Category Archives: General Interest

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!

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!!

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.

Follow Kevin at:
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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

Tales from Long Shots in Book Marketing

By Mark Stevens

I hopped in the car and flipped on the radio.

Scott Simon (rock star reporter and host on National Public Radio) was wrapping up a Weekend Edition interview with a guy reviewing books.

I only caught the tail end of the chat, but Simon said something like: “...and that was our London cab driver so-and-so who occasionally reviews books for us…"

I’m not sure I remember the rest.

Cab driver? Book reviewer? National Public Radio?

As you may or may not know, my friend Mike Keefe and I are in the process of publishing the works of the late Gary Reilly, who left behind 25 novels when he passed away in 2011.
Of the 25 novels, 11 are very humorous books that feature Denver cab driver Brendan Murphy, a.k.a. Murph, The Asphalt Warrior. To date, six of those 11 have been published, along with the first of Gary’s books based on his experiences in Vietnam.

Gary’s posthumous works have received great reviews—and two of the titles were named finalists for the Colorado Book Award.

But as a publisher (and also as a writer, unless you’re in the stratosphere of high visibility) there’s a never-ending search for reviews and, well, mentions.

Mere mentions of your book can make your day— Amazon, Goodreads, Shelfari, bring it!

So why not roll the dice with the cab driver from London? Indeed, why not?

Our company, Running Meter Press, has been lucky to have time and support donated by a major book publicity firm, JKS Communications. I contacted JKS and an energetic member of their team found a way to contact the cab driver, an apparently cheerful and well-read guy named Will Grozier. Soon, via Twitter (!), we had the green light: send 'em!

I packed five “Murph” titles up in newspaper, shoved them in a box and shipped them off at some cost ($55 if I remember right). In a couple weeks, I received an email from Will saying they had arrived safe and sound and that he was also enjoying the newspaper articles I’d use to wrap the books.

That was December, 2013.

Twelve months later, on Dec. 20, 2014, I’m pumping gas and my phone chimes. Shunning all risks for using your electronic device around gas fumes, I answer it.

The six titles in The Asphalt Warrior series by Gary Reilly. Five more to go. And another dozen or so novels to publish beyond this series.

The six titles in The Asphalt Warrior series by Gary Reilly. Five more to go. And another dozen or so novels to publish beyond this series.

A friend of mine is going nuts. “Gary Reilly…NPR…right now…they are talking about Gary Reilly…

Later, I listened to the whole piece (transcript and audio here) and there was Will Grozier singing the praises of my late writer pal and mentor, Gary Reilly, on National Public Radio.

“Huge fun,” said Grozier of the series, citing the books as his favorite fiction reads of the year before mentioning a long list of other books.

So what happened?

First, we got emails from all over. A dedicated book reader and book reviewer from Michigan named Tim Bazzett (a guy who has written books about the books he has read) did some digging on Gary Reilly, having heard the NPR piece, and asked for Gary’s Vietnam novel, The Enlisted Men’s Club. A few days later, Bazzett had consumed the book and wrote one of the best, and most insightful, reviews to date.

Sales went nuts.

In fact, the publishing company we work with in Boulder emailed a few days later to say Amazon had ordered 165 copies of the first title. We needed to hit the "reprint" button; we were running out.

I’d like to think that Gary has a whole new legion of fans being built based on that first book. I know  readers of The Asphalt Warrior (Book #1) will recognize they have their hands on a one-of-a-kind writer with a unique and engaging style.

In thanking Will Grozier (via Twitter) he asked if he could read the new Gary Reilly titles that had been published (The Enlisted Men’s Club and Murph #6, Dark Night of the Soul) since we first set him the shipment.

Of course, I happily obliged.

It was a long shot. It was a random radio-publicist-Twitter-email connection.

Cheers to cab drivers, book lovers, book reviewers, National Public Radio, Scott Simon, Will Grozier and readers everywhere.

##

To Blog or Not to Blog? Good question!

By Patricia Stoltey

HorsetoothRes2000_text_smallI’m sure you know there are tons of blogs out there on every imaginable topic. You’ve also probably heard those little rumors floating around that “blogging is dead,” or “blogging does not sell books,” or even “blogging is a total waste of time because you should be writing.”

If you already have a blog, your frustration may reinforce those rumors because your stats are in the toilet. You don’t get visitors, or they come but they won’t leave comments.

On the other hand, you may have heard that agents and publishers aren’t remotely interested in writers who don’t have an online platform. That usually means a website, a blog, and at least a couple of social media sites such as Twitter and Goodreads.

