The RMFW Spotlight is Shining on Volunteer Julie Kazimer

JAKazimer1. Welcome to the RMFW Spotlight series, Julie. Tell us what you do for RMFW and why you are involved.

I don’t do nearly as much as others do, nor do I feel like I do enough, so thank you, Pat, for asking me to answer these very intrusive questions about myself. I do a couple of things, semi-regular. I co-edit this here blog with the awesomeness that is Pat Stoltey, as well as blog twice a month (the hardest part of my volunteering, for sure). I also was lucky enough to review workshop proposals for the upcoming conference. I have to say, damn, we have a brilliant group of faculty. Even those proposals not picked were above and beyond. I wish we had more time slots. Let’s see, I also have judged the CO Gold contest, and taught a handful of times, both at conference and for the Western Slope (a great group headed by the fabulous Terri Benson, also one of our bloggers). As to why I’m involved, that’s easy; I owe my current career to RMFW. No other way to say it. My first book deal came directly from a workshop at the conference in 2010. For better or worse, RMFW is to blame for my writing. Yep, full blame to RMFW!

2. What is your current WIP or most recent publication, and where can we buy a book, if available?

My current WIP is a romance series about service dogs. Completely different from anything I’ve written before. As in it plays on emotions, where my other books are more suspense or humor focused. Yeah, I wake up in a cold sweat even thinking about it. As for my most recent publications, I have the 2nd book in my Assassin’s Series, The Assassin’s Kiss and a prequel novella, The Assassins’ First Date, coming out in August and July. You can buy any of my stuff or stalk me on amazon. You can also purchase most of my stuff at any other online retailer or sometimes a bookstore (for those youngins: a bookstore is a physical place you can by books. Yes, books actually come in paper. Weird, I know).

3. We've all heard of bucket lists -- you know, those life-wish lists of experiences, dreams or goals we want to accomplish-- what's one of yours?

Damn great question. I’d love to be a keynote for RMFW when I become rich and famous. Come back, and thank all the little people. And since I stand barely over 5 feet, little is hard to find.

4. Most writers have an Achilles heel with their writing. Confess, what's yours?

I think I did above, but I say it again, I have a terrible time with ‘real’ emotion. I don’t do deep. In-depth gives me hives. I would rather kill a million characters than write an emotional scene. Ick.

5. What do you love most about the writing life?

The power and fame. People bow and scrape for me. Set down rose petals at my feet as I walk. Yeah, right. My favorite thing about writing is the magic that runs from fingers to keyboard. It’s not a conscious thing for me. I just type and it flows. I don’t think (which you probably guessed already).

6. Now that you have a little writing experience, what advice would you go back and give yourself as a beginning writer?

Great question. I am actually teaching a workshop at the conference (No, I didn’t select my own. That would be cheating) about 25 things I learned going from pre-published to multi-published. Most of all, I’d tell myself, it’s going to be a roller coaster, one that I won’t want off of, but to keep in mind the greatest climb has a subsequent fall. Ride it for the sheer joy.

7. What does your desk look like? What item must be on your desk? Do you have any personal, fun items you keep on it?

I don’t have a desk. I mean, I do at work, but that’s a boring 9-5 desk. I write on my lap, often with a cat, and two dogs vying for the space. FYI, the cat almost always wins, much to the sausage-like pup’s dismay.

8. What book are you currently reading (or what was the last one you read)?

I am reading so many at once, and yet, not one currently as I don’t read while I’m writing so I don’t mimic voice. What I last read is, When Good Angels Go Bad by Audrey Brice, which is the pen name of our very own, Stephanie Connolly Reisner. She’s a hell of a writer.

Thanks for having me, Pat. It’s been fun!

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J.A. (Julie) Kazimer kills and kisses people for a living, be it a bad guy who deserved it or an arrogant frog prince who didn’t. Find her online at her website (jakazimer.com) or on Facebook, much, much too often. She can also be found on Twitter. If you go here, you can sign up for her Readers’ Group (Newsletter) and get a free book or two.

