Sunday, December 29, 2013

Author Platforms

When it comes to an author platform, there are some things that an author really shouldn't talk about or post on their social media outlets using their author persona: politics, religion, anything considered even remotely related to either of those two topics, or any subject that could be construed as controversial. There's something to be said about an author using social networks to be social, and then there's using social networks in a social way that negatively affects an author's platform.

I just read an author's post that said the author's Facebook page had been shut down. The reason wasn't stated, but the post explained that this author, who writes male/male romance, posts "interesting" articles or links on a variety of subjects that have nothing to do with writing, but which are political in nature and include topics that many would find controversial, such as marriage equality and gay rights. The post also stated that pics of men kissing are among favorite pictures to post.

While a part of me applauds this author's courage to stand up for what he/she believes in, their author platform is not the place to do so. His/Her page was shut down because someone (probably a lot of someones) complained about the content on his/her page. Being that a lot of m/m authors don't get arbitrarily shut down simply for being an author of m/m romance, it's a good bet that it was the other non-writing related content that worked up whoever reported the author's page.

Was it worth it? Was it worth having the author's page shut down—a page he/she had built and put a lot of effort into, and which had an impressive number of likes? Just to voice his/her personal beliefs?

This is where it gets tricky for an author. I found this out recently when I posted my opinion on what I believe is an over-medication of kids with ADHD (more on this later). I never knew this topic was such a sensitive one, but as an author, I NEVER should have posted my personal beliefs and feelings about something like that using my author platform. That's not what an author platform is for. It's not what MY author platform is for. Here's an excellent post that defines author platform and what activities make up and detract from it:

I've excerpted out a couple of sections from that blog post, highlighting a couple of key points:

What platform is NOT
  • It is not about self-promotion.
  • It is not about hard selling.
  • It is not about annoying people.
  • It is not about being an extrovert.
  • It is not about being active on social media.
  • It is not about blogging.
  • It is not about your qualifications, authority, or experience, although these are tools for growing or nurturing a platform.
  • It is not something you create overnight.
  • It is not something you can buy.
  • It is not a one-time event.
  • It is not more important than your story or message (but hopefully it grows out of that).

What activities build platform?

First and foremost, platform grows out of your body of work—or from producing great work. Remember that. The following list is not exhaustive, but helps give you an idea of how platform can grow.
  • Publishing or distributing quality work in outlets you want to be identified with and that your target audience reads.
  • Producing a body of work on your own platform—e.g., blog, e-mail newsletter, social network, podcast, video, digital downloads, etc—that gathers quality followers. This is usually a longterm process.
  • Speaking at and/or attending events where you meet new people and extend your network of contacts.
  • Finding meaningful ways to engage with and develop your target audience, whether through content, events, online marketing/promotion, etc.
  • Partnering with peers or influencers to tackle a new project and/or extend your visibility.
If something has the ability to annoy another, even if it's just a faint possibility, it should not be posted. There's a reason why politics and religion are the two subjects everyone says never to discuss in social situations. They are extremely volatile subjects that can turn a friendly evening into a war. I've seen it happen. Gay rights? Marriage equality? Your beliefs on Catholicism or Islam? Nope...they're off limits unless you want to risk putting yourself—and your fan page—and your business—in jeopardy, not to mention your readership. Look at what one poorly timed, socially controversial comment from the Duck Dynasty guy did. Do you want that to be you?

Some might be saying right about now, "Well, my target audience is one that reads m/m romance, so I should be able to post about gay rights and marriage equality. I should be able to post pics of two guys making out, because my readers like that." Wrong. I write erotic romance and have a reader group where only fans of my stories are members. Even so, when another member began posting pictures that were a little too racy or provocative, some of my members grew uncomfortable. I had a few leave the group. I had another message me and tell me that while she loved the group, she couldn't have those pictures coming up in her newsfeed, even though the models weren't showing their private parts. I write pretty graphic erotically charged sex scenes. Nothing is left to question. So, shouldn't my readers enjoy pictures of half naked hot men? Why would they complain about something like that when what they're reading something I've written that's ten times worse?

The truth is that reading something and seeing something are two totally different things. Reading hot scenes is a lot easier to hide than seeing hot pictures. And the reality is that people view Facebook at work and in front of their families, which include kids. They want to know that they're not going to pull up a picture that could upset a coworker, boss, child, or husband who might be looking over their shoulder. And to be honest, even I was uncomfortable with some of the pictures being posted. Me. The author who writes the graphic sexy-smexy stuff. So, I'll say it again, just because someone likes to read it (or write it) doesn't mean they want to see it. It doesn't make them a prude (I dare anyone to call me a prude, because that is so not the case), but there is something to be said for good taste and reader respect.

And just because someone reads m/m romance doesn't mean they want to be exposed to your opinions on gay rights and marriage equality. Your readers follow you because of your BOOKS, not your opinions. I've had to unfriend authors who posted constantly about their political agenda, their beliefs, etc. I wanted to ask them, are you an author or an activist? I've left behind m/m authors who posted rants about anti-gay bloggers, anti-gay politicians, anti-gay everything. It was like, OMG, do you have a life outside the world of homosexuality and political activism? I hadn't followed those authors because I wanted to be exposed on a daily basis to their anger and rants about the injustices against gay people. I get that enough from the news. I mean, hey, I'm all about marriage equality and gay rights, too, but my author platform is not the place for me to throw my beliefs about those topics out into the world.

If you're an author, then be an author. If you have a strong belief about marriage equality, write it into the character development of your next book (as long as you're not preaching to the reader through your characters, using real-world controversial topics can create a wonderful plot arc. I use them all the time to great effect with my readers. In fact, my m/m romance, Heart of the Warrior won over an enormous amount of traditionally het readers and positively changed more opinions about gay rights than any post I could have written ever could, and I have the fan feedback to prove it). But don't spew your opinions and beliefs on your wall and think your readers like it, because more often than not, they don't. And it sends a confusing message about your intentions. If you're an author, be an author. Engage your readers and followers in constructive, less antagonistic ways, and you'll cultivate a loyal fan following.

Remember my example of how I posted my opinion regarding ADHD medication? I lost two readers from that post. Two that I know about. All because I used my platform to voice a personal opinion I never should have posted. How many others turned away from me that I'm not even aware of because of that five-minute mistake? All the work and cultivation I had done to build my readership, my platform, and social relationships with my fans/friends was annihilated in a blink from one careless post. Over a year of hard work and careful cultivation was destroyed for at least two of my followers over a subject I had no idea was so sensitive. My words were twisted by one into something I never even said, to the point that she called me an ignorant judgmental bitch—over something I didn't even say, but which she perceived incorrectly from what I did say. But there was nothing I could do. Nothing I could say at that point. None of the funny, witty, socially acceptable comments I'd made in the past year-and-a-half that this person had liked made a bit of difference. In less than five minutes, I killed all that with one misguided post that never should have gone on my platform.

I will NEVER make that mistake again.

So, I speak from experience when I tell all authors to watch what they post. Make sure it relates to your platform and can cause no fallout among your readers. This is especially true for self-publishers, who have no agent, publisher, or publicist shielding you and guiding your social endeavors. Be smart, guard your platform like the priceless entity it is, and leave the controversial subjects to someone else. And if you really can't NOT speak out about those political, religious, and controversial topics, at least don't do it using your author platform. Start a page elsewhere that doesn't connect in any way to your author platform. That's a lot safer.

I'll visit "author platform" again with my 365 Ways to Improve Your Writing Series coming in 2014.

