Guest Post – David Boop: The Snowflake Theory of Characters

By David Boop

Over the lifespan of your writing career, you’ll hear lots of catchy sayings about the craft.

Write what you know.

End chapters on a cliffhanger.

Never fight a land war with Russia in the winter.

The last one may only pertain to alternate history writers, but I’m sure you’ve heard a bunch. One of my favorites goes;

Your character has to be the right person, the only person, who can do X (with X being the anointed task.)

That’s a heavy burden on an unsuspecting office worker, pining for the secretary he’ll never be cool enough to ask out, or the poor milkmaid who dreams of joining her brothers in battle, but is just a girl. Characters are indeed swept up by the story to become the only people who can do this all important thing at the appointed time. Which brings us this little gem…

Characters should be like snowflakes, no two alike.

Yeah, that saying kinda sucks and I don’t blame you for wanting to burn this article. Too bad it’s on a blog and tablets are expensive to replace.  Trust me, I’m not giving you the uniqueness spiel as a writing tip. MY snowflake analogy goes deeper.

Snowflakes are not just one thing.

They’re cold. They’re wet. They can be beautiful, and wished for around Christmas time. They can clump into large groups that force me to sweep off my patio when I’d rather be inside editing. Snowflakes have the ability to be many things, some at the same time.

One of the greatest sins in writing, in my opinion, is the character who is only one thing and incredibly good at it.

Let’s make a character. Let’s call her Kendra the paralegal. One day, Kendra stumbles across a murder and uses her powers of paralegalness to solve a crime in a book we’ll call “Illegal Eagles.” (Cute, eh?) We’re to understand Kendra because she’s us. She’s plucky, good at her job, and just waiting for people to notice her. As she solves the crime, there is no doubt in her mind that this is what she is supposed to do. In each successive book, Kendra finds other backstabbing lawyers or philandering judges to expose, growing more confident that this is her lot in life: crime-solving paralegal.

Where’s the fun in that? How’s that like me?

I’m plagued by doubts. Thoughts run from “I got lucky” to “the publisher owed me a favor” to “that was probably the last sale” even after doing this for over ten years straight. Conversely, when I finish a piece, I’m cocky. “This is the best story I’ve ever written, guaranteed to win me accolades and fame.”

I try to write characters that are not just one thing. They have as much potential to fail as succeed. And they should fail in their tasks occasionally. If they don’t, then we’ll never believe them. Adversity will come, it’s unavoidable. It’s how we handle it that makes us human and, in some cases, heroes.

Ask yourself, why is “The Empire Strikes Back” heralded as brilliant while “Return of the Jedi” maligned? (The answer has nothing to do with ewoks.) It’s because ESB is one screw-up after another orchestrated by overconfident heroes, who barely escape their own embarrassing deaths caused by sheer stupidity. No one expected that after “Star Wars,” and the plot actually mirrors many of my Mondays. RotJ, conversely, is a series of successes. Even when it appears the heroes have screwed up, it only leads to a bigger victory. The outcome is never in doubt as reflected in the character’s attitudes and abilities.

If you want to make your characters more believable, they should have more than one aspect to their personality. Blowhards are usually covering for insecurities. Mousy people in real life are often vicious trolls online. If your characters don’t have different sides of their personality, then your readers will quickly grow tired of them. A snowflake that doesn’t melt becomes boring real quick. (I grew up in Wisconsin, I know this is true.)

Deepen your characters like the many-faceted crystals of a snowflake and your readers will stick out their tongues for more.

 

David Boop is a bestselling Denver-based speculative fiction author. In addition to his novels, short stories and children’s books, he’s also an award-winning essayist and screenwriter. His novel, the sci-fi/noir She Murdered Me with Science, will return to print in 2015. David has had over forty short stories published and two short films produced. He specializes in weird westerns, but has been published across several genres including media tie-ins for titles like The Green Hornet and Veronica Mars. 2013 saw the digital release of his first Steampunk children’s book,The Three Inventors Sneebury, with a print release due in 2016. David tours the country speaking on writing and publishing at schools, libraries and conventions.

He’s a single dad, Summa Cum Laude graduate, part-time temp worker and believer. He’s a member of the International Association of Media Tie-in Writer, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Horror Writers of America and the Western Writers of America. His hobbies include film noir, anime, the Blues and Mayan History. You can find out more on his fanpage, www.facebook.com/dboop.updates or Twitter @david_boop.

