As a Reader…

surreal_fantasy_art_boats_maps_digital_art_photo_manipulation_Wallpaper HD_2560x1440_www.paperhi.comI love books.  I always have.  Even now that I’m writing them, I still love to read books by others.  Like, a lot!  This means that most Saturday mornings I shop my Twitter feed to see what other indie authors are offering.

Today, I wanted to bang my head against a wall.  This is HORRIBLE people.

Grabbing the first free stock photo you see that’s close enough, cropping it to the right shape, and slapping some Arial 48pt font across it with standard leading is NOT how to make a good cover.  If it takes you less time to design the cover than write the blurb, you’re either a professional designer – or doing it wrong.  Probably the later.

Typography is the art of choosing the right font, setting it together in such a way as to appeal to the eye, and adding those pretty little flares.  Knowing your font families, how many of them you can use at a time (and I mean ALL text on a cover) and how to draw the eye to the important and appealing events on your cover?  Yeah, that’s what will sell your book.

Covers demand more than a basic stock image.  Try some filters.  A little photoshop maybe? Enhance the saturation, contrast, and maybe soften something up.  Take that stock image and make it YOURS.

But I swear, most authors forget what it’s like to shop for a book as a reader.  They spend all their time writing, and none of it making their art into something appealing to the masses.  They want to do it cheap (because that’s the path to riches?  I dunno.) and think that spending money on something like a cover or a PR company is just “too expensive”.  THEN they wonder why no one buys their most brilliantly written masterpiece.  Well, I’ll make this easy:

If you don’t believe in your book enough to spend money on it, then why should I?

That’s really all there is to it.  When I look at the cover and blurb for your book, if I get the feeling that you rushed through it, then I’m going to assume that you put as little effort into your manuscript.  You probably didn’t spend money on an editor.  You very likely didn’t listen to any advice you were given (because this stuff is everywhere on the internet) and you are lazy/cheap.  Probably both.

And no matter how many times you spam your Twitter feed, throw it up on facebook, pin it on Pinterest, or whatever else you do, that won’t make me suddenly have a desire to actually SPEND MONEY on something you’re too cheap to pay for.  You, the person who created it.  You should be its biggest fan.

Instead, it’s likely to convince me that you’re a hack who sucks at this – and that’s before I ever read a word.

Having a bad cover that tried is different.  Putting effort into something is usually obvious.  Now, maybe your cover sucks, but I can see you tried.  Well, I might make it all the way to the blurb – where your WRITING has a chance to impress me.  I might not.  I also won’t think less of you for changing your cover because it sucks.  Rather the opposite, in fact.

We all know this independent author thing takes a little learning to get right.  There will be trial and error.  What we as readers unconsciously avoid like the plague are the authors who come across like they are out to scam us.  Writing is not a get rich quick scheme.  It never will be.  It’s art, and you should treat your ENTIRE book like a masterpiece so that I’ll think it’s worth as much as a cup of coffee.

Because I promise you, dear author, that you do not deserve my money.  You have to earn it.

My thoughts on Piracy

skull-34133_1280Authors are always terrified of their work being “stolen”.  They think that somehow they are losing a sale because someone may have read their work without paying the paltry few dollars for the privilege.  I happen to disagree.

I see piracy as the best free marketing plan EVER!  I’m not some big shot who can command millions of people to line up in wait for the release of my next book.  I’m just an author – a rather average one – like so many other authors out in this new age of digital books.  I write stories that grab people and shake them, refusing to let go until they have read the entire series.  I pride myself on books that almost force the reader to get the next and spend nights laying in bed wondering what is happening to the characters.  This is my forte.  Marketing?  Not so much.

So when someone wants to recommend my book to a friend?  That’s golden.  It’s the best way to spread my “brand”.  It’s also how I found every author I love.  I can honestly say that I didn’t buy my first Harry Potter book.  Nope, I was loaned it by a friend.  I didn’t buy my first Anne McCaffrey book, I was allowed to read my mother’s copy.  I didn’t buy my first Lewis Carrol book.  I picked it up at the library.

deaths-head-487276_1280And then I became addicted.

