Writing Wednesday

Writing Every Day.

I have been sadly unproductive the last several days. I had hoped to post religiously three times a week. Unfortunately, life has thrown a few curve-balls at me and made that impossible. And that’s okay. I’ll get back on track again.

You may have heard repeatedly the old refrain “You’re not a real writer if you don’t write every day.”

Pure fallacy. Life happens, often in such a way to make putting words on paper highly improbable. This does not make you a terrible person, a hack, a loser, or any other such failures. It is simply the flow of life.

A huge storm may knock out power to your city. All your notes and previous work is 100% digitized and, without power, you have no way of accessing your WIP. Sure, you could write it out old style on paper, if you’re not busy catching leaking water in a bucket or herding pets into the storm shelter. If you’re like me, you don’t have the memory to recall pertinent details about your world-building or character background to make much use of scribbled notes later.

Your child may have an accident and you spend precious work time sitting in the ER waiting to here the diagnosis. Some parents may be cool with this, but I find a hospital environment too stressful to grind out a whole chapter on my phone while perched in a cold plastic chair that smells oddly of bleach and B.O. You could drop your kid off and ask the doctor to call you when they’re finished. However, that’s generally frowned upon.

You could be dealing with medical issues of your own, your brain so consumed with more immediate problems you are unable to form a coherent thought. Perhaps a relative has just delivered bad news, your dog died, or the President just hit that big red button that makes all the other countries angry. There is an infinite number of occurrences that could potentially stand between you and writing.

The point is, it’s okay. You will have bad days, unproductive days, days where you feel like the worst writer to ever pick up a pen. It will be terrible and you will feel terrible.

But it will pass. A new day will dawn, and your productivity will return. It doesn’t matter if you don’t write every single day. Let life do what life does, which involves a lot of wrench throwing in my experience.  What matters is you keep moving forward, whatever the pace, and don’t give up.

Keep writing.

 

Marketing Monday

In this week’s marketing spiel, we’ll discuss Twitter, tweets, retweets, and all the twitterings in-between.

When utilized properly, Twitter is a promotional goldmine. Those 140 characters have the power to stretch the entire globe with the right amount of interest.

How do you garner that interest? By being interesting, and following other interesting people.

Twitter is a great way to connect with other indie authors, as well as editors, agents, publishers, and various experts. When you can generate personal notice, it opens up opportunities to guest blog, be interviewed by podcasters, have your book reviewed by respected professionals, and ultimately sell more books.

Start with your profile. Use a great headshot as your profile pic, load a customized banner for your page, and fill out the profile questions completely. Add in links to your other websites. Don’t use robots to follow fellow twit-heads. It becomes annoying quickly and may alienate you from potential followers. Look for others in your niche, or those who share your interests, and click that Follow button. Many will follow back and expand your potential audience.

As with Facebook, do not simply spam your own promotional material. Follow a wide range of people and retweet when they post something that interests you. Join conversations, add something to the discourse, hashtag important topics. Readers want to know you the writer, not just your litany of publications. Always promote other authors’ works whenever possible. You want to be a supportive member of the community. If you never give back, you will be ignored.

The hallmark of the Twitterverse are Hashtags. Use them, but don’t get superfluous. Only three or four hashtags will suffice. There’s nothing that screams amateur more than a quick quip followed by umpteen tags.

Once your follower/following numbers grow, separate your faves into Lists. This will keep you updated on their tweets without having to scroll for hours on end. Pictures, videos, and links to great articles are popular forms of tweets. Don’t feel pressured to always have something useful or profound on your feed. People like mundane glimpses of normal life, too. Post the silly thing your cat did, or tweet about your cute offspring. Having a personality goes a long way towards having a loyal readership.

Browse these great accounts to start your following.

For more tips and know-how on navigating Twitter, check the links below:

http://www.makealivingwriting.com/writers-win-social-media/

https://www.thebookdesigner.com/2014/07/the-ultimate-guide-to-twitter-for-writers/

Writing Wednesday

Everybody loves a good echo chamber. Who doesn’t want to be told how awesome and wonderful they are? It boosts the ego, justifies the hideous amounts of time spent crafting your tale, and allows you to state with pride, I am a writer.

Praise may be wonderful, but it won’t help you improve. And there is always room for improvement. Even the best authors out there are constantly honing their craft, adjusting to trends and ever-morphing language.