Publishing Options: How to Wade Through the Swamp

By Pamela Nowak

I received a request for advice from a fellow writer. Poised on the edge of publication, she is looking at options. As I thought about how to answer her, it occurred to me how different things are now from how they were fifteen years ago, when I was moving into that stage of my career.

Back in the old days, we reached for the most recent addition of The Writers Market and our notes from conferences then made lists. All the information we needed was in one tidy book: names, contact information, query procedures, submission guidelines. Formats were standard, word counts were based on a word-per-page formula, and there were fewer options. If a publisher wasn’t listed among the names in that book, it wasn’t one you wanted to submit to. You simply prioritized them and queried. Except for advance amounts and reputation within the genre, there was little else one needed to consider until an offer was received.

Wow, have things changed!

Today, the options have exploded. Big publishers, small presses, self-publishing, and combinations of them abound. Guidelines vary and so does everything else.

With all the options out there, research is more critical than ever. There is no longer such a thing as an industry standard—in submission guidelines, in contracts, in press runs, in distribution, or in anything else. Writers today need to be constantly aware of the ever-changing business of publishing. They need to consider what they want, what their skills are, and what publishers are (and are not) offering.

If you want to pursue traditional publishing, you must look at what the publisher offers. Do they release in mass market paperback, trade paperback, hardcover, digital, or a combination? Are different formats released simultaneously? What is the distribution system? Do they offer marketing support? What type of product do they release? How supportive are they of their authors? What type of advances and royalty percentages are paid? Are your rights tied up for a limited amount of time or in perpetuity? Will the publisher get you reviews? The list goes on and on.

If you are considering independent publication, you need to look at your own skills. Are you experienced in social networking? Do you know how to access reviews? How much time are you willing to put into marketing? Do you like spending time online?

But I feel you also need to be aware of what you want in terms of your career. Do you want to reach your goals all at once or are you willing to get there via steps? What is most important to you? What are you willing to compromise on, if necessary? How devoted are you to your genre and style of writing?

Larger publishers offer you wider distribution and sell their books at a lower cost while small presses may have a narrow distribution, smaller print runs, and may only offer higher cost formats. Larger publishers are more rigid with the category standards while small presses tend to be more flexible. If you are willing to adjust your length, complexity, or sub-genre, larger publishers may be the route to go. If you are firmly tied to something that doesn’t quite fit, you may want to look at small presses. But don’t sign unless you are fully aware of those limitations in print runs, distribution, cost per book, and earning potential.

If you want your book published without lots of editing, there are a host of small presses who offer that option. But those publishers will not have the same reputation for quality as those who edit more deeply. That doesn’t mean your manuscript is not well-written. It simply means that if the publisher doesn’t edit much, they will inevitably achieve a reputation for producing books that lack editing. Does that matter to you?

You’ve received an offer but the publisher wants your rights in perpetuity. What is most important to you--getting your book in print or being able to get your rights back in the future?

You want your book in front of reviewers. Which publishers will get them there? And…what publishers have reputations for getting good reviews? Are you willing to do the editing that might be necessary to achieve a good review?

If you are thinking about self-publication, are you willing and able to market your book online? Do you understand the various distribution channels? Do you accept that you will have to work hard to make sales?

Here's a look at my experience. I signed my first contract in December 2006, just as small presses were beginning to emerge as a viable option. Signing with a small press had not been what I had originally envisioned but it was an option I began to look at when I discovered large publishers were no longer buying western historical romance that didn’t fit neatly into category lines or stereotypical characters.

In looking at my goals, I realized that I didn’t want to change genres and I didn’t want to write less complicated plots in order to comply with category guidelines. This was not an area in which I was willing to compromise. Therefore, I needed to look at options that would allow this. I researched carefully, looking for a small press know for quality products, good editing, and review connections. I accepted some limitations (small press runs, limited distribution, and higher product price) while holding to those things that were most important to me.

As a result, I’ve taken a slower route, Yet, it is one that allows me to write the type of books that I always envisioned and, when the market shifts, I will be in a position to pursue publication that reaches a larger readership at a lower price point. It’s a route that is working for me but might not work for others.

In the end, my advice for navigating your options is to research what publishers offer, to examine what is most important to you and to know where your skills lie. I would do this even before you query a publisher and certainly don’t accept an offer until you have fully researched and thought about these points. On the whole, it’s easier than it’s ever been to achieve publication but easiest is not always best. There is much more to consider before you select the route that’s best for you.

Happy hunting!

