Checking the Competition

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I’m on my way back from the Coastal Magic Convention (CMC), where a terrific time was had by all. Kudos to Jennifer Morris, who always manages to efficiently organize so many fun events and informative panels. Plus the Day of the Dead party was awesome!

CMC is a small convention of ~300 people. The size allows for readers and book bloggers to mingle extensively with authors. With five to six authors per panel, there can be a bit of jockeying for who gets to talk next. Mostly people are gracious and generous with each other, though occasionally there can be that author who’s oblivious or tone deaf, and attempts to monopolize the audience’s attention.

(There are also fab people like Megan Hart, in the photo above, cringing as I read aloud one of her sex scenes - fair pay back as she'd just read one of mine.)

I firmly believe that a high tide floats all boats. More books out there means more for readers to find and love. Anytime someone chooses to read instead of any of the number of competing entertainments out there, I’m happy.

But I also understand not everyone feels this way. It’s a competitive business and it’s easy to see another author’s book sales, her awards or fans, as things we could have had that went to someone else.

And, hell, I’d be lying if I said I never feel envy or competitiveness. I’m human and a far from perfect one at that. (ARE there perfect human beings? I’m thinking no.) Still, I try to be aware that those feelings are negative emotions that stem from my own issues and insecurities.

Also, I know that writers in particular tend to have both very large and quite fragile egos. Like giant soap bubbles with lovely prismatic shimmers that dance across the surface as they expand, and grow, and—suddenly burst, leaving nothing but empty air behind.

Because, like those soap bubbles, our competitiveness and egotism are based on a lot of air and very little else.

The other day I saw a writer post to Facebook that she’s surprised when she goes to events and people don’t know who she is. I once introduced myself to a writer who was seated at my luncheon table and, when she didn’t give me her name in turn—she wasn’t wearing a nametag—and I asked what she wrote, she became very offended that I hadn’t known who she was. Once she said her name, I recognized her as a well-known writer, but I’d had no idea what she looked like.

Both of those reactions surprise me.

They remind me of something that happened quite a few years ago now, when Neil Gaiman accompanied Amanda Palmer to the Grammy Awards. If you don’t know, he’s a well-known writer and she’s a rock star. All things considered, he’s far better known in the world of readers and writers than she is in the music industry. Certainly he’s far wealthier. (I know this for sure because she said so in her brilliant book, THE ART OF ASKING.) The Grammys are far more her waters than his, however, and at the time they weren’t yet married. A photo was posted of them by a reporter captioned “Amanda Palmer and date.” They fixed it when a bunch of people sent up a flag, but it was a funny thing. Writers, by the nature of the business, are usually not all that recognizable and are rarely treated like rock stars.

At any rate, when I find myself feeling the spur of that particular demon, the “why didn’t they know who I am?” moment, or when another writer snubs me or pulls a superior/competitive attitude, I try to remind myself of a few things.

  • The only cure for jealousy is putting my head in my own work. Putting my energy into the writing is a surefire distraction.
  • No matter how it seems, we are not in competition with each other. This isn’t Highlander where there can be only one. There can be lots. And it’s more fun for all when there are.
  • We’re all driven by various demons and we usually don’t know what someone else’s are. When someone treats me badly, I try to imagine what makes them unhappy—and to have compassion for them.

What about you all? Any tricks for battling envy or for dealing with competitive attitudes from other authors?

How to Write a Bad Blog Post

12400505_857869911000270_4589180103762279694_nOn one of my other group blogs, I saw a guest post recently where the author wrote a couple of lackluster paragraphs that were basically an excuse to introduce her book cover and blurb. I started reading and immediately glazed over.

Needless to say, I never got to the cover or blurb.

There's lots of discussions among writers debating if blogging is "worth it." As in, does it raise the author's profile, gain readers, sell books, etc. Some say yes. Some say blogging is dead.

I contend that blog posts work when they're done well and are worthless when done poorly. So - even as I'm intensely aware that this very blog post could be considered flawed - I'm offering a list of common blogging sins I, and a few other people, have noticed.

I'd love to hear about any you think I missed!

Write a Post that's Thinly Disguised Book Promo

This is the one that set me off. If you're slapping a couple of intro paragraphs onto your buy links, just... don't. We can go to Amazon for that.

