Publish or Perish!

As it has been, oh, a VERY long time since I’ve managed to write anything, I’ve been reflecting lately on that wise old saying: publish or perish. The data behind it is solid, in my limited experience. Whenever I publish a new story, it tends to sell best in its first few weeks of existence. And sometimes, having a new story out gets more exposure for older work, causing a spike in sales. All of this is great! However, the flip side of the coin is that, inevitably, if there is a dip in publishing rate, there is also a lull in sales.

This must be true for many traditionally published authors as well. Plenty of books out there are excellent, but if somewhat older, and not big names, they have their heyday on the bookshelves and then are set adrift in the bottomless maw of Amazon.com. Unless you’re J.K. Rowling or otherwise independently wealthy, there can be no sitting on your laurels. However, “publish or perish” hits indie authors particularly hard. We’re little fish in a huge pond, and the only way to makes waves is through exposure — getting our work into the hands of as many readers as possible. And the only way I know to do that is to write lots (and well); publish quickly; push and celebrate your new work as long as it is “new;” then do the whole thing again. It’s an exhausting cycle, but that’s the way the writing business works.

Which is why, at least in my case, writing is a wonderful craft I work to improve. I’m proud of my stories, and I strive to make them excellent. But, I am also okay with limited sales during my slow writing times. Life happens, and that always must take priority. The good news is, I have confidence that when the time is right, I’ll be back in the saddle and into the old “publish or perish” cycle once again.

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2017 Writer’s Resolutions

Making New Year’s resolutions is rather silly, really. If you want to do something, why pick an arbitrary date to get started? However, I understand that the calendar year is a handy tool for setting goals, so this year I shall plow forth and attempt to lay out these, my 2017 writer’s resolutions.

  • First, I am determined to finish and self-publish all the stories I have rolling around in my head around the fairy tale theme, and compile a collection. Because I simply can’t go another year pondering how to make frogs sexy. I just have to do it. (I’m thinking something about the slippery skin…)
  • Second, I resolve to write more themed short stories for anthology submission. I’d like to get my name out there more with other folks in the genre, and anthologies are a great way to do that! I have a few thoughts lurking, just waiting for the right potential publisher to appear…
  • Third, I resolve to start a mailing list. I tried this once, got stuck, and gave up. This year, I’m gonna do it!
  • Forth, I plan to give away more books, and do a better job promoting said giveaways. The whole point of writing is getting your stories into readers’ hands, and I’ve found that giveaways are a fantastic way of accomplishing just that. Stay tuned for upcoming freebies!

And I think that’s enough for now. After all, the whole point of making resolutions is because you want to keep them! How about you, my fellow writer friends? What are your plans for wonderful, newborn 2017?

What if it’s… not that good?

Part of the writing process is letting work sit for a while – a couple weeks at least – before editing it. You have to take some distance if you want to really catch areas that can be improved, plot holes, ugly sentence structure, typos; that kind of thing. Usually, I begin to hate my work in progress about three quarters through (where it becomes a slog), and I’m thoroughly sick of it by the time I type The End, so this break  is useful. When I get back to it, chances are I’m happy with most of what I wrote, and only need to make a few changes before getting it out there.

But yesterday I went back and reread one of my pieces. And I’m embarrassed to say, it was kind of bad. Reading what I had accomplished those months ago, I was appalled by my use of semicolons. (Seriously, why was I using all those semicolons?!?) Characters I’d been happy with seemed flat, when exposed to the harsher eye of now. Even the sex scenes didn’t do it for me the way they should. In short, it just wasn’t that good.

Not sure what happened. Part of it was the length restriction. Now I realize I have been lazy, giving myself all the words I like to tell a story, instead of forcing myself to get it in under a certain word count. (Want to check out a master of great erotica with specific word count? Go read Interludes: A Collection of Short Erotic Fiction, by Harmony Kent. All fabulous stories, and so impressive how she keeps them focused and well crafted in each length. An excellent collection!) Basically, I am dissapointed in myself.