Your Character’s Loss is Your Gain

Let’s talk about character and plot for a minute, and how one can’t exist without the other. Everything that happens in the plot forces your character to react, and your character’s reaction impacts what goes on in the plot. This creates a connected string of events that lead to the story’s ultimate conclusion.

Action/reaction. Time and again. Do you think this constant interplay could get repetitive? It can if it’s strictly played out on the story’s surface. That’s why every good novel has two kinds of plots running parallel to each other. I’m not talking about secondary plots, which are also vital to a multi-layered story, but about the all-important A and B story-lines.

But let’s not call them A and B because it’s too easy to get them mixed up. An A plot in a mystery novel might be the B plot in a romance. So get rid of those labels right now and call them what they are: the External Plot (EP) and the Internal Plot (IP).

The EP—as you’ve already guessed—is the conceptual plot for your genre story. It’s catching the murderer in the mystery, taking down the drug cartel in a thriller, finding the secret talisman in the fantasy, saving planet Zignog from obliteration by asteroids in the science fiction novel, etc. Metaphorically speaking, it’s that giant rollercoaster the characters will ride for 400 pages. The external plot is the tactile, the visible, the elephant in the living room. It’s the plot that gets in your face.

The IP, on the other hand, is all about the character and his inner story, his inner drive. It’s the plot that focuses on what he has to lose if he doesn’t get what he wants from the EP. It’s not so much about him avoiding taking a bullet while in pursuit of the murderer, but about what’s personally and emotionally at stake for him if he doesn’t accomplish what he sets out to do. The IP is what drives the emotions in your character and in your readers. The IP is what compels your reader to turn the page. In fact, depending on your story, it might behoove you to put greater emphasis on the IP than the EP because on a subconscious level, that’s what readers really want anyway.

Let’s look at an example of what happens when the EP and IP are braided together starting from page one. There are many great novels like this, but a recent bestseller comes first to my mind because I just finished reading it: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. If you read it, you either think it’s brilliant or the most manipulative piece of crap on the planet, but the one thing it doesn’t fail to do is make you feel something. Passionately.

I, for one, adored this book. I loved the articulate writing and the honest voice, I thought the stylistic treatments were brilliant, and the unreliable narrator kept me on my toes. My point is that the entire book, love it or hate it, mashes the EP and IP so closely together that it’s hard to tell them apart.

Another book that might be a better example from a commercial fiction standpoint is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. It’s a violent, emotionally gripping story that keeps the IP for Katniss completely meshed with the EP of the game and its puppet masters. A gripping read by many accounts, but again it’s something you either love or hate. There’s rarely a lukewarm consensus for a truly great novel.

The most common question asked of a story is: What does your character want and why can’t he have it? That’s a decent starting point, but if you really want to dig your heels into the guts of your story, ask your character what he has to lose. His answer is far more compelling to your reader. Braid this with your EP and I can almost guarantee you’ll end up with a better book.

So what books have you read that you feel have an equally compelling EP and IP?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Karen Duvall is an award-winning author with 4 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series in 2011 and 2012, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. Writing under the pen name Cory Dale, she recenly released the first book in a new urban fantasy series, Demon Fare.

http://www.karenduvallauthor.com/
http://www.karenduvall.blogspot.com
https://twitter.com/KarenDuvall
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/405199.Karen_Duvall
http://www.facebook.com/Karen.Duvall.Author

 

Adventures in Genre Writing: Lesson Seven – Conflict

By Jeanne C. Stein

What is conflict? Why is it important in your writing? Those are redundant questions, aren't they? In fact, you've heard them so many times, you're sick of them. They are mentioned in every article, every class, every discussion on writing.

Why? Because conflict is crucial to good story telling.

A dictionary definition says conflict is a continued struggle or battle between opposing forces. Sums it up pretty well. Without it, there’s no story. If our protag slays her demon in the first chapter, if Sleeping Beauty meets her prince and he whisks her off before she takes a bite of that apple, we have no story.

Conflict has to be built into your plot in such a way that from the first page to the last, tension builds and grows. How to do it? Let’s see if we can figure it out. For our purposes, I’m going to divide conflict into two categories: external and internal.

We’ll look at external conflict first. In most genre writing, the external conflict usually involves the main story question. It’s our protagonist’s quest. It’s set up in the inciting incident that calls our protag to adventure. It involves the tests and obstacles she must overcome. It’s the action that propels the story.

