Thursday, December 5, 2013

Publishing: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

When I started on my journey toward publishing three years ago, I was pretty idealistic, which came from ignorance mostly, but also just the excitement of accomplishing something most people never do—publishing a full-length novel, traditionally, I might add, because, at the time, that was important to me.  My, how things have changed.

All wannabe writers and soon-to-be published authors have stars in their eyes, dreaming of hitting it big, or even just having a few people read their work.  Whatever their expectations, come launch day, there are a lot of surprises. 

The best part of the publishing world are the friendships.  Most all are virtual, meaning we hardly ever get to meet in person, but that doesn’t diminish the magnitude or impact.  These are the people I talk to on a daily basis.  We help each other network and promote, and generally just keep each other from going crazy, and there’s a lot to make an author crazy.  And the fans...oh wow, that's something I never even considered.  They're like the super rich frosting on top of it all, my very favorite part!  

The bad part?  All the distractions.  We’re writers.  All we really want to do is write.  But when you have a book to sell, mostly what you end up doing is marketing.  All.  The  Time.  I mean, who’s going to buy book two if you haven’t sold much of book one?  So away we go onto social media, sharing our links and reviews.  It’s the single biggest time-suck there is—Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, blogging, all of it…social media is essential to success, especially if you’re indie or small press. 

The ugly part?  Bullying and deceit.  For a published author, a review is like gold, or maybe lead.  While not all potential readers evaluate based on reviews, many do, and, to some extent, both authors and readers alike tend to judge success, or the lack thereof, based on the number and quality of reviews, however irrational. 

The juicing and purchasing of illegitimate reviews has left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth, especially readers, some of whom have turned to trashing the names of both guilty and innocent authors via their blogs, Amazon, and Goodreads.  The answer?  Be authentic, and don’t engage via review sites.  Ever.  That’s hard whether it be a reviewer you want to hug or hit.  Reading is subjective, and we have to accept that, whether we’re being judged fairly or not.

Regardless, publishing has been a real joy for me.  Hard work?  You bet.  But I’m enjoying way more perks than pits.  And my journey has only just begun.  My next hurdle will be self-publishing.  But I have so many wonderful, generous indie friends now, I know I’ll make it work.  

Nancy S. Thompson is the author of the romantic thriller, The Mistaken.

Find her on Facebook & Twitter

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Paranormal Life for Me

Writing paranormal is a perfect fit for me because I’m not really normal. I like finding the magic in things and it’s always been fun to image ‘what if?’
Once when I was doing an interview, someone asked me the question: 'Normal or paranormal?' I answered paranormal and my husband quipped, "Is this in real life or in
 your reading and writing?" Then he grinned and asked, "Would the answer change?" I laughed and told him, "Nope the answer would be the same."
In high school a boy I had a crush on called me weird. It was horrible. At the time I thought my teenage life was ending. I cried and wondered what I had done to make him call me that. I was also outraged. How dare he call me weird! I was totally normal.
But, honestly, he was right. I'm not exactly normal. I never really have been. For example, I spend hours and months of my life creating fictional people. Another large chunk of my time is spent talking with other people who create fictional people, reading about fictional people and discussing said fictional people with fellow readers. I'm really enthusiastic about anything I'm involved with and that seeps over into my love of books and writing too. I even helped plan a party for a werewolf and another party for a vampire. As a matter of fact I went to the prom in another state for said werewolf and vampire and was on the planning committee. I even convinced several of my friends to join me. Yes, that would be the Eclipse Prom for any of you who were into Twilight back in the day.
I drive to book signings and have pages of questions to ask the authors. A lot of people don't do any of those things. And you know what? I'm really okay with that. I had fun at all of those things and I'd do them again. What's so great with being normal? I enjoy being paranormal.  

Thursday, November 28, 2013

And 6 Months Later They Broke Up... (Endings in YA lit)

I was lucky enough to attend the SCBWI conference in LA again this year and got a lot of sit down a chat time with some of my favorite YA authors (I may have fan-girled a little) - Jay Asher, Shannon Messenger, Kirsten Hubbard, Debra Driza, Carolyn Mackler...

