Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Surprising Joys of Marketing

This was the part I was dreading.

The writing I could do. Editing--no problem. Creating a web site? Been there, done that. A little research on self-publishing was all that was needed to fill in the gaps to get Rising Shadow printed and out the door.

But when it came to marketing the book, I was sure it was going to be horrible. I hate asking my closest friends and family for favors--how much more awful would it be to ask complete strangers to take the time to read my book and write something about it?

What I discovered was that marketing is different from selling, and if you focus on that distinction, you can end up having a lot of fun. Here's what I mean: the point of marketing is to bring a product to the marketplace, to make people aware of it. The key is to do targeted marketing--you wouldn't go door-to-door asking people to read your book. Instead, you want to get the word out to people who would be interested in it and actually want to hear about it. This is actually easier than it sounds.

The first thing I did was to start a fan page for The Soterians on Facebook, and then I created a couple of display ads that are shown only to people I believe fit into my target audience. I started getting fans right away, and then the fun part began: every day, I post a status update or a link to something that's related to my books, writing, music, heroes, or just anything I think my readers might be interested in, and I get to see their reactions. The first time a fan clicked the "Like" link on one of my updates, I was so excited I literally jumped out of my chair.

Next, I started emailing young-adult bloggers. This was fun, because you can't find a more targeted audience than people who subscribe to a blog about the genre of your book. The amazing thing was that almost everyone I emailed was very receptive to reviewing the book. I sent them review copies and sometimes a second copy to use as a giveaway (having good giveaways drives more traffic to their blog), and the reviews are starting to be posted (the first is on one of my favorite blogs, Coffee for the Brain). Similarly, I did a giveaway on goodreads, and over five hundred people signed up. I got some very good reviews and ratings that way.

I've also written a couple of press releases and sent information about Rising Shadow to publications whose audience would have something in common with the characters in the book. Since the story takes place at UCSB and the protagonist is a vegetarian, I sent an email to the Santa Barbara Independent, the UCSB Nexus, Vegetarian Times, and a couple of local vegetarian mailing lists. All but Vegetarian Times replied and ran articles or info about Rising Shadow. The beautiful thing is that all of this has felt very's not about trying to find the right angle to get on Oprah or in the New York Review of Books. It's about looking for publications that will be glad to know about the book because it would interest their readers and give them something to write about. Once I really focused on it from that perspective, marketing became much easier.

One of the amazing things that happened when I started the marketing process was how people came out of nowhere to help me. My friend Christi, a VP of Marketing in software, wrote up a whole marketing plan for me. A friend of my mom's reached out to me and spent an hour on the phone talking about her experience and suggesting strategies. My friend Ginny put me in touch with an author friend of hers, who gave me some great suggestions. Friends I hadn't seen in years came forward, buying copies of the book to give to friends, posting about it on Facebook, and so on. And my friend Meghan posted an interview with me on her awesome blog, Writerland. It's been a truly humbling and joyful experience to watch people step up to help get my book out there.

But without question, the part that has surprised me the most has been the incredible people I'm meeting as a result of marketing. Writing is a somewhat lonely and isolating endeavor, but when it comes to marketing, suddenly you're in touch with people all over the world. In addition to meeting friends of friends, I've had wonderful exchanges with bloggers, readers on goodreads, fans on The Soterians Facebook page, and people who read this blog.

Case in point: the Coffee for the Brain blog is written by a teacher to promote reading amongst his students. I was blown away that a teacher would go to all the effort of creating a blog with great content and funny video posts just to help his students. I exchanged several emails with him, and I was just as amazed at how excited he was to work with me. He wrote a review of Rising Shadow, interviewed me, and set up a book giveaway for his students. I love his blog, and I never would have known about it if I hadn't been "marketing" Rising Shadow. Meeting people like him who donate their time, skills, and humor to improve other people's lives brings me so much joy and helps balance all the negative stories we hear about people every day.

