Sometimes Winning IS Everything

Bloodedlowrezaward

I am proud to announce that Blooded (Book 3) has won this year’s IRDA YA category!

I’ve said it before, and here I’m saying it again. I suck at the marketing thing. The truth is even if you put everything on the line and promote like you’ve got the cure for the common cold, all that work can’t and doesn’t guarantee book sales, even in traditional publishing, much less in self-publishing.  Beyond that, as an author who follows (on Twitter) and likes (on Facebook) a great many other authors, I find nothing more irritating than someone who has nothing to say except “buy my book” ad nauseum. (This isn’t news to those who have read my blog before.)

So marketing—the promoting of self and self’s books—leaves me on the limited edge of what little sanity I still possess. Because here’s the truth; promoting your book mainly to other authors is a relatively futile endeavor. You need to find readers, and readers aren’t following unknown authors on social media; they’re out there reading authors they’ve heard of before. Sigh.

I knew early on that standing on a street corner with a sign pointing to where my books were on sale wasn’t for me. Instead I entered a few contests, most of which I flamed out on, but the one that has provided me consistent excellent reviews and a win last year for Tainted (Book 2 of the Lisen of Solsta trilogy) in the Young Adult category was IndieReader.com with their Indie Reader Discovery Awards (IRDA). I was thrilled beyond on thrilled when I got word of that because that I could promote.  Welcome to déjà vu all over again.

To celebrate this event, books 1 and 2 (Fractured and Tainted) are being offered free from today, May 29, 2015 through Tuesday, June 2, 2015, and Blooded, this year’s winning concoction, is on sale for the first time EVER for $0.99.

And here’s the best part.  The trilogy is complete, so you can binge on all three books and not have to wait for a sequel. Now that’s worth something.

Freed from Social Media Self-Published Author Slavery

I love words. I love how easy it is to manipulate them to mean something they never meant to mean, and I love how they roll off my tongue when I read a good piece of writing aloud. As a novelist, nailing the essence of a character’s feelings at a particular moment in the story pleases me greatly. I write because I can’t not write.

Lately, however, I have found myself writing less and less as I’m tied down to a task that I not only take no pleasure in whatsoever but which seems pointless to the point of pain. Marketing. Promoting. Selling the artistic soul. Yeah, that. And for what?

Here’s how it is for the self-published author. You write the book. If you lack the ability or the gift, you pay someone else to edit and proofread the book, design the cover for the book, set up the interior layout of the book and, ultimately, make sure the book all comes together as a cohesive whole. And that, it turns out, is only the beginning.

Or the end. Because before you ever sat down to write that book, you should have been blogging and signing up for every social media site available. You should have had a platform ready to go before you knew what a platform was. The platform, they say, is key to establishing your brand, and establishing your brand is paramount to success in self-publishing.

Or, so they say.

The reality is somewhat removed from all the articles (hundreds upon hundreds, perhaps thousands) written almost daily regarding how to do all that marketing stuff and how if you just do as “I” say (whoever “I” is), you’ll see your sales increase tenfold—nay—a hundredfold.

Yeah, right. In the end, it’s just so much BS.

Imagine yourself in a room filled with people—and I do mean filled with people. To the point where breathing is but a distant memory and you wonder if you’ll ever know the refreshment of a cool breeze on your skin again because no place on your body is untouched by part of someone else’s body. All of that crushing humanity, and everyone shouting incessantly, “BUY MY BOOK! BUY MY BOOK!! BUY MY BOOK!!!”

That’s what my Facebook news feed and my Twitter feed look like. The weight of humanity landing on my social media accounts, yelling directly in my ear that the pictured book in the link to Amazon with the guy and his six- or eight-pack abs on the cover is definitely the book I want to buy. (I use this particular illustration because romance seems to be the bestseller of bestsellers in the indie world—most poorly written, pushed out half a dozen a year by any individual author and beloved by their readers. I have to admit that as a feminist, I find this appalling, and as a writer…well, you get the picture.)

