The Value of Time

Drink from the creekI managed to get the dog out today before it turned into a sauna outside. That’s been a little tough for me lately–getting out before it is too hot for both the dog and me. Sometimes it is all I can do to drag myself out of bed and hit the trails before the air turns too soggy to breathe, but you know, every time I do, I don’t regret it. I get so much out of these walks. For one thing, I get the joy of watching my dog be a dog. He is not his best in the city on a leash. There are too many things that excite him, and try as I might, I can’t get him enough exercise while he’s on a leash, not when it is this hot. Lately, I’ve been going out in the evenings close to dark, but it’s still too hot to stay out long. On the days when I don’t have to be somewhere at a specific time, we head out to the forest. It never fails to renew my soul. I used to hike a lot more than I do now. I need to change that. Walking in the woods with my dog grounds me in a way nothing else does, and more and more these days, I realize I’m not doing enough of the things that make me happy.

Orange mushroomI have a minor obsession with mushrooms and wildflowers. I get a ridiculous amount of joy out of taking pictures of them. Don’t ask me why, I have no idea. Since it is a little thing, I see no reason not to indulge myself. I got some nice pictures today. A wide variety of shapes and colors that are simply pleasing to the eye. Taking pictures in the woods forces me to slow down, to not march through the forest with an eye on the time, already thinking ahead to what I need to be doing next.

Last night the BF and I watched a quietly charming movie called About Time. Iย  had no doubt I would enjoy it–the premise is right up my alley: at the age of 21, Tim finds out that the men in his family are capable of traveling back in time to specific events in their lifetime. Tim, being a rather decent guy, uses this ability not only to make things better for himself, but better for those he loves, too. He doesn’t always get it right the first time, but he usually does in the end. Problems come, however, when setting things right for one person irrevocably changes events for others–and sometimes Tim is forced to choose.

Toasted mushroom It was funny, sweet, and unexpectedly poignant. I kept waiting for something absolutely horrible to happen during the entire film, but you know what? It didn’t. Somehow, it managed to be a powerful little movie just the same. It ultimately was a movie about attitudes and finding happiness. It was a movie about living in the moment, and being fully present right now, and I am very glad I saw it. I *needed* to see it.

I’d been feeling a bit like Cinderella post-ball. I’d just returned from Rainbow Con,ย  where I had a fabulous time meeting so many of my fellow authors, readers, and reviewers in person for the first time. I had some of the best conversations about stories and writing. I learned so much about what to do and not to do at these events, and how to manage my table (hint, spending some time there is a good idea!). I took mental notes about the kinds of swag people brought with them, and the kinds of layouts people had on their tables. I learned that despite being among some of the coolest people on Earth, books will get stolen. I sat in on panels and learned new things about so many topics, opening my mind to subjects I might not have ever thought about before. I had an amazing time at Big Cat Rescue, learning the right and wrong way to run an animal sanctuary, and appreciating the hard work and commitment to education that organization holds.

I came back on fire with ideas about changing my website, and resurrecting old plot bunnies, and a commitment to finishing current WIPs.

TigerBut it’s hard to keep that flame burning when you get back home and fall into the same old routines. It’s hard to leave your ‘tribe’ and come back to an existence where the bulk of the people you meet don’t get what you’re all about–and you couldn’t really tell them anyway. It’s hard to feel as though you’re going back into a little cage after a taste of freedom. It’s tough to trade tigers for tiger lilies. ๐Ÿ™‚

I hadn’t been home 24 hours before I was already looking ahead to my next break, my next trip away to be with ‘my people’. Realizing just how much I had to do before that could happen, and knowing that it might be impossible for me to get away again in September as planned. You know what they say, the harness chafes all the more for having been removed for a while.

white mushroom tree baseBut that little movie last night got me thinking about living for the day-to-day moments instead of the big events. And yes, I’ve always known it’s your attitude that counts. The problem is, if you don’t have the right attitude, it is incredibly difficult to change it. Something about that film clicked in my head, though. Like maybe I could make it stick this time. It has certainly been easy enough today. I’m off work today, and I don’t have forty different things going at once, and a dozen different problems to try and solve. We’ll have to see how long the attitude adjustment holds. ๐Ÿ˜‰

I’ve spent most of my free time on my return catching up with the gazillion emails and Facebook posts from friends. I’m astonished that a whole week has gone by without me opening a WIP. That’s going to have to stop. While I love all my deeper online connections, I can feel the stories calling to me. Stories begging to be told.

