.

 


I was still in novella mode when I decided to try my hand at erotica, and I wrote six novellas back to back for a total of (approximately) 155,000 words. I wrote all of them at once, hired an editor and published them together. Summer Secrets is about a group of friends who have sex, party, fight, and make up at a small lakeside resort during their summer vacation. For what they are, I’m actually quite proud of these; I had found my voice, and the interconnecting plots stand even without the sex.

Summer Secrets was a lot of work, but they made me a better writer. While I won’t be writing any more erotica, I don’t have any regrets taking the time to write these. They were published in August, 2017. I guess I didn’t realize I took a whole year to write them, edit them, format them, and do the covers, but at 155,000 words, I guess that’s not so bad, either. I redid the covers not long ago, and reformatted the insides using Vellum. I was even able to add the embellishments I tried for the first time around. They are pretty, and it’s too bad they aren’t in a genre I want to write anymore. I don’t consider them part of my backlist, but I won’t bury them the way I kind of blur over 1700 when asked about my backlist.

The covers look better, and the paperback covers look a lot nicer. I’ve learned a lot in the past three years, and I think it shows.

Summer Secrets Novellas 1-3 New Cover

summer secrets new cover 4-6

 

summer secrets chapter starts


I had Don’t Run Away done while I was doing these, and I can’t even say when exactly I fixed it up and decided to make it a trilogy.  I published the first on November 17th, 2017. I do remember while Summer Secrets was being edited, I wrote the second book of the trilogy. Later that became Chasing You which was published on December 14th, 2017. Running Scared was published in January of 2018. All I can say is when I look at those dates is holy crap. It helped I had Don’t Run Away done, and that was one tough book. It went through a lot of edits. I added POVs, took them out. Rewrote large sections. This was before I started listening to my novels as part of my editing routine, and I have no idea after the first one was beta read/edited, what I did with the others. I think by then I was confident in my own editing skills, but I doubt I was at the point I am today.

At any rate, they do okay, and during a Freebooksy ad, I gave away over 4,000 copies of Don’t Run Away. That promo led to the first wave of readers whom I hadn’t met via social media (AKA strangers), and I’m happy to have done it. I also proved that even though it feels like a quilt, all patched together, the book was strong enough to get decent read-through to the others. If you want to read about my Freebooksy promo results, look here. If you want to read some of my reviews on Goodreads, look here.

The best lesson I learned from writing the trilogy is to MAKE THE FIRST BOOK STRONG TO ENSURE READ-THROUGH. It won’t matter how many books you have in a series if your first book won’t carry them.

I’ve redone the covers, though they aren’t a drastic change, and I reformatted the insides using Vellum.

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I can tell you I was done with those characters by the time I finished Running Scared, and I didn’t think I’d ever do another series. I don’t want to say I was bored, because what would that say about my writing? But I will admit it’s nice to move on.

Wherever He Goes was published on June 1, 2018. It was the first stand alone novel I’d ever written–up to that point, even my novellas had been connected stories. I haven’t done much promo for that, though I did do a paid Bargainbooksy that didn’t do anything. Looking back at stats, I don’t even think the sales paid for the promo. If you want to look at my blog post about my results, look here.

There were a few firsts with this one: I had more beta readers, and I did the entire paperback cover in Canva. It looks amazing, and is still one of my favorite covers to date. I’ve had good feedback about the novel, and I enjoyed writing it. I need to do more promo for it, as I think it’s an enjoyable contemporary romance that should have more readers than it does.

Wherever He Goes (1)


All of Nothing, I feel, is my strongest book to date, and I believe in it so strongly, I entered it into the RWA RITA awards contest. It can more than hold its own against some of the traditionally published books out there, and when I did a Freebooksy promo for it, I gave away over 6,000 books. (If you want to read about those results, click here.) I love the way my ad for it looked in their newsletter, and bless them for making it the first book!

freebooksyadallofnothing

It didn’t place as high as Don’t Run Away on the free lists, simply because they are in separate categories. (Don’t Run Away is a sports romance.) But the book has more reviews than any other of my books. Published on October 16, 2018, it took me four and a half months to write it, edit it, format it, and release it. I had it beta read and proofed, and I’m very proud of how it turned out–from cover to cover.

All of Nothing Paperback Cover


The Years Between UsI don’t have any more published work out right now, though The Years Between Us is finished. I could have had it published already, but I’m working on a series that I won’t release until they are all done. I’ve been taking my time editing The Years Between Us, but at 74,000 words, it is a complete and finished novel. I don’t have the full cover completed, nor has it been fully edited, but I do plan to have it out into the world maybe by the end of March, or early April. There is no rush, as I don’t see my series being released until Christmas of this year. The first draft of the first book is finished, however, though I admit getting out of my recovery rut has been harder than I expected.