Let’s look at how we do it. Dwight Swain in his book Techniques of the Selling Writer broke it down for us in a simple and beautiful way: Scene and Sequel. Even better, he told us what to include in each.

Scene: Goal, Conflict, Disaster
Sequel: Reaction, Dilemma, Decision

What does this mean? The easiest way to explain it is to show it. Our protag for this simple example is a vampire. She is after a potion that is believed to hold the secret to regaining her mortality, something she desperately wants. She knows where it is (goal). She gets there. The potion is guarded by a supernatural determined to keep it from her (conflict). They fight. She wins. When she opens the bottle, it’s empty (disaster.)

Disaster is the hook that keeps the reader interested, keeps him turning the page when he knows he should turn off the light and go to sleep. You want a hook at the end of each chapter. In the next lesson, we’ll look at ways to do this and what elements you want to include in every scene to make it come alive. Right now, I want to continue with the discussion on constructing that page-turner.

Here’s where I’m going to differ from the common school of thought. Swain suggests after every scene there should be a sequel. A time for our protag to react to what happened, assess what she needs to do next and make a decision how to proceed. It’s introspection. It’s a place for back story. It’s where the reader can catch his breath.

Do we want the reader to catch his breath?

I say, no.

If you look at how thrillers are constructed, it’s ALL scene and very little sequel. Don’t we want our books to be thrilling?

Okay, you ask, but if all we show is action, where does our protag do the things the sequel is designed for? In our example, how do we show her recovering from the fight, facing her disappointment at finding the bottle empty, deciding what to do next?

We can do it all in a few short sentences. We can do it by having her describe what happened in a conversation with a secondary character. We can do it by showing it in the following chapter: our protag in bed the next morning physically hurting from the fight (reaction), distressed because she’s no closer to her goal than before (dilemma), determined to hunt that potion down regardless of the cost (decision).

And we do it in a few sentences, a couple of paragraphs at most and we’re off to the next scene. Often, we don’t need a sequel at all. We can do the things I described above while our protag is on the road hunting down the next clue to that potion. Keep the action moving forward.

Now for internal conflict. This is harder because it can be seen as contradicting everything I’ve said above. Actually, it doesn’t.

Internal conflict is what our character feels and thinks about what is happening. There’s very little “scene” in internalization and yet it’s a vital part of our writing because it gets to the core of our characters. We want the readers to see them as real. We want to understand their thought processes. We want to feel what they feel. And we want to do it all without long narrative passages. How? We do it exactly how we described “sequel” above.

Here’s an example from my book LEGACY—

Mom doesn’t acknowledge my leaving. Dad resumes his place at the table. Trish follows me with her eyes.

There’s a fissure, cold and brittle as ice, forming in my chest. It expands until my heart aches from the pressure.

I shouldn’t have worried so much about breaking their hearts. I should have worried more about breaking my own.

End of Chapter 25. Then Chapter 26 starts:

I spot Williams’ tail for the first time when I leave Mister A’s….

Right back into the action but there’s no doubt how Anna is feeling at the end of Chapter 25. It’s internal conflict presented in three short paragraphs.

Naturally there will be times when our protag has a problem to think through or there is back story pertinent to what’s happening now. I’m not saying eliminate ALL internalizations. I’m saying make them relevant to the present and don’t use ten paragraphs when one will do.

A word about unsympathetic characters. Think Dexter from the John Lindsay series and the Showtime adaptation. How do we make a police blood splatter expert by day and a serial killer by night sympathetic? By spotlighting his inner conflicts, his constant battle to “appear” normal, to “feel” what others feel. And he does care intensely about his family. All these conflicts come into play and make us as readers care about what happens to a protagonist who probably should have been locked away in the very first book. He’s the ultimate anti-hero precisely because he has people who love him and who he loves in return…and who he will do anything to protect.

Next month, we look at ways to keep our reader engaged—the building blocks to creating and maintaining suspense: stimulus/response.

Happy Writing!!

Convention Report – Coastal Magic Con

Flash Fiction Panel - with Jeffe Kennedy, Lucienne Diver and Damon SuedeBy Jeffe Kennedy

A year ago, a gal I knew through Twitter pinged me and asked if I'd consider attending her conference as a featured author the following spring. She promised me Florida beaches in February, enthusiastic readers and great, organized programming.

Wow - did she ever deliver!

I just last night returned from the Coastal Magic Convention, which ran February 5-8. This is now at the top of my list for favorite reader-organized conventions. Let me tell you the reasons why.

