Monday, 30 November 2015

Weekly Update: November 22 to 28

Weekly word count: 0
Editing countdown: 23 of 23 chapters done

The chapter by chapter editing is done but I still have some search and destroy scans to run on words which the editor identified as overused.  Then I also have some polishing work to do.  I've got until December 9th to get the draft in to the editor for line edits.

It's gratifying to be one step closer to having Metamorphosis ready for release.

Once I've got the final run-throughs done, I can send the Advanced Reading Copies out to the bloggers who've agreed to do early reviews.

I've been doing a lot of thinking about promotion strategies.  Initially, I'd been thinking of doing a book blitz with Xpresso Book Tours and another one with Pub-Craft, which does promotional work with various romance authors.  The question is whether or not to do both promotions for Metamorphosis or do one for Revelations and one for Metamorphosis.  I've heard different theories.  Some say it's best to continue focusing on the first book of the series, since that's where most people will want to start.  Others say it's best to promote all the different books to try and cast as wide a net as possible.

I've entered Revelations in some contests, and I think that's probably a good strategy for now.  But I need to do some thinking on other options.  There's only so much time and money I'll have to spend on promotion, so I need to try and be effective with it.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Taking Criticism

No one likes criticism.  Especially when it's directed at something they've worked long and hard on.

But criticism is essential for finding errors and oversights.  So the question becomes: how to accept criticism and distinguish the good from the bad.

First and most important, make sure the criticism comes from a trusted source.  A random review on Amazon shouldn't hold as much weight as an editor's comments or a critique partner's suggestions.

Personally, when I send out my draft to beta readers or my editor, I like to receive the initial criticism through email or as comments within the document.  That gives me time to go through it and get past my original emotional reaction.  Once I've gotten past the instinctive stage of "But that's not what I meant!" then I can settle down and start figuring out which issues I agree with and which I don't.  The fact that I can do that in private helps me to maintain a professional manner.  In person, it's too easy to slip into being defensive.

With my first novel, the developmental edit had 30 pages of notes as well as over 400 individual comments within the manuscript.  That's a lot of material to go through and while I agreed with a great deal of it (after some thought), there was also a large amount which I didn't agree with and some where I had a hard time understanding what was being identified as a problem. 

I sat down with another author and complained.  Here I'd spent all this money and it looked like they hadn't read the draft carefully.  After all, they were saying I hadn't explained certain things but I had.  That's when I received some of the best advice I've ever gotten about criticism: Forget the details and focus on the gist.

In other words, there is usually some truth at the root of all criticism.  If they say the relationship between the hero and heroine seems artificial and false, then that doesn't necessarily mean it's unsalvageable.  It may mean that some more depth needs to be added to the characters' point of view, showing us the internal emotions.  The problem may not be with the relationship but with the way the characters are shown.

Finding where the actual problem is can be a challenge and sometimes it takes multiple perspectives to figure it out.  If one criticism complains that the plot feels rushed, another that the ending feels unsatisfying and another that readers are lost trying to figure out what's going on, then those all point to pacing problems.

It's not easy to find the answers and in the end, I believe an author needs to respect his or her own instincts, even if it disagrees with the critique.  But it's also important not to dismiss anything out of hand.  Ignoring any suggestion or concern needs to be a deliberate and conscious decision.

Criticism is difficult but necessary, like rough sandpaper which polishes stone or wood into a glossy shine.  It may be abrasive, but your story won't gleam without it.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Weekly Update: November 15 to 21

Weekly word count: 900 words
Editing countdown: 19 out of 23 chapters (3 this week)

I'm getting close to the finish line, with two weeks left to go before Metamorphosis is due for line edits.  I've started sending out inquiries to see if bloggers are interested in doing a ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) review. 

I've got four chapters left to edit and my plan is to push myself this week to get them done.  That will give me a week to do a final read-through and polish.  Then I'll need to do a mock-up of the final print copy to let Streetlight Graphics know the page count for the print cover design.  I have to get my ISBNs and decide on my front and back material.

One issue I've been going back and forth on is whether or not to include a one or two page summary of Revelations.  I think I've done a good job of making Metamorphosis a stand-alone novel but I know some readers like to have a brief reminder.  Personally, I usually end up skipping over them but I know people who like them.

