Thursday, 28 July 2016

Ink Tip: A Look at the Numbers

One of the most interesting workshops I went to at RWA Nationals was a presentation by the Data Guy from Author Earnings.  They did an extensive survey of romance sales by genre, title, author, platform, just about any aspect you could think of.  They've put up a pdf of their slideshow and I highly recommend checking it out for anyone who is seriously interested in publishing their books.

There were some very interesting and unexpected results in the presentation, some of which I find reassuring as an independent author.
Taking look at sales by genre, it's clear that contemporary is the most popular genre for romance.  But paranormal comes in at a respectable fifth and with a decent number of sales.  But even the more specialty genres still have their devoted readers.


The next bit which caught my attention was this breakdown of of author earnings.  The blue stripe is independent authors, the red is small press and the purple is the Big 5 publishers.  I find it interesting that independent authors dominate every tax bracket.  Granted, this is for ebook sales, and only sales on Amazon, but it's still an interesting phenomenon.  I'd like to see a similar breakdown for print sales, which I'm sure would be more dominated by the Big 5.
I also found the data about release tempos fascinating.  I constantly hear the message that an author needs to publish multiple books a year in order to make any kind of earnings.  Since I can only produce one book a year, there are times I find that pressure to be overwhelming.  But looking at the data, almost half of authors of the 190 000 top selling titles on Amazon did not have a release in the previous year, 27% only publish one title a year and 22% do 2-6 titles in a year and only 4% hit the monthly release marks.  Now maybe they are making more money, but it reassures me to know that other authors are in the same boat.

The most comforting information that I took away was that there is no "formula for success."  It comes in all shapes and sizes and paths.  The only consistent aspect is to write a story that you and readers can be passionate about.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Weekly Update: July 17 to 23

Weekly word count: 6500

It's taken me awhile to work through the laundry, dayjob backlog and all the other little details which went undone while I was at RWA, but I'm back on top of things now.

I had a great lunch with Teresa Morgan and she offered me some great advice on how to move forward with Inquisition.  And I had a post-heartbreak emergency milkshake with Julie Evelyn Joyce and heard some great stories about her mom, who has recently passed.  So I didn't get too much social withdrawal after the social whirlwind of RWA.

Now comes a "live your dream" couple of weeks for me.  My day job is going on two weeks of shutdown, my kids are at the cottage with their grandparents, and I'm going to have my own personal writing retreat.  I'm going to live as if I was a full time writer and see what kind of production I can manage.

I'm off to a good start.  I did 4100 words on Saturday.  I'm hoping to do at least 3000 words per day.  My new target to have my first draft done is September 1st.  Hopefully these two weeks will get me a lot closer.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Hooked On A Feeling

Have you ever wondered what our emotions mean?  Most of us simply accept our emotions without thinking about them too much.  If we do, we're often more interested in what triggered an emotion than in what that emotion might be trying to tell us.

Last week, I gave a workshop on emotions and the different ways they can be expressed non-verbally.  Here's a little sneak peek into what I've learned.

There are eight main emotions: anger, contempt, disgust, embarrassment, fear, happiness and sadness.  And all of them serve universal purposes.  Culture may dictate when it is appropriate to express an emotion, but under our skins, we all feel the same things.

Anger serves a very basic purpose.  It alerts us when something is wrong.  Unfairness, prejudice, and trickery are all appropriate triggers for anger.  When our expectations are violated, no matter how small or large, we get angry.  Anger spurs us to action, filling us with energy.  But it also shuts down our ability to empathize, which makes it difficult to communicate and come to a joint solution with our opponents.  It's also a mirrored emotion.  If someone sees someone who is angry, they are likely to become angry themselves, creating a vicious cycle.

Contempt is a form of societal bonding.  It defines the people and behaviours which are acceptable and those which aren't.  On it's own, it's a pleasant sensation of superiority, power and status.  Paired with disgust, it can provoke people into horrific levels of violence.  Contempt allows a person to demonstrate or prove their inclusion as an insider or as part of an elite.

Disgust is a another part of our social barometer, defining intimacy.  Suspending disgust with someone is a sign of affection and bonding.  Like a parent cleaning up their baby's vomit or allowing someone to stick their tongue in your mouth.  Actions which should be disgusting become acceptable.  It also prevents us from consuming food or drink which is likely to be contaminated, increasing our survival.