Author/Blogger Speed Dating

The convention invites featured bloggers as well as featured authors and Thursday evening kicked off with speed-dating. Authors sat two to a table (I got to share with the charming Angie Fox), while the bloggers circulated on a timed schedule. The bloggers were excited to meet new authors and asked great questions. Two of them (Chelle from Literal Addiction and FranJessca from Book Lovin' Mamas) even brought us goody bags, including wine jewelry with our book covers. This was a terrific way to meet book bloggers who wanted to meet US.

So Many Panels!

Besides the speed dating, I was scheduled for five other appearances. The panels were well-composed and fun to do, with terrific attendance and audience participation. One of our appearances was a Meet & Greet, with four authors and opportunities to hang out and win prizes. Another was Cinema Craptastique, led by Damon Suede, in which I tweeted out our snark to the larger world. The audience was in tears with laughter. Authors on the panels said smart, interesting things and the audience asked insightful questions.

Flash Fiction

Okay, I was dubious about this one, but... wow! That's the photo above. (Thanks to Little Read Riding Hood for the pic!) Six authors sat at the front of the room and took prompts from the audience of at least 75 people. I believe this photo was shot during the prompt that included 1684, space opera, and octopus people. One person would kick off the story and keep going as long as they could, then pass it to the person next to them. I love this shot of Damon Suede and Lucienne Diver watching me with incredulous amusement as I waxed on about octopus Princess Uvula's dusky blue tentacles and delicious grape scent. We all had an unbelievable amount of fun with this.

Book Signing

The book signing came late in the conference, on Saturday afternoon, last event of the day before the nighttime dance mixer. The amazing part of this was that I'd been in front of new readers and bloggers so much by this point that bunches of people came by my table to buy my books. For those who've sat through conference book signings where people have no idea who you are, you'll get how huge this is.

The Love

I don't know if it was because the convention took place in a gorgeous beachside hotel with copious alcoholic fruity drinks or what, but it was SO MUCH FUN. It felt like a big party, with all the readers and bloggers there explicitly to discover new writers. They were happy and excited for everything we offered.

Highly recommend!

 

Long Live the Oldest Profession: Pimping Your Book

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

Since none of my previous published novels have hit the bestseller lists, for which I blame you (you know who you are), I decided to try a new marketing approach for The Fairyland Murders – Blog Tours. Not the kind I set up for myself, on blogs I’d visited seven times already, with people already sick to death of me (again, you know who you are), but blog tours arranged by PR companies who specialize in this sort of thing.

People in the know. People willing to pimp my book for a small monitory gain.

I started to hatch my evil…I mean, marketing plan by typing in a quick google search for just these sort of companies. I found a surprising amount of them, each who boasted of great results for former blog tour authors. Determined to break out of my midlist funk, I settled one three of the big ones.

The first one I emailed offered a package deal for $99, including a facebook party launch. I filled out the form and waited. And waited. And waited. Luckily for me I hadn’t sent over the requested $99 via paypal yet. I finally heard back from them a week later. They claimed my form had gone to junk mail. Sure, that happens, so I wasn’t too concerned. Until my second email to their representative had the same result. If they couldn’t get back with me, imagine how the blog tour would go? I quickly moved on to blog book tour company 2.

At least they emailed me back within a day.

That is about all I can say was going for them. I opted for a book blast tour costing $50. Now it was encouraged that I also offer a gift card reward for those commenting as well as hosting my book blast. A goodwill gesture. I’m all for goodwill. I get that these bloggers’ time is worth something. They were doing me a favor after all.

Then again, when the tour happened, I felt sort of sleazy. Like the tour was set up merely to win this gift card, for blogger and commenter alike. Not that there were many commenters. In fact, on at least 75% of the blogs, the only comment was a thank you for hosting from the blog tour company. The remaining 25% had one or two other comments.

Not quite what I'd expected.

Which brings me to blog tour company 3. This one seemed to be the most organized, and yet, when it was all said and done, my money wasn’t well spent again. These blog readers weren’t in it to learn about new books, but rather to win free stuff. Not that I mind giving it away, but I’d like to give it away to people actually interested in what I had to say or at the very least in books.

Now I didn’t post this to whine, but rather to offer this bit of advice. Marketing is all about taking risks. I’m not sad that I tried this blog tour approach. I’m glad I did. Now I know for next time it doesn’t pay to use these companies. What does work, is setting up my own guest posts with blogs. Trying new and different things will keep you interested in your own marketing, and that will make for a happier author and readers.