So don't be afraid of marketing your book. Don't decide you're going to do "just one more editing pass" because you're afraid of what comes next after you publish it. You might find that the marketing process is just as rewarding as the writing itself. The only danger is that you might get so carried away with marketing that you forget to write your next book.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Six Tips for Writers

Several readers have approached me recently asking if I have any tips for them on writing. Funny you should ask, because I have advice to give on just about everything, regardless of whether I actually know anything about it. Luckily, I do know something about writing, and although I don't claim to be a trained mentor in this area, I'm happy to share what I've discovered along the way.

1. Don't Try to Impress Anyone
I think the number-one most important writing tip is to focus on telling a great story about something you really care about, and not to focus on trying to write pretty words. When I was a teenager, I remember focusing a lot on trying to write beautiful prose with not enough emphasis on the story and the characters, because I figured if I wrote enough fancy words, I'd sound smart, and people would like my stuff. It took me a while to realize that I didn't really care about "being taken seriously" as a writer and just really wanted to write great stories, and that made me a much better writer. You really have to write for yourself and not with the idea of whether someone else will think what you're writing sounds good.

2. Think the Story All the Way Through
It's also important to think the story through before writing it. Before I started writing Rising Shadow, I sat and thought a lot about all the characters and their back stories, who their families were, when their birthdays were, and so on. Then, I outlined all five books in the series (not in excruciating detail, just at a high level) before I started writing, and this has worked out great, because I'm planting little seeds in book one that won't mean anything until book five. I think J.K. Rowling does this amazingly well in the Harry Potter books, and I want to provide that same "aha!" moment when you go back and re-read my books as you recognize the little clues I'm laying out.

3. Don't Edit as You Write
The next most important tip is never to try to write perfectly in the first draft. Just get it down on paper. I wrote Rising Shadow in about six weeks and then spent nine months revising it. Just write. Really.

4. NOW Edit
I think the most important part of writing is the editing process, which thankfully I really enjoy. I have no problem slashing out whole sections, and I love getting criticism. This can be hard for a lot of writers--they feel that their words are precious or channeled from above, which makes it very hard to cut things that don't work. It's very important that you get over that barrier. If a scene really doesn't work but you love it, just cut and paste it into another file "for later" so you don't feel like you're throwing out your hard work but you're not keeping stuff that doesn't work in this particular story.

5. Don't Try to Force Inspiration
This is a hard one for control freaks, but really, you can't just say "I'm going to write a novel now" and pluck a topic out of the air. To put in the time and effort required to write a book, you have to write something you really care about, something that lights a fire under you every day. Otherwise, you'll quit after five pages and think you can't do it. If you've tried to write before and didn't get anywhere, you probably didn't have a good story to tell.

So how do you give your muse a little nudge? Read books, see movies, talk to people about what interesting things they're doing, and, my favorite technique: listen to people on public transit and start imagining them as characters and what their lives might be like. One of my favorite characters, Jesse, was inspired by a guy I heard talking to his friend on the train.

If you're at home and can't get out to stare at strangers, think of a topic that you are interested in and sit down to research it. Pretty soon, you'll start stumbling upon stories that spark an idea. This is the part where your family and friends think you've gone mad. "I was thinking about plows, because, you know, I like plows, and I found this story on the Internet about a man who found a thousand year-old plow buried on his farm, and then I started thinking, hey, what if there was a strange message carved on the plow that lead the man to solve a mystery that had been buried for a millennium!" Like that.

6. Learn the Rules
Lastly, get a good book on grammar and punctuation and learn the ins and outs of the mechanics of writing. I recommend The Elements of Style by Strunk & White. Learning the different between that vs. which, its vs. it's, your vs. you're, proper use of commas and semi-colons, and so on will make you a better writer, as you'll have the tools you need to express yourself without struggling. It allows the words to flow out of you much more smoothly, and it saves you a heap of time in the editing phase, allowing you to focus on editing the content, not the mechanics. You can also check out a blog like Meghan Ward's Writerland, which lists all kinds of writing tips including grammar and punctuation. If you want to break the rules, great! But you better have a good reason, and you better know the rules so that you can break them intelligently.

