Archive for 'expectations'

Monday, January 9th, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
All the Steps Along the Way

This week on Genreality, we’re all going to be posting on the same topic:  annual goal setting in our writing careers.

I’m a big fan of setting goals, writing them down, and making plans to accomplish them.  Having the goal isn’t enough — making a daily plan to take care of the steps that will get me to that goal is the important part.  I’ve been writing my goals down since I was a teenager, and the start of a new year is a natural time to review the previous year, reassess my plans, and think about what I’d like to accomplish in the future.

In the past, I’ve used a system where I think about what I want to accomplish in the long term (5-10 years), the middle term (1-2 years), and in the near term (6 months – 1 year).  Ideally, the near-term goals are stepping stones to accomplishing the long term goals.  For example, if the long term goal is “have a successful career writing science fiction novels,” then a good near-term goal would be “finish this novel manuscript by the end of the year.”  The writing life is particularly suited to this kind of goal-setting because many of the steps we have to accomplish are concrete and attainable:  writing every day, submitting stories, attending conferences, reading a certain number of books, finishing a certain number of manuscripts, and so on.  It’s so wonderful being able to check off a step once you’ve accomplished it!

I also think it’s important to differentiate between goals and hopes.  Goals are the steps you have direct control over — writing, revising, getting your work out, educating yourself.  Hopes, or milestones, or wishes, are the parts of a writing career that we’d love to accomplish, but may not have any direct control over.  You might have your heart set on placing your book with a certain publisher — but if that publisher doesn’t buy your work, what do you do?  Landing on bestseller lists, winning awards, getting starred reviews, are all great milestones to aspire to, but be careful about setting your heart on something that you don’t actually have direct control over.  It’s better to focus on what you can actually do.

The last couple of years have been strange for me and my goal-setting process.  Namely, I’ve accomplished the big long-term goal that’s been on my list since I was a teenager:  I’m making a living as a writer.  The day-to-day goals have become habit, and haven’t really changed in years, which sometimes makes me feel like I’m in a bit of a rut.  Rather than look at those daily goals as “goals” anymore, I need to look at them as the good habits that help me accomplish my goals.  And what are the new goals?  In some respects, I’m having to take stock of my whole career:  How do I keep up the momentum I’ve generated?  How do I build on what I’ve accomplished?  Those steps aren’t so easy to pin down.  It’s not like when I was starting out, and the goals on the road to selling my first story were so clearly defined.

I’m still working on my goals for the coming year, but they fall into a couple of different areas.  Business-wise, I want to work on my time management skills so I can maintain the prolific pace I’ve established.  I have many books I want to write, and I want to continue to write short stories as well.  I want to try some new promotional strategies to expand my readership. I want to do new and interesting kinds of promotions, not the same kind of stuff that everyone does.  I need to think about what that would entail.  On the creative side, I have some pie-in-the-sky projects I’d love to tackle:  I’d love to write a comic book and a screenplay someday — entirely new forms of writing I’d have to practice.  I’m still learning and growing as a writer, and if I’m going to keep developing my career I need to keep working on being a better writer.  I have some ideas on how to accomplish this.  Another big goal I have is to pay attention to the rest of my life:  make sure I stay happy and healthy so I can better enjoy my beloved writing life.

You’ll find plenty of lists online of things writers should and shouldn’t do, and they can be good guidelines for how to get started.  But I think it’s important to take a little time for introspection, to really think about your life and what you want to accomplish with your writing career.  Goals shouldn’t be chores you have to slog through — they should be the things that are going to help your dreams come true.

Monday, November 28th, 2011 by Carrie Vaughn
Earning Your Readers’ Tears

Some of my favorite feedback from readers involves them telling me how much something in one of my stories upset them, or made them cry, or made them happy, or excited, or whatever.  “Why did you kill so-and-so?  I loved that character!  You made me so sad!”  I hear that and think, “Awesome!  You were supposed to feel sad.  That means I did my job and the story is a success!”  If I kill a beloved character and you don’t feel sad, something has gone horribly wrong, don’t you think?