Has anyone had a different experience when using a blog tour company?

Guest Post: Bonnie Biafore – Enough Already

Hi, I’m Bonnie. I’m a recovering workaholic.

The pace I kept was starting to affect my health and the quality of my writing. The friskiness and humor that are the hallmarks of my writing were disappearing faster than unguarded burgers when my dogs are around.

So…..I’m going to play devil’s advocate to some of the writing advice out there.

  1. Don’t write every day.

Writing isn’t like eating or breathing to me. Writing is my job and I’m trying hard to treat it as such. When I worked for a company, I had weekends and holidays off, and took vacations to recharge my batteries, sharpen the saw, fill in analogy here.

Working for myself was a different story. From 1999 to 2012, I worked close to 7 by 24. I’ve had relapses since then.

Now, I take time off from writing. Time off can be writing related: people-watching to get ideas for characters or traveling to get ideas for settings or storylines. Some time off, though, should be dedicated to total recharge.

  1. Don’t set a rigid writing schedule.

I do set a schedule. It just isn’t rigid. When I’m updating a book, I know I have to revise 15 pages a day, 5 days a week for 2 months. Which hours of the day or which days of the week aren’t as important to me. (OK, this is my full-time job so I get to set my work hours and days. Those of you with other jobs might not have this luxury.) There have been times—many times, when I sat down to write, and spun my wheels for 2 hours before I realized what was happening. If those 2 hours were my writing time, I’d have a word count of, say, 20 words for the day.

Now, I watch for spinning wheels. When I notice them, I stop and do something else. Sometimes, I simply switch to writing something easier. (With my non-fiction writing, some stuff is easier to write.) Or I might do something else that needs to get done.

A favorite trick of mine is to knock out a short to-do so I can scratch it off my list. The energy boost I get from completing a minor task is often enough for me to tackle something more difficult. Sometimes, a change of scenery helps. Write in a spiral-bound notebook instead of at the computer, or use a laptop computer to sit on the sofa, at a coffee shop, or in a train station.

  1. Walk away.

Many times, the spinning wheels come from a writing problem: opening sentences, chapter cliffhangers, or a sentence that just doesn’t sound right. I’ve learned to take a break, usually to walk the dogs. Invariably, I end up recording the sentences I need on my cell phone as I walk in the woods.

  1. Don’t follow other people’s advice!

Everyone is different, so what works for me might be disastrous for you. I know what time of day I’m most productive, the best time for creative work or drudgery. I’ve learned that when I wake up at 1am thinking about work, I need to turn on the light, work for an hour or so, and then go back to sleep. I know that when I get on a roll, I need to cancel other plans so I can make the most of that opportunity. I know when something I’ve written is right, even if others tell me to change it. I’m learning to recognize the days when my brain and body are crying “Uncle!” and then take the day off mostly without feeling guilty about it.

Go ahead. Listen to what others have to say. Then, figure out what works for you and what doesn’t.

----------------------------------------

End of rant here:

Writers are great. They work in a competitive, stressful industry, yet they share their knowledge and support each other’s endeavors. They work hard. They’re fun to be around.

Thanks for letting me be part of the group.

Paying for it

By Mary Gillgannon

In the month since my latest book came out, I’ve dutifully attempted to promote it. I updated my website, guest-posted on nearly a dozen blogs, tweeted and Facebooked (in my own pathetic way), had a Goodreads giveaway, and engaged the help of the other authors on my publisher’s promotion loop to get the word out. But two weeks after the book’s release, it became clear that my efforts weren’t working. My book wasn’t gaining traction, it was standing still. If a bestseller is the pinnacle of a high mountain, this book was only a few yards up one of the foothills. I decided it was time to heed the old adage, “You have to spend money to make money.”

I’ve spent money on promoting my books in the past. I've purchased ads, had postcards and bookmarks printed and paid for mailings, the only promotion options available in the days before the internet. But there was one crucial difference: Back then, I was spending money I’d already made. When you’re earning several thousand dollars on an advance, it’s a lot easier to part ways with a few hundred here and there.

But even back then, I was pretty cautious about investing a lot of money in promotion. Mostly because I wasn’t convinced it worked. I’d known authors who spent nearly every dime of their advances on promotion and their sales weren’t that much better than mine. Instead, I took to heart the advice most editors and agents gave back then: “Put your time and energy into writing the next book.”

