When Something’s Gotta Give

I’m stepping back from a weekly blog post. I have a self-imposed deadline with my current WIP and need every spare minute to reach it. This hiatus may extend even longer, since I seem to have so little free time to do what I love – write.

Let’s face it – I don’t have much to say of interest and there are tons of other bloggers out there who do. I started it to share my thoughts as a new author, adding other things along the way to make it more relevant to a broader audience. Success, shall we say, has been elusive.

So, for now, new posts will appear when I have the time and something I feel compelled to share. I’m going to focus on two things: writing new material and marketing my already-published books.

I’ll still be around, reading and commenting on the many fine blogs out there and engaging with my readers. Feel free to contact me if you want to say hello, ask a question, or share what’s going on in your world. Another way to follow my progress is to check the “Books in Process” page on my website.

I’m grateful for the engagement of faithful readers and for your understanding regarding this change. You’re the best!

Email: aelliottbooks@gmail.com

Books in Process: https://aelliottbooks.com/books-in-process/

Me or Thee – For Whom Do I Write?

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Do I write for myself or my readers? There’s only one answer – both, yet it’s a balancing act affected by a number of ever-changing variables. If I only write what my readers want, I run the risk of stifled creativity, boredom, and resentment. Eventually, the personal sacrifices necessary to write in the first place would no longer seem worth it. If I write only what interests me, readers may move on to someone else, and without an audience for my work, what’s the point?

Series are popular, yet I’ve found them both a blessing and a curse. Once the foundation is laid in the first book, I have a clear road ahead for more stories. Readers fall in love with the world and characters I’ve created and they naturally want more. Great! Who doesn’t want happy fans and increased sales? Strangely enough, it may be the author!

I’ve always resisted being trapped into long-term commitments with no exit strategy. I want options, and with a series there don’t seem to be any! Spending years writing about the same world and characters feels like prison, and I have to get away for a while and do something else. There are other ideas to pursue and genre’s to explore. Give me variety or give me death! OK, that’s over the top, but you get my meaning. When I explained this situation to one of my beta readers, this is what she said:

“Most of us hate it when we find a book we love and can’t read a second book for many months or years. If something is popular now, you should keep writing it or they will lose interest and you will never get them back because they won’t remember how much they liked it.

“I understand that when you have more stories you want to write, you would rather go on to something new that has been waiting. But, I think that authors have to write what will sell to some degree, or they won’t make enough to do it for a living. Tough decisions!”

I think she’s right, but even if I did as she suggested, it takes me around nine months to complete and publish a full length novel. So, I’ll still end up disappointing some current readers who don’t want to wait, but satisfying future readers who have the benefit of my backlist! There’s really no way to “fix” this, given my personal limitations and time constraints, but I’m going to see if I can do better.

At the moment, I’m working on a shorter in-between story for my Gladstone Shifters series. Fans have been waiting for over a year since book two came out, but I set the series aside to do something different (insert Rise of the Draman here). At the time, book two wasn’t doing all that well, and along with craving something new, I hated the thought of wasting time on a series no one was buying.

Due to an influx of new readers, and insistent pleas from established fans, I’m back on track with Gladstone Shifters. The plan is to finish book 2.5 and then move directly to book three, which is a concession on my part. After that, who knows? A second volume of dragon stories is possible (creating yet another series!) or I may move on to one of several other ideas bubbling away on the back burner. Tough decisions indeed!

As a writer, do you have a similar struggle trying to balance your needs with those of your readers? As a reader, do you lose interest in an author if the series you like is still in process? Let me know your thoughts!

Go ahead – brighten my day!

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I ran across an older post by Susan M. Toy entitled “How YOU can invest in authors and books… without spending any money!” In it, she lists ten ways to help, including borrow and read their books, tell your friends, talk about them in your own blog, and my favorite – contact them personally.

“Contact the Author privately (usually their websites will offer a way of connecting) and tell them how much you enjoyed their writing and books. It’s one thing to receive a positive public comment from a reader, but if you make the effort to tell that author, one-on-one, what you really think about their writing and their books… it is so, so much better than in a public review. Because again – it’s honest and heartfelt!”

I couldn’t agree more! In a more recent post, Susan shares a quote from Graeme McGaw’s newsletter which sums up the idea nicely:

“Take a minute to write to your favorite authors and thank them. Thank them for the books they have written, the adventures they have taken you on, and the worlds they have allowed you to escape into… thank them for pouring months and months of their life into their stories. Authors have it rough. Not only is it a lot of work, but they’re also putting themselves out there. Think of all those negative reviews an author receives on a book. That sort of thing can be crushing… So yeah, take the time to write to your authors. It will make their day.” 

