Thursday, 19 October 2017

Series: Seriously?

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I will make a confession: I am yet to write a book series by planning and design (that is, drawing a story arc that initially spans more than one book).

With Quest of the Messenger, I started all backwards - from what eventually became the second book of the trilogy - proceeded to book 1 because the mythology and back story were just too good to pass, and eventually finished with book 3, because it was quite impossible to wrap up the whole thing without it.

In Wild Children, I encountered even more of a challenge, because I had really set my heart on a standalone novel, and found it hard to accept the truth when a wise friend pointed out that I'm simply trying to cram too much into one book (albeit one of close to 120K words). So I began working on the sequel - even before the first book was published - and, as soon as it was done, realized at least another book is needed to make the story complete.

I know several reverse cases - book series that really could, and should, have been wrapped up in a single volume, or series that started off with a good pace, were successful, and then began to drag because the author and publishers simply couldn't relinquish the steady income of an audience waiting for the books. It is eventually a big letdown, though, and unfair to the readers, who feel like they are being duped, and justly resent it.

Ideally, I believe it's probably best to plan a series before starting to write it - at least to the extent of how many books it will include, and the approximate outline of each volume. I know that, had I initially planned Wild Children as a series, I would have chosen to do a few things differently in the first book, but as it was already written when I realized there would be a sequel, I had to work around this.

I guess it all comes down to a simple but tricky principle: know when to start, and know when to stop. Don't be afraid to jump ahead into a sequel, but don't let a series drag on when it's obviously done all it could, either. Also check out this great post about writing series.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Writing for an Audience

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In the very long, latent stage of my life as an author, I wrote entirely for the drawer, with no idea whatsoever of showing my work to anyone at any point. There was a certain sublime pleasure and satisfaction in this time of writing entirely for myself, with no other purpose than to put some order in the multitude of images and ideas swirling in my head.

Most authors, however, leave the drawer at some point or another, and so did I. It began with publishing poems and short fiction on hobby writing sites, which enabled me, for the first time in my life, to receive feedback. After some years my writing took a more professional approach, with serious long fiction, submissions to agents and publishers, and indie publishing. Today, when I'm working on anything, it is a given that my writing will be read - and probably read by impartial strangers who won't go out of their way to be considerate and kind.

Furthermore, I know more or less that the people who read this particular book will be people who like other books in the genre; I have an estimate of whether my readers are mostly men or women, teens or adults. In other words, I have a global vision of my audience even before I start actually writing.

Is it a good thing or a bad thing? Some will argue that writers shouldn't think about their readers at all, that it hampers the creative process and should be avoided. I take a milder view on this, and so do most authors - there is a reason why books go through editors and beta readers before they are published. After all, we all want to end up with a believable, consistent and harmonious story, and it's difficult to be impartial judges of our own writing.

Sometimes we need to make considerations not from an artistic, but from a cultural/public perspective. Thomas Hardy had to tone down some of his writing to make it fit for his Victorian audience. None of us live in a cultural vacuum, and even wearing clothes or observing traffic rules are concessions that we make to fit in a society.

When working on Wild Children, I received a suggestion from my publisher to narrow down a certain theme that, in the opinion of the editing team, had no real place in the narrative. After that was done and the book was published, one of the early reviewers commented on how glad they were to see this particular theme wasn't developed (without knowing, of course, what went behind the scenes). I was quite amazed - this is something I would never have thought of if I relied on my judgment alone.

Knowing that I write for readers does not take away my confidence or stultify my creative genius (if I ever had such a thing). If anything, it spurs me on to write more, better and faster.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Time Saving Tips for Authors (Especially Moms)


I often say that writing is 5% brilliant ideas, and 95% diligent work. And, while "I don't have time to write!" can be used as an excuse, often it isn't. I can certainly relate to this. With a growing family, homeschooling, my husband and I both working from home, and a bunch of animals to take care of, my writing time is both limited and fragmented. Nevertheless, I have reached some very respectable accomplishments, at least in word count. Here's how. 

1. I have a little notebook. It might be old-fashioned, but jotting a few words, a paragraph, a page in a notebook can make the difference between catching the wave of plot and characters, or losing it.