I found authors to love based on a single “free” copy of a book.  I’ve found others through less “acceptable” means.  One of my current favorites, Anne Bishop, is such an example.  I was researching something for one of my books and stumbled upon one of those links.  Being Captain Oblivious, I clicked it, and began reading this story on the web.  It was an amazing tale of our world – but in an alternate timeline where things were much more magical.  The characters, the setting, and everything sucked me in!  So, I bought the first three books and began waiting for the rest of the series to be finished.

Yes, I found my most recent preferred author from a pirated book.  The horrors!  Now, keep in mind that I had no idea she existed otherwise, and hence wouldn’t have bought any of her books.  That “free to read online” copy of her book sold me on four novels, and I plan to read her other series as well.

So now, every time I have to decide whether to click the DRM box or not, I don’t.  If someone is too poor to afford my book, then let them read it however they can.  If they love it, maybe they will tell a friend.  If enough people do that, maybe more people will read.  The libraries are closing.  The ability for people to read for free is vanishing.  I want to make sure it never truly disappears.  To me, that means more than a couple of dollars from people who wouldn’t have bought my book anyway.

And maybe, now that they know I exist, they’ll buy the next one.

Must Focus

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In my head is a war.  It’s part perfection, part creativity.  One segment of my mind is screaming that I need to get the iliri series completed, out, and available to readers.  I’ve already written it, so I need to complete all the polish and shine that these books deserve.

The other part of my mind is wandering through my library.  Oh, there’s that book about the world after global warming.  Right, then there’s the one about the gamers.  Oh hey, what about that romance that you’ve almost finished?  You could just sit down and smack out the last couple of chapters since you’ve already planned it all.  Wait, what about the urban fantasy, the steampunk book, or maybe the sci-fi colony thing?

And KABAM!  I’m staring at the screen, flipping through twitter, and obsessed with my sales – all while doing NOTHING about my writing.  Grr.

I’ve reached that point in authorship where the demands of producing books are equal to that of writing them (marketing/promotions vs clicking of keys).  Free time is at an all time low, readers are at an all time high, success is “in sight” (depending upon how one defines that) and I’m comfortably happy with my foray into this field.  I actually LIKE being an author.  I like it so much that my brain just wanders off to some remote island and wallows in the warmth of it, laying around like some beached whale…

… and completely stumped as to what comes next!  I have a list of things to do.  Like how I should be nicer to my editor (but seriously!  She said the comma doesn’t belong there.  Is she blind or daft?!?) or maybe working on the cover for book 3.  How about deciding on a friggin title for that book?  Never mind that I shouldn’t be blogging about my writing.  This space should be something entertaining and wonderful for my fans.

Instead, I’m wallowing in the joys of being an author.  I’m gonna take a moment and just let this happen.  I think a day will do.  Maybe plant a flower, while reminding myself that I’ve done it.  I’m an author.  I made stories that other people – people I don’t even know – like enough to tell me about.  I made something, and it’s kinda good.

Yes.  I did this.

Wait.  Wasn’t I supposed to be focusing?  Hmm.  I think I’ll go do that in the sun.  Maybe with a good book.  I think Instinctual needs another read through, and then I can call it “working”.  Now why didn’t I do this before?

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How to be an Author

books-are-magicIt seems everyone wants to do it.  No one knows the rules.  Some say there’s money out there for the taking.  Let me tell ya the truth.

Being an author is like a job.

Yeah, it may be a fun job, but there’s still some responsibilities and deadlines that have to be met.  Sometimes, there’s even a few bits that kinda suck to do.  So, let me give you a very brief overview of what you need to consider before you press “publish” on KDP.