I’ve received several personal contacts from readers lately, and each one put a long-lasting smile on my face, chased away the doubts, made me feel good, and strengthened my determination to keep going. It only cost a few moments of their time, but meant so much.  

“First of all please allow me to congratulate you for your writing. You just acquired another fan!!! I have immensely enjoyed the first two books Expectant Moon and Traitor’s Moon and I loved the way you made me feel reading them. I started the first two days ago and I just finished the second and I was so sad that the third is not out yet. In these difficult times, reading about Ben and Evan and their friends and family is giving me a glimpse of hope, and I thank you for that. I hope you will get the necessary inspiration to allow me to dream a little longer.” John from Belgium

“I loved Rise of the Draman. Clean language, wonderful nonstop adventure. Interesting take on dragons and their bonded. It was nice to read about good dragons and kindness throughout. It’s how we should be with each other. I really hated for it to come to an end. Thank you for sharing.” Romae

“I thoroughly enjoyed the book (Rise of the Draman). You are a talented writer and hope I get to read many more of your works.” John

 Aren’t these great? Interaction with my readers is one the big perks of being a writer. When I get notes like this, I doubt the people sending them realize the positive and powerful impact they have. The cool thing is – YOU can be part of it! 

Authors – make sure to provide an email or snail mail address where readers can reach you. When they do, be sure to respond and thank them.

Readers – never underestimate the power of a personal contact! Even if you can’t leave an official review (also really great), make a habit of letting your favorite authors know how much you appreciate their work.

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Tripped up – A pantser’s confession

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Yes, I’m one of those.

Despite the fact that I tend to be very organized, thrive on consistency, and pride myself on never being late, it’s not the way I write. Usually, things move along swimmingly with only minor hiccups and the pantser’s life serves me well. Once in a while I end up being tripped by those pants and have to scramble to fix the mess. One could say I’ve been hoist with my own petard.

As you’ve no doubt surmised, I’m busy unwrapping my ankles so I can get to where I really need to be. After releasing my latest book three weeks ago, it was time to begin the next project – book three of my Gladstone Shifters series. Before I could begin writing something new, I needed to go back and re-read the first two books. I’ve been away from the series for more than a year, so a refresher was essential. No big deal, right?

This is where a plotter or planner has the advantage. Why? Because they would already have the series “bible” close at hand with all the needed information: names, dates, ages, physical descriptions of characters, timeline, etc. It was something I should already have done, but thought a cluttered file folder and my memory were good enough. Who has time for all that when there are more books demanding to be written?

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So I began to read, taking copious notes of all the information I might need for book three and typing them up properly for future reference. It turns out this wasn’t the only problem. It quickly became apparent the manuscripts needed yet MORE editing and minor changes. Things which slipped by unnoticed before were now glaringly obvious and must be fixed. Cringe worthy, embarrassing, unacceptable! There’s no way I could release (or begin writing) a new book without cleaning up the first two.

So, my simple task of re-reading morphed into constructing the series handbook I’d neglected, along with a new round of editing and corrections. I should have seen it coming. Since when does one of my easy-peasy tasks NOT become a time consuming black hole? Jettison the goals! Forget the “done by” dates on the calendar! Lower the sails and deploy the anchor! You get the idea – I’ve fallen behind, mired in a to-do list of my own making.

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For me, there was no choice at all. Once I recognized what needed to be done, I had to go back and fix things before starting new material. I know how my linear brain works by now, so trust me, pulling up my pants was the only option if I wanted to keep walking! Not to worry – I have made progress. It’s just going much slower than I’d like.

At this point the plan is to write a shorter in-between novella to pacify my demanding readers. (It’s not their fault, as I’m a year overdue releasing book three). After that, I’ll get to work on Forbidden Moon. I’m not going to promise anything though – after all, I am a pantser!

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What to do before starting your next WIP

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Your latest book is hot off the press. Now what? Suddenly finding yourself with unstructured free time can be downright scary. After all, you’ve become accustomed to that persistent little writer voice in your head demanding that you write, Write, WRITE for months on end. Of course you have another book, story, or project to work on, but what about the time in between the last one and the next?

