Archive for May, 2011

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011 by Sasha White
Guest Blogger: Saskia Walker

Saskia Walker is a force to be reckoned with in the erotic literary world. Her short story work has been published in over 70 anthologies including Best Women’s Erotica, The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica, the Red Sage Secrets series, and the Black Lace Wicked Words series. Her first full-length single title, Double Dare, came out in October 2006 and picked up a Passionate Plume award for Best Contemporary Erotic Romance of 2006. Since then I’ve had several more novel-length publications, including Rampant from Harlequin Spice, which has been nominated for a 2010 RT Magazine Reviewers’ Choice Award.

Saskia is now a full time author with many more stories to tell, and some advice to give. Please welcome her to Genreality.

Saskia Walker, about this writing journey I’m on.

Hi folks, it’s wonderful to be here at Genreality to share some of my writing journey. Can anyone learn from it, I wonder? Hmm. Well, I’m pretty sure someone can learn from my mistakes. 😉

My first paid work was contracted almost fifteen years ago, and it was a short story for the UK Black Lace line. Since then I’ve had short fiction published in over eighty anthologies. I’ve published ten novels, four of which were trade paper books with New York publishing houses. Most recently I received a new two book contract, this time with the mass-market publishing line HQN. It’s been a winding road, and it’s been quite a journey. I’m now a full time author and I work with some terrific people. I really couldn’t wish for better, but as I look back I confess I take a deep breath and shudder, because I can see the missteps and blundering errors I made along the way, things that took me two steps back after one step forward. For a while there it was quite a catalogue of disasters. How on earth did I manage to stagger through this far?!

Hard work and the love of writing kept me at it, basically. I love to learn and I was constantly learning and honing my craft. I adore the storytelling. I also had tenacity on my side, and…a huge great dollop of luck. Yes, luck. Lucky breaks happen when we submit at the right time for that editor, and we can’t know when that is going to be. I’m hesitant to give aspiring authors advice as a result of my mixed fortunes, but I figured I can share some of the advice I read that worked for me, and some that didn’t.

The first thing I quickly learned was that some of the things you read about publishing may never apply to your individual path. There’s no one way to do this, even though some people might seem to suggest there is. (Their way being the best way, of course 😉 Here are some bits of advice I read that made me fret: “follow the market,” “brand yourself,” and “write the book of your heart.” I heard these things over and over around the time I started to submit novels for consideration. Follow the market — okay, we need to know what editors are buying, but it was actually luck that I was writing the right sub genre when it was required. And yes, the best thing we can do is write the book of our heart because it’ll be the best piece of writing we can do. If we’re enjoying the writing the reader will enjoy it too. If we’re not enjoying it, it shows. That makes sense. But what if the book of my heart doesn’t fit the market, and how could I brand myself when I was writing lots of different subgenres?

kinkOther writers out there had these great slogans about their work but I couldn’t find anything that represented mine. The best thing I could do was to pick out the most consistent theme in my work and offer that as a brand. My work is characterised by eroticism and strong storytelling. That’s the closest I ever got to a brand because I’ve written erotic fantasy, paranormal romance, contemporary erotica, historical romance, even a bit of futuristic. I write a lot of cross genre stories too. My next publication, for example, is a historical paranormal erotic romance set in Scotland. I’ve written different lengths for different markets in different countries. I’ve sold to the biggest romance publisher in the world and I’ve also had my work published in Penthouse and Bust. Branding what I was doing wasn’t ever going to be easy. Bottom line is I just want to write good stories that readers enjoy. The good news is I got through anyway.

Another piece of advice I read was to make a five-year plan. What, like a five-year dream, I wondered to myself. ;o) I mean, come on..! This isn’t like a regular job where we can study for qualifications and move forward as a matter of course. I was working in an area where things change all the time, not only markets but the whole face of publishing is forever changing. I’m a realistic type and I knew I might never be contracted by a big house. The whole concept of a five-year plan seemed alien to me. The important thing here is to aim high but to keep one foot on the ground, because if we get carried away with the dream the rejections hit very hard (and yes I have a box full of them, it’s been a big learning curve,) and that eats away at our motivation to write. We can make a five-year plan but we need to consider it a guiding star rather than a goal because we need to be flexible and ready to change when the industry changes.

