Archive for March, 2016

Why You Need to Hold on to a Bit of Optimism

As I write this, Squiders, it’s snowing outside. Not just a little snow, but big, heavy flakes, drifting down in a rather determined fashion. It snowed yesterday as well.

Here in Colorado there seems to be a point where we just kind of mentally give up on winter. There’s no clear seasonal delineation, so it can be 70 degrees one day in the middle of November or February or March, and then blizzard the next day and drop two feet of snow (as it did last week). So everybody eventually gets to a point of It’s Not Winter Anymore and sticks to it.

This is often why you’ll see pictures of Coloradoans wearing shorts or no coat in the middle of snowstorm. Winter is mentally over for those people, and evidence to the contrary shall not sway them.

The thing to take away from this is not that Coloradoans are insane (though, admittedly, we probably are–lack of oxygen and all), but that sometimes it’s okay to keep a little bit of optimism even when everything tells you to give up.

I feel as writers this can be especially useful. So many of us get into these ruts where we expect rejection. I’m not saying that’s not realistic, but it can be depressing. If we get too far into said rut, we may fall into a “why bother?” mentality, where we figure it’s not worth it to send that story out again, or move on to the next agent on our list.

Holding on to a bit of optimism can help us send that story again, knowing that maybe this time we’ll find that agent/editor/publisher who’s willing to give us a try. It can be what we need to move on to the next project.

Sometimes I think that’s all that really separates people who make it versus those who don’t–persistence.

What do you think, Squiders? Have any stories where holding on to that little bit of hope paid off?

As for me, I’m going to go back out into the snowstorm with my windbreaker and nothing else, because dangit, it’s spring.


Thoughts on Worldbuilding

Afternoon, Squiders. Not much has happened since we last spoke, which I find frustrating, but I have finished editing my short stories and have sent the whole lot out on rotation (which I haven’t done in a while). So here’s a whole new element that I have learned about co-writing, because while I have cowritten novels before, I have never had one published before.

Anyway. I’m running my writing group’s storycraft meeting tonight on worldbuilding, which I’ve made an outline and discussion questions for, but I find myself very curious as to how the meeting’s going to go.

My initial thought was that worldbuilding was a specific enough topic that we could get through it in a meeting, but broad enough that it would carry us the whole time without worry. But I’ve been reminded again just how massive the concept of worldbuilding is.

It’s probably because, despite my best efforts, my own worldbuilding is a bit hodge podge. I always think I have enough in place before I start, and I always discover things I have forgotten, usually by the second page or so. You might remember back to Nano 2014 when I had plotted out my space travel technology and the schematics of the ship, planned out my universe and my culture and my history, but hadn’t figured out whether or not the doors of the spaceship opened automatically.

Wikipedia says people tend toward top down worldbuilding (entire world, history, etc.) or bottom up worldbuilding (things only specific to locale of story). Both have their downsides and of course, you should probably do both or a combination. I would say that I generally trend toward the top down but not always. I wonder if it’s obvious from my stories which type of worldbuilding I did for that particular story.

I could probably do a storycraft meeting on each aspect of worldbuilding.

How does your worldbuilding tend to go, Squiders? What do you feel is the most important part of your worldbuilding, and what, if anything, do you find you tend to forget? (I am notoriously bad about economics in my worlds.) Readers, any worlds that you really love, that feel almost real?

Limbo and April

I find myself in kind of a weird place right now. The sekrit project still needs work–most of that marketing stuff we talked about last week, though the excerpt has gone out for approval and will go up at the beginning of the month–but there’s nothing I can actively do while I wait for my co-writer’s input on the book description and the cover.

So I’m in this sort of limbo. I feel like I can’t start up one of my other novel projects while the marketing stuff for the sekrit project is still outstanding, but I also feel like I should be doing something.

The best I can figure for the moment is that I’ll do some short stories. I have some written but not typed up, and other ones that need to be submitted. But, unfortunately, that’s probably only 2-3 hours of work, and then I’ll be stuck again, because it sounds like I’ll be getting nothing from my co-writer until Sunday (boo!).

I could…write a new short, I suppose? I’m delaying the release of my short story collection until the fall, even though it’s essentially done, because what’s the point of putting out two books within a month and then potentially nothing else for the rest of the year? (Although…now that I think about it, I think I’ve got an anthology coming out in the fall. Maybe release it late summer, then? Argh.)

I guess the next step would be to move on to my nonfiction books until the marketing for the sekrit project is done.

I mean, some of that will be ongoing, such as contacting potential reviewers or bloggers, but that’s not necessarily creative in any way.