As I write, I’m constantly asking myself:  What experience do I want my readers to have when they read this?  Do I want readers to be pleased?  Outraged?  Frightened? Grossed out?  Turned on?  Joyous?  Depressed?  I have the ability to impact people with my words.  I want them to be affected by my words — otherwise, what’s the point?  If I expect people to enjoy and remember my work, my work must make them feel something.

Another way of putting it:  When I’m evaluating something I’ve written, I asked myself, How are readers going to react to this?  Is that the reaction I want them to have?

I don’t have a formal checklist, but everything that goes into a scene and a story should be designed to affect the reader’s experience.  The vocabulary, the tone, the pacing, the characters’ behavior.  When I write horror, I ramp up the tension.  If I want the reader to be scared, I try to be as gross and shocking as I can.  I want the reader to be afraid that I might actually kill important characters.  In a romance, I need the reader to be worried that the two main characters won’t get together.  This means I have to make sure the reader a) likes the two main characters and wants them to get together, b) the obstacles to the relationship are believable so that the reader is truly anxious.  And so on.

It’s about the building blocks.  You have to ask yourself, how am I going to sell this romance to the reader?  How am I going to get the reader to cheer when the bad guy is defeated?  If I want the reader to cry when something happens, how am I going to build to the scene to earn that sympathy?  This is where studying other people’s writing can help.  Think about books that have made you laugh, or cry, or made you experience some visceral emotional reaction. How can you replicate that in your own work?

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White was the first book that ever made me cry, when I was about seven, and I’ll never forget it.  The tragedy of the situation wasn’t just Charlotte’s death, but the entire weight of the friendship between her and Wilbur that had been building through the whole book.  The story spent hundreds of pages earning my tears.

In writing, then, you have two things you have to figure out:  What reaction do you want your readers to have, and then how do you honestly earn that reaction?

Monday, October 24th, 2011 by Carrie Vaughn
The Closest I Ever Came to Quitting

I occasionally make references to the time I almost quit writing.  Or at least, quit trying to get published.  In hindsight, I don’t know how serious I really was, but I definitely remember it as the lowest moment in my career.  It’s still vivid.  Surprisingly, this came after I’d been published.  I’d sold maybe a dozen short stories to some respectable magazines.  I was on my way.  So what happened that would make me think about quitting?

A big part of the problem was expectation.  I thought things would get easier, and they didn’t.  After selling those dozen stories, I went for a year without selling anything.  I got an agent, then left the agent, who hadn’t done anything for me in eight months.  I felt like I’d wasted so much time.  I was writing my fifth novel in something of a fog of despair, assuming it would go the way of the previous four.  (I figured that #4 wouldn’t sell any more than the first three had.  But it did, less than a year later — #4 was Kitty and The Midnight Hour.  #5 became Discord’s Apple.)

Before I’d sold any stories, I had that one blazing, shining goal ahead of me:  get published.  That was it.  Once I accomplished that, what was my goal?  Get published again?  And again?  While collecting just as many rejection slips as before?  I felt like I’d gotten on a hamster wheel and was running as hard as I could, not getting anywhere, with no end in sight.

One day through this, I was talking with my mother on the phone, and I can’t remember what set me off, but I started crying and I said, “I can’t do this anymore.  It’s too hard.”  I don’t remember anymore exactly what “it” and “this” were.  The preponderance of rejection?  The endless cycle of writing stories and sending them out, over and over again? This still mostly involved stuffing envelopes and trips to the post office — a physical act that I think gave the whole process a sense of weight that electronic submissions don’t quite match.  I pictured myself stuffing envelopes and making trips to the post office for the rest of my life, with nothing to show for it.  I felt like all the forward momentum I’d accumulated over the three years since making my first short story sale had vanished.  Progress in this business isn’t measured in a linear, constantly ascending graph, but in fits and starts, leaps and setbacks.  If I really wanted to be a professional writer I was going to have to keep doing this, and experiencing this, for the rest of my life.  I didn’t know if I could handle it.

You know what my mom’s response to me was?  “What else are you going to do?”  Spoken in a very remonstrating and frustrated tone of voice.  She was right — I didn’t have anything else.  If I didn’t write, I was going to be an administrative assistant wage slave for the rest of my life, and no doubt miserable.  Even more miserable, that is.