So next steps are to stick it on the back shelf for now, finish up my current (and currently dragging) work in progress, and then let that sit while I revisit, revise, and rewrite the poor, mediocre story. It has the bones to be good, I know it. Just needs a little love and a hell of a lot of  editing!

A Guest Post From Author Lizzie Chantree!

As many of you know, I’m a recent member of Rave Reviews Book Club. As an indie author, I am always on the lookout for new ways to connect with readers, and fellow writers. This week I am delighted to share a guest post from Lizzie Chantee, a fellow member of the RRBC. She’s highlighting her latest novel, a modern fantasy/romance called Finding Gina. Check it out!

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Weird writing habits

by Lizzie Chantree

I sometimes wonder if other authors have weird writing habits. Do you? I know I do! I love to write on A4, green, lined exercise books, with a beautiful pen my husband gave to me for my birthday. It has my name inscribed on it and is so comfortable to write with. I also have a small cabinet next to my desk in my studio, which is where I keep my bubblegum drawer, (don’t tell my children!) I love bubblegum.

Some authors, like Mark Twain , George Orwell and Marcel Proust, have been know to lie down to find writing inspiration. Others set word count targets, write on index cards, use a certain colour of ink like Lewis Carroll, walk around, colour code notes, or compose poetry in their head whilst on horseback, like Sir Walter Scott. This does make my bubblegum drawer seem rather tame, but as I’m a tad clumsy, it probably best I keep both feet on the ground!

With my most recent novel, Finding Gina, I hand wrote the original manuscript in A4 books and now it has been published, I can’t wait to unwrap a new exercise book and begin the whole process over again.

Excerpt from Finding Gina:

‘Sorry!’ apologised the woman, eyeing the handsome man on her doorstep. ‘We had the music on and didn’t realise you were here. This little munchkin heard the door and got to it before I could stop her. So much for all of the stranger danger talks I have given her.’ She raised her eyes to heaven in exasperation and sat the wriggling child on her hip with a stern look, which made the sides of the girl’s mouth wobble in uncertainty and her eyes become wary, when she realised she had done something wrong. Her mother gave her a swift kiss on the top of her curly head and lowered her to the ground in the hallway. ‘I’m hoping you are Lewis?’ she said jovially, beckoning him to follow her into the open plan lounge and kitchen at the back of the house. ‘I’m Hannah.’

‘I am,’ smiled Lewis, winking at the child as she tried to hide behind her mother’s legs, before darting off into the garden with the biggest dog Lewis had ever seen. ‘I really appreciate you taking the time to see me.’

‘I was curious to see if you could find her,’ she said simply, casting a glance at her child who was trying to dress the poor dog up as Cinderella.

LCcover
Find out more on the book’s Amazon page!

Follow Lizzie Chantree on Social Media:

Twitter handle: @Lizzie_Chantree

Facebook address: https://www.facebook.com/lizziechantree/

Website address: https://www.writewithsydney.co.uk

Any additional means of contact: Blog: https://www.lizziechantree.com

The Paramount Importance of the Blurb

So I do a lot of book shopping, as you know. Hell, this afternoon I dropped $75 at the used bookstore down the street! (Don’t tell my husband…) And while I love browsing – and overspending as a result of far too many tempting paperbacks out there – I do, naturally, also indulge in a good bit of Amazon.com perusal. When I go to the bookstore, different elements might catch my eye. Maybe an evocative title, an artistic cover, an attractive table laid out with books like a literary buffet, or a friend’s recommendation. (In the aforementioned case of the $75, I can blame it all on my friend! I only went with the list she gave me… the list of 8 books I just MUST read!) When shopping online, however, there is really only one deciding factor in whether or not I’ll buy a book. And that is the blurb.

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, and that’s true. However, you can absolutely judge a book by its blurb!