2. I write on my phone. It's not very efficient, but as opposed to my laptop (which, by the way, is a new acquirement), my phone is always with me, and I can write while lying down with a kid and waiting for them to go to sleep, or at the playground when I have just 5 minutes. I have finished an 80,000 word manuscript draft, writing exclusively on my phone, in just a few months.

3. I don't wait. If I said, "well, I only have 10 minutes now, it isn't worth sitting down to write", I would have hardly completed any book in recent years. Seize the moment - even two paragraphs are infinitely better than nothing at all.

4. I don't procrastinate. Once I'm writing, I'm writing. I don't pop just for a moment to check my social media or emails, and I don't even answer the phone. This requires some self-discipline, but it's amazing what you can do in 30 minutes if you just stay focused.

5. I don't fret. If a phrase or a paragraph don't sound like quite the thing, I don't get stuck - I just plow through them as best I can, and go on. Nobody produces a perfect first draft, and every good book benefits from lots and lots of editing.

For more insight on finding time to write when it seems like you have hardly any time to breathe, check out my free ebook, Writing Tips for Busy People.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

How clean should a book be? On curse words and sex scenes

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This post was inspired by my Facebook friend and talented author Sherri Giddens, who brought up the topic. Sherri, who is committed to making all her books clean and family friendly, has been told that she is missing out on a whole lot of sales by keeping sex and swear words out of her writing.

In my fantasy books, which were influenced by George Martin, I did allow a glimpse of nudity (though never explicit sex) and a swear word now and then. But as I grow and mature as a writer, I become more and more convinced that this is quite unnecessary - putting aside my own standards of family friendly reading as an Orthodox Jewish author, I am now of the opinion that it is in better style, more sophisticated, and far less vulgar to describe passion - whether it is love or hate - in subtle, understated shades. A glance, a movement, a few words can show just as much emotion as the steamiest bedroom scene, and villains don't need to assert their evil nature by cursing - there are plenty of other, more sinister ways to do that.

Do I pretend to say that writers should work in whatever way they see fit, disregarding their audience and whatever anyone may think about their books? Not really; none of us writes in a vacuum, and I suppose that many of us ask ourselves, "Will I be comfortable with my preteen children reading this? Or my mom?" Some of us choose pen names and separate social networks for our author selves, preferring to be someone as writers who we can't be in our personal life.

By the way, it's not just about making a book suitable for all audiences, but also about avoiding prose that is like chopping wood with a blunt axe. I have a dislike for tacky scenes in general. I like to convey love without having my characters say "I love you". I avoid breakup scenes with shouting, tears and protracted conversations in the "we need to talk" style. Subtlety and delicate shades are what I seek in my writing these days.

Ultimately, of course, it's all a matter of style and personal choices, and about staying true to one's own self. I don't believe writers should include sex or profanity in their work if they feel uncomfortable about it, or simply don't like it, just as I don't think authors should write in a genre they don't like to gain sales. Yes, sex sells. So what? A lot of books sell without any such added spice. It's all about about a good story, told in a captivating manner - and there are endless ways to do that.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Why you shouldn't worry that someone will steal your book

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This is a very common question among new writers, or authors new to the age of digital books: "But What If Someone Steals My Work?!"

Actually, this fear can be divided into two parts. The first is the concern about one's ideas being stolen, up to the point that newbie authors discuss their plot twists with a cautiousness and secrecy that wouldn't have shamed KGB, and are reluctant to show their work to anyone else. Here is where I say: humility, humility, humility.

Let's put it this way: writers are a narcissistic bunch (saying this to emphasize a point, yes?). The ideas each writer admires most are... that's right, their own. So while your idea for a novel about dolphins with confused sexual identity might seem like a genius and an instant bestseller to you, another writer will probably roll their eyes at it and stick to their idea of a post-apocalyptic epic about deranged penguins attacking the McMurdo Antarctic research station.

Bottom line: writers have plenty of ideas, probably more than they can use in a lifetime. Mine are always flitting around like crazy bats in the light of a lone streetlamp. I can catch a dozen with a lazy sweep of a net. It makes little difference, as an idea is nothing without good writing and months, possibly years, of diligent work on a manuscript.

