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.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Wild Children available for pre-order!

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I'm very excited to announce that my upcoming novel, Wild Children, is now available for pre-order in print (US only) and on Kindle. Official release date is set for April 28-th. I hope the book is well-received and enjoyed by the readers. 

It has been quite a journey with this book. I was pregnant with my son when I began writing it, and this little boy is now two years old. I can now also reveal that I already completed the first rough draft of the sequel and began outlining and writing the third book, so there's plenty to look forward to.

So here's to the successful debut of Wild Children in exactly a month!

Saturday, 25 March 2017

The Writer's Space

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Chuck Wendig, in his new and excellent post, recommends professional authors to have their own space. Now, without getting into who exactly can be considered a professional author and whether I qualify as one,  I can definitely say I might be the poster girl for the Disadvantaged Writers International Forum, working with zero private space, zero budget, and a miserly allowance of time.

I'm not saying this to complain, but rather to demonstrate that if I, under my conditions, can produce a respectable amount of work, anyone can if they want to badly enough.

I don't have my own office, work desk or even computer. I live in a rural area where I often have no Internet signal or, to be honest, even power. Yes, I might be in the middle of an important email and not be able to send it, or I might just be finishing a chapter and it all goes into oblivion as the computer gets turned off (because our old laptop has no battery life, it must be plugged in at all times). I do save obsessively, but still sometimes I lose work.

I have three kids and homeschool, which means that any serious writing gets done when everyone is asleep. Furthermore, no one else in the house acknowledges the need for actual uninterrupted writing time. My family knows I write, and they think that's cool, but they have this notion that books write themselves and if I'm home around the clock, I'm not entitled to have a minute to... no, not to myself, because that would be a ridiculous demand, but to do something that might potentially contribute to feeding and clothing everyone under this roof.

If you could see me some days, you'd pity me, desperately trying to put in 500 words in 10 minutes, refusing to lose the battle and admit no writing will get done today. And yet I'm making progress. I have a book coming out next month, another making rounds of agents, yet another project currently circulating among beta-readers, and a WIP novel I have planned to be 100K words, out of which I have written 40K so far.

It's like walking uphill while pushing a heavy barrel in front of me. I wish I could ditch the barrel, and I do sometimes feel handicapped because of it, but I don't give up. I keep walking.

So can you. Even down a muddy road. Even in shoes that pinch. Even if nobody knows why you bother walking down that road at all.

You just keep going, no matter what, until you get there.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Amazon's review policy: another hoop to jump through

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I don't know about you, but I, as an indie author working on practically zero budget,  find it very challenging to get reviews.  Many book review blogs and sites are effectively closed to indies, and I can't afford to shell out 425$ (or whatever it is) for a Kirkus review. Furthermore, I don't push my books, engage in review swaps or do other things which reek of aggressive and dishonest self promotion. I publish, offer review copies, network and rejoice when someone likes my book enough to review and recommend it to others.  As simple as that.

You can imagine, then, what I must have felt upon discovering that Amazon removed a couple of lovely, helpful, legitimate and genuine reviews from one of my books. My inquiries led to no actual response except pointing me to the review policy page.

A bit of further digging revealed what the matter probably is: the reviewers are my Facebook friends.

Now, the number of my Facebook contacts is pushing a thousand, and most of those are people I know very slightly, even online. My Facebook is a professional network, not a place to hang out with high-school friends. The reviews came from people who bought the book, liked it and spontaneously reviewed. I didn't even send out a review copy.

But I guess Amazon doesn't care. They are tightening their review policy to avoid fraud and don't mind losing a few dollars in royalties because some indie authors have fewer reviews. Amazon can afford that. Authors backed by big publishers and large budgets probably can, too. Indie authors can't.

The truth is, I have heard warnings from several people telling that Amazon is becoming less friendly to indie authors, being essentially a monopoly with no competition to speak of, but until now I chose to ignore this warning, as KDP has been so convenient. Publishing is quick and easy, and I don't have to mess with multiple retailers for my digital books. Convenience apparently comes with a price, though - that of being at Amazon's mercy.

So what can we do, apart from looking into other places to sell our books (which I plan to do as soon as my KDP select period runs out)? We are not only authors, but also readers. We have the buying power. So we can:

1. Start buying books from other places, even though a mega site like Amazon where everything can be found is mighty convenient.

2. If a book looks good (cover, blurb, etc) but has no reviews, take a chance on it. Consider that the reviews might have been arbitrarily removed by Amazon.