I've had people ask why it takes so long between finishing the draft and releasing the published manuscript.  After all, the ARC copy will be substantially the same as the final release.  But the line edit and the final polish review will catch the little mistakes which make a story appear unprofessional.  And they both take time and independent attention.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Case Study: The Power of Words

The stories we tell ourselves define our lives.  It's the context which makes people into villains or heroes.  It's also how we come to terms with the horrible things which happen to us.

Last week's attack in Paris was another reminder of how pain, righteousness and hopelessness can combine into a lethal mix.  No matter how many attacks we see and hear about, there is still something unfathomable about each one.  We understand the psychology, the politics, all the parts that make up the triggers, but we can't emotionally grasp that someone made the decision to hurt other people. 

That's a good thing, by the way, we're not supposed to be in that same headspace.

It may show my geek-flag colours, but my immediate thoughts went to JMS's Amazing Spider-man, number 36, which was written on September 12, 2001.  He released the book to the public a year later because what he wrote echoed with so many people that the actual issue is almost impossible to find.  (I have one, locked safely away in a fire-proof box and I don't care how weird that makes me.)  I highly recommend taking a look because my synopsis pales before the original.

The story goes that when Marvel writers assembled after 9/11, they were shaken and unsure what to do.  The Marvel universe is set in New York.  How could they have superheroes in a city where planes brought down buildings?  Should they just ignore it and pretend it never happened?

In walked JMS, noted screenwriter and wordsmith, who had recently taken over the Spider-man series.  He listened carefully to what the writers were talking about and then asked everyone to hold off making any decisions for the next hour.  He walked into his office and came back in forty-five minutes with one of the most moving scripts ever to come out of any comic book publisher.  One that makes me cry *every* *single* *time* I pick it up but still leaves me inspired.

He told the story of superheroes who were just as shocked and horrified and helpless as everyone else.  He told the story of their guilt at failing and their awe of the ordinary men and women who became real heroes that day.  The art shows the Marvel heroes working alongside the rescue crews, but as moving as those images are, it's the words which make the difference.

A frequent theme in JMS's work is that we, as a society and as individuals, can rise above the horrible things which happen to us.  That it is possible to fight the darkness and not be corrupted, although it is difficult.

His compassion in this case was astounding.  He rejects the opinions of those who said it was deserved (from all sides).  He acknowledges the anger and the terror and then he turns it around: asking, what do I tell my children.

Very simply: we tell them we are sorry that this is the world we have to offer.  That it can be better.  That it should be better.  And that the hatred of this day does not negate all the love which supports and protects them.

He does not suggest ignoring or forgiving the attacks but also doesn't scream for vengeance.  "That future must be built free of acts such as these, must be fought for and renewed like fresh water."  He reminds us that "the fire of the human spirit cannot be quenched by bomb blasts or body counts."  He proposes that we build "a world which will not require apologies to children, but also a world whose roads are not paved with the husks of their inalienable rights."

I could write for hours about the beauty of his words, the simplicity of the choices he makes, which allows each statement to ring clear and true, building a symphony of grief and hope.  Neither side is overshadowed, both are acknowledged, which is incredibly difficult to do.

His words built a shield, a narrative where devastation didn't have to be the end of the story.  That's the kind of writing I aspire to. 

Monday, 16 November 2015

Weekly Update: Nov 8 to 14

Weekly word count: 3500
Editing countdown: 16 out of 23 (3 chapters done this week)

I got a major writing boost when my son got into a 3 hour workshop.  That gave me 2 hours and 45 minutes of writing time on the Sunday.  2400 words done.  Then I got another opportunity later in the week and thrummed out another thousand.  Feeling pretty good about that and really liking how Inquisition is shaping up.

I was also surprised to discover how many people I know also know someone who works in corrections.  I had posted that I was having a hard time finding research material for contemporary American men's prisons.  The library has a half-dozen books on prisons in the 30's, 40's and 50's as well as few biographies on women's prisons and juvenile facilities.  But I've only managed to find one book on men's prison.

Shows are another research option for me although I don't like to rely on them.  But there can be some good information.  There used to be a bunch of prison reality shows on A&E, if I remember correctly, but they seem to have been replaced with Duck Dynasty and Storage Wars.

