Writing Resources


National Novel Writing Month logoIt’s October 31! You know what that means!

…OK. Yes. It’s Halloween. I actually meant something else.

It’s the end of October. And tomorrow’s the start of November! And that means it’s time for National Novel Writing Month–also known as NaNoWriMo–a beloved annual event where writers try to write a 50,000-word story in a month.

Let’s chat about it!

I honestly didn’t like NaNoWriMo until I lived in a big city.

Honestly, the one-and-only reason I participated in NaNo last year–and the reason I’ll be doing it this year–is to socialize.

For a long time, I didn’t live in a place with a big writing community. I lived in small cities. I lived outside the United States. And no matter how many times I decided that I was going to hop on the forums and make digital friends, I… didn’t.

And NaNo is not that fun, at least in my opinion, if you do it alone. The thrill is in the community. It’s sitting in a room full of people who are desperately struggling to catch up, who are blazing through hundreds of words as fast as they can, and who are all encouraging each other to go go go! Without the community, well… I mean, you can write a book whenever you want, you know?

But if you’re in a place that has a decent local NaNo group (and you can check that by checking out NaNo’s Find a Region tool), it can be a lot of fun. Go to different write-ins. Chat with other writers. And if you don’t like them? Who cares! You’re there to write! Say your hellos, get to know everyone, then plug in your earphones and write for an hour. It’s the best of both worlds!

And even though I still think 50,000 words in a month is kind of silly…

Honestly. I know I said this last year, but 50,000 words is weird.

NaNoWriMo is an easy way for new writers to give themselves a challenge–and for that, 50,000 words is great. It’s high enough to be a challenge (especially if you don’t write) and it requires you to write nearly every day.

But most adult fiction is longer. Heck, most young adult fiction is longer. And I write fantasy, which can be just shy of twice that long. I could maybe write a middle grade fantasy inside of 50K. Possibly.

You don’t have to complete a novel to “win.” But NaNoWriMo isn’t nearly as exciting when the goal is “let’s write 50% of a novel really quickly, then finish the rest over the next few months!” How am I supposed to celebrate that?

…I’m doing it anyway! And won’t be posting in the meantime.

I know! You must be heartbroken.

I won’t be posting until December. Because let’s be honest–I write 1,000-word posts, and I’d much rather put those words toward making that NaNoWriMo graph shoot up.

I’ll be back in December, hopefully with 50,000 words of progress beneath my belt and a few stories about the new people I meet–and maybe a few new friends?

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It’s fun to complain, isn’t it? Let’s complain about querying!

Querying is complicated! Querying is messy! And every time I query, I am simultaneously delighted that I seem to be doing OK and terrified that I’m doing everything wrong. And both might be true!

Nothing makes sense. Everything is anxiety-inducing. This post has no point!

Let’s get to it anyway!

Response rates are super important!

Everyone loves response rates. Heck, QueryTracker only tracks two statistics on your “Queries > My Stats” tab, and response rate’s one of ’em. It is:

Total Number of Agents Who Asked for Any Material / The Total Number of Agents You Queried

Multiply that by 100, slap a percent sign on it, and bam! You’ve got a response rate!

And what’s a “good” request rate? Answers vary! A common piece of advice is to start your querying journey by sending out 10 queries and waiting to see if you get at least one response before querying more–because 10% is a good request rate, and if you have at least that, your query is probably OK.

And is it a useful statistic? Yes! Kind of! Sometimes! With caveats!

Because if you’re getting requests, but you’re not around 10%, it’s nearly impossible to tell what that means.

  • Something may be wrong. Maybe you need to strengthen your query or your first chapter.
  • Or maybe you’re approaching the wrong agents?
  • Or maybe it’s OK! Honestly, if you’re getting requests, you’re doing OK. If you’re getting enough (which is subjective) and some of them seem to be branching into full requests, then sitting there going “Oh god, is 7% high enough? Am I doing everything wrong?!” is probably counterproductive.