We ended up on the topic of endings in YA literature, especially stories involving a love story (which about 90% of them do to some extent). What I always find funny is when readers are frustrated that a YA novel ends a little too open. But in my mind, that's the beautiful part about writing for young adults.
The couple we've been rooting for since he tripped over her books in chapter two are FINALLY together, having pushed over one obstacle after another... But for how long?
I can tell you my attention span in high school wasn't long enough to create a "forever" kind of relationship. So the joke was that if every YA romance had an epilogue that was honest, it would read -
And six months later they broke up.

I still laugh at this, and I try to keep it in mind both when writing YA and reading YA. We're getting a glimpse into one small section of this person's life. We're not necessarily setting up their future, or finding their happily every after. (And yes, I'm aware that there are exceptions to this - especially when jumping into speculative fiction)

It's more like - Their happily ever after...for now ;-)

What do you like about YA literature?

~ Jolene 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

5 Tips for using Facebook as an Author

Using social media is a great way to promote your books. Since Facebook is one of the most used social media sites, it’s important to have a presence there as an author. Here are 5 tips to help you get the most interaction out of your Facebook pages.

Personalize your posts
One of the great things about social media is that people can connect with you on a more personal level. Don’t be afraid to post about a movie you’re seeing, or funny articles you find on Buzzfeed. I’ve found my posts that get the most interaction with fans aren’t posts selling my books. People are much more interested in my Pomeranian’s Halloween costume, or the embarrassing thing I just did, than the price of my books. Don’t get me wrong, I still post about my books, but not every day. And I try to switch it up by using teasers, sales, photos of hot models/actors who look like my characters, etc. I get a much better response to that than posts begging people to “Please, please, please buy my book…pretty please!”

Like fellow authors, and engage with other pages
It’s important to support other authors. Liking their pages helps do that, and hopefully they’ll like your page in return. Your own fans can see what you’ve liked, and might like the pages too. Not only is it smart to network with other authors, it helps increase your own visibility, and the more you can put yourself out there, the better!

Boost posts
Facebook changed their posting policies about a year ago and they now charge you to boost your posts so more of your fans can see them. Boost posts work well for big events like release days. You can choose how much you want to spend, and if the post is doing well, you can add more money to boost the post. Keep in mind that if you use an ad with a photo to boost a post, the text can’t take up more than 20% of the space in the ad.

Another alternative is to start a personal Facebook page, and use it instead of an author page. You're capped at 5000 friends, and you won’t have the option to boost posts, but anyone who friends you will be able to see more of your posts. You can also let readers know they can change their notification settings for your personal page to make sure they see all of your posts.

Update regularly
It’s always a good idea to be consistent in your marketing efforts, and Facebook is no different. Posting frequently gives your audience something to count on. You can even experiment with theme days. Like Teaser Tuesday, where you post a teaser from your books every Tuesday of the week. Your audience will eventually recognize the days and themes, and hopefully check your page on those days, even if the post doesn’t show up in their timeline feed.  

Watch the time of day
At the bottom of each of your posts, there’s a little blue box that tells you how many people saw your post. Experiment with posting on your page at different times of the day, and see how many people your posts reach at those times. I’ve found that my posts get more interaction when I post from 2:00 pm-8:00 pm Sunday through Thursday.

What about you? Do you have any other Facebook tips?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

How readers can show their gratitude to authors & things authors are grateful for.

When deciding a topic for this post I asked for ideas. Two fellow Dauntless authors suggested Gratitude topics with Thanksgiving just a week away! And I thought they were fantastic ideas. But how to choose . . . that was the question. Then I realized I really don't have to. 

 How readers can show their gratitude to authors & things authors are grateful for:

Reviews - You read a book that you absolutely love and you want to show the author how much you enjoyed their book? A review is the way to go! Authors will be forever grateful! Read a book that you don't love? Guess what! We're grateful for those reviews too! Be kind, be courteous, be constructive, and your review will be more helpful than you know! 

Tweet it - So you read the book, loved the book, and posted a review on Amazon, Goodreads, and B&N! Now what? Share your review! Post a link to the book and tell people how much you love it! I promise you nothing sells a book better than having readers tell all their friends and family about the book! 

Follow - Follow the author - Like their Facebook and Amazon pages, follow their blogs and  twitter accounts. If you loved one book by an author, surely you will like more of their work. By following an author on all their social sites it: gives exposure to the author and their books, makes it so you get all their updates including when a giveaway is going on, and I'm not gonna lie, it's a confidence booster (at least for me)!  

