Thursday, January 23, 2014

"Call Me Ishmael" First Line Writing Contest

First of all, Happy Friday. Everyone loves Friday...even me, the stay-at-home mom who never really gets a day off from her job.

Moving on. I'm holding a contest!

Here are the rules:

Submissions begin on Monday, January 27th, and end Monday, February 3rd.

The first line of the story must be from a published work. It can be a novel, novella, or short story, but it must be officially published. This pertains to self-published and traditionally published works.

Please only submit first lines of your own work.

Please do not submit if there is graphic or vulgar language used. (It can be violent or what have you--just keep it PG-13). 

If your first line is only one word, like someone's name in dialogue or something, I *may* allow you to use your discretion and add the one right after it. If I think you're fudging, I will contact you and put your submission on hold until I use my very official rule book to figure it out.

To enter, comment below with 
Book Title:
First Line:

Sounds like fun, right? I wish I could offer you a super cool monetary prize, but money doesn't grow on published books, people. But you'll get a fancy ribbon and bragging rights, which is almost as good, right?

So good luck, and please spread the word about it! I can't wait to read some of your book first lines. I think the first line of a book can have real impact, so it's something I know we all think about!

Show me your skillz, friends!


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Editing Mode vs. Writing Mode?

Hey there writer folks!

Sometimes I find myself in this conundrum, and I found myself curious to see if you would relate. I'm currently in the middle of writing a Historical Romance that I am completely loving. I think you'll find it has a really unique premise. Anyway, so I'm writing this, but on the side I have...


My writing partner and I, Eileen Sharp, have finished our book Plane Walker, and she has been dutifully going through it for an edit. And here is where my quandry comes into play. I have this tick where I can't edit when I'm in writing mode, and I can't write when I'm in editing mode. It's like this switch in my brain, and I can flip on one or the other, but I can't do both, and I cant' flip flop easily, either.

Anyone else find this is the case for them?

It's almost like putting myself into critical editor mode stops the creative flow. I can't concentrate on making the words stream out the way they need to. Similarly, when I'm editing in writing mode, I can't seem to catch anything. I just want to read and enjoy the prose.

What's a writer to do??

If you have this problem, tell me what you do about it. My writing partner (AKA mom) is very understanding of this, and is cool with me writing instead of editing, but I wish I could just do either, dang it! Give me your thoughts.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

When a Stranger Reads Your Plot Notes

Okay, can we just take a second to bask in the death rays of my awkward afternoon experience?

Let me start by saying that, if you were not yet aware, I have three children ages 4, 3, and 1. I'm not completely sane as a result. In the winter, I'm even less mentally sound because we live in Idaho where there is a perpetual 3 foot layer of snow on the ground (no exaggeration), and the kids can't really go outside. So in desperation, I took them to a fast food joint that had an indoor playground, and I decided to let them frolic.

I also took my writing notebook with me to map out the plot of a Historical Romance I am 30,000 words into right now. I needed to get it all down on paper. And for you to fully understand the awkwardness of this situation, I need to give you a visual of what my note taking is like. Do you remember in elementary school when you learned that spider brainstorm technique? The one where you make a bubble and then draw lines coming out from it and branching off with all your random thoughts?

Yeah, I still use that.

So there I sat, working on my plot with giant words like, "ball," and "jealousy triangle?" and "bedroom scene" (get your mind out of the gutter, it's just a scene IN a bedroom) scrawled all over the paper. Then my 4 and 3 year old simultaneously had to use the "potty," so I gathered my flock and herded them into the bathroom.

When I got back, people, I came upon a horrifying scene. Maybe the lady with the obnoxious twin four-year-olds was bored. Maybe she has a rare compulsion disorder that makes her look at other people's private things...I don't know. All I know is this lady was BLATANTLY staring at my page of notes. Like walked over to my table and leaned over to read it while my kid was taking a whizz. And her lip had this curl to it, like what she was reading was totally bizarre and repulsive to her.

