Category Archives: markets

Writing: What do you HAVE to get right?

My friends and I were talking about some of our all-time favorite books.  What I found interesting was how much we disagreed.  An author one of us loved, another person might not bother to finish.   And the very thing that elevated a book for one of us was the same thing someone else considered a flaw.  That made me wonder.  What are the essentials for a good book?

At my writers’ club, I used to cringe when a person said, “This isn’t really something I read, so I’m not sure how to critique it.”  The qualifier used to bother me, but not any more.  I’ve learned to take very seriously what type of book a person’s writing.  Because, let’s face it, each genre offers an implicit promise to deliver certain things to its readers.

One of my friends writes Regency historicals and another writes historical romances, and a lot of times when they read at Scribes, they get the comment, “There’s so much description.  Does it really matter if her gloves have buttons on them or if her gown is silk?”  And the answer is yes.  Historicals aren’t just about characters and plot, they’re about a time period.  Readers want to be transported to that part of history with its mannerisms and social nuances.  Part of why I enjoyed Pamela West’s Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper was due to the realistic view of how miserable life was for the lower classes during Queen Victoria’s rule.  Caleb Carr achieved the same gritty feeling in The Alienist–showing the beginning of psychology in detective work.   And Barbara Hambly’s Fever Season depicts a New Orleans riddled with diseases during flood seasons and a social stratum that teeters in a delicate balance between whites, slaves, and freed blacks.  I read those books because of great story lines and wonderful characters, along with eloquent writing, but the historical settings added to my reading pleasure.  And yes, details matter.  They whisk me from my living room to a past that, in those books, I’m glad isn’t mine.

Writers–myself included–often bemoan novels being lumped into genres, and heaven help you if you cross one or two.  But the truth is, when a reader picks up a contemporary romance, that’s what he wants.  He wants boy meets girl, obstacles keep them apart, and then boy wins girl.  He wants a happy ending.  My friend Ann writes women’s fiction/romance, and that’s why she chose it.  She wants to feel good when she finishes a book–the one she’s writing or the one she’s reading.

To me, every genre, even literary, comes with certain expectations.  And a writer strives to meet them.  So…what is the essential for a good book?  I think part of it depends on what kind of novel/genre you’re writing.  Every book needs a great story line: a hook, a problem, and a goal to fix it.  It needs characters we care about.  We don’t have to like them, but they have to hold our attention.  A novel needs clarity, so that we don’t stumble and jerk our way through the plot, and it needs a voice that we want to hear.  It needs tension and pacing with no sags that lose our interest.  But I’ve read novels with plot holes that a truck could drive through, characters that I’d like to knock on the side of the head, and pacing that stops and starts in fits, and I still liked the books.  Why?  Each novel delivered what I picked up that book to find.

I’m a Martha Grimes fan, but one of her books–I can’t remember which one–had a roundabout plot that made me too dizzy to even try to follow along.  Usually, in a mystery, that would make me put it on a shelf and move on.  But the characters were so eccentric, the clues so bizarre, I kept turning the pages.  And if it’s true, that the end of a book makes you go out and buy the next one, Grimes did something right, because I did just that.  Still, a mystery has to have something to solve, a few clues to add up, some kind of detective–be it amateur or pro–or I might as well read some other genre.  There are all kinds of mysteries, and each comes with its own special spin.  P.I.s have a certain attitude, a flavor that’s completely different from a cozy.  Thrillers have the “ticking clock,” and women in jeopardy have…well, women pitted against some evil foe.  I have to admit, I can be had by a good woman in jeopardy book as long as the woman doesn’t do contrived, stupid things to up the tension.  When I have to yell, “Don’t go in the basement,” the author’s lost me.

Horror has to scare you or make you squirm.  Fantasy has to whisk you to some new setting with different rules than we have now.  The author has to make that world come alive and establish rules that are consistent with what she’s created.   Dystopian plops us in a future world after a disaster has changed mankind or society or both.

Anyway, reading and writing are subjective.  When I pick up a book, I want to like it.  I think most readers feel the same.  When I love it, I consider it a bonus.  But when I choose a novel, I’m looking for something specific–humor, a puzzle, a scare, or a happy ever after, and I feel gypped if the writer doesn’t deliver.

What stops you when you’re reading  a book or disappoints you?

By the way, if you like serdoms and myths, I have a new novella (short, 40 page read) online now:)

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Writing: You Can’t Win ’em All

I’ve been writing a series of novellas that I really enjoy.  I don’t know if I chose the wrong covers for them or if I’m marketing them wrong, but they just aren’t catching on.  If you have ideas, I’d be happy to hear them.  If you don’t, that’s fine, too, because I’m guessing that mixing medieval times with supernaturals wasn’t my best idea.  But it’s possible that I don’t care.

Short fiction, in general, isn’t as popular as novels.  Most of my novellas go up in the rankings for a while, and then fall for a while, bouncing up and down.  Not wonderful, but something I can live with.

