Saturday, February 17, 2018

3 Myths About Self-Publishing

Let's be brutally honest. The word myths in my title is actually too strong a word. What I really meant to say is generalizations. Why? Because the sad fact is that many of the "myths" about self-publishing are true. They're just not true of all self-published books. Therefore, they are generalizations.

Let's take a look at a few of them.

1. Self-Published Authors Are Not Serious Authors

Are there some self-published authors out there who do not take their work seriously? Sure. In this electronic age, it's frighteningly easy to publish a book. Literally anyone can do it. What that means is that a lot of crap is getting uploaded to online retailers like Amazon and iBooks. A lot of people are cranking out novels in a couple of months, giving them a couple of quick proofreads, saying, "Meh, looks good to me!" and hitting the publish button. It happens. Don't believe me? Start a review blog and wait to see the kinds of books that come your way. It can be scary at times. 

But do all self-published authors (who, by the way, often prefer the moniker indie authors) publish their books this way? Heck no! Since I began my own publishing journey two and a half years ago, I've met numerous fellow indies who take their writing very seriously. A rough draft. A proofread. A second draft. Emailed copies to a few trusted beta readers. Another rewrite when the betas' advice comes rolling in. Another proofread. A professional edit. A final draft. One last proofread. Off to the formatters. Then another proofread to make sure nothing wacky happened in the formatting process (it does sometimes). Then they hit publish. That's not a knee-jerk decision. That's a book that's been polished and re-polished until it shines. Is it possible that someone missed something in all those proofreads and edits and rewrites? Of course. No one's perfect. But there are some darn good indie books out there. I know because I've read a few. 

2. You'll Never Have Big Success Self-Publishing

Let's face it. Being successful in the entertainment industry is a crap shoot. Sometimes it happens. Sometimes it doesn't. And the indie book market is saturated right now, making it hard for anyone to get noticed. But here's the thing...are you more likely to make it big if you go the traditional route? If you get picked up by a big publisher who believes strongly enough in your book to put some major marketing muscle behind it, sure. You'll make it big. But how often does that happen? How many authors try traditional publishing and then give up because the querying process is just too grueling and it takes so long to hear back from someone regarding their book? And then, the response is likely to be a rejection. It can take years to get a traditional publisher to take an interest in your work. Years in which you could be happily selling your self-published masterpieces on Amazon.

And, by the way, some indie books do make it big. Some examples include The Martian, Still Alice, Fifty Shades of Grey, and Wool. There are many others. And yes, a lot of the indie books that have gone big were eventually picked up by traditional publishers. I'm not criticizing the traditional route at all. If a representative from Penguin Random House showed up at my door with a hearty paycheck and a desire to purchase the rights to Amelia's Children, I'd be sorely tempted. It wouldn't be an automatic yes. It would depend on what they were offering and how much creative control I'd be able to maintain with my story, but I can guarantee my eyes would sparkle at such an offer. 

But here's the thing. If a big publisher actively seeks out an indie author, it must be because that author is already doing well. Publishers aren't going to take a gamble on a book they don't think they can sell.

3. Self-Published Authors Will Never Become Great Authors

I'm talking about writing ability here. You see, there's a lot of soul-searching that is done during the querying process. When those rejection letters come (and they always do), an author must re-evaluate his work to try and determine whether the rejection was just a timing issue (the publisher isn't looking for that particular book right now) or if it's a quality issue (the book's not good enough to be published). If it's a quality issue, and if the author is serious about his work, he will actively try to improve. 

Then the coveted acceptance letter comes along and the editing process begins. Suddenly new eyes are looking at your precious baby and finding things that are just a little on the wonky side. Suggestions are made. There are things you need to change. And through this process, you gain a better grasp of what works and what doesn't. 

The myth (which is really a generalization) is that self-published authors skip over all that and therefore never learn what works and what doesn't work in a book. But is that really true?

Have you ever visited Goodreads? Have you seen some of the reviews on there? Serious readers will happily tear a book to shreds if it doesn't live up to their standards. It's in an author's best interests to solicit reviews from some of these discerning readers so they can get real feedback on their books.