(That might or might not be where I am right now. Cough.)

Request rates are only completely clear-cut in one situation: if you get no requests after many queries. If you can go 10 or 20 queries without a single peep of any sort… Yeah, it’s probably worth looking at your query letter.

Otherwise, everything is fuzzy. Especially since…

Agents make decisions based on personal sales and client information that you can’t possibly know!

Of course, if you go by the theory that a good request rate means you have a good book, you’re assuming that if your book is good–truly, unambiguously good–then every agent will want it.

And yet agents often make choices based on things you have absolutely no control over: what books their clients are working on. What sales they just made. What sales the editors they worked with just made. What seems to be in vogue right now (which is based on books that were sold and published a few years ago.) What seems to be on the horizon. You don’t have any power over that.

And they have quirks! Have you checked out the Manuscript Wishlist at #MSWL? The glut of authors and books out there means that agents can have really, really specific requests!

So maybe you have a remarkable book that’s topical, marketable, and interesting. That should get you some requests. And yet, somehow, you can also truly be all these things and not have a really amazingly high request rate. Because of luck. Because the topic isn’t quite what they have in mind, or they’re selling too much of this, or it’s too similar to something else they’re representing, or…

But it only takes one to say “yes”!

In the end, it really only takes one agent to say “yes.” You could send out 90 queries, have an abysmal request rate, and… if you get one request from one agent who falls in love with your story, then it doesn’t matter. You still get an agent. You still did it. It could happen, even if your request rate isn’t mind-blowingly high.

So you don’t need a lot of requests. It helps, and it’s a good sign, of course. And it’s much better to be getting lots of requests, lots of interest, and lots of potential leads–because goodness knows you can get a lot of full requests and still get absolutely no offers of representation.

Ultimately, querying is hard and you will never know anything.

Nothing means anything! Good numbers are good! Bad numbers may be bad! Middling numbers might mean anything! Anything short of unambigous and immediate success is impossible to gauge!

If you have a high request rate, you can safely say that you  have a great idea, a great query, and a powerful first chapter. Go you!

But if you have an okayish one, it’s… easy to beat yourself up. It might be OK but not amazing, and it may be getting requests, but maybe not enough… And maybe your query could be better, and maybe it’s OK, and maybe you just have to keep trying. Because who knows?

Even if, ironically, querying lots of agents means your request rate lowers. At least until you get more requests. Sigh.

In short, querying is a roller coaster and I never know if I’m doing an abysmal job or an OK one.

Fun times!

Banner with part of the cover for the novel Justice Unending, by Elizabeth Spencer.First thing’s first! Want to enter a giveaway for Justice Unending? Just hop over to LibraryThing, change the “Media” drop-down to “Paper Only,” and scroll down until you find it. (I wish I could link directly to the thing. Sorry for all the extra steps!)

And with that out of the way, let’s get back to my favorite kind of post. I was reading stuff on the internet, and someone said something I didn’t agree with, guys! Let’s talk for 1,000 words about it!

So! The other day, I saw a post worrying about their YA science fiction. It was a story about teenagers. They had jobs, were concerned about their futures, and were looking forward to college. But it was otherwise a very innocent-sounding story, with no sex, no violence outside of a few bumps and scratches, and a lighthearted theme, and it had an unambiguously happy ending.

And he was nervous: is this not a young adult story? Did I actually write a middle grade story?

I was shocked at the number of people who were like “Oh, yeah! That’s not YA! Drop those ages!”

Huh.

Middle grade novels are not just sanitized young adult stories.

This happens a lot, actually! Many people don’t think there’s that much difference between YA and MG. Since they’re both books for children, many assume that the only difference is the subject matter: light violence, no sex, and no cussing is a PG movie. That’s MG! And if there’s anything PG-13 in there? BAM! Instant YA!

(Also, in case you’re unfamiliar with the acronyms, YA = young adult, or books for people loosely in the 13 to 18 year range, and MG = middle grade, or books for those loosely in the 8ish to 12 year range. But those aren’t hard numbers. There’s a lot of blurriness around the edges.)

