Archive for May, 2012

Saturday, May 5th, 2012 by Ken Scholes
The Trailer Boy Strategy for Becoming a Full Time Writer

Howdy folks and happy Saturday!  Great comments last week!

It’s been a helluva time around here.  I was four or five weeks ahead on my blog posts and barreling ahead on the last act of my fourth novel when the fickle finger of fate intervened yet again.  Four weeks ago, my stepmom fell ill and within days she was in hospice.  She passed peacefully, surrounded by her children and grandchildren, the Monday after Easter.

I’ve faced a LOT of death in my life.  And just in the last five years, my wife and I — between our two families — have lost eight people.  Four parents, two aunts, a nephew and a grandmother.  That’s a lot.

The funny thing about death is that it forces you to think about life.  And so I’ve been living out a John Denver song in my head, minus the muppets.  “I’ve been lately thinking about my life’s time….”

Over the course of that same five years, I’ve also become a novelist, become represented, landed a five book contract and written four books of a five book series and a handful of short stories, novelettes and novellas.  Not bad for a kid from a trailer.

And over the course of that SAME five years…well, nearly three…I’ve become a parent to two of the most amazing human beings I’ve ever studied in the wild.

Now, we all knew it was going to be a pretty full plate.  We didn’t know about the losses and all that they would bring to the party.  And we didn’t expect Nature’s grand twofer deal but all in all, we’ve fared well.  Lots of goodbyes and some very important hellos.  I’m really glad I waited to have kids, despite the energy trade off of being 44 and a new Dad.  I’ve had time to gain perspective about life…particularly through the lens of all the losses.   It’s made it even more clear to me that the most important investment of my time, resources, energy are my daughters.

And its made it even more clear to me that I work too hard.  I have an amazing dayjob working with great people, but even with my hours reduced to 32, it equates out to 11 hours days once I count my commute.  What could I do with that 11 hours?

A lot.  I could get back to the balanced life I believe is best for us humans, including that family time.  I could get adequate sleep and rest.  Maybe get time to read a book every week.  And with better rest and sleep and more focus, my output will increase.  My introverted needs will also be better met, cutting out all of the “peopling” that is a part of my dayjob, leaving me with the energy to take on teaching a few night classes per year at one of our nearby community colleges.

So we’ve been talking a lot since January about a Trailer Boy Strategy for Becoming a Full Time Writer.

And today, I’m going to share that strategy with you.

My goal is to be a full time writer by September 2014, when the girls go into Kindergarten.  I have two years and some change to get there, give or take.  Here are some factors that should make that possible:

1)  I have a working spouse.  This can’t be over-emphasized.  I think barring unusual circumstances (like runaway bestsellers and blockbuster movies), most writers either need dayjobs, working spouses, or some other form of income or savings over the course of their careers and certainly at the beginning.  The writing by itself can certainly make money, but it takes time and it trickles in from a lot of different rivers.  And there’s no health insurance for writers typically unless you pay for a plan of your own or have someone working with benefits.  So going full time for me hinges on Jen’s career and the benefits tied to it.

2)  I have two little people who will no longer need daycare.  It’s the cost of a mortgage basically.  And since a big part of going full time as a writer is about getting more time with my kids, I don’t mind the idea at all of being the Dad-on-duty who gets them to and from Kindergarten.

3) I have a series that earned out the advance for all five books by the time the third book was in hardcover for a few months.  So I’m already getting royalties — not tons but it’ll grow as I finish the series (there are spikes in numbers for each book that comes out — domestic and then my share of the foreign rights advances.)  And if you know anything about advances, you’ll realize that I also still have advance money due from Tor — they come to us when we turn in a book and when the book comes out.  So I have committed revenue over the next two years from those advances as I finish the series.