 When the shrieks of my children alerted her to my approach, it was too late. We even locked eyes. It was this suspended moment of terrifying awkwardness, where I didn't know what to do with myself, and I just stared in dawning realization that she had gotten a significant eye full of plot notes that read sappy things like, "her only friend and abigail leaves, leaving her empty and alone," which taken out of context sound really, awfully sickening and gooey. And then she scampered off to munch on her fries.

Who is this lady?! Who does that?!Why did she look so weirded out?? I should have had the guts to confront her about it, but in reality I'm a non-confrontational kind of person, and I couldn't stomach any more mortifying scenes with this woman who used fry sauce instead of ketchup, and calm as you please, spied on other people's novel scratch notes.

I'm emotionally scarred. As a writer. I might never recover.

This is the kind of crap that makes a writer want to bury their ideas in the backyard and never come back to them. Sigh. WHY nosy housewife? She kept shooting me these looks while our kids played, too. Like I was some kind of psychopath. I wanted to wave my fist and shout, "I'm writing a romance novel! Is that okay with you?"


Anyway, how has your week been?

Monday, January 13, 2014

Does Music Help With Writing?

Music and writing go hand in hand. If you've ever written anything...ever...then you probably know this. Music has the power to move us. It guides our minds on a journey, and more often than not, facilitates just the right kind of creative juices we writers rely so heavily on. Because music can so easily manipulate our emotions, we writers can use it as a tool to bring forward the emotions we need to get on paper.

I see a lot of authors who give playlists to accompany their books, and some of them even admit that they put that list on shuffle and just listen to it repeatedly during the writing process. We like to swap favorite songs and help each other find inspiration through them. But here's a question for you: Does listening to music while writing actually help the process?

This could very well be a subjective thing, but I'm putting on my scholarly glasses here, and trying to look at it from a scientific standpoint. Does writing to music maybe hinder our abilities? Or is it the best thing for us? Is there a certain type of music that is better to listen to?

Here's what I found.

There was a study done on Taiwanese college students to determine if music impacted their reading comprehension. Since writing and reading comprehension are pretty close, I figured it was better than a poke in the eye, right? The study compared reading comprehension between three test groups: reading without music, reading with classical music, and reading with hip hop music. I won't bore you with all the statistical jargon (mostly because I got a C in my college statistics class and I really wouldn't be able to tell you what most of it means anyway), and I'll get right down to the results. They used a point system, but it's not really important to understand how they were calculated or what they mean. Just know that higher is better and lower is not.

The non-music students got an average of 67. The classical students got 64, and the hip hop ones got 58.

So, okay, what does that mean? Based on this study, your comprehension and focus would probably be optimal with silence.

And I found another interesting study done on surgeons to see if music affected their performance at all. The results said kind of the same thing--they did better with silence. 

But wait, you say. Hold on a second. I'm a writer who needs music! Silence is too distracting. I can't focus without it.

So here's my theory with that. Because all my academic searching kept telling me silence was the best method for concentration, I figured that maybe writing is just a different process than comprehension or concentration. It's an emotional thing, too. When we write, we are channeling the thoughts and feelings of each character we portray, and that takes a lot of emotional juice we sometimes don't have on hand. And that might be where music comes into play.

I, myself, actually can't write with music going on in the background. I need it for inspiration, however. My best ideas come when I'm listening to music and cleaning my house, actually. Which means sometimes I actually want to do the dishes, and hey, everyone wins there. But when I'm actually writing, silence produces the best results for me.

For you, I guess that's just something you'll have to experiment with! Based on all this gobbelty gook I read, I would say that classical or maybe ambient music might work best if you absolutely must have something in the background. Sometimes I use as a soothing rainstorm background.

And then again, if you like your favorite band droning away as you type, that's cool too! Everyone is different, especially when it comes to the writing process.

But it's food for thought.

How about it writers. Do you listen to music when you write? What is your favorite kind of music to use as background noise or inspiration?