I talk about this point in my career as a warning, and I hope as an example for others:  you are not alone.  Even after the first few blushes of success, you’ll experience setbacks, and you’ll feel horrible.  After you’ve made the first sale, you still have make the second, and it may be just as difficult.  Things may get easier for awhile — but then they’ll get tough again, and you’ll feel lost.  Like you failed, somehow.  But all these feelings are normal.  What gets you through it?  Good work habits — and a love of the work.  I still had stories I needed to tell.  That phone call I had with my mom happened after I had sent out yet another round of query letters.  And it was just a week or two after the call that I heard back from what became (and is still) my agency.  My habits, and my goals of sending out stories and queries every month, saved me from following through on my threat to quit.  Thank goodness.

Monday, October 3rd, 2011 by Carrie Vaughn
Yet Another Problem No One Warned Me About: Losing My Voice

I’ve been wondering if anyone else has had this problem, because I’ve never heard any other writers talk about it.  I’ve never read about it on any writer blog posts.  I’ve never seen any articles about it in writer organization magazines.  So I may be a totally unique case.  Or is this another one of those problems no one talks about?  Either way, I’m going to stick my neck out and talk about the brand-new problem I acquired this summer.

I’ve had an epic time for the last few months.  Between April and September, I participated in about 16 events.  About half of them were one-off book signings or appearances.  The other half were conventions and conferences.  I spent all of them talking.  And talking.  And talking.  Not just doing readings, presentations, or panel discussions.  I went to dinners and talked, I stayed up late in the bar and talked, I sat at book signing tables and talked.

About the middle of July, at Mythcon, I started losing my voice.  Not precisely losing it, but my throat got sore and talking became painful — razor blades in the throat painful.  This has happened to me before and I did what I’ve always done:  hydrate hydrate hydrate, and rest.  Trouble was, the very next weekend was San Diego Comic Con.  More pain.  Two weeks off, then Worldcon, then Bubonicon, then two bookstore stops, then Coppercon.  The pain by now was almost constant, but I managed to get through it with lots of hot tea, water, throat lozenges, and not speaking any more than necessary.  Fortunately, after that I had a good long stretch at home.  I knew after a few days of rest I’d be back to normal.

Turns out, not so much.  After ten days at home, I was at a social gathering, trying to talk — and felt as bad as I had at the worst of it, at the end of August.  Talking at all had become excruciating.  Needless to say, I was worried.

As luck would have it, one of my friends at the gathering is an opera singer and voice coach.  I croaked at her, “I think I hurt my voice,” and she said “Yes, yes you have.”  A consultation with her and a laryngoscopy at the doctor’s office later (I now know what it feels like to have lidocaine squirted up my nose!), I got some good news:  I didn’t physically damage my vocal chords.  I just wore them the hell out.

I also have some bad speech habits that my friend talked to me about, and she gave me some voice exercises to help me overcome them.  She assures me that most people have some of these habits — speaking in our throats, making our vocal chords do all the work instead using of our lungs and air to help out.  The exercises will help me project better, and use my voice better, so I don’t end up croaking at my readings.  (She also suggested some nice teas that will help soothe my voice.)

The doctor also had some sensible things to say:  I’m a writer, I spend most of my time holed up in my office, not talking; by my very nature I’m an introvert.  Public speaking, along with hours and hours of socializing, do not come naturally to me.  I need to develop tools to make these things physically easier on me.

I’m glad my friend just happened to be there to help me out, and I’m glad I went ahead and went to the doctor rather than try to soldier through it.  I would have gotten better on my own with more rest, but I know this — finishing every convention in pain and unable to speak — would just keep happening if I didn’t do something about it.  And I never want to have that razors-in-my-throat feeling again.

Sasha’s been talking about this a lot, and this is just another aspect of it:  we work with our brains, but to be at our best we have to keep our bodies healthy.  I’m not sure I ever expected to do this much public speaking as a writer.  But if I’m going to keep doing it, I want to do it right, and in the healthiest way I can.

So there it is, another thing to worry about:  if you find yourself doing a lot of speaking, if you leave the bar at a conference with a sore throat, or repeatedly lose your voice outright, you might need to take some action to keep yourself healthy.  Of course, I’m assuming that I’m not the only person this has happened to. . .