I can’t really say how many god-awful blurbs I have come across. And, sad as I am to say it, the majority of those are from self-published authors. I think many of us ignore the blurb and just kind of throw it together. This is a huge mistake, because it is the one element – yes, even more important than a snazzy cover – that will convince someone to buy your book. It is a chance to highlight your writing style, present the plot and characters, and give just enough information to make them yearn for more. And, you know, purchase the book. 🙂

So what makes a good blurb? Now I am hardly a blurb-master myself. (In fact, no doubt my work would be well served if I were to go back and rewrite some of my earlier ones…) However, there are some general rules to follow. Plus some major what-not-to-do’s. Here is my humble two cents on the subject:

  • The blurb should give a fair interpretation of your writing style. If the blurb has lovely, long, flowing sentences, that’s what I expect in the book! If it’s Hemingway-esque, you’d better deliver the clipped, raw goods. And if the writing in the blurb sucks, well, I’m pretty sure the book’s writing is equally bad! (As we all know, life is too short to read bad writing…)
  • The blurb should introduce the characters, the setting, and the problem (also known as the story!), without giving everything away. Even if your book is not a mystery, the blurb should be. After all, you don’t want to reveal your fabulous twists and wrinkles – of sheets or plotlines!
    • On that note, lots of people fill their blurbs with questions. This isn’t a bad thing, per se. But when I’m picking a book, I don’t want to play 20 questions. I want to know some major themes, the people involved, and where it’s happening. Limit questions to one or two really juicy ones.
    • If your blurb is a full summary of the book, that’s bad news. Just an introduction, please! Think of it as a preview to a film. You give glimpses, but don’t haul out all of the best bits for the teaser. (In other words, don’t model yourself on the overly-detailed modern previews. I didn’t even watch Revenant and already I know everything that happens. Go for an old-school, classy, suggestive kind of preview…)
  • If your book has any accolades – prizes won, bestseller lists, and such – they should go at the top, but discreetly. One line is enough to get all that info out there, and then let your reader get on with the blurb!
  • I was recently critiqued on this one: it’s best to keep blurbs concrete. Mention specific details – maybe a hot scene, a building tension, something unique about the setting. Generalities will not give a reader enough to sink their teeth into. I have reread my old blurbs and made many improvements with this in mind.

A good blurb is a tempting peek into the book. Kind of checking out its ass in those nice jeans, without really knowing all the goodies hidden underneath… It’s a flirty meet-and-drink at a bar, just getting to know the guy, trying to decide whether to take him home. Think about it. What would convince you to take that man(/book) to bed? For me it would be an interesting question, characters I want to meet, a place I want to go… and some slick writing. When you are able to seduce in just one paragraph, you are the blurb-master!

Writing Characters of Color (for white writers)

So by now it’s pretty obvious – especially for those of you who checked out my boudoir photos earlier – that I am white. Like, very white; the kind that’s see-through for most of the year. (Living in the Northwest doesn’t help, but hey, my Nordic skin can soak up even the measliest bit of vitamin D from our cloud-covered sun!) I grew up in a majority-white neighborhood, went to school with mostly other white kids, and even now most of my friends are, still, white. That’s the way White privilege has manifested for me, thus far in my life.

Which brings me to the subject of my blog post today. How can I, as a white writer, create authentic, powerful, believable characters of color?

As a fiction writer, I get to create worlds. Whatever I imagine becomes real on the page; people spring to life; stories unfold. With so much possibility at my fingertips, I am always tempted to push the edges of the mold. The old advice says: “write what you know.” Been there, done that. To challenge ourselves, we must sometimes write about what we don’t know. But carefully, respectfully, and with humility vis a vis our own limitations. It’s no coincidence that the majority of my protagonists are white – (with the exception of the Ancients, which features women who lived so long ago our modern conceptions of race and culture have no meaning) – because that’s my default “safe zone.” As a white woman, I can confidently write a white, female character and say, yes, I have been fair to her; she is not a stereotype, not some fetish; no one will say “oh, she’s acting that way because she’s a typical white American girl.” (And there’s White privilege again, right? The idea that a person’s actions belong to them alone, instead of as a representative of whatever cultural or racial group they happen to be part of… but that’s a whole different conversation.)

But as a creator of fictional worlds, I don’t want to be stuck writing only characters like me. (Of course, all a writer’s characters are somewhat like them. They are pieces of ourselves, refolded and adapted, but still us at the root.) I want to explore other perspectives, other ways of life. (Other love interests, too, since erotica is my thing!) Plus, I don’t want to live in a monochrome world, so why should my characters to do so? Fiction should reflect life on some level, and our world – thank God – is becoming more beautifully diverse, more multicultural and blended, every day. Can I, as a white writer, do that authentically?