So there are six tips that I think are important for writers. Check back here for more tips in the future. I'm only blogging about once every week or two, because despite what all the experts say, I don't think you have to blog every single day to have a good blog. On the contrary, I think it's important to blog only when you have something important to say. But then again, I tend to disagree with the experts on a lot of things.

Or maybe I just like breaking the rules.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Avoiding Fame and Fortune

People who know me might describe me as a wee bit obsessive. And nothing feeds that side of my nature quite like stats. Oh, the joys of Google analytics! The ability to pore over my clicks and how long people stayed on each page. Oh look, I finally have some readers in Scotland! But shoot, they only stayed on the site for two seconds. Wait, I can cross-reference everything with the cPanel report! Hey, I have four new fans on my Facebook page today, but page interactions are down. How can I better target my ads? And on and on and on.

And then yesterday, I found myself getting depressed. Now, it might have had something to do with working too many hours at my job despite having mono, but a big part of it was the endless racking my brain trying to figure out how to break into a wider market, to make the book go viral, to really give my book wings.

And that's when I realized the hard truth: the only thing that was flying away was the fun. And wasn't that what this was all about in the first place? How did I start out with such noble intentions and still fall prey to the lure of rosy fantasies of fame and fortune? It happened one statistic at a time, that's how.

I think stats are important. They help you see how people are finding your book and who your audience is, all of which helps you make better decisions about advertising. Also, searching the web every morning for my name and book title has helped me find reviews and be able to respond quickly when there have been mistakes. But stats are a tool, not a drug. Looking at them frequently in hopes of getting a rush of excitement is setting yourself up for an ugly crash. And more importantly, it's taking you away from the really important work: writing.

So instead of wasting spare mental cycles thinking about how I can cross the chasm and make it to the big time, rather than daydreaming about getting fan mail and being asked to do book signings, I think my new approach is going to be to try to avoid fame and fortune. I'll check my stats every couple of days to make sure my ads are on target, but with the goal of making the book available to those who want to read it, which was my original intention. I'll keep posting interesting links on my Facebook page about volunteerism, physics, World Toilet Day, and all the other topics I find interesting, not because I'm trying to increase interactivity but because I find something cool I want to share. And most importantly, I'll get back to work on book three, which has been subsumed by my work on marketing book one and trying to finish book two.

So give it a try with me. Put away your book-signing pen and get back to writing. Avoiding fame and fortune isn't easy, but as long as you remember that it's a marathon, not a sprint, you'll have a much better time doing it.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Have I Turned Into a Megastore?

I've heard a lot of horror stories about how megastores buy books at 55% off the retail price and then sell them for well below what they paid for them, just to get people to come into the store and buy other stuff. Because they can charge a large markup on other items, they make their money in other ways and use books as bait. Customers want to get the best deal on a book, so they go to the megastore instead of the local bookstore, which doesn't sell items like lawn chairs at a nice profit. The independent bookstores can't compete, they go out of business, and the megastores become the only game in town.

I've been thinking about this a lot, as I've been trying to decide what percentage to set for my wholesale price as I get ready to sign up with Lightning Source, which appears to be the answer to my quest for distribution. I don't want to lure people to a megastore with my book, and I'd prefer that they not be sold in places like that at all, so I'm probably going to set my wholesale price at 50%, which allows independent stores to make a small profit (they actually only get a 40% discount after Lightning Source takes its 10% cut), and it means that Rising Shadow won't be carried by megastores, which insist on a 55% discount before they'll carry your book.

But as I was smugly thinking about how cool I was for turning down potential sales from the megastores, I got to thinking about how I give my book away for free as a PDF on my web site. I might lose some sales this way, but it means that people who can't afford to buy the paperback can still read it, and other people will still buy the paperback because it's annoying to read a 380-page book online. As I've said in previous posts, I'm not trying to maximize my profits. I get my paychecks from my technical writing career, not from writing fiction. But what about people who are trying to make it as a full-time author? Aren't I essentially doing the same thing as a megastore, undercutting other authors by giving my book away for free?