One of the best pieces of advice I read (and I really do want to reiterate this one) is to investigate a publisher as much as you can before you submit, and be wary of new publishers with no history. Yeah, I could really understand that. Trouble is, it’s so tempting. New publishers are eager to fill their slots and things move so much quicker. Very tempting for a new author, and I confess I fell for it. Several times over. Hence the missteps and errors I mentioned earlier. Let me explain.

The first time I erred I’d read the warnings but I figured this one was reasonably safe because it was an established publisher who was opening a new erotic line. My first novel was contracted and I celebrated….and then waited. And waited, and waited. My work was totally locked in, and a year later the line was cancelled having never opened. I didn’t even hear this devastating news directly from the publisher or editor. I heard it from another author. I was never officially notified. I had to contact them and beg for my rights back. In retrospect I consider it a lucky escape. At the time I was gutted about the lost year.

Then a year or so later I did it again. I know, can you believe it?! An exciting new line from a publisher who was interested in fantasy and paranormal romance. I was dazzled by promises of mass-market titles and audio books and exciting growth and development plans. I plunged in and was fast tracked. Shortly after my two titles went to print the line changed direction completely from short fantasy romance to big urban fantasy, and my books and those of several other authors were suddenly wallflowers in warehouses. These things happen, publishing is a business after all. But once again I was a casualty of publishing and it was a huge disappointment. Luckily I did manage to get the rights back and those stories have better homes now.

Then I heard about this exciting new e-publisher starting up in my own country. No way, I said! Not falling for that one again. But…it was here in the UK, and it did sound exciting, and they were actively looking for authors. I held back for a long while, and when I did investigate I went in with extreme caution. I submitted a short story that was a rights returned project. That meant I could investigate without committing any writing time. Yup, finally got the old brain in gear by this point. ;o) As it happens, that new publisher turned out to be a terrific one. I’m still working with them years later and have a substantial backlist there.

On balance I would reiterate this gem of advice: always investigate publishers thoroughly, research on the net and be brave and email other authors asking questions. If there is negativity there you’ll soon hear about it. If it’s a new publisher on the block, be doubly cautious. Let some other fool tread the path first, someone like me. ;o)

In closing, here are some of the best bits of advice I can offer to new writers. Keep your head in the clouds but your feet on the floor. Never stop learning. Love what you do, it’s the love of the craft that will keep you going through the hard times. And my favourite: “read, write, submit, repeat.” If you’re not in you can’t win. Good luck!

Visit Saskia’s Website
Visit Saskia’s Blog

Monday, May 30th, 2011 by Carrie Vaughn
How To Tell if You’re Really a Writer

There’s a philosophy of critiquing that goes something like this:  be as absolutely mean, vicious, and cutting as possible when you’re critiquing someone’s story.  If the author of said story is really cut out to be a writer, he can take it, maybe learn something, and maybe even get shocked into becoming a better writer.  On the other hand, if you scare them off and they never write again, they were never meant to be a writer in the first place and you’ve done them a favor.

I don’t recommend this technique.  I’ve been on the receiving end of it, and while I proved that I really am cut out to be a writer because I didn’t quit and came back with a better story, the trauma it engendered has stayed with me on some level for a very long time.  And I pretty much stopped listening to the person who delivered the critique entirely.

Here’s a much better litmus test to discover if you or someone you know is really cut out to be a writer:

“He left her.”
“He left her alone.”

What are the differences between those two sentences?

Now, if you just spent fifteen minutes thinking through every permutation of meaning you can achieve by adding or subtracting the word “alone,” you’re probably a writer.

(And yes, I really did get stuck on those sentences a couple of nights ago.  I was just describing someone leaving a room, but I became utterly fascinated with how the word “alone” changed the sentence, and the tone of the entire page.)