Anyway, so looking at those dates, seeing how hard I’ve worked . . . what have I learned through these two and a half years of publishing?

  1. Not many people care. Sure I may have a lot of followers on Twitter, may be a part of a lot of writing groups on Facebook, but unless your books are actually doing well, and you can prove it through sales, no one cares what you’re doing. Only a handful of my friends have patted my back, and that’s fine. My progress is for myself. I know I’m working hard, and I hope I can be an inspiration to others, whether my books are selling or not.
  2. You have to keep moving forward, or you’ll feel like you’re on a going down escalator trying run upstairs. With indie publishing, everyone is faster, quicker, doing more than you. Some are doing this in a legit way, and some are not. But for you, yourself, if you want to make any headway in the industry, always be moving forward. Don’t get caught in a rut because days turn into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years. Just like my friend Sarah says in the blog post I linked to at the beginning, all of a sudden a year had gone by and she has nothing to show for it. 500 words a day over the course of 365 days in a year can net you 182,500 words in a year.
  3. Even when you’re doing the work, it will feel like you’re in quicksand. The harder you struggle, the faster you sink. I’ve done a lot of work these past couple of years, and if I kept track of my hours worked versus the time and expense, I would be negative in return on investment. You can’t let this get you down, or you’ll stop. Write for the joy of it first, so you always keep working at your dreams. And let success be a secondary motivator. My success will come–I’ll make sure it does. But I can’t guarantee when it will. All I know is if I stop working for it, I definitely won’t have it.
  4. It might be your baby, but after you publish it, it’s not your baby anymore. MAKE IT WORK FOR YOU. This reasoning is probably why I don’t celebrate my book birthdays. I don’t think of my books as babies. I think of them as products to be sold to help me make money. I do enjoy writing, or I wouldn’t do it. But I also want to make a profit so I can keep doing this, for the long-term. While I’ve stated I like my job, and yeah, my free time at work as helped me with my publishing speed, I would love to earn a living on my writing only. I can’t be precious with my work. I’m always learning about craft, always keeping up with the latest thing about publishing. Even if you’re persistent and want to keep comparing your books to babies, eventually you expect your children to go out into the world on their own and make their own money. Even real-life children grow up.

Thanks for sticking with me–this is probably one of the longest blog posts to date. I doubt I’ll do a recap again; as my backlist grows, it will just get too time consuming. But the look back was fun, and thank you again for joining me!

If you  want to read any of my books, you can check out my Amazon author page, here.

Wherever He Goes and All of Nothing have recently been added to Kobo, and you can find them here and here.

Thanks for reading!

Where I’m at with my Wedding Party Series

jaredandleah

My first try at creating an aesthetic. All pictures taken from Pexels/Pixabay/Unsplash


 

I said since there is going to be such a long time between releases, I would try to update my fabulous readers better on my writing process while I write my Wedding Party Series. It used to be called my Bridesmaid Quartet, but as I was planning out my characters, I realized I was writing about only three bridesmaids and a groomsman. The Wedding Party series is a little more accurate, and more than likely that’s what I’ll call it when I publish it.

So where am I at?

Okay, well, first of all, I had carpal and cubital tunnel surgery on January tenth. I was able to write 35,000 words (about half of my book) before that, and I was pleased the book sounded as well as it did as a first draft. Had I not had to take time to recuperate, I more than likely could have had the first book done by now.

But I did something I don’t like doing.

I left a previous book undone. The Years Between Us was technically done when I opened the file for Jared and Leah (I always name the file by my characters’ names because it takes a while for me to think up a title), but it wasn’t edited. That’s what I had planned to do while I was in recovery.

Recovery took a little longer than I had expected, and I slept a lot. I watched a lot of Netflix. Luckily, I had thought ahead and planned out a few blog posts, so my website didn’t go neglected. I tried to tweet when I could. But mostly I gave myself a pass and took two weeks of a needed break from a very hectic publishing schedule so far.

The Years Between Us

The unofficial cover for The Years Between Us. Made with Canva.com and photo from canstockphoto.com

I have been able to give The Years Between Us two on screen editing sweeps. I usually print it out and edit it on paper, but I’m thinking this time I’ll skip that step and go straight to the listening part of it. Thinking about this after writing this section of my post, I realized I can’t skip this step. When I edit on paper, that is when I break up my book into chapters. I don’t write my book with chapters in mind, only breaking up my POV changes with scene breaks, and when I print out my book, it’s easier to “chunk it up” while in paper form.  