Another fear, perhaps a little more valid one, is the concern about book piracy. I just had a discussion about this not long ago with a writer to whom I suggested uploading her books to Kindle (she has dealt in print books exclusively until now). Her concern was, "but... but... this is a digital file!! People may pass it on and spread it around, and there will be nothing I can do about it!". My reply was, "yes, but if you don't go digital, you are missing on a whole massive chunk of market!!" Does it make sense to give up on the entire world of digital publishing out of concern that some unscrupulous people might spread your book illegitimately?

Book piracy is a rotten thing, and it can be a real concern. There are some laws against it, too, though enforcement might not be very effective. But... once again, humility. I can testify, for instance, that I ran a Google search, and nobody is stealing and spreading my books. I kind of wish they were, sometimes. It would be a bit of free publicity.

Decent people still buy books, and even indecent people are sometimes too lazy to seek out a pirate copy of a book, and the more you put your work out there, in as many formats as possible - print, digital, audio - the higher is your chance to get noticed (and earn money). Visibility, not plagiarism or book piracy, is the big challenge for a new author. Just try it and see for yourself.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Timelines for novel series

These days, working on The Hourglass (sequel to Wild Children), I got a note from my publisher pointing out that some stages in the timeline are murky. Indeed, after making an examination, I had to confess I have a tendency to glide over things such as what season the action is taking place, or even when the main hero was born. The longer a series is, the more such vagueness is felt, as the effect accumulates.

So I sat myself down and started working on a timeline, and here are some thoughts I came up with:

1. If possible, make a detailed timeline even before you begin writing. It will make things a lot easier later on.

2. Double check everything. You don't want a character to be twenty in the first book, and twenty-five in the second book that is supposed to take place a year later.

3. Pay attention to points such as when characters travel or work on specific projects. Make sure everything takes a logical amount of time.

4. For different scenes that are supposed to take place simultaneously, make sure that characters don't participate in both scenes.

A thorough timeline helps plan everything out. Happy writing!

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Between fantasy and sci-fi

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As insanely busy as I have been lately, I can't help already squinting ahead into the horizon and looking to the next book I'm going to write. The concept, while not directly connected to any of my existing works, is sci-fi/dystopia again. And this, together with some preliminary research I'm doing, makes me think about how different writing fantasy is from writing sci-fi.

In fantasy, you can get away with pretty much anything, as long as it makes sense in the context of your story. Say, your protagonist isn't attacked by dragons because the great bloodthirsty beasts are afraid of the bright yellow color of his waterproof coat. It can and should make a rich, detailed, harmonious tapestry, but ultimately, you're the creator of this world.

In sci-fi, you operate within the limits of our world, be it on planet earth or in space. You use real laws of physics, real geography, and real history, and you have to be sure you don't make any blunders. So you will sometimes find yourself learning all you can about how spaceships work or how to build an igloo. What you suggest in your books must be at least plausible.

The book I have just finished writing, Mountains of Gold, is a historical novel set mainly in Africa. My next book will be quite a jump down the globe, in Antarctic setting (details will be coming later). So I find myself watching documentaries and learning all I can about the ice layers, the currents, the geography, the patterns of light and darkness, and the research stations. If nothing else, it's going to contribute to my education!

Read more about sci-fi vs. fantasy here.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Distant places, foreign cultures, and diversity in literature


I might be a little late to jump on the bandwagon of discussing this, but I have only recently chanced to hear about the scary beast called cultural appropriation.

That is, when, say, a white male author describes the travails of a poor Korean immigrant girl, he isn't applauded for bringing up minority, cultural and racial issues, but rather, he gets cold shouldered for presuming to describe what he can have no real idea about, being male and white. Masterpieces such as Kathryn Stockett's The Help were blamed for this issue as well.

I, personally, consider this to be yet another piece of ridiculousness cooked by the PC movement, which is so mortally afraid of anything that might even faintly smell of disrespect towards disadvantaged or minority groups, that it would stifle us in tiny cubicles of writing about what we actually are, not daring to step onto someone else's territory.

My latest novel-in-progress focuses on the Beta Israel Jewish community of Ethiopia. Am I making a transgression by writing about it, or am I given leeway because I'm Jewish? Did I cross the line by making the main character a dark-skinned man, while I'm a white woman?

