Saturday, June 30, 2012

Last day!

You can sign up for my newsletter any time you want, but if you want the surprise I promised, you need to sign up by midnight tonight (Eastern). For those who have been paying attention, a few days ago I mentioned that I'd contracted for a new cover design. Today I'll give you another hint: I'm not giving you a price break on any of my previously published stories.

Curious? Sign up for my newsletter before midnight and you'll get your surprise in my next newsletter (which will be coming out July 1st).

Play safe...and use this code to sign up if you haven't yet!


Thursday, June 28, 2012

on Wisdom

I need to tell you about a friend of my husband who has also become my friend, even though we don't see each other very often. The first time I met him, I walked away from a lovely conversation thinking, "That man has an old soul." He exuded a wisdom I could only dream of. The way he carried himself, the words he used in conversation, his way of listening not only to you, but to the world around him put me in awe. Every time we meet I feel renewed.

To me, this is the heart of wisdom. To know is one thing, to understand is deeper. Wisdom comes when you know the difference.

On the other end is a celebrity I met a year ago whose boundless energy and lust for life reminds me of a puppy with a chew toy. He's open, enthusiastic and inquisitive. When I saw him in performance my first thought was, "Wow. What a young soul." And yet, he has wisdom as well. There's an innate understanding of how the world works and what needs to be done to balance it.

For the past several weeks I've been trying to figure out my place on this continuum. While I have a firm belief in Heaven and Hell, I also am of the opinion that one can come back for a "re-do" as often as one wants. So yes, I think there is something to re-incarnation and past lives. The more you visit, the more you learn, the more wisdom you gain. That's my theory and I'm sticking with it!

I am definitely not an old soul. But I recognize some others who are particularly young. So I'm thinking that puts me somewhere in the middle. This isn't my first time around the block, but I have a lot more to go before I stop with the self-doubt and constant self-analysis.

What brought on this reflection? A few days ago I had the opportunity to talk with a woman I've known slightly for several years who really was more an acquaintance than anything else.

But then we chatted and our relationship changed. I found out she was in awe of me and she called me "wise." She also used the word "wisdom" as in, it was something I had. Could've knocked me off my seat with the proverbial feather. She looked at me like I look at my husband's friend.

I haven't been able to stop thinking about that conversation since. Me? Wise? Me, who can't figure out how to market a novel well enough so I could retire early? Me, who tries always to be the Tigger but knows she's really an Eeyore at heart? Me, who's always searching for a better way to do things because the first (or second, or third) try didn't work? Me, wise?

On the one hand, my ego is soaring. It's doing the happy dance and grinning from ear-to-ear, shouting affirmation all over the place. Egos are like that.

On the other hand, my practical side is standing there with its arms crossed and shaking its head, calmly stating, "No, you're not. You just put on a good show. You're not wise, you're smart. You've got a lot -- a LOT -- to learn yet."

Where is reality? That's what my mind has been preoccupied with. Am I wise? My husband keeps telling me to learn how to graciously accept what other's think of me, so I'm starting to understand I might have finally accumulated some wisdom over the years. Do I have more to learn? Oh, yeah! TONS!

To say, however, that that puts me in the middle of the pack is a cop-out, though. It's leaving my life unexamined, which Socrates would not approve of. Although I called this a continuum above, I'm beginning to think it's a line that keeps changing its parameters. The closer I get to one end, the farther away that end moves.

And I think that's okay. No matter how much knowledge you gain, there's always more to learn. And every time I think I understand something, I discover there are deeper layers. Maybe wisdom is just another name for the journey?

LOL Okay. Enough heavy stuff for one blog post. Play safe!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Advocate, part one: Persuade me

I’m breaking this into two separate posts because there are two very different ways of looking at this role. This week I’ll take it from the persuasive side, next week from the call-to-action side.

Writing to convince or persuade

You remember the persuasive essay. Opening paragraph, concession paragraph with three arguments against followed by three paragraphs showing why you’re right and they’re wrong (the “set ‘em up and knock ‘em down” structure of essay writing), and finishing with a strong conclusion.

Persuasive speech is all around us. Madison Avenue has taken it to an art form and made billions of dollars getting us to buy things we don’t need. Politicians use persuasive speech in getting us to vote for them, heck, our children use it when they want something from us.

Notice the key concept in the above paragraph: party one wants something from party two.

A distinction, however, needs to be made between the two words: convince and persuade. Convincing someone simply gets them to agree with you. Persuading them implies action. You might convince someone it’s necessary to take out the trash, if you persuade them, however, they actually do it.

I’m going to let you in on a big secret: for an author, this skill comes less in the writing of stories and more in the promoting of them.