Saturday, May 28th, 2011 by Ken Scholes
Celebrating the Milestones

Happy Saturday, Folks!

As a whole, I don’t think our performance-driven culture celebrates nearly enough.  And road into professional writing can be a rather bleak, long stretch of learning.  I think learning how to celebrate our milestones is every bit as important as learning how to pay it forward. 

And there are a lot of milestones.  Finishing that first story.  Submitting that first story.  Hanging that first rejection slip on the wall.  Making that first sale.  Cashing that first check.

I wasn’t very good at celebrating in the earlier years of my life but with writing, I managed to hold onto it as a value.   I’m particularly a big fan of giving myself presents. 

For a lot of milestones, we hit a local steak and pasta place here in St Helens called The Dockside…less now that our toddlers are joining us.   This last week, we went there to celebrate Lamentation’s win of France’s Prix Imaginales and our first royalty check on the series.  Two huge milestones that I’m pretty excited about.

We celebrated the book deal (and my fortieth birthday) with a trip to Mexico a few years ago.  I’m giving myself a binge-month of Xbox 360 time and the boxed set of Star Blazers to celebrate finishing Requiem.   We’ll do something Big and Fun as a family when I finish the entire series.  It’s just factored into my budget now that my writing is bringing in some revenue.

But celebrating doesn’t have to be big or spendy at all.  Nor do the milestones you’re celebrating.  Sometimes, I celebrate finishing my daily word count goal with an hour or two of video games or a movie.   As a matter of fact, I told myself I could celebrate with an hour of Xbox if I finished both my Genreality blogpost and my Darkcargo interview.    

Now that was a fine bit of self-bribery! 

So what do you do to celebrate the milestones in your writing life?  And how often?

Friday, May 27th, 2011 by Rosemary
The Open Schedule

Over on one of my OTHER group blogs, YA Outside the Lines, the topic of the month has been, “What does an unusual and spectacular writing day look like for you?” To which three of us in a row basically: “Any day that I manage to write is a good day.”

In case you don’t go read that post, here’s the gist: Writing full time doesn’t mean long stretches of blissful writing time. In fact, I have more interruptions of my writing time now than I did when I had a normal job (whatever that means) and wrote on my “off time.”

Some of that is simply changes in my life. I take care of my mom. I live in the same city as ALL my relatives. I have friends 30 minutes, not 300 miles, away. I have neighbors now, not just cows, and I have three needy dogs who bark at every noise outside, which is a lot, because I have neighbors. Noisy ones.

But, lifestyle aside, I made MUCH better use of my writing time when I had limited amounts of it. Why? I’m glad you asked.

People ask you to do things. It probably started harmlessly, where you offered, because you have a flexible schedule. But it snowballs, because you like these people, and theoretically, there’s no reason you can’t take a break just then. But still. People you love and WANT to help will infringe on your time. But only because….

You let them. It’s a terrible trap, the knowledge that you can make up your time any time. That you can always write later. You know how much you could write in two hours when that’s all  you had. So taking grandma to her doctor’s appointment is no problem, you can make up the pages then. Except you can’t, because…

An open schedule opens doors to doubt and second guessing. Plenty of time to write means plenty of time to over think, to get scared, to get trapped in the endless revision cycle. Because you’re not wasting time if it’s limitless.

Nothing makes as good an excuse for procrastination as doing something for other people. (see #1) And if there’s anything I know, it’s that procrastination is a major symptom of fear. (see #3)

    When I had to carve out time for writing, I was viciously protective of it. More than anything, that meant being strict with myself about not wasting that time or giving it up for anything less than an emergency. My family respected my writing time because I respected my writing time, and I didn’t let anything steal it from me–including self-doubt.

    I know it’s hard to look at your other commitments–whether a job, or kids or family or other responsibilities, paycheck-related or not–as a blessing. But those demands on you do one important thing. They don’t let you take your time and your writing gift for granted.

