Thursday, 30 April 2015

Getting My Brag On

I've been doing some work on the promotion side and I keep running up against a surprising barrier: my own inhibition about drawing attention to my work and saying how good it is.

Perhaps it shouldn't be so surprising.  After all, most women are encouraged from an early age to be modest and unassuming.  I certainly had the message drilled into me: if what you've done is good, it will speak for itself.  I think men also fall into this trap, although to a lesser degree.  The braggart is not an enviable label to assign.  It conjures images of a lying, arrogant, attention-seeker.

But it doesn't have to be.

For those of you who aren't close friends with someone obsessed with Norse culture, let me tell you a little bit about the tradition of "brag".  The Norse god Bragi is the god of poetry.  In a culture where people are trapped together in close spaces for extended periods of time, the ability to tell an entertaining story becomes a highly prized skill.  (I personally believe that if the Norse had invented cable or the Internet, there would be a new primary god, Digitonia.)

Recounting stories of what each person had accomplished, suitably streamlined but not horribly embellished, was the winter's entertainment.  It wasn't considered a personality flaw.  In fact, it was quite the opposite.

Since at least part of my family comes from a long Norse tradition, I'm going to call upon my inner shieldmaiden and tap into my own right to brag.

I've written a book.  And I think it's a pretty good book which people will enjoy reading and is worth paying for.  I've worked hard on it and it shows. 

(Waiting for lightning to strike me down ...  all good)

What do you know.  It wasn't that hard after all.

And now I have 25 hours and 1500 words to go between me and Avengers: Age of Ultron.  My old unassuming self would have said: wish me luck.  My bragging self says: I can do this.

Final thoughts: I can do this, but wish me luck anyway!

Monday, 27 April 2015

Weekly Update: April 19-25

Weekly word count: 1000

Since I did not reach my weekly word count last week or the week before, I've decided to set myself a consequence.  As all good geeks know, Avengers: Age of Ultron comes out on Friday.  My husband and I have passes to see it.  I've been eagerly awaiting this since I saw the first Joss Whedon Avengers movie.

If I don't have 4000 words by Friday, then I can't see the movie.  That should light a fire under me.

Last week was a bit of an up and down week.  I got my first less than enthusiastic review and discovered I was not quite as ready for it as I'd hoped.  However, I've gotten lots of encouragement from both private and public sources.  Thanks to everyone who reached out.

On the up side (which is the side I am focusing on), I'm getting a great response for my two giveaways.  Almost 400 people have signed up for the Amazon gift card and 260 for the copies of Revelations.  I'm also going to be getting my First Book Award from ORWA at our 30th anniversary celebration.  That's pretty awesome, too.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

What I Learned At Romancing The Capital

First of all, I learned that Eve Langlais is an impressive organizer and a really fun person to hang out with.  She put together an entire 2 day conference and since I get overwhelmed putting together a single afternoon workshop for my work, my hat is off to her.  I see she's already begun planning for 2016, which I am definitely looking forward to.

I went to three panels: a talk on how to be a successful author by S.E. Smith, a panel discussion on paranormal romance with several authors and world building with A.C. Ellas.

Smith talked about how she decided to try her hand at writing books after being laid off from her job.  Within a few months, she had four books and over 10 000 sales.  (This was during the early years of the self-publishing boom.)  She talked about the importance of building up a relationship with readers.

The discussion on paranormal romance was quite entertaining.  The authors talked about how they were inspired to create their worlds.  Eve talked about how she created a moose shape-shifter named Boris for one of her novels and was surprised when he turned out to be a fan favorite. 

Ellas turned her workshop into an audience participation event, building a world of flying serpents orbiting a binary gas giant, inhabited by amphibious humanoids who had to chose between land and sea at puberty. 

But I have to say that I think I learned the most from casual interactions with the other authors and readers there.  I talked with several authors about what swag tends to be most helpful (needs to be memorable and portable).  I had a few lively debates on giving books away for free vs having them for sale.  On the one hand, giving a sample encourages new readers, who will then hopefully buy your other works.  On the other, many of those free books end up sitting on a Kindle or a shelf and don't get read (as well as costing the author significant money).  I saw which prizes were most enthusiastically received (Kindles and gift cards over $ 100).