Julie's best friend shot this photo.2016_Spotlight_Julie Kazimer

 

Why, you ask? It’s a picture of the Denver Post, found as is, with her first ever review in the Post, for Froggy Style. A great review, BTW, by the incredible Tom Schantz.

The Truest Voice of All … by William Kent Krueger

2016_William Kent Krueger (2)Isn’t it amazing how everyone seems to know, even better than we do ourselves, what’s best for us as writers? We get advice from everybody on how we ought to be using our time and energy. From our agent (if we have one). From our publisher. From our readers. From other writers. From the pundits in the publishing world. Write what’s hot, they say. Leap on that passing bandwagon. Create the next Gone Girl. Emulate Stephen King. Put vampires in your work. It’s hard not to listen, especially if you’re still struggling to figure out who you are as a writer.

My own belief is that there’s only one voice you should be listening to: the one that speaks to you from your heart. And here’s why I believe this.

For most of my career, I’ve been known as the author of the Cork O’Connor mystery series. My books have been on a number of bestseller lists, including The New York Times. Several years ago, I sat down with my editor and was told essentially that my publisher was only interested in seeing Cork O’Connor novels from me. This was because the book I’d just published, my first stand-alone thriller, had sold poorly. Not because it wasn’t a good book—it got great reviews—but Cork O’Connor wasn’t in it, and readers were incredibly reluctant to follow me to a place that didn’t include Cork.

A few years later, a very different kind of story idea came to me. I knew it wasn’t a good vehicle for Cork O’Connor, and because of that, spending the time and energy writing it would be a risky proposition. Clearly my publisher wasn’t interested, and I had no idea if anyone else would be. But it was a story that spoke to me so deeply and in such a compelling way that I knew I had to write it. I cleared the decks, and over the course of the next three years, I composed the manuscript for a novel called Ordinary Grace, the story of a Methodist minister’s family in a small town in southern Minnesota in the summer of 1961.

2016_Krueger_ordinary graceI had a new editor at that point, and although I knew that Ordinary Grace wasn’t at all what my publisher wanted from me, I went ahead and sent the manuscript anyway. My editor fell in love with it. Against all the prevalent thinking in the publishing industry about what was hot, she chose to accept it and threw herself behind the championing of it one hundred percent.

Ordinary Grace went on to sweep the major awards in the mystery field. It took the Edgar, the Anthony, the Barry, the Macavity, the Silver Falchion. It found a place on many Best Books of the Year lists. It continues to sell incredibly well, and daily I receive notes from readers who tell how much the story has meant to them.

The writing of that novel remains one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life. I absolutely loved every moment I bent to the work. Because I had no expectation of success and because the story spoke so deeply to me personally, it didn’t matter to me whether anyone, in the end, wanted to read it. One of the things I’ve come to believe about writing, after all these years, is that it’s a little bit like sex: If you’re not enjoying yourself, you’re probably not doing it right. With Ordinary Grace, I had the time of my life.

For those of us who are writers, there will always be the loud clamor of others who believe they know what’s best for us and our careers. They’re not always easy to ignore, especially when we’re doubting ourselves. My advice, based on my own experience, is to do your best to shut out all that noise so that you can hear your heart speaking to you. It’s the truest voice of all.

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William Kent Krueger is the author of the New York Times bestselling Cork O’Connor mystery series, set in the great Northwoods of Minnesota. His work has received a number of awards, including the Edgar. He lives in St. Paul, a city he dearly loves. He does all his creative writing in local, funky coffee shops, and attributes his success as a writer to all those wonderful stories he read as a child.

You can learn more about Kent and his books at his website. He can also be found on Facebook and Goodreads.

 

Strike Me, Lightning! Dexter, Dreaming, and Jeff Lindsey

So who wrote Tarzan?

You don’t know?

I’ll give you a hint. He’s the same writer who wrote A Princess of Mars.

You know, John Carter, Dejah Thoris, Tharks. Yeah, you know! Disney and the director of Wall-E did a movie called John Carter, which was awesome, no matter what people may say. People. Sheesh.