I’ve heard authors speak of the “golden age” of being an author where all a mid-list author had to do was write a good story, send it off to your publisher (because, of course, you already had one), and then sit back and watch the book climb the charts and the money roll in. We have that mythology, but I’m not really sure how true it ever was.

In any case, it isn’t true today. Today an author is 100% responsible for his/her own publicity. Even when you’re lucky enough to have a publicist, you still need to be actively engaged in what goes out with your name on it.

I don’t know about you, but I never took a class in writing copy. Creative writing, yes. Grammar, yes. Writing ads? Not so much. Learning how to promote myself without sounding like I’m bragging is the hardest part of being a writer.

Wait. Realizing I had to do it myself was the hardest. I railed, I cried, I threw little temper tantrums (okay, not really), but it did take me a while to accept that life wasn’t fair and I was going to have to find the time not only to write the book but promote it as well. Once I did, I discovered I write terrible copy.

I do. Blurbs on the backs of books should be fewer than 100 words, 150 words tops. It needs to entice the reader to open the book (if paperback) or click through to the excerpt (if ebook). Better yet, the blurb alone should be enough to make the reader purchase the book on the spot!

In blurb writing, however, I get conflicting advice: readers hate blurbs that end with a question/ readers love blurbs that end with a question; character names should be mentioned, no, they shouldn’t. The author’s bio belongs on the back page, no wait, what are you thinking. putting that there?

The best advice I can tell you is to find someone’s blurb that you really, really like and then model yours after it. Don’t just change the names…that’s tacky. And it doesn’t really work because your book isn’t their book. But get the idea for the general feel of blurbs for your genre and go from there. And keep them short. That much I do know. J

But blurbs are only one small part of the whole promotion package. There are list groups and Facebook (neither of which I do. I just can’t think of anything to say! Which, I know, for a writer, is ironic). There are blogs and Twitter (which I do use). Some say you need a social presence, others say just write and they’ll find you (although personally, I think “if you write it, they will come” only works for baseball fields).

Whatever media you choose, remember: you are convincing readers they like your book and then you are persuading them to buy it.


1. Choose a work you’ve completed or nearly completed.
2. Determine the target audience (who do you think would actually enjoy it?)
3. Determine a secondary target audience (women who enjoy sex, for example, is my primary; their husbands/lovers are my secondary as they are the ones who 1) get my book read to them or 2) buy the book for their wives/ lovers)
4. Write  a blurb that specifically addresses that audience. Write a second blurb for the second audience. THEY SHOULD NOT BE THE SAME. Your audiences are different, your tack is going to be different.

REMEMBER: you are convincing readers they like your book and then you are persuading them to buy it. You may not, however, use such phrases as “You should buy my book because,” or “You’ll like my book because.” That makes you sound like you’re in grammar school.

5. Determine your best avenue (social media, an ad in the newspaper or sports magazine).
6. Go for it!

Next week I'll talk about being an Advocate for your work, which is slightly different than persuading others to purchase your books!

Play safe, and drop a nickle in the jar on your way out!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Thank you, Ms. Le Guin

May I just say, I love Ursula Le Guin? In this blog post, she beautifully states what so many of us who write "genre" fiction feel. We aren't second-class citizens, despite so many attempts to make us feel as such.  Definitely worth the read.

Play safe,

Saturday, June 23, 2012

I've been reading...

A quick line-up of what I've been reading (one of these days I'll update my Goodreads account). Realized I haven't recorded my reading list for nearly three months, so there's quite a number!

First off, I finished the Hunger Game series back in April. I'd read Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins before, then saw the movie, then re-read the book for comparison. They made a few changes I wish they hadn't but on the whole, a decent adaptation.

But once I re-read Hunger Games, of course I had to go buy Catching Fire and Mockingjay. They did not disappoint. The thru-lines are believable and, even though I found the second book a little repetitive, it wasn't enough to stop me. Heck, it wasn't enough to even slow me down! I finished both books by the end of that week and enjoyed them very much. These three books have permanent places on my bookshelf and I'll go back and re-read them again.

Our book club chose Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Eric LarsonLong title! It's non-fiction and I found myself reading it with my browser open, checking out two sites with pictures of the 1893 World's Fair: the Columbian Exhibition in Chicago, IL. A Digital Archive of American Architecture is a good site that has examples and pictures of several periods of American architecture. The second site from the Illinois Institute of Technology, was my go-to site, though. It contains an interactive map that allowed me to click on the buildings and both read about them and see dozens of pictures of the fair as I read those sections in the book.