I learned that even the most experienced and successful authors have moments of despair with themselves and their work and challenges in balancing writing, promotion and the rest of their lives.  I learned that many authors are shy and introverted observers by nature and have to learn to overcome those tendencies.  I also learned that it only takes a few drinks for many of them to cut loose on the dance floor and boogey until their socks melted.

Mostly, I learned I'm not alone.  I'm not the only one who talks to themselves to act out dialogue (though I've tried to stop doing it on the street).  I'm not the only one bewildered by marketing strategies and technical challenges.  And I'm not the only one who gets swept up in the possibilities of a good story and then makes up my own sequel.

Perhaps it's because I was raised as a military brat, but to me "home" is defined by people, not a place.  I'm lucky to have found several "homes" in my life and quite proud to add a new one to the list.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Weekly Update: April 12 to 18: Romancing the Capital Photos!

Weekly word count: 0, nada, zilch.  I concentrated on promotion and got my Goodreads Giveaway set up as well as my $ 20 Amazon Gift Card giveaway.  A little disappointed since I hoped I would still be able to find time to write but it was not to be.

Romancing the Capital was everything I hoped it would be.  The buzz from the various authors was that it was a great conference with lots of opportunity to mingle with readers.

Lots of people were at the event but it never felt crowded or hurried.

Friends and fellow ORWA Members, S.M. McEachern, Lucy Farago and Anne Lange.

Another friend, Reece Butler and her Kilts and Cowboy series.

Another friend and ORWA Member, Mandy Rosko.

And the highlight of my weekend!  Best-selling author Deborah Cooke/Claire Delacroix asked for a copy of Revelations to read!  I'll keep you posted on what she thinks!

And to top it all off, I won a gift basket with some books and chocolate (and a few other things I won't mention on a PG rated site).  ;)
It was great and I am very much looking forward to next year.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Exploring Consent As A Romance Writer

Romance gets a lot of flak about consent.  Even our common euphemism as “bodice-rippers” implies a certain lack of agreement.

Last month’s Romance Writers’ Report had a great article about how to make consent sexy in your writing.  They suggested using role reversals (have the passive character ask/propose something) and using “dirty talk” as a way to explore what characters are okay with.  They also cautioned against getting caught up in knowing what the characters are thinking.  The reader may know that both the hero and heroine are into it, despite earlier protests, but if they haven’t actually talked to each other, they can’t know that it’s now okay.

I spotted a great article on Facebook using the metaphor of asking someone if they want tea.  It did a great job of simplifying the matter.  No one would consider pouring tea down the throat of someone unconscious, or forcing them to drink a cup, even if the person had previously indicated they might like tea.  Nor would you assume that you could drop by to offer them a cup of tea on a random night simply because they’d accepted an earlier cup of tea.
I get how difficult it can be to keep track of things in the middle of passion.  We don’t draw parallels between romantic hormones and street drugs by accident.  They are powerful and intoxicating.  But they are not an excuse and our brains are infinitely more powerful.  We are sentient beings and, frankly, we’re better than our hormones.  Checking in with our sexual partners on a continual basis to make sure we haven’t crossed any boundaries is not too much to ask.  It’s a basic level of human respect.
Romance novels are fantasies, by definition.  If there is every any doubt, ask anyone who has tried the common fantasy of sex-on-the-beach and discovered the gritty unpleasant truth.  But I think romance writers have a certain obligation to try and encourage good fantasies.  It’s becoming much rarer to find a love scene without a condom, which was once believed to be a total page-killing mood-destroyer.  We can do the same thing with consent.
I also would like it if romance writers could begin work on the common myth that only women need to consent to sex.  I’ve seen several novels where the sex scene begins while the hero is still asleep (actively dreaming but still 90% unconscious).  That bothers me on a deep level.  While I understand the appeal of the fantasy of having someone desire you so strongly that it even comes out in their sleep, that reads to me like a rape, just like if the woman was unconscious.  Perhaps I’ve become more sensitive to it because my children are boys, but I use the following mental exercise when plotting out a love scene: if I flipped the genders of this action, would it feel uncomfortable?
I’m sure there are those who will believe I’m being too sensitive and requiring too high a standard.  And perhaps they are right.  But I will argue against anyone who insists romance isn’t “serious enough” to teach or shape ideas.  Fiction is infinitely more powerful than statistics and reports.  Just as Star Trek took on race relations and government corruption, we can take on consent.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Weekly Update: April 5 to 11

Word count: 8200

My focus is going to be shifting this week from writing to promotion.  I have to set up my Goodreads Giveaway, my Kindle Countdown Deal and coordinate with reviews.