Now’s the perfect time to C.R.O.P. – Celebrate, Rest & Reconnect, Organize, Promote

 

Celebrate

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Go ahead! You’ve worked hard and deserve a treat. Binge watch your favorite shows, order takeout, soak in a bubble bath, go shopping, plant flowers, eat chocolate – whatever floats your boat. Preferably, it’s something you wouldn’t normally have the time or energy for. You have permission to spoil yourself, and if anybody gives you grief, I’ll take care of it.

Rest & Reconnect

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This is your chance to catch up on sleep, read a book, take a walk, eat regular meals, and give your mind and body the opportunity to re-charge. You’ve run yourself ragged for too long, and you’re best (future) work depends on being in good shape.

Don’t forget your supportive friends and family who have been patiently waiting (or not) for you to re-join the land of the living. Make some phone calls, respond to emails, write a letter, and say hello to your neighbors. They deserve your attention, so reach out and find out what’s going on in their world. They’re more likely to tolerate your weird habits and continue to be supportive if you give them a little TLC.

Organize

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If you’ve ever watched a new house being built, you know it goes through many stages. Even when the structure is finished, there’s more work to do. The site has to be cleaned up, fill dirt brought in, concrete poured, and landscaping done before the job is complete. The contractor can’t move on until everything on the list has been checked off. Only then is he free to move ahead and focus on the next one.

Your work space is probably a shambles, and maybe the house, too! Use the downtime to clean and organize your notes, research, files, story ideas, or any other data you may need in the future. Do it now while the information is still relatively fresh in your mind. This will be especially helpful if you’re writing a series, or think the book you just finished might become a series. Names, dates, story threads, web sites, helpful articles – they all become a blur over time if you rely on memory alone, and doing a bit of housekeeping now will save you grief later on.

There’s another benefit, too. Wrapping up your last project provides closure so you can focus on the next one without distraction. Even if you continue in the same genre, the next book will be hampered if you haven’t put the last one to bed properly and set yourself up for a fresh start.

Promote

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The dreaded promotion phase kicks into high gear once the book is done and available for purchase. Get all your ducks in a row before starting something new, or you risk  constant interruptions and frustration. Done properly, marketing won’t require huge blocks of time, enabling you to ease into your next project.

There’s a wonderful feeling of satisfaction when you send your latest creation out into the world! The early days are filled with waiting for those elusive reviews to appear and watching the sales figures. Unfortunately, the “New Release” excitement quickly fades amid all the other things you have going on, so enjoy it while you can.

All right – now you’re ready to start listening to your writer voice and allow the persistent little taskmaster to bully you back to work. It may have been anywhere from a few days to weeks, but your C.R.O.P. time set you up for success. Go on! Your fans are waiting…

 

 

Choosing Your Words Carefully

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Take a look at this recent news clip headline:

“Uranus has started leaking gas, NASA scientists confirm”

You can stop laughing now. It’s likely the writer worded it this way on purpose to call attention to the article. I certainly noticed! It’s also possible the idiot wasn’t thinking clearly and ended up with a humorous reference to odiferous body functions. I’ll let you decide.

More important than a good chuckle, it reminded me of a lesson I’m still learning – choosing my words carefully. I’m not referring to my books per se, but public communications such as my website, emails, and blog posts. Sometimes there’s a fine line between honesty and polite discourse, and given the permanent nature of e-communications I must be judicious in what I reveal or how I respond.

Take emails from readers for instance. While Sally just loved my most recent book, would I please consider writing a story about flying pink unicorns? Ahem…well now my first instinct might be to say something rude or dismissive – but I can’t do that. This is where those carefully chosen words come in. It takes more time to craft a polite and appreciative response without telling the person to check their medication or go get a life and leave me alone!

This kind of thing happens all the time with rude or uninformed blog post comments, unreasonable reviews, or things with which you strongly disagree. Some folks don’t know how to express themselves or are convinced they have the right to tell you what to do/think. Sometimes the only response is none at all, or a non-committal “thanks for stopping by!”.

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I’ve never been shy about sharing my opinions freely, so learning to throttle my first instinct has been challenging at times. Honestly, I’ve learned a lot about watching my words from other writers and bloggers and appreciate their example.

Has this been a struggle for you? I’d love to hear how you have dealt with it.

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Book update – Rise of the Draman is almost ready to launch! Look for an announcement with the next week or so.