PLUS - Many authors also have Pinterest pages. This is a great way to get sneak peaks into the worlds they create! 

Share - Gift an e-copy, loan out your hard-copy, go to your local library and see if they have the book. If they don't, request that they get a copy. As an author, I can't tell you how excited I am when I find out that my book was requested at a library or loaned to a friend! It isn't about the money, it's about sharing the stories we write. 

Get it signed -  Favorite author coming to a city near you? Go to a signing, purchase a hard-copy of the book you love! Can't get the hard-copy? No worries! Go, talk to the author, interact, get a signed bookmark! When I had my first signing (it was at a multi-author event) I didn't sell a single copy of my book. And you know what? I was okay with that! I signed things all day long and had a blast doing it. Not to mention I made some awesome friends! 

PLUS - If you want a signed book and the author isn't on tour/doesn't travel/isn't coming to a city near you, in many cases authors will directly sell you a copy of the book so it comes signed! This is another great reason to follow author's blogs and Facebook pages.

Buy it - This may seem like an obvious one but it needs to be pointed out. Don't download a stolen copy of the book. Authors pour their hearts and souls into their work. By illegally downloading a copy you are A: Breaking the law. B: Breaking the hearts of authors all around. C: Taking away the few dollars you would have paid just so you can have a free book. 

A lot of e-books range from .99cents to $4.99! Some are more, some are free. Either way it isn't fair to anyone if you steal the book. Not to mention, if you can't afford the book, in a lot of cases you can get a free copy from the author directly in trade for an honest review. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What I learned from Veronica Mars

What I learned from Veronica Mars
by Elle Strauss

If you haven’t watched the first season of Veronica Mars, you really should. I’m saying this as a writer. Nothing like learning from those who got a lot of things right, and the writers of Veronica Mars got a lot of things right.  Here’s a list:

1)   Intriguing premise. (a high school girl turned sleuth who works for her disgraced sheriff father turned PI.)
2)   A primary mystery (Who killed Lilly Kane?) Plus several smaller secondary mysteries.
3)   Terrific characters. I especially love the genuine, caring father/daughter relationship
4)   Great dialogue. Witty, clever and believable
5)   Juicy romance.
6)   A terrific romantic twist (oh my gosh). It doesn’t hit until well into the season and is unexpected but believable. (Important point on pacing.)
7)   Well-placed and effective red-herrings. Everyone is a believable suspect at some point.
8)   A well-disguised killer. We don’t even meet him until the 6th episode but his violent tendencies (and his flare for women) are gradually revealed as the season unfolds so that when he’s revealed, we totally believe it.

I watched Veronica Mars when I was working on Perception and it really helped me to build the mystery component of the story. First I watched the complete season, then I re-watched it taking notes on each episode.  Then I created another document summarizing the notes. Thorough analysis would take more room than I have here. I could probably teach a course on it J

Here are my actual notes from the pilot to give you an example:

Ep 1 Pilot
Set up scene doesn’t talk about protag and back storyshe’s giving her opinion on a current situation, the place she’s casing.
Into first bad/good guy, they don’t like each other (weevil) but no explanation of who he is or why he and his bike gang show up.
Scene cuts to 20 hrs earlier to high school where we learn a bit about ecosystem of the schoo . VM rescues the new boy (who becomes MC’s best friend).
She breaks down the who’s who in the circle she’s no longer part of (still don’t know why, creates sense of mystery)
The old boyfriend, Duncan, random others, and then the jerk wad/ guy who secretly has something for her, Logan, even though he won’t’ admit it to himself because she is a) his best friend’s old girlfriend and b) he blames her for something bad that happened—we don’t know this yet. The way he doesn’t ignore her like the rest of them do but disguises his interest by teasing her). She just despises him.
The new guy, Wallace, tries to friend her, she turns him away then invites him back.
Enter bad guy from opening scene- he’s the one who tied the new boy to the flagpole, not sure why yet, he did this. VM  butts in, he turns on her. She smart mouths them until the principle shows up.
Wallace tells her why Weevil is after him (in flash back) This is the episode mystery, ( not cataloguing, only the overall story arc.)
Old boyfriend’s mom is talking with her dad the PI. She makes it clear that she doesn’t like them, but that she knows they are best for her job. We don’t know why- creates more questions.
Meet the Dad, Keith, for the first time. We don’t know it yet, but these two are a great father/daughter team.
VM mentions that her dad tried to send the woman’s husband , Jake Kane, to jail for life, raising more questions.
Back story on Jake Kane. And family. Hear about Lilly Kane, her best friend. She tells her she has a secret but doesn’t tell her what. Lilly is also Logan’s girlfriend.
Now we find out what the murder mystery is. Lilly Kane is dead. Who killed her? Find out that “bungling sheriff” who accused the wrong man- Jake Kane, is  VM’s dad.
Logan, in flashback, confronts VM, accusing her dad of destroying the Kane family (she had to side with her friends or her dad—she chose her dad )
Another man is arrested for the crime, evidence of Lilly’s shoes and back pack on his houseboat. He was a former software designer who’d been fired from Kane Enterprises.
Now we’re back at opening scene,  where Weevil and gang showed up.  She makes them a deal to stop harassing  Wallace if she helps them (part of ep arc)
He says something that reminds her of how she was drugged and date raped at a party and doesn’t know who did it. This is a secondary arc mystery.
Back to her surveillance, she sees Jack Kane at the motel but not the woman he’s with.
Logan teases inviting her to skip school, adds hurtful remarks about her and her mother, Duncan tells him to stop.
Find out mother left 8 mo. Earlier.
First mention of her hobby, photography, though we’ve seen her taking pictures during surveillance.
Dad gets home after nabbing a bail jumper “now we eat like the lower middle class to which we aspire.”
Keith knows something after V provides a pic of a car and license plate (later we find out it’s her mother’s car—he obviously knows this but wants to keep it from her) VM is upset and doesn’t understand why he suddenly wants to drop Mrs. Kane’s case.
To get back at Logan, V plants a bong in his locker and tips the principal. Logan knows it’s V  but laughs and calls her cute. Threatens to get her for this.
V does her own license search and finds out it belongs to her mother (who’s been missing for 8 mo) when she asks her dad again why they’re dropping the Mrs. Kane case, he makes up a story.
On the beach with Wallace, Logan and gang show up. He banters while telling her his (millionaire movie star) dad took his car away.  Logan smashes her car head lights.  Still bantering with V.
Weevil shows up. He beats up Logan’s friend’s car, and makes him apologize. He refuses. Punches him out. V says she doesn’t want his apology.
So far Weevil owes her for recovering incriminating tape, Wallace for getting him back into the gang’s good graces.
She sneaks into her dad’s safe and sees that the Lilly Kane file is there and still being worked on even though he claims he’s not, including the picture of her mom’s car. Why is it there?
She wonders why her Dad lied, but concludes he’s just trying to protect. She’s determined to chase down her mother and bring the family back together.
End pilot: note, we didn’t meet the killer

My summary notes:

Chapter one
Open in the middle of something happening.
Establishes setting and hierarchy- Mc has history with the people we’re meeting but we don’t know what it is yet (their actions help to show who/what they are) Including ex-boyfriend and her nemesis/school jackass
Questions created
Meet family
Primary propelling question/mystery proposed (I have a secret, and it’s a good one)
Backstory on the jackass character, the situation that changed their friendship
Second mystery introduced
Bits of backstory on family and her hobbies, adding layers to the MC
More from nemesis (he has something against her, but we don’t know what)
Chapter ends, we don’t meet the villain.

I found this to be a great exercise for crafting story and working on structure, and I recommend taking time to do it.

Even if you’re not writing a genre mystery, all stories have to have effective knowledge gaps and continue to raise questions that make the reader want to keep reading in order to find out what happens.

How about you? Do you have a favorite TV series that has helped you to become a better writer?

