Friday, February 27, 2009

Rocky Road Isn't Just a Flavor

I love Rocky Road fudge and ice cream, but this isn't about indulging in desserts. Though I'm sure I can twist it so it is. lol

Recently, I turned down a speaking engagement to a small group local writers. The thought of it terrified me – I’m not one to do public appearances, do speeches, nor am I one to enjoy being pointed out as an example of someone to watch and learn from. I simply do my job, whatever it may be on any given day.

Aside from my personal fears, the offer of speaking about my writing career, how I came to be published and so on gave me much pause. Being in this realm for barely a year, there is so much I still have to learn. There are many things I still do not know.

A friend of mine yelled at me for not doing it and ordered me to never turn down another opportunity. She’s made me sit down and think about what I’ve learned over the last year.

This is what I do know:

A) Write what you love, don’t change it to follow some trend. If your heart isn’t in it, it’s not going to work as well as it should.

B) Don’t be a grammar guru until you finish the first draft, write naturally, especially in dialog. Use contractions and avoid short, choppy sentences. You want your writing to be smooth, one sentence flowing into the next. I don’t care what the genre is, if a sentence starts off rugged and stops abruptly, and this is the pattern of the writing, I’m going to toss it across the room with a few choice words.

C) Research, research and research your points of the story that may be a blocker for some readers. If it’s something you know from experience, do not write it as if it’s the only way.

Seriously, a couple of years ago I read a book where they used plaster mannequins and the couple knocked it from it’s platform in the store window and not one single part of it broke. It pulled me from the story to double-check my own common sense. How hard was the research? The first page of search results all said the same thing - plaster chips and breaks and this is why they've gone to plastic and nylon figures. Another time, the author’s wording of how it was an impossibility for a woman who’s had a tubligation to have it reversed, it was permanent. I was living proof she was wrong as I sat there reading it.

D) Find a terrific critique partner. One who will work with you and not against you. I recently explained to a publisher about why I couldn’t finish a three story book they put out last year. And questioned why it was even published – did the editors fail the author or did the authors fail themselves and pointed out areas for point. Of course, there was no response, but maybe they’ll be more careful.

Those pieces needed the help of a good critique group. Major sequence issues, holes in the story, the second story had major characterization issues. The second story was worse than the first, so no way was I going to waste my time with the third story.

E) Normally, I tell people to run with their gut feelings, but in this business, you need to be more attuned. You need to research publishers further than what is written on their websites. Read between the lines of their authors you speak to or read blogs about. Often you can get a better sense from what they aren’t saying. You know – when a message is full of fluff, you know they’re hiding something. Don’t be afraid to email authors privately. Some won't respond, most will.

On the published author side of things based on an e-author status with only one publisher at this point in time:

A) The moment you sign the contract, you take on more titles than ‘author’. All of sudden you’re Public Relations, Marketing Analyzer, Advertizer, Promoter, Graphics Designer, Bookeeper, etc. And the only one you’re going to be paid for is the ‘author’ title which means the unpaid titles you carry must become workhorses. Juggling it all is an issue we all wonder how and when a balance will come. The market changes more often than the weather, so your approach has to change.

B) Your work is going to be reviewed. Oh, boy! Toughen up, because some readers, some reviewers are going to reap you over the coals. When I receive one of these, my first instinct is to do ‘damage control’, because it's my training from so many years in food service.

C) Not every publisher works the same way. Not every editor has the same acceptance and unacceptance of aspects of your writing. For example - one may allow you to use ‘But,’ to start off a sentence where you want the emphasis while another wants that comma removed. Learn from your editors, but be cautious of changing your voice or your story to something you can’t live with.

D) Keep your chin up and push on even if the genre you’re writing isn’t the beloved the trend. You’re being true to yourself, don’t be ashamed to flaunt it.

E) I had so many questions that I believe there should be a handbook to guide new authors.

On a more personal basis. I’ve found that I miss all the writing time that used to be for purely my own pleasure. I’ve had a rough few months writing book three of my Servin’ It Up series because it’s not the story I intended. My intention was a romantic suspense – my characters said, "Absolutely not." We fought and fought. The story is complete and in the hands of my critique group. What happens to it now, time will tell. I think I needed a break from it with the effects of recent events weighing me down. Most likely, when I look at it again, I'll love the story and have to bow down and kiss the character's feet.