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011 by Bob Mayer
Rule Breaking and a Career Plan for Writers

This is an excerpt from my newly updated and published book:  Write It Forward: From Writer to Successful Author

Rule Breaking

To be successful, you are going to have to break some rules. If you do the same as everyone else, you’re the same as everyone else. In Special Forces our unofficial motto was If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.

But beware you don’t break the three rules of Rule Breaking:

The paradoxical rules of rule breaking.

  1. 1. Know the rule (breaking a rule because you don’t know or understand it, is just being dumb)
  2. 2. Have a good reason for breaking the rule (I ask WHY a lot in my workshops. I don’t believe there are any rules of writing—you just need a good reason why you are doing something)
  3. 3. Accept the consequences of breaking the rule (if it worked, you’re a genius. If it didn’t, figure out what went wrong, reboot and restart)

background A Career Plan

A while ago I asked Susan Wiggs for some career advice. We’d taught together for seven straight years at the Maui Writers Retreat and Conference. She also lives one island south of me. I noticed the other day while driving through the rain, and then when I looked south, the sun was shining on her island for some reason. A conspiracy perhaps.

Anyway, she emailed me back within 20 minutes of my query with a very detailed explanation of the route she followed for success.

First, Susan said she studied successful authors in her genre. This is the author dissection we discussed earlier. She looked for the patterns.

Second, what she came up with was a plan to write three books. Since they were romances, she couldn’t use the same protagonist in every book; so she looked at a unifying concept. She decided on a fictional town. Suzanne Brockman uses a Navy SEAL team. This gives reader continuity. I’m using West Point as my unifying concept in my current series.

Third, you need a unifying theme. In romance, well, it’s usually some form of romance. I’m using the theme of loyalty versus honor. I’m applying that theme on two levels: personal for the characters; and also in the big picture because my focus is on the Civil War.

Fourth, the goal is then to sell the heck out of the first book and get a commitment from the publisher to push the numbers on the three books. Now that is out of your control. Both Susan and I have experienced publishers that didn’t push a series.

I think though, if you approach agents and publishers with a plan, you have a much better success of the plan working than not having a plan.

In fact, I was on an agent panel at Pacific Northwest Writers (no idea why I was on panel—guess because my agent was sitting next to me). And I mentioned the idea of having a plan. After the panel was over, one of the agents told me in all the years he’d been agenting, no one had ever approached him with a plan. He said he’d love it if writers had one.

I think that is the Catch-22 that a lot of agents and editors can’t get past, they would love a new author to have a plan, but they don’t have the time or energy to teach you how to develop one. So we’re still working on the throw 100 new books against the wall and hope 1 sticks paradigm. I really think we need to get smarter.

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011 by Sasha White
Rock My World.

Over the past year or more we’ve been hearing more and more about self-publishing. Joe Konrath has been a force behind the message that we authors can have so much more control, and income, if we override the conditioning of Big Publishing and take control of our own careers. That’s not to say that traditional publishing is bad. I’m not against it in any way, and will still be pursuing it. But I’m also smart enough to know that options are never a bad thing.

In October I dipped my toes into the whole self-publishing pool with MEANDROS. I’d promised to keep y’all up to date on how it went, but have really posted nothing about it since because it’s been very slow moving.

Meandros is a short story just over 5k long. It’s been previously published, and it was also a free read on my website and scribd for a year or so, so I didn’t really expect a lot of sales. But I thought why not, let’s get it out there. I put out some coin to get it re-edited, and formatted and got a nice new cover. I put it up for 99 cents, because that’s the lowest price Amazon allows.

Here’s the stats of what’s happened with that book so far.

* In the four and a half months it’s been for sale, I’ve only sold 1 copy through Smashwords, and 150 through Amazon.

* Sales went up when readers posted reviews.

* Changing the blurb didn’t help sales. Although this could be because my story is about how the main character deals with the death of the love of her life, and I refused to hide that fact in the blurb. It was suggested to me I take that out, to sell the story, but I didn’t think that was cool. I didn’t want to mislead readers

I’m okay with slow sales on that story. Of course I want it to sell lots. I’m human and I want to keep working as a writer, but that particular story is a very personal one, and I really just wanted it to be available to as many readers as possible.