That really was the conventional wisdom in those days. Now publishers expect you to promote. Some even demand it. I’ve submitted to publishers who put as much emphasis on the author’s platform and social media presence as they do on the quality of the manuscript. A lot of it is because the market has shifted to ebooks, which are marketed so much differently. In the old days, if your publisher got your book in the stores and it had a reasonably good cover, you could expect to sell thousands of books without doing much of anything. The important “promotion” took place between the publisher’s sales staff and the bookstore buyers and wholesale distributors. The main hurdle was getting your books out there, and you had no control over that.

Now, “distribution” is the easy part. Anyone with a little tech savvy can get their book published. The ease of that part of the process clearly shows, as the number of ebooks available increases exponentially each year. The gatekeepers are gone and we now have a flood.

So, in an effort to try to get a tiny bit of notice for my book, I decided to spend some money on promotion. But it’s not easy to decide where to throw those bucks. The best sites for promoting ebooks are picky. They want you to have x number of positive reviews, and even if you have those, they may still reject you. They also want you to offer it free or at a discounted price. Since my book was published by a small press, I don’t have any control over the price.

But to test things, I went to a less well-known site and paid a small fee to promote one of my indie-published books, for which I’d dropped the price to $.99. In terms of sheer numbers, the approach was successful. On the day my book was listed, I sold 150 copies. Considerably more than the half dozen or so I usually sell in a month. In terms of money earned for money invested, I’ve come out a little ahead, but just barely. With the regular price of $2.99, I make nearly $2.00 per book sold. On a $.99 book I make about 35 cents. So I have to sell nearly six times as many books to make the same money. Plus, I have to earn back the $45 fee I paid to have my book promoted. If the bump in sales continues for a while, or it helps increase the sales of my other books, it will be a good investment.

But that doesn’t help my newest book. For it, I bought an ad on a romance ebook site. It was on sale for $99 and runs for a month. It’s a site that has been sending me newsletter emails for years and I always delete them without opening them. So, we’ll see if it makes any difference. And I’m still looking around, trying to find other avenues for ads. But there’s a limit to how much money it makes sense to spend.

I suspect the slow sales on my latest book may be related to the book itself. I’ve always written historical romances, but this book (a time travel/reincarnation story) takes place primarily in the present. While some readers bounce back and forth between historical and contemporary romances, a lot have a preference for one or the other. In some ways I’m marketing this book to a brand new audience. So, maybe I should do what I’d really like to be doing (instead of agonizing over these things) and finish the next book in the series. Maybe the second book will help me get a few more feet up the mountain.

MORE POLITICS IN FICTION

By Kevin Paul Tracy

senateAfter writing last month’s column on infusing your fiction with real-world politics, I thought I’d address this month’s column to how to infuse fictional politics into your fictional world. In fiction it is often necessary to build a world as a stage on which the events of your novel or series will play. Most often this is done in Science Fiction or Fantasy, but it is done in other fiction as well. For example thrillers often create a world very close to our own, but different enough to avoid complaints by purists. In world building, the more complete your world the more real it becomes to your reader. Even if, like character back-story, much of it doesn't reach the page, readers can still sense the fulsomeness with which your world was built. The subtleties bleed through, even if you the very author are unaware of it. Politics can be a great way to add intrigue and urgency to your story lines.

The thing to remember about Geopolitics is that at the core of everything is money. Find any driver of international political conflict – oil, borders, religion – and you don’t have to dig much further to find the root financial drivers behind it. Now I’m going to use a dirty word, please don’t stop reading: that’s economics. Use the word economics in almost any context and people’s eye glaze over, but it doesn't have to be as dry and boring as the pundits on television make it seem. Let me explain how you can use basic economic concepts to build a realistic, engaging, and exciting geopolitical scaffolding around which to build your fictional world.

The definition of economics is stated in a single sentence: economics is the management of finite resources. Period. That’s it. Simple, right? Resources can be anything from food, to water, to grazing land, to narcotics, to oil, ad infinitum. In economics a resource has at least two properties: demand (how many people want it and in what quantity) and supply (how much of it is available or how difficult is it to come by). The value of any resource increases as demand increases and/or supply diminishes. So, likewise, it’s value decreases as demand goes down and/or supply increases.

dune_frank_herbertYou can use this simple idea to infuse a whole lot of ecopolitics into your world. Consider Frank Herbert’s science fiction classic, Dune. In this science fiction epic, the resource in greatest demand in the universe is the spice known only as Melange. Melange extends life. Additionally, two of the most powerful political organizations in the universe need it: the Spacers Guild need it to enable their pilots to fold space and traverse the galaxy, and the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood uses it extensively as a part of their rituals and ceremonies. In order to make use of the services these two organizations offer, every other political body in the universe, from the Emperor himself to the lowliest royal house, must deal in Melange. If that demand alone weren’t enough to make Melange the most valuable resource in the universe, there is this one fact: Melange is only available in one place in the entire universe – the planet Arrakis, aka Dune.