Happy writing!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Resolutions and My Advice to New Writers

A new year is right around the corner. Time to make your New Year's Resolutions. They need to be measurable, challenging, yet attainable. I'm keeping mine simple:

1) Reach 1,000,000 words written
2) Publish six books
3) Begin a social media series of posts called "365 Ways to Improve Your Writing"
4) Write one blog post per week on that week's 365 ways.

So, while I was thinking about next year's goals, I started thinking about what advice I would give new authors going into their first full year of self publishing. What kind of goals would a new author be wise in making in 2014?

You see a lot of authors buying a bunch of swag and hosting tons of giveaways, book launch parties, blog tours, etc., and for someone just coming in to the world of self publishing, it could be very tempting to go gung-ho all-out and do it all. But here's what I've found after trying this route: It's extremely 1) time-consuming, 2) exhausting, and 3) not necessarily as productive as you'd think. In 2013, I did three blog tours (one that lasted two months and took about 160+ hours to prepare for and run), ran several giveaways, and hosted my first book launch party for my latest release, Return of the Assassin (which also took about 20+ hours to prepare for). Here's what I found worked and didn't work so much:

Blog tours are great to help get the word out about a new author or a new book, but you have to be ready to put in a LOT of time and effort to do one. Even one that lasts only a week or two takes a ton of preparation and effort. You should write a unique post for each blog, not simply recycle the same post over and over. Bloggers want to see the effort. Some bloggers won't even host you if you give them a recycled post. Read what other authors are writing on their blog tour posts to get an idea about what works and what doesn't. Shorter is better, however, I have written "short stories" for my AKM Series as blog posts, and fans love those. I've interviewed characters from my books, written holiday themed posts, and all sorts of fun things. Be unique. Be fun. That's the trick. But blog tours are great ways of networking and gaining exposure. I've made some great friends from blog tours.

Swag? Eh. I've bought hundreds of dollars worth of swag and haven't seen any return on investment. Swag is nice to have to hand out, but be smart about what you buy. Don't just buy it to buy it. Unless you're going to a book convention or are to a point where you're doing big giveaways, you really don't need it. Swag is an expense you can hold off on if you're a new writer.

Giveaways. There are varying opinions about giveaways. I've done them, but haven't seen any increase in business because of them. For me, they just don't work to gain new readers or impact sales. If someone is interested in your book, they're going to buy your book. Not because you gave away a Kindle Fire, but because your book enticed them. For me, a giveaway is more a way for me to give back to my fans than to find new ones. So, if you're looking for new fans, giveaways probably aren't the way to find them. They'll enter your contest, win or not win, and move on to the next contest and/or to a writer they know.

Book launch party. My launch for Return of the Assassin was HUGE! It was a three-hour event, and I couldn't keep up with the activity and buzz it created among readers. More posts came at me faster than I could reply. With that said, a launch party when you're a brand new author could leave you depressed. You haven't yet built up an audience, so it might psychologically depress you when only four or five people show up. I never threw a launch party for any of my first five books, but I felt it was time with ROTA. But I kid you not, after three hours, I was a vegetable from exhaustion. Wow!

Just Write For Right Now
With all that said, if you're a new author, what do you do to gain new readers? Here's my ultimate advice: WRITE. Just write. Learn how to write better. Study writing. Don't worry about blog tours, swag, giveaways, launch parties, or any of that other stuff. There's plenty of time for all that later. Build your body of work, and focus on quality, not quantity. I've known authors who put out a book a month and don't sell squat, because the quality of their books suffers from the constant churn to get the next book published fast. And then I've seen the authors who've published one book that was well written and carefully planned, and they make enough from that one book to retire from their job. One author I know made the New York Times Bestsellers with her third book and was able to quit her job, all because she wrote well, not often. She is very successful now, and she has a rabid following. But it all began with excellent quality. So, that should be your primary focus as a new author.

For me, I spent 2013 doing everything but writing, and I have vowed to get back to the basics in 2014. I won't be running any big giveaways, nor will I do any big blog tours, if any at all. I won't be attending any book conventions, either. In today's market, an author needs to be prolific to be successful. And as a writer, I need to write, so this works great for me. I only published two books this year, and that's not good enough. With six on next year's docket, I need to focus on writing first and foremost. And isn't that what it's all about for writers, anyway? The need to write? Once you've got a healthy body of work, then you can start adding in the other stuff (see below). That's when blog tours, giveaways, and parties will have the greatest impact, anyway. To do giveaways and tours and parties with only one or two books for sale is kind of like dumping baby fish into a pond and then immediately going fishing. Let the fish mature before you fish them out, otherwise you're just wasting time and effort. So, in 2014, I write. In 2015 I'll promote.

Best Thing I Ever Did To Gain New Readers
With five books on the market, I ran a freebie of my first book, Rise of the Fallen in January of this year. Sales had been steady but slow, but after I put up my freebie (and spent $100 to advertise it on a couple of sites), downloads went through the roof. I think I had over 100,000 downloads of ROTF in one month. Sales of the other books skyrocketed, and the likes on my Facebook fan page took off. Within three months, I'd made more from book sales than I had in a year at my day job. I haven't looked back since. BUT...without a decent body of work already published, the freebie would have been a waste. So, I repeat, get a body of work published, and THEN start your hard marketing and promotion.

Good luck! And here's to a happy and productive 2014


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Protecting Reviewer's Rights

A troubling new practice has recently been brought to my attention. One that disturbs me and leaves me scratching my head all at once. Authors, publishers, and blog tour organizers are telling reviewers what kind of reviews can and can't be posted for their books.

I'd love to hear from reviewers if you have encountered this, but here are my initial thoughts on this subject.

First of all, nobody has a right to tell a reviewer what they can and can not say in a review. One gal I know writes extremely humorous reviews. She's magnetic in her humor, and I love reading her posts. So do a lot of other people. She recently started a review blog. She's an avid reader and wanted a place to express her writing and her opinions of the books she reads. So, she read a book, wrote a review, and then sent it to the author before posting it. The author replied that she didn't want the review posted because, in her opinion, it "made a mockery of the seriousness of her literature." The book was about naughty aliens, according to this reviewer, "serious" could that be? It's not like we're talking Tolkien or Shakespeare here. And the review was a good one. It just had a humorous flare. What author turns down a good book review?

Another friend of mine, who has been reviewing books for quite some time, said that she has been asked to take down reviews that were deemed "too negative" and that authors, publishers, and now blog tour organizers are telling reviewers that they can't post anything less than a 3.5 star review of a book...and some won't allow anything less than a 4-5 star.

In my opinion, this is absolutely WAY out of line. For authors, publishers, and blog tour organizers to dictate what a book reviewer says about their books goes against a reviewer's freedom of speech. If an author doesn't want an honest review of their work, then they have no business writing. By the very nature of the profession, once an author publishes their work, they have no control over what the public thinks, nor should they try to sway, persuade, edit, force, or bully anyone to say only positive things about their work. By writing and publishing a book, an author is saying that it is free to be reviewed by whoever wants to review it however they choose to do so.

A reviewer does not need to seek ANY author's opinion or approval for ANY review he or she writes, and I have never been asked by a reviewer to give my approval. That's not my place. I've done my job by writing the book. Now it's the reviewer's job to do theirs without my interference, and if I'm lucky, I'll garner some honest criticism that will help me write my next book. And if anyone ever did ask me for my approval of their review, I would politely express that it's their review for them to write it how they want. Reviewers are not obligated to seek an author's acceptance of their reviews. That is their opinion and their writing, whether bad or good. Just as an author is free to write a story in whatever manner they want, a reviewer has the right to express him- or herself the same way and publish their work free of an author's intrusive editing or dictation of their work.

