Saturday, 20 May 2017

Why you should write in the genre you love

When I began writing my dystopian novel, Wild Children, I was pregnant with my son, and I think this hormone-infused state might have prompted the creation of the book's concept. I thought of the women who have suffered unspeakable cruelty under the Chinese population control policy - forced abortions, forced sterilizations, or simply having to give up on having more than one child - and asked myself: could something similar happen in the Western world? 

From there it was a pretty short leap to post-apocalyptic United States, where the government controls reproductive choices and transgressions are mercilessly punished. A woman named Rebecca has an illegal baby and, fearing retribution, leaves him in an orphanage, though it breaks her heart. Rebecca can never forget her son, however, and trying to find out about his fate leads her to the discovery of a government conspiracy on a scale she had never imagined. 

I wrote this book simply because I could not keep the story from pouring out to the pages, but once I was done, I naturally asked the questions every author who aspires to more than just writing for a hobby asks: will people be interested in reading this? Will any agent and/or publisher be interested in signing this up? Will it sell? 

I was somewhat discouraged because, at that time, several prominent agents, publishers and literary critics widely claimed that dystopian fiction is dead, that the market is saturated, and that people are tired of endless books riding on the wave of The Hunger Games. Reading this was pretty depressing, I confess. It even prompted me to start a forum thread titled, "Should I chuck my novel into the garbage?"

What, then, prevented me from throwing up my arms in despair and moving on to other projects?

The first reason was very prosaic. The novel had already been written, and I wouldn't be losing anything by querying it. The second ran deeper: after considering this for a while, I realized I don't really believe in "dead" genres.  All genres have their ebbs and flows, and a good book would eventually find its audience even if it wasn’t riding a trend, I hoped. 

Furthermore, I knew I wasn't attempting to copy The Hunger Games - that would be hard to do, as I hadn't even read the trilogy! 

So I queried far and wide, and after almost a year, during which I began working on a sequel to Wild Children, I signed up with Mason Marshall Press. I had been wary of small presses in the past, but working with them has been wonderful: my manuscript received lots of attention and was very meticulously edited, and any questions or concerns I had were always promptly addressed. I know that I have ended up with a much better, stronger book than if I had chosen to self-publish. 

When time came to reach out to other people about the book, I became further affirmed in my opinion that dystopian fiction is far from dead. People kept telling me that they love the genre, are always looking for good new dystopian reads, and would love to read my book when it comes out. Only a short time has passed since the publication, but we have already had some very positive feedback from people who've read the book and enjoyed it, and I'm sure glad I didn't bury it in my "Dismissed" folder. 

If there is one message I would like to pass on to other authors, it would be, write in the genre you love, because your inner passion will show. Focus less on the current popularity of the genre (which can peak or dip by the time you finish your book anyway) and more on producing the best book you possibly can. 

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Wattpad: a useful tool or a waste of time?

Image result for wattpad

I first found out about Wattpad from Lindsay Buroker's blog, and jumped in with the goal of connecting with other writers and building a readership. About a year and a half later, here is what I learned:

- Wattpad is a truly amazing dynamic network for readers and writers which gives voracious readers plenty of material; writers, in their turn, receive feedback, validation and, hopefully, following.

Caveats:

- Don't expect to have tons of reads soon. There is an ocean of stories on Wattpad, all vying for readers. Admittedly, not all of it is high quality material (to put it mildly), but it's hard to stand out.

- If you think that you will get book sales by posting some of the chapters and telling people to go to Amazon and buy the rest, think again. There are tons of complete book length works on Wattpad, all free.

- A good way of getting traction on Wattpad is applying to be featured but, again, you can only do this with complete works. I got only about 500 views on Paths of the Shadow before it was featured. Once I applied and the book got accepted as a featured story, the number of views grew to close to 20K.

Wattpad can be a good marketing tool for series if an author chooses to post all of the first book: it will attract more readers than just half a book. I have the first two books of my fantasy series, Paths of the Shadow and Warriors of the Realm, available on Wattpad in complete form. People who get hooked on these first two books go on to check the sample of the third.