The book actually has two stories interwoven. Their only similarity is the setting of the book, although I suppose a larger comparison could be drawn between the protagonists of each story in that both were obsessed and both completed the work they'd forever after be known for during this time. Chilling, in that one of them oversaw the design and creation of the fair and the other was a mass murderer.

I also found this site that has some different pictures after I finished reading the book. I suppose that's a testament to the compelling nature of Larson's storytelling -- that I wanted to keep finding out more information after the book ended. He hooked me!

There's also a documentary narrated by Gene Wilder called Expo: Magic of the White City that I bought and watched because I wanted to know more. Yes, it's on DVD. :)

LOL Apparently I could write a whole blog post on just that book. Can you tell I liked it?

Read Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson. Sorry. Just not into emo books, I guess. I know several people who loved it and recommended it to me, but it didn't do anything for me.

And just finished The Offer by Catherine Coulter. Normally I really like her books, but the female protagonist in this one spent the majority of the book whining and being thick-headed. Drove me nuts. Not one of her best.

And that brings me up-to-date! Remember to sign up for my newsletter. I'm trying something new and embedding the code below. I don't do code, so crossing my fingers that it worked. Those who sing up by June 30th will receive a special surprise. I'll give you a hint: just contracted for a cover design. :)

Play safe!

Thursday, June 21, 2012


After doing a study and determining that $4.99 was the best price for Shooting Star, today I realized I had listed it at $5.99. I was so excited to get it released, I worked far later into the night than I should have and mis-typed the price into not one, but all three platforms (Amazon, B&N and Smashwords).

The book might be unavailable for a bit as the correct price goes into effect. My apologies for anyone inconvenienced by this.

Lesson learned: wait 'till you're rested before uploading new books.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Shooting Star releases!

I'm pleased to announce that Shooting Star is now officially released on all ebook platforms!

Here's the blurb:

Earth Captain III is coming to town.

Davison, NY, hasn’t seen this much excitement in decades. A real Hollywood movie is going to film right in their little village! Callie, Laura and Josh are caught up in the excitement, one looking for a story, one looking for love, one looking for acceptance amid the glitz and glamour of Tinseltown.

But the last Earth Captain movie brings more than also brings death. And one of the three is the target.

And here's a spicy excerpt you won't find anywhere else! Yes, this is a murder-mystery, but it's also an erotic romance :)

Laura felt herself sway with the heady arousal he’d managed to evoke. She hadn’t lied when she told Alex how horny she was. And it wasn’t because she wasn’t getting any. Her toys kept her plenty satisfied.
But this, the human touch, the male touch, made a world of difference. And the bondage? Holy shit, why hadn’t she tried this earlier? Hot damn but the little ripples of fear in her belly kept her aroused and ready and, if she were being honest with herself, needy. Part of her wanted him to fuck her right there against the wall of his trailer, part of her hoped he would string this out forever. This constant being on the edge? Oh, yeah. She liked this. A lot. And those kisses around the ball gag that made her drool? She’d tried to return the kiss, to let him know she wanted more, but he’d moved away too fast and she wasn’t sure she’d gotten her message across.
He stood before her, cupping her shoulders and she tried to put the message in her eyes. Keep going. Don’t stop now.
“You are a naughty girl, aren’t you, Laura?”
Alex’s eyes twinkled as he said it and she tried to agree but it came out, “Ery nauy,” so she nodded to make sure he understood.
“Naughty girls need to be spanked.” He took her nipple in his fingers again and squeezed. Steeling herself as the pain increased, she knew her pussy flooded again. He pulled her nipple toward him and in spite of her intent to remain still and take what he gave, she took a step forward.
“That’s right, come along.” Alex pulled her breast out again. She had no choice but to follow him to the kitchen area of the RV as he used her own body as a leash.
“The table looks cold. Oh, well.” Without any real regret, Alex pulled her nipple down toward the hard surface. Laura understood. She was to lie across the table and expose her ass for his spanking. Locking her knees against their sudden weakness, she spread her feet for balance and leaned forward. Her breasts touched the cold fake-wood top and she flinched.
Taking a deep breath, she turned to the side and laid her head down first, her cheek against the coolness. Her hard nipples brushed the surface and only grew harder before she let all the air out of her lungs and relaxed her body along the tabletop.
“Nicely done.”
Laura felt a little thrill go through her at his compliment. So much of this was new to her. He’d said compliant and she wasn’t really sure she could deliver on her promise. The fact that she’d done something well, even if it was something relatively simple, made her feel like she’d taken a good solid step forward along whatever path this was.
She felt his hands on her leg. “Shift your weight and give this to me,” he instructed. She did and he moved her foot so her legs were nearly four feet apart. In this position, she couldn’t raise herself off the table. Which was precisely the point, she realized. He wanted control over her, he wanted her unable to move on her own. Well, he’d gotten it and the warmth the understanding gave her emanated straight from her pussy all throughout her body.
His heat warmed her when he lay his palm on her ass. She could feel the cloth of his pants brushing against her inner thighs. He still hadn’t undressed while she lay here naked on his kitchen table? Her mind reeled with all the unspoken implications.
“Yes, Laura, you’re a very naughty girl. You deserve a spanking, don’t you?”

