Yee Shall Not Judge or Should Yee?

Recently I’ve struggled with writing, publishing and the whole caboodle (yes, caboodle is an actual word though it shouldn’t be). I am not complaining, not in the least. No really. I swear

My issue is a matter of self-doubt. Which is my problem and mine alone. Or so I tell myself when caught whining to uninterested family members or friends. Nobody cares about how hard it is to publish or gain new readers. How the deck seems stacked against you. That is, nobody but your fellow tribe members suffering similar self-doubts and annoyances.

I love you guys!

While I am not turning this into a whine-a-thon (yes, again an actual word according to word), I wanted to preface my post with the above.

My post is about judging. Not being judgey (Caught me. Not a real word, but a good one that should be). I’ve long judged contests for various organizations. Every time I’m asked it brings up this issue of self-doubt. Who am I to say if a submission is good? Or more importantly, what it is about said submission that makes it worthy of a high score?

Yes, I’ve gotten books published. People have read them. Some liked them. Some didn’t. But I’m pretty much a hack. It was a fluke. 9 times over. I won’t ever see another word in print…

See how self-doubt derails me? It makes me feel unworthy of making simple contest judgments.

And they are simple. It’s about engaging me as a reader, not as a writer. The writer in me has a list of do’s and do nots. A bunch of reasons for every writerly action, and the consequence of opening a scene with the weather. But the reader in me doesn’t. I like certain styles more than others, sure. But any voice can engage me. Every well crafted scene can make me gasp in surprise.

I might have points to make for the writer, things I’ve experienced in my own publishing journey, but those are asides. If a writer opens with the weather, and makes me a believer in the reason for it, I, as a reader will be just fine.

Do you judge contests? If so, do you feel differently? What about critiquing? Do you read as a writer or reader? And hell, let’s open this up to self-doubt. What’s your greatest downfall when it comes to self-doubt?

Is My Middle Looking a Little Fat?

Bite me, for any of you who answered with an automatic yes.

Scruffy middle aged man in his underwear with flowers and candy for Valentines Day, puckering up for a kiss. Isolated on white.

To those who didn’t, whom I still like, yes, I’m talking about that soggy middle we all have to suffer through at some time in our careers. Until this book, the damn one I’m currently trudging through, I didn’t believe those who whined about their middles.

Then the middle…came and look at me now….

So I was whining, I mean, discussing this phenomenon on facebook the other day (yes, instead of writing) and I had a few interesting ideas for how to lose the baby fat:

1)  Kill someone or something. Get blood on the page, and a lot of it.

Aside from the obvious, that writers are a bloodthirst lot, this idea does indeed have merit. Action, whatever it is, engages the reader. Especially if who you choose to kill is someone already important to the reader. Honestly, there is nothing worse than two characters doing nothing. And since my characters have had lots of sex already, I might as well kill someone. Watch out, sidekick best friend.

2)  Go off to an exotic port of call.

I’m talking metaphorical, unless you’re writing the next version of The Love Boat. In other words, take the characters out of the familiar and drop them somewhere you as a writer haven’t gone. I tend to get stuck in one type of story, usually with a murder spree, which isn’t going to work in this contemporary romance, so I need to push my edges, find out what else I have up my sleeve. Oddly enough, it’s fluffy bunny and your card…(This would be where you go oooohhhh and ahhhhhh).

3)  Drink whiskey.

This happens to be my favorite option. However, I will admit, it doesn’t help you firm up that middle. It just makes it easier to stay on your diet of crappy words. Okay, scratch this one. It’s a Band-Aid, not a real fix.

4)  Step back and evaluate.

It’s about the middle when a weird thing happens to me. For a brief moment, the haze of delusion lifts and I see my writing for what it is. Junk. I’m a terrible writer. Just look at all those split infinitives and dangling modifiers. Who wrote this crap…? Oh, right. It was me. I wonder if there are still any openings for professional mourners available? I have a feeling self-doubt and fear are driving my middle depression. Therefore, I must take a step back, and evaluate the actual story. Is it as bad as I think? Probably not. Have I taken a poor turn in plot? Perhaps. Now what do I need to do to fix it? By taking a realistic look at what needs to be done, I help lift myself from the middle and toss back on my rose-colored glasses (the special ones that say I’m an okay writer).

