Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Realistic Dialogue, Pt. 1

I’m not trying to say I’m da shizzle when it comes to writing dialog (yes, dialog is an acceptable spelling of dialogue). But I’ve been complimented enough on my realistic dialog that I decided it should be a blog post topic. I’ll cover this over several parts, because I couldn’t just sit down and pinpoint any one trick I use to accomplish what I do. It’s a natural part of my writing process.

One of the most common things I see when dialog goes wrong is it truly feels like the author never spoke the dialog aloud. They just wrote the dialog and that was it. How people talk and “book speaking” sometimes differ, but you can blend the two in a realistic way to accomplish what you want.

Here are a few of the starting points that we’ll build upon over the next few writing how-to posts. As with any writing “rules,” yes, there are exceptions. However, as with most writing rules, most newbie writers should not attempt to “break” the rules until they know how to do it properly FIRST.

1. Do not over-tag your dialog. Blend action, context, dialog tags, and narrative to balance.

2. Do not go heavy on the dialog and ignore action, narrative, etc. A section of all dialog is as boring as all narrative.

3. SPEAK your dialog. Do your characters really talk like that in real life? I’ve seen male characters in romance books say stuff I’ve never heard a man say in real life. Seriously. If you don’t believe me, have someone read your dialog back to you, out loud. If they don’t laugh their way through it, and you don’t rip the manuscript from their hands halfway through it, then you’re probably on the right track.

4. “Written” dialog might look right, but remember what you read and what is “real” can be two different beasts.

5. Use contractions. People speak, in real life, using contractions. Not using contractions in dialog, unless you do it deliberately for a specific purpose, makes the dialog sound VERY stilted, formal, and unnatural. Exceptions to this rule: using a formal (do not instead of don’t, for example) for emphasis; a character that doesn’t speak the native language fluently and speaks in a formal manner because of that. (I used this technique in Fierce Radiance, where my two male heroes, one alien and one human who’d lived with the alien for decades, speak very formal English, while the human heroine doesn’t. Also, flashbacks to the human male, before he came to live with the alien, his English is less formal then.)

6. Use character names in dialog sparingly. In real life, we don’t constantly say the name of the person we’re talking to. This is a common error used by writers to avoid using dialog tags, but the effect is the exact opposite—unnatural dialog.

7. Large swaths of unbroken dialog (or internal monologue) used as narrative/exposition should be avoided except in very specific cases: a character is recounting backstory necessary to the plot; a character is “monologuing” to other characters (think the villain in The Incredibles, or Alan Shore delivering a closing argument in an episode of Boston Legal).

8. Avoid lots of slang or dialect. Peppered SPARINGLY for effect is okay. Entire swaths (or worse, the whole book) written in a dialect is just…annoying. Many editors will auto-reject books written like this, or demand a rewrite out of the gate. I personally will not buy a book if I see overwritten dialect in the sample. For a good example of effective dialect use, read Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. She peppers just enough Scottish dialect into the dialog to give you the effect without being annoying.

9. Don’t substitute dialog for action tags/narrative. Having a character tell everyone else they’re going to do something is still telling, not showing. Yes, sometimes it’s okay to have a character do that, but you do NOT avoid the show versus tell problem by doing it that way, and unfortunately, I’ve seen too many newbie writers who think that’s an easy answer to the issue.

10. Do your characters all “sound” the same? People speak differently. Listen to the people around you, hear how they talk. Speech patterns vary based on where a person is from. “Proper” grammar in dialog can be thrown out the window. You can use fragments and improper speaking if that’s how your character talks. People do not talk like they graduated from Oxford, unless of course they graduated from Oxford. Someone who survived the school of hard knocks will talk differently than someone raised in a sheltered, pampered lifestyle. A teenager of today will talk differently than a teenager of twenty or thirty years ago.

11. Don't have characters spend a lot of time talking to themselves unless they're crazy. :) Use narrative to fill in the blanks.

12. Avoid semi-colons in dialect. If you need a semi-colon, you can almost always use a period in its place, or tweak the sentence to avoid it.

13. Use ellipses and em-dashes SPARINGLY. Not to mention properly. Ellipses (...) denote a trailing off of speech. (Bad thing for a romance Alpha hero to do a lot. Makes him sound weak.) Em-dashes denote interruptions. If your manuscript looks like Morse code, GET RID OF THEM. Usually, you can use a period instead of an ellipse or em-dash.