Write Walls of Text

You know what I mean. You click on the link and the solid onslaught of text is so intimidating that you simply close the window again. No one has time for that.

Expound on the Them of "All Writers Should..."

No, no, no. There are no one-solution-fits-all rules. Maybe it feels informative, but really you're just dispensing bad advice. People won't come back for that.

Dispense Advice You Clearly Don't Follow

One friend mentioned a prominent writer who frequently posts about the importance of editing - and then puts out books full of errors. People notice these things.

What else have you all noticed?

 

Scaling the TBR Pile

CVlmXGkXIAEUQg6.jpg largeI’ll be giving a workshop via Skype on building romantic tension and conflict for the Orlando Public Library. You can register here. I assume the event is designed for people to attend in person, but I'm not positive. If you have questions, though, ask them, not me. I just do what I’m told.

Recently I embarked on a project to deal with my vast pile - both physical and electronic - of books To Be Read (TBR). I hoped that if I could quantify what I had, it might help me sort what to read next and also provide a cautionary number to slow me from acquiring more books.

I put all the books - paper, digital and audio - into a spreadsheet, listed by format, reason to read and priority.

As of this writing, the list stands at 269 books, which is several down from the original 272, especially given that I added several more, two to read for the Nebula Awards, one that was a gift, and one I'd pre-ordered that was released.

It has been worth the effort! I did discover several duplicates between digital and print versions. Also, being able to sort by priority and reason to read has proved to be surprisingly handy. For example, I discovered I had Neil Gaiman's NEVERWHERE as both a digital copy and in audio from the radio production. I'd been on the fence about that book because I love Gaiman's work on the one hand, so I've been reading all of his stuff, but on the other, that story didn't sound all that compelling to me. So, having finished an audio book (I'm usually "reading" an audio book, an ebook and a paper book at any given time), I spotted the NEVERWHERE audio production. I figured it would move faster than the actual book and give me a taste of the story. Sure enough, it did - and I didn't love that whimsy. I listened to the show and feel like I know the story now.

Boom! Done.

I'm also trying to read works in time to nominate them for awards - hence the Nebula reading - so the spreadsheet helps there, too.

I'm excited and hopeful about scaling the TBR Mountain and whittling down some of the glaciated layers. How about you all? Does anyone else have great methods to stay on task with reading?

How to Write a Bestseller

016You ever notice that the people who teach how to write bestsellers are not actually writing them? I always wonder about this...

Anyway, as writers, we spend a fair amount of time contemplating, discussing and, yes, taking workshops on how to write bestselling books. We pretty much all want to have our books sell well, and that's the pinnacle. There's a lot of reasons to want that - money is always useful and we'd all love to have lots of readers. I suspect even the most Zen among us would dance a happy jig to hit the NYT Bestseller List.

One of the problems with thinking about writing a bestseller, however, is worrying about likability. Obviously, a bestselling book appeals to a great number of people. So, above and beyond our usual concern that we want our books to be loved and celebrated, we start thinking about getting All The People to love and celebrate our books.

Even though we know that's impossible.

This is on my mind because the novel I finished last week has a difficult heroine. Now, I often have flawed characters. That's part of who I am as a writer. And when I set out to write this book, the story appealed to me because the heroine is unusual and not terribly likable. Okay - she's a hot mess. She's damaged and, as a result, does some pretty awful things.

Predictably, one of my critique partners came back with notes that I was going to have a problem with likability. She cited several things that readers would object to, particularly romance readers.

I started fretting about it.

And reconsidering if I should change some things, haul it back.

The thing is - this IS the story I wanted to write. I knew going in that not all readers would love it, and yet I keep going back to the desire to modify it so they will. As if it's possible to find a way to please everyone.

I have a note pinned up next to my desk: "What would you write if you weren't afraid?" I should make it into a big poster. Because this is all about fear. Being afraid that readers will push back, that the book will fail, that I will fail and not in some tragically romantic starving-in-a-garret way, but in a with-a-whimper way.

And it's all nonsense.

Nobody knows how to write a bestseller. If there was a magic formula, wouldn't everyone be using it? Everyone is guessing and hoping. The best we can do is be true to the stories we want to write.

As long as we obey our feline overlords, we'll be just fine.

Do Appearances Matter?