I don’t know if any of that is true.

What I do know is that blogging can be useful. It can be time-consuming. It can be frustrating. And it can be lots of fun. Let’s deal with my truths one at a time.

Blogging can be useful

1. Link to your blog and have it display on your Goodreads author page. Readers who follow you can comment on your post without leaving the site.

What did you say? You have a book out but you don’t have an author page on Goodreads? I’d highly recommend you remedy that situation as soon as possible.

2. Keep information current so friends and readers know about your new cover art or book release. You are more likely to regularly update a blog than a website.

3. Attract readers to your blog with reader-friendly content. Share anecdotes about your life with humor and photographs to attract potential readers.

Blogging can be time consuming

1. While I admire the bloggers who post long essays/articles seven days a week, I don’t think that’s the best approach for someone whose primary purpose is writing fiction. Limit the number of days you will add content to the blog, but post at least weekly.

2. Keep blog posts reasonably short or well divided into categories so readers can pick and choose what they want to read and respond to. No one has time to waste.

3. Schedule certain times of the day to read other blogs and leave comments.

Oops! I hear the screeching sound of potential bloggers slamming on their brakes. But if you want bloggers (and bloggers are readers, too, you know) to visit your blog and leave comments, you have to get yourself out there and make friends.

4. Make it easy for readers to subscribe to your posts via email. Give readers a way to search for specific topics. There are widgets for these and many other functions.

Blogging can be frustrating

1. Be patient. Be persistent. Because one day your pre-scheduled post won’t publish. The next day, you can’t open the site at all. Suddenly readers are unable to post comments. Or the blogger god makes major changes on the site and you can’t find the buttons for bold or italics or even to pre-schedule.

2. Look at blogging as you would look at any amazing technical marvel that is constantly being upgraded (and didn’t quite get all the bugs worked out before its release).

Blogging can be lots of fun

1. Make a whole bunch of good efriends through blogging. They help spread the word about cover reveals and release dates. Blogger friends post news and host authors as their guest bloggers, conduct interviews, and sometimes review books.

2. Host other authors on your site. They bring their fans to your blog.

3. Participate in blog challenges and blog hops related to your genre. Lots of book bloggers host these kinds of activities, and the people who follow book bloggers are readers.

A2Z-BADGE-0002015-LifeisGood-230_zps660c38a0One of the very best blog challenges takes place every April. It’s called the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge—participants post 26 days (rarely on Sundays) and title their posts, with or without a theme) to coincide with that day’s letter of the alphabet. Signups are happening now at the challenge website/blog and that’s where you can get all the information and register. Total participants have numbered well over 1,000 in past years. That’s a lot of econnections you can make in a month.

So after all that, is the biggest question on your mind, “Does blogging sell books?”

Wrong question!

The right question: Does blogging reach people who read books?

It sure does if you create good content, make blogger friends and help each other, promote your posts, engage with those who leave comments, and make sure your blog reaches the non-writing readers who look to Goodreads and book bloggers for the books to add to their “Want to Read” lists.

If you have questions about your blog or would like feedback, leave the link in your comment.

You Need Critique

By Lesley L. Smith

Photo by Patricia Stoltey

Photo by Patricia Stoltey

There's a stereotype of the writer hammering away on her typewriter late into the night in a cold lonely garret in Paris. Okay, nowadays, she's stereotypically hammering on her computer keyboard. Maybe she's wearing those gloves with the fingertips missing. Maybe she's drinking bourbon or scotch or rye. In pretty much every scenario, however, she's writing alone. That part of the stereotype is true. (Why can't it be the Paris part?) Generally, writers write alone. That's why we need feedback. We need someone else to put his or her eyes on the page and tell us if what we've written makes sense (and to warn us about wandering body parts). Another word for feedback is critique.

Like many of you, I've been writing a long time. It wasn't until I became a member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers (RMFW) and joined a critique group that my writing really started to improve. It's hard to see our own work objectively. Getting input from your significant other, your BFF, or your mom is not the same thing as getting input from another writer. Your friends support you by saying nice things. Your fellow writers support you by critiquing your work.

