Lessons from My Reading

M. K. Theodoratus, Fantasy Writer, blogs about the books she reads--mostly fantasy and mystery authors whose books catch her eye and keep her interest. Nothing so formal as a book review, just chats about what she liked. Theodoratus also mutters about her own writing progress or ... lack of it.

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Friday, December 30, 2011

Was Your Christmas Season Enjoyable?

Maybe I should lay on the guilt and ask: Did you accomplish anything over the holidays? I didn't even try -- though I did manage to finish a flash fiction piece for my critique group next week. On the other side of the coin, I can't find the short story I wrote in long-hand while my computer was down. -- Win some. Lose more.

Why didn't I accomplish much over the holidays? I took a trip to Tamora Pierce's Tortall. First, by reading Mastiff, the last book in the Beka Cooper trilogy. Then, I got the itch to read more and went on to an Alanna marathon: Alanna, In the Hand of the Goddess, The Woman Who Rides Like a Man, and Lioness Rampant.  The first book is YA, and the quartet is more tween than YA.

It's no secret the books are well-written, so I won't blather about what makes them good other than saying Pierce has a deft hand with at  her craft skills. I'll wish that you all a successful writing career as long as Tamora Pierce's instead.

So to pad this blog, I'll do a list of some of the things I especially liked about the books.
    1) Liked the way Beka came off a failed "pairing" to land in the middle of a major uprising over taxes which resulted in her assignment to rescue the king's son.
    2) Better yet, the result of her rescue of the crown prince of Tortall changed Tortall society forever.
    3) The book contains lots enough plot twists and villains to keep the reader guessing.
    4) In the Lioness books, liked how the two villains reappeared in the last book stronger and more evil than ever in the last book. Loved the way Pierce made their respective egos, the stumbling block to their success of their ambitions.
    5) Also, liked the way she used the Cat Constellation as a tie-in between the two series.

If I had the time, I'd read the Pierce's Trickster books which center on Alanna and George's daughter,. but I need to de-emphasize my reading after I read a book for New Year's. After that, I need to write more and social network less.

Yeah, 'Tis the Season for Lists:
Have you written a list of best books, leading men, or what? Sure seems to be a lot of lists on the e-newsletters I subscribe to.

I'm sticking to adding things to my to-do list. Maybe this should be on yours too. -- The book is published in whichever medium, including sideways. Now it's time for book reviews. I've been fortunate to get a few, but you can never get enough good book reviews. Novel Publicity & Co ran an article on increasing your chances of getting a review. Whether the review's good or not, depends on whether you wrote a good book.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Most Unwanted Present

 'Tis the season to be giving ... given that there are twelve days of Christmas after the 25th, but not all presents are welcome. [Actually, there are more if you celebrate the Solstice which Christmas started out as being.] Probably, the most unwanted present during the season is advice. 

I can remember when our first married family dinner when I cringed at "going home" for the big meal. Seems my mother thought nothing I did was right. The biggest sin ever happened at that first dinner. My new husband demanded he eat the dog's chicken backs. Said she could give the dog the tasteless white meat. My mom huffed over that comment for over 30 years.

With those memories in my head, Justin Musk surprised me with some great advice on promoting ... especially important for indie authors. It's all about getting lost in a writer's world, and then, getting a bucket of cold water pulling her back into the real world. Read about her disappointment and how to keep the magic going.

Made me real happy that I had the links from my Half-Elven website to this blog. Only wish I wrote faster so there was more stuff to report on it. The Facebook fan page suffers too. In short, I'm guilty of what Musk cautions about. My Tweets have too much promotion. Must go back and reread some of my promotion links to devise some more interesting ways to build a platform. At the moment, my mind's a blank.

Have Been Reading:
But. Haven't had much energy to put some coherent thoughts together. Was surprised that most of it's been YA and mysteries.