I was especially troubled by this when I read a comment to Cory Doctorow's article in Publishers Weekly, in which he talks about his latest project that involves giving away content for free. The reader blasts Doctorow with the following comment:

yup old cory, you made your nut and so you can give it all away for free
now. You're selfish cory, other writers like us havent made it like you
have. We now have your mud rut to follow after your tickertape
parade... so new writers will not be able to make a living at their
writing...becuase you see, according to CORY, everything is FREE. While
he lays in his piles. Your conceit is stunning

Certainly, one could argue that this writer's poor grasp of grammar, punctuation, and spelling is a much bigger barrier to his success than the fact that "old cory" gives away content. But does he have a point? Am I contributing to the ruin of my fellow writers? In short, have I become a megastore?

I finally concluded that it's not a comparable situation, because I'm actually only competing with myself. I'm not giving away other writers' content--I'm giving away my own. The fact that Rising Shadow is available for free might stop someone from buying it in paperback, but it's not going to stop someone from buying another writer's book any more than having a copy available in the local library is undercutting my competition.

The key to all this is quality and content. If you write a great story, people are going to buy it. Even if they read it online or borrow it from the library, many will still buy it. They might put it on their Amazon wish list and request it as a gift. Or they might decide they just have to have it on their bookshelf (or Kindle). Either way, I don't think we should be afraid of giving away content out of a paranoid protectiveness of profits*. I'm certainly doing things a little differently (see the subtitle of this blog), but I'm not harming other writers along the way. In fact, I'm hoping this blog is helpful to writers figuring out this self-publishing thing for the first time.

So I'm relieved to conclude that I'm not a megastore (and neither is "old cory"). Although now that I think about it, maybe my sales would improve if I gave away a lawn chair with each copy of Rising Shadow.

*Disclaimer: alliteration intentional. I liked the way it sounded. Please don't make a snarky comment about it--snarky comments are my job.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Finding Time to Write

One of the things that amazes me is hearing people say "I've always wanted to write a novel, but I just don't have time." The belief that you don't have time to write is absurd. I work at a very demanding job in software where 50- to 60-hour weeks are typical, and I just finished an 80-hour week (no, I don't get overtime pay...don't even ask). I practice martial arts a few times a week. I see a couple of massage clients a week. I'm a managing member of a holding company for a patent. I help my daughter with her homework and all the trials of being thirteen. I spend quality time with my husband. I help out friends and volunteer at my daughter's school. And when I'm not tweaking my web site, writing blog entries, tweeting about cool stuff that's happening in the world of volunteerism, or sleeping, I work on my books.

The one thing I don't do is watch television. There's your answer. Almost everyone can find time to watch a couple hours of TV every night. When's the last time you heard someone say "I've always wanted to watch television, but I just don't have the time"?

In all fairness, writing comes pretty naturally to me. I type ridiculously fast, and the words usually flow out only slightly faster than I can type. But I spend a lot of time editing (it took me about six weeks to write the first draft of Rising Shadow and another nine months to edit it), and that's just all about sitting down and doing it. So even though writing may feel like a lot of work, it's really a matter of facing the blank page, taking a deep breath, and just starting.

Here's the part where people usually say they don't have a quiet place to write. Neither do I. I write on the train on my way to and from work. I write at the dining room table in the middle of the house where all the action is going on around me, specifically so I can be around my family when I'm writing. By deliberately making writing a part of my life and a daily habit, I don't have to drum up the energy to write. It's just what I do.

The real question is not when will you find time to write, it's what will you write about? If you don't have an idea you feel passionate about, you won't write. If you have a cool idea but you're having trouble writing the first page, start in the middle. Just start writing. You can always throw it out later, and you don't have to show it to anyone. Just start. Right now.

Also, if you have a fun scene in your mind that you can't wait to write, you can either dive in and write that first, or you can save it and use it as a carrot. In my third book (which is now about 70% written), I knew I was driving the plot toward a major crisis point that was going to be a lot of fun to write. I was tempted to just write that scene, but I decided to save it as a reward instead, and it encouraged me to write an extra page or two a day so I could finally get to the fun part of writing that scene.