Virus check – How are you holding up in these crazy days? I hope you are healthy and weathering the storm. Since my employer is considered “essential”, I continue to work as usual and am grateful for a consistent income. It’s still difficult though, as I pick up on everybody else’s stress! People are afraid of each other and no one makes eye contact. The streets are devoid of traffic, businesses are closed everywhere you look, and nothing seems “right”. Checking the news is depressing and scary as things get worse, and it’s all people can talk about. I can’t help but wonder how this pandemic will change our world once it passes.

If you are able, I encourage you to donate to your local food bank or homeless shelter. The need is great for so many and we can only get through this together. Peace.

(Don’t) Say that again – Dealing with overused words

I’m on the hunt.

My manuscript was overrun with the nasty little boogers and it’s taking precious writing time to stop and cull them from the herd. You know what I’m talking about, though they go by many different names: crutch words, filter words, overused words, tired words, lazy words, needless words, filler words, repetitive words – and don’t get me started on adverbs! I’m tempted to use a different term altogether, but it wouldn’t be acceptable in polite company.

I prefer the term “crutch words”, but what are they?

“They are words or expressions that an author’s brain defers to like a default setting (and therefore, they become overused). These repeated words/phrases should not be obliterated from your writing, but rather, their frequency and usage need to be reduced.” Sam Giacomo

I found at least three things worth mentioning in Sam’s simple definition.

Default setting – every writer tends to overuse certain words and phrases, but it’s part of your unique writing voice. They spring from your upbringing, education, region of the world, and personality. Relax. You come by it naturally, you can use them, and you’re in good company.

Not be obliterated – When I was first confronted with my own repeats, it surprised me! (Had, that, but, was, & would are some of my worst.) Removal of every single crutch word is neither required nor desired, but you will have to cull them. The effort is more than worthwhile, as it will improve sentence structure and the overall quality of your writing.

Reduced – Here’s the hard part, and none of my research revealed how many occurrences of a word or phrase is acceptable or excessive. Shouldn’t the magic formula look something like this? [20 uses of “X” per 1000 words = disaster] I wish it were that easy! I use MS Word for my writing, so I take advantage of the “Find” feature. If I see a whole bunch of repeats clustered together, I go hunting. If the overall number is large, I look at each one and winnow it down.

For example, while working on story number three of my current MS, I punched in the word “was”. Whoa! Two hundred forty four occurrences in a document of just under twenty thousand words. It took hours of eliminating, replacing, and re-writing to get the number down to one hundred three. The process is subjective, but once you know what your crutch words are it’s easier to find an acceptable balance.

Beware – the little stinkers are tricky! The list of offenders never goes away as old ones are replaced with new ones. Always ask your beta readers to watch for them, as they are more likely to catch them than you are.

Happy hunting!

 

 

 

 

 

W.I.P. = Weary, Impossible, Provoked

It’s no surprise I am still working on Rise of the Draman, though I REALLY want to get it finished! Why does every project take longer than I estimate?? Can’t I just write and ignore everything else? It’s not all doom and gloom, as I am making significant progress – even squeezing in the holidays and tax preparation. Speaking of taxes, my book income went way down this year and I overspent on promotions. I’ll have to be even more careful – it’s going to be tough.

Anyway, back to my WIP. I completed story five in late November, so what have I been doing for the last eleven weeks? When I started the project, it was supposed to be a series of short stories, released one at a time over several months. Those goals were jettisoned when I realized:

  1. I’m no good at writing short stories. I do just fine with flash fiction or novels, but short story writing is a special ability I don’t seem to have! A bit discouraging, but a good learning experience.
  2. Publishing and promoting five separate titles is WAY more than I can afford at the present time.

By the time I got to the last one (Dragon Rescue), the decision was made to combine all five into one volume. By doing so, it freed me from word count restrictions – and set me up for a lot more work. In the end, the word count went from 80,485 to 108,543 – a 26% increase!

Adding new material isn’t the only reason I’m behind,  of course, as there are now internal consistency issues to address and small but important changes which affect all the stories. Oh, and don’t forget a thorough round of editing and another beta read for each one. At some point I also have to create character lists, maps, a terrific blurb, and apply for the copyright. The joys of self-publishing are on full display here, and I haven’t even reached the promotions stage! Whoopee!

Yes, I’m very eager to get the book finished and launched, but I won’t cut corners – even though it’s taking MUCH longer than I thought it would. I’m tired and want to reach the finish line right now, but the race isn’t over. Giving up isn’t an option, no, no, no. I’m going to birth this baby if it kills me, and then promptly forget about the pain as I start on the next one. Yep, writers are weird.

Am I An Author Yet?