Dark Secrets The anthology I'm in, DARK SECRETS: A PARANORMAL NOIR ANTHOLOGY, is out now! I'm super proud to hang between the covers with so many authors I admire. Plus it's just fascinating to read what everyone did with this crossover genre concept.

It seems there's been a number of scandals lately where writers posed as someone other than who they are, in order to up their chances of publication. There was the big bruhaha about the Best American Poetry collection, and the white guy who posed as Chinese to first get his poem published, which was then selected for this very high notice.

Then there's the gal who said she took her exact query letter, put a male name on it instead of her own, and received significantly more interest from agents, male and female. She referenced studies that indicate male job applicants are rated higher than female ones.

What really got me thinking about writing a post on this topic, was a study that only recently popped into my feed, that seems to indicate that female-named hurricanes result in more fatalities because people don't take them as seriously. When I shared that on social media, a number of people were annoyed and poked at it, but the assumptions and science look sound to me, without going back to original data.

But the point of all of this is, no matter how much we dislike the reality of it, that appearances matter.

How we appear - whether gender-wise or racially - affects how seriously other people treat the work we produce. A writing teacher (female) pointed out to me early in my career that it wasn't at all a bad thing that people mistake my name for a man's, much as it irritates me when they make that assumption. I think she was right. Maybe not that my writing has been taken more seriously, but the surprise at my very female appearance is significant when people meet me in person. More than one has said, "You're not a man!" Sometimes in a tone of betrayal and accusation.

Hey. Not my fault they assumed!

But what do you all think - do appearances matter? Has this ever happened to you? Ever been tempted to try the masquerade?

Choosing Cons to Attend – How Do You Decide?

Dark SecretsI'm sorry to be missing seeing and meeting everyone this week at Colorado Gold!

I'd planned to come up and at least sign on Friday night and meet Emily Keyes from my agency, as I have an out-of-town guest the rest of the weekend. However, I talked with Nina of Who Else Books while we were both at Bubonicon, and she talked me out of it.

It would have been a tight turnaround and it's probably better that I'm not trying to do it.

Still.

Everything in moderation, I know, but it can be difficult to decide which conferences and conventions to attend. I go to more than most authors I know. Partly I like to travel and am comfortable doing it. Also, I have a day job which helps fund going to conferences. And I believe that they're productive venues for me to connect with readers and network with other writers and industry professionals.

Sure - a lot of people get into ROI (return on investment) and obsess over whether the resulting sales from con appearances make up for the sometimes outrageous expense of going. I don't believe in ROI for this sort of thing. I think building human relationships creates potential and opportunities that can't be quantified.

Let me give you a relevant example.

When I was a newbie writer, I attended the RT Booklovers Convention for the first time in 2009, in Orlando. It had never occurred to me to go, because I figured it for a reader convention to meet *published* writers. Then an author - Linnea Sinclair - who was a member of my online RWA group, the Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal (FFP) special interest chapter posted that all us aspiring writers absolutely SHOULD go to RT, in order to network with already published authors, who could then know and help us.

Best advice ever!

At that convention, though I pitched my book to a bunch of people, I didn't sell it as a direct result. I did not sign with an agent, nor did I get a publishing deal. It goes without saying that I had no book sales to offset my expenses. But I *did* meet some amazing people. Some of whom are my friends to this day. Including the fabulous Cynthia Eden.

Cindy was already multipubbed and doing awesomely well at that point and, also a member of FFP, was really nice to me. We hung at a party and talked. She became a friend, advocate, and my go-to person for questions. Fast forward six years and, as a direct result of that friendship, which has otherwise enriched my life in so many ways, I get to be in this fantastic collection with Cindy and four other authors who are mind-blowingly good. DARK SECRETS: A PARANORMAL NOIR ANTHOLOGY comes out on September 29 and I'm effervescent with excitement. I mean, Megan Hart and Rachel Caine have written books that are in my top favorites of all time. Like, Cindy, Suzanne Johnson is a longtime friend from FFP and I've known Mina for years.

It's like my clubhouse girl-pack decided to put on a play and everyone just happens to be Judy Garland.

This is why I feel making author friends is ultimately unquantifiable. There's simple no way of knowing what will produce a return in the future - or what form it will take.

Thus, I'm sorry not to make it up to the Colorado Gold Conference. Who knows what might have resulted? But I wish all of you well. I hope you learn new things, make new friends, and return home inspired to create.