Again, this is my opinion. What's yours? Are you a reviewer who has been told to remove a negative review or that you had to post a good one to be included on a blog tour, etc.? I'd like to hear from you.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Authors Buying Reviews - My Take

Recently, a major fiasco blew up in the GLBT writing genre over authors buying reviews. I was mostly detached from this event, but as an author who has written—and will write—more GLBT novels, I was interested in hearing what happened.

The long and short was that an author who's relatively new to the scene was accused of buying reviews. I know this author personally and in no way would I ever believe she would buy reviews. She's probably THE hardest working author and promoter in the biz and has the energy, stamina, and tenacity of the Energizer Bunny. How she manages to keep up with life, writing, and blog touring the way she does is beyond me, but she does it, and she does it well. Let's call this gal Cindy (since I'm protecting the names of the parties involved).

Cindy and I have a storied history, but she proved herself to me when she caught my back when others simply wanted to stab me in it. Others were lying and spreading jealous hate about me, and Cindy didn't abandon me like others did. Her goal was to get at the truth, and she did that and more, uncovering one of the absolute worst episodes of lying, conniving, and back-stabbing I've ever witnessed. And I was the unfortunate and unwitting victim. To this day, what happened still upsets me because of who was involved (someone I thought was my best friend). But Cindy hung in with me and supported me through it, and she outed the bad guy and gave them a quick and sure kick in the ass on my behalf. And she handled herself professionally and with humility. For that I'll always be grateful to Cindy.

I tell that story, because this is how Cindy is with everyone. She's personable and reasonable, and she strives for the truth and what's right. She has earned everything she has through hard work, five-star reviews and all.

So, to hear she was being accused of buying reviews shocked me, because there's no way she would ever do that.

There's been a lot of finger pointing and deflecting from everyone, and I'm in no way blaming anyone, but I did want to add my two cents because this is such a hot topic right now.

It's been said that Cindy was never openly accused, and her name was never "outed" as a review buyer, but here's what DID happen, and I can see why Cindy (and all of her fans) would think she was being accused, because I would have felt the same way:

A couple of weeks ago, a blog post went about about the practice of authors buying reviews and how despicable it is. And, yes, it's a despicable act. It's the equivalent of cheating in most cases (in rare cases, an author pays an agency to find reviewers for their book and it's a legitimate arrangement, but in most cases, these arrangements are illegitimate, where an author pays for hundreds or even thousands of five-star reviews). I did not see the blog post, but I heard about it, and I think I've figured out who wrote the post (it's one of three people, but I'll just refer to the poster as Jane to encompass all three to cover my bases). In her post, Jane decried review buying, and I guess a formulaic explanation was given to ascertain or reveal suspected authors who were buying reviews. The formula was something like this: relatively new author + few published books + new book release + over 100 reviews in less than two weeks + most of those reviews were 4 or 5 stars. That's just a guess, based on what I've been able to garner from reading about this situation and in talking to Cindy. In addition to this formula and the outcry against buying reviews, Jane also posted a link.

Okay, when you post a link in a blog, there's really only four reasons to do so:

  1. To prove your point
  2. To support your point
  3. To provide an example of your point
  4. To explain your point further 
When readers clicked on the link, they were taken to a site (Amazon rankings or listings? I'm not sure which) where the only author listed who was "guilty" of all the formula points and accusations was Cindy. So, rightfully so, Cindy got a little upset. Because if a link is meant to prove, support, provide an example, or further explain what is being stated, and Cindy was front and center in the link as being guilty of everything Jane was accusing review buyers of doing, wouldn't you infer that Jane was singling Cindy out as an author guilty of buying reviews? I would, whether that was the intention or not. I would have felt the same way Cindy did if it had been my name that came up in that link. In fact, I don't know a single author who wouldn't have felt like they were being accused in such a scenario. So to say that Cindy jumped to conclusions is ridiculous, because every single one of us would have jumped to those same conclusions.

And many did, because Cindy's fans fired back in vast numbers. Cindy didn't have to do a damn thing, because her fans went ballistic for her. Which I think is pretty ironic since, in the past, it's Cindy who has gone to bat for her friends. Good karma, I say. She's good people, and her fans and friends are going to stick up for her.

So, here's my thinking:

  1. If Jane really intended to single Cindy out with her blog post and link, then she needs to own up to it, take responsibility, be accountable for her actions, and say, "Yep, I thought she was buying reviews, and I accused her." If she realizes she was mistaken, then print a retraction and a profuse apology EVERYWHERE. This is Cindy's professional reputation being messed with, and I get pretty damn passionate about professional reputations. Ask anyone who's ever messed with mine. You do not touch another author's professional reputation unless you have irrefutable proof of wrongdoing...and even then, it's probably best not to touch it then, either.
  2. Now, if Jane really didn't mean to single Cindy out, and it was just an unbelievably bad coincidence that her link made it look like she was, then Jane needs to, once again, APOLOGIZE PROFUSELY EVERYWHERE. This is about the time I would be groveling and kissing everyone's ass I could think of to make amends. I wouldn't be back pedaling. I wouldn't be laying blame elsewhere. I would be taking it square on the shoulders and sucking up big time, and then I would lay low for a while while the fires burned out. Because there are a lot of pissed off Cindy fans out there right now. Woo-howdy! Ain't no lie about dat!

All-in-all, my opinion about authors buying reviews is..."Who cares?" I'm already busy enough and can't even keep up with my email. I don't have time to add a crusade against authors who buy reviews to my to-do list, because, really, how am I really going to prove who's buying reviews, anyway? I posted this on another blog earlier, and I think it says everything I'd like to add here:

If an author wants to buy reviews, who really gives a flip? Who cares? That’s THEIR karma, not mine or yours. If they want to cheat now, they’ll pay later. Do I really need to get on a soapbox and denounce the practice? Do I need to take my time and energy away from my life, my current writing project, my fans, my sanity…just to create a crusade against review buying? Hell no. As we’ve just seen from this situation, it does nothing but create a whole lot of stress, grief, and distraction from what’s really important.

Will I ever buy a review? No. Do I think buying reviews is fair? No. Will my ranting about it and causing hurt feelings toward others, whether intentional or not, make the problem go away? No. Amazon and other booksellers are already well aware of the problem, and steps are already being taken to mend it, so do I need to draw even more attention to this issue to make sure the powers that be are aware of it? No. Do I need to trouble my fans with this by spraying it all over my Facebook page and blog? No. Will this problem ever completely go away? No, so why stress myself over it? Does another author buying reviews really, ultimately, and truly affect my skills, efforts, and success as an author? No. Plenty of authors who don’t buy reviews are highly successful, and I don’t see any of them bitching about the practice of other authors buying reviews. Would my efforts be better served by focusing on my writing projects, my promotion, my fans, my blog tours, my marketing, and my platform? YES! Resoundingly, YES! So there’s what’s important. 
You can’t change the world, you can only change yourself. I can’t make another author who wants to buy reviews—who sees value in it—stop buying them simply because I don’t like it. And all I’ll do if I go public and out the author is turn a whole lot of fans—mine and the other author’s—against me. Even if I don’t name the author in my rantings, the author I’m ranting about (or another author or authors) could take exception and think I’m talking about them for one reason or another and retaliate. And then you’ve got a giant mess like this one. Is it worth it? If it is, by all means, let loose. But I’d rather not jeopardize what I’ve worked so hard to create by taking that risk. To me, losing my fans and my sanity isn’t worth it. This situation isn’t even about me, and it’s stressful. I can only imagine the stress and distraction this has caused to the parties on both sides if it’s this stressful to me. 
So, that’s my two cents. Who give’s a flying flip if an author wants to cheat? If they’re going to cheat, they’re going to find a way to cheat. If they’re not buying reviews, they’ll use another method. They’ll find a way, so who cares if you defeat review buying? Before long, it will be something else—another evil to protest. But know this: Karma always comes back around. Have faith in that and focus on your own stuff. 
And I think that about sums it up. I'll just leave you with this thought: Look before you leap. Once you've leaped, you can't go back to the safety of the edge of the cliff when you look down in midair and realize you're falling onto a bed of jagged rocks. You'll have to take your cuts and bruises and climb with bloody fingers back up the cliff face to reach safety again.