So many of you know about Tarzan, if not everyone. Fewer know about Barsoom. And fewer probably know the name of Edgar Rice Burroughs. He’s the author who brought Tarzan to life. And really, he’s one of the reason why I became a writer.

Okay, next question.

Who wrote Darkly Dreaming Dexter?

You don’t know?

I bet you know about the hit TV show which season after season thrilled a generation. Until the last five minutes of the finale which totally killed the spirit of the wholes series. But I digress. For those of you who don’t know, Darkly Dreaming Dexter is about a serial killer who hunts other serial killers. Genius, I know. I told the author, Jeff Lindsey, I kind of hated him for coming up with such a great idea. I got to meet him and hear him speak. Great guy. He referred to himself as the avatar of self-doubt. I'm totally stealing that.

He also talked about how everyone knows Tarzan, but no one knows ERB. And everyone knows Dexter, but no one knows Jeff Lindsey. Good and bad, that.

But as Jeff Linsdey talked about the history of Darkly Dreaming Dexter, which of course had tons of rejection and had tons of “suggested” re-writes, he mentioned something that struck me.

He said the writing game isn’t about talent, and it’s not really about luck, and it’s not about networking, or any of that. He said he didn’t want to seem too precious, but he thought writers were like people under a pristine blue sky waiting to get hit by lightning.

Not sure what he meant by seeming too precious. I thought it was a great analogy.

I might have the best, the tallest, the most magnificent lightning rod in all of creation. I might be wearing steel underwear. I might have done all of my research on the best place to sit in the field of writers to improve my chance of being hit by lightning. But the fact remains—the sky is blue. A storm is not in the forecast. It’s not research, talent, or luck that’s going to get my testicles zapped.

So what is it? Why do I venture out into the field and sit under a blue sky waiting to get struck by lightning?

Because I am pulled there. Well, I’m half-pulled by my vocation, my sacred duty to write stories, and I’m half-pushed by a deep desire to succeed.

Regardless, I’m choosing to walk daily into the field and sit down, open my laptop, and write books. Lots of books. I want to be in that field. I love writing books and hanging out with authors.

Why? Because when I write, I am doing what I was made to do. Not everyone likes reading and writing. Some people adore NASCAR. That is their sacred calling. I don’t get it, but not everyone is going to get me. Which is fine.

In third grade, I read Edgar Rice Burroughs and it changed my life. Reading about John Carter meeting Dejah Thoris on an alien world electrified me (Ha, funny, get it?).

My entire life, I have wanted to be a writer. My entire life.

Why would I walk away now? Because it’s too hard? Because I’ve failed? Because I’ve been ignored?

Dudes and dudettes, the hero is supposed to fail and struggle before they succeed. I’m in the right place at the right time engaged in the right activity. I’m doing what needs to be done.

Jodi Thomas, another wonderful author, talked about those who succeed in writing are the ones who can endure the most. Which means I will succeed. Might take a bit, and success might not look like I think, but the lightning will strike me.

And if it doesn’t?

Goddammit, I’ll make my own lightning.

Don’t miss the chance to get registered for May’s Annual Education Event

Do you have the right stuff in the right place in your book?

Do you know your genre or do you not know your genre?

Those are the questions that will be answered next month at the Annual Education Event. If you haven’t seen the information about it in the newsletter and the e-mails going out, here’s your chance to find out what’s going on.

When:  May 14, 2016, starting at 8:30, ending at 4:00first pages

Where: Table Mountain Inn, 1310 Washington Avenue, Golden, CO  80401

Who:     The a.m. Keynote will be THE RIGHT STUFF: OPENING PAGES THAT LEAD TO YES!

Presented by Kristin Nelson and Angie Hodapp from the Nelson Literary Agency

Genre imageAFTERNOON GENRE-SPECIFIC MASTER CLASSES begin at 1:00, and include:

YA - Aaron Michael Ritchey          Romance - Bernadette Marie

Historical - Linda Collison            Mystery - Rebecca Bates

SciFi/Fantasy/Horror - Nathan Lowell

How Much: $80 for Members, $90 for Non-Members (includes breakfast, lunch and break goodies)

Why       Should you attend?  You won’t get many chances to have a big literary agency read your pages and tell you what changes might make them more likely to catch the right attention. You also don’t often get the opportunity to talk with multi-published authors, in your genre, that are willing to spend hours helping you ensure you’re in the right genre, and discussing how to make you manuscript stand out from the crowd.