So what are you waiting for? Get your copy today

PS. The print edition will be out as soon as I receive my proof copy. If it looks good, it'll be out by the end of the month!
PPS. If you haven't signed up (or re-signed up) for my newsletter yet, be sure you do by June 30th. There will be a special surprise for all who do. Use the link at the top right (in the sidebar) to subscribe!

The Problem Solver

Writers solve problems all the time. Heck, rule #1 of good writing is to create good conflicts and then solve them. We read (and write) fiction for the express purpose of seeing how the hero will deal with the conflict, solve the problem and (we hope) live happily ever after.

Think of Sherlock Holmes. Where would he be without a problem to solve? The nuns in The Sound of Music have an entire song dealing with the question: “How Do You Solve a Problem like Maria?” Setting our characters up and then solving their problems are what writers do.

Non-fiction writers, of course, deal with real-life problems and their solutions. How do we lower the crime rate?…clean up pollution?…feed the hungry? Readers of non-fiction expect facts and figures, fair expectations and clear, do-able solutions. They expect the authors to dig deep into the root causes and provide more than just a band-aid solution. They want to know what needs to be done and how much it’s going to cost them.

Many non-fiction pieces are written in a straightforward manner, first defining the problem and then stating the proposed solution. Not all, of course. Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” takes a different tack entirely. Swift advocates for a solution he knows will shock people, explaining with careful, logical reasoning how the exploding population of Ireland can be controlled by the simple solution of eating the children. Continue reading, however, and his sarcasm becomes clear as he rounds to his real solutions (rent control, decent wages, respect for the workers). The structure of his piece creates his argument almost as much as his words.

So how can fiction writers translate these other elements into their writing? It all comes back to that problem we gave to our heroes and heroines.

Short stories are easiest because they have only one protagonist (usually) and therefore, one conflict. You should be able to summarize the problem in a single sentence: Montressor needs to get revenge on Fortunato (Poe’s “Cask of Amontillado”); Walter Mitty enjoys his fantasy life more than his reality (“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” by James Thurber); Maisie grapples with her grief (“I Stay a Little Longer” by Diana Allandale).

Because the problem is singular, the solution is often fairly straightforward as well. SPOILER ALERT: Montressor kills Fortunato, Mitty chooses to remain in his fantasy world, Maisie learns that life moves on. Even Sherlock Holmes, with his twisted path of clue-gathering, still goes from a simple problem (someone’s life is in danger) to a simple solution (catching the bad guy).

The skill of the author comes first, in creating the problem and second, in moving the characters to the final solution in a believable fashion readers can understand and relate to.

So one might think that novellas and novels, because they are longer works, have more complicated conflicts and hence, more complicated solutions. You’d be wrong. Take the longest novels or epics you can think of. Ram needs to get Sita back (single protagonist, single conflict); Frodo needs to destroy the ring at the same time Aragorn must finally accept his heritage (two protagonists each with his own conflict). Harry must destroy Voldemort (again, single protagonist, single conflict throughout all seven books).

Keep in mind, in longer works there are several smaller conflicts introduced along the way (Ram losing the trail and having to make friends to help him out; Gollum, who’s a conflict all by himself, Harry has to pass his final exams). Each of those smaller problems, however, serves the larger one. They are simply roadblocks thrown up to determine just how much the protagonist really wants to reach the solution of his problem.

Note, btw, that readers often know the solution in advance. We know Sherlock will catch the killer, that Ram and Sita will find each other, that the nuns will figure out what to do with Maria and that Harry will prevail over Voldemort. Again, this is where the author’s skill comes in: crafting those roadblocks, those mini-conflicts that keep us reading far longer into the night than we intended.


NOTE: This activity can be done with either a story you’re considering (for you plotters) or one you’ve finished and are now editing (you pantsers!)

Make a chart with five columns. Put the name of the character in Column A and his/her problem in Column B. In the fourth column (Column D), put the solution (see below).

I did not forget Column C. This is where the bulk of the story resides. Are there roadblocks? How are they solved? How does each one move your story forward (and if it doesn’t, then cut it. Be ruthless. Keep only what makes your story stronger).

Lastly, label the fifth (Column E): Motivation. Why is it important for the character to solve his/her problem? Why should your readers care? 

