Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Genre-Free Writer: Looking for the Common Thread

I've spent the last three days holed up in my writing studio, with strict instructions to all I know and love not to bother me unless the Horsemen of the Apocalypse are thundering down the street.

Much of my time I spent actually writing. However, some of my time I spent really looking at my career and my writing and deciding where I'm going to go from here. Some questions I considered were:

*  What elements connect all of my characters? 

*  What common threads run through all of my work?

*  What plots and themes most move me?

*  What one trait is vitally important to my characters?

The experience was an eye opener. One I highly recommend.

photo by mantasmagorical from
See, I've always known what I write didn't fit into an easily identified genre.

I write screenplays and poems, novels and short stories. I write science fiction, fantasy, women's fiction, children's stories, middle grade fiction, family fare, and darker, edgier stuff.  I happen to think some of the stuff I write is funny -- but realize that not everyone shares my rather warped sense of humor. It certainly wouldn't be classified as "comedy."

So I wracked my brain. Since all my writing comes from ME, I reasoned that there must be some common threads and recurring themes. And slowly -- painfully slowly -- they became clear.

I discovered several things about my writing. For instance:

*   I write quirky, unselfish characters with hidden strengths and highly individualized but uncompromising integrity.

*  I gravitate toward bittersweet stories, antiheroes, and tragic characters.

*  My characters are often trapped in situations from which they cannot safely escape, but which ultimately lead to glory.

*  Every major character of mine has almost pathological perseverance.

It literally took me hours to come up with these attributes. When I mentioned them to a writerly friend who is familiar with my work, she responded:
"It is so your writing down to a fine sharp point." 
And she's right. (Though maybe I could have saved a ton of time if I'd asked her to answer the questions for me in the first place.)

photo by andalusia via
I wish I had undertaken this exercise years ago. Though it took me awhile to find the answers, it gives me a sense of relief to have done so.

Since I don't specialize in a particular genre, it's easy to assume that my writing is fragmented; disconnected; that one work is completely dissociated from another, as if I just wander from project to project dumping word clumps on whatever happens to pique my fancy.

Ah, but it's not the genre that connects my works to each other. No. Instead, they are connected by characteristics, themes, and situations.

I now have a whole new feel for my material as a whole, rather than as a series of unconnected pieces. Better yet: I have a far greater understanding of who my ideal readers are.

*  My ideal readers like quirky characters with hidden strength and unwavering integrity.

*  My ideal readers appreciate antiheroes and the occasional bittersweet tragedy.

*  My ideal readers like to root for the underdog, knowing that sacrifice is often the key to success.

*  My ideal readers admire characters who refuse to give up, regardless of the odds.

I love being a genre-free writer. But I don't want to be a reader-free writer. Answering those four questions helped give me greater insight into my work. Now that I know what I have to offer my ideal readers, I am better equipped to find them.

Do you write genre-stuff or non-genre-stuff? What common threads connect your words? How do those threads then weave a pattern for your audience?

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Do-It-Yourself Writing Retreat

All summer, I have been not-so-secretly jealous of my writing friends who put their lives on hold to go on a writing retreat. It was hard not to be tinged with the teensiest bit of green when hearing of those who eschewed the demands of parenting, working, and spousing for awhile in order to spend some serious quality time with the creative muse.

One need not escape in order to create.
And then I got to thinking: my thinly veiled envy wasn't because my friends were spending time at the shore, or in the woods, or in the mountains. No. It was the sheer concentrated writing time that I begrudged them.

This realization soon led to another:

If they could do it, goshdangnabbit, so could I.

This inelegant (but motivational) thought led me to create the DIY Writing Retreat. It's amazingly simple. Here's how it works:
  • For three consecutive days, I am going to focus primarily on my writing. My family has people in it (other than I) who are capable of cooking. [Note to self: if the cooking tenet proves false, we can easily survive on mac & cheese and takeout pizza during that time, if need be. My muse thrives on carbs.]
  • During my retreat, I am more writer than mom, daughter, friend, or spouse
    • I will not do laundry, run errands, go grocery shopping, weed the garden, troubleshoot relationships, babysit, or talk to telemarketers. 
    • I will not answer the phone. 
    • I will not muck about on social media sites. 
    • I will not feel guilty about this. 
    • I will not back down. 
    • I. Will. Write.
Because I have access to the mystically magical Net of Inter, I'm going to have New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Crusie be the keynote presenter to kick off my retreat.