I read a blog today called “Please shut up: Why self-promotion as an author doesn’t work,” and I took Delilah S. Dawson’s cautionary tale as the call of a liberator unlocking and opening the door to the marketing cage. I’m stepping out of the room where all the hawkers screech and returning to writing. I’m totally finished with Instagram, and Twitter will mostly languish. I’ll stay in touch with friends on Facebook, but my “author” presence will diminish a bit.

As Ms. Dawson goes into marvelous detail about why social media doesn’t work, I refer you to her and her blog on the topic to defend my decision and, perhaps, to allow you to hear the call and decide for yourself.

(And note, as I did when I went to link to the blog post, that she’s added a new one today discussing what she knows about being marketed to from a reader’s perspective. Also good stuff.)

Review – Veronica Phoenix

The opening chapter of Veronica Phoenix by Jim Proctor grabbed me and catapulted me into a great and glorious journey with Carl Wilkins, captain of a deep-space salvage vessel. Early on, it becomes clear that poor Carl has not yet learned the lesson that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. However, Carl is a believable character with whom I became invested almost immediately upon meeting him, and I enjoyed this book for its nail-biting adventure and Carl’s personal development as he works his way out of the life-threatening fix he’s ended up in.

I found the prose easy to read, and I appreciated the careful knack Proctor has of navigating the pitfalls of technical details—educating us without overwhelming us with information. His writing style is well crafted, and he moves the story along, handing us new revelations just at the moment when we need them and not before.

I did have a problem with the ending. I felt that Proctor lost focus, skipping over Carl’s redemption, while the ah-ha moment of an unlikable, minor character gained an importance it (and he) didn’t deserve. The writing remained consistent, but the story took a dip there for me.

Overall, I would highly recommend this book to readers of Science Fiction and those who appreciate the character study of a well-defined anti-hero. Proctor has written his finest work yet, and although I could only give it 4 stars because of my personal quibble with the ending, this book is well worth reading.

Give Me an Inch, I’ll Make You a Book

I went onto the web site of a prominent office supply chain the other day and ordered a thousand 4 x 6″ index cards. I love my 4 x 6 cards. They are, perhaps, the most used tool in my writing arsenal, and I utilize one for each scene in my books. I usually start out with 20 or 30 of them, with such details as “Battle Day 1” or “Lisen in bath” or “the reunion” and build the stack from there.

That’s how the story unfolds for me—little vignettes in time with rarely any details at all. Just a moment carved out. And as I near that scene, what has led up to it begins to take on meaning, and I jot down pieces of action and dialogue and plot points that I intend to get into the composition of the scene. In addition, I note the day (numbered sequentially from the beginning of the book) and the date as well as the number of the scene. (I don’t break my books into chapters until I’m on my final draft.) I also finalize whose point of view will best tell this bit of the story. For instance, under “Lisen in bath” I wrote a brief exchange of dialogue between Lisen and her companion in the bath. What they say isn’t relevant to the plot, but it is relevant to Lisen’s state of mind at that moment. On the other hand, “the reunion” is blank save for the POV and the day/date.

I play with these cards as their numbers increase. By the time I was through the first draft of the third book in my Lisen of Solsta trilogy, Blooded, I had 94 scenes and, hence, 94 cards. That’s basically an inch of cards, and I still pull them out every once in a while and fondle them. Yeah, I know, I’m weird, but I’m a writer, okay? In my defense, I often refer to them if I’m trying to find the part where such-and-such happens. How many members were there in the privy council? And where did they all sit around the table?

4 x 6 cards become Blooded
4 x 6 cards become Blooded

I do have a scene outline for each draft—as scenes do sometimes appear in subsequent drafts, disappear completely or move around—but that outline doesn’t hold the precious notes that remind me what my intent was for that scene. And where people were sitting around the table in the privy council, of course.

So, there you have it. How an inch of 4 x 6 cards became a novel. And I’m at it again. I have 22 completed scenes and 22 cards. About 20 cards with scenes awaiting writing lined up, but those will likely double to triple in volume before I’m done. After which I will have enough cards to write ten more books. Goodie!

