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How Not To Write

There are a million and one things you could do instead of writing a book. Things that are easier, more fun, and will earn you more money. You’ve been doing some of them for years. Let’s take a look at the excuses we use and the lies we tell ourselves when we aren’t writing.

Fiction writers are terrific at making stuff up. Probably the best things we invent are excuses for not writing.

violin-old-new-670*Cue violin music*
“I’m afraid to write because it might not be good.”
“If only I had the time…”
“I have a couple ideas, but I’m just waiting for inspiration.”
Translation: Writing is hard and scary and I’m too chicken-shit to turn off the television and get at it.

Gather round children, and I will tell you a story…

When I was eight years old my third-grade teacher, after hearing me read a story I’d written about a pink cow, told me, “That was good. You should be a writer when you grow up.” And that was it. I wanted to write books from that day forward. But I didn’t do much writing. I was always looking for an easy way out. And I bought a fat hardbound copy of Writer’s Market and kept a journal and read all kinds of books about writing, plotting, and getting published. Some of the lazy ass ideas I had included taking the letters I’d written to my friends while I was working as a nanny in New York and turning them into an epistolary novel. You know, so I wouldn’t actually have to write. I even had the idea to write a memoir of my parent’s divorce because I thought it would get a lot of attention and I could go on the Johnny Carson show. That was when I was ten years old, folks.

this-side-of-paradise

So finally, on my twenty-fourth birthday, I realized that I was a full year older than F. Scott Fitzgerald had been when his first novel, This Side of Paradise, was published. I was way behind schedule. That night I sat down and started writing The Sleepless Nanny. I wrote it for an hour every night for ten months. With a toddler on my lap. Then I sent it off to Bantam Doubleday Dell. The acquisitions editor had some nice things to say about my writing, but she didn’t want to publish my book.

me and scooter

Me, age 24 with my writing assistant, Scotty. Guess who he’s named after?

I didn’t send it to any other publishers. I saved it on a floppy disk and put it away. And didn’t write fiction again for almost twenty years. In the meantime I made my living as a professional writer. The kind of writing that as a teenager I’d thought was beneath me: marketing copywriting, magazine writing, even the dreaded technical writing. I had ideas for novels, one of which was set in the middle ages and required me to purchase dozens of history books for “research.” (I didn’t even read the books, much less write the novel.) I kept reading books about writing and feeling momentarily inspired, but never enough to do more than make notes or think up character names.

For two decades I used all those excuses, which really boiled down to fear. Fear of hard work and fear of failure. The same shit that’s holding you back right now. The reason you’re reading this right now instead of writing your book is that you’re procrastinating. You’re looking to me for some loophole that will make the arduous and sometimes soul-crushing task of writing your book easier. And I’m totally taking advantage of that because I’ve been you. Three years ago I was you.

Here’s what changed.

Self-publishing happened. Specifically, the ability to nearly instantaneously publish a book simply by uploading a Word document to Kindle Direct Publishing. Within two days of reading an article about KDP I had 1) purchased a floppy disk to USB device 2) cobbled together a clean copy of The Sleepless Nanny from an ancient version of Word to the latest incarnation, and 3) uploaded my novel where anyone could purchase it and anyone with a Kindle or Kindle app could read it.

I was a goddamned published author. And you know what? It didn’t matter that I had a bullshit default cover or that I’d written it a lifetime ago or that I didn’t have the accreditation of Big Publishing. It felt great. And when people read it and liked it and gave it five-star reviews? Holy shit that was like Christmas and New Year’s and the first really good kiss all rolled into one.

Sleepless Nanny CoverWhen my husband handed me a copy of The Sleepless Nanny in paperback—a project he’d taken on in secret, for my birthday—with a real cover and an ISBN? I confess I broke down and cried. It was the dream I’d had since the age of eight and I held it right there in my hands.

There is nothing to prevent you from holding your own book in your hands, whether it’s digital or in paper form. There is not a damn thing to stop you. You just have to decide to make it happen and do a little bit every day until you get to the end.

It’s not easy. Sometimes it’s the worst thing ever. But the payoff will be the greatest feeling you’ll ever have.