And if all you care about is subject matter, then there’s a clear line: everything gritty and serious goes into YA and everything full of childhood adventure goes into MG.

And… that’s not entirely untrue? Middle grade novels are designed for a younger audience, so they do need to be age-appropriate in the way they handle violence, romance, and relationships. They don’t tend to have PG-13 content like sex and intense violence.

But this doesn’t mean that a YA automatically becomes a MG if it’s not violent enough, or that a MG becomes a YA because it’s dealing with something serious.

MG and YA novels are fundamentally designed for different periods of life.

Let’s start with something obvious: YA and MG books are, in fact, designed for children who are at entirely periods in their lives.

YA Novels Have YA Themes. In the most generic way, YA books deal with teenagers who are on the cusp of adulthood. They generally have themes like:

  • Being independent
  • Relying less on their parents and family
  • Being self-sufficient, and making your own decisions in life
  • Dealing with adult responsibilities, or preparing for them
  • Having to deal with adult problems, like housing, rent, jobs, or whatever the adult equivalent is in your genre.

YA novels may include a lot of adult content, but this may be the characters’ first experiences with them: these characters may have their first relationships, their first jobs, or the first situations where they’re really expected to go off, alone, with no one else, and survive by their own means. They are people being tested by adulthood.

None of these require sex and violence. It’s entirely possible to have characters–and a plot–that revolve around what it’s like to become a self-sufficient, independent adult that don’t require graphic violence or sexy times.

MG Novels have MG Themes. MG protagonists are, at most, maybe about 12 years old. They legally can’t support themselves, or live alone, or have a job. Consequently, their protagonists are:

  • More reliant on family.
  • More dependent on guardians and adult figures in their lives to provide the essentials of life and to take care of the big responsibilities.
  • Less interested in relationships, or only starting to think about them.
  • Trying to establish their identities, to form personalities and opinions separate of their family’s, and to create their own self-image, their own goals, and their own dreams.
  • Looking forward to growing up, and getting to do things that older kids do.

But adulthood and self-sufficiency are probably very far away for these kids–and if they aren’t, it’s much more of a tragedy. These are kids who are looking forward to the freedoms and independence of being a teenager.

These themes bleed into EVERYTHING in the story.

Is everything I said above a cliche? Oh, yeah. Are there exceptions? Constantly!

But let’s say you have, say, a YA science fiction that’s written about teenagers being teenagers. Can you just remove their jobs and say “Hey, we’re middle grade now?”

Probably not.

Because those themes I mentioned above? They affect everything. A 10 year old is not interested in the same things, and doesn’t have the same thought process, as a 17 year old. Their lives are different, their needs are different, their expectations for the future are different.

  • It affects your characterization and character interaction.
  • It affects the plot: what happens, why it happens, and what the consequences are may be totally different based on your character can do, how your character is likely to react, and what your character wants.
  • It affects the core themes in the story–the elements that you focus on, the underlying message of the events that occur, the significance of what happens.

The dynamics between two 10-year-old friends are different–they expect different things, have different ideas of what they’re responsible for, have different kinds of boundaries with each other, etc.

A MG story about a rough childhood might focus on regaining trust, finding adults who care, rediscovering stability in life. A YA story might focus on learning that a home situation isn’t safe, breaking free, and finding independence.

But even now, even with all this in mind, you still can’t say “MG = light themes, YA = heavy stuff.” MG novels can absolutely have serious, darker themes. Many books are designed to help its readers cope with the world around them–and there definitely are 10 year olds who deal with dysfunctional families, violence at home and in their communities, and other “adult” topics. They, too, can find comfort in stories about protagonists their age dealing with these very real problems. The way they deal with it will be different than a YA book, and these scary topics should be handled in an age-appropriate way, but just having a darker, heavier theme does not necessarily mean that a book can’t be MG.

Consequently, it’s very, very rare that you can take a book, change the protagonists’ ages, and change nothing else.