And Then Again, Maybe Not

In my most recent post, I bemoaned the “romantic” nature of the titles of the books in my feminist fantasy trilogy. I beat myself up sans merci. Funny how that pity pot catches up with a person. I spoke of reality—as though I have a hold on reality. Ha! In addition to that post, I whined quite a bit on Facebook, deleting three-quarters of the posts immediately after posting them, but I did leave a couple hanging out there.

People had suggestions. Some said keep the titles, change the covers and my marketing strategy. (Truth is I don’t have a marketing strategy. I’m a freakin’ introvert, okay?) Some said they had no problem with any of it. I’m also fairly sure that there were some who thought I was full of it and posted nothing rather than hurt my feelings.

One comment in particular, however, nailed it. From an online friend dating back to the mid 1990s. She hit me with some straight talk that slapped me right back into place, and here’s what I took from what she said. I have to let go at some point. Lisen, my main character, and all her friends deserve the opportunity to find friends out in the world, on their own. I can promote the books. I can suggest—politely, mind; I’m not into that in-your-face line of promotional strategy—that you check the books out. Maybe I’ll even take the money and time I’d planned on redoing covers and such and put it into a video for the books. Now how’s that for a strategy?

And in the midst of my “poor-me-ing,” a couple of soft-but-persistent voices arose. Comments in the midst of my maelstrom of self-pity. They’d read my books and loved them. Which brought home to me the “real” reality. I can’t know who is reading or has read my books. Not really (there’s a variation of that word again). Secret readers hide out everywhere it seems. They hide in their corners reading away, not reviewing, just absorbing. And passing the books on to others. A moment of sweet contentment, a moment of grace, when I discover I’m not writing in a vacuum.

A novelist sits at home, alone, at a desk, surrounded by sheets of paper or notebooks or, in my case, 4 x 6” cards that lay out a story she wants to tell as best she can. She lives in that world, whether it’s a modern-day metropolis or a Greco-Roman-like world in another dimension, and manipulates characters and situations to conjure up the best possible tale.

And that, my friends, is my excuse. I simply confused the “real” world with my pretend world and assumed I had that level of control. Nope. And now I’ll get back to my latest project where I still have control. Happy Monday!

Seriously? You’re Going to do What?

Here’s the thing. When I began the process of publishing my first book in the Lisen of Solsta trilogy, I came up with what I thought was a really great title—Fractured. That one word describes precisely the dilemma Lisen, my hero, finds herself in throughout the entirety of that book. At the beginning she believes she’s Lisen Holt, Valley girl, but by the end of the first chapter she’s been abducted to a world completely alien to her. And, it’s where she belongs. She was never quite human, and Simon and Daisy Holt were not her parents. Within a couple of chapters, she’s also learned that she’s destined to rule this strange world. Yup, she’s fractured, all right.

Silly me. I never thought to run a search on Amazon regarding my brilliant title. I mean, who else would come up with just “fractured”? I was brilliant, and it was a brilliant title, soon to be followed by Tainted and Blooded to complete the trilogy.

Then, as happens all too often, reality plunged its dagger in my heart and left me bleeding and gasping for breath. In the process of collecting many “likes” for my Facebook author page, I had returned the favor and found that I was now in the center of a maelstrom of romance novelists—not my favorite genre but, in my experience, the most popular genre for self-published books. And guess what. I started seeing a few “fractured”-like titles.  Fractured Vows, Fractured Love, Fractured Promises, ad nauseum. But I was committed to that title. I’d already published that book, and the rules are strict. Once the ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is assigned to a book, no one can change the title, the series name, the name of the author, the measurements of the page OR whether it’s in color or black and white. So…

I forged on. I commissioned the cover for the second book, again with a popular romance novel title, Tainted. I published that book, forever branding it with that name, then commissioned a new cover for Fractured. I moved on to book 3, which also has a fairly popular title, though Blooded as a title tends to fall more into the paranormal genre rather than romance.