Writing great bad guys

shoulder angel HomerJust as you shouldn’t write a perfect protagonist who is good at everything and always makes the right choice, don’t make your antagonist perfectly evil. Everyone has something not-terrible about them. I don’t mean anything like “Hitler loved kittens.” He probably loved them for breakfast. I’m not talking about real-world villains, and I’m not suggesting that your antagonist be loveable. I’m merely suggesting that they be as human as your protagonist. Your reader isn’t dumb. He knows who to root for in your story. You don’t have to instruct him on how to loathe the antagonist. Depending on what sort of book you’re writing the antagonist isn’t necessarily even a “bad guy.” It’s merely a character or entity who is at cross-purposes with your protagonist. Maybe they are in competition for the same job or trophy or piece of ass. If you make your antagonist as fully human and relatable—though maybe not as likeable—as your protagonist you are doing something right. At the end of your tale your reader can feel both happiness for the protagonist and feel a little bit sorry for the antagonist too.

If your antagonist is a legit villain—a serial killer, say, or just a massive asshole who enjoys upsetting other people—then it’s completely within bounds to lead your reader to hating them. To reviling them and wishing for nothing so much as their death, incarceration, or some other less severe comeuppance. (Removal from the cheerleading squad?) But don’t make them a cardboard cutout. A sneer and a mustache twirl. Or go the Dan Brown route and give them full body tattoos or albinism. Seriously, if you’re going to commit super-crimes you kinda have to blend in. To humanize them is to make them interesting. And that’s compelling to read about. One of the most fascinating characters in fiction is Hannibal Lector. Charming, literate, talented and cultured, he’s also an unrepentant monster. Whatever else, he’s never boring.

Free Books!

schooled coverIn honor of the return to school, the first Lexy Cooper mystery is free this week. Download the Schooled eBook through September 6 for the price of sunshine!

Here’s what readers are saying about Schooled:

“Filled with great characters, and a twisty-turney perfect murder mystery plot.”
“Witty, empowering, and deeper than you think.”
“Lexy is a character I find myself thinking about even weeks after finishing the novel.”
“A captivating thriller that introduces you to the inside of a big company that sells widely-loved entertainment products.”
“An awesome mix of humor, action, sex and more.”
“Lexy Cooper is THE sexy heroine for the gaming generation”

Back to Schooled prizeAnd if you’re into free stuff, you can also enter the Back to Schooled giveaway for a chance to win a pretty cool prize pack that includes signed paperbacks of the first three Lexy Cooper books (Schooled, Pwned, and Griefed) plus two bottles of Jones Soda with custom Lexy labels. (Strawberry Lime and Berry Lemonade flavors!) Enter through September 6!

Win a copy of Griefed in this Goodreads Giveaway

The third Lexy Cooper mystery is now in paperback and you could win one of three signed copies! Just enter the giveaway by August 17th for your chance to win.

Enter to Win Here

Griefed paperback

Bringing out your dead: When to drop the first body.

POLICE INVOLVED SHOOTINGConventional wisdom dictates that mystery/crime novels offer up a body early on. Think about every episode of every incarnation of Law & Order. There’s the discovery of the victim, then the iconic “DONK DONK” (also called the “clang”) followed by the theme song/opening credits. Then the detectives are on scene and the process of discovering whodunnit begins.

As a reader, I’ve been known to say “If I don’t see a body by page 30, I give up on the book.” I chose a mystery or crime thriller because I want a dead body and a bad guy and a chance to solve a puzzle. Give me a body. The exception to this rule are writers that I know and trust will tell me a great story. Writers like Ruth Rendell, Tana French, Chelsea Cain, Minette Walters, or Susan Hill can pace their books however they want–I want to go where they take me. Hmm, that’s interesting, isn’t it? Let me check something… Okay, yeah, I do have some male mystery/crime writers I read without question: Benjamin Black, Colin Harrison, and Michael Robotham.

griefedcoverSMALLAs a writer of mystery/crime novels, so far I’ve followed the rules on pacing: In Schooled, the body of Callie Caldwell is found by a security guard on page 2. In Pwned, I left it a little later, having Lexy stumble on the body of co-worker Declan Brown all the way on page 6. In Griefed, I was back at the front of the book; Detective Malick is called out to the suspicious death of Fletcher Grey on Page 2.