If you’re serious about wanting to write the best possible novel, and especially if you want to be published, get registered for this event before it sells out. Not only that, it’s a perfect way to make sure you're all set for Colorado Gold in September – get those pages ready for roundtables and pitches!

For more information on the speakers and their bios, go HERE. To register on-line, go HERE. And to make the most of your writing efforts, BE THERE or be square.

Stifling Self-Doubt by Aimie Runyan

Self-doubt is the hallmark of most writers, unless maybe you’re Stephen King. I have always thought it a good thing in measured doses. False confidence leads to bad books, and so long as I can quiet the nagging voice of in my ear, I welcome Doubt as the frumpy, sarcastic cousin of the more charming Muse. But sometimes Muse is fickle and Doubt gets far too much time at the mic. The picture below encapsulates a poignant moment of self-doubt I had a few years back:

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This picture was taken about 6 weeks after I started seriously working on my first novel. My two-year-old son is perched on my printed chapters and notebook, absorbed in Monsters, Inc. I snapped the photo on my phone because, in my very biased opinion, he’s adorable. And miraculously, he was actually sitting still. But when I sat next to him on the couch and posted the photo on Facebook, Doubt took her long, clammy fingers and gripped around my neck. What if my book is better off as a booster seat?

The thought was cruel, and while it’s amusing to personify Doubt, it was of my own creation. I reasoned with myself that even if the novel was crap, I would have the satisfaction of knowing I finished what I started, and would only be out about 130 naptimes for my trouble. I pushed on and got my 2,000 naptime words that afternoon. And every naptime for the next six months until I had a draft that I could shape into a readable novel.

But what if I had given in to Doubt and set aside my book? We all leave behind unfinished work, but how would I have felt leaving behind a half-written story that I longed so much to tell? Book contract or no, I have to believe I’d have felt disappointed for the rest of my days for not having told this tale.

Last month, on March 28, the picture of my son “hatching” my book came up in my timeline through the “See Your Memories” feature on Facebook. I instantly remembered that icy feeling in the pit of my stomach I felt that day, and was filled with relief that I pushed Doubt aside and kept on. Wondering what else happened on that day in my seven years on Facebook, I opened up the app and scrolled through my posts. The picture of my sweet boy was posted in 2013. Then I noticed the post from 2014:

“EEEEEEEPPPPP. That is all.”

For those of you not in my inner circles, that’s how I announced both my pregnancies… and news of almost-equal magnitude. Exactly one year after that donkey-kick to the gut from my old friend Doubt, I had gotten The Email from an agent that led to The Call three days later. That following Monday, I signed with Melissa Jeglinski of The Knight Agency. With her expert guidance, six months later I had a book I was proud of and a contract with a fantastic publisher. So on March 28 of this year, less than a month before that book was to see the light of day, I started off my morning knowing unequivocally I’d made the right decision to tell Doubt to hit the bricks. Sometimes reminders of things you know to be true come in odd places. Thanks for the memories, Facebook.

Doubt has its place. It has it’s uses… but never, ever let it talk you out of pursuing a story that needs to be told.

aimieAimie K. Runyan is an author of Historical fiction whose purpose is to celebrate history’s unsung heroines. Her debut novel, PROMISED TO THE CROWN, the story of three women sent by Louis XIV to help colonize his Quebec colony, releases in April, 2016 from Kensington Books. She has also published a short work of science fiction in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS anthology (all proceeds go to the Women in Engineering Scholarship Fund). She lives outside Denver with her loving husband, adorable children, and cowardly sheepdog.

Oh, the weather outside is ….. perfect for my story!

"If you don't like it, wait five minutes." That's the mantra Coloradoans mumble when the temperature plummets from 70 to 30 in one day. Important plans get interrupted, and you may sprain your back shoveling two feet of wet spring snow off your deck and have to cancel your tennis match.