4)  I’m nearly finished with my series, which means within the next year I’ll be figuring out a next project and, whenever the time is right, ideally landing a contract for it.  I know whatever I do will be a slightly smaller project than five books, but I do like writing in multi-book series.  And because the Psalms of Isaak is enjoying some relative success (not huge numbers but the fans who love it are verbal about it and it’s gotten a lot of critical acclaim) I hope to tap that success by including at least one P of I related book in whatever my next pitch is.

5) Under relatively normal circumstances I have good work habits and discipline.  I know how much I can write when my brain isn’t fogged with grief or exhaustion and I have a plan for diversifying my writing business into other mediums beyond books and short stories — and to add teaching occasionally to my list.

So with all of that in mind, our plan over the next two years is to reduce our debt load to a place where, without the debt and without the daycare bill, we can afford to have me home spinning tales (and cash) out of my imagination.  Our goal is get two years of operating revenue into the bank so that I have a runway to work  from and then…off I go into the Wild Blue Yonder!

Now, the best laid plans of mice and Ken are just that.  I’ve learned enough from the last five years to know that plans can and will be interrupted by life (or death) as often as not.  But this is the goal and direction I’m setting.  I think it’s solid.

So here’s the part where you can help:  Buy my books.

Next week is theme week here at Genreality and it’s on…blogging!  By then, I also might be done with Requiem.  Woot!

And now, I’m going to meditate and reflect upon my soon-coming trip to the Scappoose Cinema 7 to see Avengers in 3D.

Avengers…assemble!  Trailer Boy out.


Friday, May 4th, 2012 by Diana Peterfreund
What Builds Excitement?

This afternoon, my husband and I are playing hooky from work to go see THE AVENGERS movie. Aside from the other recent films starring these guys (and a few half-remembered episodes of the Lou Ferrigno’s Hulk show from childhood) I don’t have any particular connection to these characters. They weren’t a part of my childhood, like Batman, Superman, Spiderman, or the X-Men were, with cartoons and comic books. I’m still not sure what all the characters’ superpowers are (Black Widow? Is she like, an acrobat in leather with a gun?)

But I am super crazy excited for this film. Why? Let’s examine:

1. Joss Whedon. I’m a huge Joss Whedon fan. I’ve seen almost everything he’s ever done (I’m waiting for Cabin in the Woods on DVD — yes, even despite the killer unicorn everyone tells me is in there — because I’m the biggest chicken in the world when it comes to horror movies, and DVD lets me mute/fast-forward past the terrifying stuff). I own all of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on DVD and watch it regularly, and I also own Angel, Firefly, Serenity, and Titan A.E. — yes, even Titan. I stuck with Dollhouse despite some elements that deeply bothered me (Prostitute-of-the-week plotlines), and was absolutely blown away by the fact that Joss examined that, and turned it not only to a central aspect of the storyline, but took the concept of body-buying to its terrifying, post-apocalyptic conclusion. I’ve never seen a story get saved the way he saved Dollhouse. He took our discomfort w the subject matter and said, “Guys, don’t you see? That’s the point.” Genius.

So Joss is doing this? I’m in. I’ll ignore the fact that women hardly even appear in the trailer. It’s Joss. It’ll be okay.

Lesson to writers: established authors bring a lot of credit with them when they embark on a new series. Audiences trust the content creator to give them something they will like.This is why sometimes established writer can publish a series with off-the-wall concepts or difficult characters.


2. Loki. I wasn’t a particular fan of the Thor film. It was beautiful, sure, but I thought the plot was dull and full of holes, and the “good guy” characters of Thor (not Chris Helmsworth’s fault, he was good in the part, but Thor’s “poor little rich boy” schtick didn’t move me) and his lackluster astrophysicist girlfriend (probably Natalie Portman’s fault, because I have yet to like her in any role she’s ever played) weren’t particularly endearing.

But Loki? Oh, Loki. I want you to be my bad guy boyfriend. Forget Severus Snape. Forget Magneto. Forget Logan Echolls (no, wait — I didn’t meant that, Logan!) I love me some Loki. I hope he doesn’t wear Earth clothes for the whole movie. Full Loki costume is one sexy look.