5)  Stop being a wussy and write.

This is my best practice. Throw it on the page. It might not make the revisions, but the only way out of the middle is to write until you hit the end.

 

How do you avoid the middle sag? Word crunches? I’d love to hear your ideas.

The Art of Writing Bad

Some might say I’m the perfect candidate to write about writing bad. Which is just mean. The rest of you are most likely judging me for my grammar. And not silently either. Yes, I said writing bad instead of badly. But I have a reason for my abuse of the English language.

Other than those I normally use, which is…did not, you big dummy.

Anyway, I am talking about the art of writing a bad guy. A violent villain. Any antagonist worthy of Hannibal Lector. Admit it, that movie totally creeped you out. But it wasn’t about Hannibal, but how he was portrayed by Anthony Hopkins. The tiny characteristics that made your skin crawl. The fava beans line, so perfectly delivered that even now, whenever you have a bottle of chianti, you have to say the line.

How does one incorporate these nuances in a bad guy? (Please note, my use of guy/he is in the universal sense. Women can be bad guys too. So no emails).

The perfect bad guy.
The perfect bad guy.

First, make sure he has just as a compelling reason for his actions as your protagonist. Nothing worse than a mad scientist with no reason for being angry. Even if you don’t use this reasoning, make sure you know what drives him. What drives him will influence his every action, down to choice of weapon. Say your bad guy is a woman scorned who is after revenge on her lover. Chances are she will either poison him or choose an up close and personal weapon (i.e., icepick).

Next, every action must be viewed via that motive and background. A mad scientist likely went to university, so the use of slag would be minimal. Bigger 50-cent words. Dresses with a little more care or dresses like a complete slob. Either way, the decision is based on his background and motives.

Mix in real evil. The kind of evil that makes you cringe. Make them the worst they can be, based on their motives and background.

And finally, give them a satisfactory ending. Think terminator. Arnold’s sinking into the smelting pot, one mechanical arm holding the chain. Just don’t kill them, make it count. Give their ending the same power you give your protagonist. The only difference between the antagonist and the protagonist is perspective. You owe your good bad guy that much.

Any other advice for writing bad guys? Scars are always a nice touch. One over the eye.

Getting to Know You, Getting to Know All About Your Readers

As a writer, we research. It’s what we do. We research settings. Disorders. Things that go bump in the night. Urban and suburban legends and the occasional garden gnome murder spree. We know what the height of fashion was in 1723 and who wore it best. We know our guns. Our poisons. And the quickest way to a man’s heart, which is usually a knife and not food as we’ve always heard.

We KNOW this because we’ve researched it.

Okay, maybe not the last thing, but the rest of it.

So what do you know about the/your reader?

The being a general reader in your genre, and then more importantly, the reader of your books. How old are they? What do they do for a living? How do you gain more of people like them and keep those you have?

Now many authors might not care, but not you, you smart and very attractive author. You know that the reader is the very reason you publish books. Without him or her, you might as well daydream, and avoid those pesky plot holes and dialogue tags.

The best way to research who your reader is and where to find them is by asking your current ones. I have a survey on my monthly newsletter. I can change it depending on what sort of marketing I’ll be doing and what burning questions I have about my readers. This works two-fold, I get promotional insight and I also invite my readers to engage with me.

It shows that I am genuinely interested in them. In who they are and how we can interact. Basically, I am totally nosy. If you aren’t or you don’t have this kind of time, which is fine as you can still gain the insights you need, I suggest sticking with the more generic version of demographic stats each genre has on the reader. Just google Romance reader statics and you’ll find plenty of info.