14. AVOID EXCLAMATION MARKS! If you've used them, chances are, you used too many of them. Remember, exclamation marks denote shouting or screaming or an exclamation. Context will usually show the emotion without needing to resort to using this crutch.

There are more, but those are the biggies I’ve personally seen abused the most. Over the next few posts, I’ll give you examples and fixes to help you give your dialog a realistic “sound.”

Friday, April 30, 2010

Bleeding red ink.

Being a writer means editing is a part of life. It boggles my mind when I hear newbie writers who haven't even been published, or who have only published one or two small articles or short-stories, whine about the editing process. Since I'm currently working on edits for two of my publishers, I thought it a prime time to address the issue of working on edits.

Let me write you a reality check: I have over twenty published titles to my credit thus far, most of them full-length novels. I am the FIRST person to welcome editorial input, even when my editors usually tell my my copy is fairly clean to start with. (That is the result of twenty-five years of work on my career, and lots of experience writing non-fiction on tight deadlines.)

No, it's usually not possible for a writer to catch ALL typos and mistakes in their manuscript. I am the first to admit I need more than one set of eyes going over my work. You will never catch me standing on a hill and screaming that no one should touch a word of my stuff, because that would mean I'm delusional. (If that ever happens, catch me and make sure I take my meds.)

But when someone gives you feedback, don't get all huffy and outraged. Even if some of the feedback can later be discounted, LOOK at it. The sign of a PROFESSIONAL writer is they approach edits...well, professionally. No, not all comments can or should be used. But if you have several people telling you something needs fixing, FIX IT!

I've had editors who were fantastic, and some not so much. And everywhere in between. No matter what, I put myself into professional writer mode when approaching edits. You have to.

No writer is perfect, and I am the Queen of Imperfection. Any writer who looks down their nose at critiques/edits without actually considering what's been said is doomed to fail in their career.

Yes, sometimes I've had editors tell me things that I stood my ground on, and I was proven right later. But there are plenty of times I've taken their advice, or used their advice as a starting point to make revisions. Use edits as a learning experience, not an adversarial encounter. I learn something from every edit.

For a newbie writer to start out slamming an editor without giving serious weight to their comments (I've heard this gripe too many times to count) is to be a writer not serious about their career. You don't get to be a diva until you put the time, effort, sweat, and sales figures into it. If you can draw in the readers and make your publisher money, only then can you even think about the diva card. (And even then, I STRONGLY recommend not going there. It's just plain tacky.)

Remember my earlier post: You are NOT a special snowflake, sunshine. Now shut up, go take your meds, and read your editor's comments instead of thinking you're the universe's gift to readers. Those of us who label ourselves professional writers won't show you a bit of sympathy.

Writing the book is the EASY part. Once you turn that puppy in, that's when the hard work--including editing--starts.

Happy Writing!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Beware the alien space bats!

Short one for you today. I've been sick, but didn't want you to think I died.

Sometimes writers use plot devices without realizing they're using them. This can produce results good and bad. Most writers are aware of the Deus ex machina plot device (or should be if you read this blog, because I covered it in a past post).

But have you heard of MacGuffins or Chekov's guns or...alien space bats?

As a writer, you should be aware of techniques like these. They can help or hamstring your plot. They can save or sink the story. If well-used, you look like a genius. If poorly applied, you look like a hack.

So before you get out your Chekov's gun to start blasting away at those alien space bats, make sure you know exactly what it is you're shooting.

Happy writing!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Taking Stock of Characters, Pt. 1

I'm currently reading "The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers" (3rd Ed.) by Christopher Vogler. I've heard of this book for years and just now finally got it so I could read it.

If you aren't familiar with it, he takes a lot of the work Joseph Campbell did on myth (such as in his book "The Hero With a Thousand Faces") and applied it to writing (fiction as well as movies).

If you consider yourself a serious, professional writer and don't have a clue who Joseph Campbell is, come here. *wiggling finger at you* No, closer.

Noooo, clooooser.


Okay, that's done. Now first thing, you need to familiarize yourself with Joseph Campbell's work. Long story short, he broke down storytelling throughout the ages into commonalities that make them applicable regardless of culture, etc. (That's a very simplistic overview. Go. Read. The. Book.)

Vogler's work takes Campbell's work to a new level, using real-life examples of popular movies to show his examples of the different archetypes of characters and their journeys.