Frankly, these considerations appear outlandish to me. Writing would become extremely dull if we became limited in what we can describe ("novels about slavery should be written by people of color! Holocaust stories should only be written by Jews!"). None of us have lived in the times of the Romans, or Vikings, or Jane Austen, yet historical fiction thrives. I'm planning to write a novel set in Antarctica. I have never been in Antarctica, nor am I likely to visit in the foreseeable future. But I believe that my imagination and my descriptive skills, coupled with as much research as I can muster, are capable of creating a rich, believable world.

Having said that, it's important to me to stress that I don't justify by any means things such as poor research or superficiality. I become annoyed when a non-Russian writer describes Russians as a bunch of vodka-slugging troglodytes, or when non-Jewish authors limit the scope of Jewish cuisine to gefilte fish. If you write about a foreign culture, kindly don't lump all representatives of said culture together in one unrecognizable mass. We are all individuals, and a good writer will never tire of creating unique characters.

Another thing is the much-celebrated diversity, about which I just have to say one thing. In Soviet Russia, to be successful, writers had to come from a certain end of the political spectrum. Characters had to display communist ideology, which would be worked into the story whether or not it was relevant. I can't help but think about it when I read statements from publishers and agents saying they are looking for "diverse" books. Does this mean that a great novel will be overlooked because the main character's best friend isn't gay? Please don't force the writers' hand into conforming to the latest social agendas. It is cheap, dreadfully unoriginal, and has nothing to do with literature.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

The things my kids say


I think I've mentioned before that I work on the family computer in the living room, which means I often have a kid or two peering behind my shoulder and making comments on whatever I'm doing. Here are some examples:

"Is this the book about dragons?" (No, it's a Regency era novel) "You should put some dragons in all the same!" Did Jane Austen ever hear the like, I wonder? Probably not. She didn't have kids.

"Who is going to buy this book?" (Boy, am I asking myself the same question) "I hope loads of people do!" (I'm with you on this one, kiddo). "I hope you sell millions of copies!" (A coupla thousand would be nice as well).

"You should have the text in purple. It's way prettier" (That's an idea I haven't tried yet). "Actually, you should put in all sorts of pretty colors and fonts" (I'm sure the literary agent I'm sending this to will appreciate it).

"This cover doesn't look good" (Thanks for your honesty, baby). "You should put a fairy on it" (that would be an original element for a Viking novel). "Why are you putting your name on this?" (You know what, sometimes I'm not sure if I should).

Working in the same space with my kids may be a lot of things, but it's never boring.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

When Your Client Doesn't Pay

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If you are an indie writer, chances are you aren't getting a six-figure income from your books alone. It is possible that at some point, you will decide to supplement your income by freelancing, whether it's writing articles,  ghost writing, being a virtual assistant or, like me, providing editing and proofreading services.

Thankfully, up until now I have dealt with nice people who are very scrupulous about paying on time. Having gotten used to this, I admittedly became a little lax about payment terms and conditions, at some point not even clarifying exactly when I expect to be paid. A recent experience with a client who has been dodging my emails for weeks now promptly cured me of this negligent attitude.

Let me just say it once: there are few things more rotten than neglecting to pay a hard-working freelancer who has toiled for weeks or months over a difficult project. There is no excuse to cheating someone just because you can get away with it.

There is some potentially helpful advice on dealing with a client who avoids paying, but it doesn't really apply in my case. The best thing I can do is probably just write this client off, never work for them again, and resolve to be clearer and firmer about terms of payment in the future. Oh, and possibly warn other people about them, because dishonesty is a habit, and if someone cheated you, you can be almost sure they had more people taken in in the course of their career.

So here is my future work policy: I'm not going to just assume everyone is spotlessly honest, especially because I also get commissions from sites like Freelancer, where all sorts of people hang out. I'm going to ask for half the payment once half the work is done (or I might even make third or quarter milestones for larger projects); until that arrives, I will do no more work. I will also limit payment methods to direct transfer and PayPal, to eliminate excuses such as "the check must have been lost in the mail".

Having three young children at home, I am extremely busy, and freelancing for other people cuts into my already limited writing time. The least I can do is ensure that I get paid for every hour I invest in someone else's work.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Ditching KDP Select: First Month

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I thought I should write a follow-up post about my opting out of KDP Select with my latest book, The Landlord. Now that almost a month has elapsed since book launch, how are the results?