    So whether you have all day to write, or all lunch break, value that time, and make the most of it.

    Thursday, May 26th, 2011 by Candace Havens

    I’m in grad school this summer and one of my classes is Creativity and its Development. We’re studying several philosophies behind creativity from Freud, who always relates to sex somehow, to the humanist who have more of a whole person approach. One of the first assignments was to talk about what creativity was to us.

    I had to think on that one a bit. It’s easy to confuse inspiration with creativity or to apply it only to the arts. When I talked about what it meant to me, I mentioned my cousin and Math Goddess Laura and how creative she was with her dissertation on a statistical problem. Scientists who move their various disciplines forward are also creative. They have to think out of the box and become mavericks. They can’t always use the tools others before them did.

    Think about DaVinci, Galileo and even Franklin. All of these guys were about trial and error. They went beyond the expected.

    I believe whatever our creative endeavors, we should always strive to go beyond the expected. If we’re writing a story about a cowboy with amnesia, who adopts a child and falls in love with the nanny, then we need to have twists and turns that make it unlike all the other cowboy amnesia books. We should always strive for more with our writing and to take the path that hasn’t been charted.

    That’s one of the things I enjoy about being a pantser. I never know what is going to happen next. In a conversation with my editor last week she said, “I never knew where you were going next with this book and it was a good thing.”

    So I’d like to know a couple of things this week. What is creativity to you? What is your creative outlet? Where do you look for inspiration?

    Wednesday, May 25th, 2011 by Bob Mayer
    eBook Covers are Different than Print

    This is a guest post from Jen Talty, the other half of Who Dares Wins Publishing and the one who does our covers.  We’ve had a huge learning curve on covers over the course of the past year and a half.

    From Jen:

    A good cover can make or break a book, especially for on-line buying. In a bookstore, most books are racked spine out, so author name sometimes means more. Readers can pick up your book, thumb through, get a feel for story and writing and then decide. On-line, readers see your cover. It has to say, “buy me, I’m a good book” to the reader. If it doesn’t, why would they take the time to possibly download a sample, or even look at product description? The changes in publishing have given the author many great opportunities and self-publishing is a viable option. However, self-publishing requires the author to make a few major decisions, and one of those decisions is cover.

    You have a couple of options. You can do it yourself or your can hire a cover artist. There are many programs out there to choose from. There are many do it yourself programs, free programs, even programs that come with your computer that can create cover design. Even Word has the capability of designing a basic cover, but will the cover be good enough to invite the reader in?   The question you have to ask yourself is it worth your time and energy to do it “right”. Hiring someone to do your covers can run as low as $50.00 and as high as $600.00.

    This is not an easy decision, especially when you factor in other costs that go into making an eBook available to the reader. We made the decision to invest in the proper tools to do it ourselves because we had the design background, and the technical ability. We purchased the complete InDesign package from Adobe ($1,299.00) partly for the ability to create covers for on-line purchasing, but also because it made it much easier to create the full-jacket cover for our print-on-demand books and for web design.

    Even with the proper tools we made a few cover mistakes along the way.

    Publishing Mistake #1: Always Judge a Book by its Cover.

    This cover sucks. Actually, every single one of the original Atlantis Covers was a disaster except for Assault on Atlantis, which remained almost identical as the original. So why does it suck and why did it make sense to change?

    First. It’s too dark. I don’t mean color scheme because you can have a black cover that isn’t bad, but this cover lacks contrast. The color scheme is too similar. The letters and background blend together. If you have a dark background, you want letters that stand out. If you have a light background, you want letters that will pop.

    Second. Do you know what the object is in the background? I know Bob does. I’m not going to tell you. You all can guess. Though, if you read the book, you probably know. Point is, what does this cover mean to the reader? I say this cover almost says pass me by.