This blog post is more about questions than answers, really. The only thing I can say is that each character must be an individual. Wherever they come from, however they look, they must be more than what’s on the surface. (Plus, skin-deep characters are boring as hell. We need soul, if readers are to care about them.) Interracial erotica has its own category on most sites, and there are plenty of readers looking for that. But real issues arise if “interracial erotica” becomes “racial-stereotype erotica.” It’s okay to have a preference – we all do – but once again, that character had better be a real person behind his/her fascinating physical qualities. (Plus, seriously? The “Big Black Cock” thing is totally passe. Also, silly. I can personally attest to the fact that you don’t know what you’re gonna get until you unwrap the package. And I’ve been around the world enough to have a fair-sized sample set from five different continents… ahem, moving on. Sorry, Australia. I never made it down there in my single days, but I’m sure you gentlemen have plenty to offer!)

Now I know I will never truly understand what it’s like to be a person of color. Just like I’ll never really understand the inner workings of a man’s brain… which is probably okay with me, on second thought. But I hope I can make an honest, sensitive, and respectful attempt to create characters who represent diverse cultures and backgrounds. I’m not brave enough – yet – to go all in and try to incorporate some real issues into my stories. Maybe someday… For now, at least I can assure my readers that in my stories, each character is a real person. Unique and wonderful, because of and in addition to their outward appearance.

I’ll keep writing what I know, and how the world really is. But I’ll also do my best to write what I want to know; and how I hope – and believe – the world can be.

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(Fellow writers, I am hungry for your thoughts! (Especially writers who consider themselves a person of color…) Do you think we’re getting anywhere close to the mark? Or does erotica just perpetuate the normalization of White culture overall? What a conundrum! Erotica authors are only a small piece of it, but everyone can do their part to contribute – or fight – the status quo.)

Raising the Writing Bar

One thing about eBooks is they’re relatively cheap, enabling one to read a greater volume of books for one’s proverbial dollar. (Or rather, the proverbial $2.99) This I have rediscovered while enjoying the amazing selection on Smashwords – all sorts of fun genres, which I am setting myself to read and honestly review. (Being a naturally positive person, I haven’t yet left anything less than 3 stars, which I think is the bare minimum of respect for someone’s hard work.) However, reading work from a variety of authors, both self-published and traditionally published, has reminded me that writing is truly a craft. No matter how interesting your concept, how engaging the characters, or how dirty your erotic fantasy, you have to write well!

What this means to me is an author must, first and foremost, be a writer. There is no excuse for lazy writing. If it sounds like the story you wrote in high school, I guarantee you it is bad. If you find yourself reusing the same words or sentence structure, it is also bad. And please, please don’t end every sentence in a preposition. I could go on, but there’s really no need to. (Curious about how to write and edit well? Check out these fabulous guidelines from eXcessica! They also publish hot erotica. Worth a visit!) Basically I feel frustration as a reader when I find great ideas – and published stories – that are not good writing. It bums me out.

Here’s the deal: self-publishing is a rather arrogant business. In this world, you’d better be able to walk your talk. That includes knowing how to write well. Join writers’ groups. Read your work out loud. Take a creative writing class. There are plenty of possibilities. Just have full confidence that you are a writer, before you decide to be a published author.

Of course, the absolute best way to get better at writing is to read. And don’t read crap; read great writing. (Having chugged through more than my fair share of New York Times bestsellers, I can say that generally speaking, these are not the world’s best writing. With a few notable exceptions, of course. Mostly, leave those on the shelf.) Go in search of authors known for their craft. Study it; read as a writer – take note of perfect turns of phrase, masterful characterizations, story structure. Write these down somewhere, so you can be reminded. Compare your work to that of these masters, and be honest with yourself. The best writers are voracious readers, and they read excellent books. I love finding unknown authors, rediscovering treasured classics, and losing myself in a perfectly written page. Reading books like these makes me a better writer.

