Monday, 6 May 2019

Blood Heir again: the victory of sanity


A couple of months ago, I wrote about the insane blow-up of PC culture around the soon-to-be released fantasy novel Blood Heir, in which some precious snowflake allegedly found some gross insensitivity to offend their delicate feelings. This resulted in an online shaming and bullying campaign which ultimately caused the poor overwhelmed author, Amelie Zhao, to pull the book and write an apology letter.

In the past few days, I have found out, to my delight, that the book is going to be published after all, and is due to be released in November of this year. I can't express how immensely pleased I am. I don't know the author and haven't read the book, but no one deserves to be ganged upon that way because of some stupid hyped-up charge.

"When the controversy over “Blood Heir” erupted, battle lines were quickly drawn within the close-knit children’s publishing community. A small but influential group of authors argued that the novel dealt insensitively with race and the legacy of slavery, and was an affront to nonwhite communities."

Is it only me, or does it sound like someone was looking for a reason to be offended?

I only hope that the author and editing team did not decide to make any major changes in the text, pandering to the violent righteousness of our Thought Police.

So let's just take a moment to celebrate the victory of sanity, creativity, and artistic freedom, over a PC crazy, hypersensitive cultural movement obsessed with #ownvoices, 'representation', cultural appropriation, and trying to shut people up because #notyourstory.

I hate racism, oppression, and bigotry with a passion, and I firmly believe that so do 99% of the thinking, feeling, writing human beings the author community consists of. One would be hard pressed to find a single expression of real racism, sexism, fascism, or any other infamous 'ism' in mainstream modern fiction. It appears that this is no longer enough, though. Nope, these days one can be punished for not expressing enough loyalty to a certain agenda.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Working from home: can you pull it off?



D.C. McNaughton offers some solid no-nonsense advice on time management and productivity when working from home, and you should definitely read it if you're straddling the fence between an office job and switching to working remotely - or if you've been working from home for a while and feel like somehow, you just aren't getting anything done.

Writing is no different from any other freelancing in that sense, except perhaps in having even less interaction with people and upfront payments.

There are many different reasons for wanting a flexible remote position, and mine pretty much guarantee that I will be interrupted often and in very challenging ways.

As the readers of my blog know, I am a homeschooling mother of four young children, and I have no hired childcare or household help. I have to be extremely disciplined in order to accomplish anything at all, and when I compare myself to other writers, I remind myself that I shouldn't measure my productivity up against anyone who doesn't have little people tugging at their leg and whining "mom.... MOM... Momomomom" all day long.

But anyhow, there are those people. Those who think that if you don't commute to work, it means you don't work. Those who disrespect your time because you don't have anyone but you dictating your work hours, and who feel that they can drop in on you at all hours because you're always home. Those who get offended when you get off a lengthy phone call because you actually have stuff to do.

Things get more challenging when you live with "those people". You can shout yourself hoarse saying you're working, but it's unlikely to make much difference in someone else's attitude.

You had better just make sure you have the right one - keep going on with a balance of flexibility and self-discipline - you got this!

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Writer's block vs. burnout, and how to get over it

Image result for inspiration

You know I'm big on writing discipline and scoff at writer's block, usually wishing I had the luxury to complain about it (rather than do the impossible feat of trying to cram a few hundred words while the kids are messing up the living room).

However, even though writer's block per se can be overcome, if its source is actually burnout, there's only so long you can keep yourself going on a mix of determination, coffee, and chocolate. 

So how do you tell between writer's block and burnout? With block, you're often avoiding a difficult plot twist or the saggy (but necessary) middle section of a book. Or maybe you are trying to force yourself to write something that doesn't really inspire you anymore. You still find creative joy and energy in writing other things, maybe nonfiction, poetry or short fiction completely unrelated to your big WIP. 

With burnout, you feel like your brain has turned into banana mush, and you start wishing you would never need to write a single damn thing again, including emails, holiday greetings, and shopping lists. 

Sounds familiar? 

Whether it's block or burnout, it's useful to step back and recharge your creative batteries. This isn't laziness or procrastination - as writers, we don't create in a vacuum. We need the right ambiance to fuel our imagination.

Inspiration sources include:

Books - in your genre or not, classic or contemporary, choose really good books you love (and not those in your TBR pile you have promised to beta read or review six months ago).

Movies - sometimes reading takes more energy than you currently have. Movies in your genre can really help you visualize similar settings in your own book (plus, if you write historical fiction or epic fantasy, it's a great excuse to watch Game of Thrones). 

Music - I used to write to epic playlists of Lord of the Rings or ambient Saami music. At some point I stopped, figuring it's more productive to write offline without the distraction of YouTube. It turned out to be a mistake, because music really helps me to get into that deep concentration zone that's like oxygen for really inspired writing. 

