Wednesday, September 24, 2014

5 harsh realities of being a published writer

There's content a-plenty on the web about how to write a book and query an agent/publisher, but not all that much on what happens after you get the coveted contract. And most people don't think about that when they set out to be a writer; all they know is that they have a story in their head, and it's damn good, so the world ought to see it. That's where I was a few years ago, and I was under the impression that as long as my plot and characters were decent, someone would pick it up, correct the typos, give it a pretty cover, and send me on a book tour.

HAH! If only.

I thought getting the contract was the endgame, but no, it was only the beginning. Here are five harsh realities writers face the book finds a home:

5. Waiting

Publishers are busy folks and often schedule things years in advance. Months, if you're lucky. So after the ink dries on the signature line, you probably won't hear from anyone for ages. And then, during the back-and-forth with your editors, weeks (or even months) will pass between revisions because they've got other things on their plates. All you can do is get busy with something else and remember that THEY have an investment in your project too, so they haven't forgotten about you.

4. Assigned reading

Writing is a profession, and like any industry, you have to keep up with the market. This means reading the buzzed-about books in your genre to stay in the loop. Kiss your days of aimlessly wandering down the Barnes & Noble bookshelves goodbye, because never again will you get the chance to wonder what book you'll read next. There's ALWAYS something you OUGHT to read, whether you like it or not. It may sound like peer pressure, but here's the thing: these are the books that are in the center of literary conversations, and if you don't keep up, you won't know what everyone's talking about. And you also won't know what people want and expect, which will hinder your promotional efforts. Speaking of which...

3. Marketing and self-promotion

Never does a book just take off on its own. NEVER. If you see a cover popping up on everyone's bookshelves, it's because someone pounded the pavement to get it there. Once in a blue moon, it's the publisher and/or marketing department, but for the most part, it's the author. And not only is it a lot of work soliciting reviews, requesting book store appearances, etc., but you'd better be prepared for a whole new round of rejections (and you thought you were done with those after signing the contract!).

Reviewers are SLAMMED, and so 99% of them won't even respond to your requests (99.9% if they're mainstream publications rather than bloggers). And a fraction of the remaining 1% will send you a polite refusal. As a former (and still sporadic) blog reviewer, I definitely understand how overwhelming it is to get 20 emails a day requesting reviews when I've already got 10 books I promised to read but haven't had time to.

As for appearances - the unfortunate reality is that most bookstore events have an average attendance of, like, four people (a bookstore employee, your mother, an aspiring writer who's more interested in picking up tips than buying your book, and a random person who just felt so bad for you they had to stick around).

And so the only thing to do is keep at it, keep at it, keep at it. Which is tough if you're not a salesperson by nature (I'm certainly not, though I like to think that practice makes perfect). And REALLY tough if you don't like to be the center of attention, which is also a problem for...

2. Networking

Getting to know a lot of people is THE best way to promote yourself. Because the more people you know, the more people you have willing to read your book, recommend it to their friends, write an Amazon review, and generally help get you attention. Networking is a tricky game of give-and-take, where you have to constantly chat, befriend, and, in the case of fellow writers, trade favors.

Remember what I said above about assigned reading? Well, once you start networking, that pile will grow even higher because you'll need to read your friends' books as well (which isn't a bad thing, since hopefully you're friends with people you actually LIKE, but definitely eats up your time).

Some people are naturals at the whole networking business; they genuinely love making lots of connections, and people love 'em back for it. Others have to drag their selves out of the old cave and try not to squint too much from the glaring light of the giant yellow thing in the sky (what's it called again? the sun?).

But before you even GET to this or the two previous ones, you have to survive...

1. Rewrites, Rewrites, Rewrites

Every editor has his or her own style. Some will like what they get and simply ask for a few clarifications, descriptions, and fixes for minor plot holes. Others will ask for rewrites. And not just of a chapter - the WHOLE EFFING BOOK.

A meticulous editor will want the story to be the best it can be, and while they love your concept and characters, your pacing or suspense or even entire plot-lines might be off. Maybe you've written about an exciting new fantasy world, but your main characters don't reach it until halfway through the book. So the editor tells you to tighten the opening, nix extraneous scenes, and get to the meat faster. Or maybe you have a killer opening, but lose your momentum by chapter ten. Or perhaps you set up a great mystery, but the reveal comes too easily and too obviously. Or it's possible that one of your sub-plots (*cough* house elves in Harry Potter 4 *cough*) is totally irrelevant and bogs down an otherwise good story.

This is by far the toughest thing to face, since, presumably, you submitted your best possible work already. And yet you're being asked for even MORE. Getting a sea of red marks in your manuscript is a real ego-killer, and leads to tears and existential crises.