Long ago (like, when I was a teenager; THAT long ago) I went to a talk by one of my favorite YA authors, Tamora Pierce. She had lots of great advice for me. (Read more of it here, on my previous post about keeping your day job) My friend loved her first series, the Alanna books, the best, so she eagerly listened to Tamara’s response to someone’s question: “Which is your favorite book that you wrote?” Tamara quite ruthlessly said her favorite book is always the one most recently published, thus crushing my friend’s hopes. However, Tamara went on to explain that she always preferred her latest book because she is constantly working to improve her craft. Each new book represents years of hard work, grueling days of editing, striving to perfect, improve, and grow. This makes total sense to me now. My latest story must be my favorite – though I’ll always have a soft spot for certain older works – because the newest work represents my growth as a writer.

Working together, fellow self-published authors, we must raise the bar. No more lazy writing! Work the craft; hone it. Make each new story your best yet. Reread, go back, edit, make changes. We can – and we must – produce work we can be truly proud of. We owe it to our readers, and to ourselves as well.

It is better to be a part-time artist than a starving one

I have always had an affinity for art. Notably visual art, such as painting and sculpture, but also the artistry of words, and of movement in dance. True artists make huge sacrifices for their craft, devoting uncountable hours to practice, revision, and the perfection of each element. This is admirable – awe-inspiring, sometimes – and those who make these Herculean efforts become exceptional artists.

However, they aren’t always paid for it. Yes, yes, I know the whole “starving artist” thing is a stereotype, but like so many it has deep roots in reality. For me, it has a personal flavor.

Two of my grandparents were artists all their lives. That’s how they made a living. They were good, too; professional quality work, because of course they were professionals, and they were always, always working. Yet it never seemed quite enough to make ends meet. They made do, of course, like everyone who grew up during the Great Depression and matured during WWII. But the stress and strain of living paycheck to uncertain paycheck drained them. Their talent never wavered, and a passion for art was with them to the end – they were both still working on paintings the day each of them died – but their zest for life had been dampened by hardships. The hardship of being, if not actually starving, certainly struggling artists.

I remember when I was very young, even before I could read (much less write), I was always drawing. Proudly, I told my grandmother I would like to be an artist. She shook her head and said, “No, dear, anything but an artist.” This from a woman whose whole life had been devoted to art. In her admittedly brutal way, she was trying to discourage me from committing to such a difficult (sometimes painful, always uncertain, occasionally transcendent) career path. Art was always part of me, and continues to be, but after many twists and turns it turns out I followed her advice. I am not a starving artist, as she was.

Instead, I am a part-time one. It’s taken me a while to come to terms with what that means, and that it’s okay. However, the reality is most artists are also – some might say primarily – “something else.” My dance teacher works in an office; another fabulous dancer does her 9 to 5 at the DMV. (Oh, the horror!) Most painters I know are either retired, or weekend/vacation artists who paint in their extra time. Writers, naturally, are the same. You can find us hunched over laptops in cafes, typing madly while occasionally remembering to sip our cooling cappuccinos. Or, as I tend to do, sitting in front of computers in the evening, with a cup of tea or a glass of wine, maybe some little snacks, waiting for inspiration to flow from our minds into our fingers (ideally the kind that requires no thinking at all, because the story has already taken on its own breath, it’s unexpected life, and is now out of my hands…). All of this outside of typical working hours.

This is why, as I’ve said before, it’s so important to keep that balance between art and day job. Luckily for me, I enjoy my job (at least, most days). It’s hard, and it takes up a lot of time – 40 hour weeks are not something I know much about at this point in my life – but that’s okay, because it’s my career and I am invested in it. Because I have to be, but also because I want to be.

We’ve all gotta pay the bills somehow or other. But that does not make our art any less important, or of lower quality, simply because we artists are part-time. Would my grandparents have been exceptional artists if they had also been, for example, lawyers or secretaries? Perhaps not, but probably so; just maybe at a different point in their lives, or in a different context. Art is in a person’s blood and bone. Nothing – not even 11-hour workdays – can stop it. But I think my grandparents would agree: if you have to choose, it is better to be a part-time artist than a starving one.