You’re killing me!

Now some might ask (and have) that shouldn’t I stick with Fractured since romance is so popular? Not exactly. It all has to do with brand, in this case, the books’ brand. Lisen of Solsta is the story of a young woman who is equal in every way with any man in her world and as a female hero is an aberration only because she’s a hero, not because she’s a girl hero. If you run that search for “fractured” on Amazon, up come books with covers showing a phenomenal number of steroid-muscled men ravaging buxom, luscious-lipped women. That is the antithesis of my Fractured. Even if you narrow the search down to fantasy alone, the sexy-sexies completely overwhelm my feminist tome. Sigh.

What’s a girl to do?

It looks like I’m going to retire the three books as they are titled now and pull them off Amazon’s “shelves.” Then I’ll negotiate with my cover artist regarding what it will take to “fix” the covers. Once I’ve accomplished those tasks, I will republish with new ISBNs and titles for all three books. Of course, this all depends on whether I can come up with new titles that tell the story without sounding like someone else’s title and manage to retain the brand I so cavalierly and naively tossed into the romance fire the first time around.

And here’s the rub.  I will lose all the reviews, minimal as they are, that were posted under the old titles. But, on the other hand, it’s possible, maybe if I get it right this time, that more people looking for a book like my book will find it and not reject it because it sounds too romancey to them. Will I actually take this project on? Stay tuned. I’m sure I’ll have some complaining and explaining to do as I once again watch for falling rocks on the learning curve.

We Need a Hero Who Looks Like Us

It began in 1977. Somebody…God, the Goddess, whoever…said, “Thou shalt,” and I did. Thirty-seven years later, and finally, I can say, “It’s done.”

I wrote a story about a girl with a mythical destiny. Along the way I learned all sorts of stuff—like, there is a male model of myth. Male heroes fight their way out of things, killing a lot of people along the way and making a huge mess which someone has to clean up, and you know who, right? Not that Lisen doesn’t fight; she does. Not that Lisen doesn’t kill; she has. But after every step I went through to get here (write a book, check; write more books, check; rewrite the first book, done; self-publish, start all over again, self-publish again, start all over again, all check; self-publish all three books for real in the end, check) I realized that something had to give.

Back in 2005 when Revenge of the Sith was released, a short documentary appeared on the extras DVD. It was called “The Chosen One.” In it George Lucas explained how Anakin Skywalker was, indeed, the Chosen One of the Jedi prophecy. As he showed us why this worked (something I already understood), he spoke of how Anakin/now Darth Vader lost some of his power with the Force when he was maimed to the point of near-death.

Wait a minute, whoa, that’s not how I see it. Power comes from within, not from the physical body.

Snap.

That’s it. Who came up with these myths—the ones on which we base all our fantasies and life-changing stories? They may come from myths from the times of matriarchy, but they’ve been redressed and retold for the profit of men so many times that they now follow the very-much-physical male model.

Snap.

So I asked myself, “Self, how can I change this? What must I do to take my female protagonist without female baggage from the point of being the ignorant-young-person-with-no-idea-who-he/she-is and turn her into the hero of a myth based on the power-from-within female model?”

Oh, and then there was this other thing. A reviewer of book 2 (Tainted) said, “In leaving her parents and childhood on Earth behind, Lisen has been forced to rise to the occasion and prepare herself to become the adult her empire requires. This transition parallels the mental and physical changes of puberty, and thus might especially appeal to the young adult reader.” – See more at: IndieReader.com.

Well, that was an assignment I hadn’t anticipated. I was the kid who, when asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, replied, “Peter Pan.” And I was going to have to make growing up look like a good thing? I sat back, considered where Lisen was going to end up at the end of the story. Did it play up the perks of adulthood, you know, the good stuff? What good stuff you ask? Oh, let’s see, responsibility, freedom that isn’t freedom, life choices that wring your heart. Yeah, that sort of thing.