I’ve learned from experience.  I intend to spend more time concentrating on novels and less time churning out novellas.  But novellas, for me, are like a piece of chocolate.  Instant gratification.  In a week or less, I have a finished product that I like.   Michael creates a wonderful cover for my 40 pages, and I’m a happy girl.  It’s like opening a small box that you know will have something wonderful inside.

I wrote short stories for AGES.  They’re my first love, but when markets started drying up for them, I had to concede that longer was the rule of the literary land.  One of my friends–whose writing I deeply admire–Ed Bryant, wasn’t so happy when I devoted my time to novels over short fiction.  He’s made a distinguished career with short fiction, but let’s face it.  I’m no Ed Bryant.  And markets aren’t the same as they used to be.  So now, when I write short, it’s almost an indulgence, paying homage to an art form I love.  (And boy, was I happy when Canadian writer, Alice Munro–a short story writer–won the 2013 Nobel Prize for literature–a short story writer!!!  Hooray!)

Anyway, some of my novellas do better than others.  But my Christian/Brina series is doing dismally.  So you’d think I’d write a wrap-up novella, bundle the stories, and call it a day, wouldn’t you?  And I intended to.  Until I found a cover for a story that I thought would work perfectly in that series.  And then, wouldn’t you know it?  I found another cover for Christian and Brina that I liked.  So I’m torn.  And I kind of think Christian and Brina are going to stay as part of my mental landscape when story ideas dart through my brain.

For one thing, I’ve been grown-up for a long, long time, but I still fantasize about castles.  Not real castles, mind you.  Those can be cold and drafty…and smelly, too.  But FICTION castles.  And my stories are only as factual as my story ideas want to make them.  And then, I have a thing for magic and Merlin.  And Harry Potter.  So witches had to populate my fictitious serfdom–because that made me happy.  And then the witches had to battle something–so why not choose all of the leftover mythological creatures that I haven’t used before?  A match made in my idea of writing heaven.  Castles, witches, vampires, evil lords, and a Greek mythological creature or two.

I doubt my rankings will ever soar on this series.  But maybe for this series, I don’t care.  Maybe this series is for ME.  So there’ll be a new Christian/Brina novella out later in November.  And I might even lose money on it.  But once in a while, I write for myself.   cover_9_thumbcover_13_thumbcover_21_thumb  http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/series-of-novellas.html

 

cover_mockup_25_thumb  (coming this week)

I don’t talk about marketing very often.  There are plenty of blogs out there, written by people a lot smarter and savvier than I am when it comes to promoting their work.  I respect and admire them…and appreciate how much they share about what’s worked for them and what hasn’t.   One of my favorites is Lindsay Buroker’s blog.  http://www.lindsayburoker.com/  She’s worth looking at.

After I read one of her past posts, I offered my novel, Fallen Angels, for free for 4 days on Kindle Select when I put up the 2nd novel in the series–Blood Bound.  I’ve never done that before, and it was a wonderful experience.  I paid to advertise on Book Bub (which was worth every penny), and over 18,000 people downloaded Fallen Angels.  Remember.  It was free, so I made no money on those downloads, but my reviews went from 11 to 38, (all but one good), and some people went on to buy the second Enoch book.

One or two reviews came in a day for a while.  It became a habit to start my computer every morning and check my amazon page before I started writing.  Each good review gave me a big push to start work for the day.   And guess what?  In the  middle of the novella I was working on at the time, even with all the good feedback, I could think of all the things I might do wrong.

The promotion was from May 19 to 22, and the fun times are finally beginning to dim.  My numbers are starting to sink, but I learned something important from the experience.  Writers ALWAYS worry about their work.

What is it about writing?  No matter what happens, no matter how good the news, each new story is a challenge.  Did I get the characters right?  Is there a story arc?  Is it a good one?  I’m not the only writer who does this.  I read a blog recently that made me feel a lot better.  http://blog.karenwoodward.org/2013/06/11-tips-on-how-to-become-better-writer.html  According to Karen Woodward, almost EVERY writer hits a point where he looks at the manuscript he’s working on and wonders what the heck he was thinking.

I’ve written long enough to know that when I start a story,  in my mind, I’m a wonderful writer.  When I finish it, I’m not so good.  But when I think of the next idea, I’m brilliant.  There seems to be no middle ground.  And I think that’s the way it’s supposed to be.  Because if you agonize over each scene, each character, it makes you push yourself harder.