The unpredictability of weather and its related conveniences and inconveniences can be useful tools as you plot your story.  It’s done with good scene-setting, consistent information, common sense/believability, and excellent timing.

LightningConsistent/Common Sense. It’s clever to tie the weather to your protagonist’s moods. If he’s just suffered from the loss of a loved one, a cloudy sky, dripping rain like teardrops, may be perfect to amplify his grief.  However, if every time he’s troubled the sky becomes overcast, it becomes obvious and distracting. And admittedly, humorous, where comedy was not intended.

Scene-setting. A romantic story setting might be, not just sea and surf and sand, but a gentle surf, at sunset,  warm, with sound effects--whoosh, whoosh, a soothing, sensual rhythm to the waves. Perfect for that “First Kiss” moment between hero and heroine. Or the surf can be crashing and pounding against the cliffs in that “Life Threatening” moment with rain so heavy the characters can’t see as they stumble along a treacherous path to the castle. The setting can become a critical “Plot Point” when nature becomes the antagonist, as when Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass fought against a hostile climate to drag himself back to civilization in The Revenant. It can become the “Saving Grace” moment when a vicious clump of space garbage veers just to the right of our hero’s space capsule.

Believability. Was there really an ice storm in Florida in August? Not that you can’t deviate from normal expectations, but everybody and his brother had better be talking about it. I recall visiting Vancouver in March, and the weather was something we in Colorado are accustomed to: blue skies, not one cloud, sunny. The difference was that every person on the street and every DJ on every radio station was marveling and commenting. The DJs encouraged everyone listening to take the day off work and just get out there and enjoy it.  The entire city was joyful. Unusual weather works in novels. If you need flowering trees earlier than expected, it can be done. Just acknowledge the rarity through your characters.

Timing. If the weather causes a turning point or crisis, build toward that moment to avoid the deus ex machina factor. If there’s a fog-caused 20-car pile-up in which the villain is killed just before he arrives to finish off the hero, palm to head. It won’t work. Your fan has been loyally reading for hundreds of pages, anticipating this confrontation. For the satisfying ending, the villain needs to arrive mentally and physically strong and able to compete, so the hero can suffer and strive and finally win.

If in the struggle the villain slips on ice, falls and loses his gun, it needs to be established beforehand that it rained and the temperature dropped at sunset, causing treacherous driving conditions, for example.

Most of these are common sense. Considering the weather is one of the joys of writing. No longer are you victim of the weather. Now you are the Wizard, throwing clouds and rain and snow on your people. Just cool it with the lightning bolts.

5 Ideas to Boost Your Writing Confidence

The blank page is to many authors what a large audience is to a shy and introverted soul asked to give a speech. Terrifying.  And it doesn’t help when writing friends are completing that next chapter, submitting another short story to an anthology, or simply garnering another 50 readers to their blog.

Before succumbing to the terror of the blank page, know that there are things you can do to bolster your writing confidence and hopefully increase your productivity at the same time.  Here are some ideas you might try and some thoughts for your own writing journey:

  1. WRITE BADLY - Yep, go out and enjoy using redundant phrases, sloppy attributions in dialog, or poetic and superfluous adjectives to your heart’s content.  Make a game of it. Try starting a story with one of these clichés and see if a spirit of fun doesn’t just take over your creative time:
    1. “It was a dark and stormy night. . .” (check out the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest if you get something good going here)
    2. “She looked into the mirror admiring her glossy brown tresses . . .”
    3. “He wore his disappointment like a badge of honor. . .”

Remember: not every piece of writing you do has to be publishable or profitable.