We have the how, but what about the why? How does knowing what platform a reader prefers will sell more of my books? If you’re self-published the answer might be apparent, publish to that platform. If you’re traditionally published, it’s a little harder to see.

According to Nielsen data, Amazon holds a 61% share of the ereader market. Now you as an author don’t have much say in where or the platform your publisher chooses. But you can use this information to limit your marketing scope. Why not try placing ads targeted to your reader demographics on a Kindle? I don’t suggest it though, as another stat comes into play. Most people aren’t reading on the ereader itself, but using an app on a mobile device. Wasted ad dollars, all found out because of reader research!

See, I saved you a few bucks right there.

I hope you see the value of reader research and will become a fellow stats geek with me, as I hate to geek out alone.

What type of reader research do you do? How have you used it in the past? I have plenty of ideas, so let’s talk readers!

The ‘Real’ Cost of Traditional Publishing: How to Budget for a New Release

A few weeks ago I wrote a post on the budgeted cost for my next project, which happens to be a self-published project. I also have an upcoming book release, The Assassin’s Kiss, coming out on August 15, 2016, from a traditional publisher, a smaller one. Trust me when I say, a big five release would carry a bigger budget sThe Assassin's Kissince I’d likely have an advance to work with rather than my own pathetic lottery winnings and the spare change from under my couch.

I also found a stash of sharpened doggie bones. I suspect my pups are plotting against me.

Anyway, here’s a look at my budget for The Assassin’s Kiss. This budget doesn’t have to be yours. Pick the line items you are interested in and ignore the rest. Also, feel free to add some. I’d love to have your feedback on what you plan, whether it’s new things or subtracting some of mine. The more we share, the better for all of us. Especially when talking money. I had no clue what I was getting into when I started. Who knew I'd need a full-time job to afford my full-time job?

Budget for The Assassin’s Kiss.
      Total  
Marketing          
Print Copies $10.00 (estimate, likely less) per book 50 $500.00 Buy from publisher after contracted copies (return on investment after selling at book launch/consignment)
Book launch $250 Food, drink, venue   $0 I’ve decided to forgo a physical book launch in favor of an online one. The only cost is my time.
Advertising (Banners) $300     $300 Fresh Fiction/RT (I'm not sure I'll do this, but I'm looking to branch out)
Newsletter $0     $0 Mailchimp free up to 2k
Conferences $1,600     $1,600 Estimate 2 Cons, plus hotel and travel, more if not a speaker
Publicist $2,000     $0 Use of in-house
BookBub $365 free promo   $365 If accepted for 1st book in series
Swag/Business cards       $500  I like to use swag as a tool, but not general swag like postcards, but theme swag for an example I’ve done fortune cookies in the past with witty fortunes or teeth related items for my tooth fairy releases.
Meme/Digital Postcard Design $100     $100 Do it myself. Price to purchase stock photos though.
Blog Tours 50     $0 Haven't found it worthwhile to hire tour companies. Set up own tour, smaller but targeted
Professional Marketer $45 per hour 10 $450 Check into fivver for multiple sources
Other promo sites $300     $300  
TOTAL       $4,115 Depending on your financial picture, all of this can be done for much less. I choose to budget to my dreams and spend to my reality, however sad and bleak it might be….

What did I leave out? How do you select your own release budget?

Since my self-publishing budget topped out about 5k, are you surprised to see nearly as much for traditional? My main point is this, neither publishing option is cheap, especially without an advance to cover the majority of expenses. There are upfront costs a business plan must consider.

The ‘Real’ Cost of Publishing: How to Publish on a Limited Budget

I’ve been rich (not really, but saying it sure makes me feel better and there’s always the lottery). I’ve been poor (stupid lottery). I’ve been traditionally published. I’ve been self-published.

Now for the big reveal…(drumroll, please).

Both options can be very expensive. No matter what my title implies.

