Category Archives: About Writing

How Artists Can Promote Your Book

Jessica Ingold recently put out a tweet asking for “new and different ways to promote her books”. It got me thinking about a way authors occasionally overlook that would help not only themselves but other artists as well.

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I don’t make it a secret that I love to draw. In fact, I have an Instagram and a Deviant Art dedicated to building my writer’s platform through art. One thing I’ve found, however, is that the best way to promote myself isn’t to plaster up ads on Facebook or spam my twitter followers with automatic messages. It’s to get other artists involved in my work.

Here are two ways to create healthy relationships with artists to help promote your work.

1. Have a contest.

One of the first ways I got my writing on the radar was to hold a contest. I put up 7 scenes, between 3 and 5 pages each, from different short stories, one offs, and the novel I was working on and asked artists to draw what they interpreted from the passages. What I wound up getting was not only people reading my work, but also artists posting up artwork of the pieces that linked back to my page.

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This was done by Kennie (bootyfeathers) who enjoyed the drawings I posted along with short stories so much, they started doing fan art. We’ve stayed in contact over the years, and they’re someone I hold near and dear to my heart as an artist.

2. Hire Artists

If you have the money, this is the fastest way to get artwork. Many artists will put up some information about what they’re drawing, or what the story’s about for their fans to get some extra information about what they’re looking at, so feel free to ask for them to link back to your website, amazon, or any social media.

You can also hire artists to design characters for you to use in stories or novels. When people see a character design, they usually begin to wonder “What’s the story with this person?” That being said, some don’t like their artwork being used for momentary gain, other’s don’t care, so be sure to ask your artist when hiring if you’re going to use the character in a book /short story you plan on submitting for money.

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I met Madisen (Inkyness) through art as well. She’s done some great work for me, both as gifts, but also as commissions.

 

Here’s a big “don’t list” when it comes to working with artists.

  • Don’t offer them publicity as payment. Publicity doesn’t pay bills or put food in your stomach.
  • Don’t ask for artwork for free. It’s insulting. You wouldn’t write a whole book for someone for free just cause they wanted it would you?
  • Don’t offer payment when you “hit it big”. That could take years, and artists don’t want to wait around for that to happen.
  • Don’t hire artists you know nothing about, check reviews for artist. I paid fifty bucks one time for a character design and the person vanished. I’m still a little stung over this.
  • Don’t use their artwork for unintended purposes. Many artists have copyrights, so be sure you’re following them if you post the artwork elsewhere, or want to use it in promotional items.

Hope that opens some doors for you as far as hiring artists and looking for promotion!

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Top 10 Things Unpublished Writers Hear

The road to being a published author is a bumpy one. Holding down a day job, raising kids, constant criticism, and your own internal struggle can be daunting. You know one day you’ll get there, but in the mean time, here are things you’ll probably wind up hearing.

  1. “Why don’t you just self publish?” or alternately “Why don’t you just find an agent?”

Not every publishing style is perfect for every writer. What works for someone else might not work for you.

2. “Can you write me something for free? It’ll be good publicity.”

I’ve heard this a few times from people who want something like fan fiction or smut stories between them and a character/celebrity. It’s not really great publicity, when I’m not a romance writer.

3. “You’re a writer? But what do you REALLY do to earn money?”

I’ve heard this one more than once. I have a day job, but one day I’d like to be able to say that IS what I do to earn money.

4. “You’re a writer? So is my uncle! His agent just sold his 5th book to a publishing house!”

I’m always happy to hear someone being successful, but yeah, sometimes I do get a little envious.

5. “You’re just not trying hard enough!”

For many writers, this can be true, but when you just start submitting, you’re at the beginning of your journey. Keep submitting. You’re doing great.

6. “You could be the next Stephen King!”

Do you know how lofty that goal is? Hell, I just want to get a book out there, I can focus on becoming ridiculously popular and established later.

7. “When does your book come out?”

Good question. As soon as I get that agent and manage to sell my manuscript I’ll let you know.