Lexy Cooper #4 is going to be a little different. I’m about thirty pages in, and…no body. In fact, the murder hasn’t even happened yet. Why? Because for this story the reader needs a prior knowledge of the victim and his/her history before he/she is killed. It’s essential for the reader to understand the conclusions made by the investigating officer and everyone else in the Lexyverse.

So what the hell is happening in those first thirty pages? It’s Lexy stuff. It’s catching up to where she is since the events in Griefed. And it’s laying the groundwork for the characters and events in the story. It’s…pretty dark. But I’m going to let Lexy go as low as she needs to. Why? Two reasons:

  1. Protagonists that never change and are unaffected by the things that happen to them become stale and boring.
  2. In my experience, any time you ask yourself Gosh can I take my readers there? Can I get away with that?, the answer should always be YES.

TL;DR

Drop the first body very early to grab your readers’ attention. Unless you have a good reason and have built a character or series strong enough that readers will give you the benefit of the doubt.

When to release and promote your books

There are those who say that authors should release a book simultaneously in digital and paper form. Their argument being that everyone who wants to read your book should be able to. If they want to give you money, why make them wait? Well, I’ll tell you. Every new format is a chance to promote your novel. Because unless you want to make enemies, you just can’t say “buy my book” every day. People will tune you out at best and unfollow you at worst. And then you’ve lost them.

Real-time-marketing-news-cycle-1024x766

In public relations you have what are known as “news beats.” I’m sure a PR professional would explain the concept differently (and probably with a twenty-slide PowerPoint presentation), but here is the way I understand and use it: You create “news” about your product (in this case your novel), and dole out these bits of news in increments that are most likely to be noticed and shared. So the news beats that I could do for my novel Summer Wind could go like this:

• March – Announcement of book “A Lexy Cooper Spinoff Featuring Detective Malick is in the works”
• April – Cover and title reveal “Title of Mike Malick #1 is ‘Summer Wind.’ Check out the cover”
• May – Launch date reveal “Detective Malick returns in Summer Wind October 31”
• August – Book release “Summer Wind, Mike Malick spinoff now available as eBook and paperback”

And then…nothing. You’ve got no more news. Sure you can post reviews and interact with your readers and all that good stuff, but you don’t have any “news.”
Now, if you hold back on paperback or audio versions, then you have more news to share:

• November – “Summer Wind coming to paperback”
• December – “Summer Wind now available in paperback”
• June – “Summer Wind audiobook in the works. Who will voice Mike Malick?”
• August – “Summer Wind audiobook now available”

You’ve had a full year of newsworthy items about one book. And you’re probably ready to start releasing news about the next book. Now, if you’ve got multiple titles to promote, you can do even more. Here’s a peek at my Marketing and Release calendar.

marketing and release calendar

This spreadsheet actually goes all the way through 2017, four more Lexy Cooper books and two more Mike Malick books.

Newsletters are in yellow, promotions are in blue and releases are in green. You can see that I’m promoting different things at appropriate times. I’ll do two promotions for I Saw Lexy Kissing Santa this year. It was free for five days in a “Christmas in July” promotion, and when the holidays roll around again, I will post about the story in all my social channels and hopefully get another round of sales. I’ll do a “Back to Schooled” promotion in September because it’s topical, and it’s the first book in my series–the bait I use to hook new readers.

Today I didn’t do any writing on my fourth Lexy Cooper book, but the time I spent on the business end confirming schedules with my editor and proofreader, updating Lexycooper.com, making a blog post on Goodreads, and scheduling announcements and promotions through the end of the year is well worth missing a creative day. You can be creative AND strategic!

 

 

Novel Experiment Day 6 – What Was I Thinking?

My hands and wrists hurt. I don’t give a shit what happens to the couple in Wallbanger. I pretty much hate this book I’m writing, too. Having no real foundation in the romance tropes and traditions I don’t have a real voice. I’m trying to write like this or like that instead of sticking to my own style.

Right now I feel like Bruce Willis in Die Hard.