Luckily, my friends are coming to the rescue and offering to put me in touch with people who are currently working as corrections officers.  That should definitely help.

Next I need to see if I know anyone who also knows a professional magician who does sleight of hand.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Proud to Honour Those Who Serve

I come from a military family.  Almost everyone on both sides has served in the Canadian Armed Forces in various ways.  So I'll admit, I probably have a bit of a bias here.

I've had many arguments with friends who take a pacifist view: that if there were no soldiers, there would be no war.  I respectfully disagree.

Worldwide violence has decreased over the centuries and tolerance of violence has also decreased.  It is no longer acceptable to hit another person to show them who is boss or to buy and sell people as so much property.  We no longer shrug off stories of genocide and terror because they do not directly affect us.  We've made great strides and should be proud of the changes we've wrought.

But there will always be those who seek to frighten or bully others.  Sometimes those people gain power, because it is seductive to blame others for problems and feel powerful.

We will always need warriors to protect those who cannot protect themselves.

Warriors stand strong and tell those behind them that they don't need to fear.

Warriors sometimes take grievous injuries in both mind and body but often still seek to stand against the darkness.

Warriors use their strength not as a source of power over others, but as an umbrella to shelter.

Warriors deserve to be honoured and their sacrifices remembered.

I'm proud to be part of a warrior tradition.  And I always will be.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Weekly Update: Nov 1 to 7

Weekly word count: 0
Editing countdown: 12 of 23 chapters done (2 this week)

Okay, last week was a write-off, in the non-productive sense of the term.  Between Hallowe'en candy sugar crashes and a root canal, I was not in a productive headspace.  This week will hopefully go better.

This is one of those moments where it's very easy to become discouraged and convince myself that I'm crazy to think I can balance writing, the business of being an author and all the other things I have in my life.  (The craziness is undisputed but that doesn't mean I can't do it.)

So I'm reminding myself not to panic and try to rush through this week.  Rushing leads to mistakes and invariably takes longer.  I need to proceed at a steady, maintainable level.  I'm not behind and I'm not in crisis.  This is one of life's regular bumps and so I need to put it in my rearview mirror and concentrate on the road ahead.

I have a month to go before my deadline and I'm past the half-way mark.  That's not a bad place to be.  And if I look back, I did manage to accomplish a fair amount.  I got my books ordered and sent to the RITA contest for Romance Writers of America.  I got the next round of paperwork moving for my IRS challenges.  I ordered a Square so that come the next convention, I can accept credit card payments.  And I spent several hours working out a potential plot problem for Metamorphosis.

It's not everything I hoped to do, but it's nothing to sneer at.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Writing Business: Getting Creative Professionally

To be clear, I don't mean getting creative with anything which leaves the government or local law enforcement annoyed.  Instead I mean the eternal juggling act of balancing time, money and other commitments with the creative impulse and business necessity.

Whew, it's exhausting just to write out.

This is something which kept coming up at Can-Con: finding the time to write, finding the time and money to promote and the intimidation of dealing with dozens of potential independent contractors.  So I decided to put my two cents out there.

First and most important rule: Write Your Book.  Or Draw Your Picture.  Or whatever else gets you going creatively.  No matter how brilliant your business plan, it means nothing without actual product to put out there.

I've got a full time job and a household with kids to run.  I've had to teach myself to write in the cracks of my life.  Kids have a swimming lesson?  Score!  Forty five minutes of writing time if I pack along my laptop and plot book (a photo album with my ever expanding mass of index cards).  One trick I've learned is to spend the last five minutes of each session writing out notes for where I want to go next in a scene.  That way when I next get to write, I can get right back into it.

Another trick is to pawn off whatever work you possibly can.  I get a cleaning service in to deal with the major housekeeping issues (wash the floors, clean the bathrooms).  I know authors who trade work with other moms (one does the cleaning, the other cooks meals for both families).  And there's always the classic option of roping your spouse and kids into doing more work.  Figure out what someone else can handle to give you time to write.

Final advice on writing: figure out what environment and tricks work best for you to get creative.  If I have my music and an outline, I can do a thousand words in under an hour.  If I'm trying to write where people will be interrupting and bumping into me, not going to happen.  For some people, they need quiet.  For others, they need noise and interaction.