Of course, all this is happening after publication. Better to get the scathing reviews from beta readers and editors before presenting the book to the world. And this is certainly an option for the indie author. Sure, a lot of them, especially if they are just starting out, cannot afford a professional editor, but everyone knows someone who can be an extra set of eyes looking at that manuscript. And every critique counts, believe me.

Another great way to get some brutally honest feedback is to seek out professional reviews. Last year I entered one of my books in the Writer's Digest Self-Published eBook Awards. I did not win, but one of the perks of entering is that all submissions receive a critique from one of the judges. In that critique, I was made aware of some things I was doing in my writing that I didn't even realize were problematic. You can bet I'll have my eyes wide open for those mistakes in future books. 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Cardinal Rule of Good Writing

Pretty Basic Stuff

There's no mystery here. We all know what the cardinal rule of good writing is. Show, don't tell. It's the one everybody agrees on. Other "rules" can occasionally be ignored at the author's discretion, but this one isn't going to go away. Learning the rule is easy. The execution of it takes some practice.

What I Thought I Knew

I've always understood show, don't tell to a fair degree. Even as a kid. I wrote my first novel when I was twelve, and when I go back and look at it I realize I had a decent grasp of the rule back then. 

Here's what I knew:

Show a character's personality. Don't just say Aunt Roberta is annoyingly affectionate. Write a scene with Aunt Roberta that includes lots of hugging and cheek pinching. Give her a few favorite terms of endearment that she always uses when talking to certain characters. 

Show an emotional state. This one's tougher. Don't just say a character is sad. Give the reader a couple of paragraphs that show the character's sadness. For example, if you have an MC who's recently lost her husband, put her in a social situation where she's hanging out with all her married friends for the first time since the funeral. Show the other couples cuddling and smiling at each other. Show a frazzled mother struggling to corral her three kids until her husband comes up and offers to take them off her hands. Show the relief that other mother feels at this unexpected break from adulting. Relief our poor grieving MC will never experience again. 

Show a character's lifestyle. Let's go back to that grieving mother. Does she have kids? Is her home life chaotic? Has that gotten worse now that the father is not around to help her? Show that. Show the peanut butter smears on the kitchen counter, the urine on the bathroom floor from where the three-year-old son proudly used the potty all by himself, and the struggle to get the older kids out the door for school in the morning. And now that your character is widowed, show her performing chores that her husband typically did when he was alive. Show how having to do those chores just adds to the chaos of her life. 

This is all stuff I already understood. Stuff I've always understood. 

The First Thing I Learned

After I published my first book, I began reading books and articles on how to improve my writing. I learned a few things that I didn't realize, at first, are related to show, don't tell. 

First of all, I learned how to make my writing less wordy. This means getting rid of those pesky little filler words like that, of, just, etc. But it also means getting rid of what are called filter words. Words like thought, felt, wondered, realized, and so on. If you've constructed a good scene, there's a good chance you don't need those words. 

Then I started to read about what's called Deep POV. This takes getting rid of the filter words to a whole new level. It's all about learning how to write a scene so the reader feels what the character feels without the emotions ever being mentioned at all. This is the epitome of show, don't tell.

The Next Step

Deep POV was fiendishly difficult when I first started trying to use it. But by the time I wrote my third book, Road to Yesterday, I thought I'd pretty much mastered it. But just last week I decided to give the book another quick read-through to look for any lingering typos before creating the paperback edition. I've found that even then, even when I was writing my third book, I still had a lot to learn about show, don't tell.

Here are a couple of examples from Road to Yesterday:

“Really, Vi? Really?” I could almost see the anger surging through Kyle’s body. No, “almost” is not the right word. I could see it. His shoulders shook with a barely contained rage that frightened me.

Did I really need the sentence, "I could almost see the anger surging through Kyle's body"? It's in there because I wanted to make sure I was avoiding head-hopping. I didn't want to say Kyle was angry because how would the narrator know that? She's not Kyle. So I inserted a sentence beginning with "I could almost see" to make sure the reader knew we were still firmly in the narrator's head. But why include it at all? Why not just skip to Kyle's physical reaction.