Happy Writing! 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

If You're an Author Without Goals, You're an Author Without a Plan

Remember in the movie, Pretty Woman, when the homeless guy says, "Do you have a goal?"

Well? Do you?

A couple of weeks ago, I realized how important goals are. I was coming up on the release of the fifth book in my All the King's Men Series, and I was having "a moment." You know "the moment." It's that point when you start to panic right before you pull the trigger on a book release, when you don't feel like you'll never have enough time to get it all done, when the world comes crashing in on you? Yeah. That moment.

I called mine a mini-panic and talked with my hubby for about an hour as I "processed." What can I say? I'm a processor. Talking aloud about what's troubling me usually helps me resolve the problem. During the course of our conversation, which was really sort of a meltdown (poor hubby), my hubs said something that resonated with me the following morning. He said, "What are the three most important things on your list right now?" At the time, my answer was, "It's all important." The following morning, I changed my mind, took a seat at my desk, erased all the to-do items from the white board that hangs by my desk, and thought about his question for about five seconds before I identified the three most important things I need to focus on for the next eight months:
  1. Writing
  2. Getting my books in print
  3. Updating all my ebook listings and blurbs
BAM! Done. Who's da bomb? I'm da bomb. Those are the only things listed on my white board right now, and I've set monthly goals to achieve them.

Taking a closer look at my three primary objectives, here is why they made my top three list:

Writing. This is THE most important goal on my list. In the past three months, my writing productivity has been all but nonexistent, despite the fact that I retired from my day job in May and was cranking out almost 100,000 words per month at the time. I'm lucky to have written 50,000 words since July. This isn't good for a writer who has over eight books sitting in her mind wanting to be written. So, I'm starting to stress about not getting any actual writing done. And I haven't been getting any writing done because I've had to focus too much on administrative things and peripheral tasks that have taken my focus away from writing.

Getting my books in print. I've been saying for a year that I'm going to do this, but much like my writing, it keeps getting pushed off by other tasks. Well, no more. I need to break down and make this happen. Too many people have contacted me looking for my books in print, and I need books to take to conventions and to give away autographed copies of. This has to be a priority.

Updating all my ebook listings and blurbs. This doesn't seem like a big deal, but it's a time-consuming one. I need to update buy links for every e-retailer, add at the end of each ebook an excerpt for the next in the series, and update my contact links. And then I need to reload to all the sites where my books are listed.

Once I had these three goals in place, selecting what to keep on my immediate to-do list and what not to became easy. Basically, if it doesn't positively impact one of the above three objectives, it doesn't happen. This means that I won't be going to RT next year, and most likely won't go to the RWA convention, either, unless I get invited to sit on a panel. If that happens, I'm there. But I'll address such items on a case-by-case basis.

It also means that I probably won't run a blog tour for at least a year unless it's a small one that I hire a professional agency such as Orangeberry, Parajunkee, or AuthorBuzz to run for me. I've run three tours this year, and I simply can't take the months of time it takes to plan a tour and coordinate another one like the one I'm running right now until I've gotten through the next eight months or so. I love blog tours, but they don't impact my three objectives, so unfortunately, for now, I need to put them on the back burner until maybe this time next year, although I may reach out to a few close bloggers for an easy-breezy mini-tour once Trace's book is released. We'll see how it goes.

I also created a calendar (mine is in print...I'm a hard copy kind of person) through December, 2014, and marked down my deadlines for all my projects.This will help keep me on track and focused on meeting my writing objectives. And as I work with Amazon to allow me to post pre-orders (which only a tiny handful of indie authors are allowed to do), this publishing schedule will help me stay on track to meet their deadlines.

Why am I doing this? Why am I sacrificing conventions I love and blog tours I look forward to and creating publishing schedules for myself? Because I need to if I'm going to write all these books I need to write before I die. And I would like to publish Trace's book before the end of next year. If I don't get to writing it, that won't happen, especially because I want to make sure his book is awesome. There's high fan expectations for his book, and I want to ensure I meet expectations, which means I need to dedicate major writing time to his book.

To help free me up to write more, I will also be hiring a professional formatter for my books. No more formatting my own. Formatting for all the different platforms, e-retailers, and print can take a week or more. That's a week I could be writing, which is worth the small expense to pay someone else to do it...and do it better than I well as for more platforms than I can, such as Apple. The formatter I want to use will also update ebook listings when new books come out for a small extra fee...and load them for me. Talk about getting my writing time back! 

So, if you don't feel like you're getting anything done in your own writing career, perhaps you need to do what I've done:
  1. Identify your top three objectives for 6-8 months.
  2. Slice out anything that doesn't positively impact those things.
  3. Find ways to delegate other tasks elsewhere to accommodate your goals. 
Do you have a goal? You've gotta have a goal.


Monday, October 28, 2013

Hot Halloween Heroes Blog Hop!

Hot Halloween Heroes Giveaway Hop

Halloween is my favorite holiday. I like it better than Christmas. What other holiday allows you to dress up like your favorite character (or like a table and a lamp—yes, we had a trick-or-treater at our house a couple of years ago dressed as a table and a lamp. She was way cool.) and solicit everyone for candy? It's got to be a dentist's favorite holiday.

But there's more to love about Halloween than just the costumes, the carved pumpkins, and the treats, especially if you're a paranormal lover like I am, whether a reader or a writer. Vampires have come a long way since the days of Dracula pulling his cape around his face and whisking a damsel in distress into his coffin for a little one-on-one time that usually ended with two red dots on her neck. Nowadays, there are vampires like Wrath, Vishous, Vlad, and even my hot blood-sucking tamales from my award-winning All the King's Men Series, who make Dracula look like a pansy. These are alpha vampires with muscle, moxy, and attitudes bigger than Texas. They're also vampires with human-like problems to overcome. And we love a sexy vampire with problems, don't we? I know I do.

Today (October 29) is my birthday, and I want to celebrate it with my vampires while browsing through the other bloggers involved in this blog hop. The vampires I'm inviting as special guests to my birthday party are the hero and heroine of my new book, Return of the Assassin, book five in the AKM Series, which just released today. Malek and Gina have waited a long time for their story to be told, and I'm excited about adding their heart-wrenching love story to the mix alongside, Micah & Samantha, Severin & Arion, and Io & Miriam. Malek & Gina are two vampires who must overcome tragic, painful pasts if they are to find happiness, and I'm thrilled to have been able to tell their story in Return of the Assassin. I love me a good vampire story, don't you?