First, you need a story.  I’m not talking about some interaction between two smoking hot people, who you wish one of them was you.  I’m talking about a story that can be set up in a single sentence.  Here’s a few examples:

  • Mackenzie just found out she has cancer and is determined to become a survivor.
  • Since a man isn’t going to come save her, Leyli plans to become a successful gladiator so she can save herself.
  • The Heir to the throne has never been a woman before, but that won’t stop her from doing what she must to protect her country, even if she hates it.
  • The PLG may be a boy’s club, but Riley is determined to be the first woman to become a professional gamer and destroy the glass ceiling.
  • Salryc may be a beast, but that doesn’t mean she’s worse than a human, and she’ll do whatever it takes to show the world that iliri are people, too.

Now, if you’re paying close attention, you might notice that those are MY books (and that 2 of them have yet to be released…enjoy).  Naturally, I didn’t start with a one-liner.  I start with an idea, and end up with the sentence.  It doesn’t matter how you get there.  The point is that your story must start somewhere, move through obstacles of some kind, and reach a solution.  Happy, sad, good, or bad, it doesn’t matter, but you must END the story.

Next, you must pick a perspective.

lauren-dicioccio-book-art-3First person.  Third person limited.  Omniscient.  Even second person if you’re feeling a little psychotic and want to have people cuss at you.  Now, if you don’t know what these phrases mean, try Google.  Research.  Learn.  Treat yourself like an artist trying to improve the craft.

As an aside: head hopping is evil.  Do not do it.  If you try to say it’s “omniscient” perspective, then just slap your own face for the rest of us.  We’ll want to, if that manuscript ever sees the light of day.  Omniscient has no inner thoughts and relies on ONLY mannerisms and descriptions of what can be seen, heard, felt, etc.  Third person limited is what you’re thinking of, and if you switch whose head you’re inside, well, you have rules.  Yeah… Google them.

When you finish – if you do – read it again.

Cruel point here.  Many writers never have the guts to actually finish a novel.  I hear it’s hard.  Personally, I think it’s due to confusion.  They want to write a GOOD book.  Unfortunately, no one has ever done that.  Many of us write books that “aren’t bad” but they still need help to become GOOD.  The first step, though, is to write a bad one.

When that is done, read it.  Highlight the bits that bother you.  Fix the typos (now, not while you’re trying to finish).  Watch out for things like now/not or chance/change.  Spell check won’t see those.  Make things tolerable enough while you read it, looking at the details.  Did her dress change colors?  Did an extra hand appear in that sex scene?  Is her brother suddenly her father, and then turns into her cousin?  Was his hair always brown?  Thought she left on a Tuesday at 9 am, so how did she arrive on a Monday at noon?  Fix it, highlight it, make notes in red, or margins, or whatever you need to do, but read it and don’t say “I’ll go back and fix that”.  Nope, this is when you fix it.

When you’re done with all of that, read it again.

And then someone else needs to read it.

Not your mom.  Not your best friend (usually, although mine is a writer so that doesn’t really count).  You don’t want the moron down the street to read this love child you’ve created.  Nope.  This is where you pick the smartest, meanest, most cruel-hearted person you know, who might possibly do you a favor.  Beg.  Do whatever it takes, and give them a red pen with the understanding that you want their HONEST opinion.

Then, go home and cry.  You don’t have to tell us you did that, but you will.  When the work comes back, mutilated by this asshole who thinks she knows what it took to make this into a work of art, then you can beat that cum guzzling gutter snipe back into the stone ages with the research you did and how you’re sure that they are wrong.  Er.  Um.  I mean… When the critique partner gives it back, you will probably feel a bit hurt, shocked, and embarrassed at how many things slipped past.  Have another good cry, a few beers, but make sure you lock up the guns first, because killing this person is still not a good idea.  Trust me, you’ll need them (the person, not the guns) again later on.

Now, you let it cook for a while.

frog-prince-book-artIs this your first book?  Great!  Set it aside for a week.  Don’t read it.  Don’t talk to it.  Don’t fix anything.  Start another book, either writing or reading, I don’t care.  Just do not touch it, or you will ruin the process.  Think about ANYTHING else (like that family you ignored while you were writing.  Yeah, your infant just started college, hate to break it to ya, you missed a bit.)