Not all editors will do this. Some will see a manuscript as a fairly finished work and just tweak. Others will spot potential and milk it for everything it's worth to make it the best book possible.

But whatever the case, be prepared. Like I said above, the contract is just the beginning.

Bonus: The Little Red Pen in your head

This one isn't directly related to the above, since it's something that happens to you rather than something you have to face, but it definitely makes some parts of life harder. Once you survive the editing process and after you're read a bunch of books you're aspiring to, nothing seems good enough when you're working on your next project, which can be a major roadblock when starting a new book.

It also affects reading. Things you would have glossed over when you were an ordinary reader suddenly jump out at you. "What's this? My editor would never have let me get away with this many adverbs! Aaaaaah I can't unsee them!"

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

REVIEW: Billy and the Cloneasaurus / Stephen Kozeniewski

TITLE: Billy and the Cloneasaurus
AUTHOR: Stephen Kozeniewski
PUBLISHER: Severed Press

Science Fiction - Dystopia/Satire


Billy and the Cloneasaurus takes science fiction back to its satirical roots. Much in the vein of 1984 or Fahrenheit 451, the story uses a richly imagined futuristic world to hold a mirror up to today's world. The parallels are not hard to see - William clones are created for the sole purpose of becoming contented consumers controlled by The Corporation. The titular character, officially known as William-790, is an office drone whose sole purpose in life is to be a good little worker ... Just as Corporate America would want its employees to be.

That is, until one day, an accident leads him to form independent thoughts.

And that's where the story really starts moving. Billy finally leaves the confines of his captalist dystopia and discovers a whole new world. Or should we say, a Brave New World? This book reminded me a lot of Huxley's classic sci-fi novel, but with more black humor (and a more straightforward storyline!). The narrative is told in a tongue-in-cheek third person with Kozeniewski's signature wit. The juxtaposition of this society's horrors and a glib attitude give the story a darkly comedic ring.

A satirical criticism of capitalist greed set against a disturbing dystopian future, Billy and the Cloneasaurus is a witty and intelligently written novel with echoes of the sci-fi Grand Masters.

Stephen Kozeniewski (pronounced "causin' ooze key") lives with his wife and two cats in Pennsylvania, the birthplace of the modern zombie. During his time as a Field Artillery officer, he served for three years in Oklahoma and one in Iraq, where due to what he assumes was a clerical error, he was awarded the Bronze Star. He is also a classically trained linguist, which sounds much more impressive than saying his bachelor's degree is in German.

He is also the author of Braineater Jones and The Ghoul Archipelago

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Creating an Authentic Story


Claire Ashby

When I wrote WHEN YOU MAKE IT HOME, one of my biggest concerns was telling Theo’s story authentically. I don’t know what it’s like to join the army. I don’t know what it’s like to fight in combat and come home changed. I don’t know what it’s like to live as an amputee. But I wanted to tell this story, and I wanted it to be authentic.

Luckily we live in a time where people are candid and willing to share their lives. This openness especially applies to today’s veterans. I spent many months following army blogs. I read books by soldiers about their time serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. I viewed documentaries, and yes, I watched Hollywood movies and lost myself in military romance novels, too.

Sometimes the smallest detail can make a story ring true; likewise, if you miss the mark you can destroy all credibility as a storyteller. I hit a point where I had questions I couldn’t answer with research alone.

One of the scariest things for me was to actually talk to veterans. I worried about coming across as nosy or that nobody would want to talk. As it turned out I had nothing to be afraid of. The more I engaged in conversations, the more I realized that the people I talked to wanted to share their experience. They wanted to share what it’s like to serve in the military and what their frustrations were, what surprised them, what they missed and how it changed their lives.

I’d watched this HBO documentary called “Alive Day Memories, Home From Iraq.” Wounded soldiers were recounting memories from their “Alive Day,” the day they narrowly escaped death. The stories stayed with me, especially Bryan Anderson’s. He survived of an IED attack that left him a triple amputee. I discovered he wrote a book called NO TURNING BACK, about how he was able to move on with his life. He was so candid about everything, so I decided to contact him. Again, I worried that he’d think I was rude or intrusive, but he was eminently approachable.

Just like anyone else, veterans want their stories told right. I’m indebted to all the people who opened up to me, not just because of their service and sacrifice, but also because they shared their experience, their personal pains, challenges, and concerns—I hope that my novel did right by them.

When You Make It Home

Meg Michaels, a bookstore owner, has already walked away from two cheating exes. She’s learned her lesson and has her mind set on success—until she gets knocked up. Embarrassed and unwilling to discuss her situation with friends and family, she wears layers to hide the pregnancy.