As part of the blog hop, I'm giving away a $10 Amazon gift card, as well as all five e-books in my AKM Series to one lucky winner:
  1. Rise of the Fallen
  2. Heart of the Warrior
  3. Micah's Calling
  4. Rebel Obsession
  5. Return of the Assassin
Make sure you enter your email in the comments and answer the question: What do you like most about Halloween? 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Return of the Assassin Now Available!

My latest book, Return of the Assassin, is now available, albeit three days earlier than anticipated. It was due to come out on Oct. 29, but for the first time ever, Barnes and Noble pulled the trigger finger faster than lightning to make the listing go live within five hours of my uploading it. So, ROTA went up everywhere as of last night.

The first eighteen hours of publication have been amazing, with the book ranking the highest of all my books within ten hours of initial upload to their site. Two five-star reviews have already been posted, and fan reaction has been incredible. Lots of tears (everyone I've asked so far said they cried while reading the book), and many have said already that this is the best book yet in the series. I'm blessed for that, because a lot of times, books in series become less interesting as the series ages. Five books in, and my readers say the books just keep getting stronger.

Reviews have been outstanding, including a fabulous GraveTells review that had this to say:

"If you've been waiting for the next Black Dagger Brotherhood, this is it, but with a story arc and featured characters that stand on their own merit and writing that is as complicated and talented as J.R. Ward's without the abrasive, almost gangster style. I dare you to read Return of the Assassin and remain completely unmoved by the events in this book. And to think, this series has so much potential awesome left to explore!"

I do get compared to J.R. Ward quite a bit, and I'll admit she's been influential in my writing. I love the multi-POV story lines, and I like brash banter, much like she does. So, I don't mind the comparisons. It's an honor to be compared to her.

Now it's time to turn my focus to the next book in the series, Bound Guardian Angel, which is Trace's much-anticipated story. With high expectations come increased odds that those expectations won't be met, so I have to work extra hard on this one to make it the epic story fans hunger for. But I think I can do it. With the draft already started, Trace's story promises to deliver a few interesting scenes of action I've never seen anywhere. I think readers will have to peel themselves off their ceilings after they read his story. We'll see.

But for now, let me introduce you to a few new characters you'll meet in Return of the Assassin:

Savill Hawke is introduced in Return of the Assassin as "just a boy," but as you can see, he will grow up to be quite a man. Savill is a musical prodigy and a half-blood vampire with gentle powers, despite his scary exterior. His story is tragic, and he will endure a lot of anguish once he recovers from the induced coma we find him in in ROTA. Consequently, and partly inspired by another character he meets when he awakes from his coma, he will cover himself in tattoos: cobras up both arms, scorpions on his chest, the devil on his torso, and possibly a black widow on his back. What he's been through will make him want to push everyone away, and the tattoos are part of the armor he'll use to meet that objective. (muse: DeAngelo Demonio)

Trevor Knight, a full-blooded vampire, is Gina's best friend. At one time, he dated her brother, Gabe. He was also romantically involved with his business partner, Talon Justice, who he started the Knights of Justice with. The Knights of Justice is a security detail in Miami that's similar to All the King's Men, only without the royal credentials. Trevor wants a mate. A true mate. One he forms a biological bond with. This is something he yearns for, and it's why he broke up with Talon, because that link never formed with Talon. He is loyal to his friends and deadly to his enemies, and he will go to great lengths to protect those he loves. (muse: Alejandro Corzo)

Kieran Teague a deadly half-blood vampire who possesses special powers that caused him to be "marked" and ostracized from his clan. Even though this pic doesn't show them, his chest, torso, back, and arms are covered in tattoos so black and dense, they look burned into his skin. These markings are warnings to others of how dangerous he is. But deep down, Kieran is a tender-hearted, misunderstood male. And he aches that his clan banished him. His markings shame him, and he carries a lot of guilt. Instead of hiding his tattoos, he readily shows them to push anyone away who dares to get too close. The pain of losing everyone he loved has made him wary of anyone who threatens to enter his heart, and he would rather chase them away than let them in, only to lose them later. (muse: Ivan Rusilko)

Friday, October 18, 2013

Why Are You Here?

When I logged in to Facebook this morning, one of the first posts I saw was the following, posted by a fellow author, who also happens to be the muse for one of my favorite characters. His name is Dr. Ivan Rusilko, and he's one of the authors of The Winemaker's Dinner novels. He's a truly inspirational person, but this morning's post was particular moving. This is his post:

Why I Am ... Where I Am! 

Three years ago I was dragged from a burning truck that had been wrapped around one of the many palm trees that line the causeway leading from Miami to Miami Beach. At the time I was in, what I thought was, the best part of my young 26 year old life. Established international fitness model, second year as Mr USA and all the "craziness" that accompanied the title, beautiful Latin girlfriend, and the transition from a lowly medical student into full fledged physician... all while beginning a brand new life in an exotic unknown city that was far far from the backwood, beer chugging, cow milking, camp fire indulging lifestyle of Northwestern Pennsylvania. Little did I know at the time that titles and image and partying are privileges the universe affords to those on a trial bases which can be greedily repossessed in a tormented instant regardless of race, religion, personality, good looks, popularity, or amount of Facebook friends and Twitter followers.

The morning after nearly losing my life I stood staring, bathed in nothing but the suns early morning rays, at a battered face decorated with discolored bruises, tightly drawn stitches, and freshly burnt skin. As I studied in awe the rapidly negative transformation my appearance had undergone in less than 24 hours, the even more rapid melancholy realization, which ripped through my mind faster than the airbag had exploded across my face hours before, came to light.

Life is sturdy, life is fickle, life is educating, life is stupid, life is beautiful, life is ugly, life is trusting, life is two faced, life is amazing, life is cruel, life is reliable, life is unreliable, life is ordinary, life is mysterious, life is benign, life is malignant...

But when it is all said and done ... Life is Nothing but a Game... A game that only a few unfortunately get to truly play... This game isn't played on sand, or clay, or turf, or ice... Its outcome doesn't depend on how tall, fast, strong or focused you are... It boils down to simply how you play it... Those without the fear of regret are the ones that can make the smartest most calculated random stupid decisions resulting in game changing plays that dictate a truly well lived existence... A successful life... When you overthink and try to decipher the secrets of this games playbook to plan ahead -> you've already lost because there is no special formula, no magic bullet.

With the type of medicine I practice I could have easily fixed the three lingering scares that still stretch across my face from the accident but I chose to wear them as flesh colored tattooed reminders of my answer to every decision I have been faced with from the day inspiration stared back at me through swollen eyes...

~ Buy the Ticket... Take the Ride... And Play the Game... Because Waking Up Every Morning is FUCKING AMAZING So Don't Waste It!

If your life was a movie would people watch it? More importantly would you?
A picture accompanied Ivan's post, and it showed the truck, his bruised face, and how he looks today, scars and all. 

After reading his post, I broke down in tears. Not because I was saddened by his ordeal, but because I was both moved by his words as well as by the reminder of what got me where I am today.

My story is that all my life, I lived in fear. I was afraid to take chances, to be myself, to say no when I wanted to say no and yes when I wanted to say yes. I was afraid of what people thought of me. I was afraid if people knew the real me, they wouldn't like me. I was afraid of disappointing my friends for fear they would abandon me. I was afraid of hurting my father by following my own path instead of the one he wanted me to follow. I feared failure in every facet of my life, and that fear crippled me.