Fill in the chart for all the major characters in your story. Where do their motivations overlap, or better yet, clash? What kinds of tension can you build as you move your characters from Column A to Column D?

Column A                   Column B              Column C             Column D              Column E
Character name        his/her problem        the roadblocks          the solution              motivation

Have some fun with this! It's a good exercise for those of you who plot first and its a great exercise for those of you who are pantsers and need to make sure you haven't left any holes.

Remember, I offer these workshops for free, but I do accept donations. If you're finding them useful, put a penny in the pot?


Saturday, June 16, 2012

final update on newsletter

Okay, I love my husband. A LOT. He created a new email account for me that allowed me to import the entire list. The email has now been sent and, if you're on that list, you have to OPT-IN to receive the monthly newsletter.

If you don't get the email, you can always use the link in the sidebar on this blog (if you're in a feeder, you'll have to click through to use it).

And tell all your friends! I will have a special surprise for those who sign up to receive my newsletter by June30th as a thanks for your patience during this mess.

Play safe!

PS. You can also use this link to sign up for the newsletter:

(edited to add postscript)

Friday, June 15, 2012

Progress on newsletter

It couldn't be easy.

The best way to handle this, according to Mail Chimp, is to send an email to everyone on my list and give them the link back to the newsletter and let them re-sign up for it if they wish to continue receiving it. Those who "opt in" and sign up will form the core of my new list; everyone else will be dropped.

I have two email clients I could use; both allow me to import from a .csv file. Neither one works. For each one I get an error message, despite my having saved, re-saved, transferred and downloaded again. Just under two hours spent fruitlessly trying to get the email list from their server to my email client. I gave up.

So now, since I manually importing each email address is the only way to go, I'm only going to "import" the emails of those people who have actually been opening the newsletters. Of course, since the email will be coming from a source they don't know, there's a good chance the email will end up in spam folders as well.

In other words, I can't win on this one. This all is very discouraging. I'm nearly ready to bag the whole thing. I won't. But it's enough to make me throw up my hands in disgust at a few thoughtless people! Grrr.

Short story version: I'm in the process of hand-entering the emails of several hundred people. This takes time. Time away from writing, time away from releasing my newest book. And worst of all, time away from my family.

Please bear with me. It is my most sincere hope to have all the addresses into one of my email clients by Tuesday or Wednesday. Once they're in, I'll send out an email with the opt-in link. I'm holding the release of Shooting Star until this mess is cleaned up.

Thanks for your patience and, as always, play safe!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Okay, calmed down some

Heard back from Mail Chimp. Because they have a 3-strikes and you're out policy, my newsletter is in serious danger of being dropped. Ticks me off that a few people could do so much damage. But it is what it is and they've given me a workaround.

I have to start my list all over again.

Yep. Pretty much from scratch. I need to find the people who actually open the emails and then send them -- ONLY THEM -- an email telling them they'll be removed from my list unless they opt in. Everyone else gets scrubbed from the list (which is fine since they obviously no longer wish to get the newsletter anyway).

I have no hard feelings for those who don't want the newsletter anymore. Honest. Tastes change and I know I've signed up for information I later decide I no longer want. Or for information I can get elsewhere. Using the unsub offer at the bottom is the easiest way to get off those lists. For those who have done that, I am actually thankful. You did as I requested and left in peace. And for that, I've promised to leave you in peace. :)

So, over the next few days I'll be scrubbing the email list. If you read and like the newsletter, please opt in when you get the next one. If you do nothing, you will be, in essence, opting out and will no longer receive the newsletter.

Thank you for letting me rant and bear with me as I try to do damage control. Play safe, everyone. And play nice!


Pissed off

Okay, guys. I'm done. Over 2000 people had signed up for my Yahoo!Group over the past nine years. I removed over 900 of them for bouncing emails before moving the list over to MailChimp in switching newsletters. That left just over 1300 people.

First newsletter I had problems with people who forgot they'd signed up for the newsletter and who marked it as spam. A red-flag went up at Mail Chimp and they thought I was using their service to send out junk emails. I explained the problem, they understood. I added the caveat at the start of my newsletters about unsubscribing rather than dumping me into the trash bin.

My complaint rate for Newsletter #3 was zero as a result and I was thrilled. People listened!

Yeah, not so much. I still have a huge number of people who never open the email at all. This month .7% of them called the newsletter spam without ever opening it. Yes, that is point 7 percent. Mail Chimp is adamant about not sending spam...and so am I. As a result, my account is once more shut down until they look into it. I've pled my case, I hope they listen.