When Meg gets sick at a party, she’s mortified. Even worse, Theo Taylor, the guest of honor, discovers her secret. Theo, an Army medic wounded in the war, agrees not to reveal her condition, and the two forge a bond of friendship that blossoms into love.

Theo is soon filling all of Meg’s late-night cravings—and not just the pregnancy-induced ones. But can their love overcome all the obstacles that stand between them and creating a happy family?



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Sunday, September 7, 2014

5 ways to shut down the crazies, sci-fi style

This mad world is full of crazies. Sometimes, you just need to shut them down, sci-fi style. Here are five awesome ways to do it.

5. Princess Leia, from Star Wars: "I don't know where you get your delusions, laser brain."

What is wrong with you?

4. Agent Smith, from The Matrix Reloaded: "Still using all the muscles except the one that matters?"
Sure you want to continue digging yourself into this hole?

3. Zoe Washburn, from Firefly: "Sir, I think you have a problem with your brain being missing."
Keep the crazy to yourself, why don't ya?
2. Tyr Anasazi, from Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda: "Because you are so uncompromisingly inferior!"
Wanna say that again?

And, when all else fails ... 

1. HAL, from 2001: A Space Odyssey: "Dave, this conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye."

I remain unswayed.

Bonus points if the crazy you're unfortunate enough to be talking to is named Dave.

Sadly, we can't all do it Han Solo's way.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Red Adept Publishing on Zombiepalooza Radio - SEPT 5, 8pm-1am!

Heya! In case you haven't heard, this Friday, September 5, is Red Adept Publishing night on Zombiepalooza Radio. From 8pm to 1am, a number of Red Adept authors, along with an editor and the Red Adept herself, Lynn McNamee (founder/publisher/owner), will be talking about various aspects of the book world. You can learn more at our Facebook event (click here).

To get psyched for the event, I snapped a bunch of selfies with books by the authors who will be on the show and posted them on Facebook. What can I say? I'm a Millennial! Here they are, along with the radio schedule:

8:00-8:15 - Zombiepalooza: Dead Again intro and crew cast introductions
8:15-8:30 - Melissa MacVicar - paranormal/Young Adult - EVER NEAR and EVER LOST

Who doesn't love a good ghost story?

8:30-8:45 - Kimberly G. Giarratano - paranormal/Young Adult - GRUNGE GODS AND GRAVEYARDS

I'm the thing from the graveyard

8:45-9:00 - Kelly Stone Gamble - Southern gothic - THEY CALL ME CRAZY (forthcoming)

This one doesn't have a cover yet, so I made one myself! Look at that bold edginess! 

9:00-9:15 - Break
9:15-9:30 - Kate Moretti, Author - Thriller/Women's Fiction - THOUGHT I KNEW YOU and BINDS THAT TIE - NYT and USA Today Bestseller

My hipster moment: I read it before it was cool!

9:30-9:45 - Jessica Dall - Red Adept Publishing editor and indie author

Since Jessica's an editor, I decided to pose with some RAP swag

9:45-10:00 - Katrina Monroe - paranormal/humor - SACRIFICIAL LAMB CAKE (forthcoming)

This one doesn't have a cover yet either, so here's my version!

10:00-10:30 - Lynn McNamee - Red Adept Publishing founder, owner, and editor

For our fearless leader, I'm posing with a Red Adept card decorated with a bunch of book covers

10:30-10:45 - Erica Lucke Dean - paranormal/romance - TO KATIE WITH LOVE and SUDDENLY SORCERESS

Pinking things up for chick lit!

10:45-11:00 - Michael Meyerhofer - Author - fantasy - WYTCHFIRE - award-winning poet and poetry professor

Ready for an epic adventure? I am!

11:00-11:15 - Break
11:15-11:30 - Stephen Kozeniewski - Author - horror/mystery - BRAINEATER JONES

Going noir with Braineater Jones

11:30-11:45 - Claire Ashby - Military/Romance - WHEN YOU MAKE IT HOME

Trying to imitate Meg's contemplation, with the lens flare for the sun...

11:45-12:00am - Jen Printy, Author - Urban Fantasy - MY SOUL IMMORTAL

Good ole paranormal romance...

12:00- 12:15 - Mary Fan - Science Fiction - ARTIFICIAL ABSOLUTES and SYNTHETIC ILLUSIONS 
(Of course they saved the best for last!)

Posing as Jane Colt. Except without the eye shadow. Or the starships. But I am in outside a city.
Posing as Adam Palmer. Though sadly, not in cyberspace.