Monday, January 6, 2014

Geeky Monday Moment with a Toilet Brush

Happy Monday! A lot of us are coming back from vacations here, and it feels that way for me, too! My hubby is back in his demanding routine of full-time school and work, and while I did graduate in December, I've got the 3 munchkins to look after...and this house. I HATE housework. Hate it. If I had money, I would hire a maid. But I don't, so I can't. In light of the daunting task of whipping my own house back into shape after years of being a student and putting off the big organizational projects, I bring you some sexy Cumberbatch:

*SWOON* If only. Fortunately, my husband does this on a regular basis, and he's dang hot. So I'm lucky anyway.

What's on your to-do list now that the fun of Holidays is all over? I want to hear how you are! :)

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing: An Honest Experience

I have been debating whether or not to actually make this post. Is it too honest? Am I putting too much out there for the blogosphere to judge? Am I going to look a few Jonny Depps short of a Burton film?

Who cares! Here I go.

First, a little background. My first novel, Lunula, was picked up by Malachite Quills Publishing in 2012. They later broke into subsidiaries, and Lunula is actually now published by Caliburn Books, but it's the same place, and I speak to the same people if I need anything or if they need something from me.

After I wrote Lunula's sequel, Inito, I decided to take the plunge and try self-publishing. I'm reckless and curious like that, so I just kind of went for it.

Knowing that, you could see how I might be in a position to compare the two for you. I'm sure this has happened to loads of authors, but most of the advice I have read from them sounds a lot like this: "Do what you feel is right. Do what is best for you. Only you can know what makes you most comfortable."

It's so dreadfully diplomatic.

So I'm going to give you my very honest experience with both of these. Then you can decide which one you think is most appealing for you, or which might give you the best chance of success.

Traditionally Published
When I was picked up by Malachite Quills, I was absolutely ecstatic! No matter where I go or what I do, they will remain the reason I allowed myself to become a writer. You know how we writers are with needing affirmation; we're impossible to be around if we haven't been patted on the head and told we are indeed good at what we do. So knowing that they not only thought my work was worth reading, but worth staking some money on meant the world to me. And I owe them big time for making me an official author.

I have already documented some of my experience with this: How I Got Published, What Happens After the Publisher Acceptance Letter, Working With an Illustrator, and Publisher Contract).

But, putting myself on the therapist couch, how did it make me feel?

 I'll start off by saying that my correspondence with them has been awesome. I have one person in particular that I report to, and he's very friendly, professional, and willing to help. Two Shrute bucks for that.

One thing that disheartened me with this process is how much I still had to do on my own, even though I wasn't self-publishing. They took care of all things formatting, from the cover to the ebook and print versions of the book. But I did all the marketing. I was a complete novice about marketing, and started off pretty crappy, floundering around and gasping for air in a world I didn't recognize. I don't know what MQ does behind the scenes, but, putting my honesty hat on here, I didn't feel like they did any marketing whatsoever. And that discouraged me.

I also only get a very marginal cut of sales, as is common with being an author. If they make, say $1 after Amazon takes fees, I get a few cents. That's IF they're making a whole dollar per book, which I'm not even sure they are. That, combined with my newb marketing skills, made for a bummed out writer.

Ending on a high note, they give me some credibility. Like I said earlier, they were willing to take a chance on me, and felt my book would make them money. Having a publisher back you up is huge! I know we writers and indie authors like to say it doesn't really matter, but I think it does. The world of authorship is shifting, but that doesn't change the fact that if a book survived the fires of query letters and rejections, and landed some street cred, it feels legitimizing. And I didn't realize what a difference that would make until...


So okay, there I was as a new author, and I finished up my second novel. I sent it along to MQ right away, and then had a night where I sat down and thought, "Hmmmm. I wonder. I wonder if I can try doing this on my own. Will it make a difference?" And my curiosity got the better of me, and I bought a self-publishing book, and it got me all fired up, and then I had to send an awkward email to my publisher whom I still like very much, telling them I was going momentarily wacko and wanting to try doing things on my own.

So. How did it go?