Why Sex Doesn’t Sell

There’s that old advertising adage we’ve all heard several thousand times before: sex sells. You know what I mean. Let’s say somebody has to market toothpaste, so they whip up an ad with a gorgeous bikini-clad woman lounging on a beach in the Bahamas, with an enormous pink umbrella drink and a frighteningly large, white smile. Buy our toothpaste! The implication being, if babes like this brush their teeth with our brand, then you should too – because then you will become/get with a similar babe.

Of course we all know that’s bullshit. Nobody ever had their life changed because of their choice of toothpaste brand. (Dental care, now, that is another story!) Also, I can’t be the only person who finds these sorts of ads ridiculous. They are so common, it’s not even worth me finding links to pages and pages of them. Just do a quick search and you will find more of this crappy advertising than your brain can handle. (Incidentally, sex is almost always selling women, not men. That’s another annoying piece of reality, but not one I’m going to delve into now, even though it seriously pisses me off).

No, the reason I’m here today is to offer my thoughts on why sex doesn’t sell in the realm of published writing. I have no basis for this whatsoever, except for my observations, thoughts, and experiences. It might be complete nonsense, but if you’ve read this far you might as well stick around and see what I’ve come up with. Here is my thinking: sex doesn’t sell because, fundamentally, it’s boring.

Scandalized, you ask how an erotica writer could possible think sex is boring?!

Personally, I have had the great good fortune in my lifetime – with the exception of some ill-advised dates in college, and that one time overseas… neither of which I shall share in detail – to enjoy some pretty amazing sex. However, when you come right down to it, the mechanics are just about the same every time. (Unless you know something I don’t, in which case please share!) As a sex writer, then, I have to be careful. Nobody wants to read pages and pages of what is, at the end of the day, nothing more than the ol’ in-and-out. In order to make sex sell, there has to be more. This is what makes erotic fiction so much different than pornography.

First, you need a story. Yes, a real story, with beginning, middle, end, conflict, resolution, climax, strong ending, and all that other writer-ly stuff. If the story isn’t good, I don’t care how much sex there is. The way to test if a story is any good is simple: take the sex out. (Don’t worry, this is temporary!) Now read the story. Is it still interesting? Does it make sense? Do all the pieces come together? Great! Now you can spice that baby up, because frankly life is too short to plod through stories with no sexy parts in them. Sex is a major aspect of life, love, and happiness, and I want to read about it.

Next, you need characters. Keep in mind, you are asking your readers to jump into bed with these people. (Or aliens, or centaurs, or vampires, or tentacle-beasts, or whatever they are). These characters have to be real enough, detailed enough, and hot enough, that you wouldn’t mind spending a six-hour Greyhound bus ride sitting next to them. That’s a long bus ride, so these people had better have something worthwhile to say! As a rule, it’s usually polite to be introduced to someone before ripping their pants off. Depends on the situation, though. The characters should guide you to how they might behave, and the kinds of erotic encounters they would enjoy. Let them keep their pants on, as least until they’ve met the reader properly.

What makes sex really interesting, in fiction as in real life, is who you’re doing it with. Also where, under what circumstances, and in what environment. The “how” is the fun part, once you really get down to business, but the sexiest part of the “how” isn’t the mechanics. It’s the unexpected reactions, the wild emotions, the submission to uncontrollable urges, the teasing, the release. We read erotica for that, because those are the things that turn us on. (I wish a couple of those guys back in my college days had gotten THAT memo!) So, give it to your readers! Give them tension and frustration, uncertainty and triumph, because that’s what really keeps the pages turning.

Reading back on it, I really should have titled this post “Why Sex ALONE Doesn’t Sell.” Creativity sells. Great characters sell. Beautiful writing sells (though sadly not as well as it should, because not everyone appreciates it). In the end, it’s the story that sells. In this glutted market of e-erotica, self-published sexual fantasies, dubious editing, and limited readership, you really need to have something more to sell than mere sex.

At the end of the day, though, those are still my favorite parts. 🙂