Well, not very dramatic, to tell the truth.

To be precise, I have only sold a few copies so far - and all of them through Amazon. It doesn't take a genius to figure out why, either - if I have a Facebook ad, a promotional post, or any link space anywhere, I have to make a choice of what link to my book page I put in, and practically, I will almost always opt for the Amazon link, because I know most people shop there. So at first glance, it doesn't look like I gained anything by going for wide distribution.

On the other hand, it's not like I lost anything significant, either. My KU reads aren't very great for the books enrolled in KDP Select. If I want to run the book at a reduced price for a while, I can do it manually, without Kindle Countdown. The only thing I appear to lose is the promotional free days, but I find this more useful for series (make first book free and hook readers that way) than stand-alones.

So I guess my conclusion, so far, is pretty bland; as an author who, let's face it, doesn't sell tons of books, I might as well make things easier for myself by choosing KDP Select and not bothering with other distributors. On the other hand, I'm not discounting the potential benefits of wide distribution just yet. I have made The Landlord available on Payhip, at a lower price than on Amazon, as my small way to support this very convenient and author-friendly platform.

KDP Select or not, getting your name out there is a slow uphill journey, and there are no miracles - just lots of hard work and, hopefully, some satisfaction... eventually.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Payhip: an undervalued platform

I decided to write this post in order to raise awareness of Payhip, a direct sales website which, in my opinion, has great potential for increasing authors' independence.

Payhip is by far the easiest and most convenient platform for selling digital books online I have encountered so far. It's neat, simple and quick; it allows you to set any price with no restrictions, including permafree; it enables you to instantly generate coupons for any or all of your products. And there's very little interference - just upload your product file and a cover image, insert a description, and you're good to go.

And the best part? It only takes a 5% commission, compared to Amazon, where you can get at most 70%. And you get paid by PayPal instantly, every time someone makes a purchase. There's no waiting or threshold sums. This is the most author-friendly arrangement I know.

I realize that Payhip isn't a mainstream book retailer, but if you have a good-sized platform, and don't opt to have your book enrolled in KDP Select, you can advertise your Payhip sales page through your blog, social media and newsletter, and entice readers to buy from there by setting a slightly lower price on Payhip than on Amazon. You can also mention that by choosing Payhip as their purchase website, they make sure more money comes directly to you, rather than to the Amazon Godzilla.

Naturally, on Amazon you can have both your digital and your print book conveniently together on the same product page, but if the bulk of your sales comes from ebooks, as it does for most indie authors, this is not very significant.

We can all help make Payhip more popular by choosing to support authors we love by buying books from them via Payhip, bypassing Amazon and the thick slice of pie it gets from our book sales.

Also check out (on Payhip, of course) my free ebook, Writing Tips for Busy People.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Can you edit your own books?

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Writing, in a large measure, is rewriting, revising and editing, and if you aim to be a professional author, you are going to do a lot of that, possibly spending more time on revision than on writing that first draft. But you can't do it alone.

Even if you happen to be a very skilled editor, none of us has the objectivity to properly evaluate our own work. We all absolutely need another pair of eyes, preferably many pairs of eyes, to help us take it to the next level.

What about beta readers, then? Is it enough to send your manuscript to several of those? Beta readers can be worth their weight in gold, but at best, they will point out plot inconsistencies or say they have noticed some minor typos. You can't expect beta readers to actually sit down and correct every grammar awkwardness and insert or remove a comma whenever appropriate. This is work that takes a high level of commitment and many hours, and people generally won't do it for free.

But I can't afford an editor, or even a proofreader, you say. I get this; sometimes this is an excuse, but sometimes it isn't. I recently had to face a choice between buying a 45$ book cover or a pair of shoes for one of my children whose old shoes were falling apart, and I think you can all guess what I chose. The advice of putting off your dream of publishing a book until you have enough money to pay for professional editing, cover design, formatting, etc, can be very cruel. At this rate, some of us will never be able to get our books out into the world.

Editing is probably the most expensive part of getting your book ready for publication - and, in my eyes, one of the biggest advantages of traditional publishing is that someone else takes care of this - but if you can in any way afford a good editor for your book, by all means make that investment. If you can't, try partnering with another author for a critique and proofreading exchange. This will only work if you are both equally committed and don't cut corners.