What's cool is while I was familiar with Campbell, I hadn't done a lot of research into applying his approaches to my writing. And as I'm reading Vogler's book, I can see how I have, unconsciously, used the very same archetypes. (Thus proving Campbell's point of a sort of universal unconscious in regards to storytelling. Almost a Jungian theory as well, talking about the archetypes. Please don't tell me you don't know who Jung is. Go look him up.)

For example, in my book "Love and Brimstone," I have Taz as the hero (hero is used generically in Vogler's work regardless of gender), I have Rafe as both a shapeshifter and in some ways a trickster and ally, I have Robertson as mentor and ally, Albert as a herald, mentor, and threshold guardian, and even Matthias, the love interest, is more a mix of ally and shapeshifter.

(Note: shapeshifter, by definition in this use, refers to character qualities/actions, not werewolves. *LOL*)

And as I look at my writing, I see the books that seemed to pour onto the page, almost by themselves, are the ones that seem to closely follow the "hero journey" paths. (Which are extremely flexible, not rigid, fixed lines.)

In writing romance and erotica, a lot of emphasis is placed on the hero (or heroes, in case of a menage or GLBT writing) and heroine, and if there's an Alpha or Beta or Gamma hero, etc. Newbie writers ask about, "How much sex should they have by word count?" The truth is, that's irrelevant if you don't have a good, solid story and good, solid characters to build on.

I'm going to peck out a series of blog posts over the next couple of weeks talking about this topic, especially how to avoid "cardboard" characters.

Stay tuned, and Happy Writing.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Who's In Third? Omnipotent Limitations.

The first "official" (meaning not a freebie, one I had to pay money for) purchase I made on our new Kindle was Stephen King's "Under the Dome." Now, I cut my writing teeth on SK in high school. He was my first "writing idol," the one I wanted to be "just like him" when my "career took off." I devoured everything he wrote back then with the voracity of Pennywise the Clown. The last SK book I read was "Cell," simply because I've been busy. I've read a lot of books since then, and we have other books of his I haven't read yet, but "Under the Dome" is the first I snagged to read.

As I sat down last night and started reading, several things immediately hit me squarely between the eyes. One, he tells "UtD" in third person omniscient point of view. Second, I'm finding it difficult to really "get into" the characters like I can with first or third person limited. Third, I see why poorly executed third-omni can lead to head-hopping and telling instead of showing (or worse, author intrusion). And fourth, while SK is a master of third-omni, he's one of few authors I've read lately who should try it, but even then (see point two) just because he can do it doesn't mean it should be done.

Now, I'm not saying I don't like the book, because so far, it's a page-turner for me. I'm loving it and reminded why I've always loved SK for a good, pulse-throbbing read. But all the while, I'm finding...something lacking. That connection I feel with characters in a limited third viewpoint, where we're inside someone's head, the ability to get to know them.

Yes, I see why "UtD" needs to be in third-omni. It would be damned hard--if not impossible--to pull it off otherwise. But I'm also seeing why in many cases, especially in romances, it should NOT be used. In a romance, you want the readers to get into the characters' heads, to feel what they feel, to be wrapped up inside the characters as much as they are the story.

In this book, I'm wrapped up in the story, yes, but...I'm just not feeling it.

And now with this knowledge in hand, I'm really interested to go back and revisit some of my favorites, like "The Shining" and "The Stand," one with a limited cast and crew, the other an epic of...epic proportions, to see if I get that same feeling NOW about his books.

What changed? Well, I've got over 20 books published or pending publication, for starters, with plenty more in my brain's queue and screaming to be written. I've read a lot of books in the romance genre which, I will admit, wasn't one of my focuses before I started writing romances.

This is why it is DESPERATELY important for a writer to READ. If you don't read, you don't learn and grow as a writer. You can't grow a vegetable garden without adding fertilizer and plant food. Reading is that fertilizer (and not just reading bullshit, either *LOL*).

(Sorry, couldn't resist.)

It really did shock me last night when this realization hit me. One of those, "D'OH!" moments you have as a writer when you know you've just learned something of monumental importance for your career. I'd never really been able to vocalize the differences before, even though intellectually I KNOW the differences. I've seen LOTS of poorly executed third-omni in older romances that is nothing but head-hopping. SK doesn't head-hop in this book, it's properly executed third-omni. Something to think about.

Happy Writing!

Friday, February 12, 2010

"And then, suddenly..."

Deus ex machina. Literally, "god from the machine."