Ottawa Romance Writers had a great meeting on Sunday.  We had Laurie Cooper, the head of PubCraft, which offers a variety of packages ranging from virtual assistants to promotional packages.  I'm going to send her an email to see how much it would cost to set up a blog tour this summer. 

I've actually been struggling this week.  One of those emotional roller-coaster deals where I'm convinced things aren't going to work out (even though I'm actually doing fairly well right now).  Over a lifetime, I've learned that these feelings aren't reliable and shouldn't be given undue weight but it doesn't make them any more fun to go through.  I can see similar signs in my son, so I've started teaching him about "tricky feelings" which try and trick you into seeing things a certain way (usually bad) when it's not really true.

I am very excited about Romancing the Capital this weekend.  I won't be able to attend the Friday workshops during the day but I'll be there for the dinner and will be there all day Saturday.  It should be a lot of fun.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Case Study: World Building with Robin Hobb

Robin Hobb has built a complex and intriguing world for her Farseer Trilogy, Liveship Traders Trilogy, Tawny Man Trilogy and Rain Wild Chronicles.  The stories are set in different countries in the same world.  Events in one affect those in another.

This is the part which truly impresses me: the rules for her world stay consistent throughout each novel while still exploring different aspects of the cultures.  Although Bingtown and Buckkeep are as different from one another as, say, Atlanta and Maine, they still feel as though they are part of the same universe.

It’s easy for an author to lose track of all the details they’ve created, particularly when it comes to fantasy worlds.  Remembering how high a dragon can fly or whether or not a particular magic is more potent with or without touch takes dedicated notes.  A reader may go through the series in a matter of weeks, but the author took years to get to the same place.  And also has likely gone through several different versions.

Someone once indignantly posted about a dedicated fan whom George R.R. Martin goes to in order to confirm details.  They complained: how can a fan know more about the series than the author?  The problem is that the author knows all the variations that led up to the final published process.  A character might have had black hair at one point, but the author decided to change it to blonde later.  Then they might change it back.  Four volumes later, it can be hard to remember whether or not the change actually happened.  A convenient source can be a godsend.

Hobb built a very rich world with the initial Farseer Trilogy.  When I picked up Liveship Traders, I initially thought it was an entirely different world, one which was equally rich.  Then I began to notice cues that the two of them actually co-existed.  The details were consistent regarding location, sea and current information, relative cultural views.  It was incredible.

Details like the food, clothing, manners and other minutiae are what make imagined worlds feel real.  They create the illusion of depth and permanency.  Some authors take shortcuts by superimposing a real-world culture on their fictional universe and that can be useful as a starting point, but can quickly begin to feel shallow (if not well-researched) or off-putting (if followed too closely).

Hobb’s world is focused on the sea, for the most part.  Her characters live in coastal trading towns, are subject to sea-raids, piracy and other nautical nuisances.  Bingtown is a trading hub specializing in rare and magical items, but does not have the land to feed its population adequately.  That creates a cultural focus on trade and social obligations.  Buckkeep is a fortress guarding access to the inland rivers and has undergone a period of intense raiding.  Their culture is more military, with a strict feudal system.  The Outislands have poor farming conditions and survive by cross-raiding.  They have strong kinship ties and family obligations.  The Pirate Isles are a relatively new settlement, populated by outlaws and freed slaves.  Their towns have a Wild West feel to them, with every man looking out for himself and much negotiation for larger issues.

The history of each of these location shapes them, just as a character’s individual history shapes their development.  To separate a fictional world from the real world inspiration, then consider how their histories differ.  Without a Julius Cesar, would Rome have switched from a Republic to an Empire?  How would North America look if the Thirteen Colonies hadn’t rebelled against England?

Every time I read Hobb’s work, I’m impressed all over again because I always find some new detail I’d missed previously.  And it all works brilliantly together.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Weekly Update: March 29 to April 4

Weekly Word Count: 5250

This total is a little misrepresentative since I actually only wrote three days this week, 2500 words on Sunday, 3000 on Saturday and 250 on Wednesday.  I am pleased that I can still pull down extended periods of writing (I've gotten very used to writing in 45 minute increments and I'm starting to find my brain and fingers automatically slow down around that point).