If you indie publish, all the things a traditional publisher does are now on your head. That means you have to pay for cover art, editing, proofing, formatting, print copies, reviews from Kirkus and PW, on and on…

If you traditionally publish, marketing is on you. And often times review copies are too.

My next publishing adventure will be done all by myself (sort of). That being so, and me being a really BIG nerd with a love of spreadsheets, I created a budget for Cuffed: A Detective Goldie Locks’ Tale. Mind you, these are merely my own estimates. Some of it is on the cheap side, while other items are more expensive. Pick and choose the pieces that fit your project.

Here it is:

kazimer bannerBudget for Cuffed     Total  
Editing/Copy $25 per hour 18 hours $450
Cover design $200
Back Cover Copy $50 Since I suck at writing it myself
Formatting $150 0 Do it myself
ISBN $125 per 10 for $250 $250
Distribution
Print Copies $4.75 per book 50 $237.50
Pre- Pub Reviews
- Kirkus $425 $425
- PW $149 $149
- BlueInk $396 $396
Publicist $2000
BookBub $365 free promo $365 If accepted
Swag $200
Professional Marketer $45 per hour 10 $450
Other promo sites $300 $300
TOTAL $5,473

Now I don’t have five grand lying around, unless this Powerball ticket is a winner. So I’ll have to improvise in a lot of ways. Maybe try a Kickstarter, though I don’t have many fans, family or friends. You’re feeling sorry for me. That means it’s the perfect time to ask you, dear reader, for $5k.

If you noticed, I saved about $150 for formatting since I’ll be doing the layout myself. I possibly will save another $400 by choosing not to advertise with BlueInk or if Bookbub doesn’t accept my FREE promo.

You get the idea. I’d love to hear from other indie authors about additional expenses I missed or tips on overall budgets. Also, traditional pubbed authors, weigh in on what you budget for.

Now about that check…

Know-It-All: The Art or Plague of Research

POLL:  How many of you know what the 47th tallest structure is? (No googling, you cheaters).

I do.

Does that make me brilliant or lame?

I have no idea.

But I do know it makes me a writer. You see, I, like you, look for the smallest, seemingly inconsequential detail to breathe reality into my stories.

Or, I'm deluding myself, and my last month of ‘research’ into the tallest structures around the world and the effects on the body of falling off said structure have all been a waste of my precious, limited time on this planet?

Honestly I suspect the latter.

I’m all for research, as long as it’s for the book’s sake and not a means to procrastinate actual writing.

 

Example:

In my latest book, I found myself in the saggy middle, no idea how to write my heroine out of the corner I inevitably wrote her in since I never outline though I think outlining is a brilliant idea. So here I sit, my fingers on the keys, unmoving.

Crap.

Hmmm…Is my writer’s block a sign of early dementia? I mean, I haven’t written a word in over an hour. That has to be something, right? I jump on Google, searching for the signs.

I’m not a hypochondriac.

I’m doing research!

Maybe, since I’m here, I should research the shoes my heroine is wearing? I could name them in the book, show my readers I know my shoes.

Except I don’t.

So I’m not writing. So what? I’m researching!

Of course, what I really am doing is wasting my time on stuff that isn’t vital to my book. Unless shoes play a role, why bother with that level of detail? It is a way for me, at least, to procrastinate instead of doing what I should do and outline the rest of the damn book or at least the scene I’m struggling with.

Research gives life, makes worlds come alive (See this article from Writer’s Digest on how to use research).

But it is and always will be about the story.

No amount of research makes up for what’s on the page.

Or getting those words on the page.

 

BTW, read my next book for the answer to the 47th tallest structure. Hint, it’s close by. And if you’re interested, I’m still ‘researching’ the effects of falling off said structure.

Anyone up for a field trip?

 

What are you currently researching? Do you find yourself ‘researching’ instead of writing when stuck like me?

 

Writerly Goals for 2015: Did You Meet Yours?

Christmas Labrador puppy dog wearing Santa hat

Let’s see where I ended up on my goals for 2015:

Write a book.