Being an author on a tight budget myself, and knowing the need of authors for committed copy-editors and proofreaders working for reasonable rates, led me to open Word for Word Editing and Proofreading Services. I feel tremendous satisfaction in knowing that I helped someone clean up their manuscript or avoid a plot hole. I like to work in close reciprocation with authors and see my clients succeed, and consider my business to be part of the great author network that is so important to our mutual support.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Changing book cover after release: yay or nay?

Prior to the publication of Wild Children, my publisher and I put a lot of thought into the book cover, considering various options and consulting people via a poll. Finally, we chose something that everyone seemed to like:


When things came to actually selling the book, however, we realized that something isn't working. While people who had read the book loved it, for the most part, the views/clicks rate on our Amazon ads was unsatisfactory. To put it simply, hardly anyone was clicking on to the book's Amazon page.

This led us to think that the cover, while perfectly fine in itself, does not quite fit the book. The cover, together with the title, might create a mistaken impression that this is a children's book - which it is emphatically not. We wanted something that would spell out "dystopia" more clearly, and give some sort of hint as to what goes on in the narrative. Finally, we decided on a new cover:


The girl against the background of the ruined city is quite representative of the plot, and the cover, overall, fits the genre better.

Once more, this incident makes me feel thankful for digital publishing and print on demand. Changing your cover or correcting mistakes is quite easy, simple and free of hassle. Authors and publishers can play around and see what works, what doesn't, and what just needs to be tweaked.

Also see Joanna Penn's excellent post on changing book covers.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

The Landlord: New Release, New Strategies

The Landlord by [Ross, Hannah]

With the release of my latest novel, The Landlord, I made two changes in my usual publishing strategy.

One was choosing wide distribution through Smashwords, rather than opt for KDP Select. My goal was, first, to experiment and see whether the benefits of multiple online retailers outweigh the perks of KDP exclusivity, namely optional promos and Kindle Unlimited; and second, encourage healthy competition in the book distribution currently monopolized by Amazon.

The second change in strategy related to pricing: until now, I have always initially priced my Kindle books at 2.99-4.99$, and ran a discounted promo later. This time I chose 0.99$ as my starting point, with the view of increasing it later to 2.99$. This goal is to encourage an early sales boost.

Will these different tactics prove worthwhile? It's too early to tell, perhaps, but I will keep you posted.

PS: if you are looking for a light summer read, and are into ghost novels and Regency era England, you might want to give The Landlord a chance. It is a relatively short, fast-paced novel with the story arc swerving between present day and rural England of two hundred years ago.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

The Evolution of World's End: an interview on dystopian fiction

Pop over to the Academia blog to read an interview with yours truly about dystopian fiction, and my recently released novel, Wild Children:

"I believe that, though literary trends may fluctuate, and though many will argue that no dystopian novel can equal the scary reality of today’s world, dystopian fiction will always have a place, because it enables us to play out horror scenarios and deal with the worst in the safety of our imagination. It’s like a kid making up stories about monsters under his bed, and being comforted by knowing it’s just a story. Dystopia allows us to ask ourselves, “what’s the worst thing that could happen, and how would we deal with it?”


Saturday, 17 June 2017

How I learned to say No

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Taking my writing to a professional level had moved me quite out of my comfort zone. By going public, I exposed myself to criticism, rejection, frustration, and the need to hit deadlines. I have had to say yes to so many things: to improvement suggestions that don't come from me, to editing that takes twice as long as writing the first draft, to appearing uninformed and naive on occasion.

With three kids and a household to take care of, however (and let's not forget the garden and chickens), I also had to learn to say no.

No to another social media account, to another blog interview, to reading and reviewing another book. To beating my own word count for the day. To bringing the release date of my next book just a wee bit closer.

I also provide freelance editing and proofreading services, and though it's something that I enjoy doing (not to mention that the extra income is very helpful), I had to temporarily close to requests, as I was becoming stretched too thin.

I do fill with awe and wonder when I hear about authors who put out regular newsletters, podcast, vlog, tweet, Pin, and whatnot. More power to them! But I can hardly keep up with Facebook, Goodreads and Wattpad, and I know taking on more would be unwise.