Loki is so fascinating. An “also-ran” to Thor’s golden boy prince in Asgard, he was secretly an abandoned child of his adopted father’s worst enemy. And no one ever told him. And so the guy has Issues. Plus, he has a costume to die for. (Please wear it! Please!) And the actor who is playing him, Tom Hiddleston is: 1) talented, 2) good looking, 3) incredibly funny and not afraid to camp it up.

I admit it, I’m kind of going in there to root for the bad guy.

Lesson to writers: Make your bad guy an interesting person. Make him or her someone that the audience maybe, on some level, even understands, or roots for. Or at least cheers every time he or she appears on screen. Fiery eyes on mountaintops are all well and good, but so are villains with more human aspects and failings (and senses of humor).


3. The other characters. I’ve seen the Iron Mans and enjoyed them, and I loved Captain America. Agent Coulson (who I always think is actually Agent Casper, since that was the part the actor played on The West Wing) and Nick Fury have established themselves in their minor scenes in other films, and I’m looking forward to seeing an expansion of Hawkeye and some actual personality for Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow (also, Cobie Smulder’s an agent in this, too, apparently). I only saw one of the Hulk movies, but apparently they scrapped all that as non-canon and Mark Ruffalo invents a whole new Hulk, and I like him in stuff, so I’m looking forward to that, too.

All of which is to say, I can’t wait for these guys to start bouncing off one another. I can’t wait to see Captain America’s forthright eagerness slam against Tony Stark’s cynicism. I can’t wait to see Thor’s cockiness grate on Bruce Banner’s hard-won zen. Whedon does ensemble well, and I have high hopes. We had the chance to see most of these guys star in their own films. Now let’s see what happens when they get together.

Lesson to writers: Your secondary characters are the heroes of their own stories. Make sure they are rounded characters, with their own motivations and goals, which may or may not jibe with your hero’s.

What about you? Are you excited to see The Avengers?

I’m off — popcorn ahoy!

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012 by HelenKay Dimon
Release Anxiety

This is a release week for me. My book, WHEN SHE WASN’T LOOKING, came out on Tuesday. Release week is always a bit scary. While I’m excited the book is out there and people are reading it, there is still an overriding sense of panic. You know the one. It’s the will anyone like it feeling. Since the book is a Harlequin Intrigue and six Intrigues release at the same time, I get the additional will everyone read all the other Intirgues and skip mine panic.

Ah, isn’t it great to be paranoid and excited at the same time? No.

In honor of my historical release time craziness I’ve set some groundrules. Keep in mind, I break these rules pretty often, but in theory these are smart:

1. Do not obsessively check the Amazon and B&N rankings of the book. Logically, I don’t even know what these ranks translate to in terms of sales and they can jump pretty far based on a few sales, so there’s no need to watch them. In reality, there’s so little else to track, so it’s hard not to track these.

2. Never, under any circumstances, read the Amazon reviews for the book. You can imagine how often I obey this one. I am nosy, after all. I have, however, trained myself to look at the number of stars and figure out if I really want to read. For example, gettng a one star because the reader is upset the book wasn’t a children’s book – and this has happened many times – is not something I spend a lot of time worrying about.

3. Turn off Google Alerts. Someone out there will say something nasty and that is the only alert I will get, so best to ignore them all. Then there’s the alert you get before the book is even out about how to get a pirated version of book. Makes my eye twitch.

4. Let it go. The reality is I’ve written books since this one and at the time I wrote the one coming out I wrote the best book I could. If I would write a different scene or whatever today, that’s tough. The official release day is today but I released it long ago.

5. Keep writing. This one I actually obey pretty regularly. The best thing to do to keep from worrying about the one out now is to keep writing the best I can on the one in front of me.

There you go. My survival tips. These and chocolate (or your favorite snack) and goods friends you can whine to. Perfection.