Check. I wrote at least 2. Take that hernia of my left thumb.

Write a great book, of the all American novel kind.

I’m still working on this one, as in working up the desire to write a book no one will actual ever read, but boy will they say they have.

Write a bestseller.

Yeah, you can see how far that goal has gotten me. 2016 list for sure. I blame my pen. The damn thing never writes a bestseller.

Revise the book hidden in my underwear drawer.

Did I say revise? I meant look at once, cringe, and tuck it even farther back. That book needs serious work. Maybe when I die they’ll use it as one of those long lost manuscripts that goes for millions at auction. Or more likely, toss it in the rubbish bin.

Network with my writerly peers by going to more events.

I would’ve done this one had it not required me to a) leave the house and b) put on pants. Admit it, you hate wearing pants as much as I do.

Attend at least one conference.

Surprisingly I made it to two, RMFW and Pikes Peak. Both were very informative and it was great catching up with my tribe. I no longer felt like a seahorse at the bottom of the tank. Thank you, all of you, those I met, and will meet next conference.

Be healthy.

You wouldn’t think this one is writerly, but maybe even more so than the others. If I don’t take care of myself, then I won’t be able to write. Have you ever seen a chick in traction write a novel? Okay, I probably could dictate. My gosh, everyone’s a critic.

 

Which brings me to the next goal…

 

Ignore my critics.

Five years ago, heck, even three years ago, I would’ve scoffed at this advice, claiming you learn from every criticism. Then I realized something. Since I started writing I haven’t learned anything expect how to a) feel badly about myself and my work and b) that even the best criticism comes with a critic. Meaning, someone else’s ego, subjectivity, and baggage join whatever advice that is doled out. Now I am not saying ignore any and every bit of advice, but instead, use your head. I know what I’m doing (for the most part). I can ‘see’ when the advice is right or when it is driven by more than a desire to fix the page.

Listen, really listen, to advice.

Did I mention that I’m a bit complicated? So here it is, ignore goal 7. Take advice. There are people who can see my work better than I can. Editors for one. Consider their advice. Roll it around my head. And then make the decisions. Don’t discount it out of hand because I ‘know’ best. Though I do. Because this is my goals list, damn it.

Learn new tools and skills

I failed this goal. I had high hopes of starting to dictate my books. Then I tried it, felt stupid talking out loud to my computer, and then on top of that realized it was taking twice as long. My words come from my brain to my typing fingers. Not to my lips.

I also wanted to learn ways to excite my description, so I went to a workshop, and what I found out was, it’s not that description is lacking in excitement. I am. I can twist and turn a phrase with the best of them (not really but it sounded good) but I can’t do it when it’s not something I am interested in, like what a room looks like or how grandma smells. So I’m moving this over to goals for 2016. I plan to sniff plenty of grandmas in the name of research.

Write daily.

I have to admit a terrible truth. I am not a daily writer. I do write daily, just not fiction. I write emails for work, grocery lists, sometimes on the back of my arm for fun… This year was going to be different. Yet it wasn’t. I wrote for three whole weeks, every single day, until I didn’t anymore. So back on the goals for 2016 list it goes.

 

Goals for 2016

  • See list above

What about you? Did you make any goals for last year? How’d you fare on them? Were you crazy enough to make goals for 2016? If so, care to share?

Happy New Year to all my prose-prone friends! May this be your year!

Looking for the Perfect Gift for the Writer/Serial Killer (in Mind Only) in Your Life?

silver Christmas ball with red bow on white background

Gift giving is hard. I know. I just bought a whiskey of the month club for a ten year old. (Yes, I know this is an awesome gift for anyone except a ten year old or a recovering alcoholic so no hate email). So to help you, dear partner/friend/relative who is likely regularly ignored by the writer in favor of word counts and half-dressed heroes/heroines, here is a list of gifts for the writer in your life:

Aqua Notes – BUY

I love this gift. It’s notes you write in the shower, which avoids those nasty nail scraped into the soap scum plot points.