It was a lot of work! I don't say that to be whiny, because it was worth every hour, but between the cover, and editing, formatting, and marketing, it was a full-time job for a while there. And I was still in school full-time with 3 toddlers to care for. *Pulls on collar* I quickly realized that some authors might have the required amount of time to devote to self-publishing properly, but I simply wasn't one of them! Not at this point in my life with so much going on. I had no clue how much went into getting a book published! Even though I had read about it and researched every angle, I was still surprised.

Upside? I really am making more money.

Downside? Surprisingly, doors were closed to me. There are some reviewers who won't review your book if you aren't published. Awards I can't apply for. I felt like I lost some credibility, and if that will affect my sales remains to be seen, but whether I like it or not, and whether or not it is fair, there were still some closed doors.

Think about this: I plan to write a Historical Fiction at some point, and I can self-publish again if I want. But if I did decide to use a traditional publisher, my resume is now going to look like this: "I was published by Malachite Quills, and then decided to self-publish my second." They may very well think, "Why did she self-publish? Does she not work well with publishers? Did her publishers not like her? Did her writing not sell and they refused her second book?" It doesn't look that great, and it might hinder me from getting a publisher in that market. Heck, for all I know, Malachite Quills might be mad at me, too!

All that aside, self-publishing has a certain satisfying reward about it that you can't get any other way. I am in complete control of every aspect of my book, and that is fabulous! When Lunula was released, I had no idea when it would be out until a week before the release. Marketing nightmare! (Not that I even realized that at the time, idjit that I was) And I didn't get a copy of the cover until that week, too, so making flyers or really doing anything without a picture was hard. With Inito, I had the cover done weeks in advance. I got to run it by you, my readers, to see what you thought. That kind of control may very well be worth the aggravation and any hits I might take in status.

My Conclusion

So which is better? I'll start off by saying that you should feel free to draw any conclusions you feel are right. Different things are more important to different authors. In my experience, the money is more substantial with self-publishing.

But that's not important to me. Money isn't on my list of worthy lifelong goals, but becoming as accomplished as an author as I can be? That's the one that is important to me. And if I want to branch out, write in different fields with other publishers, or go for the really big publisher fish, then I might have to shift my game plan around. I'm also incredibly busy. And I mean, who isn't, right? But self-publishing has taken away time from my kids, and I'm not willing to sacrifice that, even for my writing. Far better to focus on writing and marketing the books I have, and then try to find publishers willing to sponsor me and help me get my books out there.

So that's my conclusion. I actually preferred having a publisher. I might be a minority--I don't really know to tell you the truth. But that is my very honest experience! I hope it was helpful, insightful, or at the very least, a little diverting.

Do you have any experiences to share with publishing? I want to hear them!

The Most Popular Book Genres--Do You Choose One or Does It Choose You?

I did a little research about which genres are most popular with readers. One source simply said "fiction" was the most popular, but that seemed awfully broad to me. I mean, I already know that most readers go for something fictional before reaching for a book on microbiology. Which kinds of fiction do they like?

Well, I found this somewhat sketchy, possibly reliable source of information known as "filedby," and read the following statistics:

1.) Crime/thriller/mystery is number one, with 48% of readers preferring this genre.

2.) Science Fiction takes the second spot, beaming up about 26% of readers.

3.) Romance has stolen the hearts of 21% of the bookworm population. (Be quiet, you know its funny).

4.) And then the list moves on to non-fiction for some reason, with History taking 31% of the nonfiction market.

5.) And biographies rounding out the non-fiction contest I didn't know that we were holding.

I have no idea where this poll came from, who they polled, and what the test group was, but it's some food for thought. And actually, now that I think about Barnes and Noble's selection of books, a very large number of them do appear to be crime/thriller/mystery. Which sucks, because that's just not my forte, if you will. Fantasy doesn't make any of these lists that I perused, making me feel like the nerd who got picked last for the bookaholic team.

So that begs the question should you pay attention to any of this? Should you consider this when starting your book in the hopes that you reach a larger audience? Or should you ignore statistics entirely and choose the genre you prefer?

I knew when I wrote my Fantasy books that they wouldn't be in a wildly popular genre. But it is my humble opinion that good writing is good writing, and if its done well enough, then just about anyone will want to read it.

What do you think?