Scenery - a nature walk is always great on so many levels, but if it's out of reach, it may be helpful to look at albums or slideshows of beautiful nature scenery, gorgeous mansions, epic castles, and anything that might help you get into your book's atmosphere. With my Frozen World series, nowadays it's usually documentaries about Antarctica for me. 

Recharging activities and digital detox - get away from social media, set your phone aside, and you'll see that the world doesn't tumble down. Roll up your sleeves and work in the garden, exercise, knit, bake, or play with your children. 

Longhand - for many years, I would be intoxicated by that delightful feeling of holding a brand new notebook, feeling its weight, and envisioning the words that would fill it. Sadly, it is no longer sustainable for me to write whole novels in longhand and then type them down, but it's still a great way to get back to that mindful and passionate space in writing. 

Above all, don't let writing become a chore you just want to leave behind as soon as you can. My wake-up call (literally) was the realization that I slump and nod off after writing a paragraph or two of my WIP. If my book has this soporific effect on me, what would it do to my readers? So I'm extra careful to keep writing what it has always been for me - a creative outlet and something I can't imagine my life without. 

Friday, 5 April 2019

Image layering in Canva: a basic tutorial

You all know I'm a big fan of Canva, a great online tool that allows those authors who are not Photoshop pros to create decent-looking book covers for free.

Disclaimer: if you have any budget at all for a book cover, buy or commission the best you can afford. After actually having a decent book, a good cover may make the difference between succeeding and failing. It is one of the best investments you can make. If, however, you do need to design your own covers, Canva can be a lifesaver. I don't believe you need to wait until you make enough money to publish a book. You can publish with a decent cover, make some sales, and then funnel your earnings into a re-launch with an awesome cover that will take your marketing to a whole new level.

So let's begin. For me, it usually starts with Pixabay, the safest and least confusing image source. You can freely use any image there for commercial purposes. Of course, someone else might have used it in a book cover already, but that's the case with all stock photography, even if you pay for it.

Let's say I'm making a cover for a historical fiction novel titled "Lady of the Fire". I find this image, which is fantastic:


... But I also want a fiery theme, with a background such as this:

It appears that my best option in this case is to make the woman's image semi-transparent and layer it over the fiery background. To do that, I go to Canva, choose the book cover design option, and upload both images. As I adjust the sizes and placing, I select the lady's image, press "Position" and choose "Forward". This means that the fire remains in the background.

Then there is the fading checkers image. These are the transparency settings. I play around with them until I'm satisfied and adjust both images over each other until they merge perfectly. 

Add the title and pronto:

The semi-transparency of the front image adds a touch I really like. I could play with the fonts some more, but this will do for now.

I hope you found this tutorial useful! Please feel free to share.

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Paths of the Shadow now permafree!

After considering the pros and cons of this for a while, I finally pulled Quest of the Messenger from KDP Select to wide distribution and made the first book of the trilogy, Paths of the Shadow, permafree.

Some authors firmly believe in the principle of "zero price = zero value", and are offended by the mere idea of giving their book away for free, but I disagree. As a matter of fact, this ability to make a book permafree and not worry about setting up free promotional days once a quarter, was part of what swayed me in the direction of going wide.

The concept of taking something you have poured blood, sweat and time into, and just offer it for download, may rankle when you only have a book or two out, but the more books you publish, the more it makes sense. There's nothing like offering the first in a series (or a stand-alone book that is one of several in a similar setting) for free to funnel new readers to buy the rest.

This tactic is successfully used by those people who promote new products in supermarket stalls, as well as by dope dealers - give a free sample to get people hooked so that they will pay for the rest.

Naysayers will claim that people who download free books are only looking for freebies and don't often bother to read what they grabbed anyway. But if a series has been sitting on a shelf for years and doesn't get much traction, the chance of getting some readers - even without getting paid - is better than nothing.

If you get a 1,000 people to download your book, 100 of them might read it, 10 might like it, and one might love it so much that they become your diehard fan and buy all of your books, give you a bunch of glowing, genuine reviews and recommend your book to others. It's all about numbers - the more pebbles you throw into a pond, the more ripples you create.

So if you like epic fantasy, medieval settings, dark magic and lots of intrigue, go ahead and grab your copy of Paths of the Shadow.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

How to survive with no support network: for authors

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You know those heart-warming statements by successful authors who say, "I would never have been able to get to this point without my spouse/family/significant other. Their support meant everything to me along the way"? 

This is great, it really is. I'm always happy for authors who had that support from their nearest and dearest while they were clawing their way up the rocky, lonely path from first draft to publishing success (whatever success means to them - a trad publishing deal, critical acclaim, a significant income stream). But what you don't often hear, despite how common it is, are experiences such as, "My wife would pull faces and come up with random to-do lists every time I sat down to write, and just couldn't stand me 'wasting my time' like that. Whatever I have achieved, I have achieved despite her lack of support and appreciation."