Die hard air shaft

I thought this would be fun. An interesting way to spend two weeks so that I didn’t mess around with Summer Wind before I can read it with a fresh pair of eyes and figure out how to get it in shape for the hand-off to my editor.

But this is like a punishment! I’m reading books I’m not interested in while books I genuinely want to read sit on my Kindle taunting me. Why am I punishing myself? Do I feel like I haven’t worked hard enough? That I haven’t earned a break? So far in 2014 I did final rounds of rewrites and published Griefed, wrote and published B.Y.O.P., and wrote a first draft of Summer Wind. If you don’t count Griefed as ‘writing’ since I finished the first draft December 30, 2013, I’ve still written over 120,000 words this year.

Day Six may just be an off-day. (And I did get a little over 1,200 words written which would be completely satisfying daily total if I was writing one of my “real books.”) One in which I feel sorry for myself and just really need some time away from the keyboard. But on the other hand I keep going back to the reason why I have never before attempted the romance genre: I just don’t like it. And writing something you wouldn’t want to read seems like a pretty lame thing to do.

giving-upSo. Do I forge ahead and push myself to finish a first draft in the next 8 business days? Do I take a more leisurely route and admit that two weeks is not enough time? Do I say “fuck it,” shelve the project, and dive into writing Lexy #4, or even just throw up my hands and take a break from writing for another week. Read books I want to read, watch movies, take my kid swimming and otherwise refill the creativity bank?

I’m going to sleep on it. And see how I feel tomorrow.

Novel Experiment Day 5 – Wallbanger and the Iliac Furrows

WallbangerDay Five research went pretty well. I found something fun to read: Wallbanger by Alice Clayton. The temperature is on the cool side i.e. I’m 40% in and the heroine hasn’t gotten laid even once. But, it’s a fun read and it’s making me laugh. In a “that’s funny” way, not a “I can’t believe how hard this sucks” way. It’s the first book in the “Cocktail” series, which includes Rusty Nailed and the upcoming Mai Tai’d Up. The comedy is on the slapstick side, but when you’re laughing out loud you can’t argue that it’s not funny.

The other thing I researched was anatomy. Specifically that V-shaped muscle below the abs. If you don’t already know, it is the iliac furrow, also known as the Belt of Adonis or just the V. Here it is in its natural habitat:

joe manganiello in magic mike 1

Finally, I did some writing. A lot of writing. 4,528 words or the equivalent of about 18 pages. And one of the things I’m finding as I read romance and attempt to write it, is that because there is no plot other than bringing the characters together and pulling them apart, you’ve got to sort of rathole on stuff that, for example, in my mystery/crime novels I would either skip or handle very briefly. Emotional stuff, for instance. Lexy Cooper may be full of emotion about a dead colleague or an errant boyfriend, but her distress only takes up a couple sentences. Maybe a paragraph at a time. In romance, the main characters ponder and worry, daydream and swoon for pages at a time. Depending on the book, the feelings junk can take up a lot more real estate than the sex stuff.

Day Five BnG

On Day Five I also attempted to write from the Stripper’s point of view for the first time. I hadn’t done it before because I guess it hadn’t sunk in that I was supposed to. It felt weird to jump into Cade’s head somewhere around Chapter Four and I’m not sure it helps the book. However, if I find myself light on words, that would be a good way to plump up the book; to go back and add a glimpse into his thoughts.

smart girls stupid

Finally, writing and typing this much has made my wrists begin to rebel. I’m not sure they will allow me to keep up this pace.

 

Novel Experiment Day 4 – Own and Bone

So this post is actually combining two days. A research (non-writing) day and a work day. I’m lumping them both into “Day Four.”

For my research I started reading Little Black Book by Tabatha Vargo and Melissa Andrea. I got to about 35% when I figured I’d read enough. For three reasons: 1) there are quite a few typos. Sloppy editing. 2) The female main character, Jessica, doesn’t seem to have a solid personality. Maybe it gels later on, but I won’t ever know because 3) I’ve read this before.