I’m going to stop wasting my time and then complaining I don’t have enough of it. From now on, when I sit down to talk with someone, all of my attention will be on the conversation. When I write, I will give it my complete focus. No more sucking joy from the future by worrying about it today. No more telling the dog ‘later’ until all of his laters are gone. No more wishing the hours would pass at work only to find myself incapable of doing any of the things I dreamt of all day long.

If I want something, I have to make it happen. There’s no other way.

We all are given the same twenty-four hours in every day. What we do with them is our choice.

 

Ten Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me As a Newbie Author

dangerThe other day I stumbled across a great Facebook thread in which a new author asked for advice: she wanted to know what kinds of newbie mistakes to avoid as a first-time author.

True to form, the writing community, including myself, chimed in with a number of excellent points. Afterward, it dawned on me this would make an awesome blog post, and here we are.

I’m going to give you my bits of ‘I wish someone had told me’ advice, mixed in with some of the best snippets I gleaned from my Facebook friends when asked the same.

In no particular order:

1. Google your pen name before you start using it. Yeah, I wish I’d done this. Because there’s Sarah Madison the actress, and Sarah Madison the cardiovascular surgeon, and Sarah Madison the published historian, and if you are looking for any of them and you get me instead, yikes! On the other hand, I like to think of someone enjoying one of my stories while recovering from cardiovascular surgery… Seriously, though. Google your pen name. You really don’t want the same pen name as a serial killer. Also, be careful of having a ‘unique’ spelling. If people can’t remember how to spell your name, they aren’t likely to find you on a web search. It’s easy. It takes less than thirty seconds, for Pete’s sake. Just do it. You won’t regret it.

Whether or not you need a pen name is another discussion altogether. I personally think if you write in wildly divergent genres, such as ‘sweet’ Christian romances and dinosaur porn, you’d better have two pen names. But that’s just me.

2. Platform and promotion. Yes, you have to have it. No, no one likes promoting themselves, but it is a necessary evil. As author K-lee Klein points out, “Writing is the good part, but be prepared to WORK for the book when it’s done.”

In order for promotion to work, however, you already have to have a platform and internet presence in place. A website (more on that later), Facebook page, and Twitter account are probably considered the bare minimums, but most writers have pages on Pinterest, Tumblr, Goodreads, Amazon, Instagram, G+… well, you name it. Many writers have pages on sites geared toward their genre, too. It’s a lot to keep up with. My rules for platform and social media: pick the two or three sites where you are the most comfortable and spend time there. If a site makes you unhappy, you won’t be your best there. Learn how to cross post from your main sites to other sites. I rarely spend time on Goodreads or Tumblr–they just aren’t my kind of places, but other people hang out there, so when I post a blog entry like this, I make sure it automatically cross posts to those other media platforms.

Worry less about your ‘brand’ย  when starting out. Be friendly. Share other people’s announcements. Interact with people in a manner that does not always center around your books or writing. For heaven’s sake DO NOT auto-post tweets or private message people with BUY MY BOOK spiels within seconds of them friending or following you.

glasses-booksThere are some great books on social media out there. I happen to like Kristen Lamb’s We Are Not Alone:The Writer’s Guide to Social Media. I might not agree with everything Ms. Lamb says (she is very much against pen names, for example) but she has some good points to make. One of which is that your name should be easy to find–it should be part of your website, your Twitter name, etc. Having a cute Twitter handle might be fun, but what if no one remembers that @AwesomeWombat is really Sarah Madison? Don’t make it hard for your readers to find you.

3. Websites: Your website is your home base. It is going to be the main way readers find you. Make it easy for them! You have roughly two seconds to make a good first impression when people land on your page. If your site is too hard to navigate, too difficult to read, has too many moving gifs or images that roll by too rapidly to read, you’ve lost a perspective reader right there. They will move on to the next site, to look for some other author whose home page doesn’t make their eyes bleed. Whether you have a static home page or not is up to you. But the most important thing is that your site is crisp, clear, and easy to navigate. Your social media links should all be in one place. Your backlist and buy links should be easy to find. You should update your blog on a regular basis. If you have a newsletter or a way for readers to follow your blog, it should be easy to find and sign up. Two seconds. Otherwise, your viewer will click away.