I'll be thinking of you!

*********************

DARK SECRETS: A PARANORMAL NOIR ANTHOLOGY.

Six award-winning authors bring you this spellbinding collection of stories about dark desires, mysterious worlds, and danger that lurks in the shadows of the night. Where nothing is black and white; where things might not be as they seem; where magic and mayhem rule.

Add DARK SECRETS to your TBR!
We are now on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/26135577-dark-secrets-a-paranormal-noir-anthology

Preorder here!

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Do You Type ‘The End’?

Master of the Opera Bundle High ResMASTER OF THE OPERA, my erotic retelling of The Phantom of the Opera set in modern day at the Santa Fe Opera House, originally published as a serial ebook, is now available in print! Exclusively from Books A Million for the time being. You can read a snippet from the book at That’s What I’m Talking About.

It's kind of funny to have a "release" like this, for a book that originally came out a year and a half ago, and that I finished writing long before that. I've written so many books and novellas since then, that it feels forever ago. In particular, I've written three more Twelve Kingdoms books, with the last two hitting 125K and 130K words. Even more distance from this serial novel I wrote in six parts.

All the same, finishing is finishing, and it always seems to carve a chunk out of me. I sometimes get asked in interviews how I celebrate finishing a book (answer: I don't, being done is joy enough! I guess I celebrate by not having to be writing it anymore). I know a lot of writers have a big ritual upon finishing. Some of them post to Facebook, etc., with a screenshot with a big

THE END

I have never done this. When I've questioned it, some writers say their editors expect it, so they know pages aren't missing. I guess I've always felt it should be obvious that it's the end and the story is done. So I'm curious - do you all type "The End"?

The Perils of Social Media

Under Contract by Jeffe KennedyBy Jeffe Kennedy

My newest sexy romance comes out July 13th! More information and preorder links here.

It's a funny thing, being an author and doing the whole social media thing to promote books. This counts - doing my monthly posts here at RMFW - talking about thoughts and my life. Occasionally mentioning a book release, as above.

But there's a pitfall to social media I never anticipated.

No, not the time-suck. Not the trolls or the haters. Though those are all real things. It's how doing this has affected my friendships.

The plus side is that I have a whole bunch of online relationships who seriously light up my life. Some of them I know in person, some I've met in person after meeting online. Others I've never met in real life (IRL). Then there's another set of people, IRL friends, some I've known for years - like my high school boyfriend - who I rarely see or talk to. But they keep up with me online.

This came to kind of a head for me over the weekend, when my old boyfriend made a snarky comment on Facebook about how I had been in Denver and it would have been nice if I'd mentioned to old friends who would've liked to see me. The thing was, I nearly had mentioned to him - my husband even suggested it - but I was feeling miffed. We'd had an email exchange, which I initiated, where I asked how he was because I hadn't heard from him in so long. I felt like he was terse with me, and then he didn't ask how I was.

So I was kind of hurt and didn't tell him I was in town.

When he made this snarky comment, I emailed again and explained - and we sorted it out. But he also said this to me:

I do care about you and what's going on in your life, but I feel like have a pretty good window into that, following all of your online breadcrumb trails.

Which, I can understand. Except I don't know about it! I suspect this happens with a quite a few of my old IRL friends. It's easy to find me online. When I do see them, I'm often surprised at how much they know about what I've been doing. Of course they do! And it's lovely that they keep tabs on me. It can be lonely-making for me, however, because I can't feel that they're out there.

Also, while I'm pretty forthcoming about myself online - after all, I started out as a writer of personal essays - I'm also pretty aware of my author brand. That is, I do present a particular face of myself on social media. It's an authentic face, but I don't share EVERYTHING. I don't think people should. The upshot is, if my friends follow my life online, they'll think that I'm happily rolling along. For the most part, that's true.

But, if I'm not, if something isn't going well in my life, I'm very unlikely to say so online.

I suppose the solution is to do what I did with my old boyfriend and be sure to reach out. Definitely more productive than sulking!

We'll be having brunch in a couple of weeks, when I pass through Denver again.

Why the Itsy Bitsy Spider Is a Bad Metaphor

By Jeffe KennedyThe Talon of the Hawk by Jeffe Kennedy

Now that summer is here, I start my mornings by watering the potted plants on the patio, which always sets the spiders scurrying away. I don't worry about them, because I know they'll come back to their webs and continue spinning and weaving. I do worry about the finches, who love to build their nests in the hanging baskets. I have to find spots to add water so I don't chill the eggs or drown the hatchlings.