If I get my account back, let me warn you all now. I've sent a total of four newsletters over the past five months (less than one a month) since I made the switch. If you have not opened 3 out of the 4, I am removing your name from the list and you will receive no further updates on works in progress or new releases. I have no choice but to take drastic action or I will be shut down permanently.

To those of you who DO open the newsletters, thank you. I promise something special in the next newsletter for those who remain on the list as a special way of saying thanks.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Final cover

This is close to the final cover for Shooting Star, my murder-mystery erotic romance. Still finessing it. Going to make my name bigger so it shows up in the thumbnails.... :)
My plan is to release the ebook and print formats on the same day. Tonight I finished the layout for print, but am bleary-eyed and don't trust it. Will give everything a once-over tomorrow and then publish if all is good. After the cover is adjusted, that is. :)

Crossing my fingers that I can have everything uploaded by this time tomorrow. Then it's just a matter of waiting for the sites to make it live and we're off!

Play safe,

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Evaluator

Criteria. It’s amazing how often we live and die by our criteria. Why do you like action movies but not horror? What do you look for in buying a new car? How do you define friendship? What makes a meaningful life? Whether consciously or not, we set our criteria and often do not deviate from our set list.

As writers, we’re used to being judged. Getting reviews, both good, bad and indifferent, is a part of our lives. Critics evaluate our books and write reviews according to their tastes. Sometimes they tell us their criteria outright, but more often the judgments are pronounced without ever defining the standards against which we are being measured. For every person who likes our work, there are a dozen who don’t and four of them will be vocal about it. It’s okay, it’s part of the job.

But what about in our writing? How do we use sets of criteria when writing our books? In more ways than you realize.

The first and most obvious choices come in determining genre. Would this story work better as science fiction or fantasy? A traditional romance or an erotic romance? A thriller or a murder-mystery? Each genre has its own set of rules (criteria) and when we choose the format of the book, we’ve made our first decision as the Evaluator.

Then there’s the actual creation of character. Will the protagonist be male or female? Will there be one of each? Two of each? Tolkien sticks with male for the gender question but goes for numbers (nine in the Fellowship alone). What about hair color? Race? Age? What is his/her background? Will it matter to the story? What’s truly important for the reader to know?

Authors see these decisions as creativity. In the non-fiction world, they are criteria. Based on your creative decisions, others read the work and project their own expectations onto what you’ve written. If our stories agree with their expectations, the reader forms a favorable opinion of the story. If they don’t...well, that’s where bad reviews come from.

We act as the Evaluator for every situation we put characters in. We make them assess, judge, and act according to the criteria we (the authors) have predetermined for them. They choose a blue shirt over a white one because we decided they like the color blue. They jump in front of busses to save puppies, leap tall buildings in a single bound and get the girl in the end because we’ve set up criteria determining what a hero is and how he should behave.

Take Tulsidas, for example. He lived in the late 1500’s, early 1600’s. When he first read Valmiki’s Ramayana*, he judged it according to the standards of his day for how a hero should act. When Ram, for example, shoots an opponent in the back in Valmiki’s telling, Tulsidas reacted by rewriting the scene and creating his own version where Ram confronts the opponent face-to-face. The end result is the same in both works: Ram kills his opponent. Two ways to get there depending on your criteria for heroes.

Which also proves my final point: Criteria change over time.

As we grow and change, so do our tastes in what we like or dislike. I said at the top of the post that, consciously or not, we all have criteria by which we judge our lives, from the tiniest interactions to the Big Decisions. Why should we expect people to react to our stories in the same way from year to year and from country to country? Heck, from male to female for that matter. Or subdivide into age groups. What is hot this year, is forgotten the next. The lesson? Don’t try to second-guess the fickle public. Write tight. Write well. Write what you love.

And doing that, of course, means making your characters grapple with those same decisions we all face. Why does your hero prefer brunettes over redheads? Why does your heroine drive a Spitfire instead of a mini-van? How is it these two separate people are actually friends (Felix and Oscar, anyone?). What are the criteria your characters set to make their lives meaningful?

First, make a list of all the criteria you use when judging a book. Be specific. Don’t just say, “it’s exciting.” That’s too vague. Say, “I like it when the hero’s life is in danger.” Try to come up with at least 10.

Then choose a work you’ve nearly finished writing. Length doesn’t matter. Make two lists using that wip:

List 1. What criteria did you choose (subconsciously or consciously) before you started writing the story regarding genre, character and plot?

List 2. What are the criteria your characters use to determine if their lives have meaning?

Look over your lists. How do you feel about your choices? How many were you aware of as you made them? And most importantly, how do these lists compare to how you judge books you read?   

*You can read MY Ramayana published under Diana Allandale.

