Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Fear of publishing is real

You can conquer almost any fear if you will only make up your mind to do so. For remember, fear doesn't exist anywhere except in the mind. -Dale Carnegie

I’m sure a famous writer and lecturer such as Dale knows what he’s talking about, but I’m still having a hard time with a certain “fear of publishing”. I’ve looked it up several times now on a list of phobias – I can’t find it. It must exist. I have it! I have found agateophobia – fear of insanity; could be a related disorder. Also on the list: allodoxaphobia – fear of opinions, arithmophobia- fear of numbers and atychiphobia- fear of failure. That’s just the A’s, folks. This could go on forever. Yet nothing on the fear of hitting the Save and Publish button in Amazon KDP or Submit for Review in CreateSpace.

Now as to what’s holding me back: why fear? My mouse has hovered over Save and Publish twice today. It’s visited the Amazon KDP Bookshelf several times this week, and not just because I was checking sales. How else can I explain why I have a book that’s ready to go, post-beta reads and edits, yet I refuse to make it available? At first I rationalized it as, “The release date isn’t until November. Takes Amazon and the other online retailers a few days to make the title available. Why can’t you just wait?” Yes, I have conversations like that in my head. It helps that I know some psychologists.

Potential sources of fear? No clue. I’m not afraid it isn’t a good story. My trusted beta readers have assured me it was worth their time. Nor do I worry about the opinions it will generate. I’ve stopped reading reviews for a bit now. People will either like or hate it but that won’t change the story.  Strangely enough, I have been telling anyone who would listen, “I’ve spent more years than I wanted to on this book and its prequel. Time to let it go!” Somehow, I just can’t seem to do that.

Just a note to the psychologists I’ve mentioned above: fear of publishing is real. You might want to assign a named phobia to it. At this rate, I’ll be checking into your office SOON. Actually, I know some folks with upcoming release dates, so I might be referring a few friends. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Beta readers are a writer's best buds

Is it really September? Wasn't I just sweltering under 95+ summer heat? Not that I'm complaining - I don't want the heat back. The arrival of September just means I'm that much closer to my targeted release of Sultana's Legacy in November. Time to start panicking? Maybe, but not about the latest round of edits. Most of my beta readers have provided their feedback and it's been an incredible help.

I've never been a writer who can work and put out a book in complete isolation. I applaud those who can rely on their own innate writing talent and ruthless self-editing skill, but I'm too close to my work to see the faults in it. 

So, what have I learned about beta reads?

-Choose honest and thorough people who can give you the feedback you need.  Hopefully, your betas will point out every flaw before your READERS do. You know, the ones who plunk down their hard-earned money for your finished product and then skewer you over every typo or misspelled word.

-If your content might be disturbing, please warn your beta readers in advance. Don't waste your time or theirs by having someone come back to you with, "I couldn't finish this because you included THIS SCENE." Know your audience.

-Set a deadline and always be prepared for people who can't meet it. Hey, life happens and people's commitments change. It might suck if someone drops out, but it doesn't have to. Have one or two backups who'll step in to help in a pinch.

- Your beta readers should be two subsets: people who are familiar with your writing style and those who are not. Those who are will recognize your voice, as well as your pitfalls and writing crutches. Those who are unfamiliar can bring a refreshing, unique perspective to your outlook.

-Don't hesitate to ask for specific feedback. My betas must have been shocked by what I referred to as the "pop quiz" but there are brutal scenes in Sultana's Legacy. I needed to know if they worked or seemed gratuitous. Come up with 5-10 questions maximum that help your betas focus on key points of the novel. Don't use Yes or No questions.

-Good betas provide constructive criticism and can pinpoint the problems. A bad beta reader will tell you the novel is fine just as it is. That's code for one of two things: "I didn't read one word of your manuscript" OR "I read and didn't understand it but because I didn't want to hurt your feelings, I said to hell with it and will let you put out an awful book." If you're my beta and a friend, you'll tell me the full truth, including where I'm screwing up. 

-Don't rely on beta readers to be the last word on your book. Whether you're editing before or after the beta read, your eyes should be the last set to review the manuscript. Even the most thorough beta may miss something as easily as you do. Also, the opinions will vary and applying all the edits may create contradictions in your story line. Read it in full AGAIN before you hit Publish.  