Okay, so Lisen ends up…oh, wait, I can’t give that away. Not now, not ever. You have to read the books. But I looked at the ending, and here’s what I decided. There’s resolution to the turmoil she suffered throughout the books. Life ain’t perfect, but she’s able to look at what she’s been through with calm acceptance. And there are rewards for her hard work and commitment. Which is the way life is when you’re a grownup, if you accept being a grownup.

So, let’s see, given the mission of telling a story, with a female hero in search of a metaphorical grail, with an alteration of the traditional male-dominated paradigm of myth and with an ending that makes becoming an adult attractive, did I succeed? Only time will tell, but if you’re interested, read Fractured and Tainted, the first two books of Lisen of Solsta which are free until 2/26/2015, and then check out Blooded, the final volume.

Feedback from the Masses

Must keep the blog going. That’s what they say. If you want to keep your platform steady, the blog is the way to do it. Well, god knows, I can’t tell my platform from my brand from a hole in the ground, but I’ll keep the blog active.

Next, I must come up with a topic. Shoot. What the heck do I write about? About the cat I had to euthanize last week? (No, too sad, and I’d really rather not go there.) About how my new work in progress is moving with starts and stops? (Probably not since I want to inspire people, not leave them wondering if a writer’s life is all that great.) Oh, I know.

Reviews.

First, my books are slow in picking up readers and reviews. Because of that platform thing, you know—my blog (and my Facebook page and Twitter and Google+ and, oh lordie, I can’t seem to do any of this right). Stop it, Hart. Back to topic.

Reviews.

Try again.

First, I appreciate every single review from readers. I feel especially moved by the reviews from strangers—you know, the people who have no reason whatsoever to like your book but they do anyway. (Which has been the case for me so far. Although I am waiting for that 1 star review that’ll kill me but say unequivocally that I’ve arrived.)

Reviews are the recognition spot, the point where the writer discovers whether or not they’ve gotten the story across. Did you get it? Because I really worked hard to set this, that and the other thing up so you—the reader—would say “ah” at the denouement. (And by the way, the denouement—or as I prefer to call it, the “punch line”—should be short and sweet. As a writer, I have to hit it and run.)

So did you say “ah”? Oh, good, you did.

Then, there are those who see my Lisen of Solsta trilogy as pure fantasy and adventure. That’s a tad disappointing, but maybe their subconscious hasn’t finished working it out. I’ll give them some time. And if they enjoyed my world building and the excitement of the chase to the end, then I’ve still achieved something.

Yes, reviews, like it or not, are a book’s barometer. They tell the writer whether or not she’s succeeded. So far, my reviews have told me everything and nothing about my achievement, but, as I said above, I do appreciate every review some reader takes the time to write. Because a review means I’ve touched something. (Or, maybe it means they’ve got their own egos in the mix. Either way, it’s good to hear back from people who otherwise would remain silent in their response.)

Thank you, Amazon and other venues, for opening the review process up to everyone.

Thanking

Just a few miles away from my destination—the Ovitt Library in Ontario, California—I found myself thinking about what a friend had reminded me to do in approaching the presentation I was about to give. I blogged just a couple of days ago about my fears as I neared this moment. My friend, who knew she’d be out of the country and unable to come, had called me before leaving to wish me luck. I mentioned that I’d given a whole slew of speeches in my teen years in my church and had even competed and won an award. She said, “Find the girl. Remember the girl.” I knew that girl still lived on somewhere inside me, so I wrote my friend’s words down and kept them close.

I drove past Chaffey High School.  It’s a very large campus on Euclid Avenue, the main drag through Ontario and Upland. I never attended school there; my alma mater is in Pomona, a couple of cities away. But Chaffey remains an important part of my personal story. At the age of five, I appeared as one of the kids in Finian’s Rainbow at the Gardiner W. Spring Auditorium on the campus. I have few memories of those moments, but I have been told that one night a piece of scenery either fell on me or knocked me over.  I ran off the stage crying with many commiserating mumblings following from the audience. I recovered quickly and returned for my final scene, and the audience applauded my spunk.