8. “What does your spouse/family think?”

I’m not sure why this one comes up. It always makes me scratch my head and wonder why it matters? Even if I didn’t have support I’d still be trying to be a writer. Should their opinion really matter that much?

9. “Why not write a book about something that’s popular right now?”

Because trends are constantly changing and you shouldn’t cater to what’s popular. By the time you’re finished with your book, it’ll be out of style.

 

10. “You just finished your first book, what are you going to work on next?”

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First, I’m going to take a second to breathe, send out query letters, build a writer’s platform and sign up for some conferences….then maybe write something about human cloning, but you know, that’s a little ways away. The point is, there’s a lot that comes next.

The Dark Mother in Books and Movies

Just as a warning, this post contains dark imagery and unsettling pictures. Viewer discretion is advised. 

 

I love tropes. I know other people have mixed feelings about this, but I find them fascinating. While diving too far into tropes can become cliche, every writer uses them. Just one look at tvtropes.org, and it’s almost impossible not to.

So to celebrate tropes, I’m picking a few of my favorite to highlight in my Writing Wednesday posts. I’ll do one a month until I get tired of it, maybe more if people have suggestions for tropes they enjoy.

Today’s trope is….

The Dark Mother

With every trope or archetype, there is a dark side, and if there’s one archetype I love the most it’s that of the Dark Mother. She’s a force to be reckoned with and can be any caretaker or mother figure with dark intentions.

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Patron Saint of Last Nights Tears 5×5 oval oil by Jasmine Worth

 

Examples in Literature –

The Other Mother – Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Evil Stepmother/Queen – Every fairy tale ever
Cathy Ames/Kate Trask – East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Norma Bates – Psycho by Robert Bloch
Margaret White – Carrie by Stephen King

Examples in Movies –

Alien Den Mother – Aliens
Stephanie Smith – 8 Mile
Mary Jones – Precious
Queen Bavmorda – Willow

Why do I love this trope so much?

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Mother Catrina by liransz on Deviant Art

Mothers are supposed to be loving and caring. They’re our caretakers, who we learn love from, and when we have nothing, we’re supposed to be able to count on them to be there for us. As someone who’s a fan of flipping tropes on their head, the idea of a Dark Mother, one who gives life, but also takes it, has always been fascinating. She’s strong, but in a wicked way, and is morally compromised at every turn.

I hope to do her justice in some of my future novels, both as an antagonist, and as the powerful female figure she is.

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Aura by Lourdes Saraiva Art https://www.facebook.com/l.saraiva.illustrator

 

Which mother do you prefer in your movies and novels? The Light or Dark? Who’s your favorite example of a Dark Mother?

Why Authors Love the Pacific Northwest

I’ve traveled across the United States, from Texas to Washington, D.C., back to Texas, and then childhood summers spent up in Michigan. I remember family trips across the hot deserts of the American West, and sticky falls spent along the Gulf of Mexico through swamps. It wasn’t until the summer of 2016 did I finally make it to the Pacific Northwest.

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Beach at Solo Point. See my instagram for more pictures of my setting adventures.

Besides living with a family that loved to travel, I’m a military spouse who moves every two to four years. It’s left me with a wide array of places to chose from for a setting. From the city outskirts of Washington D.C., to back roads in the Texas Hill Country, to long twisted highways that carve through the Colorado Rockies; my mental setting bank is full.

Last year I moved to Washington state. It’s a part of the country I’ve only seen in television shows, books, and movies, and I’ve always wondered, what makes this area so special? What is it about the Pacific Northwest that pulls writers in?

I haven’t been here a year yet, and let me tell you. It’s been an experience. It rains more than I’ve ever seen, the people are eccentric, and the cities are small. But none of those are bad things. If anything, the area reminds me of growing up in Austin in the 90’s. People are active in their community, the land isn’t built up with subdivisions, and there are plenty of outdoor events for people to get back to nature.