One of the more enjoyable reads was Rick Riordan's The Son of Neptune. Was glad to see he was back in form with this second book in the new half-demigod series. Maybe I was disappointed with the first because Riordan captured the stolidness of the Romans as compared with the Greeks. Unlike his clone adolescent from the Roman camp struggling against amnesia, the first in the series, the two new characters a daughter of Pluto and a different, thinking child of Mars stood out as individuals ... and not just because Riordan changed viewpoints from chapter to chapter.

Summary: Riordan added character depth to all the action he devised. His take on Greco-Roman religion still rings true. He has great fun turning the beliefs sideways whil remaining true to the mythic characterizations.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Ideas for Before and After the Agent Search

Every writer dreams of an agent who will help turn them into a best selling author.

The first step is to write a good book and be able to write a query that'll interest an agent into learning more about your book. Sounds easy, doesn't it? The first step is to learn what turns agents off, like the person who mentioned her "fiction novel" at Janet Reid's Query Shark.

Seems most agents think novels are fiction. If you want to avoid such mistakes, Stacey O'Neale's blog at the YA Fantasy Guide has a listing of Agent Interviews.  If any of the interviews are in your genre, they might be worth studying.

Of course, you can exhaust the list of reputable agents interested
in Your Genre.
 Submitting to publishers or Self-publishing then becomes an alternative.
When self-publishing, what is the most important thing you can do?
After editing your book/story, that is.
I'd say its getting the best cover you can afford ... which doesn't mean you must go to a professional cover artist. Granted I'm biased because I'm a browser. I like to go to the book stores to poke and putter among the volumes.

Your covers are still important if you're e-publishing. Have you looked at the promotion sites? Long lines of book covers which are usually organized by genre. The same is true at the e-publishers. A long line of book titles and blurbs, only they aren't organized by genre ... unless you limit your search.

Guess which of my covers on the left I like best and comment.

Vanna Smythe blogged about her decision on whether to create her own cover from stock photos or hire it done.  Interesting reading, and useful, I think, even if you have a publisher doing your cover.  

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What Do Writers and Agents Have in Common?

Writers and agents both have to be good salespeople to make money.  

Joanne Tomarkos blogged about What Good Salespeople Know That Writers Should, a guest blog at Jane Friedman's blog, Being Human at Electric Speed. #1? Believe in your product. That means you as a writer.

Want to set up something you can sell? The Passive Guy reposted a blog Dean Wesley Smith wrote about getting insulted by an editor. Smith gives some interesting insights on marketing and maybe a marketing plan if someone writes fast enough. [Not me.] The comment that snagged my interest? Two years is an "age ago" in publishing.

Of course, if all that marketing [aka selling] is stressing you out, Pat Stoltey at the Chiseled Rock blog has a list of de-stressers. They even don't cost an arm and a leg. Just get them moving.

Then:
What websites help you the most with your writing?

Angela Ackerman at The Bookshelf Muse gives you the link to nominate sites for the Writer's Digest best website listings.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Give a book for Christmas -- Print or e-Book

Got surprised when we stopped by one of the independent book sellers in our town. They had a folk harpist playing. Couldn't give away free coffee, though, since there was an independent coffee shop on the other side of the hall leading to the bathrooms.

What I liked best at this shop was the section of old classic [pre-1970s] paperbacks. Spent more time than I expected looking at the cover art. Was tempted to buy a couple early Edgar Rice Burroughs for a trip to Barsoom, but bought an Andre Norton instead.  [While current Mars exploration is intriguing, it saddened me. Space explorations destroyed the fictional worlds of Mars and Venus. Must say I prefer Eric John Stark to John Carter.]

I like the way independent merchants give you a chance to enjoy the unexpected.  Corporate stores ooze sameness from branch to branch. Don't worry for those of you who root for Amazon competition.  Barnes & Noble got its hands in my wallet too. I seem to be buying my CDs there since the independent stores went out of business.

Then, there are ebooks
which I don't buy as much as print books.