“Really, Vi? Really?” Kyle's shoulders shook with a barely contained rage that was frightening.

Even the word "frightening" is problematic, but I can't think of a way to eliminate it and still get the point across without rewriting the whole scene. And since this is a book I've already published, I'm not going to be rewriting whole scenes. Not at this time, at least. 

Okay, here's another:

Alex stood by the bed, looking down at his older self. Vi, Kyle, and I hung back in an attempt to give him some space. But we watched him.

His reaction was subdued. I suppose he did not know how to react. That was to be expected. Who would know how to react to something like this?

He stood over the bed, jaw rigid and brow creased, and said nothing. He may have been trembling slightly. I couldn’t quite tell. It seemed he was valiantly attempting to hold it all in.

Looking at this passage again with my more learned eyes, I can see that most of the second paragraph is unnecessary, as well as a little bit of the third. I could write it like this and still get the point across:

Alex stood by the bed, looking down at his older self. Vi, Kyle, and I hung back in an attempt to give him some space. But we watched him.

His reaction was subdued. He stood over the bed, jaw rigid and brow creased, and said nothing. He may have been trembling slightly. I couldn’t quite tell. 

You see, the reader has already been on the journey with these characters and knows the impossible situation they are in. The reader, therefore, does not need to be told that no one would know how to react to the situation. That's something the reader already knows from having read the book up to this point. I also don't need to tell the reader that he's "valiantly trying to hold it all in" because the subdued reaction, the rigid jaw, and the creased brow have already shown that. 

Going Forward

The main thing I've learned in recent months is that show, don't tell doesn't just mean you need to do more showing in your writing. It also means you need to do less telling. Let's go back to that widow. If you've just written the death scene, then you have the wife collapse, sobbing, into her best friend's arms in the hallway outside the hospital room, you've already shown the audience what she's feeling. There is no need to follow up with any commentary on her emotional state at all. If you're tempted to write a sentence that contains words like hopelessness, helplessness, grief, pain, etc., stop first and ask yourself if that sentence is really necessary. There's a good chance it's not. There's a good chance the reader already understands that the character is feeling all those things. 

All right, a couple of news items before I go my merry way.

First, I'm involved a group giveaway on Instafreebie this week. Amelia's Children is available for free download, along with four other mystery/thriller books. If you'd like to pick up a few free books, you can get them here.

And second, remember that I've got a newsletter now, so if you want to get the latest updates on releases, sales, and freebies, sign up here.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Indie Book of the Month: February 2018

Sixth Prime by Dan O'Brien

This is another book I feel had some pros and some cons. As always, I'll start with the positive.

The first chapter is a great "hook" chapter. It drew me in and made me want to find out more. I was fascinated by the famous painter working on his masterpiece, a painting he doesn't fully understand, but which somehow contains profound truths. 

There is some great sci-fi in this book. Foreign worlds, and all the political strife that exists on those worlds. Futuristic technology. Mysterious creatures no one fully understands. The search for an ancient power that may hold the key to everything.

I also found the characters believable and likeable. 

I did have some issues, however. First of all, it was the story of the artist that first drew me in. I wanted more about him. Unfortunately, after the first chapter he is little more than an afterthought. Yes, there is an investigation into his death, but that only makes up perhaps a third of the book. Maybe even less than that. I wanted to go deeper into that part of the story.

Also, things could have been explained a little better. Who are the Primes? What are they and why are they important? And why are they being killed off? And who are the good guys in this book? Who are the bad guys? I know not every story has to involve the great cosmic battle between good and evil, but this book very much presents itself as that kind of story. Only I couldn't tell which side I was supposed to be on. I was still confused even when I made it to the end, because it's left very open and nothing is really resolved. Again, I know open ended stories are a thing, and I like the occasional open ended story. But this is not the kind of story that is typically left open for interpretation. This book presents a mystery to the reader, but the truth about that mystery is not completely revealed. Perhaps this is the beginning of a series? That might offer the promise of a better explanation down the road. 

Overall an enjoyable read, but one that didn't provide me with the answers I was hoping for.

If you'd like to take a look at this book and make up your own mind about it, you can find in on Amazon. 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Formulaic Fiction: Love It or Hate It?