You see, several years ago, Crusie wrote an awesome post that was ostensibly about finding an agent, but was more accurately a step-by-step blueprint on How To Discover Your Ideal Writing Career. Addressing the "you can only answer these for yourself" questions and issues raised within that post shall be Item One on my DIY Writing Retreat Schedule.

I'll spend some of my DIY Writing Retreat time focusing on word count.

I'll spend some time focusing on improving specific parts of my craft.

And I'll spend some time plotting and planning so I have a clear vision of where my WIP is headed when I return to the story of my life that's already in progress.

I will not spend time doing research online because I know that the aforementioned Net of Inter exerts a strange and terrible influence over me. I can begin researching ninth century peasant life to add veracity to my story, only to fall down the YouTube rabbit hole, emerging two hours later dazed and addled and laughing hysterically after yet another viewing of Tim Hawkins' Inappropriate Wedding Songs.

I will not spend my time painting my fingernails, or my toenails, or (God forbid!) cleaning my house or my writing studio.

I will not delude myself into believing that 140-character tweets count as writing. My family won't be noshing on takeout so I can fraternize with my Twitter friends.

I fully expect to emerge from the three days of self-imposed exile, disheveled, over-caffeinated and recharged with creative juice, with several thousand as-yet-unwritten words added to my novel in progress. Who knows? If the family can handle one more visit from the Pizza Guy, I may decide to extend my DIY Writing Retreat by another day... Or two.

My 3-day indulgence begins on Monday, August 27. Don't be jealous! Join me from the comfort of your own home, and embark on a #DIYWriting Retreat of your very own.

Photo via

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Why the Top 3 Reasons for Ebook Piracy Don't Hold Water

In case you were unaware, rampant piracy of e-books abounds. Some pirate vessels brag openly about their dastardly deeds. Others run silent and deep, like U-boats lurking in the murky waters of 21st century publishing.

Last week I engaged in several discussions with writers and agents bemoaning the piracy of their books. Without exception, all victims of piracy were irate, so most conversations were liberally laced with both profanity and swashbuckling imagery.

I find it fascinating that a blogger who innocently infringes on image copyright can get seriously sued while bottom feeders who openly and maliciously steal content are serially scott-free.

Why is piracy a problem?

I'm glad you asked. To find the answer, let's take a look at some of the most common reasons pirates give for their actions and deconstruct what they're actually saying:  

Scurvy Reason #1 for Piracy:  "I can't afford to buy it."

Poverty of income doesn't mean you also have poverty of ethics. Besides, in order to pirate an ebook, one must first own a device capable of reading an ebook. If you can afford the computer / phone / tablet / e-reader, you sure as shooting can afford a few bucks for a legitimate download.

Here's the thing: if you can't afford a new car, should you just steal one? If you can't afford a new jacket, should you lift one off the rack? No. Members of civilized society unanimously agree that such actions warrant mandatory "time outs" from freedom in order to contemplate the error of one's ways. Stealing is stealing is stealing.

You want to talk poor? Consider the fact that no book writes itself overnight. It takes each author a significant portion of his or her allotted time on this planet to write what pirates blithely steal. Every author sacrifices family time, hanging out with their friends, sleep, and staying current on news, movies, books, and in some cases, reality TV in order to create a manuscript. Every book sold through legitimate channels earns the author the rough equivalent of $.000007 cents an hour. Ask me how I know.

If "Power To The Poor People" is truly the pirates' mantra, they'd put their money where their mouth is and pony up the few bucks to support a writer rather than begrudge him or her the funds to buy a cup of coffee to keep the muse fueled.