    Third. Logo. Wow. What were we thinking? I know we thought we were being brilliant when we put our very first logo on all our covers for them to stick out like a sore thumb. For those observant readers, you will notice here at Write It Forward we now have a new header. That look will be added to the Who Dares Wins Publishing website. I’ll get into that change in another publishing lesson. The point here is that the logo adds absolutely nothing to the cover. As a matter of fact, it takes a way from the already bad cover, making it worse.

    If you were in traditional publishing it would be too bad, suck it up, go promote it’s the only cover you’re going to get. If you had hired someone, you’re be paying them to redo it. If you did it yourself, you’d be redoing it.

    So what is best? I recommended if you don’t have the knowledge of basic design and design programs (for example how layers work) then hire someone. It’s why I do the covers and Bob doesn’t.

    Publishing Correction #1.

    The content of the book has not changed. However, the cover changed drastically. Why is this a good cover?

    First. It has contrast. The color of the letters, while still complement the background, are bold and pop of the page. The background is vibrant and alive. It’s inviting. It doesn’t look dark and drab and boring. Yet, it is a very simple cover. Simple is often better.

    Second. The cover says something about the book. Actually, it says something about the entire series, which involves the Bermuda Triangle, the Devil’s Sea and other strange and eerie places. It invites the reader to take a look inside and see if they are interested in the content. This is critical regardless of whether you are in a store thumbing through all the books in this particular section, or browsing on line trying to find a good read. A good cover can make or break you. We found when we changed the cover, our sales improved.

    Third. No distracting white rectangle that means nothing to the reader.

    While editing this post, I realized this cover still has one minor flaw. Every thing is centered. We’ve learned that alignment is another aspect you need to consider when designing a cover. Is it time to change it? No.

    Publishing Lesson #1.

    There is a time when it’s best to leave well enough alone. For a long time the first cover was it. It wasn’t until I had finished with the 6th and final cover in this series that we realized we had a problem. Not all of the books were in print at that time. We knew that it would cost us to make the upgrade and the book had already earned out and beyond. Our business had grown and we had a different set of tools to work with, specifically InDesign by Adobe which allowed me to create covers that I didn’t have the capability before. After much discussion, we began the revamping process. It took at least 6 more tries before we got to this one. Change was necessary, and unlike traditional publishing when it comes to covers after book release, non-traditional publishing allows us to make this change. However, timing is important as well as not rushing things. We had to get it right, and this time we did.

    Lately, we’ve started a new trend to make our cover distinguishable by brand.  We’re re-releasing Bob’s first series on Special Forces.  So we want the covers to look somewhat alike, yet really pop in thumbnail.  Here are the first ones:



    We will shortly be re-publishing Bob’s classic Area 51 series and will use the same motif.

    Tuesday, May 24th, 2011 by Sasha White
    Know when to walk away.

    It’s crucial to the success of an authors career to understand that writing a great story is work. Some ideas will flow and grow naturally, and some will take every ounce of heart you’ve got, along with some blood, sweat and tears. That does not mean you don’t try them out…it just means that you need to learn when to call it quits.

    Not every idea you have is going to be an easy one, and it’s imperative you realize this. Sometimes, an idea seems perfect and magical until you actually start working it out. Then holes pop up and characters become unbelievable, or worse yet, turn to cardboard.

    Knowing when to push through and make a story work, and when to walk away and leave it for another time is a big thing.

    Some author friends tell me they’ve never run into an idea that they haven’t been able to make work, but a couple of  others have let me know that I’m not alone because I, for one, don’t always get it right. There are times when pushing and pushing has worked, and times when it hasn’t, and I’ve sat down and tried to work only to stare blankly for a couple of hours before forcing myself to actually get words on the page, then hate those words and trash those pages forever.

    I wish I could tell you how to know the difference, but I’m still working on that myself. What I can tell you is that it’s my belief that as long as you honestly put everything into each and every idea you try to make work, you won’t regret it when you realize that one of them isn’t working. It’s important not to give up or walk away too early, because that can become a bad habit.  So instead of giving advice this week, I’m asking for advice. Tell me in the comments if you’ve ever walked away from an idea, and if you have, how did you know it was time?