My parents divorced when I was in second grade, and my dad gave up so much to stay close by to be the father he knew we needed while my mom indulged her inner child and pretty much left my brother and me to fend for ourselves. I had no childhood because of this. At a young age, I became the mental adult in the household, since my mom got custody. I learned by third grade not to expect much, because my mom had very little to give after she satisfied her own desires. While my friends' parents drove them back and forth to school events, mine made me find rides or I couldn't go, because she didn't have time to take me. So, from a young age, I experienced abandonment, and this scared me, whether I want to admit it or not. I started trying to be everything to everybody else, but left myself behind in the process.

Every other weekend, I got to see my dad...until my mom decided she preferred to spend her weekends with her boyfriend, and then my dad took my brother and me every weekend. He loved having us, but he suffered from the divorce, too. And I was daddy's little girl, so he took a particular interest in raising me not to be a "silly girl" or "like my mother." I wanted to please my dad, so I did everything he wanted. As an adult, I can look back now and see how a part of me did this so he wouldn't leave me. I wanted to make my dad happy, because he deserved happiness. He, my brother, and I had all been hurt so much by what Mom did to us all, and I took all the responsibility on my shoulders to make everyone happy again.

In the process, I lost myself.

I learned to fear upsetting the status quo. I became afraid of showing myself, because deep down I feared I wasn't good enough...that I wasn't worthy of love. As I got older, this fear manifested everywhere. I had taken on my dad's dreams for me and had lost sight of what I wanted. My dad wanted me to be a scientist, like him. So I took all the heavy duty academic classes. But now I look back and see that from birth, I was meant to be a writer. I was always writing. Always reading. I was a prodigy with the written word, writing intensely mature poetry before I was even out of grade school. The following is a poem I wrote around first grade:

Together we can conquer the unconquerable
Tall buildings, mountains, and skyscrapers will fall to our mercy
But why destroy such beauty?
As long as we have each other, that is all that matters.

I mean, really? A seven-year-old wrote that? Me? This was the kind of writing I did when I was in my single digits age-wise. But what did I do? I made myself miserable following a dream my dad wanted me to follow. I surged into my higher education loaded with science and math when what I really wanted was to take more art, music, and English. But fear stayed my hand and I let me dad dictate my life all through school, only to drop the dream when I failed Calculus my senior year.

For the next twenty years, I drifted from one unsatisfying job to another, afraid to take a chance on my writing until one of my employers fired me for being "different."

To be honest, my chronic fear is what made me "different." Deep down, I wanted to throw up barriers to prevent anyone from getting too close to me and to prevent me from getting too close to them, because all my life, those I got close to ultimately left in one way or another. If I didn't get too close, I wouldn't be hurt when they left, so these barriers were "good," right? No. They were fear manifesting to keep me safe.

And I suffered for years because of this.

I firmly believe that when we're not following the path we were meant to follow, life will force us in directions so that we can find that path. By the time I was fired from that job (unjustifiably, I might add), I had been laid off from previous jobs twice and left three other jobs because I saw the layoff coming and got out before I was unemployed. My woes in my work life were just one way that the universe had been trying to tell me that I wasn't doing what I was meant to do. But thank God I was "different," because if I hadn't been, I might still be working for that company now and still wouldn't be published. As it stands, being different eventually led me to my dream of becoming a published author.

I've begun to address my fear issues, and even though the past few years have held some struggle, I'm finally on the right track to take my life back. But I'm all about silver linings. And the silver lining from my lifetime of fear is that it has made my writing better. Readers seem to love the angst, emotion, and passion in my books, and I know it's my own experiences that created those elements.

I see a therapist who's helping me address my inner demons and painful past, and she says that every book reveals something about the author. As such, each one of my books reveals a piece of me.
That's why my characters endure such pain, because I have. Through my experiences, I've become the black sheep of my family and almost every social circle I've been in, and many of my characters find themselves in similar situations. In Rise of the Fallen, Micah and I shared a journey together. I wrote Rise after I was fired. I was severely depressed and struggling to find my place in the world. Micah went through the same struggles in his book. In Heart of the Warrior, Severin feared showing his true self to those around him, as did Arion, because they both feared what others would think of them if they did. Sound familiar? In Rebel Obsession, Miriam had to overcome an overbearing father to find her own happiness, and Io wrestled with letting go of old beliefs to embrace new ones. Yep...that's me. In Return of the Assassin, both Malek and Gina wrestle with letting go of the past so they can progress into the future, which is what I'm going through now.

Each of my characters represents a part of me. Each story I write symbolizes a piece of my heart or soul. And readers seem to love it. My characters' lives aren't easy, but I'm living testimony that anything worth achieving is never easy. So while my books aren't an autobiography of my life, they do represent it, and readers seem to find resonance within the pages, based on the passionate comments I receive from them.

They say to write what you know. I know pain. I know suffering. I know what it means to be different. I also know what it means to rise above the negativity and find wholeness. So that's what I write.

This is why I'm here.

No more fear. I need to LIVE life, not just merely exist within it. And living means getting out of my own way and kicking fear to the curb so I can be truly inspired and inspiring...without regret. Thank you for reminding me of this, Dr. Ivan. :)


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Solving the "Had" Mystery - Is "Had" Really Bad?

A long time ago, one of my author friends beta read one of my manuscripts and gave me the feedback that I needed to eliminate the word "had." Apparently someone had told her that the word "had" is bad and should always be removed from fiction writing, so this poor gal was tearing her hair out to remove the word from her own writing, as well, which is impossible. I'll repeat that. Removing the word "had" entirely from a manuscript is impossible.

Still others will tell you that "had" is passive. I've been told this so many times that I actually researched the word "had" and passive voice pretty extensively to determine the rights and wrongs of usage.

Let's begin by defining passive voice. According to Grammar Girl (and every other writing reference I've consulted), passive voice is created when the object of the action is promoted to the subject position. For example, "I heard it through the grapevine" is active (subject-verb-object sentence format). To make that sentence passive, you would write, "It was heard by me through the grapevine" (object-verb-subject sentence format). Another way you can determine passive voice is to add "by zombies" at the end of the sentence. If the sentence makes sense, you have passive voice. If not, you have active voice. For example, "She set the book on the table by zombies" doesn't make sense, so "She set the book on the table" is active. However, "The book was set on the table by zombies" makes sense, so "The book was set on the table" is passive.

Additionally, many people think that just because a form of the word "be" is used (am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been), the voice is automatically passive. That's not the case. "I am alive" is active and uses a form of the word "be." Another example is "I am holding a pen," which is also active. "A pen is being held by me," would be passive.

To read more on this, visit Grammar Girl's site and the related article, Active Voice vs. Active Voice.

Now that we've defined passive voice and know what it is, let's tackle "had."

In writing, there are three basic verb tenses: present, past, and future.

Present: I live in Indianapolis.
Past: I lived in Indianapolis.
Future: I will live in Indianapolis.

By the way, all three of those examples are active sentences, not passive.

In addition to these basic verb tenses, there are several specialty verb tenses, as I call them. For example, There is present continuous, future perfect, future perfect continuous, past perfect, past perfect continuous, etc. I want to focus on past perfect and past perfect continuous.

Using the previous example:
Past perfect: I had lived in Indianapolis before moving to Florida.
Past perfect continuous: I had been living in Indianapolis for eighteen years when I moved to Florida.

First, let me point out that these sentences are active, not passive, despite the use of the word "had." Second, each sentence indicates a slightly different reference to time than the other. If you want to study this further, check out the Types of Verbs page on Along the left on the page, you can select the different verb tenses and study them, get more examples, and complete lessons to help you learn how and when to use them.

The point to remember here is that "had" is part of the past perfect verb tense and not necessarily passive.