Rather than poor pirates, I blame poor parenting. Perhaps the pirates' parents never taught them the value of a work ethic. Here's the thing the rest of us learned while we were still in grade school: if you can't afford something, get a job, work, save your money, and use it to buy the stuff you want. Until then, learn to do without what you can't afford.

Rascally Reason #2 for Piracy:  "If I love it, I'll buy it."

This translates to "I will first read a bootleg copy. If -- and only if -- it moves me, changes my life, opens my eyes to a new paradigm, and transports me to realms hitherto unimagined, I will then leave the dark alleys of Pirateland and purchase a copy from a squeaky-clean source."


So what this means, when one decodes the pirate-speak, is that it's perfectly OK to steal books one likes but does not love. It's the pirate equivalent of "Sleep with me first. If you're any good, I'll leave some money on the bureau in the morning."

In agent-speak "I just don't love it" means "I won't rep it." That's bad enough. But in pirate-speak, "I just don't love it" means "I read it but won't pay for it," which is infinitely worse.

Scallywag Reason #3 for Piracy:  "I'm a big supporter of books I love."

What does this mean, exactly? "If I illegally download something I really like, I tell all my friends and get them to illegally download it, too?"

Because, really, do you expect me to believe that if a pirate downloads a bootleg copy of something, loves it and tells all of his (or her) pirate-y friends about it, he (or she) will direct those friends to a legitimate download site?

What kind of friendship is that, I ask you? Everyone knows there is no honor among thieves. I sincerely doubt those thieves will often pass up the opportunity to drag others into their underworld. Rather than send their friends to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords, fer instance, to get an ebook that really moved their blackened hearts, it's far more likely that they'll direct those friends to the same site from which they stole downloaded their own copy.

Here's something those who attempt to defend their illicit acts tend to forget: multiple illegal downloads doesn't translate to "support." It just means that instead of being responsible for a single theft, they're responsible for many.

I'm not so naive as to believe that a little blog post like this will somehow make ebook pirates see the error of their ways and stop embezzling books. Naw -- I just live for the day we authors can embed a code in ebooks that's benign if downloaded legally, but that goes ALL EBOLA when pirated. ~maniacal laugh~

All photos from

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Q & A With Niche Press Publicist Kalla Monahan

I am thrilled to introduce MuseInks readers to hardworking, camera-shy Kalla Monahan, a publicist for Sirens Call Publications, a small, niche press specializing in "dark and edgy fiction." 

Kalla is the quiet one at SCP, but don't let that fool you; get her started on one of their projects and she will passionately talk your ear off.  Her literary loves include horror, science fiction and the bizarre. While she does have a weak spot for a good Zombie storyline and will greedily devour anything in the genre, she does get titillated by works in any genre that are well crafted and full of great characters.  

Kalla has graciously agreed to answer a few questions in an effort to pull back the veil and demystify the role of a publicist at a small press. 

Q:  What does a publicist at a small / niche press do? What is a typical day like?

A:  Essentially my job is to act as the intermediary between the media and the author. I do have other duties, but that is my job in a nutshell.

A typical day for me involves going to the day job first and then doing my best to address any critical issues that may have come up in any down moments I can scrounge up. Once home from work, my night is filled with emails, reading, and other additional business that tends to evolve as the day progresses.

Q:  How did you become a publicist? What is the best part of your job? What's the toughest part of your job?

A:  To be honest, I have always loved helping to connect people. As an author myself, I did a lot of the same tasks for myself and enjoyed making the contacts and fostering the relationships that develop along the way.

The best part of my job is getting to work one on one with the authors and developing plans to get the word out about their work. That’s also the toughest part of my job since each book is different and has its own unique learning curve. But I love it and I couldn’t imaging not doing it.

Q:  What can an author expect from a publisher's publicist? What are specific ways an author can help a publicist market a book?

A:  I cannot speak for every publicist out there, only for myself. An author can expect quite a few things from me: my respect (it’s hard to write a book!), my tenacity, and my knowledge of the business from numerous angles. An author can help to market their own book by being persistent but not to the point of annoyance when it comes to publicizing that they have a book to offer.
Photo by jdurham via

Q:  What are some common mistakes new authors make with regards to marketing both their books and themselves are writers? What are common mistakes authors make when working with a publicist?