I’m involved in a critique group, and am halfway through my first full length novel. The praise I receive motivates me, shows me how much I’ve learned. But there are also the remarks I don’t want to hear. I’m not speaking of editing commentary. Authors are bound to make mistakes here and there. I fix what I can and leave the rest to my editor. But there are some mistakes an editor can’t fix, like character development.

A recent critique I received, however polite and constructive, nevertheless struck a nerve, affected me in a way I didn’t expect.

“Your characters are two dimensional.”

This hurt, because I thought I had put a lot of effort and research into my characters, their personalities and mannerisms. Maybe I did in my head, but I somehow failed to translate that to the page. It puts me back at square one. I needed to hear this observation, no matter how much I might deny it. That is what makes critiques so necessary. They provide an outside view capable of seeing flaws we as authors are too close to the work to notice.

If you are a writer of any level and any genre, I highly recommend getting involved in a critique group. Not only will they point out your need for an editor or glaring character flaws, but also issues with pacing, plot development, and if your work is maintaining interest.

A good critique partner or group is instrumental in your ability to produce the best work possible. But not all critiques are golden. Beware of vague or unhelpful remarks like, This sucks or I would write it this way. Such remarks are not constructive and won’t help you grow.

Ask for specifics. What about the writing made you lose interest? Do my characters seem like real people? Is the pacing consistent? Does the dialogue seem natural? Getting specific answers to specific questions will help you determine where your weak spots are and what needs a stronger focus.

And always make sure to be a good critique partner in return. If someone agrees to read your work, return the favor. Writers should help each other.

For more information on critique methods, what makes a good critique, and how to find critique partners, check the links below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_UkJKmP72Rk

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ywD5jZ_KGIQ

http://www.critters.org/c/about.ht

https://writeitsideways.com/5-keys-to-giving-constructive-writing-critiques/

Marketing Monday

This week I’m going to cover marketing with Facebook.  

As authors in a highly competitive business, whether indie published or traditional, you have to attract as much attention as possible.  One of the easiest ways to do so is Facebook. The social media giant has been a staple in modern life for years, increasingly becoming a larger part of how we communicate and connect with the world. While Facebook does sell promotional services, promising to post your ads prominently in exchange for a fee, there are many ways to utilize the site for free.

A big part of building an audience and readership is connecting with people on a personal level.  Join Facebook writing groups and critique groups, participate in threads and engage in meaningful conversation.  Writers are also readers, and if they are invested in you on a personal level, they will invest in your work.  You also get the added benefit of sharing the experience and wisdom of many other authors, helping each other grow and improve.  

Do not spam your Facebook friends and colleagues with endless requests to buy your books, read your blogs, or edit your manuscript for free.  One, that’s just rude.  And two, the relationships you’re fostering should be mutually beneficial.  For every person who agrees to critique your work or share your links, be prepared to do the same for them.

Some groups are for marketing only, and you should join several groups that cater to your genre.  The purpose of these pages is not to socialize and educate, but to shamelessly self-promote your work, blog, and any other artistic endeavors you may be pursuing.  Readers are aware of these groups and will browse the feeds looking for interesting new books to check out.  Try to post once a week to keep your books visible.

When you are releasing a new novel, you can also use Facebook as a virtual venue for release parties and launches.  Events are incredibly easy to create.  Invite all your friends and encourage them to invite others they know who may be interested.  Offer prizes and giveaways in the form of free ebooks, swag, or exchange services.  Have fun little contests like asking commenters to caption a funny picture, or share personal stories.  If you have enough ebooks and swag, hold a raffle at the end of your event that includes a gift basket of 6 or more items. This will encourage people to stay to the end in the hopes of winning.  

Invite author friends to share the attention, promoting their own books to attract a bigger crowd.  Post ‘ask me anything’ questions and connect with your audience.  Do on the spot interviews and post links to all your websites and the sites of fellow authors who have helped you.  The more authors you can get involved in your book release, the more potential readers you can reach.

All of these methods cost nothing but time and witty commentary.  It is a long process, but all of marketing is.  You’re in it for the long haul, so do what you can.  By publishing excellent writing and staying in the forefront of readers’ minds, you can succeed in this competitive business.

Flash Friday

Salvation

“Never forget, every corpse you see once breathed and loved the same as you. They did not ask to be cursed. It is our duty to release their souls.”