After a week (month is better) read that stupid book you wrote again.

Because cancer/gladiators/gamers/fantasy alien monsters was a horrible idea.  It’s so last decade.  What were you thinking?  Gah, this thing sucks, but you will still read it ONE MORE TIME.  You’ll also find mistakes that made it past you, the others who have read it, and – if you’re lucky/smart – the editor.  Typos happen.  Commas always end up in the wrong place.  Read it again and you WILL find them.  If you think you can write a book, make a cover, and get rich, well, you’re wrong.

If you can handle that…

Then you might be able to become an author.  What I have outlined here is kinda the bare minimum of what it takes to write a book.  You will need to put your pride in a box somewhere and bury it, because you will not be seeing it for a long time.  There are no insta-riches.  There isn’t some easy trick to becoming a multi-millionaire.  This is art.  Yes, it takes an inherent talent, but it can be trained.  Not even Picasso started off as a brilliant artist.  He had to learn, get critiques, and try again.  We all do.

The trick is to realize that your book is not you.  It is a single grain of sand in what makes up the person who wrote it.  Yes, you may love it, but that doesn’t make it great, and if you protect it from all harm, all you will do is ruin it.  Your book will become the pampered child who everyone hates because it’s got a filthy mouth, bad manners, and a helicopter mom.  Your book needs to bleed, to laugh, and to grow up.  Without a few hard knocks, it can never become the beloved novel that is hidden in the pile of shit that was born when you first typed…

The End.

Feminism (or lack of) in Romance

pexels-photo (3)The past few days I’ve been trying to get a little reading in, but can’t.  I’m just sick of the sexism.  Even worse, most of it comes from WOMEN.  Gah.  I love a good romance novel.  I really do.  The problem is finding one.  All too often, the woman is portrayed as an idiot, a gold digger, or worse.  The men are usually rich jerks, who treat their love interest as worse than crap, and we’re supposed to swoon over it.

This makes me wonder if women really find this sexy or if we’re so conditioned to a male dominated society that we simply THINK we should find it hot.

Don’t get me wrong, I like a strong man as much as the next girl.  Confidence is sexy as hell.  A guy willing to protect and care for his girl?  Oh yeah.  But enough with the rich thing already.  Don’t make that his ONLY defining characteristic.  Ok, rich with abs, sorry.

If I want erotica, then I want the woman to have at least as much control over the situation as the guy.  Now, maybe they are both whisked away with hormonal passion and do stupid things — but don’t make her useless while he gets to be the smart, sensible, and powerful one.  If you’re writing an uneven power scale into the story, you’re already halfway to domestic violence.  This is NOT something we want to ingrain in the public as “perfectly ok”.  It is NOT a turn-on to me.

Why not turn the tables?  Why isn’t it sexy for a woman to decide she wants a guy, knock him off his feet with how much he “needs” her, and enjoy the conquest?  Why not make it a power struggle between them?  That’s some pretty good conflict, right there.  Or how about a couple where the man is a feminist, and does everything to lift her up.  THAT would be sexy as hell.  (And yes, I’ve read a few of those.  Thank you to the authors who write them).

Our society has ingrained some horrible things into our female brains, though.  A few examples: there’s no male equivalent for mistress.  Why can men have a piece on the side, and society makes that ok, but there isn’t even a word for when women do it.  Lover?  Uh, what if it’s just sex?  Friends with benefits?  What if it isn’t really a friend, just a relationship of mutual benefit, and she doesn’t want to TALK to him?

How about the whole “the man is always experienced, and the girl is always innocent, or nearly so” thing?  In a very non-scientific poll of my male friends, they assure me that blushing and timid women are rarely a turn on.  A woman in control, with her own power, who relinquishes a bit because she desires HIM is much hotter.  Why are powerful women ugly, and powerless women lovely?  Why is HE always the boss, and not her?  If she is, she’s usually the villain.