So, in conclusion… No. If you’ve written a book about teenagers being teenagers, I’m going to guess that turning it into a MG might require significant rewrites. (And this is all without mentioning the more obvious things: like how MG books are much shorter than YA and that MG science fiction is, I think, much harder to tell in than YA.)

But the most important thing is that YA and MG aren’t interchangeable. A fluffy YA isn’t “basically” a MG, and a darker MG isn’t a YA in disguise. Whether a story is MG or YA is a much more complicated decision.

flickr_journaling_vic

Picture taken by Vic on Flickr.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how I lost a ton of time this year by trying to bully myself into coming up with awesome ideas, on a deadline, during my daily hourly writing time.

It really, really didn’t work.

And because this wasn’t working, I decided to try some other, gentler brainstorming techniques. And while most didn’t do too much for me, journaling turned out remarkably well.

Here’s what I did.

First, let’s set the stage: I had a draft of a novel I didn’t want to use and a lot of ideas I didn’t like that much.

I wrote a novel for last year’s NaNoWriMo that was, unsurprisingly, not very good. I outlined it a week before I started and didn’t have a very clear idea of what I wanted to do. I stopped at 70,000 words.

And while NaNo was fun, the story was a mess. It had multiple points of view, and one of them–which made up a bit less than half the story–was pointless. The two POVs never interacted in any way. The main villain was a ton of fun to write, but she didn’t really do anything. This left the protagonist to kind of… wander around, do her own thing, and have a small, meaningless little adventure until it got trashed in the climax.

It was not a good story.

The more I dug, the more I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the secondary characters. I didn’t like the backstory I had created. I didn’t like the big reveal at the end of the book. I wanted to throw it out and do something totally different with everything–the characters. The story. The lore.

I needed to do a lot of thinking. I started by trying a lot of things that didn’t work. Then I tried journaling.

What do I mean by “journaling”?

Basically, I just sat down every day during my scheduled writing time, opened a Word file, and wrote about my feelings. I wrote about things like:

  • What ideas in my story did I like? Why?
  • What ideas did I not like? What bugged me about them?
  • What kind of characters do I usually like? What character dynamics do I like? Why?
  • Why did I not like the characters in the previous draft? What bored me?

So on, so forth. I wrote down my thoughts about my plots. I wrote my feelings about my backstory. I wrote about my theme. I wrote down what sort of things I enjoyed and what sort of things I didn’t.

I didn’t not come up with solutions. (But if one burst into my head, great! I’ll take it!) But if I didn’t know what I wanted, that was fine. If I did try to come up with new ideas, I’d just be brainstorming. And brainstorming is good, but I–again–had spent several months being bad about brainstorming. So I tried, very hard, to not pressure myself.

If my thinking aloud naturally, gracefully led me to an idea, I followed it. But if I was just angry and tearing apart my old story and ranting about how it bored me, I just let myself complain, then moved on.

Some approaches worked better than others.

I had never done this before, so I wasn’t quite sure how to do this correctly. It took me a while to figure out some good techniques:

  • I tried to balance “why didn’t I like [something I made]” with “what do I like?” I wasn’t trying to start a pity party. I was just trying to pinpoint why I didn’t like certain things, not insult myself.
  • I eventually pulled all the ideas I liked into a single file and tried to imagine a story that included all of them.
  • Similarly, I played around with how it’d feel if I removed everything I didn’t like from the original story. What was left? What holes were there? Could I fill them with the good ideas?
  • I also wrote down things I enjoyed from my favorite books, stories, and games. Why did I like them? What appealed to me? Why?
  • I tried to fangirl a little. What if I took the ideas I liked the most and tried to make them as big and dramatic as possible? What if they were the crux of the story? What if everything revolved around them? What is the coolest scene I could do about them?

Could I have just laid down and thought through all this? Sure. But writing it down made me process these thoughts more slowly. And, more importantly, it created a record of them. That let me come back the next day, look through my previous thoughts, and analyze them more deeply.