Elle Strauss writes fun, lower YA fiction (time-travel and fantasy). She also writes upper YA/adult mixed genre romance as LEE Strauss. Her latest release is a contemporary romance called East of Eden. A married mother of four, Elle divides her time between BC, Canada and Dresden, Germany. She enjoys drinking coffee and eating chocolate in both places. Find her at

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Why Adults read YA (a love/ hate relationship)

Harry Potter—you got it going on! The YA craze is nothing new. Readers have to get their hands on the best and latest young adult fiction. And this isn't just a symptom of the young.  
Hunger Games, Twilight, Divergent, Percy Jackson, Series of Unfortunate Events
So you tell me, readers? What is the attraction of going back to school, getting picked on by the popular crowd, being under your parents’ rules again, and getting that first kiss? Well, okay, the last question is a no-brainer.

But really?

To get to the bottom of this, I polled ten adult readers who have a love/ hate relationship with YA and I wasn’t surprised to find their answers echoed a few of my own sentiments.

What is the draw of YA?

1—It’s fun.
“I love that YA is fun, corny, fantastical. That’s what I need—love—because these books are not afraid of ridiculous plotlines. I love to escape into a colorful, fun world. When I get home from work, the last thing I want to read is something heavy that will make my day ‘blah.’ I just want to unwind.”

2—Sweet romance
Love means marriage (or at least a long-lasting relationship)—there aren’t any games, lingering disappointments and regrets or players that don’t get their comeuppance. “I have to date in the real world—you better believe I want to read something sappy.” Besides all that, the general consensus was that being an adult does not automatically mean you want adult material: “I can rely on it to be clean—at least cleaner than other books.”

3—It’s simple
Boy meets girl. Boy wins girl. Boy loses girl. Boy gets her back. Those polled were genre readers. They weren’t looking for the latest highbrow entertainment. They were in it for the plain and steady (dare I say formulaic?) storylines. Others liked the simplicity of the plot because they didn’t want to think about bills or kids or responsibilities.

4—It’s fast paced and exciting
Though simple, the novels also take risks. The narrators are different—sometimes they’re the bad guys, sometimes they talk directly to the audience, they aren’t perfect. The books don’t take the time to explain pop culture references and they’re not PC—kids are fighting for their lives and no one throws in an explainer (at least not a believable one). Also, the books are generally shorter (minus the sequels—though when further questioned, these readers were fine with length, but thought it was also fun to finish a book in a night).

What’s the repulsion of YA?

1—It’s…well, young:
Most of those polled didn’t like being stuck in a teenager’s head. The voices were too young and annoying or were too old and unrealistic coming from a kid. “Adolescents thinking they are so mature when they aren’t can be really irritating!” Another adult YA reader said: “I hate it because I’m not that age and I can’t relate.”

2—The relationship really can’t go anywhere.
Okay, so Bella waited for her eighteenth birthday and then got married, but what about the others? What’s their future going to be like? They can hug and kiss and whatever, but the relationship in all honesty can’t go anywhere…not until the book fast-forwards a few years into the future (which, let’s be honest, I’ve done as an author).

3—Tired of the same plotlines.
At the top of the list: love triangles where the boys vying for the girl’s hand are complete opposites (besides being hot). The chosen one trope where the character discovers powers on his or her birthday. The aloof hotty who secretly loves the main character. Girl with a dark past and a thirst for vengeance. Dead parents, drunk mother, or the loving—though permissive—father. Girl beats herself up mentally because of some reason that isn’t her fault. Love at first sight. Hate at first sight. Rich, mean, beautiful popular teenagers who have a lot of parties. Characters killed off unnecessarily. Girl holding her breath when love interest is around. The general outcry was: “Please, give me something else!”

4—It’s unrealistic.
All guys love the female even though there is nothing special about her. Every teenager is socially savvy. No diversity of opinion—the author’s agenda is clear. Complete lack of adults and parental rules—kids are smarter and/ or more morally wiser than the adults. Parties every weekend. Endless supply of money. Abusive relationships that are seen as romantic. Misunderstandings that can be cleared in a sentence. Problems disappear in the face of a relationship. Hot girl who doesn’t know she’s hot. And their list goes on…

And there you have it—while those polled loved the sweet romance, they hated that the relationships couldn’t go anywhere. They liked the happy simple plots, but didn’t want the same old tired plotlines. They craved fantastical adventures, but hated that they were unrealistic.

A complete paradox?

You could say that, and yet I’m in complete agreement . . . and disagreement because I still can’t keep away from reading (and writing) those YA books. So how about you? Why do you love and hate YA?

--Post by Stephanie Fowers

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