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012 by Bob Mayer
Conducting an After Action Review– Essential for Success

With publishing changing so quickly, we are constantly trying new things.  While I’m a big fan of always moving forward, we also have to look at what we’ve already done and decide if it worked or didn’t work.

Once you’ve implemented your plan, it’s time to use another Special Forces tool—the After Action Review (AAR). This is used by Special Forces to objectively determine if a mission’s goal has been achieved. In fact, whenever you think you’ve finished doing something significant, you should conduct an AAR.

A person that won’t look closely at themselves is someone who is doomed to keep doing the same things wrong again and again.

Because simulated combat exercises are so difficult to observe and judge, the military designed the AAR to help the participants figure out what happened. It was only in the late ‘90s that the business world began picking up the concept, most likely a result of Army officers filtering into the civilian world and bringing what they had learned with them. A Harvard Business School professor wrote an article about it in the Harvard Business Review in 1993, which I suppose made it more highbrow than a squad of grunts sitting around trying to figure out what just happened. The most critical aspect of having an effective AAR is honesty. The first, and most important, question to be answered is, was the goal or mission accomplished? Given that your goal or mission was originally stated clearly in one sentence, the answer should be clear.

I have read several business books where it is said an AAR should not judge success or failure. I disagree with that. Why not? The theory is that focusing on success or failure will cause emotional conflict—if that’s the case, then so be it. We succeed. We fail. We learn, adjust and move on.  Successful people have to break through the conflict that comes with not succeeding all the time.

Remember the stages of change: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. If failure at a goal is a conflict for you, it’s one of your blind spots. Work through these changes until you’ve conquered the associated fear.

If the answer is yes, you achieved your goal, then pat yourself on the back, then see what fine-tuning needs to be done. If the answer is no, hunker down until the smoke clears—until you have solid answers from your AAR and know what changes need to be made to your plan.

With both my writing career and Who Dares Wins Publishing, I periodically conduct After Action Reviews.  I always find better and more efficient ways to accomplish my goals.

Steps for an effective AAR.

  • Did you achieve your goal
  • Review your plan. Did you follow your plan? If not, note the exceptions and variations you made
  • Review the preparation for the activity—which means once more go through all the Forces listed in this book, and now that the plan has been executed, determine if each Tool was effectively applied to your plan
  • Summarize the events as they occurred, using a detailed timeline, with no commentary. Just the facts. Build a complete timeline of action
  • Focus on why each specific action was taken. Whether each step of the plan was followed, or deviated from (which is not necessarily a bad thing)
  • Give particular focus to when fear played a role in your actions—this is the most difficult part of the AAR, but the most critical—fear is most likely where your actions diverged from your plan
  • Summarize areas of plan improvement and refinement, as well as alternative actions you could have taken to achieve a more successful result
Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012 by Bob Mayer
Reactions to the editor/agent panel at Desert Dreams

Listening to the editor/agent panel at Desert Dreams and I’m going to shoot from the hip with reactions to what is said.

Let’s see we’ve got a Harlequin editor; agent; editor; agent; St. Martins editor; agent; agent; agent;

Everyone is looking for a “unique voice” it seems.  Which makes me wonder at the value of the one-sentence pitch we all  preach.  Jenny Crusie is a great writer, but she couldn’t one-minute pitch her books at all.  You have to READ her writing to get it.

One agent has made the point that she only reads hard copy about ten times in her introduction.  Okay.  Got it.  And she doesn’t have a web site.  Okay,  Well then. The year is 2012.  Digital publishing is here.  My own agent has a web site via the agency, but it’s not much.  But when you have a stable full of #1 NY Times bestsellers, you don’t have to worry about it.  But if you, well.  And I don’t have to worry about her reading this, right?