So you have a commodity, the spice Melange, in high demand by very powerful entities, and in very rare supply. You can imagine the intrigues and alliances and betrayals and, yes, even battles that emerge out of the conflict introduced by this economic stress. (Actually, you don’t have to imagine it, your can read the books by Frank Herbert, who got enough mileage out of this political tension to fill six books.) Now your book doesn't have to center around this economic tension, but it can add all sorts of color and richness as a backdrop to larger epics and themes. Dune itself is more about prophesies and myths and the emergence of a super-being or god who will bring peace to the universe.

The point is, if you feel the world you’re building is thin or lacking in richness and opportunities for conflict, don’t forget that politics is a great way to introduce grander themes and wider scope to a novel or epic series. And that the core to all politics, eventually, comes down to economics. Of which now you know just enough to build upon.


Check out Kevin’s latest releases, the wonderfully entertaining espionage thriller, “Rogue Agenda,” a startling and engrossing gothic thriller “Bloodflow,” and don’t miss Bloodtrail, the upcoming sequel to Bloodflow.

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Guest Post – Betsy Dornbusch: The M Word

By Betsy Dornbusch

Emissary coverMarketing is a dirty word in publishing. The publishers don’t do it, the writers don’t want to do it, and it doesn’t work anyway, right? I mean, how many times do readers have to hear about a book before they buy? Three? Eleventy-hundred? Who knows?! Might as well do nothing.

If you can deal with the guilt.

Or do EVERYTHING!

If you can stop eating, showering, caring for children, going to a day job, writing because who has time to write when you’re hawking books to anyone who’ll listen. Also, be sure to find a good therapist because that way lies madness.

Pro-tip: Do What You Do Well.

Read, take advice, try some strategies on for size. If it doesn’t work, if you hate doing it, then for the love of all that is holy, don’t do it anymore! I’ve many friends who handsell books at cons. Me, not so much. One writer I know just did a 100-stop blog tour in a month. Yeah, no. I’m not particularly good at asking for author quotes or disciplined in sending out review requests, so I let my publicists —a private one I hired and the Night Shade Books publicist— handle that. Some writers are wonderful at doing readings. Me, not so much. And, gasp, some writers really do just concentrate on writing the next book, which is also a valid marketing strategy. This often coincides with writing short stories and novellas to sell alongside their primary works.

As for me, I’ve tried lots of stuff and six books and ten years later my focus, besides writing the best book I can, is on making friends and talking at cons. That’s pretty much the size of it, though the list does go on a bit:

  • Cons get me in front of SFF readers and maintain my industry friendships.
  • I blather online and in person about my passions. Mine are diversity in SFF, and home décor because I used to be a designer.
  • Strategic local appearances.
  • Limited strategic, high-profile guest blog writing.
  • Interviews: I’ll let about anyone interview me: podcasts, blogs, paper.
  • Make friends with booksellers.
  • Swag: Pens are reusable and readers are delighted to carry off the pen you signed their book with. I always have some with me and if I meet someone in the wild who shows interest in my books, I give them one.
  • Hang out in bars and meet people. Readers hang out in bars. At cons, writers and editors and agents definitely hang out in bars.
  • Twitter and Facebook (Or Ello, Tsu, Instagram, blogging, pick your online flavor. Just be consistent and remember cross-posting is your friend.)
  • The Blue Mailer from RMFW for every book.

You’ll notice I don’t waste a lot of time doing things outside my particular talent sphere. I’ve spent some time honing the skills I enjoy and I’ve tossed most of the rest. So. Where do your marketing talents lie and how can you exploit them?

 

Betsy Dornbusch is the author of several short stories, novellas, and novels. In addition to Red Rocks squarespeaking at numerous conventions and teaching writing classes, she has spent the last decade editing the online magazine Electric Spec and writing on her website Sex Scenes at Starbucks (betsydornbusch.com). She and her family split their time between Boulder and Grand Lake, Colorado.

twitter: @betsydornbusch