Embarrassment is a display of submission.  It is triggered by violating social taboos or norms.  By demonstrating embarrassment, we express regret and seek to appease those around us, hopefully reducing any possible censure.  Embarrassment is not actually a separate emotion and is actually a combination of fear and sadness in rapid alternation.

Fear is a protective emotion, preventing us from getting into dangerous or treacherous situations.  There are universal fears, such as threat of harm, snakes, the dark and public embarrassment.  There are also learned fears, such as guns, flying and bad movie casting.  A little fear is healthy, raising our alertness and granting us extra speed and strength with a boost of adrenaline.  Too much fear saps our strength, leading to hopelessness.  

Sadness is the flip side of anger.  Anger alerts us to something wrong and sadness alerts others to something wrong for us.  It is literally a cry for help.  Anger drives us forward but sadness drains our sense of purpose and hope.  When people see someone who is sad, they are moved emotionally, even if it is only a picture.  Sadness inspires compassion and an urge to help in most people.

Happiness is our reward for doing things right.  It tells us when things are good and allows us to enjoy it.  People feel happier when they see someone who is genuinely happy.  The word "happiness" actually describes a wide range of pleasant emotions, from enjoyment to elation to wonder to pride.  

Surprise is a fleeting reaction to an unexpected event or stimulus.  In some primal cultures, they do not distinguish between surprise and fear, as fear usually follows a surprise.  Surprise actually covers two emotions: surprise and startlement.  Surprise happens when something is truly unexpected.  Startlement is when someone knows something is coming, but not when.  For example, if I'm walking down the street and hear a gunshot, I will be surprised.  If I'm at the gun range and someone fires, I'll be startled.

Eight emotions seems like a limited palette, but with them, we create the whole of human experience.  They can often feel like they're in control, but with a little understanding of what they are trying to tell us, we can gain a whole new appreciation of how we interpret the world.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Weekly Update: July 10 to 16: My Week At RWA Nationals

(I know this post is late, but I hope you all will forgive me because it has been an incredible week.)

Weekly word count: 2100 words

Not a great writing week but, boy, what a whirlwind of writer achievement!  Last week was the National Conference for the Romance Writers of America in San Diego.  It was my first conference and I was determined to make the most of every minute of it.  I flew out with my friends, S.M. McEachern, Alexa Bloom and Lucy Farago.  Lucy and I shared a room with two other lovely authors, Cyndi and Amy.  (I should have taken a picture of their badges to get their last names, but they were both funny and considerate and as soon as I can post a link to their work, I will.)

We started off slow on Wednesday.  We got our registration done and visited the Goody Room, where we found joke ribbons to add to our official ones.  I got my official PAN (Published Author Network) pin, too.  After that, Lucy, S.M. and I headed out to the San Diego Zoo.  After a couple of bottomless mimosas from the hotel breakfast, we were in a mood to be silly and had fun with the photo op displays. 

On Thursday, the serious business began.  Workshops, book signings and special presentations.  Luckily, we still had some fun with the daily scavenger hunt.  Lucy and I ambushed Pamela Kopler in the elevator to get our entry for a RITA nominee (the equivalent of an Oscar nominee for film).  She kindly went along with our request for a selfie.

Thursday also had the keynote lecture and luncheon with Beverly Jenkins, a USA Today Bestselling Author.  She writes historical romances set in 19th century America, focusing on African-Americans.  (I'm always on the lookout for unique historical series.)  She was very entertaining and educational.  She offered some great tips, such as reminding us to consider writing to be our work.  It's not a hobby and the time we spend writing should be respected by ourselves and those around us.  And she had the best comeback for the inevitable questions that boil down to: Do you really do all the things described in your books?  

Her advice: Look them in the eye, straighten your back and emphatically declare: Hell yeah!   

I found the "Maximize Your Discoverability on Amazon" with Daniel Slater to be very useful with good and practical suggestions.  He suggested putting a link to your next book immediately after the official "The End" to capture reader attention and talked about their new program Amazon Giveaways (it sounded like it will be similar to Goodreads but handled through Amazon).  That evening, Alexa, S.M. and I went out to dinner at a new San Diego restaurant, Carne Prima, and were treated like royalty.