4. Reviews: if I had put these in any kind of order, reviews probably should have gone at the top. EVERYONE had a lot to say about reviews. For the most part, I tend not to read my reviews unless I’ve been sent the link from a trusted review site or a friend has discovered a glowing review and they want to share it with me. Everyone gets bad reviews. Don’t believe me? Look up your all-time favorite book. I guarantee that you will find someone who utterly loathed it and flamed it royally in their review. Any time I stumble upon a review I wish I hadn’t seen, I perform this very task and it is amazing how therapeutic it is. Because if someone can hate the book you adore, then it puts things in perspective for you. Over and over again, people gave DON’T ENGAGE A NEGATIVE REVIEW as their number one advice. Just.ย  Don’t. The author *always* comes out looking like the bad guy here, and nothing will alienate fans faster. Jay Northcote puts it this way, “Never respond to bad reviews. EVER. And don’t bitch about them in a public forum or it’s likely to bite you on the arse. If you need to vent (and if you look at your negative reviews, you will), do it in a safe/private place to someone you trust.Sue Holston says don’t even read your reviews, and I can understand that viewpoint as well.

There are some people who’d suggest not responding to any review on Goodreads, as it is a site primarily for readers, not authors. I know many authors who interact with their fans quite happily on Goodreads, but I confess, it feels like an abandoned mine field to me. One false step and BOOM. But that’s just me.

The point is, don’t let one bad review negate the twenty good ones you’ve received. Don’t let a ‘meh’ review derail you from your planned story arc, or shut down your writing mojo. Cooper West quotes Churchill, saying, “When you’re going through hell, keep on going”, which is a pretty good life lesson in general. Margarita Gakis advises the same, but urges even more to simply write. She says, “My advice is keep writing. Keep writing when it sucks and when you get a bad review and when you’re not sure if this is for you. Because as long as you’re writing you’re getting better. It’s like learning any skill and the more you do it the better you’ll be.”

And then there is the classic post regarding reviews from the imitable Amy Lane: The Five Stages of a Bad Review. Read it. You’ll be glad you did.

5. Beta readers versus Editors (and what they bring to the table): first of all, these people are invaluable to you as a writer. As Kaje Harper said, “Beta readers and editors are in partnership with you to make the story the best it can be. Every error they catch, every change they suggest, is not an insult to your talents or story, or a sign of failure, but one more thing that will be better when actual readers buy your book. Welcome the red ink, don’t fear it or be insulted by it. At the same time, remember it is YOUR story. You can tell an editor they are wrong, if you truly believe that. They are human and fallible and sometimes your vision has to be the one that carries the day.

I think this is very important on many levels. As authors, particularly new authors, we have to be willing to accept the input of others, especially if we keep getting similar feedback from multiple sources: that’s your biggest indication something is wrong with your story or your writing style and it needs fixing. At the same time, it can be difficult not to let a strong-minded person take on more credit for the shaping of your story than they really deserve–or should have. Beta readers are not editors, either. Yes, they will catch typos, but their primary function is to tell you if the story is working or not. Different people catch different things, so I think it is very important to have more than one beta reader. But my main reason for having multiple readers is two-fold: not only do you not want to overwhelm a single person if you are a prolific writer, but it is much harder for someone to claim a larger share of the credit when there is more than one person involved. A beta reader who claims to ‘make or break’ you is like someone who helped you set the table expecting credit for cooking the banquet as well. A good beta reader is worth their weight in gold. They will help you produce the cleanest copy possible for submission to a publisher. They are cheerleaders and problem-spotters. But once the story moves on to editing, their role is usually done. Beta-readers are often friends, which can make it very painful to sever the relationship if it is no longer working for you. But if your beta-reader is acting like a gatekeeper between you and publishing, it is definitely time to end the relationship.

pen and paperEditors will clean up and tighten your prose, point out that you have used the same phrase thirty-seven times, correct your somewhat loose interpretation of the Chicago Manual of Style, and identify where things need to be explained in greater detail or a weak plot point that needs fixing. But they should not be altering your style to match their own. It is your story. They are polishing the finish on the sports car, not re-building the engine.