For example:
Active: Donya had written many books before she won her first RWA Golden Heart Award.
Passive: Many books had been written by Donya before she won her first RWA Golden Heart Award.

So, how does the past perfect tense affect your writing? Authors usually write in one of two verb tenses: present or past. When you write in present tense, writing flashbacks is as easy as writing in the simple past tense. However, when you write your stories in past tense the way I do, if you want to insert flashbacks or refer to something that came before, you must use the past perfect tense or risk confusing your reader.

Here's a short excerpt from my upcoming Return of the Assassin. The story is in Gina's point of view at this point:

She closed her eyes and tried to push away Malek's memory, which was becoming harder to do. Malek was the male she had met—and then left—in Chicago. The male who had saved her when all she had wanted to do was die. The male who promised to be a whole lot of holy-hell-I'm-in-trouble if she let him.

Since I write in past tense, I had to use past perfect in the italicized verbs to indicate action that came before in the story. If I had maintained the simple past tense, the reader wouldn't be able to distinguish whether I'm referring to the present moment within the story or a past moment from before. Go back and re-read the paragraph without "had" and you'll see what I mean. Sure, you might be able to figure out some of the timing by the context, but it's my job as an author to make the reader think as little as possible so they can simply enjoy the experience of the story. This is just one paragraph. Imagine having 30+ chapters of simple past tense where you have to think about the context to figure out the order and timing of events within the story, trying to figure out what is flashback or past events, and what is the present moment within the story? That would get exhausting, and no reader wants to work that hard. It's the author's job to remove the work for the reader. Using past perfect is the solution to helping the reader understand the story.

Now let's say you have a multi-paragraph or multi-page flashback. How do you write that without italicizing the whole segment, which is becoming an archaic practice, in favor of weaving the flashback seamlessly into the story? I suggest you use the 3 in-3 out rule, as explained in The Best Writing Advice blog post on I've copied the pertinent text directly from her blog:

If you write your story in the past tense, you have to use the past-perfect for flashbacks. The past perfect is the tense used to talk about something that happened before something else that happened in the past. I call it “the had tense.” For example, the past perfect is bolded below:
He walked into the bar and saw her standing near the pool table. The last time he’d seen her, she had stabbed a fork into his leg.
But the past-perfect gets old awfully fast with all those “hads.” The solution is to start off your flashback with the first three verbs in past-perfect. This makes your reader aware of what’s going on. Then switch to simple past, which is much more pleasant to read. At the end of your flashback, make the last three verbs past-perfect to get your reader “out” of the flashback.

If you read a lot, you've probably noticed as I have that fewer authors are using the italicized flashback in favor of the seamless, 3 in-3 out flashback. I use one of these flashbacks in Return of the Assassin, and while it felt weird and took a little finesse to work the verbs so that readers fell into the flashback easily and emerged from it just as easily, I like this method. And since more editors now frown upon italicized flashbacks that can be too jarring on readers, this is the way to go from now on.

So, see. "Had" isn't so bad. The word "had" has a vital place in fiction writing. It isn't a bad guy or an automatically passive villain. Yes, there are instances where "had" can be rewritten out for a stronger sentence, but that's not always the case. So go easy on your quest to rid the world of "had." He has a place, and his place is necessary.

Happy Writing!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Telling Truth From Fiction

About three years ago, I met this gal who claimed to be an author. We were in a Facebook group together, and she sometimes posted in group chat that she had run off to talk to her publisher. I remember being so in awe. At that time, I had yet to publish my first book and was unemployed, working as a temp, and trying to figure out what to do about my dream to become published. So I grilled this girl with questions. She claimed to be published and said she was currently looking for the right deal before she published her next story. On a couple of occasions, she posted in our group chat that she had turned down another contract "from her publisher" because the "deal wasn't good enough." I was so excited to learn from her. I thought I was in the midst of royalty.

Imagine my disappointment when I later found out that this girl wasn't "published." She and a few others had written a story they posted on an online forum. That was the extent of her being published. And then I found out her "publisher" was really just a friend who was involved with e-publishing. At this point, I don't even think their was ever any discussion of a book contract, which is what she led us to believe.

So, basically, she embellished the truth so far that it became a lie. She made us all think she was only a step away from breaking into the big leagues. I still feel like an idiot that I believed her. I had viewed her as my mentor, and she lied to me.

Next story...

There was this gal who called herself an editor. She wanted to beta read one of my short stories. I sent it to her. When she sent it back, she had "edited" it. Only one problem: 95% of her "edits" were errors. For starters, she removed every incidence of a comma that separated two independent clauses that were connected by a conjunction, and she added commas between every independent/dependent clause combination.

Every grammar nazi reading this just snapped her red pencil.

 Of all her "corrections" to my manuscript—and there were a lot—I think only two were acceptable. The rest created grammatical or punctuation errors. Here's the kicker: this gal now promotes herself as an editor on Facebook and elsewhere, and any number of authors could be hiring her right now to edit their books.

What's my point? My point is that you never really know who you're meeting online and whether they are what they claim to be in their bio...or whether or not what they're saying is true...or even whether or not they're good for your publishing health (some folks are simply toxic and will bleed you, suck you dry, and drain the life and love of writing right out of you if you let them). Online, you enter into a silent, blind agreement to trust what the other is telling you is the truth until they prove otherwise, but sometimes that can be too late. And for authors or wannabe authors, it usually is.

For example, if you're an author searching for an editor, you don't want to learn after you've shelled out $500+ dollars that the person you just paid to edit your story is a crackpot who has no business wielding a red pen over your precious baby you spent months creating. I mean, when the author knows more about grammar, punctuation, content, and story structure than the "editor" does, that's a huge red flag. And you certainly want to know that the author you're seeking advice and/or mentorship from knows what she's talking about and not just blowing ego-boosting smoke.

So, how do you find the right people? The reputable people?

1. Patience. Yes, I'm sorry to say, it takes time to find the right circle of authors and editors to associate yourself with. I learned this the hard way, but am proud to say I'm now so happy and proud to be involved with the people I've become associated with in the last year. If you feel like you're being dragged down by someone or a group of someones, that's when it's time to move on. You're growth and potential are no longer being served.

2. Join reputable writing organizations such as Romance Writers of America or Mystery Writers of America and attend every meeting. I joined RWA in January of this year, and it's been one of the best decisions I've made for my writing career. You're around like-minded people in these groups, which operate like small businesses. You learn from them and have incredible opportunities to get involved in the writing community, and the more involved in the writing community you become, the better you'll be as a writer. And the people in these organizations will be able to refer you to reputable editors, publishers, and other authors you can learn from.

3. Pick up the Writer's Market books. The creators of Writer's Digest update these every year, and there are a few you can purchase. I like the Writer's Market Deluxe Edition and Guide to Literary Agents the best, but you can also buy editions for the novel and short story market, as well as a non-deluxe version. These books, while they can be dated with the speed the publishing industry changes nowadays, offer tons of advice and listings for professional organizations, contests, publishers, and agents. They can be a great way for you to research and find reputable industry professionals to connect, network, and consult with.

4. Attend conferences and conventions. What better place to meet the stars than at a book conference or convention? There are always workshops you can attend, and everywhere you go are opportunities to mingle with other authors, agents, editors, bloggers, publicists, publishers, etc. These are people serious about the craft and life of writing. These are the people you want to be associating with and getting to know. And everyone has a business card or material you can collect to reconnect with them later. I came home from RT in Kansas City this year with a whole bag of cards and informational material. These are excellent venues to tap into reputable industry professionals.