It helped a lot, actually.

For several weeks, this is all I did. I mused. I wrote down my thoughts. On most days, I made no measurable progress at all. I just thought.

But when I started making lists of everything I liked and didn’t like, and started to imagine a story that had all the good stuff and none of the stupid stuff… it started to congeal into a better story. And I started to outline.

It wasn’t perfect. There’s still a lot of messiness, a lot of weirdness, and at least one giant hole in my outline. But it’s definitely better. And there’s a lot more in this story that I’m genuinely excited to write.

And it worked because I wasn’t just brainstorming. I wasn’t sitting down, revving up my brain, and expecting fully-formed ideas to fall out. And because I was just working through my feelings, there was no way for me to slot my days into “success” or “failure.” (And if you’re just brainstorming? Yeah. Ideas you can use = successful day, no good ideas = hurray, I just wasted my time.)

I have a terrible habit of pressuring myself to produce something measurable, quickly. New words! New stories! New ideas! NOW. It helps to have a technique in the toolbox that lets me feel a little productive–I often came up with hundreds (or thousands!) of words of journaling every day–while not actually requiring me to produce!!

So if you fall prey to the same vicious thoughts, give it a shot. It’s like tricking your brain into a kinder, gentler form of brainstorming. Maybe it’ll help!

Notecard that reads 'Today has mostly been about frustrations and disappointment :('

Photo by Sarah Barker on Flickr.

I’m no stranger to creative slumps. Every year, I crash at least once, wonder why I write at all, and take a few weeks off. It eventually pases, all is well again, and I get back to work.

But not this year! This year has been terrible. I finished the edit of my most recent project earlier this year. (The edit itself took a year and a half. It was grueling.) Then I started querying. Querying was depressing, so I started outlining my next project. Everything went wrong.

The story I most wanted to work on was missing everything between the beginning and climactic battle–like, you know, a world for the rest of the story to happen in, characters who weren’t the protagonist and antagonist, and a plot. Uhhhhh…

So I tried another story–the sequel to the one I was querying. Nope. I’ve got a theme and a city, but not a plot. That… wasn’t helpful.

Then I went back to a story I wrote during NaNoWriMo. I already had 70,000 words down, so it had to be be easier to fix, right? It was half written! And… no. It was the wrong story, with the wrong villain. How did I even do that? I needed to start over. I probably couldn’t save anything.

And after months of bouncing between these stories, I had nothing to show for it. A stack of notecards, a few outlines on the wall, and… nothing. The year was more than half over and I had nothing to show for it.

So I sat down for my daily hour of writing time, determined to do something. And then that went wrong, too.

I have a bad habit of downplaying any work I do that isn’t “productive” enough.

I have a bad habit. I associate “productivity” with producing words. I’m not the worst about it, admittedly. I think all sorts of things are a good use of my time, even if they aren’t strictly “writing.” I feel good when I:

  • Add words to an outline
  • Create character sheets or worldbuilding documents
  • Edit old content
  • And, of course, just write an actual story.

But I wasn’t doing any of that. None of these stories had plots, remember?

What I really needed to do was brainstorm. And that was the problem. Brainstorming feels unproductive.

When I write or outline something, I can measure my progress: I wrote words. Yay! But if I spend an hour brainstorming, I can’t guarantee I’ll do anything. Maybe I’ll come up with an idea. Maybe I won’t! Maybe I’ll spend hours thinking and not come up with anything usable at all!

And I hate that.

I wrote 200,000 words last year–and now it’s August 2018 and I’ve only written a fraction of that. I need an idea now so I can write something now, and I need to get past the brainstorming and into the actual writing or I won’t produce anything at all this year and–

So I kept settling on any idea–anything at all!–that felt good enough that I could start working on it. Nothing’s perfect, right? I can fix it later, can’t I?