Most of all, why is rape considered the shortcut to writing a woman with a dark past?  Ugh!  Stop it already!  Men get raped, too, people.  Consider how that might play out.

So, I’m challenging all authors to change this antiquated dynamic.  Make some sexy women who aren’t as weak as a wet paper bag.  Make strong women become something sexy, while keeping their feminism.  Make men gentle and caring without emasculating them.  Write something hot as hell with a little equality.  Try it, and I bet you’ll see just how many sexist tropes we’ve all fallen into using because it’s just so damned easy.

Go ahead.  Write it.  I dare you.  I double dog dare you.

(and to all those authors who have already done this, you are my inspiration.  Yours are the books I don’t quit reading halfway through!)

The New World of Books

Magic-of-Books-8I love reading.  I think I love it almost as much as writing!  The digital revolution has released millions of books to the public which otherwise would have been stuck in a drawer somewhere.  It’s given us such gems as The Martian, and broken down barriers with mainstream erotica, as in Fifty Shades of Grey (which I still couldn’t finish).  It’s also made it hard to find all the little fishes in this massive ocean of little fish.  Without a miracle – or some brilliant marketing and a whole butt-load of good luck – even the best books are still lost to the readers.

Some of this has to do with the barrier between reader and author, I think.  We find books on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and other social media sites.  We can “talk to” the author.  We read their comments, get a feel for their personality, and start to humanize them.  Then we read the piece of crap they are so very proud of…. and can’t bring ourselves to leave a bad review.

I’ve done it.  I’ve lamented for days over whether I should leave the 1 star review I thought the book deserved, a 3 star with kindly phrased suggestions to give the author hope, or a standard “I don’t have the guts to be honest” 5 star review.  No longer are we just reviewing the product, but also the person who made it – and all of us know that.

But it doesn’t matter.  If we pander to overly sensitive feelings and ill prepared authors, the new wave of books will just decrease in quality.  The gate-keepers are gone.  It’s up to us, the readers, to control quality.  The best tool we have for this are the reviews.  I say this as both a reader and an author.

I keep waiting for my first 1 star review.  Somewhere, someone will hate my work.

I get 5 star reviews that point out glaring mistakes I’ve made.  Yes, I’m embarrassed, but only because I let that make it to “print” and not because the mistake makes me a bad person.

I squeal in delight over the 4 star reviews.  The more critique is mixed with the praise, the happier I am.  This is how the readers teach me.  This is how I learn.  THIS, the honest review, is how I become a better author.  I want to become the best.

See, I realize that the best promotions I can get are those little reviews.  The number beside my book’s listing that says (9 reviews) or (17 reviews) or (342 reviews) …  Those are what subconsciously drive readers to check out my blurb.  It gives them justification to learn more and hopefully be drawn in.  Book blogs are no longer the ultimate marketing tool.  There’s so many that, like books, each of them is lost in the sea of fish.  The internet, and most social media sites are flooded with promotions pages that toss your book out to wallow in its death throws with others who have already succumbed.  Only authors visit those sites.  Readers tend to find their books other ways.

When I stop and think about it, I realize I’m no different.  When I want a book, I shop on my twitter feed.  I prefer listings from the authors, not a book spam service.  I find books in the Amazon store, by clicking on little thumbnails or searching for phrases.  I find books because a friend said it was awesome, and I should read it.  I don’t get newsletters, I don’t spend hours trying to wade through some cheaply made book listing site (why, when Amazon does the same thing!).  I find books the same way I always have, just online instead of in the library.  I shop.  I’m pulled in by a good cover.  I stay for a good blurb.  I give up fast due to bad writing.

And now, as of today, I will no longer be leaving sympathetic reviews.  I don’t have to be mean to be honest, but I will continue to read, and I will say what I think.  Ask me to review your book at your own risk.  I do not promise to give it a wonderful rating.  I promise to help the readers wade through the deep waters of literature in our amazing digital rennaissance of reading.