So please don't say you don't have time to write. When you tell yourself that, you basically say that life has prevented you from doing this thing you really want to do. Write a page a day, and in a year, you'll have a novel. And if you don't have a great idea, then just be honest with yourself that it's not that you don't have time, it's that you're still waiting for inspiration to strike. But when it does strike, seize it with both hands and run with it, because there really is nothing quite like writing your first novel.

Most of all, enjoy the hell out of the process. Holding your first finished novel in your hands is an amazing feeling, but it's the process that's so much fun. Every time you write, it's like journeying into another world. It's a mini-vacation at your computer, in the midst of all the craziness of your regular life. Maybe that's why the train and the dining room table are such great spots, because if I were sitting in a tranquil paradise, I would be much more interested in looking out the window than escaping into the world of The Soterians that I've created.

So go, create your own alternate reality, and write yourself into that adventure you've been wanting to have. It's a wonderful way to escape. And best of all, there are no commercials.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Hilarious Drudgery of Querying Agents

After I finished the first draft of Rising Shadow last year, I embarked on the well-worn path of trying to find an agent and a suitable publisher to handle the book. I had visions of perusing the web sites of agents, finding that perfect someone who was going to believe in my project and work as my partner to get my books into the light of day. In short, I figured it would be similar to hiring a colleague at work. Or finding a spouse.

What I quickly discovered was that submitting queries was a hopeless process of spending way too much time crafting emails to people who hate you before you begin, who are desperately overwhelmed by the volume of emails they receive, and have created a bureaucratic obstacle course to weed out the weak and the faint of heart. Not unlike dealing with an insurance company.

Perhaps the biggest surprise to me was the tone of their guidelines and of their rejection emails, if they responded at all. Some agents take a courteous and professional tone, treating you like a peer. The rest had either a pedantic air, as if they were instructing small children on how to clean up after themselves, or the downright rude I’M TOO BUSY TO TYPE IN LOWERCASE type of approach. Can you imagine how unacceptable it would seem if a writer were to put the following type of information on their web site for prospective agents?

Thank you for your interest in representing The Soterians series! I know that being a literary agent is a tough career, and you’ve worked very hard building what I’m sure is a wonderful base of clients. However, because I get hundreds of emails a day from outstanding agents all over the world, I simply can’t reply to them all. Please follow the guidelines on this page EXACTLY, and if you don’t hear from me, don’t give up! Keep working hard, and always believe in yourself!
  1. Send an email describing in twenty-five words or less why you’re the ideal agent for me. You really want to stand out from the crowd here, so make it sizzle! The first two words are especially important. Be sure to put “HUMBLE REQUEST FOR CONSIDERATION” in the subject line followed by your first initial and your last name.
  2. Below this paragraph, list each of your clients followed by the specific titles you represented and the number of copies they sold. Put each client on a separate line, with each field separated by commas and a semicolon at the end of each line. NO ATTACHMENTS.
  3. After the list, please provide biographical information about yourself. Why did you decide to become a literary agent? What motivates you every day? Where do you see yourself in five years? Do NOT simply enter a link to a page on your web site that already has this information.
  4. Add a link to your web site. Your site must be professionally designed, have a highly polished appearance, and support Internet Explorer 3.0.
If I am interested in your services, you will hear from me in six to nine months. Good luck!
Needless to say, I did not follow the advice in the books to query six thousand agents before giving up. Instead, I decided to self-publish. In my next post, I’ll talk about my journey through self-publishing and some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.
Self-publishing isn’t for everyone. You don’t have anyone holding your hand. You have to do your homework, and your own publicity. But even if you get a traditional publisher, you still have to promote and sell your book. Publishers simply don’t risk their marketing budgets on new authors.

I hoped I could buy my way out of doing my own publicity by going with one of those pay-to-play publishers who supposedly guide you through the process. But after discovering that they would not back me unless I made sure my book strictly adhered to the Chicago Manual of Style (which makes perfect sense for non-fiction but zero sense for a young-adult fantasy novel written in the first person), I realized that there really was no way out of doing everything myself.