And… no. No. That’s terrible. Why did I do that? Why did I do it more than once? I kept glomming onto bad ideas and, unsurprisingly, deciding they were terrible a few days or weeks later. Then I’d toss them out, feel even more like I was wasting my time, and do it again.

Weeks passed. I was even angrier at myself. None of this was working.

I had to redefine what a “productive use of my time” was.

I needed to stop doing this. But how?

First off, I had to detangle this awful, messy, stupid knot of feelings. I was measuring my worth in a binary way: either I produced an idea, outline, or story and was good, or I spent an hour coming up with nothing and was bad. I was forcing myself to produce ideas on demand and beating myself up when I couldn’t.

I needed to reframe my thoughts. I started by trying to identify what was good about what I was doing:

  • Time spent thinking about a story is useful, even if I don’t come up with a solution to a problem. I should consider a brainstorming session as valuable as a writing session–it’s still time actively spent thinking about a story.
  • Word count is not the only measure of a good or active writer. A day where I spent time working on a story is a productive day. Period.
  • If my current brainstorming style isn’t working, I should try something new. Mixing it up could help.
  • And I really needed to pay less attention to my word counting sheet. I love it dearly, but if I’m brainstorming, I have no meaningful way to record that. It’s just a “zero word” day, which looks terrible. I had to think of another way to feel like I was doing something.

So I gave it a shot.

Little by little, I took some of the pressure of myself.

In my quest to “try other ways of brainstorming,” I started trying techniques I had seen other people use:

  • Journaling my thoughts and feelings about my story
  • Making Pinterest inspiration boards
  • Finding art that reminded me of my world

And because my word counting sheet was making me feel bad, I tried something simpler. I just used a calendar. If I spent any time working on my project, I’d put an X on that day. I was productive that day. No judgement. No word count. Just work = success = good.

It did feel a little silly. These felt like… fluffy things to spend my time on. But it was still better than going “Do I have any ideas? No? Let’s get angry at myself for 30 minutes, then give up and play videogames.”

And for most of a month, I really didn’t do much. I wrote down feelings. I checked off days. I didn’t produce much, but I was sticking to my schedule.

And then things started to get better. I had a few ideas. I started an outline. And I–maybe? Hopefully?–started to find things I wanted to write again.

It’s still to early to see if it really helped, but…

I only just now started making progress, so who knows! Maybe I’m just doing what I did before: making a little progress, glomming on to it, and swearing that this time I’ve broken the curse.

But I do know that throwing down a deadline and forcing myself to make words didn’t help. Demanding that I make ideas, now, within my 60 minutes of writing time didn’t help. It seems kind of obvious to say “Hey, have you tried not being such a jackass to yourself?” but, well, sometimes we miss the obvious solutions.

Honestly, though, if there’s one thing that helped me the most, it was the journaling. I’ll write more about that in my next post, because it was genuinely surprising how much it helped me clear my brain out.

But that’s a post for another day!

The LibraryThing logo, which reads: LibraryThing. What's on your bookshelf?When I first started experimenting with book marketing, I managed to post about Goodreads Book Giveaways just a few months before they mad them expensive as heck.

And you know what sucked? I had a box of books in my closet.

I ordered a small number of books so I could test out Goodreads, but my publisher made a shipping error and sent me two batches for the price of one. It was lucky. I had gotten 20 books at a steep discount. When I ran my first Goodreads giveaway, I gave away 4.

And then, before I could give the rest away, they started charging  $120 for that service. OK. So I wasn’t using Goodreads again. But what was I supposed to do with the rest of my books?

Then I heard about LibraryThing.

What is LibraryThing?

LibraryThing is a service much like Goodreads that lets you catalogue books you’ve read, rate them, and review them. It has some very cool local features, too–just enter your city and you can see all the local, book-related events happening around you.

And, like Goodreads, it has a giveaway program. A still-free giveaway program! It has two, in fact:

  • Early Reviewer Books, where you can get early access to not-yet-released books from selected publishers in exchange for a review
  • Member Giveaways, where anyone can give away any book, no matter when they came out

And since my novel, Justice Unending, came out in 2016, we’re gonna talk about the member giveaways!