Her grandfather’s words reiterated in her head, driving her mission, her life.  He was gone now, like so many others. Rotted corpses all, dead but still moving, thirsting for the flesh of their kindred.

Sarah lifted her head, the soreness in her neck limiting her range of sight.  The city lay in shambles, buildings burned with no fire brigade to save them, windows smashed by desperate looters, debris clogging the streets.  Wind swirled papers and dried leaves in eddies through alleys and alcoves. Years had passed since Sarah had heard a child’s laughter, or the clamor of city life.

Movement caught her eye, the tell-tale shuffle of what her grandfather called the Walking Cursed.  Sarah turned her body towards the creature, the stiffness of muscles and joints hindering her movement, sending twinges of pain up her spine.  The righteous mission to free the cursed souls had not been kind to her body, but it was a necessary sacrifice.  One she made gladly every day to honor her grandfather and prove her faith.  

The creature watched her hobbling approach, curious and unafraid.  Once a man, it was now an animate bundle of decaying sinew and muscle, leaning heavily to the right on a shriveled and maimed leg.  His face sunken, moisture drained from cheeks, the flesh pulled tight and cracking.  Lips stretched into a permanent sneer, eyes cloudy and dull.

Sarah always looked them in the eye.  She wanted them to know what she did was a kindness.  The evil that engulfed the land trapped them on the mortal realm, robbed them of their final afterlife.  Through her hand, salvation would be theirs at last. She couldn’t save them all, but she’d free as many as she could while her body still held. At first, they had fought her. But now, the cursed seemed to recognize she was only there to help.

The walking corpse continued to eye her with interest, snapped tendons giving his head a heavy tilt.  Close enough he could have reached out and grabbed her, yet still he observed.  He worked his jaw to speak, only managing a weak moan.   

Sarah raised her arm, fist clenched tight around a bloodied club. The muscles strained to lift the smooth wood, bones clicking as they scraped against dry ligaments. More and more, she felt her tired body weaken. Only the mission kept her going when she would have sought her own peace.

“I give you mercy.  May you find peace.”

She did not say the words anymore.  Her throat had long ago withered, her voice box inflexible. But her thoughts and intentions were there, and she knew they heard her.

Swinging the club into the side of the zombie’s head, he toppled to the ground. She lacked the strength to kill with a single blow and forced her arm to rise again.  The club fell to his crown, again and again, until the bones cracked and black ichor, the residue of his brain, oozed onto the pavement.  With a soft moan, the zombie ceased his twitching, finally and truly dead.

Sarah straightened, groaning as she rolled her shoulders back, flexing strained muscles. Sighing heavily, Sarah shuffled back to the street. As long as her body still worked, she must press on.  

A loud crack echoed between the walls of the buildings. Something sharp and hard slammed into Sarah’s temple and she stumbled to her knees.  Red washed over her vision and she blinked, watching stunned as blood dripped down her face.  She reached her free hand up to her neck, wrapping emaciated fingers around the precious cross hung from a tarnished chain.

My mercy has come. May I find peace.

Another shot, a second bullet aimed slightly lower, pierced her skull and ripped through the remnants of her brain. Her body fell prone as her soul flew free.

From the rooftop, Bob exchanged a high-five with Frank.

“Fuck yeah, man,” Frank cheered, scratching another mark on the scoreboard.  “Twenty-seven to Thirty-two. You’re catching up, man.”

Bob spit a glob of tobacco juice over the wall and reloaded his rifle.

“Ain’t never seen a zed kill another zed before. That was weird.”

“They got soup for brains, Bob.  Ain’t no telling what goes on up there.”
Grunting in agreement, Bob pressed his eye to the sight, searching for another target.

Writing Wednesday

Authors are frequently asked, What inspires you?

It’s a very personal question, one with as many different answers as there are authors.  And often a very complex answer.  A single thing does not bring about the drive to write and finish that manuscript.  We have inspiration for the initial spark of a story. Another to actually write it. Another to strive to complete it, and yet another to brave cruel rejection and put it out for the world to see.

For that initial spark, most of my inspiration comes from mythology, folklore, and urban legend.  I enjoy retelling old tales in a new way. Comic books, movies, and books also feed my imagination. They encourage me to take a single idea and expand it into a new universe, an alternate history, or a fantasy realm.  