Not this book, but one just like it: Rush, by Maya Banks. It is an example of what I’ll call the “Own and Bone” subgenre of romance/erotica. What the hell is Own and Bone? Here’s the premise: Dude wants this chick. So he pays her to be at his command. Makes her sign a contract. She has to do what he says without question, most of which includes submitting to being tied up and ravished. Having been through this story already, I suspect that Jessica has a buttplug in her future. So I opted out.

erotic v romance coversI posted something about Little Black Book this morning on Facebook and one of my friends asked “Are you writing romance or erotica?” I asked “Where is the line?” and a lively debate ensued. Briefly, this friend said that you can tell the difference by the cover. She provided a picture to illustrate the difference, and I think she’s got a point. If you see a dark book cover with a close-up of body parts (or a pair of handcuffs) it’s probably erotica. If the cover has a light background and a couple gazing into one another’s eyes, it’s probably romance.

But. The book I read the other day, Where I Belong, was definitely romance but had very hot sex…albeit sans buttplugs (though there was a brief handcuffs episode).

So maybe the line between Romance and Erotica isn’t a line at all. Maybe it’s a buttplug.

That's not a binky, folks.

That’s not a binky, folks.

Here’s what I got done on Day 4:

  • Wasted time researching cooking schools in Italy.
  • Wasted more time deliberating whether an engagement ring should be cushion-cut or asscher-cut.
  • Wrote 4,408 words!

Day Four BnG

 

Romance/Erotica Fun:

50 Shades of Grey: Who Knew Women Liked Erotica? – USA Today

Novel Experiment Day 3 – A miscalculation and a pleasant surprise

Day three was great for research. Not great for productivity. BECAUSE I guess I forgot that I can’t write on weekends. Not because I’m lazy (which I am) but because I can’t write with people around me. As in I am an unfathomable bitch if you interrupt me while I’m writing. So in order to survive, I must adjust the Novel Experiment from Can I Write a Romance Novel in Two Weeks, to Can I Write a Romance Novel in Fourteen Days. Business days, that is.

Color RunOn Day 3 I got a lot of reading done. Part of it while my husband and younger daughter participated in a Color Run at a local park. People are running, dancing, wearing tutus, and pelting one another with packets of cornstarch colored blue, orange and pink. And there I am brushing pink dust from my kindle screen and muttering. #BookwormProblems.

 

I began to read but could not finish a book called Fierce by Clarissa Wild. The premise was nerd girl meets bad boy. Unfortunately, it was terrible. Everything about it sucked. Here’s my Goodreads review of Fierce:

“An absolute abomination. This had to be written by a pre-teen or it’s a poor translation of a tween book originally written in a language not English. In what language/culture does one “follow a class” instead of take or attend? I think most 12 year olds are too sophisticated for this.”

Mean? I guess. Maybe Karma set me straight because yesterday I got a scathing 1-star review of my short story I Saw Lexy Kissing Santa, calling it a “poor Janet Evanovich copy.”

Where I Belong

But the good news is that I found a romance novel that I actually liked! Where I Belong by J Daniels. The premise is a girl returns to her hometown for the summer and discovers that the hot stranger she’d picked up the night before is the guy who teased and tortured her when they were kids. So she hates him, but you know, wants to bone him 24/7. It follows all the romance rules including the HEA, but I cared about the characters and the sex scenes were exactly the right temperature of hot for me (ie no buttplugs or riding crops), and I even laughed out loud more than once. It was a good book. For real. At one point I was reading on the couch and I murmured “Oh my godddddd,” and my husband wanted to know what was going on. So I told him, “Oh, well, the guy with the nine inch dick was just revealed to be a cop.” File that under things not to say to your husband.

hot copSo what I learned from Where I Belong (which, I liked SO much I immediately downloaded her other book and, I’m almost embarrassed to tell you, fanned her Facebook page) is that the romance genre does not have to have corny dialog or stereotypical characters. They can be as contemporary as last week and the dialog can be how real people talk.

One thing I have noticed in my quest is that part of the book is often from the dude’s point of view. I don’t remember that from the bodice-rippers of eighth grade, so I don’t know if it’s a faulty memory or if it’s a new thing. I wasn’t planning to have any of my book be from the Stripper’s POV, but…should I?

Romance Fun:

Euphemisms for Body Parts in Romance Novels. – From BookRiot.

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