You've seen it before. It's the object that turns up exactly at the perfect time the characters need it to get out of their life-threatening fix. It's the character who suddenly remembers they studied Morse code in Boy Scouts and translates the message that sends them in the right direction. It's the tornado that swoops out of the cornfield and kills off the bad guy just as he's about to kill the hero and heroine.

It's also weak storytelling and should be avoided at all costs.

If you paint (or in this case, write) yourself into a corner, you don't resort to magic wands to fix it. (Unless, of course, it's a story about wizards.) You might, however, be forced to send your story in a different direction than you wanted.

Your other option, of course, is to stop, examine your story from the beginning, and make course corrections to avoid the problem in the first place, or set it up better so it's not a, "And, SUDDENLY...!" kind of moment.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Special Snowflake Follow Up.

Wow. I'm totally blown away (in a good way) to the response to my "You are Not a Special Snowflake" post.

I also had no idea (and I had many private responses besides the ones in the comments) how many people said they'd been afraid to say what I said.

And that, to me, begs the question...why?

As a writer, I want the honest truth, whether it's from a competent critique partner/beta reader, or from someone in the industry dishing out advice on wise career moves. I don't want anyone to ever sugar-coat stuff and tell me what they think I want to hear instead of the truth. Now, obviously, I prefer the truth to be couched constructively and politely, but still, don't piddle on my leg and tell me it's raining.

That's the kind of gal I am.

I'm also glad that so many people were encouraged by my post, because that was the whole point--to encourage you that it's not some impossible dream to make a living as a writer. Writing is like any other endeavor. You can't get one rejection and decide it's not the life for you if you want to grow successful at it. On the other hand, if you do let one rejection get you down, maybe it's not the right business for you.

We writers are crazy people, let's face it. (I'm talking fiction writers, although it applies to some non-fic writers too. *LOL*) I mean, we sit in a dark hole and listen to the voices in our heads tell us what to write. We think about fantasy people and put them in horrible situations and think of ways to kill and maim them. We write some pretty crazy sh*t sometimes. (In my case, some pretty pervy sh*t. *LOL*)

We attempt to take unsuspecting readers with us on that roller coaster ride that is our imagination, to give them a glimpse into what's going on inside our skulls. Face it, when you read, you're looking at the brain of a writer. Not necessarily the Wiz behind the curtain, but you're seeing all the other stuff.

Just like you can't take a single painting class, give up, and ever hope to be the next Da Vinci, you cannot write one thing and give up and expect to be the next Steinbeck or Hemingway. It won't happen.

Fiction authors didn't become fiction authors because the fast-food drive-through gig didn't pan out for them. They're the people willing to work the drive-through gig to supplement their maniacal scribblings. "Author" isn't a job description to them, it's a personality label. It's not what they do, it's who they are.

If you don't want to write for a living and just want it to be a hobby, that's fine too. There is nothing wrong with being a recreational writer. But if you have it in your head you will make a living at writing, then you have to give up some of those fallacies you might have held onto, snowflake, and realize you're stuck in the blizzard with the rest of us, each of us working our little snowflake butts off to end up on the ski slopes and to not get blown into a patch of black ice (or worse, yellow snow).*

If a writer tells me, "I want to make a living as an author," I'll ask them, "How many hours do you spend writing every day/week?" If they give me a blank look or tell me they fit it in when they can at Nanowrimo time, or they can't remember the last time they actually WROTE something, that tells me they are not serious about doing it.

Yes, real life gets in the way. Kids, family, Evil Day Jobs (EDJs), car pool--whatever. But writers with the drive to succeed work around that. Even if they're driving to work, while they're stuck in that commute their minds are usually working on that latest plot snag they hit and trying to solve it. They carry notebooks with them to jot things down. Even if they aren't writing they're still "writing." I've written whole books in my head during long drives. I get home and make notes and start writing. It's great.

A "real" writer doesn't make excuses, they make time. They take action. Even if all they can sneak in is a page a week, then they fit it in somehow. They are always making forward progress of some sort, whether it's reading a book about writing or following industry market blogs or editing their synopsis or crafting a query letter, they are still WORKING at writing.

I think some readers who decide they want to become writers--and I'm NOT saying all readers, of course--think what we do for a living is easy. "Heck, I can write THAT!" They think all we do is sit around all day in our Spongebob Squarepants PJs while drinking coffee and...