Instead, I’ve been working on a series tentatively called Uniform Love – it’s a four book series of military women and men living every day lives in their chosen fields of radar technicians and set in the years of 1996 and 1997. (There is a reason for this time frame.) There might possibly be a fifth book, but I wrote the first two back in 1995 and the second two in 2006. The stories range from mainstream to women’s lit with varying degrees of heat and controversial issues.

I can’t tell you what a relief it is to work with these wonderful people. I’m feeling good again. I’m excited to get up in the morning and open up the files. I’m anxious to get home from work and sit down with them.

This is the part of me I lost when I accepted my first contract offer. It threw me into a tizzy of a tailspin. Not that I wasn’t thrilled. But sometimes you set your goals so high, you believe it will never happen. And when it does... You have a sense of ‘what’s next?’ ‘how can you top it?’ ‘what’s left?’ And then of course, the head game. ‘how’s this going to affect my writing?’ ‘am I going to lose what I have going?’ Oh, boy! Pool this with the new head titles I took on – how could I possibly stand in front of a group of strangers wanting my view on things and feel like I’m helping them.

Wow, what a road it’s been? I’m looking forward to this year, next year and many years down the road. I love writing. It’s who I am. I need it like I need air.



Lindsay Townsend said...

Excellent post, Bekki! Brilliant advice! I agree with all you say and I, too, wish there was a handbook for the 'newly published' author. There is so much to learn.

Thank you so much for sharing this. Good luck with your new novel - I think it sounds really good!

Linda Banche said...

Well, we all have to promote, but how? There are lots of different ways and everyone has an opinion.

The most sensible advice I've heard is to choose what suits you. If you're terrified of public speaking, don't do it. If later, you decide you want to try, you can take a public speaking course.

In the meantime, promote as you want, but make sure you continue writing.

A sucessful author on my local RWA chapter loop says she promotes very little. She spends most of her time writing. Because, when the day is over, you still have to write a good book. You can't let anything get in the way of that.

Bekki Lynn said...

Thanks, Lindsay.

Who knows, I make some time and go through all the 'dumb' things I've asked and put something together and make it available for a small price and donate the money to a charity.

Savanna Kougar said...

Bekki, so much of what you said and expressed could have been me.
So glad your working on the Uniform series, especially in that time period.
I have a novel I started then, that only fits that time period, I would love to finish, if I had time. Although it is a paranormal.

What do you tell aspiring authors? I do my best to help where I can. And if someone does email privately, I'll answer their questions.

One challenge for me is to continue writing with the same sense of freedom I had before publishing, yet creating a story that is wanted by the publisher. There's a different kind of pressure to it.

Linda, good point about continuing to write. Given my health situation currently, that's where I'm focusing my limited energies.

Lindsay, there is tons to learn. I think there have been a couple of books written for e-authors. Still, I question how valuable they, given the rapid changes in the ebook biz.

Bekki Lynn said...

That's a valid point, Linda.

Always putting a out a good book should be top priority.

Selling your books without promo hinders on many factors. Hinders on your name recognition, genre you're writing and where you do pop in from time-to-time. And in some cases how the publisher presents their authors.

Also, how the venues are presenting your books. Last Glass of Wine is listed under three catagories at All Romance Ebooks -- one being multiple partner. I believe this is why it sold like crazy when it first went up over there. It's a mis-representation of the story. It isn't a mulitple partner story.

Amazon's sister sites list a small list of 'similar stories' to try and entice sales. Unfortunately, the list for my book is all menage and paranormal stories -- my books are neither.

I have had periods where I've done no promotion work and have had more sales then weeks where I've dumped. It's a strong case for little is enough and too much is over-kill.

I've found a nitch for selling my books at Amazon - when I wasn't able to get promos through, there were no sales there. This went on for a little over a month. Once the issue was fixed, and I was able to post, sales began to pop again. I can't explain it - it just is.

Next month, I'll be posting a blog on promotion alternatives.

Bekki Lynn said...

Hi Savanna --

Wish you better health.

I knew I wasn't alone with the sudden disruption a contract caused. lol

I hope you have the opportunity to finish the story. I'd love to read it.

Kaye Manro said...

Nice post, Bekki!. This is such good advice. And I agree there should be a handbook out there somewhere. If there is, I'd like to read it!

Bekki Lynn said...

Thanks, Kaye.

If we can find the books - I'll post them.