A:  I’m not entirely sure that there are mistakes. When anyone tries something new, they are bound to find out that certain activities work better than others. It is specific to the person and the medium offered as well. Just think of the way that authors pen their works: some prefer to use the computer, others write long-hand; some are planners, while others are pantsers. It’s all about what works for the individual and that’s one of the great things about marketing – different approaches appeal to different groups of people.

Q:  What do you wish every new author knew about marketing?

A: That it is not as easy as telling people you have a book to sell.

Q:  Can you walk us through a typical marketing campaign? When does the marketing for a new title begin? How long does the campaign last?

A: Each campaign is different. The marketing for a new title begins shortly before it’s available. When you’re working in a genre and as the number of books that are published grows each and every day, it can be both good and bad to advertise too far in advance. We live in a world that is centered on the Now and most people want the immediate satisfaction of purchasing a book that they find intriguing. It’s a fine line to walk when it comes to timing.

The publicity for a book never ends. Each day you’ll come across new potential readers so you want to be able to introduce what you have to offer at a moment’s notice.

Q: Describe the most drool-worthy, jump-at-the-chance, ideal book project that you'd love to tackle as a publicist.

A:  Each book that I encounter is one that I would love to work on. I have a passion for the written word that extends through numerous genres. To pick just one would be a disservice to all of the wonderful traditionally and independently published books, at any stage of their existence.

Thanks to Kalla for taking the time from her busy schedule to talk to us. Find out more about Kalla on Facebook or on her blog, The Bizarre Kaleidoscope. She tweets as @KallaMonahan.

Have you worked with a publicist -- either one you've hired or one that worked for your publisher? What did you wish you had known beforehand? What worked best for you? Please comment and let us know.

Friday, August 03, 2012

How to Do the Impossible

Awhile back, someone sent me a greeting card with the heading: 10 IMPOSSIBLE THINGS. Though I don't remember 9 of the 10, number 1 on the list was:
"You cannot lick your elbow."
Inside the card, after the greeting ("Happy Birthday!" or "Happy Acquittal Day!" or "Happy Molar Extraction Day!" or the like), was the admonition: "Now stop trying to lick your elbow."

My daughter found the card hilarious. Contrary to the card's parting words of advice, she spent the rest of the day contorting her arm and sticking out her tongue with single-minded determination.

We told her that she looked ridiculous.

       She did not care.

We mocked her.

       She ignored us.

We informed her that there was no earthly reason for a person to profit from licking her elbow.

       She persisted.

We explained the laws of physics, anatomy, and biological design.

She rolled her eyes in disgust as only a nine-year old can, giving me a chilling glimpse into the attitude I will have to deal with in five years' time. Then she put her tongue back into her mouth, dropped her arm to her side, picked up a book, and resumed her normal routine.

Weeks passed. Then, the other night at the dinner table, through a mouthful of blackberry pie, she calmly stated: "You know how they say you can't lick your elbow? Well, they're wrong. You can."

We reminded her that such a feat was impossible.
She proceeded to wrap her arm around her neck and licked her elbow!


We fell on the floor laughing, then had her do it again. And again. 

Did she look ridiculous? 


What does her accomplishment get her?


You see: she now knows that when someone tells her a thing cannot be done -- when someone makes fun of her, mocks her efforts, tells her that there is no way to profit from it, and offers the laws of the known universe as proof for why something is impossible -- that someone may be wrong.

How do you do the impossible? Thanks to my daughter's example, I now know that it's simple:

1.) Ignore the naysayers. They don't share your passion or your vision.

2.) Refuse to accept What Has Been Done as the definitive answer for What Can Be Done.

3.) Don't allow the mockery, taunting, apathy, or derision of others to dissuade you.

4.) Actively look for creative solutions.

5.) Do not consider current failure as a permanent condition.

Ever been told that what you're trying to do is impossible? Imagine... just imagine... the looks on their faces when you prove 'em wrong!