I do almost feel such a panel is an anachronism, but publishing is still selling tons of books and isn’t going away any time soon.  One thing I always find interesting is how agents and editors rarely attend workshops.  I know they often have to do one on ones, but they do have some free time, but it seems like they don’t feel they have anything to learn from authors.  Several of them said they were scrambling to stay on top of things, but one of my pet peeves about publishing is that the people who know the most about digital publishing are the top selling indie authors like Barbara Freethy, Bella Andre, JA Konrath, Barry Eisler, etc.  Yet their phones aren’t ringing off the hooks from publisher and agents wanting to learn.  Ah well.  Blind leading the blind.

First question to the panel is answer:  Please don’t send me another manuscript about:

That’s a poor question.  It’s negative.  Also, I’m sure there are writers in the audience who have sweated for a year and written exactly what someone is saying they don’t want and can’t sell.

And please send me a manuscript about:  Good writing, yada, yada.

The thing I’m picking up is the same attitude of we have to figure we can sell this.  But the reality is few people know what will sell until it sells.  What I love about being indie is the person I have to sell to is THE READER!  Not an agent.  Not the agent selling to an editor.  The editor selling to the publisher.  The sales forces selling to the outlets, yada yada,  I told you about the bisque, didn’t I?

One agent just said she wants her clients to come up with 6 ideas before writing, so they can find the one that has breakout potential.  That’s a smart idea.

What advantage does a publisher have over going on your own in digital:

HQ:  We’re the biggest.  Well, okay.  And?  What are your royalty rates?  We’ve been around over 60 years.  And?  How is that an advantage to an author?  She’s boasting of having Nora Roberts’ first book.  Which means the contract locks rights in forever and sucks for the author.

SMP editor:  Downpricing books and cannibilize print sales.  Print sales is still a much bigger market.  Which is why Amanda Hocking moved to SMP.  Okay.

Agent:  I have to educate myself on electronic books.  Honest.  Need to know more about marketing.

There’s an undercurrent of anxiety—someone mentioned the saying:  May you live in interesting times.  Indeed.

We’re all still trying to figure everything out.  Another honest agent.  Had to sign a non-disclosure agreement with Argo Novus just to look at their contract.  Interesting.  What is there to hide?  The royalty rate I suppose.  I sense that’s a lazy way out for agents to get their authors “Self-pubbed”.  Drop Cool Gus a line.  He’ll listen and send you his fact sheet on what he does.  But we’re only taking on four more authors this year so it’s tight.

Why use an agent/editor:  marketing and discoverability.  HQ and SMP have marketing departments.  Yes, but the reality is they put 95% of their money and effort into 5% of their titles.

So the panel is getting a little defensive now.

What print publishers do is try to get you longevity.  Huh?  How is print a long tail?  If your book didn’t work, we work with you to help figure it out.  Huh?  I’ve never had a publisher do that.  Guess I was incredibly unlucky.

Yes, they do put tens of thousands of dollars of co-op money behind some authors.  The 95/5 rule.

One agent is boasting of suddenly getting eBook royalties from books long out of print.  Which means she negotiated sucky contracts for her authors since they don’t have the rights back.

One agent is talking about how she had a book she loved but no one could figure out where to shelve it so they didn’t buy.  That’s a big problem.   That’s the person she needs to help self-publish.

Agent:  e-royalty rates are changing.  There’s a false dichotomy.  The wild success in self-publishing vs the failure in trad publishing.  There is no one publishing story.  True.   It’s as hard to succeed in self-publishing as it is in trad publishing.  You just have more control in indie world.

One editor who is an author says negotiate your eBook rate.  Now she’s talking about her own book, which kind of isn’t appropriate for this panel.  And going on about the dog on her cover.

SMP and HQ won’t buy print without e-rights.  25% of net receipts.  Pretty poor.  My experience with SMP is I sell more eBooks in a day than they manage to sell in six months with three NY Times bestselling titles.  So I’m not sure where the marketing muscle everyone is talking is at.  Again 95% for 5%.  And if you’re the 5%, you’re probably like Scott Turow and making speeches about the curators and defending the status quo.  When the status quo is good for you, of course defend it.