Sometime next week, I’m putting up a bundle of 4 Death & Loralei novellas.  Three have previously been published.  The fourth and last one in that series is new.  I liked SPIRIT BOUND when I finished it.  It turned out better than I expected.  Will readers like it?  I can never tell.  And I always worry.  But then, that’s part of writing, isn’t it?

http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

What Makes You Write

This blog might meander more than most.  And be a bit longer, so be warned.  But people write for different reasons.  I belong to a writers’ group, Summit City Scribes, an eclectic mix of people whose main focus is to make our writing better.  After we discuss active and passive verbs, repetition, characterization, or pacing..etc., we might discuss a market for whatever was read.  The point is, we put writing first, marketing a dismal second.   I’ve gone to other groups that flip the two.  Selling is the major focus, and what to write that sells is the main discussion.  They talk about writing too, but it’s more about making the perfect product that will catch an editor’s eye.  And to be honest, I think more people sell in those groups than in ours.  Why?  Because they’re better writers?  No, because they’re more realistic.  They don’t just sit down and write whatever strikes their fancy.  They look at the market, study it, and write for a specific publisher.  They write smart.  Does that mean I wish our group would change?  No, because our group encourages writers, whether they’ll ever sell or not.  But if you want to sell, you should know the markets.  Study them and tailor your novel or short story or article to them.

I’ve said before in this blog that I never thought about writing until my husband enrolled me in a class called Writing For Fun and Profit.  My girls were still in diapers, and it was a gift from him (he babysat each week so that I could go), a time for me to get out of the house and away from being a Mommy.  The teacher liked one of my articles enough to encourage me to try to sell it.  She even suggested a market for it, Byline magazine.  So I sent it with a little note and didn’t expect much.  I got a letter a month later offering me $25 for it.  And I remember being thrilled and telling my husband, “I think I’ll write more.  This is easy.”  And I wrote and I wrote, and discovered that NOTHING about writing is easy.  I’d had beginner’s luck, and the rest of the process was tricky business.  But by then, I was hooked–an addict, so I wrote anyway.  Writing for some, like it was for me back then, (probably is even now), is an outlet–a spigot that offers release when too many thoughts and energies build up and gush forth on paper.  Only I couldn’t just stop at journaling or scribbling in a diary, I wanted to control those words and jostle them into stories.  And then I wanted those stories to be more powerful, and I began to take writing very seriously.

I’ve known people who read hundreds of romances, sit down and KNOW the rhythm and internal rules of romance enough, to whip off a forty, sixty, or eighty thousand word manuscript and sell it on the first, second, or third try.  I am not one of those people.  I’ve never thought of myself as a race horse or thoroughbred.  I’m more like a pack mule or a work horse–the tortoise instead of the hare.  I’m the type who dips my toes in the water, works my way up to my knees, then my shoulders before I take the plunge.  Some people dive right in.  They start by writing novels, gong to conferences, making connections.  I started with short stories, sold some to small anthologies and got paid in copies, before I sold to major magazines and anthologies.  Then I started thinking about novels.  And I had a unique knack for writing what no one wanted to buy.  “Sorry, cozies are a glutted market right now.  Good writing.  If you write something else, please keep us in mind.”  And did I take the hint?  Stop writing cozies?  No, not me.  I thought the pendulum would surely swing back, and then I’d be sitting on a treasure house of the stupid things.  See what I mean?  Marketing matters.  I was a slow learner.

A person joined our group once, came for a short while, and then quit coming because he told us, “I don’t want to waste my time writing unless I’m going to be paid big money for it.”  And we told him, “Good luck.”  If you think you’ll get rich by writing, I hope you ARE one of the lucky ones.  It still hasn’t happened for me and most of my friends.  I do have a friend, who writes romances for Harlequin, who’s selling like crazy.  But she’s also a marketing whiz, one of those rare writers who’s good at writing AND good at selling herself.  Another friend put her book on amazon and was at the right time with the right thing and sold lots of copies.  But the general rule?  It takes a lot of work and time to make a name for yourself.  The writers I know who write for money do nonfiction and are regular contributors to magazines, work for businesses, or write “how to” books, or teach classes on how to write.  They write fiction on the side.  I’d be living on the streets if I had to live off of my writing.  Right now, I’ve spent more money putting my stories online than I’ve made off of them.  My agency doesn’t pay for them, I do.  But when my agent sent out each novel, it took a year before I heard back from big publishers, all rejecting it, and my agent wasn’t interested in small publishers…and I got restless.  I wanted to try e-books.  I think of it as an investment.  Hopefully, someday, people will discover them and buy more of them.  But that hasn’t happened yet.  Many, many writers’ blogs say that it takes time to be an “overnight” sensation.  I can’t tell you.  It hasn’t happened to me yet.

Anyway, the good news is that Lauren just approved four more of my novellas that I can put online.  I love writing them.  I love urban fantasy.  I have all kinds of freedom to try new things.  I hope one or more of them strikes a chord with readers.  Once they’re up, then I need to start marketing them, because marketing IS a part of writing these days.  You need to blog.  You need to twitter.  I made an author’s Facebook page and joined Goodreads.  You should too.

I didn’t write this blog to discourage anyone.   I love writing, but a few people have asked me questions about marketing and selling, and a few new people have joined Scribes, and I can tell their expectations aren’t very realistic.  So I hope you guys are smarter than I was.  But if you’re not, I hope you enjoy every part of writing as much as I do.  And good luck to you.