Friday had a breakfast with Dr. Valerie Young, who talked about Impostor Syndrome, which is where people (mostly women) who are quite accomplished tend to dismiss and downgrade their talents and achievements, believing in their hearts that they aren't truly worthy of them.  She gave examples of how people sabotage themselves to avoid being "exposed" as the frauds they believe themselves to be, such as refusing to try, dismissing their accomplishments as luck and putting forward lower effort so they don't have to feel bad about failing.  I found myself wondering if some women do this so that they don't seem egotistical or because they are afraid to seem overconfident.

Friday was also the day for the PAN-only workshops, so I spent the day cramming as much as I could into my head.  There was some great data from Author Earnings about romance sales and reader demographics, a hilarious lecture on how to use Hollywood screenwriting tips to kick up our writings by Michael Hauge and Kristan Higgins and a great bunch of suggestions from Barbara Vey about how reach our readers.

Saturday was a difficult one to start for me, since I had my Beyond The Furrowed Brow workshop.  I was worried that no one would show up since it was first thing in the morning but I ended up having a full house (I'm guessing about 300 people).  

Lots of people came up after to tell me how much they enjoyed it and how informative it was.  One of my ad-libs became a crowd favourite and instant tweet.  Arousal decreases our ability to make rational decisions and predict the consequences of our actions, so "Friends don't let friends drive horny."

I was very interested in Sherry Thomas' speech about her experiences and determination.  She came to the United States from China and admits that she learned English so that she could read romance novels.  She was relatively certain they weren't actual pornography since they were right there in the supermarket, but she still hoped.  When dealing with post-partum depression, she read a very unsatisfying romance and decided that she was going to write a better one, which she eventually did, becoming a two time RITA winner.

Saturday finished with the RITA and Golden Heart award ceremony.  The RITA is for published books and the Golden Heart is for unpublished manuscripts from authors who have not yet been published.  The winners included a diverse group of women united only by their talent.  I was pleased to see a number of self-published authors taking home the golden statuette.  One Golden Heart winner was so certain she wasn't going to win that she didn't even have her shoes on when her name was called.

On Sunday, we flew home, tired, happy and with our bags crammed with as much swag and giveaways as we could fit.  I didn't go crazy with picking up free books, but I still came home with a good selection.  (Of course, I couldn't resist putting my own books into the picture for this one.)

Would I go back?  Absolutely!  Although I don't think I'll be able to go to next year's conference in Orlando, I'm already mentally planning and budgeting to go to 2018 in Denver, Colorado.  Maybe by that time, I'll be able to add "Award-Winning" or "Best-Selling" as an adjective to "Author" for myself.  

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Heroine Fix: The Ladies of Austen

To me, Jane Austen is brilliant.  Her books are well-written with a sly sense of humour.  Her heroines are well-developed (often more so than her heroes).  So today I'm looking at the sisters from my favourite two Austen novels: Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility.

Sense and Sensibility was Austen's first published novel and Pride and Prejudice remains her most popular one.  Both feature families of daughters whose precarious position in society is threatened by their lack of money.  In Sense and Sensibility, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood lose their home since the laws of inheritance give the entire estate to the oldest son.  They move to Barton Cottage in Devonshire on a very limited income and proceed to have a series of romantic adventures, culminating in marriage for both sisters.

In Pride and Prejudice, there are five sisters in the Bennett family but the book focuses mainly on three: Jane, the beautiful one; Elizabeth, the smart one; and Lydia, the flirt.  As with Sense and Sensibility, the family is in peril of losing their home once the father dies, increasing the pressure for each of the daughters to make a suitable match.  Although all three end up married, their paths to matrimony are all quite different.

There are a number of similarities between the books.  Both feature a man trapped in a marriage with a silly and frivolous wife (Mr. Bennett and Mr. Palmer), both feature a wild courtship by a scandalous young man (Wickham and Willoughby) and both have a strong undercurrent which emphasizes the importance of good character and highlights the perils of nineteenth century British society and how quickly a reputation can vanish.  But there is also an undercurrent of hope that someone who is also of good character can see past gossip and scandal to recognize the good character of the heroine.