A Broken Record

I mention frequently how much I dislike formulaic fiction. That's my biggest problem with my first book, Amelia's Children. It's a murder mystery and it unfolds the way any murder mystery would. In other words, it's formulaic, which my mind automatically translates as "lacks originality." 

Amelia's Children also happens to be my most popular book, so apparently a lot of people are looking for stories that follow a formula.

I do love a good mystery. I just can't get into, for example, shows like Murder She Wrote, Diagnosis Murder, or even those with a slightly darker feel to them, like Criminal Minds. I can watch one or two episodes, but after that I start to feel like I'm watching the same story over and over. Which I am. 

My disdain for stories that follow formula too closely is the primary reason I give for not reading a lot of romance. That genre carries the weight of too many fan expectations, and writers cater to those expectations. I mean, they want to make a living, right? Can't go making the fans angry. So there are things that have to happen, and they have to happen at specific times in the story. And of course there must be a happy ending.

Honestly, I think it's the guaranteed happy ending that's the biggest turnoff for me. Look, I like love stories. Love Story, for example, is a movie I've seen multiple times and still enjoy. (Okay, it's a seventies movie, and I really like seventies movies, so maybe that's the allure, who knows?) I also like The Time Traveler's Wife and Wuthering Heights. What do all of these have in common? each one, one of the main characters dies. You see, if there's not a real possibility that the characters will either die or break up at the end, I can't make myself care about them. What's the point, if I know going in that they're going to live happily ever after?

A Big Glaring Exception to My Rule

I've also said numerous times that I'm a horror movie buff. But I'm a picky one. I don't like just any horror. I have very specific parameters within which a horror movie must fit, or I will not like it.

Basically, I like formulaic horror.

If a horror movie goes overboard trying to shock me with death and gore, like the second Halloween movie, I will not like it.

If a movie tries to pull off some convoluted twist ending, like The Brood, I will not like it.

If a movie shows the monster too soon, like Lights Out, I will not like it.

I recently watched the new movie The Open House on Netflix. That's something of a confusing title because there's another movie, called simply Open House, which came out in 2010 and is available on Amazon. I haven't seen Open House. I've seen The Open House. I don't know if the newer one is based on the older one in any way or if it's just a coincidence, but I need to make sure you know which movie I watched.

I loved that movie. I read a review of it before watching it. The review called it predictable and cliché. Well guess what? That's what I look for in horror.

Give me a painfully slow build-up of tension, to the point where you almost begin to think nothing bad is going to happen at all, like the first Halloween movie.

Give me an old fashioned haunted house story, like The Conjuring.

Give me a movie with an evil child, like The Ring.

You see, for me, good horror has more to do with pacing and mood than with story. Yes, originality can be nice. The Ring was a darn original idea, and I loved that. But The Ring also spends time setting up the story and creating the right mood. The result is one of the scariest movies I've ever seen. The Brood, on the other hand, tried to be original but turned out to be just weird.

Okay, your turn. Do you have a favorite genre that just has to follow the formula or you won't like it? Please tell me in a comment.

Oh, and before I go, I have some news items to share:

I'm now offering a proofreading and critiquing service for authors. You can find out more about that here.

I also have a newsletter now. If you'd like to subscribe, please fill out my sign-up form.

And finally, I have Amelia's Children available on Instafreebie for a limited time. If you'd like a free copy, check it out here.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Which Rocky Movie is Your Favorite?

Coming Late to the Party

I was a kid in the 80s. I remember when the Rocky movies were all the rage and Sylvester Stallone was one of the biggest action stars around. But I didn't watch any of the movies then. I was a girl and, as such, was nestled safely in my girl den and refused to watch anything that looked too much like a guy movie. And Rocky is a guy movie if I ever saw one. 

I may have been a touch hypocritical about that, considering that I was a hopeless horror buff and thought A Nightmare on Elm Street was greatest movie franchise in history, but whatever. 