There is an overabundance of blog posts describing in detail what it means to be an author. I’m sure you’ve seen at least a few of them and perhaps checked out of curiosity. Unfortunately, many of them claim to have the answer, and explain in great detail what a real author is. Supposedly there are fake ones lurking about somewhere ready to fool the unsuspecting public with their fake writing.

Anyway, these helpful guru’s have some interesting, (if misguided), clues by which we may discern who qualifies:

  • Real authors have been published by industry recognized houses.
  • Real authors earn ____% of their income from writing.
  • Real authors allow only professionals to handle their editing, proofreading, marketing, etc.
  • Real authors make personal appearances and do book signings.
  • Real authors publish only real paper and ink books.
  • Real authors never look at reviews or pay any attention to what readers are saying.
  • Real authors attend workshops and conferences to hobnob with the above-mentioned guru’s.
  • Real authors charge exorbitant amounts because no one will value their work otherwise.
  • Real authors willingly sacrifice all for the sake of their craft.
  • Real authors have found and embraced their “voice”.

OK – had enough? How many of you authors have been disqualified because someone decided you weren’t real? Let’s face it – everyone and their mother has advice to dish out, whether it’s worth anything or not. I’ve grown weary of listening to the nonsense, and in fact, recently stumbled upon a helpful post for a change. In it, an author is defined by three basic traits, plus one more thing that keeps you in the game over time.

  1. Talent – the ability to come up with original stories time and time again.
  2. Craft – you’ve learned the nuts and bolts on your own or by taking classes.
  3. Passion – you LOVE to write and don’t consider it a chore.

And, the most important strategy to keep you in the game – be versatile. Markets change, tastes change, fads come and go. You don’t have to write what you hate, but be ready and willing to try new things.

I found this information most affirming, especially when (in my humble opinion) I discovered I had all three traits to my credit. Well – I’ll admit I still have a great deal to learn, so #2 is an ongoing trait! As for being versatile, I’ve already published in three genre’s and will shortly be adding a fourth. My biggest challenge is not writing, but marketing and the other business-related tasks of publishing. Not surprising for an indie author, but my passion (#3) keeps me pressing on!

2019 – A Retrospective

A few thoughts on last year, both personally and as a writer.

ME

  • Renewed a twenty year old friendship – what a blessing!
  • Welcomed another grandson (four grandchildren now)
  • Celebrated my younger son’s birthday, in person, for the first time in MANY years
  • Took on a PT job for several months to help with the bills
  • Moved to a different apartment with better amenities

WRITING

  • Celebrated my two-year publishing anniversary in August
  • Experimented with some flash fiction/photo prompts on my blog
  • Published one full length novel and almost finished a second (see below)
  • Incorporated more show and less tell in my writing
  • Got really good at low-cost book promotions (!)
  • Added yet another genre and audience to my portfolio

 

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My writing plans for the year fell apart! I published my second wolf shifter novel, Traitor’s Moon, in February. The idea was to keep going with book three, but I couldn’t do it. I was burned out and needed to write something different for a while. With no desire to commit myself to another long project, I decided to write a fantasy short story. This turned into a series of five novelettes spread out over the last ten months of the year!

With me so far? The initial idea was to publish them individually, thereby increasing my backlist and pull in lots of new readers with all the extra exposure. Not a bad plan – except it was too expensive. (I also tried putting the stories on my blog in serial format, but very few people read them.) There was no way I could afford to publish and promote five different titles, so what to do? The only thing I could do with a basket full of lemons – make lemonade!

RISE OF THE DRAMAN is a collection of all five books and is presently undergoing a final series of edits. I’m adding new material, replacing tell with show, and correcting mistakes. My beta readers are loving it, and I will end up with a much better novel by the time I’m done.

The cover for this one was another challenge. The designer I’ve been using all along just couldn’t come through for me on this title, so I was forced to look elsewhere. Fantasy cover art, particularly with dragons, is harder to come by and can be a lot more expensive. I finally found a few possibilities on a pre-made cover site, and with one slight change (which cost more), settled on one which will do, but just doesn’t POP the way I had hoped. Check it out here and tell me what you think! If things go as planned, I intend to publish RISE OF THE DRAMAN sometime in February or before.

Every book brings new opportunities to learn and improve, and this latest one certainly did! Overall it’s been a great experience. My biggest regret is not being able to publish the thing in 2019, as it puts me behind my goal of at least two novel-length works per year. If I work hard, maybe I can squeeze out three in 2020 to make up for it!