Elizabeth Bennett
Elizabeth Bennett is certainly one of the most popular and well known heroines from Austen's work.  She's clever, pretty and never afraid to speak her mind.  I've always found her relationship with Mr. Darcy to be secondary to the personal growth that she undertakes.  At the beginning of the novel, she is not inclined to take things very seriously.  Her father has encouraged her to see the inappropriate behaviour of her mother and younger sisters as a source of entertainment.  She accepts a great deal on face value, assuming Darcy is a snob and believing Wickham's tales of ill-use.  As the novel progresses, she realizes that she needs to start thinking about things more critically.  She realizes that her family's antics are costing them dearly in society and that all of the sisters may end up paying the price for them.  She starts to unravel Wickham's web of half-truths and lies.  She matures as the novel progresses, becoming a thoughtful and intelligent young woman.

Jane Bennett
Jane and Lydia represent two opposite facets.  Jane is ethereal, bordering on angelic.  She possesses almost every Regency virtue.  She is kind, quiet, beautiful and reserved, providing no inappropriate behaviour for the gossip-mongers to seize on.  Yet that prized reserved nature nearly ends up destroying her chance at happiness.  Mr. Darcy is able to convince Mr. Bingley that Jane does not truly care for him and as a further nail in the coffin, points out the scandalous behaviour of the Bennett family.  It is only through Elizabeth's intervention that Mr. Darcy realizes the error of his ways and the two lovers are reunited.  Jane never truly changes from the first page to the last, it is only through the intervention of others that she achieves her goals.

Lydia Bennett
Lydia is the youngest of the Bennett sisters and appears to have no thought in her head other than pursuing whatever pleasure seems like a good idea at the time.  She chases after the men of the regiment, not with a goal of marriage, but seemingly just to collect admirers.  She runs away with Wickham to London and is discovered living with him.  With Mr. Darcy's help, the couple is forced to marry and Wickham is given funds to ensure success in his military career.  Lydia is shallow, vain and apparently thoughtless.  Like Jane, she doesn't change through the course of the novel and it is only through Mr. Darcy's intervention that her ending is not more bleak.

Elinor Dashwood
The sisters in Sense and Sensibility are much more developed.  Elinor, like Jane, is a proper English lady who thinks before she speaks and avoids giving offence.  But unlike Jane, Elinor assumes responsibility for her family.  She is the one who finds them a place to live within their budget, who manages the household accounts and servants.  She deals with her mother's and Marianne's vapours and struggles to keep the family respectable.  It is heart-breaking to watch as her love for Edward seems to shatter on the rocks of his family's opposition and a previous secret engagement.  Yet Elinor always seems to find the strength to soldier on, doing what is right even when it tears at her heart.  In the end, Edward is freed to marry her.

Marianne Dashwood
Marianne begins as a young girl full of passion and impulse.  She is unabashedly devoted to Willoughby, sparing no doubt as to her affections.  She scorns the more mature and dignified Colonel Brandon as a suitor and again is not shy to show it.  But when Willoughby abruptly abandons her, she is left to flounder amid rumours and scandal.  Slowly, she begins to realize that despite the intensity of her feelings, there is no guarantee that love will be enough to win the day.  An illness leaves her near death, but as she slowly recovers, she finds a balance between her passion and society's expectations.  She discover a true affection and kinship with Colonel Brandon, eventually becoming his bride.

Austen clearly saw the flaws in the rules of British society and in the way courtship was expected to progress.  Couples were expected to form a suitable lifelong attachment without exposing themselves to scandal and do it through a series of public balls, dinners and entertainments, all highly chaperoned.  But she offers a ray of hope to the young ladies who must have been overwhelmed by the restrictions and expectations.  If one is of good character and insight, then it is possible to overcome any difficulty or objection and find true happiness.  Of all the marriages, only Lydia's has a foreshadowing of doom lurking over it.  The others can all be presumed to have a happily ever after, regardless of wealth.  Virtue will be rewarded in Austen's world, no matter how bleak the situation may seem.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Weekly update: July 3 to 9

Weekly update: 4150 words

It was a rough week to get things done.  I had a bunch of appointments and errands which had to happen before I left for San Diego.  I also had to make sure my presentation was ready for the workshop.