Last, but not least:

-Learn to take criticism, not just in this process but as a writer in general. Remember, you asked these folks to volunteer their efforts on YOUR behalf. Have some respect for their valuable time AND opinions. 

Have you worked with beta readers or in isolation? Any particular reason for your choice?  

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

So Good It Makes You Sad

Have you ever read an amazingly great book and felt totally depressed when you finished? Not because one of your favorite characters died, or even that the book ended and you had to say goodbye. No, I mean depression because the book was so freaking incredible and you KNOW you will never write like that author, so why not just give up now!

As you may know, this has been a few weeks of incredible reading for me. You didn't know? Well, you do now. Since the beginning of August, when I decided to work through several of the paperbacks and Kindle books collecting various forms of dust and cobwebs around me, I've been plowing through the pile. To date, I have read: 
  • Cinders by Michelle Davidson Argyle (fantasy)
  • Blockbuster by Sven Michael Davison (contemporary)
  • Khan: Empire of Silver by Conn Iggulden (historical)
  • The Swords of Faith by Richard Warren Field (historical) - I needed to get back to this from a while ago - very glad I did
  • Sandworms of Dune by Brian Herbert (sci-fi) - again, didn't plan to, but I'm a huge Dune fan!
  • The Forever Queen by Helen Hollick (historical)
  • Cartier's Ring by Pearson Moore (historical)
  • The Borgia Betrayal by Sarah Poole (historical)
  • Kismet's Kiss by Cate Rowan (romance)
  • The Black God's War by Moses Siregar III (fantasy)
  • To Touch the Knight by Lindsay Townsend (romance)
In case it occurs to you, yeah, that's a hell of a lot of reading. What can I say? I went on vacation and I'm not working on my own books now. That will change very shortly. Next on the list is Michael Hicks' In Her Name: Empire, which I'm looking forward to, as I've heard nothing but good about it.

Reading all these great books has not only gave me a better appreciation for how hard these authors have worked, but honestly, the quality of some of them made me depressed. I'm not exaggerating. I'm one of those writers who has to work hard at a story, yet there are others who seem to be master storytellers. I know, I've read some of them this summer. These writers can effortlessly sweep a reader away into their cleverly crafted worlds. Kudos to everyone I've read so far for keeping me entertained. But, dammit, sometimes I wish your stories weren't so good!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Writers: Where did you find inspiration?

Yesterday, I wrote about finding inspiration for my stories. I had not given much thought to it before now.

My inspiration started from a love of history and in particular, the underdog in history, those people who never get a chance to tell their side of the story. At least, that’s what I thought until last night. The idea of "history being written by the victors" is very true. As a writer, I like sifting through the facts to find out more about the other side; their struggle, why they lost and more important, how they survived. If I write about a particular period, it's almost certain that my protagonist will have experienced lots of tragedies along the way. They are survivors, who despite terrible losses, accept the pain and go on living.

I’ve since realized that the reason I tend to write about people who struggle against adversity has very little to do with their conflicts and courage, and much more to do with my personal history. I’m a survivor of sexual abuse. It’s not something that I’ve shared outside of my family or close circle of friends. Until now, that is. Abuse in any form is traumatic and weakens the spirit. It’s even more harmful when you’re a child and the abuser is a once-trusted adult. Even though I was a child, I had the courage to stand up to my abuser. There is something tremendously empowering about acknowledging something horrible in your past AND knowing that you had the courage to rise against it. But some who have suffered or survived abuse never get the chance to speak.

My own experience has led me to focus on characters and periods where the protagonists, the losers in history, have left little genuine information about their lives and suffering. History stifled their voices, by wiping their culture, eradicating their people or absorbing them. It’s a theme that consistent in Sultana and Sultana’s Legacy, where the Spanish conquest of the Moors ensured that the world view of the Nasrid Dynasty has come to us in modern times, mainly through the eyes of Catholic chroniclers. The theme is also present in On Falcon’s Wings, where the losses of the Saxons at the Battle of Hastings altered England’s history forever, almost eliminating the culture of a people that had existed for thousands of years. While I’ve written books to show the mettle and courage of the people who survived turbulent times, only yesterday did I connect my interest to my own experiences as a survivor.

Inspiration comes to us in many ways, from tragedy and triumph. For my fellow writers, what’s your source?   

Time flies when you're having fun, or writing novels.

It's been a tremendous twelve months. A new job and health issues have impacted my writing time, but I'm still at it, trying to wrap...