BrownCoats, Scooby Gangs, & Muggles Unite

Do you wonder what happened after your favorite character’s happily or not so happily ever after? If you’re like me, which I hope you aren’t because two of us in this world would be dangerous, this question keeps you awake at night.

What happened to Inara and Mal? Did they ever…bow, chicka, waaaa, waaaa. Will I ever find out what happened to Zoe after Wash’s death? And River, what happens to River? What was their next adventure, and why the hell did FOX ruin everything by cancelling the show into the first season? I will forever hold a grudge.

Yes, I’m obsessed with Firefly. I recently rewatched it, taking careful notes of things the story didn’t answer. Now you’re probably asking yourself, what do I care about Julie’s madness? That or, what’s the meaning of life? (I’d give you the answer, but I’d have to kill you right after).

So here’s why you, as a writer, should care about my crazy. My obsession is a great example of leaving your readers wanting more versus giving the reader what they crave, as in answers. So are you a Tale Tease? (I call dibs on the copyright). Do you leave your readers wanting more? Or do you resolve any lingering questions?

I’m not sure there is a right or wrong way. For me, as a reader, I want to know it all. As an author, I like the mystery element. Though one must make sure to resolve the main plot points.

What say you?

Even a Monkey Can Write a Bestseller: An Easy Formula

Write Me!
Write Me!

Did that headline get your attention? Did you instant click in to read the rest of the post? Or did you scoff, throwing your hands in the air, saying “there is no formula to a bestseller.”

When I read the PW Weekly article, What Makes a Bestseller? Two SMP Authors Say They Know the Formula. I opted for number 2. Not literary, you weirdo.

Then I read more. Could it be true? It looks like they did the research, reading and studying over 20,000 manuscripts.

The formula (according to the research provided in the PW article):

  • Three acts
  • Everyday language
  • Show don’t tell

I bet you read the above, and thought, like I did, crap. I already know this. It’s the advice of every writing instructor. Of every workshop. Of every writer I know. Find me a writer that doesn’t believe in everyday language, and I’ll show you a reader who fades into obscurity. Sure, the article uses bigger words and is written by people who’ve actually hit the bestseller list by using that formula, but the content is the same.

This is nothing new to us.

So why aren’t I a bestseller?

Because NOT every book can be, whether it follows this formula or not. There is something to be said for luck in our business. It’s who you know, and when. So let me add to this formula, two things. Write more. And know the players. Be they agents, editors, or book reviewers. Know the game as well. Know how to publish.

See you on the bestseller list. Remember who gave you the formula to get there. No, it was me. Not the PW article. Dang it!

Do you have other means of hitting the lists?

Feeling Cozy: Avoiding F-Bombs & You

I’m a big fan of f-words. Though I try to limit the number of them, both in my books as well as in real life. F-words Funny gorilla with red sunglasses celebrating a party by blowing a striped hornhave power. Even if you don’t use them, you must understand the beauty of a great insult. Or a stream of f-words blurted when one stubs a toe.

I recently judged a contest, and was surprised to see the number of writers who agreed with the use of the f word. Oddly I found myself turned off by a few that didn't fit the tone or seemed over the top. Yes, me. Does that mean one shouldn’t use the f-bomb for fear of turning off a reader? Heck no.

F-bomb away.

But know that words have power.

Take said for an example. Writers use it to dialogue tag for reason. Invisibility. Use a word too much and it loses its power.

That being said, I’ve recently started writing a cozy mystery my agent requested. I wasn’t sure I could do it. Wasn’t sure I had a voice for it. Turns out the cozy fits my style quite nicely. I get to research, which I love, on top of that, my cozy is about whiskey, so I also get to drink.

I’ve found it easy enough to avoid the f-bomb, as well as a few other choice words I would normally use. Where I’m coming into trouble, and I’d love your advice, is in toning down the snark. I’m naturally snarky, and it comes through, perhaps too much, in my narratives. Though it works for my previous characters. Not this one though.

How do you keep yourself out of your words? And what’s the acceptable amount of f-bombs dropped in a novel?

 

 

 

Character Flaws: Heil Hydra

***Before I get into my post, I wanted to acknowledge the lives lost on Sunday. My heart breaks for Orlando. 

 

For those who aren’t nerds like myself, you might not be aware of the recent issues surrounding the Captain America

Star vector shape

comic. Apparently Captain America is a double agent. He’s a hydra operative. Hydra are the bad guys, Nazi really. Good ole Captain’s sudden outing as part of Hydra has the nerd community up in pale arms (you know, because we never walk in the daylight, sort of like vampires but without the sparkle).

Now don’t stop reading. This isn’t a commentary on the Captain America clusterf***k. I want to discuss responsible character actions. As the creators of characters, we have a responsibility to our readers. Heck, JK Rowlings admitted she shouldn’t have killed Harry off.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t kill off your characters. I’m merely saying, if you decide a character needs to die, make sure it’s true to the story. That’s what has people angry. This goes against EVERYTHING Captain America is, was or will be.

I can think of a million (okay, maybe a few less) ways to write one’s self out of the Captain America controversy. He could be a triple agent for example. Really a good guy all along. Yet if you kill off a character, like Harry, you’re pretty much screwed for the next book.

If you feel like being done with a character or storyline, I beg of you, give it a happy ending. My greatest reader fear is Robert Crais will kill off Elvis or Joe (if this is a shared fear, facebook Robert Crais and beg or bribe him not to do it). I also worry about Harlan Coben’s  (@HarlanCoben)Win character (the finest example of loving an anti-hero).

I’m a wimp who can’t take it when my fictional heroes die.

Everyone should live happily ever after, damn it.

And yes, my nickname is Pollyanna.

 

How do you feel about the controversy surrounding Captain America? And for you non-nerds who actually see sunlight, what say you about killing off a character to end a series?

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…