  1. MAKE A MESS – I used to try to buy pretty notebooks with kittens and puppies and happy sayings on them, but I found I never wanted to write in them. I feared writing the “wrong thing,” and messing up the perfect bound books. Now I buy cheap-o notebooks and often intentionally slop up a page or two. Kind of like breaking in a new pair of sneakers—what’s a little mud-slinging among friends? If you only write on a computer, try hand writing sometime--very freeing, and confidence building.
  2. WRITE NEW – Stuck in a rut with your romance writing? Try taking some of your favorite characters and putting them into a horror story. Or try writing a poem (I once wrote one about my Jeep—still have and enjoy it). Or a blog post for the RMFW blog. Or a real love letter. Sometimes taking a "vacation" from what we normally do, increases our ability to focus and be productive when we return to our work.
  3. WRITE SHORT – Think in terms of filler articles for your favorite magazines or e-zines, or maybe enter a flash fiction contest. You probably know a lot more than you think you do. The competition is fierce for these articles today, as the filler is a disappearing form of writing (a filler is a tiny article, joke, anecdote, or other copy that used to "fill" print space in the old days of typeset layouts), but more and more companies' websites need short blog posts, Twitter tweets, and other "content" for their social media. It's opportunity for the flexible writer, may give you some ego-boosting clips and maybe even put a few bucks in your pocket.
  4. WRITE DAILY – Okay, no guilt here. I don’t count words completed in a day.  Tried that. Led to increased guilt over the time I wasted counting and tracking words “completed” instead of writing something I could call commercial fiction. Instead, I try to keep that cheap spiral notebook with me for when an idea jumps to mind. There’s a notebook on my nightstand and one at my desk. I have notecards in my purse for emergency moments of brilliance, and there’s always my dictation function on my phone if all else fails. Jot down fun stuff like character names, titles of books you’ll write, a run-in with a nasty total stranger (did I ever tell you about the guy at the dog park I almost punched?) and, of course, a plot twist that will go into your next novel nicely.

And here’s a bonus tip—most of us write because we simply cannot go without writing. But when we get caught up in the “business” of writing, we lose both our fresh voice, and the thing that brings us to the writing table—our creativity. Deep breath. Relax. Write.

If you have ideas to share, please do!  I’m always on the lookout for a great motivational tip.

ON ANOTHER NOTE:

Tomorrow, Saturday April 23, RMFW will host its quarterly board meeting.  If you’re interested in how our all-volunteer organization gets things done, or want to get more involved yourself, please join us at the Sam Gary Branch Library, 2961 Roslyn St, Denver, CO 80238. The meeting starts at 1:00.

Tips For Evaluating a Traditional Publishing House

The explosion of small and micro-presses in the United States (and elsewhere) makes it more important than ever for authors to investigate publishers carefully before signing a publishing contract. While even diligent research can't help you foresee and avoid every possible problem, here are some tips to help you evaluate whether or not to accept a publisher's offer:

1. Does the Contract Require the Author to Pay for Anything?

If the answer is "yes," do not pass go, do NOT pay $500...or even $1. This is not a traditional publishing house. It's either a "hybrid press" (where the author shares the costs--and benefits--of publication), a "vanity press" (where the author pays far too much for far too little), or a scam. If you think it's a hybrid press, contact an agent or a publishing attorney you trust and arrange for professional review and negotiation before you sign.

Do not rely on the publisher's word that the contract is "hybrid" or "fair"--and don't forget: a traditional publishing house will never expect the author to pay anything out of pocket (and none of the publishing costs, except for unreasonable changes demanded by the author after the proofs are approved). No exceptions.

2. Does the Publisher Also Offer "Paid Marketing Programs"?

A number of vanity presses have recently started offering "fully traditional contracts" which also require the author to participate in paid "author training programs" and "marketing programs." The marketing contract is an addendum to the "traditional publishing deal" and can cost the author several thousand dollars out of pocket. Legitimate traditional publishers never make authors pay for anything out of pocket, either as part of the publishing contract or in a separate (but required) agreement.

3. Does the Publisher Make Any Claims About Success, Sales, or Reviews?

No legitimate publisher can or will ever promise an author success (financial or otherwise), sales, or good reviews (they can't even promise legitimate reviews, let alone good ones). Any publisher whose website contains statements like "Make extra money writing books!" or "Become a bestseller by publishing with us!" -- or anything else of that nature -- is not a legitimate, traditional publishing house. Run, don't walk, in the other direction.