There are many reasons to join a critique group:

  • Get feedback on your writing. Find out what works and what doesn't work in your own pieces. Learn about the mechanics of writing. Learn about the art of writing.
  • Get to know other writers. Be part of the writing community. Help other writers become better writers.
  • Experience those "Ah ha!" moments. When you have to stop and think and explain to another writer why something works or doesn't work it often leads to an increased understanding about writing.
  • Meet writing deadlines. If I'm being honest, usually the only reason I finish my pages for the week is because they're due at critique group.
  • Your reason here. There are almost as many reasons to go to critique group as there are writers. Please share in the comments.

Of course, it's not all wine and roses. Sometimes you go to a critique group and it's not a good fit. But, if this is the case, there's an easy fix: leave the group and find another group.

Another thing to keep is mind is you don't have to change your work because of critique, it's your work, after all. Listen, consider, and then, do what you want.

How can you find this wonderful thing called critique?

  • Many local libraries and bookstores have critique groups.
  • There are a lot of critique groups online these days (search for "online writers critique groups"). Also check out Meet-ups.
  • I've met critique partners at local writers workshops and conferences.
  • Many local Writers Groups have critique groups. For example, RMFW has an entire critique webpage, including critique guidelines and listings of critique groups in the Denver metro area and online.

Please ask your questions about critique and critique groups in the comments.

Finally, I couldn't write a post about critique without including a shout-out to my many critique partners over the years. There have been a lot--and, no, I'm not reading anything into that. :) Thank you for all your help! Thank you Rebecca, Grayson, Jamie, Adrianne, Donna, John, Jim, Mary, Emily, Deb, Mike, Susan, Joseph, Monica, Barb, Nancy, Judy, Zuzana, Jill, Jordan, Dave, Betsy, Renata, Georgia and all the rest. I sincerely appreciate your help, support and insight! Maybe we should have our next meeting in Paris?

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Lesley L. Smith has an M.F.A. in Writing Popular Fiction, and her short
fiction has been published in various venues. She's an active member of
the Science Fiction/Fantasy Writers of America and Rocky Mountain Fiction
Writers. You can find her on the web at www.lesleylsmith.com.

Is It Worth It?

By Lisa Brown Roberts

Lisa Brown RobertsLast fall, I participated on the RMFW First Sale Panel. We had a great time talking about our books, and taking questions from the audience. One question has stuck with me ever since. Someone asked, “Is it worth it?” Essentially, all the blood, sweat, and tears getting to this point of publication- is it really worth it?

My response was, if you can walk away and not miss writing, then it’s probably not worth it. But if you can’t stop writing, if this is your calling, your obsession, your neurosis and your passion, then, yes it’s worth it.

Now that I’ve gone through intense rounds of editing with an amazing editor who pushed me as an author, now that my book is “real,” now that early reviews are trickling in, now that I’ve nearly drowned in promo and marketing tasks, now that I’ve spent days feeling like I’m either going to puke and/or that I’m floating on clouds.

Yeah, it’s worth it.

Even though I got my first one-star review (maybe more, by the time you read this). Even though lots of people want free books and don’t quite understand why I can’t oblige. Even though a creeper somehow tracked down my day job phone number and called me at work to say we apparently had a lot in common, based on my social media presence.

Yeah, it’s worth it.

Roberts_How to FallBecause here’s the most amazing thing I’ve learned over this last year and a half from contract to book on the shelf: There is an amazing tribe of supporters out there. I knew this in part because of my fantastic SCBWI critique group. But then I met more of this tribe when I branched out from SCBWI to also join RWA and RMFW. Then I found even more of the tribe at my publisher and agency, and online. People I’ve never met in person have been some of the kindest and most supportive.

When I have bad days or freak-out panic attacks or “my books stink and should never be published” phobia…all of those typical neurotic writer issues…I’ve been tremendously grateful to know that support (and maybe a glass of wine) is just an email or tweet or phone call away.

Yeah, it’s worth it.

Because the main reason I write, to connect with readers, to touch them emotionally, that’s finally happening. And when a blogger reached out to say how much she loved my book and fell in love with my characters, and that she’d be posting a great review? That made it all worthwhile.

I always told myself that if my book resonated with just one stranger, someone not obligated by familial or friendship ties to say they liked it, that I’d know I’d done my job, and that it would all be worth it. I’m sure my publisher is hoping my book connects with more than one reader (as do I), but from the perspective of outside validation that the story “worked,” of empowerment to keep writing, I’m learning that yes, it’s worth it in ways I only imagined before getting to this point.

None of my worries and doubts have decreased by getting published; in fact, I have new ones. Three years for neurotic writers! (A big tribe, that one…)

But for every anxiety about this whole journey that I confess in whispers to writing friends, I receive sympathy, commiseration, and encouragement times one-hundredfold.

