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Crowdfunding for Novelists

In between the second and third Lexy Cooper books I did a crowdfunding campaign to fund a research trip. The trip wasn’t critical to my book; I had already budgeted money for the cover, editing, and proofreading. I didn’t have to travel to Roswell, but believed the book would be more authentic if I had first-hand experience at the location. The writing and publishing of Griefed was happening whether the crowdfunding was successful or not. That gave me the freedom to test the waters of crowdfunding without it being a make-or-break situation. The campaign ended up being very successful, and here’s what I learned.

ufo museum

1. You Don’t Need a Video

Indiegogo (and Kickstarter) will encourage you to make a video and cite statistics telling you a campaign with a video is X percent more likely to be successful. I’m sure that’s true for films and video games, but I don’t believe it for books. And yes, perhaps I just didn’t want to make a video because hosting a show on Xbox Live was enough video for me for the rest of my life. Video is essential for showing motion, but how will you show a book you’ve yet to write? Or maybe it’s written and you’re asking people to fund a book cover or printed copies or promotional costs. What can you show them? Your face, I guess. If you are fantastically good-looking and charismatic go for it. It will probably work to your advantage. Otherwise, enjoy the fact that it doesn’t (yet) matter what writers look like.

2. Make Frequent Updates

alien shipLet your donors or backers or angels know what’s going on during the course of the campaign and as you deliver the goods. Don’t spam or annoy them with updates just to say you’re planning on an update. Think about news beats. A good time to update is when you’re halfway to your goal, when you’ve met your goal, and as you use the funds you’ve been given. For example: I updated my Indiegogo page six times:

  1. The halfway point. I also posted a photo of the paperback that some backers would receive.
  2. Goal met. Because there was still time in the campaign, I told backers where the funds beyond what I’d asked would be used for (cover art and editing).
  3. Details on the research trip. I provided dates of the trip and a photo of the trip mascot.
  4. More stretch goals. The campaign was still going, and money kept coming in.
  5. Leaving for the research trip. More thanks and links to follow along.
  6. Results of the research trip. Photos, what I learned, how the experience would benefit the book.

3. Exceed Expectations

lexypostcardIt was important to me that my backers felt like they got their money’s worth—long before the book came out. I made sure to get deliverables out to them as soon as possible. I never wanted anyone to have to wonder where their stuff was or if they’d been forgotten—or worse, ripped off. I also did some things that were not included in the Indiegogo perks:

  • I sent them postcards from Roswell, signed by “Lexy.”
  • I gave them all a free copy of the short story I Saw Lexy Kissing Santa.
  • I revealed the cover and title to them before anyone else

4. Here’s why I think my Indiegogo campaign was successful:

My goal of one thousand dollars for the research trip was met in five days. By the end of the campaign I’d exceeded my monetary goal by over sixteen hundred dollars, and I had a wonderful and productive trip to Roswell. Sure, I may just have gotten lucky or been in the right place at the right time, but I think these factors contributed to the successful outcome:

  1. I asked for a very specific thing — a trip to Roswell, for a very specific reason—research.
  2. Lexy Cooper books were a known quantity. People could see that I had successfully written and published two books in the series and probably felt like the risk of my flaking out and not finishing the book was low.
  3. People love to see their name in a book. Or anywhere, really. The perk in which I name a character after the backer was so popular I had to double the amount.

Here’s my advice to writers regarding crowdfunding: Wait until you’ve got a book or two under your belt before you do it. I have seen many campaigns from would-be authors that fail for these reasons:

  • They are unproven as writers. If you can’t show potential backers that you can see a big project to completion and have some degree of skill, you should ask your family to back you because they love you.
  • The book isn’t written and they are asking folks to pay them for their time to write it. That’s just insulting.
  • Their goals are vague or overpriced. If you’re asking for 10,000 bucks for editing, cover art, and the super-vague “marketing,” you come across as naïve and greedy.

Homewrecker, Whore, Slut: My bad reviews

LexyBadGirlMy first Lexy Cooper novel, Schooled, has been out in the world for almost two years. People read it, some like it and some don’t. That’s to be expected. What I’ve been flummoxed by, however, is that when people don’t like my book enough to take the time to write a negative review, they ALWAYS cite Lexy’s sexuality as the reason they didn’t like it. And the fact that these readers seem to be blindsided by the sexual content even though the book description reads “Videogames, Sex, and Murder.” Downloading a book advertising sex as a main component and then complaining about the sex seems to me like reading A Song of Ice and Fire series and being pissed off because you don’t like dragons.

Anyway, check out these quotes from reviews (most are from Schooled, others are from Pwned and Griefed.)