However, one must keep in mind that the direct buying power of Wattpad readers is relatively low, as many of them are teenagers. You might get some very loyal fans this way, though, as many of us tend to stay loyal to books we have grown to love early on.

Summary: Wattpad can be a part of an author's long term strategy and of building a following, but other forms of promotion, such as Amazon or Facebook ads, are more effective for short-term sales.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

How being an editor makes me a better writer

Image result for editing

I used to scoff at editing. Writing was a shiny comet, a brilliant stroke of inspiration, a touch of the divine it would be sacrilegious to tweak or change. What was once put down on a page stayed there for good. And you know what they say about editors, right? Editors are wannabe writers that just weren't good enough.

Of course, that was a long time ago, and today I'm wiser. Writing that first draft is just the initial stage of the process; polishing it into publishable shape is a much slower and, admittedly, more tedious step, but an absolutely necessary one. No great work of fiction sprung into being as a first and only draft. Every book we have ever known has been edited, sometimes heavily.

These days I do some freelance proofreading and editing for other authors. Not too much, because I always have so many projects on my plate that I wish I had about ten more hours each day, and I could easily fill them with work, but I do take on some projects by request.

This doesn't necessarily mean that I'm a better writer than those authors who trusted me with their work. An editor doesn't need to be a prodigy. They just need to be capable and have a pair of discerning eyes. And that's so much more effective when done for someone else's work. When looking at our own, we automatically tend to gloss over little inconsistencies, mistakes, odd turns of phrase - all the things that jump out at once when reading something written by someone else.

That is why I believe that, if Jane Austen had a sister who was also a brilliant writer and wrote witty and engaging novels about marriage, the two would do much better taking each other's work and correcting it, than each trying to edit their own.

Working on other people's books makes me more capable of taking a step back and critically evaluating my own. Which is by necessity a good thing. The drawback is that nowadays, no matter what I'm reading - even if it's a paperback I bought in a local bookstore - I feel like whipping out my red pen.

Monday, 1 May 2017

KDP Select: yay or nay?


Up until now, I have enrolled all my books in KDP Select, but I have begun to question this decision regarding my newest upcoming release, The Landlord - a
 novel that swerves between contemporary England and the Regency era. After initially deciding this will be a self-published project and shooting for sometime in the summer for release date, I now have to determine whether to go Amazon exclusive.

The question appears to be simple: do the benefits of the KDP Select program outweigh possible sales at other retailers? What does KDP Select actually offer authors?

With Amazon exclusivity you get nifty promo options: free days and Kindle Countdown deals. You also are part of the Kindle Unlimited and KOLL, which means that people who have a KU subscription can check out your book risk free, and this gives you a chance to bait many potential readers who otherwise wouldn't buy your book.

Having said that, I do have to say that KU doesn't make much difference to my direct income from books, though I assume it raises reader awareness.

On the other hand, I don't know how good it is for authors in the long term to put all their eggs in one basket and reinforce Amazon's monopoly. Amazon is already pretty snotty with authors; I had several reviews removed from one of my books with no actual explanation. Amazon can afford to lose out on my sales if I have no reviews. I'm only a tiny little grain of sand in the ocean of indie authors, after all.

So, I haven’t quite decided yet, but I'm inclined to try out doing something different from KDP Select, at least this once. What about you? Do you give exclusive rights to Amazon, or do you spread out a bit more?

Friday, 28 April 2017

Wild Children now available!


The big day is here! Wild Children, my newest release, is now up and available for purchase in print and on Kindle.

The novel is set in a dystopian world where reproduction is strictly controlled and transgressions punished. Those who are born without a permit grow up on the fringes of society and are cast out into the wild abandoned lands at the age of twelve.

A boy is born despite a law that states he has no right to live. His mother loves him, though he puts her entire family in danger. Circumstances force her to give up her son, but nothing can tear the love out of a mother's heart.


Saturday, 22 April 2017

My journey: from SAHM to writer/entrepreneur

Image result for mom and writer

When I got married, I wasn't a creative entrepreneur with a burning vision of making money doing what I love best - writing - but merely someone who wanted a rural home to raise her children, homeschool, garden and keep chickens. 