(This is part of the “What Role do You Play?” series. Previous roles can be found here.)

 My initial goal was to publish all these in a workbook format but other stories are crowding for time. These will remain workshops on my blog until future notice! If you're finding these workshops useful, please consider donating to the cause. This is how I make money writing. :)


Slight delay

Today's workshop will be posted in the afternoon rather than the morning. Seems the author left her thumb drive at work. You know, the thumb drive with the workshop on it? Yeah.

So nothing to see here until later. In the meantime, check out the pretty paintings.

PS this was supposed to go out at 6:00 AM -- and just realized it was set for 6:00 PM. Grrr. Am working on the REAL post and will have it up shortly...

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Data points

Before the end of the month I’ll be releasing my newest full-length novel, Shooting Star. This book is a bit of a side-step for me. It’s my first foray into the murder-mystery genre. Don’t worry, the erotic romance is still there, but this time with a deadly twist.

In preparation to its release, I did some data-searching using the Kindle store. What is the going price for a nearly-300-page murder-mystery erotic romance with BDSM sex? Not surprisingly, Amazon doesn’t have a bestseller list for that genre.

Instead, I looked at the bestsellers in the Kindle store in three categories: Murder-mystery/thrillers, Erotica and Romance (I thought I remembered a list that was erotic romance but maybe that’s just old age inventing memories for me again!). I made a database, recording the approximate number of pages that Amazon provides, the price of the book and the publisher.

My goal was to find the average price for each of these genre and then use that to guide me. What I discovered, however, gave me quite a surprise.


These books are the longest of the three genre I compared, clocking in at an average of 418 pages per book. Three of those listed were short (under 75 pages)*. Only one of those three was self-published. In fact, of the 20 bestsellers, only six were self-published and the remaining fourteen came from indie or Big Six companies.

*the prices of these three shorts ($1.99, $1.99 and $.99) were not included in the average prices listed below.

The highest price of a traditionally published book was $14.99; the average was $9.71.
The highest price of a self-published book was $3.99; the average was $2.19.


Surprisingly, there was almost an even split between the number of full-length books here and the under-75 page stories. Eight books were under, eleven were full-length and one had no number. The average size of the full-length books was 283 pages; of the short stories, the average length was 42 pages.

Another surprise (okay, not really): only four out of the twenty Top Selling books in the Kindle store on this list were from traditional or indie publishers. Sixteen of the books were self-published.

Highest price of a traditionally published book was $12.99 (there were two at this price).
Highest price of a self-published book was $3.99; the average was $2.54.


Here is where I expected the traditional publishers to reign. Boy, did I get a shock!

Of the top 20, only seven belonged to a traditional publisher. Floored me! And the top three are all E L James’ series. Two others on the list were “ghost” listings for the same books. So 5 of the twenty slots were taken up with the same 3 books. Nora Roberts accounted for two of the remaining four traditionally-published books.

No short works appeared on this list. The top sellers are all full-length books. The average length is 373 pages.

Highest price of a traditionally published book was $14.99; the average was $11.13.
Highest price of a self-published book was $4.99; average was $2.99.

To sum up:

  • 70% of the murder-mystery/thrillers on the Top 20 bestsellers list are traditionally published; these are also the least-expensive in both traditional and self-published choices and have the longest book length. If you’re looking for the biggest bang for your buck, m-m/thrillers are the way to go.

  • 80% of the erotica on the Top 20 bestsellers list are self-published; they, however, are the most expensive in both traditional and self-published choices with the shortest book length of the three genre. Watch out, you’re going to pay for that sex!

  • 68% of the romances on the Top 20 bestsellers list are self-published; for both traditional and self-publishing, they fall in the middle of the pack as far a pricing, but edge a little closer to the murder-mystery/thrillers as far as number of pages.

Remember, I only looked at the Kindle Bestsellers lists. These numbers do not reflect paperback or hardcover books. That will be another study for another day.

Caveat the second: The bestseller lists change hourly so this is snapshot data. One hour in time. That said, I’ve checked the lists several times over the past 24 hrs and the books are still the same as when I collected the data.

Caveat the third: I have no idea if some of the lower prices reflect a current sale on the part of the author or publisher. At least a half-dozen books spread over the three lists were the first in a series and often the first is priced as a gateway drug with a lower price to get people interested. A deeper study would need to be done to see if that has any impact. A deeper study should also gather data over a longer period of time.

So what does it all mean?

A really good question. My conclusions?

Ebooks are cheaper if self-published than if published by one of the traditional presses yet books at prices of $12.99 are still making it onto these lists (and not all at the upper end were well-known authors).