Looking for a last minute Present or a Treat?  You can find dozens of great ebooks for  for 99¢ plus lots of prizes too, including a Kindle at the Indie Book Blowout during their Twelve Days of Christmas promotion. Lots of genres. Lots of books. Well worth a look. [Yeah, Taking Vengeance is buried in the back of the pile of fantasy listings.]

My guess is everyone has a network of writing friends. Do you support them? Pam Young wrote a blog on the importance of supporting friends and relatives ... when they've published a book ... maybe, especially when they've published an e-book.  Read about ten ways you can help promote your friends' books. Why don't check it out to see if you can add a couple strategies to your networking schedule.Your friends will appreciate it. They'd also appreciate mentions of your blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

No.
I'm not angling for sales and/or promotion.
Surely, you have buddies who would appreciate your help.
I think one of the important things about the indie publishing movement is 
declaring freedom from the corporate sales department.

Wonder where I've been?

No. It wasn't Christmas preparations that had me missing in action. A computer virus lowered my flag.  Computer's debugged and with new virus software. Hopefully, it won't happen again. Soon anyway. I was actually having computer withdrawal symptoms.

Oh. My right thumb complains even more when I write by hand.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

How to Start a Novel

Got slapped up the side of the head again; this time while I was reading for the fun-of-it. While my thumbs were recovering from NaNoWriMo, I decided to read through all three books of L. L. Foster's [aka Lori Foster] Servant trilogy: Servant, The Awakening - Servant, The Acceptance - and Servant, The Kindred. Decided I really like the way the Foster developed the main character with a different life-goal in each book. Liked her decision not to turn Gaby into a series, even better. [My surmise from Foster's website]

So, what did I learn? Perhaps a solution for my main writing problem: never starting at the beginning of my story. My critique partners are always saying I don't give enough information for them to have an idea of where my story is going. Result is that I'm always tacking chapters on at the beginning -- after I think I'm in the middle of the book. This time, when I re-read the Servant novels, I think I may have found a solution. I noticed how Foster introduced her characters.

Yeah, she showed her characters in action. She's a modern, professional author, after all. That's the easy part. The hard part is to indicate the "problem" while the action's flowing.

First chapter: Foster took care of that by showing the villain first, without naming him/her. "POV break" Then, she showed Gaby, God's paladin to destroy evil in her city, in the throes of her need to save someone from evil and her ambivalence towards that compulsion along with enough back story to understand a bit of what Gaby is. We also get introduced to a major side-kick in a confrontation that demonstrates Gaby's perpetual bad mood. 

[The bad mood is one of the reasons I like this character so much.]

The next two chapters are much the same except they introduce Luther, the love interest and main support character who also offers a strong conflict situation since he's a cop. As God's paladin, Gaby is a freelancer on the street. The conflict continues for three books, until it's resolved. Foster sells lots of books because she tells a good sotry, so she's well  worth studying.

Money,
something, maybe, too many writers forget.
A quote from Janet Reid, my wish-for agent 
but I don't write  what she represents
[and I probably don't write well enough for her to be interested any way].

"This is a for-profit business and I spend my time doing what I think is going to make me boatloads of money. Shiploads would be better. Helping you figure out why your book doesn't work is not going to make me any money. It makes you feel better. Those are NOT the same things."

[Yeah, there's a similarity in attitude between Janet Reid and Gaby.]

I'll sum up Reid's comment:
Agents are in the business to make money.
If they don't think you can make them money, 
they aren't interested in your story. 

You probably want to make money writing too. That means PROMOTION: 
While procrastinating instead of writing, I discovered a neat list of promotion sites that Mimi Barbour used to promote her book. Doesn't say much about how to use them, but The 13 Steps I took to Promote My Work gives a good check lists of the ones that seem effective. Her list may very well tip the balance of my signing up for a couple of them -- even though I can't keep the ones I'm doing updated regularly.