Next rule: Promote!  Promote!  Promote!  Books sell by word of mouth, so your job as an author is to start as many word of mouth chains as you possibly can.  Some will fizzle out but you never know when one will take off.

Set your budget for promotion.  Don't plan to make back your money in sales every time.  Odds are good that you won't be able to recover costs, particularly in the first few years.  But that doesn't matter, because you're creating your platform to grow your business.  Figure out what you can afford both in time and in money.  There are a lot of services which will help you promote in exchange for a fee and there are a lot of free services which will cost you time.  Free services tend to be saturated, requiring a lot more effort to be noticed.  Paid services can get expensive in a hurry and results are never guaranteed.

I chose to join KDP Select through Amazon, even though it meant I couldn't submit my book to Kobo, Apple or Barnes and Noble to take advantage of those marketplaces.  I did it deliberately because Amazon offered promotional opportunities in exchange for exclusivity.  My book in front of more eyes was worth the potential loss of income.  I'm hoping to reach a point where my sales are sustainable even without Amazon's support, but that's probably several years off at this point.

I also do a lot of blog visits and posts.  I have a number of blogs where I'm friendly with the person who runs it and some of them are starting to have quite the following.  By being available, polite and professional, I've built up a relationship where they're willing to give me better placement and support when possible.

Final bit of advice for promotion: Plan for a marathon.  The work never really ends so don't burn yourself out trying to do everything. 

The last key issue of intimidation is choosing the team who will work with you: editors, cover designers, beta readers, tour managers, promotional team, and distribution, to name a few.  There are lots of people out there with slick sites but maybe not much experience and there are also some real gems.

I found recommendations through my writer's group (thanks ORWA) and I'm pleased to say I've rarely found myself in a position of wasting my money on a service I didn't like.  I probably could have found the same services cheaper, but I knew the people I was dealing with were reliable and professional.  I didn't have to spend weeks and months searching and researching, which left me more time to write.

No matter whether you traditionally publish or go independent, you are still working with a giant corporation when it comes to getting your book out there.  Amazon wants to make money, not nurture the dreams of every author who submits a book.  Ditto for the traditional big six.  Know what you're getting into with every contract and read the fine print.

It's scary from the outside but it's not something you have to master instantly.  There's time to figure things out and figure out what works for you.  Some people will be able to publish quality work rapidly, others will have to plan for a longer term approach.  Some people have time and money for lots of promotion, others will have to choose to focus on one or the other.

Figure out what works best for you and you'll be surprised at how quickly the barriers between you and your dreams come tumbling down.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Weekly Update: October 25 to 31: Photos of Can-Con

Weekly word count: 1100
Editing countdown: 10 chapters out of 23 (3 last week), deadline December 9th

I was relatively pleased at myself for managing to make my editing goal.  I'm still falling short on my weekly word count goals, but hopefully I can improve that soon.

This weekend was Can-Con and I had a fantastic time.  A big shoutout and thank you to the organizers, Derek and Marie, for putting together a great conference.  It was my first time having a vendor table at a big multi-day event and I think it went great.  I sold out of almost my entire stock.  I only came home with one book.

But the real fun came with the people I met.  Unfortunately, I always think of getting photos after the fact!  So I want to give a shout out to my neighbours, Tyche Books and the Ottawa Browncoats.  Tyche had Pat Flewwelling and Lisa Toohey at their table and those ladies were a hoot.  We had a lot of fun luring people to our tables with free candy.

And it was a real pleasure hanging out with my fellow ORWAns and tablemates, Eve Langlais and S.M. McEachern.

Nathan Bourgoine and I got to share some funny comments and tweets at the Police Procedural workshop.  He's a hilarious guy and I loved his Where's Waldo costume.  And I met my first fan, a reader who picked up my book in June and wanted to tell me how much she enjoyed it.  It made my day!
I enjoyed being part of panels for Portrayals of Autism in Popular Fiction, sharing my favourite authors on the Romance Readers Panel and talking about my publishing journey in New Revenue for Self-Published Authors.
And one lucky person who stopped by our table will be winning a free set of ebooks.  I can't wait to find out who.
I can't say enough about what a great time I had and I'm looking forward to coming back next year.