Never mind. Okay, writing is not easy. Not just the writing (which is, actually, the easiest part of the process), but the editing, marketing, honing our craft, everything I talked about before.

So why (back to my original point) are some people afraid to tell the truth about this?

I am not Superwoman. (I'm not even Half-Assedwoman on some days.) I'm a wife and mom and I'm no different than most people. (Other than my crazy, warped writer brain.)

If I can do this, anyone who WANTS to be a writer (as an EDJ) can do this. Some will start farther back in the pack than others, depending on their writing skills. But if you want to tell stories and you enjoy telling stories, you can learn the mechanics and improve with lots and lots of hard work and practice. You can beat the e-pavement and submit and submit and submit some more. You can promote your ass off.

Hard work? Yes.

Rocket science? *snort* Thank the Goddess no, because I'd be screwed if it was.

So don't be afraid to tell aspiring authors the truth. Is what we do easy? NO. Is it doable? Absolutely. And writers should hear the truth so they don't unrealistically get their hopes up just to get them smashed.

This isn't a sprint--it's the longest-ass marathon you'll ever run. So pace yourself, keep going, and remember it doesn't matter if you finish first, as long as you don't give up.


* How's that for a metaphor from a native Floridian gal who's never seen real snow?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

You Are Not a Special Snowflake.

I was having a private email discussion back and forth with another writer who, like me, has found better than average success writing for indie e-publishers. They told me something that so totally resonated with me that yes, I have to share it. They were once given the advice to use multiple pen names and not let on how much they write. Not as in how often their butt is in front of the computer, but how much sheer volume of words they turn out on a regular basis. The reason in a nutshell? It might wig some people out and potentially hurt other writers’ feelings.

I pride myself on being honest with my blog readers when I write about writing topics, but this is something I feel is overdue for discussion, even though I know other bloggers (notably one of my favs here and here) have discussed it before.

1) Don’t quit your day job. Chances are, you won’t make enough money writing to support yourself.

2) You can make a good living as a writer.

Yes, I know, those two comments are TOTALLY contradictory. But, they’re both true. Here’s the thing, the majority of writers, because of life, family, evil day jobs (EDJs), or (honestly) quality of writing, will fall in category number one. What bumps a writer from number one to number two has very little to do with luck or magic thinking or even talent in some cases. It has to do with a lot (a LOT) of hard fracking work.

So along with the bubble-bursting I’m about to do, I promise to give you advice to help you find your own way. Some of you are going to hate me for the things I’m about to discuss. That’s cool, whatever. But I’m not going to lie to you and say yeah, it’s sunshine and daisies and anyone at all can do what I and other writers like me do with no trouble at all.

It’s a lot. Of. Fracking. Work.

Let me say up front I am no Stephen King in terms of income. There is this HUGE fallacy that if someone is a “bestselling author” that they are these rich people. I’ve got news for you, Binky, just because a book shows up on the NYT Bestseller list (which none of mine have yet to date *LOL*) doesn’t mean that writer is rich. Seriously. Especially if they never break the top twenty.

The average mid-list writer doesn’t quit their day job, even if they get an advance, because they know that both their agent (if they have one) and the IRS will get a chunk of that windfall, if they even earn it all at once. It’s not uncommon for a publisher to hold back part of an advance until the book actually hits the shelves. And guess what? You don’t see royalties on a book until the advance has “earned out.” And in today’s market, it’s not at all uncommon for a book to not earn out for several years, if at all. The average writer makes less than poverty-level income from their writing.

1) You are not the next Stephenie Meyer, J.K. Rowling, Lemony Snicket, Nora Roberts, Stephen King, Dan Brown, _________.

You. Are. Not. Quit deluding yourself and go take your meds. “Magically discovered” authors are the rare exception, not the norm. Most “successful” writers (who can claim writing as their sole EDJ to the IRS) got that way through a LOT of hard work over several years.

2) “You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everyone else, and we are all part of the same compost pile. “ (Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club)

If you start out unpublished thinking you are the best, the most special, the ungodliest super-dooperiest writer out there and any agent or publisher would be fracking crazy not to sign you, you’ve lost the battle before you ever made it to the front lines. You are not better than everyone else. Chances are, you’re not as good as everyone else unless you’ve spent years working on learning the art and craft of writing.