I'll close with a link to Allison Pang's blog for a sensible approach to Twitter.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Saving Energy for Your Writing

Energy levels as well as time influence how much writing we get done. 

So how do you conserve your marketing energies when the marketing fires burn low. Rusty Fischer at Zombies Don't Blog offered five tips on overcoming marketing fatigue. Check it out to see if any of them inspire you.

One way to conserve energy is to recycle ... even in the writing world. Had a duh-moment when I visited Julie Issac's blog The Writing Spirit. The gem? How to Quickly and Easily Increase Your Blog's Alexa Rating.  The duh? Her first point was: Repost old blog posts. Another idea: experiment with titles. 

Now, I don't know what an Alexa rating is, but I assume they're a competitor with Klout. I'm not even sure I care that much. Still, I gives me an opportunity to use some of the stuff I wrote. Yeah, I hate to see things go to waste ... unless it's food I don't like.

Roni Loren at Fiction Groupie wrote a companion blog to her blog on blogging. Setting up a writer's program: The Slow Writer's Reform School on speeding up your writing speed. How does that influence conserving writing energy? Maybe, getting more bang for each hour spent?

Now, all I have to do is take my own advice:

I'll thank you in advance if you like it.
I'll thank you more if you can give me instructions on how to improve the page.
Sometimes, being a computer klutz isn't adaptive.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

What Are Your Goals for Your Piles of Words?

Do you have huge piles of words in your computer?. More than what you just wrote for NanoWriMo or the last novel or short story you're drafting? Completed stories/novels you are submitting don't count. Stories you sold, especially don't count in your answer.

Just put my Half-Elven novella in the closet to ferment before I go back and tear it apart. Yeah, it's got flaws, major structural flaws. So, now I have two recent things festering in there which I need to rewrite, a MG novel [Emma Kloken] and the above novella, The Somant Troubles. Now, to organize time to do it amidst the seasonal baking and presents and clearing off my desk which has piled higher and deeper again.

Went to procrastinate by reading some blogs, and N. R. Williams slapped me up the side of the head with a blog reminding me about how inadequate my description was in The Somant Troubles. Her article on The Writing Craft: Description is worth studying. Actually, if I remember right, she's doing a series on writing craft.

Perhaps my most sizable pile of words, sitting like a lump in the web-cloud, comes from blogging. [So far, I haven't figured if I can do more with them than leave them here.] I've been blogging for, maybe, three years. A good question: can anyone have anything new to say after you've blogged for a month? Six months? A year? 

Roni Loren at Fiction Groupie wrote a neat little blog on blogging stages the life cycle of a blogger. You might've missed it in the NaNo madness so I decided to link to it here. Just loved the pics, and wish I knew how to do the mechanics to dress up my blog with free artwork.

I hope I've avoided the problem of boring myself by commenting on other blogs and doing fantasy book reviews. Blogging is like self-publishing. As long as someone reads the blog each week, guess this blog will continue.

As any NaNo writer knows your words need to be polished before they are worth reading. No one will read a formless pile -- other than you first readers/writing buddies. They need purpose. Chuck Wendig, who's published by Angry Robots, weighed in with a list of reasons why readers will stop reading. I took the blog to heart because I often quit reading a book when I get bored -- after the cover blurb, and opening intrigue me.

My goal is to organize my time so I can revise/edit/polish my word piles. I plan to spend evenings revising. For the new year, I'll be writing new stuff, including a short story a month. I plan to practice taking a character, giving her/him an introduction, problem, complication, and solution in a well-described world. 

In short, I'm setting the goal to polish my craft skills. Oh, I'll be finding some new words to finish my NaNoWriMo story. Have toooooo many words piled up in 1/3 draft to ignore. 

#

Then, there's the ever-present need to promote your words after you can see your face in them. Came across a great way to promote: tattoo your book's url on your forehead.

For more ideas, check out Angela Scott's 10 Ways to Promote Your Book. The smiles are worth the time.