The community of authors across the interwebs fuel my confidence and ambition.  

Close personal friend and fellow author R. Judas Brown is an invaluable soundingboard, helping me to formulate basic premises into full-blown novels.  He also provides tons of positive reinforcement, pushing me to believe in my ability to weave fantastic tales.

My mentor Lisa Vasquez, an amazing author in her own right and kick-ass CEO of her own publishing company, has done amazing at keeping me focused and improving my writing style.  She heads a wonderful family of authors, editors, and readers all working towards one goal – to be awesome.  

It’s not just people I know who inspire me, but those I’ll never meet, too.  I watch writing vlogs obsessively, but two stand out as my main motivators above all the rest.

Jenna Moreci is a self-published author with a quick wit and an entertaining turn of phrase.  I enjoy the comedic feel of her videos, but also value her writing advice.  Not everything she talks about will apply, but she presents it well and in such a way I can easily twist it to suit my needs.  

Travis McBee has many books under his belt at a fairly young age, and I admire his drive to continue writing.  He’s a tell-it-like-it-is person, and isn’t one to sugarcoat things.  That’s his appeal.  His take on writing is so much more realistic and honest than the hundreds of cheery teens excitedly yelling at you through their webcam how amazing and famous they will be as soon as they finish Twilight Re-Do Number 1267.

These are the reasons I keep writing, even if it’s slow going.  The stories in my head demand to be written. The community around me not only assures me it can be done, but helps to hone my talent along the way so when it finally comes to fruition, it’s worth the wait.  I want to get my novel out there.  I am inspired to do so.

What inspires you?

Marketing Monday

Promotion – the dirty word of the publishing industry.  Whether self-published, traditional, or something in between, promoting yourself and your work is a dire necessity.

While it’s perfectly acceptable to wait until your novel is published to begin pimping yourself, many authors choose to increase their visibility while still in the drafting stages.  The idea behind this is, the more you can build up tension for your coming release, the more readers you will have.  

I haven’t completed my first novel yet, so I can’t speak to the veracity of this plan.  I am, however, in the process of building my reader base.  After all, it’s part of branding and I am now a very serious author (your perception may vary).  I’d like to share my basic tips on promotion, marketing, and building your platform.  All of these will be visited in greater detail in the coming weeks, but here’s a brief rundown.

Every author who intends to be published or to keep getting published should have a social media presence.  Facebook author page, Twitter account, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest.  You don’t have to have all of them – find the ones that work for you and can commit to keeping current.

Blogging/vlogging is also very helpful.  Readers often want to know an author on a personal level.  With a blog/vlog, you can keep your readers abreast of any updates, but also your experiences, trials, successes, and little germs of wisdom you’ve acquired along the way.  If you can develop an interest in you as a person, that will translate into an interest in your books.

WattPad, The Prose, Writer’s Cafe, Booksie, and Surgebook are great sites for building interest in your work.  Post a few chapters, gain valuable feedback and followers, learn what’s working in your story and what isn’t.  Don’t give away the whole cow for free, though.  Publishers generally will not accept anything already published in its entirety online.  

Build your network.  Go to conventions and speak with other authors. Join online writing communities. Collaborate with authors and support them. Reach out to reviewers.  Interact as much as possible.  You want to cultivate your following, reward them for their continued interest.  This could include a contest giveaway, sneak peeks at new work, exclusive newsletters. Use your imagination.

Above all, the novel you release needs to live up to their expectations.  Professional editing, eye-catching covers, amazing writing.  All your campaigning will mean nothing if the final product leaves them running for the hills.  Marketing and promotion is about presenting your best self possible all the time.  

Be great, be amazing, be you.  And if you’re lucky, readers will follow.

Fiction Friday

Sphynx Jinx

The crew bustled around the stage, making last minute adjustments to lighting and props. Kiza bounced on her heels, the ball of apprehension in the pit of her stomach sending bolts of energy through her limbs. The djinn tugged on a long black braid and wiped sweat from her blue-skinned brow. Next to her, the sphynx, Nara, patiently waited while the make-up artist highlighted her golden cheekbones and smoothed brown feathers back into place along pert wings. The hairstylist twisted the long, honey-gold mane into a chignon and brushed loose fur from her hide.

The sphynx rolled a tawny eye at her handler, sharp canines peeking from between bright red lips.