I finally discovered Amazon’s print-on-demand service, CreateSpace, and I’ve been very happy with my choice. There’s no setup cost, just a per-copy cost that’s not as cheap as if you were printing thousands at a time but is still reasonable. They provide some basic tools to help you get started, such as a cover creator tool, or you can upload a PDF of your cover art that you’ve created in Photoshop or another tool. I uploaded my cover art and my manuscript, a week later I had a proof copy, and the next day my book was available for sale on my eStore (it takes another week for it to be available on Amazon). It’s that simple.

Print-on-demand isn’t perfect. The cover art can shift up to an eighth of an inch during printing and still be considered acceptable. I wasn’t happy about this, but I worked around it by designing the spine of the book so that nothing goes right up to the edge, making it less obvious when the artwork has shifted. Also, they charge sales tax on copies you buy to resell, so I’m not sure how that’s going to work out with distribution—I’m looking into distribution options and will post my findings in a future blog entry. Maybe my series will get so popular that I have to go looking for a traditional publisher after all.

Or maybe I’ll post a Publisher’s Guidelines page on my site and let them come to me.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Getting Started with Volunteerism

During the writing of Rising Shadow, I gave a lot of thought to volunteerism and how empowering it is. One of the key points I want to drive home in the books is that you don't have to have supernatural powers to be extraordinary. Empowerment comes from facing your demons, taking control of your actions, and working toward a goal that's greater than yourself. If just one person reads my books and gets the message that they're not useless and can make a difference in the world, I'll claim victory.

But where to start? It's all very nice to say "go get involved", but where, and doing what? I did a lot of thinking about the greatest areas of human need and distilled it to five categories in order of necessity: water, food, health care, safe shelter, and education. Each of these areas is very important, and some people will be more interested in helping to educate people than providing clean drinking water. The beauty of volunteering is that when you find something that really speaks to you, you get as much or more out of volunteering than you're putting into it.

Once I'd come up with these categories, I had no idea how to start selecting charities in each area until I found Charity Navigator. This is a great web site, because not only can you find charities that meet certain criteria, they also rate each charity based on their efficiency, so you can make sure that you're donating money and time to an organization that's using their resources wisely. I decided to select only those charities that had the highest rating, were international in scope (so that people all over the world could work with them), and offered opportunities for volunteering time as well as donating money.

The result is the list of charities on my site. My pledge is to donate 20% of my royalties to these charities, so when you buy a copy of one of my books, you know that some of the money you spent is going to worthy organizations. For example, I just saw that Direct Relief is committing up to 50,000 for their partners in the Philippines to help with relief from the floods. That's definitely a worthy cause.

If you're interested in hearing more about what's happening with these organizations and other ways to volunteer, you can follow me on Twitter, where I retweet information that I think will be most interesting to my readers. I also have a Facebook page where I post similar information.

Have you had an experience volunteering that you want to share? Or do you know of a great organization that you want to promote? I've set up bulletin boards on my site where you can share this information and get ideas from others. The important thing is just to get out there and start trying some things. As Ashlyn says in Rising Shadow, volunteering is just an obvious social responsibility. You'll be amazed at how quickly it makes you feel like a hero.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What Do You Mean Your Book Is Free?

This is the question I get asked more than any other, right after "How in the hell do you have time to write novels?"

Yes, Rising Shadow is available for free as a PDF file on my web site.

No, it's not just a Look Inside preview. It's not just every other page. And it isn't covered with ads. It's the whole thing formatted in smaller pages so it's easier to read online (less scrolling).

The reason for providing the book for free is simple: I am a huge advocate of volunteering your time, money, and resources to the best of your ability, and making my book available to those who can't afford it seems like the most obvious way I can give something back. (It's also going to be available for free in Braille for the visually impaired on I'm fully aware that many people will start reading the PDF, decide it's too much hassle to read it online, and order a copy, which is great. I also have a Donate button on my web site, so those who want to read it but can't afford the $12.95 cover price can contribute any amount they like. This makes my book available to everyone who wants to read it without the pesky money thing getting in the way.