How does it work?

Member Giveaways are simple:

  • You can give away physical books or e-books.
  • …although, if you do want to give away e-books, they can’t be available anywhere for free.
  • You can give away as many books as you want.
  • You can run your giveaway as long as you want.
  • If you give away physical books, you are responsible for packing and shipping the books to the winners.
  • You can request that your winners review your book, but they’re not required to.

And that’s it! It’s simple, it’s fast, and you can throw one together in 5 minutes.

How’d it go?

I created a giveaway for Justice Unending that lasted 2 weeks. I gave away 4 copies.

Two weeks is not a lot of time, and I didn’t promote it. At all. So I basically just relied on LibraryThing’s own community and its own “get free books!” system to get my book in front of people’s eyes. I had no idea if anyone was going to see this thing at all, much less request it.

But it turns out I didn’t have to worry: 80 people requested my book. 80! In just 2 weeks! It might not be the 1,000 requests I got for a 4-week Goodreads giveaway, but who cares? I only had 4 copies!

And how’s it gone so far? Who knows! Giveaways are notoriously hard to measure. By their very nature, you’re spending money. I had to buy my own books. I had to buy envelopes. I had to ship them. And what do I get in return? If I’m lucky, those 4 people will read it. If I’m luckier, they’ll review it. And if I get really lucky, a few of them will review the book on a site like Amazon, those reviews will raise my visibility, and maybe, someday, I’ll have enough reviews to qualify for Bookbub.

Those are all indisputably great things, but you can’t put a value on them. Really, giveaways are just about throwing money away and hoping you get some visibility out of it.

So what could I do better?

Realistically, if I did not have a closet full of books, I’d only be doing LibraryThing’s e-book giveaways.

Seriously. I only have physical books because Goodreads didn’t do e-book giveaways until recently (when, of course, they weren’t free.) So that’s why I bought the books. When Goodreads Giveaways were free, they were still only “free.” You still had to invest your own money to try them out.

But since LibraryThing does free e-book giveaways, there’s literally no reason to bother with physical books at all. (OK, well, there are some considerations–giving someone an EPUB is probably a great way to make it easy for them to ship that thing to their friends and family for free, I suppose.) But on the other hand, it’s free. No shipping. No purchasing books. And if you aren’t paying a shipping fee of $4.80 per book (and yes, I’m paying a domestic shipping fee of $4.80 per book), you can go ahead and give away 100 copies of your book at a time. Is that a lot of non-paying people? Yes! But it’s free, and it’s a lot more visibility–and a lot more chances of getting reviews–than sending out 4 copies of a book.

But you know what? Even if I don’t get any reviews (although, yes, I would still really like some reviews), I’m still happy about one thing: now I can actually put together a plan to give away the rest of my books. Phew! I was starting to wonder if I’d never get that corner of my closet back.

It’s been a while since I posted! So, first off: sorry for vanishing off the face of the Earth like that.

Mostly, I’ve been busy. Busy-busy. Work’s nuts. Long hours. Overtime. Craziness. There’s barely been time to write, and if I don’t have time to write, then I definitely don’t have time to blog.

But that’s an understandable excuse. One you might even empathize with! And believe me, I have far worse excuses for vanishing. Like this one: I’ve been querying, and querying always rocks my world. I prepare myself emotionally, I write posts about how you shouldn’t care about rejections, and then I get sad anyway. That’s right, I’m a hypocrite!

It always takes me time to accept that I’ll never one of those authors who sends out their first 5 queries and end up drowning in offers of rep 2 days later. It takes me a few dozen queries to transition into “querying is methodical, unemotional busywork that I never expect to pay off in any meaningful way.” So. Yeah. I’m not there yet.

It also doesn’t help that I’ve been reading marketing books again. And that just makes me realize how little I know what I’m doing.

And since that’s the less depressing topic, let’s talk platform. A little. Kind of. This post is kind of scattered.