  • “To say the main characters were loose is an understatement. Skip over the sex and stumble over the language it is an excellent read.”
  • “Lexy annoyed me with the way she used her body to get what she wanted. I just cringed a little bit every time she did it.”
  • “Don’t mind casual sex in stories but I dislike adultery the way it is used in this novel. I found it so offensive I stopped reading and skipped to the review.”
  • “A lot more cursing and very casual sex than I enjoy.”
  • “I could of did without the hot double d breasted geek chick. it kind took away from the story.”
  • “the lack of principles was troubling. It didn’t seem to matter who was hurt or how many.”
  • “it’s really hard to root for someone like her because in real life she’d be considered a home wrecking, user and slut.”
  • “The Mystery is really nothing more than a platform for Lexy to hop from bed to bed and sexual situations with mostly attached or married men or use her assets like a whore to get what she wants from weak co-workers. She uses and abuses people without a thought and yet were supposed to like her.”

save your money unless you want some shallow soft core porn

  • “the book also has a ton of graphic sex scenes that are just trashy and none artistic”
  • “All the “hooking up” may be realistic for this age group, but I didn’t think it added a lot to the story.”
  • “loads of gratuitous sex, profanity and just plain drama between Lexy and all the people she was cheating on”
  • “A vast landscape of obscenities, vulgarities, adultery, backstabbing, explicit sex scenes and quid pro quo whoring at work…and that was the “heroine””
  • “a sordid tale of murder, intrigue, and infidelity. A lot of infidelity.”
  • “some of the sex stuff felt like it was a little over the top”
  • “the heroine is pretty busy throughout the book having sex with engaged and married men.”
  • “I was still rooting for him to somehow gut Lexy in one of the rare times her legs were closed.”
  • “the main characters morals are rather lacking”
  • “no matter how well she’s fleshed out or however many details are sprinkled onto her, she’s still an aunty acting like she’s 1.5 times younger than she is. Yikes.”

Let me be very clear here, I appreciate every single person that reads my book and takes the time to review it. Even if they hate it. I’m not angry at these reviewers and don’t harbor ill will.

What I’m interested in here is the slut-shaming dynamic going on. From this evidence, the ONLY reason that people don’t like my books is that Lexy has a lot of sex and she has some of it with a married man. As if that has never happened either in human history or in literature. The guy who said it would have been an excellent read (thanks!) if not for the adultery. Did he also hate Anna Karenina? Had to throw The Great Gatsby across the room? Write a scathing review of Madame Bovary? Burn Ulysses?

SchooledCoverI’ve made it a rule to not explain things to readers. I’ve found over the course of six books that if my editor needs clarification on something, I need to rewrite, not explain. Because I won’t get the chance with readers. But I’m going to break my own rule briefly because this business about Lexy using her body and quid pro quo whoring at work is an issue that keeps cropping up. The scene in question is one with Lexy and her co-worker Josh. She’s under orders to go to the marketing department to scrounge up swag to give away at a midnight game launch. Now, there is quid pro quo, but it happens in Skype. Lexy asks Josh to donate game swag and promises him front page coverage on the web site in exchange. He agrees and she goes to his office to retrieve it. On her way there, I made sure to point out Lexy’s state of mind regarding her friend’s recent murder:

“The sunshine, the beer, and the fact that she was alive while others were not so fortunate had her feeling a bit reckless.”

She goes into Josh’s office (a man that she has some sexual experience with in the past, and is attracted to, and at this point in the book is unaware that he’s recently gotten engaged. In her mind, he is single) Lexy sits on his lap and encourages him to feel her up. They’re playing a game. The “negotiation” for the number of Lock & Load headsets is role playing. Maybe you personally have never engaged in that kind of thing, but many people enjoy it. So, she gets headsets for the fans, but not by doing anything she didn’t want to do with someone she’s not attracted to. If you want to lay down blame in this encounter, put some on Josh, who is engaged to another woman.

Also, people are so offended by Lexy and Nate’s (or Lexy and Josh’s) sexual relationship that they feel they have to stop reading and warn others. Okay, to each his own, I guess. But…you’re not offended by the dead blonde in the creek? The abuse of power? Blackmail? Drugs? Alcoholism? Using an employee’s sexuality to sell product and then punishing her for it? Paying men more than women for the same work? That’s all fine and dandy, but god forbid a woman have sex for pleasure on her own terms?

Anyway, it bothers me, but now I’ve gotten it off my chest. Back to writing Lexy 4. Spoiler: she has ALL THE SEX in this one. If cursing and sex offend you, don’t read my books.

 

Refilling the creativity tank

Since I started earnestly working on Lexy #4 in July, I’ve been keeping track of my cumulative word count. Like this:

Progress on Lexy #4 since July 31

Progress on Lexy #4 since July 31

When I hit each 5,000 word milestone, I post one of these on Facebook. The images and text snippet are carefully chosen to intrigue and hint, but not give too much away.

Lexy 4 15k milestone Lexy 4 25k milestone

 

If you look closely at my post-it notes, you will see that I have not made progress on Lexy 4 since September 22–two weeks ago. What have I been doing? Well, actually I’ve been pretty busy getting two other books ready for publication. Doing final proof and layout for Lexy Cooper Triple Threat and getting it published simultaneously in eBook and paperback, PLUS working with my editor Marti McKenna on the first Mike Malick novel Summer Wind. But it wasn’t like I didn’t have time to do any writing on Lexy 4–I chose to put it aside for awhile, focus on production (and marketing) for the other two books, and, refill my creativity tank.