For April I’d like to participate in Camp Nanowrimo. Camp is very hit or miss for me in terms of whether it’s useful or not, but I figure why not try? I’m behind on everything for the year, and it might help me get back on track. I’ve set a goal of 15K and will primarily be working on my scifi space adventure with dinosaurs (you may remember that from Nano 2014) which needs about 25K more on the first draft.

I’d like to work on my submission docs (query/synopsis) for my YA paranormal novel too, but I’m not sure it’s possible to be into two different books that closely, so that may be a terrible idea. Especially with ongoing sekrit project stuff happening.

I don’t know if I will be able to work on the scifi novel while also getting the sekrit project launched, but I suppose I can do 15K on my nonfic stuff instead. There’s certainly that much (probably closer to 25K, or more) to be done there as well.

Can you do submission stuff for one novel while writing and/or marketing another, squiders? Any tips on keeping everything straight?

Following a Series Real-Time

Yesterday, I finished the last book in Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy, Morning Star. I picked the first book up right after it came out in early 2014, thanks to a note about it in the newspaper, and have read each subsequent book within a month of them being released.

It’s the first time in a long time that I have followed a series so closely. In fact, Harry Potter was probably the last example, and it wasn’t until Order of the Phoenix that I actually started paying attention to the releases for those. Normally I come in after the series is all the way out, or when it’s most of the way finished, like Harry Potter. So it’s been an interesting experience, you know, actually having to wait for the next book.

At first I thought I’d talk about Morning Star exclusively, but then I realized that it wasn’t the only series I’d been following. I also recently finished the second book of Erika Johansen’s Tearling books. A few months after it came out (last July, I believe), but still fairly timely, and definitely ahead of the next book (which is due in November).

Very different animals, these two trilogies. And so has been my reaction to both of them.

  • During the actual reading of each of the Red Rising books, there were points where I contemplated dropping the series, because the main character is sometimes not an easy person to ride along with, and there’s a lot of moral ambiguity throughout. But always at the end, the book would catch my interest again so that I not only knew I’d read the next book, but that I’d look for it actively. The end of Morning Star was also satisfying for the whole trilogy, even though, for a while, it didn’t look like we were going to get there (the main character became an unreliable narrator there for a bit, which was jarring but also awesome, and I am conflicted about the whole thing).
  • The first Tearling book, The Queen of the Tearling, was awesome. I really really liked it. The second book (Invasion of the Tearling) I did not like. At all. It’s different in tone, subject matter, characterization. So, now I find myself wondering whether or not to look into the third book. Am I invested enough now that I have to see it through to the end? Do I want to see it through to the end?

What do you prefer, Squiders, reading each book as they come out, being up to date and on the edge? Or waiting until all the books are out so you don’t have to wait (and, presumably, can tell better if a series will fit your tastes all the way through)?

(Red Rising is far future scifi with a dystopian bent, the Tearling books are high fantasy with a scifi-y-ish twist, if those sound interesting to you.)

Ah, Marketing

Happy St. Paddy’s, Squiders! I should have probably drawn you a landsquid, but that would require me to have foresight. And not be still recovering from brain fatigue.

There is in theory wifi here, but the wifi is a lie. So who knows when you will get this! Bwhahahaha. (Probably in about an hour when I get home. But you’ll never know, because you have no idea when it is right now.)

Sorry. Sorry. I am so behind on sleep.

Now that the revising portion of the sekrit project is done, in theory, it’s time to move on to marketing. Marketing, bane of authors everywhere. But, alas, it must be done. The following is both a to do list for me, and an idea of what needs to be done in general if you’ve never marketed a novel and plan to attempt it sometime in the near future.

  1. Cover
    We’ve talked covers before. Covers are super important, because people totally judge books by their covers.
  2. Book Description
    The book description is also super important. It goes everywhere, from Amazon to book release announcements to guest blogs to the back of the book itself. It’s got to sell the book without being misleading. They are hard and some of mine have not gone well in the past. At least I’ve got a cohort this time?
  3. Marketing Plan
    A marketing plan is a single place for you to lay out and keep track of all the marketing you’re doing. It includes things like planned advertising, reviewers to contact, people/blogs to contact about guest posts, promotions you’re planning (like who you’re releasing info, such as a cover reveal, to), extras you plan to release and where you’re releasing them to, teasers or excerpts, etc.
  4. Contacting People
    Once you’ve got your marketing plan in hand, you’ve got to start implementing it. Normally this involves contacting people first–many websites require at least a month lead time, and if you’re asking someone to review your book, they might have a backlog. Plus, there seems to be a lousy return on reviews vs. number of people you contact–5% or something. So if you want 10 reviews, you might need to contact 200 people or more. You can also hire people to set up a blog tour for you, which is usually fairly reasonably priced, though I have not used this service myself.
  5. Put Up Other Materials
    The good news is that it’s easy to upload things places, like your website or Goodreads or Amazon or wherever, so you can do this last, or throughout your marketing process as you want, without worrying too much about timing.