When you get out of the cities, you find small communities centered around churches, rocky beaches with whole tree trunks tossed on the shore and if you go out east, over the Snoqualmie Pass, you find orange deserts and oasis towns.

With my next project in the works, a dark comedy and drama both of them supernatural pieces having to do with ghosts and death, I’ve set parts of it in the Pacific Northwest for a setting. Trips to Solo Point, a beach for military personnel to unload their boats, have been the most inspiring. The scenery is stunning and I hope to take a kayak out to the small island off shore to do some more exploring.

The longer I’m in this part of the country, the more I realize why writers and artists are drawn to this area. It’s lush, vibrant, and in spite of the rain, it’s beautiful.

Is there a part of the country you find yourself drawn to? Where do you enjoy setting your placing your novels?

What’s your favorite “How To” writing book?

I’ve been picky about what “how to” writing books I buy lately. Most of them are less about story structure, and more about the nitty gritty parts of writing.

Here are some of my favorite books on writing, but I’m in the market for more. Have any suggestions that improved your writing in any particular area?

16681583_1300483536656800_6852415959332937314_n1. The Emotion Thesaurus
Good for – writing character feelings through their body language.
Lacking in – For a thesaurus, it doesn’t list off as many emotions as I’d hope.

2. Writer’s Guide to Character Traits 
Good for – Nailing down Character behavior regarding their mental status.
Lacking in – It’s one sided and stereotypical at times.

3. Writing from the Senses
Good for – Writing more expressive and meaningful scenes.
Lacking in – It’s a little “How To” and repeats what I’ve read in other books.

4. Plot Vs. Character
Good for – Helps see things from a plot/character writer’s perspective.
Lacking in – Not sure. I really enjoyed this one.

5. Bullies Bastards and Bitches
Good for – Creating fun, deep, well rounded villains.
Lacking in – Can read a little Creative Writing 101.

6. Word Painting
Good for – Explains writing descriptively better than Writing from the Senses.
Lacking in – Not a whole lot. I really don’t have any complaints about this book.

 

Tough Love Talk About “The Writing Fantasy”

This isn’t a tough love talk about writing fantasy. No, I’m talking about The Writing Fantasy. The fantasy all new writers and creators have about the world of writing.

This is coming from someone who’s never been published outside of vanity sites, so take it as you will. That being said the more I interact with writers, the more I get sick of hearing about this mythical world we’re supposed to live in.

So here we go! Top five fantasies I’m going to completely crush into the ground!

 

1. Every bad review or person who doesn’t like my work is personally attacking me!
 

Well okay there, self absorbed Sandra, let’s tone it down a notch. When someone doesn’t like your work, it has nothing to do with you as a person. I know it hurts when you put months or years into a project only to get rejected by agents, your audience, or even past fans, but you can’t make everyone happy. Is it okay to get your feelings hurt? Yes, but if every bad review makes you fall apart and threaten to quit creating art, maybe it’s time to take a step back.

Now there is an exception to this rule. If you’re getting the same negative feedback every single time you put something out there, but you’re not fixing your mistakes, yes, some of the reviews might start to get personal. This is because you’re not fixing things that your audience doesn’t like. If your counter to this is “Well, I’m writing it for me, not to make everyone else happy! I’m not a sell out!” then why bother caring about reviews in the first place? Heck, why even put it up for anyone else to read if it’s just for your personal enjoyment and you don’t care what other people think?

2. I don’t have to read other people’s work anymore because I’m a writer now.
 
This isn’t “I don’t have time”, this is the “Nick Miller” defense.

Most, if not all professionals in any job, keep themselves sharp through practice, study and staying informed. Reading is part of the studying/staying informed portion of that for writers. You learn how other authors break writing rules, what works in their market (or in some cases what doesn’t work), and how to better your writing by studying the works of others.

And for those who think “I can’t read anyone else anymore because I’m just so fantastic as a writer, it’s insulting to read their drivel.”

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Welcome back, self absorbed Sandra. Get over yourself. There’s ALWAYS someone better than you out there.