The basics of marketing aren’t too crazy.

Cover of Online Marketing for Busy Authors.

Image from Goodreads.

Goodreads had an author newsletter about marketing a few weeks back, which included Online Marketing for Busy Authors by Fauzia Burke. It’s a nice, simple step-by-step guide, and it includes all the stuff you’d expect:

  • Know your brand and your audience. Tailor everything to them.
  • Make an author website.
  • Maintain a blog.
  • Be an active participant in online communities, where you act like a real person, produce useful stuff, and help other people out.

…I mean, there’s a lot more to the book. Those are just the fundamentals.

But whenever I think too hard about this kind of thing, I realize how unfocused I am.

This blog is fun, but it’s not really my target audience.

I like writing about writing. I like thinking about process. I like trying software and different techniques. I really like writing huffy posts because someone on Reddit said something absurd.

But I’ve made a silly mistake: the people I should be marketing to–the people who want to read my books and who I should, nominally, be trying to build a marketing community around–are not writers.

I write action-adventure fantasy novels for teenagers. And if you made a Venn diagram showing the overlap between “people who want to write novels” and “people who read YA fantasy,” you will have… some, but definitely not enough to say hey, this is a super awesome marketing decision! I should totally be ignoring the rest of the pie!

Unfortunately, Online Marketing for Busy Authors doesn’t have a good recommendation for this, because it’s primarily written for non-fiction writers. And they have no problem finding a niche to write about: if you write cookbooks, you have a blog about cooking. If you write about leadership skills, you write about psychology, workplace dynamics, whatever.

But if you write about fantasy, what the heck do you do?

I don’t have fans who want to see my maps or my bad drawings. You all don’t want to see the playlist I wrote Justice Unending to. (No, really.  You don’t.) And I change my mind so much, and so often, that I really wouldn’t want to post short stories or snippets until everything’s pretty much done.

This is why so many genre authors go the “Stock image + Random quote from your book” things. (I think they’re kind of cheesy.) Or “hey, here’s a Pinterest board I put together about my main character.” (I think those are kind of fun, actually.) But otherwise… ehhhhh.

I don’t know. I can talk endlessly about writing. But I have no idea how I’d write constantly about my writing without it sounding self-centered and arrogant. I mean, no one knows who I am. Why would anyone explicitly seek me out? At least “How to do stupid formatting tricks in Word” is useful.

So that’s a question mark. Am I focusing on the wrong things?

I’m also kind of terrified of socializing.

OK, so I don’t know what to do with my website or blog. But what about social media?

Online Marketing for Busy Authors (and every other marketing book I’ve ever read) makes one thing clear: you need to be part of the online community. Talk to people. Say hi. Participate. Be online. Have a presence. Do this well before you have a book to sell.

It’s not even that horrible sounding: just sit on social media, say hi, and talk to people. Be known.

But know what? I have crazy social anxiety. I suck up my courage and try to get over this about once a year. It always goes terribly.

I overanalyze everything I post. I’m posting too much about myself! That sounds arrogant. How do I be friendly and social? I’ll find writing-related tweets and say I agree with them! Wow, that’s so shallow and cheesy. You know what? I’m sure the internet will forgive me for being stupid if I just vanish for 2 or 3 months, and then everyone will have forgotten about how awkward I sounded. Whoops! That’s not what I wanted, was it?

So, yes: another question mark. Well, kind of. I know I need to do more of this. I know I need to try. Heck, the worst that could happen is I make some friends, right? Or enemies? Or make a total idiot of myself and do nothing productive and regret it forever, and–

Uh

Okay, yes, this stuff is hard.

In short, there’s a lot I’m not sure I’m doing right.

The sad thing is, nothing I mentioned above is about the hard parts of marketing–you know, the actually selling books part? This is just the background noise: the “have some sort of useful online presence so people know who you are when you put out a book” part, which is the barest of bare minimums to being a person who produces anything these days.

I really need to sit down and think this through seriously sometime.

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