That’s the basic premise. I’d better get on it.

Hope you have a lovely Thursday and weekend, Squiders! If you have any marketing tips you’d like to share–things that have worked well for you, people who have been helpful, etc.–please do! It never hurts to have some help! Oh, and if you’re interested in being part of our book’s release (it’s due out May 1), either through hosting a cover release or guest post, or acting as a reviewer (it’s high fantasy), or whatnot, leave me a comment here or shoot me an email at kit m campbell at gmail dot com.

Why You Need to Plan Out Your Revisions

Our revision is finally done, squiders! \o/ (That’s a little guy throwing his hands in the air.) I mean, until we get comments and stuff back and have to finalize things before release. But huzzah!

I don’t normally stuff my entire revision process into 5 weeks, but this process, and especially the last few days, has reminded me how important it is to know what you’re changing before you get into it.

Because revision is exhausting. Someone once told me that writing is right-brained, but revision is left-brained. You have to take what you have and make it a coherent, entertaining, relevant story. Your character motivations must make sense. All foreshadowing must be properly foreshadowed. All characters and important plot objects must be firmly entrenched in the story and not come out of left field later.

And, as I have been reminded but has also been true on previous revisions, by the time I get near the end of the book, my brain hurts. I can’t think anymore. And if I haven’t written down what, specifically, needs to change, I’m too tired to figure things out. Which is not good, because you want your ending to be amazing, so that your reader leaves feeling satisfied and/or motivated to move on to the next book, in the case of a series.

There’s also the issue with revision fatigue, which is where you know you’re changing things, but you can’t tell if you’re making things better or worse. Again, if you’ve planned your revision out, the odds are the story is getting better, even if it doesn’t feel like it, because you’re moving in the right direction.

How does one plan out a revision?

Well, it varies from person to person, but, in general, you look at your overall story. You look at your plot and character arcs. Are they complete? Are there steps missing that need to be added in? Do they logically make sense? Are you using your setting to its fullest potential?

And after you identify issues, you make a plan for changes. Do things need to be added? Do things need to be removed? And you plan where those changes go.

And then, after all that, you start revising. And because you know where you’re going and how you plan to get there, you can power right through fatigue and brain death.

Planning! You can get through a novel draft without it, but your revision is going to be a million times harder without it.

What do you think, Squiders? Have you revised without a plan? How did it go? If you do plan, how much work do you put in before you get going?

Let Me Tell You a Story About Failure

I’m taking a break from revising, squiders, because I got really excited about my own story and, while that’s a good thing, it’s not the best state of mind to do revision in. (Almost done! And then on the rest of what needs to be done to get this book out.)

So, it seems to me–and feel free to fight me on this–that most author fears fall into two categories: fear of failure, or fear of success.

(We’ll talk about success later. Tuesday, maybe. I’m making no guarantees til this revision’s back in.)

So! Story time. Imagine, if you will, a 15-year-old Kit, learning to drive, because I lived in a single parent household and my mother really wanted there to be another driver around.

I was terrified of driving. Nothing seemed like a worse idea than giving me control of a several thousand pound machine and letting me around other people. But I did it, because I wanted to help my mother, and I liked the idea of freedom, and it’s typically one of those Life Skills that American society expects you to have.

The driving school I went to had a week or two of classroom education before they released us into the student driver cars. Now, I’d handled a car before: my father had let me steer the car on his lap since I was four or so, and my mother had let me drive around the neighborhood and other low-population areas as practice. But my first day, I went and got in that car with one of those people that you wonder how exactly they came to be teachers, because they obviously dislike children.

So I’m stressed to be driving at all, and then I get the least sympathetic person possible on my first “real” time out.

He had me drive around the neighborhood next to the school for about 20 minutes, then suggested I take a left turn out onto Colfax. (Colfax is a 3-lane-in-either-direction state highway, for non-Coloradoans.) I told him I wasn’t ready. I asked to spend a little more time in the neighborhood. I asked to try a right turn onto Colfax, since I’d never been on a big street before.

But he insisted, and off we went, white knuckled on the wheel. The light turned, I went, then realized I wasn’t turning quite enough. So, instead, I overcompensated, went over the median into oncoming traffic, and blew the tire.