 

3. Writing is romantic so I should try and copy some of my favorite classic literature.

Copying an author’s style as a warm up is eye opening, or doing it so that it makes sense in the story can be acceptable when done well. It’s when you’re forcing it on every aspect of your writing does it get old. Here’s a little secret. Readers are smart. They’re going to know you’re trying to be someone you’re not. It comes off as insincere and boring. It’s one thing to try and find your voice, it’s another to be so pretentious to think you’re the next Hemingway or Poe so you have to copy their style down to the last period.

4. I’ll just get an agent and they’ll do everything for me!

No. Wrong. Don’t expect this. Agents are very busy and the last thing they want is an author who can’t pull their own weight. Many new authors have to do a LOT of work in order to get their work noticed. You need to self promote, keep up your writer’s platform, network with other authors, talk to your agents about possible marketing opportunities, travel on book tours, start your next book, look for contests or magazines to submit short stories to, and those are just things off the top of my head! There could very well be a million other chores to do in order to get your book off the ground. Don’t expect your agent to be your fairy godmother, as magical and amazing as many of them are.

5. Editing is for writers who don’t know how to write.

Editing is CRUCIAL to writing your book. I can’t tell you how many self published authors I’ve spoken to who’ve excitedly told me about how they “wrote a book in three weeks” and then instantly put it out to the public without even doing a second read through. I’m not going to point out that there could be HUGE grammatical errors (because trust me, there will be), but you could have completely forgotten to finish a paragraph, or you might’ve accidentally cut out something without realizing it that one night when you were up till 2am working. There could be glaring inconsistencies that might’ve been fixed if you just took the time to edit your work.

I’m not saying you have to spend years on edits, or completely rewrite your novel, but not even looking at your work once you’re done could turn off readers if you have annoyingly obvious problems with your work. I’m even going to go back through and do a round of edits on this blog posts just to make sure things look good! Editing is important!

If you don’t like editing, save up and hire an editor. There are a lot of affordable options out there, and if you’re serious about getting published, it’s easy to put aside the money here or there to get your work in the hands of a professional. (I’m putting aside my coffee funds every month to get one and yeah, it takes time to save up, but it’s a worthwhile sacrifice)

And that’s it! Those are the writing fantasies I’m crushing for today. I’ll probably do another Tough Love Talk about this later, but I figure this’ll be good for now.

What are some writing fantasies you’d like to crush for other people? Comment below and let me know!

10 Things To Watch for When Self Editing

I’ve been reading quite a lot of self-published work lately. Some great, others not so great, and what I’ve realized is most problems that arise in self-published writing comes down to the editing. Misspelled words, incorrect grammar, page layout, and fixing minor style problems are all things that slow your story down and get in the way of what could be a great novel.

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Now I’m not an editor by any means, but here are some things I’ve learned in my own work and in reading others that will improve your writing.