Author Jordan Summers has also been dipping into the Indie Publishing arena by re-releasing some of her backlist, and talks about it openly on her blog. So far she’s released one novella and one category length book, and states that she made a little under $100 in the first month. A few of the sales are from Smashwords and B&N, but the majority are from Amazon. Jordan’s done no promotion beyond her own blog because she wanted to see what would happen if she just put the books out there. Would people find them on their own?

It seems that many of us are not only seeing this as a way to re-release backlists, or short stories that connect to our books, or even new stuff, but also as way to really see what works with readers. We can see what works promotion wise, too. I know I noticed a bump in sales when readers started posting reviews on Amazon, and Jordan confirmed that she saw the same thing.

With that in mind, I went forward with a project with another author. Charlene Teglia and I decided to do an anthology together. We used the theme of rocks or stones of mystical value (ROCK MY WORLD is my story) and we each wrote a short story that connected to our previous print books. Because Charlene’s was paranormal, I chose to write one connected to my own paranormals that were published by Kensington, and not my Berkley contemporaries.

The idea of it is that our fans will buy the book because it’s connected, and hopefully new readers will enjoy the eBook so much they’ll hunt down the print books they’re connected to.


A Rock & A Hard Place had it’s official release yesterday, and is now on sale for 99 cents through Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes & Noble.

Below are some tips from me to anyone out there wanting to go the Indie Publishing route.

*When it comes to formatting…hire a professional. Save yourself time and stress.
Also, when getting the file ready to send to the formatter…Keep it as simple as possible.
Page breaks are okay. Italics and bold are good, but beyond that, there’s no need to format your file a lot. The person who formats it for publication has to break it down and completely reformat it anyway. However, you can make their job easier and smoother by giving them a clean and simple file to work with.

When asked about how she charges for formatting April Martinez of Graphic Fantastic gave me this list

Long Fiction: $30 for the first file, $10 for each additional format
Anthologies of three or more stories: $50 minimum (more if number of stories or authors exceed 5) for the first file, $10 for each additional format. If the ebook file needs to have Interior Illustrations (including diagrams for non-fiction or covers for excerpt books): additional $5 per image embedded (assuming all images are provided by author(s))

April says, “So far, length hasn’t really made much of a difference in either ebook formatting or for print book design. If anything does make a difference, it’s more likely to be the number of chapters or the number of sections or, say, stories in an anthology. This is because where there’s a hard page break, it’s usually the start of a new file — so the more chapters/sections/stories, the more “files” there are in an ebook and in a print book, and the more “entries” there are that refer to them in a table of contents.”

This shows that it’s not so much about the number of words when it comes to formatting, but the work involved..books with more work (Sections, or excerpts, or images that need to be embedded) will cost more to format.

Also…be sure to include the legalese in the front, and your bio in the back. It’s not up to the formatter to complete your file, only to format what you send them.
If you have any specific requests, (a table of contents, or embedded links) be sure to mention them at the same time you send the file in.
When you get your file back, be sure to check them over right away. You’ll likely get a chance to ask for tweaks if there’s something off, but only if you do so right away.

Smashwords was fairly simple to upload to. Step by step, instructions. One thing we did by accident was not check off the ePub version because we wanted to upload our book to B&N via PubIt. That was a mistake, as the ePub version is also what they use for the iBook store and Sony. We waited until the file was published, then went back in and redid it. It wasn’t a huge hassle, but it was a step that we could’ve avoided. Plus, having to republish set our book back in the line for the premium catalogue, a delay thats not really wanted when the goal is to get the book out in as many venues as soon as possible.

*Side note* Smashwords has a fabulous step-by-step guide on formatting your file for them. It seems easy. It wasn’t. I formatted MEANDROS for Smashword myself (The guy I hired for that one only gave me Mobi and EPub files, I didn’t know enough to ask for a word doc) I followed the steps. Everyone of them, and MEANDROS is till no even in the line-up to go to the premium catalogue because they keep saying it’s not formated right. So, I highly recommend hiring someone. )