Kaje Harper and Becky Black also wanted me to point out the difference between rejection and ‘revise and re-submit’. Getting a revise and re-submit request is a good thing. It means the publisher sees promise in your story, but that it is still a bit rough around the edges. Don’t let an R&R crush you! It’s actually quite hopeful. ๐Ÿ™‚

6. Don’t game the system: I mean, seriously. There’s a big difference between recognizing and taking advantage of market trends (something I’m not very good at, but I know people who are) and writing simply to make a buck. Face it, if you want to make money, there areย  far easier ways of doing so. By gaming the system, I mean deciding you’re going to write serials, or short cliffhangers, or dinosaur porn, filling Kindle Unlimited with them because hey, you can churn those babies out to match the current best deal Amazon offers, and the instant the algorithm changes, so does your storytelling. Look, I have nothing against dino porn, but if you want to write it, do so because you enjoy it, okay? And no sockpuppets singing your praises or slinging mud at the competition. No buying reviews. I really shouldn’t have to say this, right? Pricing your story so that it sells well, or making the first book in a series free? That’s not gaming the system. Buying your way onto the bestseller lists is.

The best way to make writing pay for you? Write. Write a lot. Be working on your next story while you are launching your previous one and be thinking about the next one, too. Readers are like stray cats. If you feed them, they will come.

Most of us go through a post-story blues, where it is hard to move on to the next project. Get over yourself. I once sat down and figured out that it took me nearly a year from the time I conceived of a story idea, to writing it, to submitting it, to having it published before I saw royalties trickle in. Which means that for writing to pay the bills, I have to have a new story coming out at minimum every quarter. Which brings me to the next point…

7. Don’t quit your day job. Seriously. Writing a runaway bestseller like 50 Shades of Grey is like winning the lottery. It rarely happens, and certainly not to you and me. The rest of us have to slog out a minimum of something on the order of 60-80K words every 2-3 months in order to even hope of quitting the day job. I don’t know about you, but putting that kind of pressure on myself really puts a damper on my writing mojo. Writing is something I do that makes me happy in order to make other people happy.ย  But I don’t ever want to look back on my life twenty years from now and wish I’d spent more time walking the dog or hanging out with my boyfriend. And I don’t want to take something I love and turn it into something I hate because I can’t turn out a completed product I can take pride in.

But hey, maybe you can be incredibly prolific while still working a full-time job. Or maybe you’re currently jobless, and now is the sink or swim moment. It is possible to make a living as a writer. Just expect to work hard, write a lot, make a lot of personal sacrifices regarding how you spend your time, and don’t expect Hollywood to come knocking at your door with a movie deal in hand. It means writing when you don’t feel like it. It means there is no such thing as ‘your muse’, only the need to put words to paper because that’s your job.

Though this doesn’t quite fit in here, Felice Stevens had a nice bit to share about the “Rules” of writing: Don’t listen when someone tells you the “Rules” on how to write. Don’t listen when people tell you if you write fast, it’s junk, if you write slow you’ll lose your base. Find your voice and don’t try to be some one else.”

Which is just plain, good common sense. You’re going to hear a lot about how to be successful as an author. But by trying to please everyone, you’ll wind up pleasing no one. You don’t really need a ton of fans, anyway. You need a thousand die-hard fans that will buy everything you write and tell all their friends about you too.

pirate8. Piracy: it happens. There is no use giving yourself ulcers about it. Don’t try counting up the money in lost revenue it represents, either. It will only make you cry. Some people don’t fight it. Personally, I do. Piracy means the difference between my paying the mortgage some months, or whether I have to wait another year to replace the glasses with the $400 lenses. Piracy is the difference between having to choose between dental work or going to a writer’s convention. Don’t just bitch about it, though. Every couple of weeks, do a search of your name and book titles (I find that Google Alerts tends not to pick up many illegal downloads–it’s better for notifying you of reviews). If you have a publisher, report it to them–they are losing money as well. Draft DMCA and takedown notices to send to pirate sites. Make sure that people know that many of these sites are just phishing to steal credit card information. In my case, my stories frequently show up on torrents (someone seems to keep uploading a bundle of four of my stories–it’s infuriating to see the same bundle appear again and again…). Appealing to the torrent is usually futile, but you can report the link to Google, which will block it in a title search on their browser. Given that almost everyone uses Google, having them block the illegal site in a search is a good thing. Searching the internet and preparing takedown notices is time-consuming and frustrating, but I do it. Sure, I realize that the vast majority of people downloading illegal copies would never buy from me in the first place. That doesn’t mean I have to make it easy for them to pick my pocket.

NotMyMonkeys-FB9. Don’t ever diss another author. That’s just plain stupid. Unless you are among unimpeachable friends that you trust with your whole heart, giving a frank opinion of someone’s work or personality is fraught with the potential to have your words come back and bite you in the ass. Keep it to yourself, even if you feel completely justified, or if someone approaches you, encouraging you to vent. Be a professional and keep your mouth shut and your fingers off the keyboard. That applies in general to most internet kerfuffles and dramas. Remember the great proverb: Not my circus, not my monkeys. This is a corollary to not responding to negative reviews. People talk. And if you malign someone’s writing or themselves as a person, the chances are it will get back to them.