Ultimately, what makes me a writer is not how often I update my status or revise other people's books, but what and how much I write. And to keep this writing going, I cannot let my time get all clogged. So I say no, and feel more comfortable about it as time goes by.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

When you run out of agents to query

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I have been seeking an agent to represent my Middle Grade fantasy novel for some time now, and have contacted over half a hundred agencies so far. I have received little interest and lots and lots of silence, which doesn't mean I should give up, of course, but the trouble is, I'm seriously running out of agents to query, as I need to find someone who represents both Middle Grade and fantasy.

I might have mentioned my system of querying once a month, usually on the first of each month, and then forgetting all about it for the next 30 days. It's a good system which allows me to preserve my sanity.

Usually I send out my queries in batches of 8 to 10. This month I only sent 6, as I couldn't find any more agents to reach out to. Each time I verified with my list, it would turn out I have already queried this particular agency.

Form rejections suck, but total silence is worse. It's not only disappointing, it's just plain rude. I realize agents are swamped with emails, etc, but it only takes one second to send a pre-written No.

By the way, I've also submitted directly to several small independent publishers who appear to be reputable, but those are few and far between. I had not heard back from any of them, but as everything in the publishing world moves forward at a glacial pace, something may come out of this yet.

The obvious question, of course, is - what if my book really isn't up to scratch? What if it isn't good enough, engaging enough, original enough?

I just have to say that in children's literature, many of the new books that come out each year are such that I wouldn't want my children to read. Many are just plain disappointing. They are prettily illustrated and beautifully bound, but the content leaves much to be desired. When reading to and with my children, we mostly stick to classics - Winnie the Pooh, the works of Astrid Lindgren, Alice in Wonderland, The Secret Garden, Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit. The newest book my children know is Harry Potter.

I believe in my book. I know my children were genuinely delighted with it (and they aren't the flattering kind). I know that, if given the proper exposure, it can entertain many others.

Why not self-publish, then? I have considered this, but as a rule, children's books do less well as self published projects, and I see no reason why I should be an exception. So while I might do it eventually, so far I'm going to hold out and keep looking.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Writer's burnout: how it came to get me

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It's really ironic that I let myself become a victim of writer's burnout, when I'm so good at giving sensible advice on avoiding it: treat this as a marathon, write a 1,000 words a day, and you'll be producing at a respectable pace. 

Still, I guess we all get carried away from time to time. 

So, in addition to trying to put in a 1,000 words a day on two WIPs, I was also working on getting The Landlord ready for publication in July, doing promotion for my other books, querying for a middle grade fantasy novel, and working on editing and proofreading other people's books. 

Others might pull this off with relative impunity, but you have to remember that both my husband and I work from home and homeschool three young children. I don't have my own private work space. This means everyone is in my hair every day and all day long. 

I wrote on my phone while trying to get my youngest to sleep (so far I haven't found a better way than lying down next to him and quietly stealing out of the room when he's asleep). I wrote while at the playground with my kids, while other moms gossiped and exchanged recipes. I stopped answering phone calls from friends. I began resenting my human needs to eat, sleep and go to the bathroom. I won't tell you how long I have gone without washing my hair because I don't want to shock you. 

Naturally, you can only go on like this for so long. 

I became twitchy and irritable. My hands would begin to shake when I picked up my phone to check my email. I could no longer enjoy a good book or simply relax. Worst of all, I began having fantasies about some distant future time when I won't have to write a single damn thing ever again. 

And this is when I realized something is very wrong, because writing has always been a creative outlet and a source of satisfaction for me, and now it has become a burden. 

I had to slow down unless I wanted to end up with a neurosis. I knew it, and a few decisions helped:

The first was relatively easy to make. I decided I'm not going to take on any more editing projects in the near future. As flattering as it is when people contact me spontaneously and tell me they'd love me to work on their books, there's only so much of me to go around. Same goes for beta-reading and reviewing. 

The second decision, also a no-brainer, was pulling back from social media and forums. 

The third involved some introspection and ego killing. I came to terms with the fact that nobody really cares whether my next book is released now or six months from now. Actually, most people don't care whether there is a next book at all. So there's no point killing myself over something that might as well be done in a relaxed manner. 