  1. Watch out for the same word showing up multiple times in back to back sentences. “She went up the stairs, and woke her sister up. “You’re late, it’s time to get up.”” It’s repetitive.
  2. U.S. writers have different spellings and word usages than other English speaking countries, which is fine, but make sure you’re being consistent. No “towards” in one sentence then “toward” in the following paragraph, or no criticizing one minute and then criticising the next. If you’re going to call “pants” “trousers” and “underwear” “pants”, stick with it through the whole book.
  3. When a new character starts speaking, start a new line. It’s very confusing looking at a wall of text and slows down the reader when they have to figure out who’s saying what.
  4. “And then she went up and walked down stairs. Then she smiled at her mother. Then she….” You get it right? “And then” can ruin a good book. Not only because it’s repetitive. It makes the story bland.
  5. Cut out flabby words in general. Better writers than me have written articles on this, check them out here and here. It might not always apply, but there are a lot of excess words that make a great book fall from readers’ graces.
  6. Say your dialogue out loud to see how realistic it sounds. A modern thirteen year old saying things like “Where do you purpose I venture from here?” sounds strange, if it’s not in the context of the story.
  7. When you make point of view changes, give a heads up by either changing the chapter, or separating it somehow from the rest of the work. Jumping into one character’s head and then another can be jarring for the audience.
  8. Keep your characters consistent. If your character doesn’t know something, they can’t suddenly have all the answers just because they read one paragraph of a news article. Or my favorite character inconsistency, “I’m a virgin who doesn’t even know how sex works”, but two pages later, “OMG that cutie has me thinking up dirtier things than Fifty Shades of Grey mixed with German torture porn.” It cracks me up every time.
  9. Keep the tone and style consistent. A book that starts out like Shakespeare, but ends like Stephenie Meyer after the fifth chapter, then turns into Hemmingway by the tenth gets confusing. All authors have their merits, but if you’re trying to copy a style, make sure you keep it steady. Again, this is only if it doesn’t make sense in the narrative. I’m sure there’s someone who’s pulled off changing styles, when it was in the context of the story.
  10. Conveniences are my least favorite thing in ANY book, self published or otherwise. This is the “The door was locked, but luckily he knew how to pick it using nothing but a spoon. But when he opened the door there was someone with a gun. Lucky for him, he knew how to use kung fu! They pushed him out a window, but luckily, he had super powers and whole time and could fly!” No one, not even a leprechaun holding a horseshoe made of rabbit feet, while also wearing a suit of four leaf clovers is this lucky! If you notice your character somehow getting out of every single situation from unexplained help, it might be time to make some edits.

Agree with my list? How do you go about editing your novel? What advice can you give to people who are new to editing their work?

From The Roots of The Family Tree – A writing exercise

It’s always surprising to me when I talk to writers and they know next to nothing about their character’s family history. Not because it’s a bad thing, but because I can’t get through writing my novel if I don’t come up with a few family dynamics for my main characters.

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This sort of thing helps me come up with everything from the character’s name to how they respond in social situations. Here’s a quick checklist I use when creating my character’s family history.

Who were their parental figures?: Not every character has to have a living parent, but everyone, whether they realize it or not, puts someone in that parental role. Who shaped your character’s life as a parent?
Why did their parents name them what they did?: This is by far my favorite way to name characters, because let’s face it, we have no control over what our names are, unless we change them. Which brings me to my next point – Why did they change their birth name if they no longer go by what their parents called them?
What philosophy or religion were they raised under?: While their parents might not have said “We’re raising you to be a stoic!” they very well could’ve kept a “tight upper lip” policy in the house. If you’re uncertain, here’s a huge list of philosophies and religions to research.
What’s their relationship with their siblings?: Or cousins, depending on if they have siblings or not. If they don’t have siblings, why don’t they have siblings, and how do they feel about being an only child?
Is the family a matriachy or a patriarchy?: Who’s more respected and looked up to in the family? A grand/mother or grand/father figure?
Who was the comforter and who was the teacher in the family?: Who did the character go to when they needed support, and who did they go to when they needed to be taught a life lesson?
How important was education, money and politics in the house?: Usually, this will be a basis for how your character acts towards society and the political sciences. While it might have nothing to do with your book, it does help build how they react to the world around them.
Do they still keep in touch with family members today?: Again, if your character doesn’t have any blood relatives, do they keep in touch with people they assigned the “family role”?

How do you build your character? Do you start from the family tree and move on, or do you have a different method?

Let me know if this sheet helps, and feel free to share with others.

Writing Female Characters: Physical Strength vs. Actual Strength

Say it with me.

“A physically strong female character doesn’t automatically mean a well written character.”

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Too many times, when a writer of any genre or media type wants to create a “strong” character, they make them physically strong.  Unfortunately, this is often done to females. We now live in a world where some writers rebelled so violently against the damsel in distress stereotype, we have many female characters that kick ass but who lack any real story or substance.

And don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we can’t have female characters who can physically hold their own, but if the only thing a female character is good for is coming in, beating up everyone and then leaving, she’s no better than the underdeveloped “sexy lamp”.

So how do you write a strong female character?