A fellow author once told me, "My husband and kids complained constantly that I never paid attention to them. I was always writing, they said. Cooked dinners, housecleaning, and the full time paycheck I made went unnoticed. What mattered was the fact that not every single second of my day was focused on them or serving their needs."

It's hard not to grow resentful. It does chafe and grate when your husband looks up from his phone, on which he's been busy browsing AliExpress, and asks, "are you sure you can afford to waste so much time on this?" - which brings me to my first point of advice:

Don't hate them. As popular as it is to say that our spouses/family are supposed to stand 100% behind our every venture and give unconditional support, the fact is that writing, like any entrepreneurial venture really, is a steep, uphill climb with a very uncertain outcome. Your family/spouse may be genuinely concerned that you are investing your all into something that is unlikely to ever pay off. It really is easy to neglect our own needs and the needs of our families, and to pour money into something that may yield no return, which brings me to point number two:

Balance, balance, balance. When you're on your own, it means you're also the one responsible for taking care of yourself. If you find yourself hovering over the keyboard with your fingers shaking, bleary-eyed from lack of sleep and faint with hunger; if you find yourself resenting  your bladder for demanding relief and your kids for asking, at 3 PM, whether lunch will be happening anytime today, you should probably slow down, or you risk going the fast track to burnout. Few writers at the start of their road can afford to write full-time. I know I'm not even part-way there.

But don't give up, either. Carve out every possible moment to write. Make use of those little pockets of time that inevitably occur each day. We all have them; on the train, waiting in line to the doctor's office, or when you catch yourself goofing around on Pinterest. Don't worry about efficiency. Just write a few paragraphs, even on your phone or in longhand. Don't wait for that perfect moment when you're on your computer with a cup of tea at hand, the house quiet and you're at leisure. For more advice on how to find time for writing, check out my free e-book, Writing Tips for Busy People.

Finally...

Make sure you aren't all alone. The online writing community is amazing. It can make the difference between giving up and plunging onward. There are so many people out there just like you, just like me - or people who had been in the same place until not too long ago. A supportive network is worth its weight in gold, and I'm so thankful for it.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Writing to market: why and how

Image result for writing bestseller

It is popular to say, "write what you love", "don't short-sell your art" and "money won't buy happiness", and... yeah, money might not be the most important thing in the world. 

Until, you know, it is. 

Because money might not make you happy, but lack of it can surely make you extremely miserable. Money might not buy health, but it will sure buy good health insurance; money won't buy love, but the day-to-day battle for financial survival saps out energy and joy of life. 

As someone who has been through major financial straits with my family, I can definitely tell you that, hypothetically, if someone offered me lifelong financial competence (paid off house, new car every few years, college savings for all the kids) under the condition that I won't write another word ever again, I'd accept in a heartbeat. 

No such cheeky little fairy is likely to come my way, however, so I'm free to go on writing while I try to figure out how to also make a living of it and have balanced family time.

I came to writing as a career from a point of financial crisis and major strain, which is probably not the best place to start with, as you do preferably want some funds you would invest in your books, like in any other business, but it did help me focus. 

One of the reasons why I'm not no longer looking for an agent is that, even if someone could guarantee that I will land a good one, I can't afford the long-term haul of chasing a book deal. I'm not interested in literary recognition or winning contests for its own sake, either. Please give me the money, preferably soon so I can pay the electric bill. 

That's also why, after casting my net far and wide with several genres I love, I am currently focusing on my Frozen World Antarctic sci-fi series, which is garnering me the best and steadiest reader response I have ever experienced. More established authors would probably see this as small potatoes, but for me it really is a cause for celebration when I get unsolicited sales and reviews. 

Some authors are laboring under the misconception that "writing to market" means picking up the most popular genre of the moment and starting to work in that genre even if you absolutely hate it. Actually, writing to market means picking the one genre of those YOU love which is doing best commercially, and focusing on it. 

This makes sense on more levels than just money. We writers, the cultural heirs of those storytellers gathering an eager audience around the cave fire, don't create in a vacuum. We thrive on the love, interest and engagement of our readers, and can only keep so long at something no one seems to want to read. 

This doesn't mean that you should lower your standards with the reasoning of, "fans of the genre will swallow anything". Nor do you have to follow tropes, as is explained in this excellent post: "Formula writing means that by chapter two this has to happen and by the midpoint this other thing has to happen. Or, there has to be a rival for the heroine’s affections, or the dreaded misunderstanding. There are perhaps writers who write to formula, but that isn’t what’s meant by writing to market."