On the other hand, sometimes it is impossible not to have someone get angry with you through no fault of your own. Apologize for inadvertently upsetting them, try to correct or prevent the circumstances that led to the misunderstanding, but if they won’t grow up and get over it, let it go. Don’t talk about it, however. Be the bigger person here. Apologize, move on, and never refer to it again. If they keep bringing it up in the face of your silence, they wind up looking petty and small for holding grudges.

10. And last but not least: write what makes you happy. Don’t write to market pressures. If you have no interest in the latest fad, your lack of enthusiasm will show. If you want to write about chefs, or the horse-racing industry, or US Marines, or WW2 flying aces, or dragons, you can. Just make sure you’ve done your homework, or in the case of fantasy, you’ve created a world with believable rules that make sense. Don’t worry about finding an audience. Chances are if you love what you’re writing, others will too. And they are the readers that count the most.

As for me, right now, I’m deep in the throes of edits for Truth and Consequences, book 3 in the award-winning Sixth Sense series from Dreamspinner Press, hopefully to be released this fall! If you’ve been waiting to find out what happens to Flynn and Jerry next, you’re in for some major surprises! Next month, I’ll be attending Rainbow Con in Tampa, FL–do look me up if you’re attending the convention. ๐Ÿ™‚ More on that as we get closer to the date.

 

 

 

 

Book 3 in the Sixth Sense series, and the Convention Season!

Is it spring yet? I’m starting to think it might be.

SnowdustAfter uncharacteristically bitter temps (to the point my dog, who normally loves the snow, had trouble walking because the ground hurt his feet, it was that cold), and the multiple rounds of snow, which never melted before the next bout hit, we’ve had a bit of a tough winter for us Southerners. There was one morning when feeding the horses took three hours, simply because it was snowing so hard it was nearly impossible to see what I was doing. The only good thing about having so many snow days was that I got a lot of writing done. Yay!

redbud resizedBut in the last two days, the temperatures have jumped up into the sixties. Robins flit across the yard, and you can hear the spring peepers every time you step outside. (Sadly, it’s the skunk mating season, so you can smell skunks every time you step outside, too!) The air has a warmth to it that speaks of spring. Daffodils have sent shoots up almost overnight, and yes, I’ve already gotten a tick off me. Tonight we’re experiencing a cold rain, but even that whispers of spring. I believe we’ve seen the last of the winter weather around here, and for once, I’m glad.

I’m not generally a big fan of spring because spring is usually a few weeks of lovely weather before it turns into summer, and I am no fan summer at all. Summer means unbearable heat and humidity to me, being damp and uncomfortable most of the time. Sunburn and mosquito bites. Too hot to sleep. Too hot to walk the dog or ride the horse, unless you want to get up at dawn, and sometimes not even then. But this spring and summer, I have exciting things to look forward to, which change the way I feel about the seasons altogether!

108203413_8The first bit of news is that I’ve completed the next installment of the Sixth Sense series! Book three, tentatively titled Truth and Consequences, has been submitted to the publisher. Instead of holding my breath for the next couple of months until I see whether or not it will be accepted, I’ve decided to move on with the next WIP, which will be a contemporary M/M romance set against the backdrop of eventing. I’m excited about this one–it’s a tale of overcoming personal fears and learning to take second chances–a theme that’s every dear to my heart!

The next bit of exciting news (at least for me!) is that I’m going to be at Animazement in Raleigh, NC (May 22-24)! I’m excited because I’m going to be meeting some of my fellow Dreamspinner authors in person for the first time–we’ll be sharing a table and enjoying the fun! If you’re planning to go to this convention, look us up!

If that wasn’t exciting enough, I’m also going to Rainbow Con in Tampa, FL (July 16-19th) as a featured author! I’ll be doing some panels, and I think a reading as well. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m already working on putting together some swag to give away, as well as some signed print books. Have you checked out the events for Rainbow Con? They had me at the Big Cat Rescue field trip, but there are all kinds of amazing panels, as well as what will be my very first Masquerade Ball! There are going to be so many great authors there too, so if you’ve been toying with the idea of attending a convention this year, you should check it out! It’s not too late to sign up!

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