The effects were almost immediate. I began enjoying reading and writing again within a very short span of time. So now it's back to my old reasonable 1K words per day, sanity, and undisturbed sleep. 

Saturday, 27 May 2017

A Slice of Humble Pie


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Soon after Wild Children hit the virtual shelves on Amazon on April 28th, I received a disappointing review that essentially said, "there is a good story here, but the book had been poorly edited."

My first reaction, of course, was to seethe: How dare he! The review was especially glaring in the light of the fact that the book had jumped through many, many hoops of editing prior to publication. First there were the rewrites suggested by my publisher, then the detailed chapter by chapter edit, first round of proofreaders, second round of proofreaders... it had taken far, far longer to edit this book than to write it in the first place.

Still, everyone makes mistakes, and I had spotted inconsistencies even in some classics that have been out there for many years. Some people just tend to nitpick, I reasoned.

This only lasted, of course, until my publisher and I discovered that, by some crazy stroke, the files that got uploaded to Amazon were not the final, thoroughly cleaned up version, but one of the earlier ones.

You can imagine. First thought: Oh yikes! Second thought: thank goodness for digital publishing and POD, which makes correcting such glitches comparatively easy. Imagine discovering a blunder of this sort in a truckload of printed books!

Third thought: how fortunate that, despite the annoyance we felt towards the reviewer, the text was still checked just in case. This made the discovery of the mistake possible. So ultimately, I do feel thankful that this early reader cared enough to leave a review, even though it temporarily lowered the book's rating.

I suppose the lesson I have learned from this is, don't get toppled over by criticism, but don't dismiss it out of hand either, even if it seems completely unfounded at first glance.

PS: Wild Children is only 0.99$ for the next couple of days, so if you are looking for the next great find in the dystopian/light SciFi genre, you might like to check it out!

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?

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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

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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

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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

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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?

Saturday, 8 April 2017

The Landlord: a ghost story with a taste of the Regency era

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I've been keeping this quiet for a while, but now I'm ready to reveal another upcoming book of mine: The Landlord, which was an exciting project for me, as it ventures into the new territory of an English setting. The plot takes action in the Lake District, partly in modern days and partly in the Regency era, and should appeal to all lovers of ghost stories, mystery, the 1800's, Jane Austen and everything English. I plan to release the book sometime before the end of 2017.

An excerpt:

“Every place has its local legends,” Allie remarked, putting two steaming mugs of tea on the table.

“I guess you’re right – one such local tale is actually connected to this very lake. It’s a ghost story about a certain character known as the Lady of the Lake.”

“Lady of the Lake?” repeated Allie, remembering her hazy, silvery vision of earlier. “You mean, as in the poem?”

“It’s a story about a young woman supposedly seen walking across the surface of the lake,” Gavin laughed easily, slurping his tea. “It pretty spooky, the way some people tell it, but you have nothing to be afraid of. I’ve spent a fair amount of time on the lake and never saw so much as a little finger of this Lady. Even at allegedly magical times such as the full moon or solstice or whatever.”

“Well, it’s just a tale,” Allie said with a nervous little laugh. Yes, that’s what it is – just a country legend and your own overactive imagination.


And a cat that tends to get spooky for no reason at all. 

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Indie vs. Traditional Publishing: blog interview

Sam, over at Spines In A Line, invited me for a blog interview to tell about my experiences as an indie author vs. the switch to working with a publisher and, finally, the balance of doing both:

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"When I first began writing Quest of the Messenger, my epic fantasy trilogy, I had plenty of enthusiasm, a vast imaginary world in my head, a laptop, and not much else, really. I had no knowledge of how the publishing industry works, no idea about current trends in fantasy, and no budget for professional editing, proofreading, cover design, or book promotion.
I was on my own, and I wrote like crazy. I produced a trilogy of nearly half a million words before I even began approaching agents with the first book.
The first few rejections stung, but I was encouraged by those agents who actually took the time to write a personal response (and not just send a pre-composed rejection note). My writing was good enough to grab an agent’s attention, if not get them to actually wish to represent the book. I kept querying and, to make a long story short, after about half a hundred rejections I decided to self-publish."
Read the rest here.