I got the idea for giving the book away from working in open-source software. Before I joined my current company, I couldn't understand how you made money by giving software away for free. But I quickly learned that there are a lot of people out there who are willing to donate their time and expertise to a community-built project, and that you can build a company around giving something back to the community (new features and testing) as well as make money off the venture (provide premium features and services for a fee). Now that I've been there a while, I can't imagine doing business any other way. It's awesome.

People also raise their eyebrows when they hear I donate 20% of my royalties to charities instead of the usual 5 or 10%. I suppose people are afraid I'll never strike it rich by giving my money away, but I don't really see it as "my money" in the first place. Sure, I believe in being compensated for your work, but whether that's 100% or 80% of the arbitrary price printed on the cover is irrelevant. I'm just thrilled that selling this book will give me extra money to donate to organizations that I know are doing good in the world (in my next blog post, I'll talk about how I chose the charities I did).

And speaking of the cover price, people also ask why I priced my book so low. Again, I'm just not interested in trying to squeeze as much money out of my readers as possible. On the contrary, I set the price as low as I could to just cover my costs plus a couple of bucks a copy so I have something to donate.

The truly cynical out there will call this whole approach a gimmick. That's fine. If you want to think of me as a brilliant businesswoman, I certainly won't stand in your way. For my fans, though, I really hope you enjoy the books and that you feel like you're getting value for the money you paid. Especially if you read the free version.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Crazy Journey of Writing Novels (What Was I Thinking?)

On Sept. 1, 2008, the idea for The Soterians series dropped out of the sky. I was sitting with my family, having a lazy weekend, when suddenly the idea struck me. What if there were people who developed special powers in response to the balance of good over evil shifting too far in evil's favor? What if evil could never be destroyed, only brought into balance? What if the main character was a heroine, strong and independent, but battling her own inner demons, struggling to create that same balance within herself? What if she could fly?

I got on my computer and started writing, and a year later, Rising Shadow was in my hands, all printed and looking ever so lovely. I knew nothing about writing novels or ISBN numbers or the Creative Commons License. I only knew that this story was pouring out of me uncontrollably, and I had to show up and write it. I wrote it mostly on the train during my commute, but it also ate into my evenings and weekends when I probably should have been doing something else, like spending time with my family.

Let me say right now: I consider myself a storyteller, not an author. I do not have an MFA, have no aspirations to write the Great American Novel, and will never hold a candle to my idols Rowling, Salinger, Twain, Tolkien, and Faulkner. I am trained as a technical writer, whose approach to writing is to have no voice at all, to get the information into your brain as quickly as possible without you even being aware that you're reading.

But I love my stories and my characters. I laugh out loud as I write their dialogue, and I yell at them when they're doing something stupid. I gasp when they get themselves into hot water, my eyes bulging as my fingers fly over the keyboard. "Really? You're going to do that now? Huh!" And away they go.

My stories are not for everyone. If you like to savor the words in a book as if you were eating an especially fine meal, you'll be reaching for the salt when you read my book. But if you like to lose yourself in a story, root for characters who quickly feel like old friends (even when you want to slap them), and maybe think a little bit about some of the demons you have to battle on a daily basis, give The Soterians series a try. After all, in real life, the bad guy doesn't fall off a cliff or get blown to smithereens in the end. He's always still there, day after day, driving you crazy. I love writing about an enemy that can't be destroyed, instead of the same old suffer suffer suffer until finally the bad guy gets it between the eyes and everyone lives happily ever after. If you're interested in exploring this theme, check out Rising Shadow (you can download it for free as a PDF file, or purchase the paperback).

And while you're at it, have some fun and take the quiz on my site to find out what kind of Soterian you are. Once you do, you should also check out the Missions page to learn about some cool charities you can get involved with. And if you want to network with other Soterians, check out the bulletin boards off the Network page.

I have four more books to write: the first draft of the second one is already done, but I spend a long time editing, so don't expect to see it before the end of 2009. The first draft of the third book is halfway done, and I've outlined books four and five. If you want to join me on my quest, you can check out my Facebook page (The Soterians), follow me on Twitter (Soterians), or come back to this blog. One thing's for sure: it's bound to be a crazy journey.