My teacher was irate. I was much relieved.

Here’s the thing. When you fail, you have two options. You can give up, or you can try again, knowing there’s no way it could go worse. I’m pretty sure I was the only one of my friends who managed to physically break a car while learning to drive, but on the other hand, it gave me valuable experience.

In retrospect, it was good that he pushed me. Could he have done it better? Sure. But it forced me to give it a try, and even though it ended poorly, I felt better in the end, probably better than I would have if I hadn’t tried at all.

So don’t let your fear stop you. Yes, you might fail. But then you can try again, with no where to go but up.

Had any particularly spectacular failures, squiders? Stories about learning to drive?

Creating the Right Cover Art

Well, Squiders, work continues apace on getting this novel ready for release in May. We’re finishing up our final revisions and the manuscript is due back to the copyeditor/proofreader in a few days. And now we have a title, so we can get going on our marketing.

So the next step is, of course, the cover.

I mean, ideally, we would have gotten started on the cover months ago. If you’re in charge of your own cover art, listen to me: GET THIS GOING EARLY. I like to do it at least six months out, normally, which gives you time to butt heads with the cover artist, get changes fixed, have a nice, well-marketed cover reveal (preferably linked to a pre-order), and not have to worry about things.

Six months ago we didn’t even have a first draft. I am learning all sorts of things about working to a deadline when there’s a year between concept and publication. Mostly things like This Is a Bad Idea and Oh God What Have I Gotten Myself Into. I’m not sure how people who put out a book or three a year do this.

The nice thing about working with Turtleduck Press is that we have control over our own cover art, because I know that can be an issue at times. (I have a friend who recently had a historical fantasy novel traditionally published, and he says sales and reviews have been good, but he’s very disappointed in his cover art. He fought to get his main character on it and the publisher ignored him.) On the other hand, now we’ve got to figure it out ourselves. And not only does it have to be representative of this novel and portray the general tone and genre of the story, but it’s got to launch a shared world series, so it has to be in a style that subsequent books/novellas, etc. can follow.

I feel like none of my previous books have been this hard. For Hidden Worlds the artist was a friend, and I just let her read the book and then come up with a cover. For Shards I had a clear idea what I wanted and what was usual for the urban fantasy/paranormal romance genre.

Here we’ve got high fantasy, which points more toward hand-drawn illustration, but we could also do something more symbolic.

Options, options, but we’ve got to get it figured out and done.

Any recs, Squiders? Thoughts on illustration vs symbols? Cover artists you’ve used that you like?

Library Book Sale Finds: Uncharted Territory by Connie Willis

First of all, good news, Squiders! We’ve finally decided on a title. So that’s one thing checked off the seemingly endless list.

Anyway, onward!

I’ve read a couple books by Connie Willis before (To Say Nothing of the Dog, and the Blackout/All Clear duology) from her Oxford time travel series. This is not one of those. This is planetary exploration scifi in the style of a Western.

Title: Uncharted Territory
Author: Connie Willis
Publication Year: 1994
Genre: Science fiction

Pros: Short, fun, interesting world and premise
Cons: A character twist really threw me, and not a lot actually happens

In general I liked this quite a bit. Westerns, like Age of Sail, have a lot of the same tropes as science fiction, so ala Firefly space westerns feel very natural. (You can read more about this subgenre here.) Connie Willis writes this first person, which generally I am not hugely fond of, but I love the character voice so it works out fine.

Basic premise is two surveyors, out on a new world, trying to explore but being faced with bureaucracy at every step. You see, the government doesn’t want to be accused of expansionist tendencies, so they’ve given the natives the ability to monitor and fine the surveyors, which the indigent people have figured out how to twist to their own advantage.

The voice is fun, the situations are ridiculous and totally believable, and I liked the characters as well. My biggest issue is that the PoV character is female, and this is completely not obvious until about halfway through, when it suddenly becomes (and remains) a plot point throughout the rest of the book. I thought the PoV was male, and it took me a good half a chapter to adapt to this new information. I’m not sure if I missed something early on (I did go back and do a cursory look) or if this was supposed to be a big reveal, or what, but it really threw me.

The other thing is that it doesn’t quite feel like a complete story. It’s a short book, only 149 pages, and it’s almost a slice of adventure sort of story. Only one thing’s changed from start to finish, really, and even that doesn’t seem to be anything major.

But it was short, it was fun, and I enjoyed it. So I’d recommend it, if you like space westerns or other planetary exploration stories.

Have you read this? What did you think?