This panel has kind of gone off the rails a little.  Interesting how personalities come out in such a short time.

What do you want to hear in your pitch:  First answer was:  I don’t want to hear . . .

That is often the tone that is so negative that comes out.  What we don’t want.  Another I don’t want to hear . . .

Overall, everyone was pretty honest and up front.  And, of course, they are defending their turf, which is what we all do.  The reality is that success, no matter what the path, is extraordinarily hard in publishing.  The good news, with digital opportunities, the author has the opportunity they never had before.


Tuesday, May 1st, 2012 by Sasha White
Get It Done.

“Some people dream of worthy accomplishments while others stay awake and do them.”

Years ago I had a calendar full of motivational sayings. You know the kind that has an image of some extreme sport or something awe inspiring, and then a saying for Determination, or Goals, or whatever. I got rid of the calendar at the end of the year, but I kept one page from it. The page for EFFORT, and it has the above quote on it. That calendar page is pinned to my cork board and directly in front of me when I sit at my desk. Sounds motivational, right? But sometimes it’s hard to see what’s right in front of you.

It’s May 1st today, and, as usual, I’ve set myself some goals for this month. The difference? I’m seeing what’s in front of me.

What am I seeing?
Hard work- I have three main goals, none of them easy. I have a book to write, weight to lose, and bad habits to quit. SOunds like every day life, right? That’s because it is. But in all honesty, I’ve been slacking for a while. a long while. I kept saying I’m going to lose weight. I keep saying I’m going to write (and I do,but they’ve been short stories, not novels) I keep quitting my bad habits, but they keep coming back. (Damn that Diet Dr.Pepper. It will just not leave me alone!)

So what’s going to be different this month than every other time I’ve tried to do these things? Me. I’m tired of myself. I’m tired of my own excuses. It’s time tho admit that trying to d things the smart way, (tackle on issue at a time) is like plotting for me. No weather how much I want to do it, no matter that I know in my mind it would make life easier to do things that way…it just does not work for me.

Someone told me earlier this month to embrace my chaos. Stop trying to rein it in, and just go with it. Use it…and it got me thinking. You know what I think? I like it. :mrgreen:

One of the keys to success in anything you do, no matter what your career, what you r dreams, what your knowing your weaknesses so you can compensate for them. Another of the keys to success…knowing your strengths, so you can use them.

Being able to work well under pressure or amidst chaos has always been a strength of mine. For a while there eI thought I needed that to work well, but I’ve proven I don’t. I can work without the pressure, without the chaos…I don’t need it. But it is time to admit I like it. I work better when I stop trying to do the things they way they should be done, and just do them the way I want to…which is pretty much anyway I can.

Does any of this make sense?
Here’s an example. For the last year or so I’ve been trying to seriously turn around my night owl habits. I’ve been getting up every morning (almost) between 9 and 10 am, and sitting at my computer and forcing myself to work. I know this sounds pretty easy going to most people, but you have to understand I’ve been a night shift worker for over 20 years. For more than 20 years, I never went to bed before 3:30 in the morning without being sick. Getting up at 10 was normal, though. I’ve thought that if I could go to bed before 2, I’d be able to get up earlier, work all day like a normal person, and have my nights for moves, reading, friends…. ANd I can do that, but it hasn’t given me at my best. I hate mornings. I can’t focus and it’s time to accept that while I can work, and get things done that way, I can get a hell of a lot more done, and done better, if I stick with what works for me. I’m a night owl, my creative brain , hell my brain period, works better after I’ve been awake for at least 6 or 7 hours. So, I’m not longer going to feel guilty if I get up, and start reading a book before I do anything else for the day. Even if that means staying up until 4 AM to hit my works count goal.

So my motto for this month…Embrace the chaos, and get it done.

Now tell me…do you have a personal motto? If not, think about it. *g* If you do…What is it? Share with me, please. 😎