So, as I drove, I remembered the girl—the girl who gave speeches, the girl who played the secondary lead in the high school musical, the girl who walked back out onto a stage at the age of five after an unpleasant encounter with scenery—and I knew I would do well this day when I was about to test that public person.

And I did. There were at least 30 people in the room, a room with bad acoustics, and I connected with many, if not all, of them. They laughed in all the right places. They smiled and I smiled back. I made eye contact. I spoke clearly and relatively succinctly about a 37-year journey making Lisen of Solsta happen. I spoke mostly about self-publishing, something I’ve done through three incarnations and 20 years.

I ate lunch with several of the club members afterwards and enjoyed the company. Being an introvert, it’s hard for me to spend much time out with other people, but I managed to stay for nearly an hour, and that’s pretty damn good for me.

I only sold four books, gave out many bookmarks, lost all four pens I’d brought for people to sign a mail sheet, but three of the pens mysteriously returned before I left. But the fact that I, the zaftig writer, got up in front of people, without a podium, stood for nearly an hour as I talked in clear and ringing tones about a subject both near and dear is where I claim my success. Next time I won’t fret, at least not anywhere near as much as I did this time.

Oh, and did I mention my posse? Several members of my writing workshop who’ve provided valuable critique of everything I write (except for most of what I post here) showed up to cheer me on. My sister came as well. At this time of giving thanks, I give thanks for this day in which I proved to myself I could do it and thanks for the people who helped make it happen.

Shaking

Tomorrow I greet a bunch of strangers and hopefully regale them with the story of my 37-year journey writing the Lisen of Solsta series. This is hard for me (like it isn’t hard for everybody?). It’s hard because I have an anxiety disorder. It’s hard because I’m a zaftig woman, a very zaftig woman, and people tend to judge me as not terribly bright on first impressions. It’s hard because I’m an introvert who is uncomfortable in groups of unknown people. It’s hard because… Oh, damn, it’s just hard.

I’ve prepped my presentation. I’m planning on speaking off the cuff, but I’ve written out notes to keep me on topic (and not wondering off on some tangent or other and using up valuable time—an hour is a lot but not unlimited). I’m taking a few props. I chose not to use PowerPoint this time as I’m not familiar with it and couldn’t think of more than one slide I’d actually want to put up for this particular “lecture.” So I’ll be passing around the various self-published versions of the story—one of which I actually printed and bound myself with the help of my father—for them to ooh and ah over. (I’m not actually expecting oohs and ahs, but a little appreciation of my commitment would be nice.)

I’m taking a sign-up sheet in case they want to be notified of the publication of book 3 (hopefully near the end of December). I have a hand-out of my web sites and sites that might be helpful if any of them want to self-publish. I have four pens, a sign that says “Please make checks payable to…,” and a butt load of book marks. Oh, and books. Yes, I’m taking plenty of books. Just in case, you know. And a single printed-out manuscript copy of a scene from Fractured.

Do you know how hard it is to pick a sample to read in front of a group? When an agent or publisher requests sample chapters, they mean chapter 1 through whatever number of chapters they ask for. Easy-peasy. But for a reading, I feel that a true taste of the spirit of the book is required. This meant finding a scene where Lisen was at her outspoken best, but one where I wasn’t giving the bank away by reading it. I tried several scenes from both published books and finally settled on the end of Chapter 6 from book 1. Lisen is telling off the sooth who got her into all this trouble in the first place, and it contains a lot of questions that I do eventually answer (but not until the end of book 3).

So that’s where I’ll be tomorrow (Saturday, November 22)—at a library in Ontario, California, shaking inside but smiling and breathing deeply to keep the nerves from sending me running from the room. I plan to bring my MP3 player so I can listen to Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” before I begin—you know, just to shake out the cobwebs. I’d like to find someplace private, say, the bathroom, where I can dance like white girls dance. And then I’ll step out and shake the room up. Well, at least I hope so. Wish me luck.