Nearly a decade later, I do all these things, and combined they are more than a full time job. I love my life. I don't wish my children away; I don't want to live in a neat little low-maintenance cubicle of an apartment. However, one has to face the truth: most of my time is taken up by childcare, lessons, housework and homestead chores, and any writing/learning/marketing is done in short, sporadic bursts. My novels are born of stolen moments I often literally have to fight tooth and nail for. I don't have a private work space, my own computer, or set hours. 

But my mindset is wholly different. I have a goal now: to be a better writer, and to earn money doing it. I live, breathe and work towards this goal every single day, even if practically I spend most of it wiping runny noses or trying to get children to do their maths. I snatch up every available moment to do something to advance my goal. Novels are written one word at a time. A day in which I wrote two paragraphs is better than a day of no writing at all. 

I have always been writing - poetry, prose, jokes, essays - but my upgrade to a more professional level came from a combination of two factors: one, my maturing as a writer and taking on more ambitious work, and two, financial distress brought on by my husband's unstable job situation. We needed extra income. I knew I couldn't get a job outside the home (we live very much out of the way, have only one car, and homeschool). Writing is - I flatter myself - what I do best. I decided to give it a go as a business venture. 

This couldn't have happened without sacrifices, of course. I stopped watching movies on YouTube and commenting on photos of people's pets on Facebook. I made many of my friends wonder whether I'm still alive. I got up early and went to bed late. Every moment of my computer time was dedicated to writing, networking, or business research. 

I'm still too early on in this journey to write a Here Is What I Learned post, but I can definitely say this: writing is not a get rich quick plan. In the short term, I could probably make more money babysitting other people's children. But writing and publishing is more than a dream, it's a goal with an outlook towards the future. My succeeding as a writer would greatly enhance our family's financial stability. Each published novel is an ambassador circulating out there and working to earn us money even when it's a period in which I'm not actively writing.

Here is a caveat: writing is still dismissed by my family as a hobby and, I suppose, will be until some actual serious money starts coming in. If my kids ask me to do something for them and I say, "I'm busy writing," they just give me a blank look. I might as well have said "I'm playing a computer game" for all the understanding I get. My husband doesn't get why on earth, if I did drag myself out of bed at 6 A.M. (after five hours of sleep), I don't take advantage of this quiet morning spell to mop the floors or start lunch, or do some other such productive thing. Spending a cumulative sum of hundreds of dollars on stupid junk on eBay is fine. Spending a fraction of that on a book cover is unthinkable.

Bottom line: I can't and don't expect my family to be my cheerleading team and create opportunities for me. I am my own cheerleader. I create my own opportunities. I cling to this wall with my own bleeding fingernails as I drag myself up (often stumbling and slipping, but still finding myself, at the end of a period, at a higher place than before).

I will keep updating as I travel down this road. 

Saturday, 15 April 2017

For authors: the key to handling rejection

Image result for desperate writer

Getting rejected is one of the most frustrating parts of being an author. Furthermore, it's absolutely inevitable - I'm yet to meet an author aiming at the traditional publishing route who didn't get fifty rejects for each acceptance.

I'm right now on my third project making the rounds of queries among literary agents and publishers. I self-published Quest of the Messenger after a bagful of rejections, some of them actually expressing enthusiasm about the book but claiming it just isn't commercially viable. I signed with Mason Marshall Press for my upcoming novel, Wild Children (and its sequels). I'm now looking for either an agent or a publisher for my Middle Grade novel, A Bride for the Beast, being reluctant to self publish as I know that Middle Grade books generally do less well as self published projects.

In short, I'm facing rejects. Many rejects, with prospects for many more, as I also plan to query my current WIP, a historical fiction novel focusing on the character of Eldad ha-Dani. So how do I put up with it all?

One, I compartmentalize. I deal with queries on the first of each month, and after sending out a bunch of eight or ten, I forget about it for the rest of the month. I take notes of rejections as they come, and try not to think of them anymore.

Second, I leave some projects for myself to self-publish, such as my planned release, The Landlord. This way I have something to focus on which is under my control, something I can do without waiting for anyone's permission. It is incredibly empowering.

What about you? What are your best tips and strategies for handling rejection?