I’ll be working on two books simultaneously, and I don’t particularly care for it, but I like writing Jared and Leah and there’s no rush to put out The Years Between Us. When I DO get it done, it will be going on a long preorder, just so I don’t have so long between books, though by romance indie publishing standards, since I published All of Nothing in October, I should have another book out now.

Anyway, I did realize not long ago while I was reading my friend Aila’s blog, I’ll need to change a few things, and the sooner the better. Most of the time I don’t care what I name my characters as long as I haven’t used the name before, and it matches what I think the character looks like. Towns are the same. Sometimes I look up names, sometimes I steal them from work. (I work in a call center and see names of cities and towns all day long.) Sometimes I use a name generator. I didn’t think anything of using Blue Ridge, Minnesota for my small town’s name. Until I was reading a blog post of Aila’s. Color me surprised when I saw this:

Harlot of Blue Ridge

Beautiful! (And used with permission. Thanks, Aila!)

All I can think is that the name of her book kind of got stuck in my mind. I mentioned it to her, and she was very gracious, saying I didn’t need to change it. But she thought of it first, she’s further into her WIP than I am, and seriously, there are so many other names to choose from, I don’t need to steal borrow anyone else’s. I can’t tell you how excited I am to read her book though, and if you want to follow along with her writing journey, you should follow her blog and give her a follow on Twitter. I can’t tell you enough how impressed I am with what she gives to the indie writing community.

I am not going to lie: it’s been hard to get back into the swing of things. I’m not 100% healed, meaning, I’m not 100% pain free. My doctor said it could take my body up to 12 months to repair itself. On the bright side, I don’t feel any worse than when I did before my surgery, and if I could type through the pain then, I can type through it now.

I went back to work last week, so I’m hoping that returning to a schedule will help me make better use of my time.

In my next blog post, I’ll break down what I’m doing with Jared and Leah, and maybe share an excerpt or two of what’s been going on!

Until next time!

jared and leah for end of blog posts

 

My Writing Plans & Goals for 2019

hello 2019

Lots of people feel like 2018 sucker punched them right in the gut. But to be honest, I think a lot of people felt like that about 2017, too. Each year may be better in some ways, worse in others, but it’s fair to say that each year brings about new challenges. Sometimes we can rise to the occasion and kick ass, and sometimes we can’t.

I got a lot done in 2018. I released two books I’m proud of–Wherever He Goes and All of Nothing. Each book brings me closer to improving my craft and realizing my goals of being a career writer.

I went through a divorce and came out, for the post part, unscathed, due to my kids, the support of my sister, and the love and a support of a special man in my life. We’ve had our ups and downs, too, and I hope in 2019 we have more ups than we do downs, but time will tell.

As far as my writing goals for 2019, it’s something that I talk a lot about on this blog. Write what you want, but don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t sell. So I’m going to follow my own advice. While my stand alones are doing okay (for the lack of marketing I do for them) there’s lots of evidence out there that series sell. I’ve seen this myself in read-through for my trilogy (at least when I boost up the first book with a promo).

That being said, it’s time to write another series. I’m going to set aside 2019 and write four books in my Bridesmaid Quartet. That subtitle may change–I may change it to The Wedding Party, or something else entirely as the wedding that brings this group of friends together will remain in the background and is only a catalyst for the things that happen. I’m even tinkering with making the Bride a matchmaker of sorts. These four books are in the planning stages, as you can tell, while I edit The Years Between Us. I’m going to edit my May/December romance, send it out to betas (if you want to read it, send me an email or DM on Twitter!) and more than likely put it on an extended preorder. I released All of Nothing on October 16, and I need to sit on The Years Between Us while I write my series. I won’t wait for a long time–I’m thinking maybe an April release–but I don’t want to publish it as soon as it’s done because then I won’t have anything for quite a while.

To make up for that time where I’m not publishing anything, I’m going to be doing a lot more blogging and maybe some Instagram posts in regards to my series’ progress.  I’ll be doing aesthetics, sharing more snippets than I have in the past. I’ll be releasing my character sheets for my characters. In short, I’ll be blogging about what goes into writing a four book series, and all the headaches that go into tackling 200,000-280,000 words.

Right from the start this presented a challenge because I already wrote about a group of friends with my novellas, Summer Secrets. Those were erotica, but still. It’s easy for a writer to write the same thing over and over again, so I need to be careful to make these different. Comparing my sexy novellas to this series will always be in the back of my mind.

plans and goals for the new year

Other things that will be happening in 2019:

I’ll be getting carpal and cubital tunnel surgery done on my left arm in January. The 10th to be exact. Progress on my series will only go as quickly as I can recuperate. I’ve heard from several people that it’s a piece of cake, and even my doctor said I’ll be back to everyday activities after two weeks. I’ll then be scheduling my surgery for my right arm.