What’s that? Creativity isn’t a bottomless well from which you can always draw ideas? Maybe for Stephen King. Me? Every once in a while I need to stop creating and start consuming. Feeding my imagination with books, films, music, comics, games…whatever. It isn’t research, it’s pure entertainment. I read five books* in the last two weeks. One of which was Summer Wind, but that was QA, not entertainment. (Though I fervently hope it is entertaining to my readers!). I watched a lot of movies (my husband and I are watching and reviewing 31 scary movies in October), started re-watching The Sopranos, played a bunch of hidden object games** on the PC, and pointedly did not think about Lexy and murder.

1-vintage-gas-pump-lori-knisely

Vintage Gas Pump by Lori Knisely. You can totally buy prints of this gorgeous thing at fineartamerica.com

Yesterday it was time to get back at it. I began by reading through the entire Lexy 4 manuscript-in-progress. And it’s better than I remembered while mired in it every day. And I see stuff that will need fixing in the second draft, but mainly I am bubbling over with ideas and enthusiasm for this project. Today, I resume work on Lexy 4.

I know I’m usually a hardass about writing with discipline, and I do believe that you’ll never get that book written if you only work on it when the spirit moves you. But, sometimes it is necessary to take a break and soak up the creations of other people. Then, get back to your project with full tank and renewed purpose.

*Books: Watching You, Loyalty, Doctor Sleep, Knock Knock
** Games: Sable Maze: Forbidden Garden, Lost Legends: The Weeping Woman, Danse Macabre: Moulin Rouge, Grim Legends 2: Song of the Dark Swan

 

 

My new book is out!

This is a proud moment for me seeing the first three Lexy books under one cover. Also new: this one released in eBook and paperback simultaneously. The book is a big ‘un: it runs over 600 pages and weighs more than 2 pounds. Slip one under the tree of your favorite reader. Super duper thanks to Team Lexy: Editor Marti McKenna, Proofreader Stacie Magelssen, and cover artist Brett Parson (aka Blitz Cadet).

Lexy Cooper: Triple ThreatTriplethreatColorFinalsmall copy

Explore a world of sex, lies, murder, and video games in this Lexy Cooper collection which includes three novels and bonus content:
Schooled (Lexy Cooper #1)
Pwned (Lexy Cooper #2)
Griefed (Lexy Cooper #3)
I Saw Lexy Kissing Santa (Lexy Cooper #2.5)
First chapter of Summer Wind (Mike Malick #1, Lexy Cooper #3.5)
Foreword by Jenn Frank, winner of the 2013 Games Journalism Prize

From the Foreword:

“She might wear pigtails and short skirts, and she may casually use words like “noob” and “pwn,” but she’s cut from the same cloth as any flawed noir hero. She shares as much in common with Sam Spade as she does with Nancy Drew.”

5 Great Reasons to Publish Short Content

short-fictionWhen you’re trying to establish a brand, it’s important to build your series as quickly as you can without sacrificing quality or sanity. If you have a good response to the debut book, don’t make readers wait a year or more for their next meal—they will move on, and you need all the momentum you can get. Short stories are a way to stave off starvation and keep your audience engaged while you finish the next full book.

How short can it be?

Too short will piss people off. I’m not sure why, but I’ve seen tons of one- and two-star reviews in which the reader’s only complaint was that it was “too short.” Anyway, I’d say the bare minimum is 5,000 words. That’s enough real estate to tell a complete—albeit brief—story and make it worth your reader’s time. Here are some ideas for a short story featuring your protagonists:
• Prequel – Your heroine in college, your hero during Desert Storm. The first time your main characters met.
• In-between – Action that takes place between two of your full books. Even better if it’s a time or incident referenced in the later book.
• Fantasy – Take a break from your usual genre and send your private eye into space. Or stick your sorceress in a modern corporate cubicle. How would your CIA agent deal with becoming a werewolf at the full moon?
• Seasonal – Christmas stories are popular every holiday season and beyond. Halloween’s a good opportunity to explore horror, disguises, or just spooky fun. Summertime offers all kinds of vacation, travel, beach, and bikini action.

So when are you supposed to find the time to write a short?

Well, those two or three weeks when you finish a novel-length work and you’re not allowed to touch it until you get some distance. Or while you’re waiting for feedback from your editor or proofreader. Once you’ve finished the first draft of a novel, there is some downtime, and for the first few days you may not feel like writing anything, but then again you might miss your daily fix of your characters. I know that when I finish a Lexy book I am just sick to death of her. She’s emotionally exhausting and I’m anxious to take a break. But after a few weeks or a month, I start to miss her. I start to think about what sort of trouble she can get into next. I just can’t quit her. So I might have to knock out a little short to get it out of my system so I can give my undivided attention to the other book I’m supposed to be writing.

5 Great Reasons to Publish Short Content

1. Keep your readers engaged and hungry (but not starving) for more content
2. Maintain a regular release cadence
3. Explore settings and situations that you wouldn’t want to build a whole novel around
4. Test the waters on new characters or genres
5. Generates a promotional opportunity: pimp the new short and your whole catalog

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.

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