So to the gentleman who asked that question last fall, I stick by my answer. If you can’t walk away from writing, don’t. I promise you, it’s worth it.

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Lisa’s debut novel, How (not) to Fall in Love, releases from Entangled Teen on February 3, 2015. She’s having a book signing and launch celebration at Hampden Hall/Englewood Library on Saturday, February 7th at 4:00 and would love to see you there.

Lisa Brown Roberts still hasn’t recovered from the teenage trauma of nearly tweezing off both of her eyebrows and having to pencil them in for an entire school year. This and other angst-filled memories inspire her to write and read YA books about navigating life's painful and funny dramas, and falling in love along the way. Catch up with Lisa at lisabrownroberts.com, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Goodreads, and Instagram.

Do You Need To Warm-Up Your Writing?

By Colleen Oakes

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The other day I was trying to explain to someone why I can't write for just two hours.  In two hours, I can do a lot of things. I can clean a house, take my toddler to the park, watch a movie. But I can't write.  Sure, I can put words on a page, but I know in my heart that they will be tired words, useless words.  At the very most, my hope would be to accomplish two pages of barren junk with a pretty good ending.

It took me a long time to realize how I write, and even longer to realize that I need to warm up. At first I regarded having to warm up as a weakness, but later came to the understanding that knowing intimately EXACTLY how I write was a strength. Denying what makes you great as a writer will hurt your career more than it will ever hurt your pride.

So - what exactly is warming up for a writer?

I could use a sports metaphor here, but I'm not going to.  To quote Mindy Kaling: "Athletics and sporting are the great non-loves of my life."  Instead, let's compare it to vocal music.  When a musician prepares to give the world her contribution to the wild beauty of art, she warms up.  A Met lead soprano wouldn't dare step on a stage without warming up her instrument.  If she did, her performance would be sub-par vocally, but also her nerves would overtake her senses more easily, seeing how she had not run the piece ahead of time.  More devastatingly, the joy of the performance would be lowered, for both the singer and the audience. The art would suffer in the end.

So - let's have a frank conversation - are you as a writer struggling because of your lack of warm up?

Do you spend a lot of time staring a blank screen, grasping at lose concepts? 

Do you struggle with finding the right word for complicated sentences? 

Are you spending massive time distracted by the internet or "research?"

Do you spend more time planning your plot than actually writing?

Does your writing tend to be rambling with short bursts of inspiration? 

If these apply to you, then I would think about how you warm up your instrument: your pen. Or keyboard. Or blackboard. Or whatever.

First, remember that you are starting on the ground level. You are ramping up to greatness.  Let your words RISE, like yeasty bread in the morning.  Warm-up writing should be simple, clean and easy.  You won't get stuck on a warm-up because it's impossible. Think of it as laying the road that you will later travel on.  Write a blog, an entry in a personal journal or a letter, heck, even an email to a friend.  What matters is that you are turning on the part of your brain that says "it's time to write."  By doing this, you push open your creative doors and prepare to stroll through them.  And don't worry about quality  -you'll face the hurdles later when you are working on your real writing.  Right now is all about enjoyable, brainless writing.   Fire up the engines, stoke those inspirational flames and go.

How long should you warm up?  I would say that depends on what kind of writer you are. I warm up for about an hour before I begin working on my novels.  I have found that my best writing occurs when I have about a five hour writing stretch. Anything less than that is not within my peak writing abilities, and anything more than that starts to get messy and tired - I see it when I edit, every time. "Oh yes, here is where I timed out."  Everyone writes different, and so you should be able to tell when you are sufficiently warmed up.  Maybe five minutes works for you, maybe two hours of warming up is what you need to have two brilliant hours of word craft.  Are the sentences flying fast and furious? Is your brain tingling with great ideas, story concepts? Are your fingers dashing out words like they are moving on their own.

Good. Now you are in the good writing zone. You've warmed up your writing voice and you are ready to share your gift.  Step out on the stage and wow us.

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Colleen Oakes is the author of books for both teens and adults, including The Bestselling Elly in Bloom Series, The Queen of Hearts Saga (Harper Collins 2016) and The Wendy Darling Saga. She lives in North Denver with her husband and son and surrounds herself with the most lovely family and friends imaginable. When not writing or plotting new books, Colleen can be found swimming, traveling, blogging, decluttering or totally immersing herself in nerdy pop culture. She currently at work on the final Elly novel and her next YA fantasy series.