My big news for the week is that is now carrying my paperback, so Canadians no longer have to order from  Unfortunately, the way the distribution fees work, I don't get as much in the way of royalties, but I actually don't mind that so much.  Right now, my marketing byword is getting myself out there.

I also submitted Revelations to the Ottawa Public Library for inclusion in their collection.  Since it's self-published, it has to go through a review process.  I'm fairly confident they'll find the writing is up to standard, but I suppose it's always possible it could be picked up by someone who's having a bad day.  The librarians at my local branch have been really helpful in suggesting ways to promote myself.

My sales have started to slow so it's time to do another marketing campaign.  I'll be doing a giveaway on Goodreads as part of a review which is coming up.  And I was thinking about putting Revelations up on NetGalley.  I'm also going to be looking up local book clubs to see if they'd be interested in featuring Revelations as one of their selections.

I had a great lunch this week with my friend, Teresa Morgan.  She's been one of my guides for self-publishing and I always find her advice helpful.  And I had an evening out with another writer/girlfriend, Alexa Bloom, who is getting very close to finishing her new novel.  We had a great chat and were serenaded by cowboys (okay, us and a bar full of other people), which made for a fun Saturday night.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Thoughts on Non-Competition Clauses

I was speaking with a fellow writing friend last week, one who has been quite successful in her career.  Without going into identifying details, she is a hybrid author, which means she writes books for a traditional publisher and also self-publishes some works.  She began as a traditionally published author and then branched out recently into self-publishing.  I was curious how her publisher felt about her self-publishing ventures as I've heard many horror stories about publishers blocking or suing their authors who try to self-publish, invoking the non-competition clause in their contracts.

She explained that her editor was quite supportive and had no problem with her publishing other stories, as long as they did not come into direct competition with the kind of stories which she wrote for them.  I was quite impressed and thought perhaps I had misjudged the situation.  (I'd been given advice early on to self-publish first and then seek traditional publishing options, so that my publisher could not insert a non-competition clause which would prevent me from ever self-publishing.)

I asked her if she had an official NCC in her contract and she told me that she did and that the wording of it was that she would not write anything except for her traditionally published author.  The only exceptions were projects she already had underway, which she was required to list out at the time of contract.

I had to step back.  This wasn't just "I won't publish anything which competes with you" but a "I won't write anything which could maybe one day compete with you" clause.

She told me that her editor was perfectly fine with her pursuing other projects and that they'd come up with a massive list of everything she thought she ever might like to write so that it would be covered under the pre-existing project exception.  And when something came up which was outside of the list, she simply spoke to her editor and got permission to proceed.

Obviously it is working for her.  She's successful and doing what she wants.

Maybe I'm more paranoid and suspicious but I would have a hard time signing a contract promising that I wouldn't write except for my publisher, no matter how much they reassured me that it wasn't going to be an issue.  Maybe this editor would be on board, but what if he/she got replaced?  Would the next one be as understanding?

It's too much power on one side of the equation.  I get that things tend to be stacked on the side of the publisher.  They have the money and the connections and they are taking a risk on the author, particularly when the author is new.  That's just how the business works.  But it would make me very uncomfortable, conjuring up mental images of expensive and drawn out court proceedings fighting for the rights to my own imagination.

Your Honour, will the defendant please refrain from cluttering the proceedings
with unicorns and dragons and other irrelevant fantasies?  The Hugh Jackman ones can stay.

I'm not anti-traditional publishing.  I think that when it works, it works beautifully.  And it's worth pursuing.  But there does seem to be a lot of concern about locking an author into a particular brand and making sure that what an author writes is going to be profitable.

Another author I follow recently jumped onto the self-publishing bandwagon after her publisher refused to let her write romantic-suspense.  They wanted her to concentrate on contemporary small-town romance, which is very popular and makes a lot of money but isn't what she wanted to write.  She gave it a try but her heart wasn't in it.  She's now self-publishing romantic-suspense and her fans are thrilled.

I have no idea where my career is going to take me.  I'd like to have my books in bookstores and readily available everywhere, which is something traditional publishers can offer.  But I'd also like to have the power to explore whatever universes call to me, without having to beg permission.