If surgeries and recovery go according to plan, I’ll be attending the Sell More Books Show Summit in Chicago in May. I cannot wait to take a short vacation, meet some other authors, and learn how to sell more books!

I’ll be moving my list wide and paperbacks to Ingram Spark extended distribution. I blogged about that already, but since my books don’t drop entirely from Select until February, dispersing them wide and doing the covers to meet IS guidelines will be a project that will take a few months. I think I’ll be doing a lot of that during recovery as I’m hoping that tweaking my covers to fit the IngramSpark cover templates won’t be too complicated.

Learning a screen-recording software so I can record some barebones tutorials on how to make book covers in Canva. I scouted around YouTube a few months ago to see if making a full cover (back, spine, and front) for a paperback was even possible using that particular software. I didn’t find anything that had all the steps a newbie writer would need to successfully make a cover, and for it to actually come out looking nice.

Unfortunately, this isn’t going to be one of those things that is on the top of my list. First off, because I’m not sure how deep I really want to go into the non-fiction sector. There are some full-time writers who split their time between fiction and non-fiction, like Joanna Penn. I still have a day job, and if I have a few hours, I’d rather write my fiction books. But because I didn’t find anything about this topic, I think it would be a real help to the indie community if I could record a couple how-to videos. Especially since I’ve done it twice now and have the paperbacks to prove it can work. But I would need to find/buy software and learn how to use it. Then I would need to take the time to map out the videos and record them. I don’t know how to edit anything, either. So. Plus I’ve been tinkering around with writing an self-publishing self-editing book, and I don’t want to put my fingers into too many pies.

Mostly though,  I abide by the old, “Should you be writing, instead of . . . ?” question when thinking about doing other things, and the answer is almost usually “Yes.” It’s what I enjoy the most and what I hope to build my career on–my fiction books.

Because, after all, who doesn’t love a happy ending?

Happy New Year, everyone, and I hope 2019 goes very well for you!

the end

Author Interview with CJ Douglass–plus an awesome giveaway for the holidays!

cj douglass author pictureI met CJ Douglass, erotica writer extraordinaire, on Twitter, and I was lucky enough for her to agree to an interview. We chat about writing erotica, the bad rep indie erotica has in the publishing community, and her real thoughts on Faleena Hopkins!

Make a cup of coffee, grab a seat, and don’t forget to enter the giveaway! In light of the holidays,  I’m giving away this super-cute mug and an Amazon gift card worth $25.00. Treat yourself to a couple of books for the holidays! Why not?

 

 

Let’s start!

 

pink panties1. For the most part, you write short fiction (novelettes, novellas). Do you think short work is easier or harder to sell? 

In my line of work (Erotica) the shorter the better! Which is what makes my recent fondness for only novellas somewhat unfortunate…

For pure smut, people seem to want to read something hot and short. Get a quick hit of the sexy and get out. I myself, though, like a little more story in there most of the time, and so my word counts have slowly been increasing. As my sales resultantly decrease. For less NSFW tales, however, longer works definitely sell better.

pink panties2. Your genre of choice is erotica. Do you find it hard to market? For example, Amazon loves to bury my erotica novellas in search results. How do you combat that? 

Amazon doesn’t let you advertise Erotica on their platform, so there the best you can hope for is to optimize your search results and pray.

There are tools for aiding in this (which I have not yet availed myself of, but plan to) but otherwise my main outreach is on Twitter. Not for advertising, exactly. I post promos, sure, but not that often. I like to put myself out there, let people get to know me – and one day perhaps those folks will check out one of my stories because of this relationship. Then another. Maybe even tell a friend!

Blogging is a tool many use – and I’m sure it’s helpful, but I just don’t have any writing energy left over for it! I do have a few free stories on my website that people can read to get a taste of what I have to offer in my paid-for work. Mostly though, yeah. Get my keywords right, and have as good a cover as I can create.

pink panties3. Indies have to push against the idea our work in inferior. Writers who publish poorly written erotica enforces this idea (and OMG, you know there’s some out there). How do you push back against this misconception? (For example, do you read craft books, have an English degree, hire an editor.) 

I don’t have money for an editor (my stories sometimes don’t make back the handful of dollars I spend on a cover image) but for anything novella-length or above I use beta readers, for sure.

I’ve spent my whole life reading and writing (I literally started reading novels at the age of four) so I have a sense of what the language should sound like. I took creative writing in high school (though my college classes were more science-based) and yes, I’ve read my share of craft books (and internet articles).