It amazes me how many first-time writers think they are da shit when they wave a crappy manuscript around in the air and berate agents and publishers for not liking them when they never bothered to even print and edit the damn thing because they think they are just. That. Good. (Again, go take your meds.) Bucky, if you don’t know your to/too/two, and your its/it’s from your arse, and you need the apostrophe police to come arrest your sorry self, you need to sit down, shut up, and get to work learning those basics before you can make grand proclamations. Seriously. Dude.

And if you think your work is too good to edit? Phwoar! Think again. Even I--someone who knew I wanted to be a writer for over twenty-five years and spent that time working and honing my craft--know I NEED an editor to look over my work. If you’re a diva right out of the gate, duuude, you’re screwed.

3) "’It's only after you've lost everything,’ Tyler says, ‘that you're free to do anything.’" (Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club)

Okay, forget “holding out” for a “real” book deal. Seriously. Have you LOOKED at the state of traditional publishers lately? Yes, they take new writers, but revisit my first point again. Then revisit point two. I know some of you reading this ARE able to back up your belief in your ability as a writer with good, solid writing. Good on ya. But trust me, do you really want to spend five or ten years waiting for New York to come knocking, or would you rather write for a living and see your manuscripts published and actually read by people? Not to mention making you money.

Give up the notion of scoring that dream NY contract and instead focus on taking the indie world by storm. You can make money, build a solid readership, then when you try NY again, you can proudly wave your accomplishments in their face and if they still say no, you’ve still got the knowledge that you can and do make sales. It’s the big fish/little pond principle at work. What do you have to lose? You have NOTHING to lose by going indie. “I like the feel of a book in my hands.” Bullshit. I like the look of a royalty check in my bank account. If you’re blessed with an EDJ that pays your bills, maybe you can afford to wait around. I can’t. And with so many people in dire financial straits these days, many other wannabe writers can’t afford to wait around either. So work those indie publishers. Build a following. Learn the business.

4) You’re on your own.

Whether you’re signed at an indie publisher or a big NY house, you. Are. On. Your. Own. It sucks, and it’s not fair, but most publishers will not put advertising and co-op dollars into promoting writers who aren’t A-listers. Some larger indie houses are now taking out group ads for their writers (I’m blessed enough to be a writer for one of them), but for the most part, you’re on your own. You cannot turn in a manuscript and dust off your hands and forget about it. You have to network, hustle, promote, and build your author brand.

5) Writing for a living is not art, it’s business.

If you write because you enjoy it and you write and don’t care if you sell books, then stand aside for those of us who want to make a living at it. Post your “art” on the free reading sites or Lulu.com and quit clogging the slush piles. Seriously. I’m not saying anything others haven’t said before (and I’m sure I’ll get whacked for that one) but frankly, it’s the truth. If you don’t want to get paid, why in the Goddess’ name are you submitting and wasting editors’ and agents’ valuable time? You’re making it harder for us who DO want to make a living at it. You’re like the slow driver in the left-hand lane with their right turn signal on. Move. The. Frack. Over.

6) If you want to make money writing, you HAVE to treat it like any other business.

That means sacrificing family time and play time and Wii time and TV time to plop your ass in front of your computer and put words on the paper on a regular basis. You can’t take ten years to write a book. You need to, seriously, invest in a typing software and learn how to touch type and speed up your production. You need to learn how to self-edit on the fly and not take six months to revise a book once you’ve completed the first draft. You need to learn to write for the money. Which brings me to the next point…

7) If you want to make a living writing, you have to write where the money is.

I learned early on that there is decent money to be made writing erotica. Therefore, I follow the money. I don’t sacrifice the quality of my writing or the depth of my storytelling, I still stay true to myself in those regards. But I don’t write about unicorns if hot Alpha wolf shifters are what’s making money. If my publisher came to me and said, “Okay, possum shifters are the next big thing and we’re selling the hell out of them,” guess what my next book would be? You guessed it, possum shifters.

8) Don’t try to imitate the latest craze.

No, this doesn't contradict point 7. By the time your book gets out there, it’s been overdone by other writers with the same idea. Be original. If you want to write vampires, write them your way, not the same old hackneyed plot and angst everyone else uses.

9) Don’t take things personally.

Yes, it sucks big hairy donkey balls to hear “no” from an agent or publisher. I know it. It does, I’ve been there, done that. I put in my time and ran the gauntlet of agents and publishers. I’ve got a file full of rejection slips until I made that first sale. However, if you let it crush your soul, you’re ignoring point 6 – writing is a business.