1. Get rid of the words “strong”. If that’s the only adverb you can use to describe a character, she’s underdeveloped. What else is there to her besides her ability to kick ass? What is she passionate about? What is she skilled at that makes her more than just an action figure? 

2. And now that I mention it, stop saying your character is skilled, talented or extremely amazing at something and show it. I remember reading a YA book in my most recent brush with a writer’s group where the protagonist was supposed to be a great mountain climber who could hold her own on the roughest terrain. The character talked about it enough, but there was one problem, we never saw it. Even when it was a crucial part of a story, she’d only say she could handle it, and then she was never given a chance to shine.

Sure, a female lead can say all day long she’s fantastic, but tell the reader what she’s good at when you can show them? Let her share her knowledge instead of insisting she has it. Talk is cheap and if your character does nothing but brag, she loses her credibility. 

3. Create characters who can’t physically kick ass and who have real flaws. It’s no secret I’m a big fan of Patricia Brigg’s work, and in her Alpha and Omega series, the protagonist Anna spends less time relying on her ability to beat someone up and more on her gift of creating peace. She starts out as a quiet, scared little thing and grows into an emotional rock for not only her family, but for herself. She’s the only one who can stand up to even the most bad asses of men all because she’s comfortable with who she is as a person. 

We need more characters like this. We need characters that don’t say to the female audience, “You’re only strong if you can punch someone’s teeth in”. If a character is a great mother, we should celebrate that. If a protagonist is an introvert, we shouldn’t try to fix her. She doesn’t have to be physically strong or violent to be well written. Even if you’re writing a thriller, a superhero novel, or something where a female does need to be physically strong, that shouldn’t be the one thing that defines her. 

The world could use less female characters who are only put in place for kicking ass, and more female characters that are developed and hold their own in any situation.

What female characters do you feel like meet this standard? Which one showed you that it doesn’t take physical strength to be a strong person?

Also, if you’ve written a novel with a female character who’s more than just a one trick pony, lay it on me. I’m always looking for a new read to add to my pile.

Why Bad Reviews Are Actually Great

It’s every writer’s worst nightmare. Or really any artist’s. You put weeks of work, maybe even months or years, into a creative project. There are long nights, days you forget to eat, and more coffee than any human being should rationally consume, but when that project is finally done, it’s not just a book, or a song, or a painting. It’s YOU.

And then the wake up call comes. Reviews come in and the world absolutely hates it.

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It’s hard hearing a negative review. People telling you something you put all that time and effort into, is bad can hurt. But let me tell you, bad reviews are a good thing.

Before you close the page for thinking I’m crazy, hear me out.

When you get a bad review, or even a hundred bad reviews, there’s only one place you can go from there. Up. Well, you could stop creating art all together, but then the only person you’re hurting is yourself. Instead of looking at negative feedback as an attack, see it as you’re starting at square one, and now all you have to do is create something better than the first piece of art you put out to the world.

Still getting bad reviews after your tenth submission? Maybe it’s time to learn from that feedback. Now, I will say learning from trolls is going to be near impossible, but you can learn from the negative feedback you get from people who are giving constructive criticism. If you keep doing the same thing, over and over again, and expecting people to feel differently about your work, the only person you have to blame is yourself. Take a step back, hear what they’re saying, and learn from your mistakes.

And lastly, negative feedback keeps you humble and teaches you how you handle rejection from your audience. When you talk to authors who are on their third or fourth book, they’ll all tell you the same thing. You can’t please everyone 100% of the time. You can, however, learn how to overcome the insecurities that piggyback on artists from every field. When you see that negative review, acknowledge that it hurts, but instead of giving up, move on. Know that person isn’t in the demographic you’re writing for and find a different audience.

I know it’s easier to say this than to do it, but trust me. The minute you learn how to handle rejection from the audience, the more you’ll be able to tap into a creative part of yourself that isn’t afraid of what others will think.

 

How do you handle rejection when it comes to your artform? What keeps you going when you get a negative review?