3. Encourage, promote and participate in other venues of book exposure: Goodreads (though it has been purchased by Amazon as well), social media and author blogs. Be generous with recommending books you have read and enjoyed.

Some people told me I put too much stock in reviews. But I can tell that for me, as a customer, an intelligently written, genuine-sounding review is the number one purchase inducer. It's basically an equivalent of the good old-fashioned word of mouth, which remains the most effective way of book promotion I know.

Monday, 13 March 2017

The Greenlanders: historical fiction blog interview

Dr. Joshua Grasso invited me over to the Academia blog to talk of my recently published novel, The Greenlanders, and on writing historical fiction in general. You can read the interview here:

"The heroes of The Greenlanders are the legendary explorers Erik the Red, Leif Erikson, and other characters from Saga of Erik the Red and Saga of the Greenlanders.  However, as the sagas are not historical documents, I had a lot of leeway with my interpretation of them.

So would you say that people are fundamentally the same now as they were a thousand years ago? Or has something vital changed (besides the technology)? What makes the average Joe or Jane from the 11th century different than the 21st?
I believe, and this also ties in with the previous question, that human beings are all pretty much the same anytime and anywhere. We are infinitely better educated and have a lot more options than a thousand years ago, but ultimately the things that make us tick are just the same."

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Diversity in literature: important trend or artificial move?

Image result for diversity comic

Lately I have been privy to a lot of talk about diversity in literature; the pivotal point being that the main protagonists, especially in fantasy and/or sci-fi, shouldn't be so predominantly male, white and straight.

Is diversity a good thing? To be sure; but, and this is an important but, only when it happens organically. What do I mean?

In Paths of the Shadow, I have a character who is gay (or rather, bisexual who considers himself gay). Right now I am working on a novel in which the MC is a colored man. Was it done to promote the agenda of diversity? No; those characters simply appeared in my mind, took on a life of their own, and demanded to be written.

I'm against the introduction of diversity along the lines of, "Well, I'm going to sit down and write a sci-fi novel. Let's make the main character, Zoe, black with some Native American lineage thrown in for good measure. Zoe is also lesbian, overweight, vehemently opposed to shaving under her arms, and saves the world from an invasion of blood-sucking badgers."

What is thus created isn't a character. It's a walking agenda.

You think you can get away with that? You can't. Just like the books of many writers in Soviet Russia reeked of communism, many books today reek of Political Correctness, with authors walking on eggshells lest they, God forbid, forget to pay homage to "diversity".

My two cents? Write whatever you want. Put in whatever characters take your fancy. Men, women black, white, Asian, young, old, beautiful, ugly, super-powerful, crippled. Concentrate on your message, your voice and let it shine.

Because there's only one you. You're unique. And that's the peak of diversity.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Consistency: the writer's highest virtue

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Following last week's post on making time to write when there is no time, I would like to stress (though I know I've said this before), that even if you have little available time for writing, consistency is absolutely essential for those who want a jab at doing this professionally. Consistent daily output adds up, even though each separate day might not feel very productive. It's like chopping away at a great big rock with a hammer: you break off a tiny piece each time, and while for a long while it may seem as though you aren't doing anything at all, eventually the rock will crumble.

What exactly do I mean? It's better to put in a 1,000 words a day, every day, than write 5K in a single exhausting burst and then need a week's worth recovery time. If you outline carefully and know exactly what you want to write next, those 1,000 words can be written very quickly - in 30-45 minutes. Most people can carve out 30 minutes of their day to do whatever... I mean, most people do carve out a lot more than 30 minutes, without even being aware of it, to do stuff like hang out on social media or watch cat videos on YouTube.

A 1,000 words a day, 5 days a week, 20 days a month, is 20,000 words a month. It's the first draft of a 100,000-word novel in 5 months. It's two solid books a year which, while not insanely productive, is a respectable output. I know, I know - the first draft needs to be edited, it needs to be proofread, it needs to be sent out to stand in the throng of queries if you trad-pub; and if you self-pub, you need to format, obtain cover design, publish and market. But still, those 1,000 words a day will get you in the right direction. So don't be sorry you can't put in 2K, 3K or whatever it is other people write daily.

Listen, I don't know what challenges you might be facing in your life right now. Maybe you have a day job, kids, elderly parents, other commitments. Maybe you have a spouse who thinks their hour-long browse of AliExpress is legit recreation, but your hour writing is shameful neglect of family duties. Heck, I've had periods in my life (mostly during Mommy Boot Camp with newborns) when I was so desperate for some writing time that instead of taking a shower every day, I took a shower every other day and wrote every other day. And I carved out epic novels. It was a slow, frustrating haul but it happened - one word at a time.