A Total Dork

I remember dreaming of binge watching before binge watching was even a thing. One time I even announced to my parents that when I grew up I was going to own a movie theater so I could show movie marathons there. I had a limitless list of themes. It consisted of more than just movies in series that I wanted to show in chronological order. One of the nerdiest things I dreamed of doing in my theater was picking an actor or actress, maybe a director, and showing every movie that person ever made. In chronological order. 

I don't know how on earth I planned to make a living from that. I guess I just assumed the rest of the world was as nerdy as I was and that everyone was obsessed with having long movie marathons built around an arbitrary theme. 

My mom's reaction should have told me that the rest of the world was decidedly not as nerdy as I was, but in my childlike wisdom I chalked it up to old people "just not getting it." 

My Rocky Marathon

When I finally got around to watching the Rocky movies, of course I had to have a marathon. I was married by this time, so my husband and I watched them together. 

We got through the first one and I must say it's one of those movies that had to grow on me. I love it now, but certain things are so subtle it took a couple of viewings before I could really understand everything that was happening. For example, my husband had to explain to me that Rocky loses the boxing match at the end. That went right over my head when I watched it.

Okay, so part one was in the can. On to part two. Then three. Then my husband went on a business trip, but he told me to go ahead and watch part four without him because he'd already seen it.

Remember that we were kids in the 80s. Rocky IV was huge in the 80s. Well, Rocky in general was huge in the 80s, but part four was huger. More huge? Better endowed with hugeness? Whatever. It was a popular movie when we were growing up, and my husband assured me that I was going to like it. 

Then I watched it.


I called him on the phone after it was over and told him it was just about the cheesiest thing I'd ever seen.

He was incredulous. Rocky IV was the best Rocky. Wasn't it?

Dear hubs...there's a freaking robot in the movie.

A robot? I don't remember a robot.

Trust me, there's a robot. 

We left the argument there and didn't discuss it again for quite a while.

I Am Vindicated

It was only a few months ago that my husband decided to watch Rocky IV again. I had gone to bed early, and he stayed up late watching television, and Rocky IV was one of the things he watched. The next morning, he mentioned to me that he had watched it.

Good lord, I said, that movie is terrible.

It is pretty cheesy. 

Do you remember the robot now?

I had forgotten about the robot. But yes, there is a robot.

Why? Just, why? 

The Social Media Firestorm

Not long after re-watching Rocky IV, my husband went on Facebook and asked all his friends, "What's the worst movie you've ever seen." People responded in the comment section with various movies they had hated over the years. 

My husband had a list of three or four. Rocky IV was one of them. would have thought he'd threatened to kidnap everyone's children and feed them to the Minotaur. So many people protested his dislike of that movie, all proclaiming that "it's the best Rocky movie!" 

I pointed out that it has a robot in it.

A friend responded with, "But we beat the Russians!" 

Another friend told my husband, "A kitten died when you said that. A kitten named Adrian." 

Oh my. 80s kids love that movie. 

So. Do you like Rocky? Do you have a favorite installment? Do you agree or disagree with my assessment of part four? Let me know in the comments. 

But please don't tell me I've killed a kitten by writing this. I love kittens. 

I just don't love Rocky IV. 


Okay, I'll stop now. 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Bookending, or Bringing the Story Full Circle

That Final Chapter

A few days ago I patted myself on the back. I had made great progress on my new book and only had two chapters left to write. Then I realized I was mistaken. I didn't have two chapters left. I had three. I had forgotten one important component of my story. The bookend chapter.

What is Bookending?

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post about my lifelong love of the movie Tommy. Well, that movie is bookended. I tried to find pictures to show what I mean, but could not find any, so I'll describe it to you instead. The movie opens with Tommy's father, played by Robert Powell, standing on a mountain top silhouetted by the setting sun. It ends with Tommy himself, played by Roger Daltrey of course, standing on that very same mountain silhouetted by the rising sun. So it ends right where it begins. It comes full circle. It is bookended.

Does every story have to be structured this way? Of course not. Many, many great stories do not incorporate this literary device. But there's something about the ones that do. There's this feeling of satisfaction when you reach the end and see elements from the beginning return. I don't know, it's just...nice. 