I would love to know what other ideas are out there for finding quality editors and constructive writing groups. Links in the comments are welcome.

Happy Writing!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Riding the BDSM Train Doesn't Mean You Can Shirk Your Research

I read an excerpt yesterday from a book by a popular author. I've read other books by this author in the series this excerpted book belongs to, and BDSM figures prominently. But when I got to the line in the excerpt where the Dom makes reference to choosing a sub as being HIS choice, I stopped reading.

For the record, I don't engage in the lifestyle. I'm neither Dom nor sub. However, I have characters who are: Micah and Trace. Conesquently, I have done an enormous amount of research on BDSM, D/s relationships, scene parties, etc. The only thing I haven't been able to do yet as part of my research is actually to go to a scene party. With that said, even I know that it's not the Dom who chooses his or her sub. It's the sub who chooses his or her Dom. In the D/s relationships, the submissive possesses all the control.

Furthermore, simply because a man is a Dom in the scene does not mean he dominates in every other aspect of life and business, as well. In fact, a lot of the time, they don't. Doms might be successful, but not intently cruel and overbearing. From what I've been able to deduce, the D/s world is a bit of an opposite world, where the most controlling people in "regular" day-to-day affairs are more likely to become submissives, while the quieter, less domineering people in day-to-day affairs don the Dom hat (or the leather pants, as it were). That's not always the case, but my point is that Doms aren't necessarily dominating people, and submissives aren't necessarily timid and weak. And yet, in book after book after book where BDSM is the main shtick, that's pretty much what we see. And I think it's because the authors are too interested in getting on the BDSM train than to actually dig for the facts about the lifestyle, so they grab on to the cliches about the lifestyle and write an ignorant portrayal of it, glorifying it, as it were.

D/s relationships are about trust. The submissive puts their trust in their Dom, and their Dom does not abuse that trust. If the submissive uses their safe word (and any Dom who doesn't give their sub a safe word in a book is a Dom who doesn't know what he's doing), the Dom must stop immediately. It's not about a Dom controlling a sub, it's about a sub allowing a Dom to control him. There's a difference.

BDSM is almost therapeutic for some people. It allows people to explore another side of themselves—maybe one that's repressed—or to experience emotional and physical freedom in a safe environment. There are rules that must be followed, and from what I've discovered, it's almost as if there's an unspoken code of conduct participants must abide by if they want to be accepted in the scene.

Furthermore, a submissive must talk to his Dom, tell him what scares him, what he won't accept, and what he likes. Not just sexually, but in general. A Dom and a sub need to know one another very well, and a Dom won't push a new sub too far until he gets to know him better. In this way, a Dom can understand what makes the sub tick, and can use his fears to push the envelope ever-so-slightly in the scene for a more fulfilling experience for the sub. And yet, in book after book, we see Doms and subs engaging in instant, hardcore scenes before they even know each other. This just isn't plausible.

With that said, I've been told that if I want to read really good BDSM that's based on reality, I need to read Cherise Sinclair. So...that's what I'm doing. I just started reading Club Shadowlands, book one in her Masters of the Shadowlands Series. And the bonus is that right now, it's free on Amazon. I also hear that the Beauty Series by Anne Rice (written under a different name) is a more accurate representation of BDSM.

With regard to other authors' portrayals of BDSM, I know this is fiction and certain liberties are taken to "Hollywoodize" books to be more entertaining. I get that. And the books are entertaining in some cases (in others, they are too contrived to be entertaining—at least for me), even if they depict the BDSM lifestyle inaccurately. But at the same time, I can see true Doms and subs sitting back and getting a good laugh at some of these books. The entertainer in me says, "Give the readers what they seem to want," but the purist in me says, "Make sure your portrayal is accurate." I think the best course lies somewhere in the middle, and a good author should be able to do both.

Happy Reading!

Monday, September 2, 2013

It's Not Always About Writing—Oh Wait, Yes It Is

They say to write what you know. Well, I know pain. Both physical and mental pain. Maybe that's why my characters always come packaged with a lot of baggage and mental anguish to work through. My whole life seems be filled with these battles, where I've suffered some kind of tragedy or wrong-doing and had to pull myself out of the shit to be happy again. Here's the story of just one of those battles that I hope to carry over into my stories with yet another victory:

I'm embarking on a new journey in my life. Yoga. This will be such a change for me, because I used to be the heavy-duty bodybuilder type. For years, I was in the gym six days a week, lifting weights. I loved the feel, the burn, and the effort of pumping iron, and I loved pushing myself to see how far I could go and how many plates I could stack on a bar and bench press. I had a personal trainer, and I devoured her challenging, hardcore workout plans with a vengeance.

Then I injured my back. I herniated two discs in my lower back, the worst was between L5 and S1. I suffered what I can only describe as mind-numbing, shock-inducing pain off-and-on for over three months. I couldn't walk. I couldn't drive. I could hardly sleep. My chiropractor gave me decompression treatments, and all I can say about that is OMFG! While the treatment was happening, I was "okay," but after the treatment was over? Can you say shock? I barely held myself together in a shivering, teeth-chattered fetal ball and had to be very-oh-so-very-slowly lifted off the table. I've never endured worse pain.

My weight lifting days were over. I knew it then. A horrible depression followed this revelation. I had been studying to be a personal trainer, and now that dream was gone.

Since traditional therapy wasn't working, I had a rhizotomy to sever the affected nerves, and received excessive doses of steroids to numb the pain. For months, I suffered horrible digestive distress. At first, I was so nauseous I didn't want to eat. This went on for about a month. Then I couldn't eat enough. I was hungry all the time. This went on for about another month. I gained weight, both from the lack of exercise and excessive food. The rhizotomy provided some relief, but I still couldn't exercise, and my lower back still spasmed on a regular basis to the point that I was bedridden half the time and could barely walk the other half.

I was finally put into physical therapy and started doing yoga-like poses as my therapy exercises. But you know what? They worked. My therapy center was the best in central Indiana. All the professional athletes here use them, and I even ran into Gary Brackett, who played for the Colts at the time, during one of my appointments. So I knew I was in good hands. And with each appointment, I got better and better. Still, I can't take a fifteen-minute walk without my back aching and hurting badly enough to keep me "down" for three weeks afterward.

A few months ago, I had resigned myself to the fact that I was just never going to get back to my old physique and that taking my beloved walks was a thing of the past. Lifting weights? Forget it.

I never considered yoga to be a viable option for weight loss or exercise. Sure, a few yoga moves have helped my lower back, but really? How much weight could I actually lose doing yoga? Even so, I've been thinking about taking a yoga class for about a year, but I've kept putting it off. Then a few days ago, I saw a very inspiring video:

I figured if this guy could have such an amazing transformation, then so could I. So, I've ordered my first yoga videos to get me started on my new journey...and hopefully in ten months I'll be as big a success story as this guy. And better yet, that I'll be able to walk around my neighborhood again.

How does this relate to writing? Because, as I said at the beginning, they say to write what you know. And what I know is pain. I know the physical pain of my injury and recovery, and I know the mental pain of depression that resulted from it. My whole life has been this way, and as a child I endured things children shouldn't have to endure, but it's made my writing richer and more emotional. I overcame all those things from my past, and this latest battle is just another issue to overcome. But it's also another issue I can pull from when I'm trying to develop complex, engaging characters.

And, who knows, you might see a yoga instructor, a personal trainer, or a physical therapist (or a combination of all of the above) show up one day soon in one of my books. So, all this is research, wouldn't you say? :)

Happy Reading and Writing!