Spiders, though, can take care of themselves pretty well.

But it puts me in mind of that old nursery rhyme, the Itsy Bitsy Spider.

The itsy bitsy spider climbed up the water spout.
Down came the rain and washed the spider out.
Out came the sun and dried up all the rain, and
The itsy bitsy spider climbed up the spout again.

It's a playful song, especially if you add the finger games to it. And it's apparently about fortitude and determination, not letting set-backs keep you down forever.

The thing is, however, it's not a useful metaphor in the end. A spider continues back up the spout mindlessly, by instinct. It has no memory of the rain or ability to conceptualize that it could be washed away again, over and over, even drown in the next deluge. The metaphor fails to take into account the devastating emotional impact of being literally or figuratively washed away.

Lest you all decide I'm overthinking a child's nursery rhyme, I want to point out that these things stick with us. Particularly if we don't examine them. My favorite religious studies professor in college said that most people never grow past a five-year-old's understanding of their religion. By that he meant that we learn the pretty, simple stories, internalize them and never return to ponder their import with the critical analysis and study of an adult mind.

The advice to simply get up again after failure, to just keep going or try, try again! can be more painful than helpful. Especially for creative types, coming back and continuing to offer our art to the world after rejection or failure is not a matter of mindlessly climbing back up the spout. It takes a tremendous effort to experience pain and walk towards it again.

It's not only about waiting for the sun to dry up the rain - it's about finding it in ourselves to overcome fear and be creative anyway.

Keep spinning and weaving, writer friends!

Coming to Terms with Book Reviews

Sexy Games by Jeffe KennedyBy Jeffe Kennedy

This is the cover for the Italian translation of my erotic romance, Going Under. I love it so hard.

A girl never forgets her first translation. :-)

A little known fact about me (I think) is that I spent many years studying martial arts - primarily Chinese internal styles. I still practice some of the arts on my own, but no longer study with a school. It was a valuable experience on many levels and most recently fun to play with as I created a martial system for my warrior heroine, Ursula, in my upcoming release (May 26), The Talon of the Hawk. The Talon of the Hawk by Jeffe KennedyWith Ursula on my mind - particularly as I'm starting the fourth book in that series - I've mulling over the metaphor of knife-throwing.

Yes, I learned how to throw knives as part of the training I did, including a shuriken, which I confess I keep on my desk and have a tendency to toy with on annoying conference calls. One thing my teacher said about knife-throwing is that it's important to learn to enjoy the moments you DON'T stick the knife in the target as much as the moments you DO.

Counter-intuitive, yes?

Now, my teacher got any number of things warped and wrong (don't get me started), but I think he had something there. A lesson I've yet to fully internalize. See, it's very easy to get focused on success. Learning to throw knives can be an exercise in frustration - all those times the knives miss the target, barely stick and fall away or, the worst, bang loudly and ignominiously flat before bouncing off. When you manage to get it right and *really* stick the point deep in the wood, it's... satisfying. Even thrilling.

But my teacher's point is along the lines of the journey being the valuable lesson, not the destination. Viewed that way, it's irrelevant whether the knife sticks, because it's the process of throwing that's important.

I think about this - especially lately - when one of my books gets a less than five-star review. And yes, I confess I'm one of THOSE people who see anything less than five-stars as not-quite-good enough. It's the grade that's not an A. It's the room for improvement. It's the knife that kinda sticks but then falls away.

A five-star review, in contrast, feels as thrilling as the perfect throw with the point buried solidly deep. Every time.

And yet... I *know* I shouldn't feel this way. In my heart I know that the reviews and ratings are just part of the destination, that it's the writing, the journey that truly matters. Most of the time this works for me - diverting myself back into the work, focusing on the writing and what it means to me, where it takes me. In fact, that this is on my mind at all right now is likely a product of having been between books for too long. I need to get Book 4 of The Twelve Kingdoms started. In a big way.

At any rate, I suppose this is my particular room for improvement. One of the many ways I need to grow and learn. I understand in my head that not everyone will LOVE my books, but I have a ways to travel to embrace the miss in my heart as much as the hit.

Time to throw some more knives.