Odd as it may sound, screenplay craft really has helped me hone my skills. It doesn’t help with the prose, (that is down to my own dedication and extensive rereading and revision) but it does aid in the creation of the story itself. Indie books (not just Erotica, but all genres) tend to suffer from a lack of editing of the concepts and basic storycraft – even if it has been line-edited by a professional.

Making sure your plot and story (two different concepts, incidentally) build and flow well is of vital importance – and getting it right immediately lifts your work above the crowd (in my opinion).

Screenplays, being condensed stories, are good training in this particular art.

pink panties4. Will you ever write longer work? Perhaps a full-length novel? 

Funny you should bring that up! I’m getting a draft of my novel ready for beta readers as we speak. It’s an epic, post-apocalyptic tale – but a very heightened one, that should be fun and empowering as well as dark and depressing. I’m really excited about this book, as it’s a concept I actually came up with when I was thirteen or fourteen, and have only recently dug back out and developed properly.

pink panties5. How did you become a part of Writer Twitter? Do you find it beneficial in sales? How do you like the writing community in terms of support?

I resisted Twitter for a long time, actually. It seemed pointless to me. How wrong could I have been? I have met some of my best friends there, and the support from my peers has been priceless.

You also get a chance to connect with readers (both your own and others’) to share in the joy and to see what people like.

As for sales? It has a certain impact, for sure. I’d venture to say that a good chunk of my meager sales came from letting people know about the stories on that platform. I doubt Twitter is useful as a large-scale marketing tool for books, however. It’s more for generally making people aware of your presence than specifically selling your work.

pink panties6. You told me in a couple of Tweets you design your own covers. Can you take us through the process? Where do you find your inspiration, photos, etc. 

The process, generally, is me hopelessly moving images around in my template until something looks half-way decent! Usually, I’ll have an idea in my head – and then can’t find any images to fit that general concept. I then settle for something which is not at all like that first notion, but which suits the story anyway.

When I am planning ahead, I browse for photos (either free ones on places like Pixabay, or cheap ones at 123rf.com) first and allow them to inspire me for a good cover idea. This way, I’m not fighting a preconception, but can evolve a cover idea based on the available
images.

If I had any design training, I could tell you why something looks right in a certain place, and more easily find that balance. As it is, I haphazardly arrange elements until they “feel” right to me. I also involve my Twitter followers in the process sometimes, too!

pink panties7. You have a book titled The Cocky Author. Is this a hat tip (or perhaps a sneer) to Faleena Hopkins? Can you share your thoughts on how all that went down? 

Cocky Romance Author was the quickest I’ve ever written a story.

When Faleena Hopkins’ now-notorious copyright scandal came to light, I immediately wanted to thumb my nose at her for it – despite not generally being a Romance author. (I have since written some stories that might be classifiable under that banner, however.)
I knew if I was going to do it, I’d have to do it quickly. This wasn’t about creating a work of art; I was making a statement.

So the next day, I typed up the 9,000 word story (it was supposed to be shorter, but I found myself unable to write something without a good underlying character arc) and cleaned it up a little to post that evening. I wasn’t the first to get out a protest “cocky” story, I don’t think, but I was right up there. I made the story as cheap as Amazon would allow me to (99c) because it was not about profit, but about activism and generally making noise about this divisive issue.

It should be obvious to anyone that a common descriptive word cannot be copyrighted in this way – but it did not stop Miss Hopkins or those following in her footsteps from doing precisely that.

Thank goodness these spurious claims keep getting shut down – eventually.

pink panties8. You run your website through Wix. How has your experience been? 

Wix is a generally decent site builder, I think. Better than some I have used. I only have a free one for the moment, though I think paying for it would allow the site to be found in search engines. Hard to justify the expense for now, though. What it needs right now is an overhaul! I’m still using the very first template I threw together, and really have to get it redone. Whenever I can find the time…

I love being able to host a place that gathers together not only links to my books (Amazon does that already!) but lets me include free stories that give potential readers a place to sample my work in tales that are complete – not mere snippets of a longer story.
Whether it helps my sales or not I can’t say, but theoretically it ought to be useful for curious readers!

Thank you CJ! It sounds like you have a lot going on right now! Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions and explain a little bit about your writer’s life. 🙂

You can find CJ on Twitter, Amazon, and Goodreads! Check out her author website for the free goodies, and as always, don’t forget to sign up for the giveaway! It will run for a little bit, so don’t forget to tell your friends.

Thanks for joining us, and check back when I talk about shopping in your local indie bookstore, and how my Freebooksy promo did for All of Nothing!

Until next time!

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