“Your anxious prancing is distracting. Calm yourself, I will not lose.”

She glanced over at the show’s first contestant being similarly preened on the other side of the stage. He was middle-aged and balding, with a paunch grown from too much beer and too little exercise.

“I do wish they had provided a leaner one. These Americans give me heartburn.”

Kiza blanched under her cerulean hue.

“You cannot eat him, Nara. This is a game. If you win, he merely goes home without any treasure.”

Nara scoffed, smiling at her the way one would at an ill-informed child.

“That is not how the game is played. I have done this many times, Kiza. The game is mine.”

Her stomach turned cold. Her greatest fear about this whole game show fiasco was quickly becoming reality. Who’s idea was it anyway to hire a real live sphynx to host a trivia show? These silly people cared for nothing but gimmicks and the bottom line. They didn’t understand the nature of a sphynx, their bloodlust and obsession with proving their superiority at brainteasers.

Kiza should never have let it get this far. She told Kevin, their boss at Extravaganza Circus, to refuse to loan Nara out to the show. The fee, however, had been too much for Kevin to refuse. The producers wanted a Shade monster, but it didn’t have to be a real sphynx. Her boss could easily have told Meegan to give them an illusion, one that would film real enough without the danger of tangible claws and teeth.

It was too late, now. The deal had been struck, the contracts signed. Kiza and Nara were to film eight episodes or risk litigation. Kiza didn’t think they’d last even one.

Catching sight of Mr. Davidson just off-stage, she rushed over to reason with the trend-savvy business man one last time. She grabbed his elbow and tugged, forcing him to look her in the eye.

“Please, Mr. Davidson, you cannot do this. Nara is not a pet, and she does not think like you humans. The game is real for her.”

He jerked his arm from her grasp, smoothing wrinkles the djinn’s thin blue fingers had left. His smile was bland, business-like, and not nearly as concerned as he should be.

“Perfect. A bit of realism to liven up the crowd. They love off the cuff banter.”

“This is serious. She cannot host. Can’t you use an illusion instead?”

Mr. Davidson narrowed his eyes, glancing over at Nara in the final stages of wardrobe with uncertainty. He pursed his lips, recalling the huge investments his company had laid on the venture. VeilFilm Enterprises was counting on a Shade celebrity success to rejuvenate their failing empire.

“Why? Did she forget her lines? Don’t worry, we’ve got cue cards in case she stumbles. Everything will go smoothly.”

“Mr. Davidson-”

“Look, the cameras are about to roll. Can she say her lines, or not?”

Kiza sighed, her shoulders slumping as she abandoned warning the stage manager of the impending doom.

“Yes, but that is not the problem.”

“Great, good enough. Places, everyone!”

— read the entire tale on WattPad

Legit Author Bullsh*t Step 1

So you wanna be a writer?  That’s awesome.  Me, too.  But where do I begin?  With the story, of course!  You can’t be an author without a story.

But who’s gonna read that story?  Better start building an audience.

How do you get an audience?  Guess I need a platform and author brand.  Facebook, Twitter, WattPad and on and on. I have to let people know I’m out here and what I’m all about.

How can I make people care about my brand and follow all my social media posts?  Oh, right.  I need a story.

Back to square one.

And it is a square. Or a cube, perhaps.  Because you can’t have just a great story, or just a great audience, or just a great platform.  You need all of them at once.  It’s daunting, anxiety-inducing, gut-twisting.  It’s enough to make you quit before you even begin.

Don’t.

Or do, it’s up to you.  But I’m determined to stick it out, to keep trying, keep pimping my name like a shameless you-know-what of self-promotion and attention-grabbing.  That’s what I tell myself, as I look at my media feeds and see my pitifully small following.  

I’m okay with my small following, for now.  Each and everyone of the lovely people who stroke my ego with their likes and retweets are beautiful and I’m grateful to have them.  One day, I’ll have more, just like I’ll have more publications under my belt, more awesome stories to put forth.

It takes time and perseverance.  It will frustrate you, make you cry and rip your hair out, but it’s worth it.  If you have a dream to get your words out there, don’t give up.  It may take weeks, it may take months, and you may never attain the fame you desire.  But every satisfied reader makes all the pain and effort worth it.  

So where do you really begin on this author journey?  With determination.  It’s going to be a bumpy ride.  Share a seat with me.