Publishers aren’t going to publish you because they like you or think you’re a great person or have a winning smile or killer personality. They’ll publish you (or not) based on whether that wad of words you dumped into their in box is salable or not, or if it’s salvageable enough (time and effort invested versus cost/potential earnings) to accept. It’s that simple. But if every writer that heard no gave up or let it crush them stopped trying, NONE of us would be published. Seriously. Consider it a badge of honor that you survived the process and get over it.

10) Not everyone will like what you write.

It could be the best, most well-polished manuscript, interesting characters, intriguing plot, kick-assiest story ever published. I guarantee you, SOMEONE will hate it, even if just because they can’t stand you having success. See point 9 – don’t take things personally. It’s a business. Move on. My own mother loves me but won’t read 90% of what I write because erotica is not her thing, and that’s cool, seriously. My husband isn’t into m/m scenes and will skim through those. Again, that’s cool. Some people that love my erotica don’t like my non-erotica. Again, whatever. That’s fine. See point 9.

11) Don’t give up.

If you throw your hands in the air and cry about it, you deserve to fail. Seriously. If you have the drive to make it, the guts to fight through the masses, the mental drive to improve yourself as a writer and seize every opportunity to better yourself as a writer, you can make it. Is it easy? Hell no, it’s not. Don’t. Give. Up.

12) Write your ass off.

Between the time my first book was officially released on 08/08/08 and as of this writing, I’ve got nineteen releases out with several more contracted and pending. More WIPs in the wings awaiting me to finish and submit them. You do the math. That’s an average of a book or more a month. Not all of them were full-length novels, some were short stories and novellas, but still, that’s a lot of copy.

Doing Nanowrimo is great, but it’s not uncommon for me to turn out 10k words or more in a DAY when I’m in a writing cycle. The most I’ve done so far was 80k words in a week. Again, back to this IS my EDJ and I’m in front of my laptop on average 12 to 14 hours a day. Sometimes writing, sometimes editing, sometimes promo and web maintenance. Again, heed my advice about learning to touch type. And the more you write, the better you’ll get at it. I spent several years writing non-fiction for a living, some of that in a journalism environment. When an editor tells you they want a ten-inch column in three days, they won’t accept, “But I have writer’s block!” as an excuse.

I ALWAYS have multiple manuscripts going at once. If I get blocked, I immediately start working on a different one so I’m at least making forward momentum on something. Write something. ANYTHING. Don’t sit there and whine you don’t know what to write about. If you don’t know what to write about, seriously, you won’t become a successful professional writer. My problem (and other successful writers have this as well) isn’t coming up with ideas to write about, my problem is not enough time in the day to do it. People ask me how I keep the ideas straight. Well, it’s my job.

13) Not every book will make you money -- live with it.

Don't let it stop you from taking chances. I have books that have blown me away by how well they’ve done, and I have books that have made me less money than it cost me in paper and toner to run them on my home printer to do the edits before I submitted them. Seriously. It’s a numbers game. And it’s not that the books are “bad” books, but they’re not money books. And that’s okay. It could be any number of things—genre, heat level, lack of visibility—contributing to that. But I don’t dwell on it. I move on to the next project. And it balances out. This goes back to several of the previous points, including don’t give up, write your ass off, and treat it like a business. Move on to the next project, learn from your mistakes, and keep going.

14) Study the market.

You will not change the market. Period. You need to adjust your writing and marketing plan to fit the target audience. You will not sell a fluffy-bunny teddy bear story to hard-core BDSM erotica lovers. It won’t happen. If you want to write fluffy-bunny teddy bear stories, fine, but do your research and try to sell and market them in appropriate markets. The fluffy-bunny teddy bear story lovers likely won’t hang out in the BDSM discussion forums, either.

If you don’t believe me, go cruise the Amazon.com romance discussion forum and read how many people there complain about the amount and kind of sex in Lora Leigh’s stories and in other books technically considered erotica. (Not to pick on her, but that’s just one I recently read.) Um, hello, Lora Leigh’s stories are usually erotica.

Now, it’s not her fault the romance readers are complaining about erotica, but it illustrates the point that you need to clearly market and brand yourself as a writer. (Again, not her fault they picked up her books.) I’ve also heard people who hate paranormal books complain about paranormal books they’ve read. Again, you can’t help that they picked up a book they normally don’t like, but you need to market yourself to try to reach the readers you want to reach.

15) Don’t be a one-trick pony.