Kindle also had step-by-step instructions that made publishing fairly easy. The thing we screwed up on there has to do with pricing. You see, we uploaded the story to all three places (B&N, Amazon, Smashwords on Thursday, and decided to wait until it was available on three before we announced the Sale and Giveaway we planned. We figure it was a better way to make an event out of the release. With this in mind we set the price at $2.99 when uploaded, figuring we could change it to 99 cents for the sale on our official release day Monday) On Sunday night Charlene went in to change the price so the sale could start. The change on Smashwords was immediate. B&N took an hour or so, Amazon took over 12 hours. So, next time, we’re not going to worry about co-ordinating and surprising with a sale, we’ll just put sale price in initially. LOL

B&N PubIt. Me, I didn’t bother putting Meandros up on there before because at that time it wasn’t worth it for the experiment I was doing. Charlene uploaded our anthology, and she cursed the whole time. She says “The real difficulty I ran into wasn’t the upload process, it was the account creation and verification. Also, the cover art requirements are different from Smashwords and Amazon, so it takes a separate file that fits their requirements exactly.”

I highly recommend these guys.

ImagineIf Creative Services by Michelle lauren
Editing, (three levels: proofreading, copy edits and substantive editing)

April Martinez of Graphic Fantastic
Fantastic cover design and graphic art as well as formatting for electronic as well as print publishing. *Did the cover for A Rock & A Hard Place* Visit

Anne Cain Graphic Art & Design
*Did my Mavericks Of Space cover not yet released*

And since I’m talking self-publishing, I just have to add that the news of Barry Eisler turning down a two book deal worth $500,000 to self-publish makes me wonder what’s next. While there is no denying this was a revolutionary move, it’s also one that make me wonder what this move means for those like me and Charlene, and Jordan, who aren’t NYT Bestsellers. How will it effect us if more “Big Name” authors follow in his footsteps? Will it effect us?

One thing is for certain, it’ll be along time before things are settled again in this industry.

Thursday, March 10th, 2011 by Sasha White
I get by with a little help from my friends.

Last night I watched Casey Abrams sing the Joe Cocker song “I get by with a little help from my friends”, and I immediately knew it would be my blog topic for today. You see, as true as it is that only you can actually make yourself stay in that chair and get your fingers dancing across the keyboard, there are ways to feel less alone. something that has become extremely clear to me over the past week.

If you’ve been reading here regularly then you probably know that I’ve been struggling with my writing for a couple of years. After I burnt out and decided to take a year off from publishing to work on a project just or me, I had a very hard time getting back into the habit of writing.  So hard that in the last 2 years, aside from blog posts, I’ve only written 2 short stories from scratch. 

2 short stories in 2 years. In 2005 I wrote two single title novels, 3 novellas, and 3 short stories.

I’m not saying that to toot my own horn, but to show you why I knew I could write, if I really wanted to.  And it really does all come down to desire. It’s easy to say you want to write. It’s hard to want to write, and not be able to. I’m not referring to time restrictions or anything physical. I’m referring to writers block. 

I also used to be quick to say there was no such thing as writers block. That if you wanted to write bad enough, you would write. Then it happened to me, and you know what? I still say there’s no such things as writers block.

How can I say I had it, and that it’s not real in the same sentence? Because while I do believe I was blocked, I also believe that I could’ve gotten past it any time, if I’d truly wanted to.

Yes, I wanted to write. I told myself it was time to start writing again. I even agreed to do project with friends thinking it would force me to write (I’ve always been someone who thrived under pressure.) But even then I wouldn’t write. I’d sit at the computer and type and type and delete and type and delete, and then delete some more. I’d get depressed and tell myself I couldn’t do it. 

Then it was time to stop fucking around. Seriously, that was what it took. Simply deciding that it was now or never. Either start writing again, or give up the dream and find a normal job. No more trying to do both, which was driing me a bit crazy. So, it was time to write. And guess what? I wrote a short story this past week. 

Sure it’s only a 10k one, but it’s a complete story, from start to finish. And it felt great!

The reason it felt so damn good was because I had some awesome friends at my side the whole time. Sure, I could’ve written the story without them, but I might not have made it through the past 2 years without them commiserating and cheering me on. 

The only thing that can truly make a person do something that is  hard (and we all know writing can be hard work) is a true desire, not a surface one. But knowing you’re not alone when things  get hard makes the work a lot easier. So, I can  honestly say I got by with a little help from my friends. 

Thanks, ladies.