4. Does the Contract Require Authors to Purchase Copies of the Finished Book?

Some small presses' contracts require the author to purchase a stated number of copies of the book upon release. Many times, the author is also required to pay for these books (in part, or completely!) before the publication date, and sometimes before the author even sees the proofs of the finished work. Legitimate presses will never make an author commit to purchasing any copies of the work (though often they do offer authors a discount on copies the author elects to buy).

A little related publishing math: if the author commits to paying the publisher $8,000 for copies of the work at $16.00 apiece, how many additional books does the publisher have to sell to pay for its investment in the book? (The answer is generally, none, especially since these publishers normally publish "Print on Demand," which means the publisher keeps no stock of the printed work.) 

5. How Long Has the Publisher Been in Business?

The answer to this is not a deal-breaker, but it's something to consider. The longer a publisher has been in business, and the more books it produces, the better authors can evaluate the publisher's history of contract compliance, sales and distribution, and successfully published work. It's perfectly fine to take a chance on a newer publisher if you choose...but only if all of the other factors align with industry standards. Also, authors should be aware that working with newer publishers represents a business risk, because publishing houses have high failure rates--so make sure the contract contains appropriate protections for the author (including appropriate termination rights).

Note: new presses that work with experienced counsel, or have experienced editors or publishers at the helm, generally present a smaller risk in this regard. 

6. How Much, And What Kind of, Publishing Experience Does the Publisher/Editor Have?

Again, while not a deal-breaker, authors should be aware that many small publishers open with great intentions, but little or no practical experience in traditional publishing, sales, and distribution. This creates enormous risk, both for the publisher and the author. Before signing with a small press, always ask about the publisher's experience, distribution program, and how many books they have in bookstores outside their local area. Also, publishers without much practical experience tend to have a more difficult time negotiating contracts and complying with contract obligations--not from malice, but because they simply don't understand what's involved in running a traditional publishing house.

7. What Do Other Authors & Industry Watchdogs Have to Say?

Never, ever sign with a publishing house unless you've researched both the house and the publisher/editor with industry watchdogs like Publisher's Marketplace, Writer's Digest, Writer Beware, and Preditors and Editors. Pay attention to what you see there, too. While lack of a listing may suggest the publisher is legitimate, it also might indicate a publisher is simply too new for the watchdogs to have flagged its bad behavior. For maximum safety, don't sign with any publisher unless you can actually confirm legitimacy and positive ratings with industry watchdog sites.

Also: always talk with at least 2-3 other authors published by the publisher before you sign a contract. Ask the publisher to give you authors' names and contact information, or find them online--make connections through friends, if you can. If authors won't speak with you honestly (or tell you the contract won't let them talk about the press), move on. Don't ever commit yourself and your work to a press that doesn't get glowing reviews from its authors--no matter how big or experienced the press.

8. What Do the Publisher's Other Books Look Like?

You have seen their other books, right? In print? On Amazon ("look inside" should be enabled, and you should actually do it) or in bookstores. Find them. Hold them--on an e-reader if they're ebook only. Look at the font, the production values, the covers, and then ask yourself: is this what I want my book to look like? Would I be proud if my name was on this cover?

9. Where Are the Publisher's Other Books Sold? 

Many small publishers don't have distribution arrangements, and even if they do, that may or may not translate to actually having books on shelves in stores. Ask where the publisher's books are sold. Confirm it. This isn't a deal-breaker, one way or the other, but you need the information to decide whether this is a house that will be able to support your work the way you want them to.

10. How Many Books Does the Publisher Release Each Year?

Again, not a deal breaker, just something smart authors evaluate. Sometimes a lower number works in your favor, and sometimes larger numbers work against you. Sometimes, it's the opposite. Generally speaking, the more books a publisher releases each year, the fewer resources the publisher has to dedicate to each individual book. That's especially true when you consider that many publishers dedicate the lion's share of advertising time and resources to A-list titles by authors who already have a substantial following.

11. Does Anything Else Seem...Odd?

Trust your instincts. They're better than you think. If anything seems "odd" or "not quite right" about the publisher, remember: you're better off with no publishing deal than signing a deal you later regret.