Just do what you can, and do it consistently, and it will pay off.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Books, Publishing and Hamburgers

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Warning: this is a long-suppressed rant. Speshul sensitive snowflakes are welcome to leave now, to avoid any harsh feelings. 

In the trad publishing vs. indie publishing debate, I keep hearing the following argument: "But trad pub produces plenty of crap too!"

Does it? 

Let's say, for the sake of the argument, that you want to open a restaurant.

You might decide to open a classy gourmet place where elegant waiters in tuxedos saunter around the candlelit hall,  carrying silver trays, and live piano music can be enjoyed every weekend. 

Or you may say, "You know what? Not many people are willing to spend a monthly rent's worth on one dinner. I'd better open a hamburger bar."

And that's OK.  

Hamburgers are legit. There’s a market for hamburgers. By choosing this option, you can feed people and make an honest buck a lot easier than by charging a gazillion dollars for half a dozen fresh oysters on crushed ice (or whatever.  I'm Orthodox Jewish. What do I know about oysters?).

You know what you can't do, though? 

You can't poison your clients. 

You can't say, "this meat fell on the floor and got trodden on, but I'll use it anyway."

You can't use the same black rancid oil for French fries, over and over, for a month. 

You can't stick unwashed vegetables in salads and hope that salmonella will miss the target.  

You can't serve food on half-washed dishes and unwiped tables.

You must, in short, adhere to certain Ministry of Health hygiene standards, or your business will be closed pretty fast, with a nasty biting fine thrown in.  

Trad publishing is that Ministry of Health.  

I am yet to encounter a single traditionally published book with missing commas, or a chapter title at the bottom of a page, or periods in the middle of a sentence.  

I have never seen a trad published book in which Mindy suddenly turns into Cindy on page 278, or which makes the reader want to puke and run away by phrases such as, "her eager and responsive body eagerly responded to his amorous advances". 

Indie books, though?  I've seen all this and more, just this week. There is nobody to put their foot down and say, "this is illegal. We are closing this restaurant".

You don't have to be the next Dostoyevsky. You can aim to be the next SciFi McHorror, or Nicholas Sparking Sparks, or whatever. 

You can serve hamburgers. 

But you can't serve shawarma made of a donkey with tuberculosis. 

Because if people come out of your fast food joint barfing and writhing with stomach pain, you'll soon go broke. 

So... I've said this. I'm quite prepared for an influx of voodoo dolls and Anthrax envelopes coming my way, but at least I got this off my chest.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Writing: making time when there is no time

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As a rural homeschooling mother, I live a very non-glamorous life. If you stop by our house on any given day, you are a lot likelier to find me checking math assignments or mucking out the chicken coop than writing. I have no writing space of my own. I work on the family computer, which is located in the living room and from which I am constantly dragged away by sibling squabbles, sinkfuls of dishes or midnight exhaustion.

So how do you work on your book when you literally have no time to write? Not because you are addicted to computer games, or to Game of Thrones re-runs, or because social media takes up 90% of your leisure time? I will share what works for me, and you are welcome to take it or leave it.

1. Gestate your story. Books might be born the moment you put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard), but they are gestated within your head. It's really like being pregnant; for a long stretch of time, it seems as though nothing is happening, while in fact, things are bubbling and transforming and growing under the surface. Nobody can prevent you from thinking, planning, dreaming, living out your story while you do mindless tasks such as washing the dishes or chopping up potatoes.

2. Outlines are your friends. If you just count on winging it when you sit down in front of the screen, you will inevitably lose time on dawdling and thinking what it is, actually, that you want to write. If you know exactly what you want to do, on the other hand, you just sit down and do it as soon as you have a free snippet of time, however short. You'll be surprised at how many words you can type out in fifteen minutes if you know exactly where you are heading. 

3. Don't dawdle! Don't waste you time by saying to yourself, I only have ten minutes now, so I might as well check Facebook. No; these ten minutes might be all you have in a day for creative writing. You can squeeze in a few hundred words in that short time - just experiment and see if you can't, writing top-speed. I carved out hundreds of thousands of words from those niggardly, hard-earned minutes which could be interrupted any moment. Don't expect the luxury of having uninterrupted peaceful hours for writing. Tough luck if you don't have them. I sure wish I had. But I don't, so I make do with what I have.

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To get more writing advice for those who are suffocating from lack of time, check out my FREE e-book, Writing Tips for Busy People. It is easily downloadable from Payhip and you are welcome to share it with other authors.