An Unconscious Decision

I was bookending my own books before I even knew what the technique was. Amelia's Children and Primogénito are rather subtle examples. Amelia's Children begins with Sarah and David arriving in the town of Laurel Hill and ends with them leaving Laurel Hill. Primogénito begins with Ashley driving up the street toward Damian and Jenn's house and Damian stepping off of his boat. It ends with Ashley driving away from the house and Damian (metaphorically) sailing away on his boat. 

Road to Yesterday is the most blatantly bookended thing I've written. It begins with Kim, Vi, and Alex having breakfast in a diner in New Mexico before starting off on their journey and ends with the three of them having breakfast in a diner in Georgia after their journey is complete. And their conversation hints at the fact that the real journey is just beginning so they are truly ending up where they began, but with a few more memories and a little more wisdom to show for it. 

The New Book

My new book, a prequel to Primogénito, tells the story of the Damian's ordeal with his family, an experience which is mentioned over and over again in Primogénito and which provides the motivation for nearly every decision Damian makes in that book. I opened the new book with a chapter from Damian's father Leo's point of view. Leo wakes up in the morning and is consumed with worry for the wellbeing of his son. So my plan is to end it with Leo falling asleep at night, content that all is finally well with his son. For the time being, at least. Remember, he still has the events of Primogénito looming in his future. But he won't have to worry about all that for five more years, so for now everything is fine. 

I almost forgot about wanting to put that final Leo chapter in my book. I was almost planning to end it with...well, I can't tell you that, but it was going to be a scene with Damian and Jenn. You know, their sort of happy ever after scene. But if I end it there my story won't be bookended. And I really want it to be bookended. So Leo gets one more chapter. Yay, Leo! 

A Little Preview

Since I've almost finished writing this prequel and hope to be releasing some time in the next few months, I thought I'd conclude today with a couple of sample paragraphs. This is a conversation between Damian and his best friend Nick. We're at the peak crisis point now. Everything is getting ready to wind down, but at the moment tension is high and Nick is having to (again, metaphorically) talk his friend down from the ledge. 

“’ve been thinking that what happened to you means there’s something wrong with you. But there’s nothing wrong with you. Mauricio’s the one who did this. He’s the one who’s messed up. Not you.”

Damian shrugged.

“I’m serious, Damian...”

“You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about!” He ran a hand through his hair, then grabbed a wad of the thick black strands and held them in a tight fist. His arm shook from the tension in his muscles. “Yes, Mauricio did this. But what he did...he did it to me.” He eyes darted around wildly and his breath became ragged and uneven. “Say that...that a musician gets mad one night and smashes his favorite violin. If he’s got enough money, he can buy a new one and go on with his life. Go on with his career. Like nothing ever happened. But that violin will never play again. For that violin, there’s no going going going anywhere. It’s broken...ruined...forever. That is what Mauricio did to me.”

You won't be able to read about the events leading up to this scene for a little while yet, but if you want to know where Damian's story goes from here, you can pick up a copy of Primogénito from Amazon and other retailers.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Indie Book of the Month: January 2018

All In by Ariele Sieling. 

This book is a prequel to the series entitled The Sagittan Chronicles. I don't often read prequels before reading the original series because I feel that already knowing the characters and the world in which a book takes place makes for a much richer reading experience, but this one walked across my path in the form of a free eBook, and I couldn't help but snatch it up. I'm so glad I did, and I'm now even more excited about reading the rest of the series.

The premise of this book is so wonderful. Set in...set in...hmm, where is this book set? A futuristic society? An alien society? A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away? Well, anyway, it's not earth, and there is unfamiliar technology. Namely things called doors which can transport people from one planet to another in a matter of seconds. Quin, our intrepid protagonist, explores these doors for a living. His job is basically to go through them and find out where they lead. Like I said, fabulous premise for a novel. 

Quite often it's curiosity more than anything else that drives me to keep reading a book, so a book based entirely on exploring mysterious locations is right up my alley. And it really is a great book. In places it actually reminded me of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which is my absolute favorite of all the Narnia books. So great job, Ms. Sieling! You kept me hooked from beginning to end.

Please check out this book. It's a short one, so it will only take up a little of your time, but it will be time well spent. You can find the eBook on Amazon.