12. Even if Everything Else Looks Good, Consult a Publishing Lawyer or Agent Before You Sign the Contract.

Starfleet regulations don't allow a compromised captain on the bridge...and every author is compromised (to one degree or another) when it comes to evaluating a publishing deal. Always consult a lawyer or an agent before you sign a publishing contract, particularly if you're not experienced reading and negotiating legalese.

I can't promise these questions will save you from signing a publishing deal you regret, or protect you against every predatory or inexperienced publisher. That said, if you keep these in mind, you'll have a much better start when evaluating prospective publishing houses for your work.

*Disclaimer: This post does not constitute legal advice, create an attorney-client relationship between the author and any person, and is intended for educational purposes only. Author makes no representations that this post is complete or contains all relevant information required to protect authors when choosing a publishing house, escaping from zombies, or trying to avoid a swarm of lawyers wielding bee-infested carp. Your experience, legal rights, and favorite cupcake flavor may vary.

Focusing Your Energy Where it Counts

I'm probably the last person in the world who should be talking about focus.

You know that person with her head so high in the clouds that she put her car keys in the freezer? Or  pulls into the neighbor's garage, gets out of her car, walks into the house, and wonders who changed the linoleum and why the cat is the wrong color?

Yep, that's me. I'm the woman who starts off taking out the kitchen garbage, stops along the way to pet the cat, notices the litter box needs attention and scoops, leaving the trash bag in the house by the cat box and taking the litter to the outside trash can. I'm the woman who then notices it's a beautiful day and wanders off to see if the lilacs are going to bloom this year, coming inside an hour later to wonder who left the trash bag sitting in the bathroom.

But maybe this makes me the right person to talk about focus, after all, because I've developed some coping methods over the years that help me get important things done. (See my last post on setting priorities for some ideas on how to sort out which are your most important things.)

Following are a few of the things I've found to be helpful in finding enough focus to get my words written.

Schedule it. If writing time is important to you, signal that to yourself and everybody else in the same way you would other important events. Make it an appointment and treat it like a parent-teacher conference, a work meeting at your day job, a visit to your doctor or your hair stylist. Put it on your calendar. Don't stand yourself up.Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 4.46.47 AM

Minimize distractions. Figure out whether you do better in a quiet or noisy environment. Experiment with music - can you focus better with it on, or off. What location works best for you - the kitchen table, a writing room desk, a corner in the coffee shop? Whatever works best, do that. Note that this might change depending on the book you're writing, and whether you're brainstorming, drafting, revising, or editing.

Turn off the social media. How many times have you sat down to write, only to find yourself an hour later deep down some rabbit hole on Facebook? Besides the time suck component, how can you get deeply involved in your character's emotions and lives if you are constantly receiving signals from outside influences? If you're like me and lack will power, consider a program like Freedom that blacks the internet for you for a set period of time. Or, shut off the internet altogether during writing time. I recently went through a spell where I didn't turn the internet on in the morning before my words were written. I was a little bit shocked at how much more writing I got done.

Sprint. Sometimes, if you're struggling with focus, settling in for a short stretch of 15 minutes can work very well for getting things done. I love to do this with a friend through a chat window. Set the time, go, and report back in. It's easier to settle down to work when you know it's not going to be a long haul. Plus, it's highly motivating to know you'll need to fess up to your partner if you've wandered off to Twitter. (It's also amusing when you both wander off to Twitter and call each other out for bad behavior. This may just have happened to me a time or two.)

Put the cat in the garage. I know, this is a drastic measure. The GDC, currently in my lap and judging everything I write, takes offense. We love our fur babies and they are wonderful and often comforting. They can also be a huge distraction. If you are struggling with focus and getting your words written, you might consider finding something else for the fur babies to do while you write.

I have a few other ideas, but I'm scheduled for my writing time in about two minutes and I'm choosing to honor that commitment and am signing off now.  I'm excited to tell you that I will be presenting a session on getting your writing done at the Colorado Gold Conference this year, so if this topic is of interest to you I'd love to see you there!

I'd also love to hear the strategies you've developed for managing focus during writing time.

 

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.