Novel Teas - BUY

Novel teas. Get it? So these are tea bags with literary quotes on them. A perfect gift for those too weak to hit the hard stuff (coffee, not whiskey).

Edgar Allan Poe Air Freshener - BUY

This one has to be my favorite. Perfect to hang on the writer during the month of November (or when on deadline) when you can't stand the smell anymore.

World’s Largest Coffee Cup - BUY

Do I really need to say more? This monster holds 20 regular cups of coffee.

USB Heated Winter Warm Hand Gloves - BUY

I have to admit to owning a pair already so I might be biased. My hands are constantly frozen, and these babies work like no other to warm those cold parts. They are fingerless so typing isn’t a problem.

Now if you’re shopping for something a little…different, I found a replica of a human skull made of chocolate on Etsy. Not very writerly, but it sure would freak the writer, who ignored you all last month, out when they see a human skull in a plain brown box on their doorstep.

Revenge (and chocolate skulls) are sweet.

Do you have any holiday gifts you’d give a writer? Or perhaps an odd gift for anyone in general? What is the weirdest gift you’ve ever received?

Oh, one last thing, as my gift to yHoliday readou, dear reader who I've annoyed all year, feel free to download my free kindle novella, A Very F***ed-Up Christmas Tale. It's free until tomorrow, Dec 23rd, so get yours today. Let me know in the comments if you need a PDF version. I'm happy to send you one.

Yes Virginia, There is a Query Clause

Santa hatMany of us have freshly NaNoWriMo novels burning a hole in our computer. THIS will be THE NOVEL. The ONE that makes all your publishing dreams come true.

So why not share our precious with the publishing world?

What’s the worst thing that could happen?

Embarrassment. Ridicule. A sudden onset of turrets (Yes, you will suddenly have a strong desire to put steeples on your house like on the opening of Scooby Doo.).

And then the other possibility.

You ruin your budding career.

Blacklisted.

Hey, it happens. Ask any agent/editor. They likely have a list of authors who will never get a book deal from them. Maybe the author is an asshole (I tried to find a more appropriate word, but really, asshole, is the only one that truly fits). Maybe the author plagiarized. Or worst of all, maybe the author drunkenly groped the agent/editor at a conference. Whatever the reason, authors do get blacklisted. And sometimes that happens at the query stage.

Not that this is any author in RMFW, but sometimes authors get desperate to publish. DESPERATE. I’m talking stalking agents online to find out their favorite chocolate and sending a box full to their home address. Or authors who send bad-very bad-queries. I don’t mean grammar and structure. I mean, queries that border on crazy.

Let’s quickly review the query don’ts:

  • Don’t requery the same agent/editor with the same project again and again. It makes you look crazy.
  • Don’t EVER respond to a rejection, even if it’s a thank you (unless the agent/editor gave you significant feedback).
  • Don’t be a pain in the butt. It’s hard to wait for a response. It’s even harder to wait for a rejection. You want to rage against the unfairness of the gatekeeper and their form email rejection. You want answers as to why your query was rejected. You want a book deal, damn it.

Think about what the agent/editor wants. They want to publish good great books. They want great authors to work with. People who make their deadlines and don’t argue too much during the editorial process. They want nice people. Better yet, they want author who sell millions of copies. So if you are a pain in the ass, you better have a book so good the world falls in love with it.

I sort of got off topic of my original intent, which was to advise you not to send queries on your NaNoWriMo projects or really any project during the holidays. Sure, publishing houses and agencies are still open, but people are often out of the office.

Then comes January, when everyone who’s ever made a resolution to publish a book sends a query out…

Then there is February….and Valentine’s Day…what if the agent just got dumped….

April showers can’t be a great sign for April….

June is wedding season….

August is just too damn hot and no one in publishing is in during the summer….

I hope you get my point. The right time to query is when you feel your book is ready, and when the agent/editor you want is accepting queries.

Do you have query parameters you follow? And what are they?