I ended up taking two hours to write on Saturday since I had less than 2000 words done at that point.  I'm glad I did since I was starting to get into an overwhelmed "I'm no good" head space and it was a good reality check.

I'm looking forward to the Romance Writers of America conference, even if the idea of leaving my family for a week is nerve-wracking.  It's going to be an intense experience.  I've been told to prepare for a whirlwind of activity but thus far, everyone seems very positive.

I'm hoping to get a chance to network with other writers, learn from the workshops and have a good time.  I've never been to San Diego and I'm hoping to get a chance to see some of the city as well.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Reality Is What You Make It

What we see as reality is highly dependent on the stories we tell ourselves.  The right details and context can completely change how we see something.  As a writer, I find that fascinating and reversing expectations and assumptions is something I love to do in my books.

If I tell you about a man who didn't show up at his job for 3 days and was fired, most people would say that sounds fair.

But what if I tell you that man didn't show up because he was in the hospital watching over his child, who was near death after a horrible car crash?  Now most people would have sympathy and say he doesn't deserve to be fired.  People might want to donating money to help them.  There might be a social media outcry against the company and virtual attacks and protests against them.

Now what if I tell you that the car crash happened while the father was driving drunk?  The sympathy evaporates and depending on how much support had been offered, people might feel angry.  They would feel duped and want to take that out on the family.  The father would probably start to receive hate mail or death threats.  The actions of the company would entirely disappear.

The story can keep flipping back and forth as more information comes out.  What if the father didn't know he was driving drunk (ie someone spiked his drink or slipped him a drug)?  What if he swerved to avoid hitting a group of teenagers who wandered abruptly onto the road?  What if someone offered him a ride in a cab and he refused?  What if he was drinking more than usual because of something horrible that happened to him?  What if he was a chronic alcoholic?  What if he was abusive to his family?  What if he'd been horribly abused as a child?  What if the evidence of him being "drunk" came from a corrupt cop who had always hated this particular man?

This is one reason why I'm very cautious when it comes to jumping on the outrage bandwagon.  Often people are outraged before they have all the facts and they can do horrible things in the name of righteous anger.  I've learned the hard way to do my research and search for alternative explanations before indulging in wrathful actions.

The story is everything.  There are always multiple sides.  A mom might be vilified for regularly visiting her adult child in prison if he or she has been accused of something heinous, but she's still a mother who cares about her child.  A man might be a short-tempered jerk at work but that's because he stays up late nights to work at a counselling hotline.  The sullen, angry kid at school might be sleeping in the garage because his parents fight violently through the night.

Of course, it's not always a surprise twist.  Sometimes the jerk is just a jerk because he or she enjoys feeling powerful and superior.  Sometimes people are thoughtless or careless or outright stupid.  But we can't know until we understand the whole story.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Weekly Update: June 26 to July 2nd

Weekly word count: 5000

Up to chapter 10 for going through my rewrites for Inquisition.  I've shortened the chapters, so I'm pulling material from my original chapters four and five.  I think the pacing works better.

It was the last week of school and it was a hectic swirl of meetings, appointments and all the other little things that needed to happen before I start going through life with short people permanently attached to my hip (and complaining about it).

I'm hoping to still be able to continue my writing productivity through the summer, but it'll be more in fits and spurts than a regular thing.  There are lots of writers who have trouble if they don't get to write every day and one day, I hope to join their ranks, but for now, I need to be practical and focus on what I can do, rather than what I'd like to do.

The summer has started off well.  The family had lots of fun for Canada Day.  We went to the fair and rode rides and played games.  Had lots of fun on the Tilt A Whirl and the Berry Go Round.  My oldest son loved the Graviton (the youngest, not so much).  He had his legs propped up like an old pro.  

My youngest managed to win one of the big prizes at duck fishing.  It's a game where there are a bunch of ducks floating in a mini pool and most of them have an S on the bottom to win a small prize and a very few have an L on the bottom to win a big prize.  He hooked one of the L ducks and the carny was very impressed.  She commented "And people say these games are rigged!"  (My mental response: not rigged, just a lot less likely to win than implied.)  He was very proud of his giant stuffed snake.

We finished off the day watching the fireworks and enjoying some cotton candy and deep fried donuts.  It was a rainy day but the fireworks still happened and everyone had fun.