Write in different genres, even if it means you think you need multiple pen names to do it. This will help you maximize your earning potential. Someone who hates cowboy stories won’t read them. And if all you write is cowboy stories, you won’t make that sale. But if they love paranormal and you write paranormal, you might pick them up as a reader and they might decide to take a chance on your cowboy stories.

16) Don’t keep sticking a pen in your eye and saying ow and doing it again.

Learn from your mistakes. If you find a publisher isn’t a good fit for you, make a business decision and move on. I’m blessed to have great publishers, and remember, not every publisher is a fit for every story. You don’t take your Ford in to a Chevy dealership for repairs, and you wouldn’t try to sell a BDSM erotica story at a Christian inspirational romance publisher. Seriously. If you write steampunk, find a publisher that will be a good fit. If you write paranormal erotica, find a publisher than handles a lot of it. Check Amazon.com Kindle rankings for authors and stories and publishers.

17) Once you’re published, obsessively check your rankings.

Seriously. At one publisher, I can check my real-time sales data through their site (not the third-party sales though). But at all my publishers, I can check myself on their bestseller lists. I can cruise my Amazon.com rankings. I can check Fictionwise and Mobi and others for the most part, or at least make an educated guess as to where I am. I check my web stats, I look at referral and search landing data. Use the data you get to make business decisions about how to market and seeing what works and what doesn’t. There is no magic bullet.

18) Have fun.

Yes, treat it like a business, but have fun doing it.

19) Indie/e-publishing is REAL publishing.

It puts out REAL books that can be read by REAL readers and earn you REAL money you can buy REAL things and pay REAL bills with. ‘Kay? ‘Nuff said.


Most writers won’t make enough to make a full-time EDJ living writing, or they will give up before they even have a chance to start because of whatever reason. But I’m not a special snowflake—ANYONE can do what I’ve done. Others have done it.

I didn’t write this to discourage you. I didn’t write this to piss you off or start a flame war. I didn’t write this to try to keep you from being successful.

See, here’s the thing, being a “successful writer” isn’t this one-up, top of the heap position you have to heavily defend. There is PLENTY of room at the top for anyone who wants to work their ass off to get there. And believe it or not, there aren’t people standing up there kicking at you if you get too close. They know there’s plenty of room up there and generally, they’re too busy trying to keep themselves up there to worry about whether you make it up there with them or not. Seriously. I know there’s this myth that writers will backbite each other, well, maybe some do. Fortunately for me, I haven’t seen that happen although I’ve heard urban myths about it.

I want you to succeed. Why?

Because I’m sick of the stupid asshats claiming that you can’t make a living writing in indie publishing, and I’m sick of the asshats who keep putting down romance and erotica, and I’m REALLY sick of the artsy-fartsy people who claim you can only be a “serious writer” if you write artsy-fartsy writing published by a “real” publishing house. I want to blow the fallacies—good and bad—out of the water so you can wade through the crapload of misinformation and get the information you need to make a successful living doing this.

Let’s prove these jokers wrong. I’m storming the hill, want to join me? Don’t worry, there are no bullets coming at us, just morons lobbing laughable grenades full of skewed, old-fashioned babble. The only thing standing in our way is ourselves. You with me?

Let’s go.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


I responded to a promo question from newbie author who is a fellow writer at one of my publishers. I thought it might not be a bad idea to share my answers with y'all. Feel free to contribute your own ideas for what's worked for you in the comments.

Her e-book won't be out for a couple of months yet, but she was asking what she could do to promote it. Here is what I told her:

1) Website. If you don't have one that's up to date and relatively typo-free, you need one, asap. Which brings me to point...

2) Blog. You can point a domain name at a free blog if you don't have a website, like Blogger. Blog on a regular basis, and not just about your stuff, but value-added content like goings on in the e-book industry, writing how-to things, humor, free stories, etc.

3) Social Networking. Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Ning, etc. At the VERY least you need Facebook and Twitter. It used to be MySpace was a must, but Facebook and Twitter are really taking over.

4) Email List. Promo on the Yahoogroups, make SURE to follow all list guidelines for posting excerpts.

5) Guest Blog. Many of the review sites have guest blog opps. Follow up on them and use them.

6) Answer Emails. This might seem like a no-brainer, but whenever a fan emails you, write them back. One of the main things I constantly hear from fans is they're amazed I answer my email, because apparently a lot of writers don't.

7) Caffeine. Lots of it. Lots and LOTS of it.


So what else has worked for you?