No book on the lists under 75 pages, regardless of genre, cost more than $.99 (Which is exactly what I thought they should be, but the data-junkie in me likes facts to back up my seemingly irrational decisions).

And finally:

I can use Dean Wesley Smith’s philosophy and price my book at $4.99 and not be out of line. It would be slightly higher than the average self-pubbed, but still well within the range of prices that are on the bestsellers lists.

Hope you find the data useful. I had fun compiling it. :)

Play safe,

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

The Interpreter

When we were  in school, we wrote analytical papers that looked at all sides of a problem. Unfortunately, most teachers and college professors considered works of literature problems to be analyzed. For years this gave me a lopsided view of both literature and analytical papers.

That’s why I like the concept of the Interpreter better. It’s okay to show your bias, as long as you’re honest about it. You’re finding meaning in data, examining events and tracing them back to their causes, you’re making decisions about what is significant and what isn’t.

How do we translate this very left-brain activity into the right-brain world of fiction?

The answer again is two-fold.

The first comes in the process of creating the story. What information do you choose to include? What do you omit? Like the Observer, you’re coloring our view of what you show us, but now you’re being even more specific, pushing us in one direction or another as your characters interpret other’s actions and react accordingly.

One character asks another how the day is going. The response is a single word: “Fine.” But what was the tone of voice in that reply? You, dear author, play the Interpreter with the very next sentence. Does the speaker throw a glance of malevolence at the questioner? Give a pretty smile and a bat of the eyelashes? Shrug with nonchalance?

Of course, the pitfall here is the adverb. Be wary! “‘Fine,’ he said malevolently” is weak. “ ‘Fine.’ Jake’s malevolent glare made Scott step back in alarm.” goes a lot further, actually interpreting the spoken word for the reader by using the characters’ reactions.

“Scrutinize” and “probing” are two words that come up in my lazy-man’s thesaurus (the one attached to my word processing program) for “analyze.” Those words lead to the second way an author can be the Interpreter: You can write that academic, analytical essay about your own book.

Let’s face it, how many essays have you written on the Odyssey, The Scarlet Letter or Moby Dick? Try stepping aside from your own manuscript and looking at it from the point of view of a student who has to write that essay. When examining character motivation, plot arcs, foreshadowing, similes and metaphors – what would he/she say?

Of course, this begs a hard question to face: did you write anything worth analyzing?

Homework J

Take any story you’ve written (but not yet published) and write a literary analysis of it. Pay particular attention to plot structure, theme, point of view, setting and characterization. I’m not kidding. Go through the process and actually write the essay.

Once you’re done, play the Reporter. Setting emotion aside, what did you learn about your own writing in doing that exercise?

As always,
Play safe!



(edited to fix word missing in first sentence. sigh.)

Friday, June 01, 2012

New Look

Summer's almost here and I didn't want to edit, so I played around with the look of the blog. If you'd like to see it and are reading this in a reader, you'll have to click through. Let me know what you think!

As the web changes and what we expect it to do for us expands, static webpages seem to be dying out. When I first started as a published author (in 2003), having a webpage was a necessity and their purpose  simply announced information. Like museums, viewers looked, but they did not touch.

Now, however, it isn't enough to have a simple web page, an author must have a web presence.

Presence. As in attending. As in "present and accounted for" as well as "actively participating." As in not absent.

A webpage that only talks at people doesn't fit that description. People who venture out onto the web now expect to be more social. Authors are expected to provide interactive experiences or, at the very least, allow a more immediate way for others to speak their minds. Social media has exploded and the author who isn't "here" is missing a great opportunity to communicate (We'll set aside the question of whether or not that communication is needed or not. That's a blog post for a different time).

My website is an old-fashioned, static webpage that hasn't been updated in months. Mostly because my webmistress is busy and my one attempt to find someone new to take it over fell apart. And I don't know HTML and am not going to learn it. One makes priorities in life, doing what one can and paying others for what one cannot. I'd pay someone for their knowledge, if I could find someone willing to take on the job.

But that begs the question: what good is a website that isn't updated in a timely fashion and that readers can't really communicate with anyway? A very good question and one that's gotten me pretty much convinced to abandon the old site and re-direct the URL to this blog instead. Blogger's tools have gotten more sophisticated than when I first started with them all those years ago. All the information I have there, I can have here. Cheaper. And faster.

All this is in warning: before the end of summer, I plan to implement a re-direct of that site so the same address now points here. Visit "The Official Diana Hunter Site" and let me know what pieces are there that you want to see me re-create here. Do you like the author's links? What about the puzzles to download? Would you miss the reviews of each book?

Comment or send me an email, my quiet readers. Help me make this site a more effective, more interactive place!

Play safe,