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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Thoughtful Thursday - How to Work Writing into your Daily Life

I love to troll (the Internet, not the streets), and I really like sharing the things I find when I troll.  This week I came across an article by Women on Writing entitled "A Writer's Fitness Plan."  Now, I hate exercise, so I looked at this article with narrowed eyes and a great deal of suspicion.  But to my delight, I discovered that it wasn't about exercising, it was about fitting writing time into your already busy schedule.

Now that's something I can sink my teeth into (okay, maybe I'm a bit hungry, too.)  You can read the article yourself by clicking the link above, or you can read my executive summary below.  Actually, you can do both or neither, if you want, but I'm assuming since you got this far that you find this topic of interest as well.  Silly me.

Women on Writing maintain that it all begins with you, the writer.
1. Call yourself a writer.  You can mention your day job, if you like, but make sure when people ask you what you do that you mention you're a writer.  The questions that always follow like, "What have you written?" or "Are you published?" are another topic entirely.

2. Find time to write.  Write for just fifteen minutes a day when you can grab some alone time.  Set up a timer and an alarm, if that helps, but give yourself the full fifteen minutes.  If you have difficulty with this, try either early in the morning, when no one else is up, or late at night, after everyone goes to bed.
3. Write regularly to build up that writing muscle.  Turn your writing into a habit.  You may find you're just getting started when your fifteen minutes are up (yay!), so consider reevaluating your schedule by giving yourself more time.
4. Find a Support Group.  Find another writer who will help hold you accountable when you reach a plateau or become discouraged.  Writer's write, and they won't accept the same excuses your husband or kids will.  They expect, and demand, results (cue the cat-o-nine-tails).

5. Think Small.  When life intervenes (as it usually does) take time to reevaluate your goals.  It's okay to scale back on a temporary basis, but don't stop writing entirely.  Sketch ideas or snatches of dialogue in your fifteen minutes and don't beat yourself up if you're unable to meet the goals you set that week due to unforeseen circumstances or major events.  Reevaluate.

6. Lastly, take time to reward yourself.  Whether it's a specific word count goal or getting your submissions out...if you get it done, give yourself a treat.  You've earned it.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Share the "Luck of the Irish" on St. Patrick's Day

Well, I'm not Irish, but I do love the Emerald Isle and the people, and my heroine in Arrested by Love is a red-headed colleen with the last name of Morgan.  No accent, of course, since she was born and raised in the good 'ole USA, as were her parents, and their parents.  But I could claim a little of the green through her, I think.

So, to celebrate St. Paddy's, I'm going to award a copy of Arrested by Love to any person over 18 who would be interested in getting a copy.  To enter, all you have to do is leave a comment for this article telling me why you like the Irish and if you enjoy reading BDSM stories and/or spanking romances, and make sure you provide your e-mail address so I can get back to you.

Arrested by Love is an erotic, fun-filled spanking romance.  Since this is not an 18+ only blog, I can't give many details here about the book, but if you're interested in reading more about it, please visit the spanking romance page on my web site by clicking on the link beneath the cover below.

As for me, on the 17th I plan to wear my "Kiss me, I'm Irish" pin and go shopping.  Although I also plan to take my husband along with me just to make sure I don't get into any trouble.

I hope you all have a wonderful St. Paddy's Day and a beautiful spring.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Thoughtful Thursday - How to Handle a Negative Review

I did some Internet surfing on suggested ways to handle negative reviews.  Most of them told you what not to do.  A perfect example of what you shouldn't do is in Tonya Kappes article "Thick Skin with Every Word."  In her blog Tonya spoke about how she badly wanted to respond to the one star reviews:
 "I wanted to tell them that I love constructive criticism, but to give me a one star review because they don't like the genre and wanted to start with mine. . .well, that's not a true review."
She's right, it's not really a review so much as it is an opinion.  And let's face it, we all have opinions regarding just about everything we come across in our lives.  And a review, negative or positive, is just one person's opinion.  Not sure how many of you are familiar with Stephen Covey's "7 Habits of Highly Effective People."  It's not to everyone's taste, but I found it invaluable because of one suggestion that totally changed my perspective on criticism.  The suggestion?  That individuals should consider viewpoints different from their own as priceless gems (not exactly his words, but my interpretation).  We are so busy wanting to be heard, that sometimes we forget to value the differences between us and just listen.

I recently received a review that initially devastated me.  The reviewer was new to the genre and didn't like at all what she found in my book.  But she made some very valid points regarding a time shift, which I didn't make as clear as I should have, and her overall feeling that my heroine was acting immature for her age.  She was definitely right about the time shift, which I would change if I could, and her opinion about my heroine was valid.  Tiffany was definitely behaving immaturely, but she was doing it on purpose.  So, the reviewer had been "spot on" about that as well.
The fact that she was new to the genre also made me realize she probably wouldn't like even its best selling author.  The genre I'm talking about is erotic spanking romances, and my novel in question was "Arrested by Love."  Since this is a "G" blog, I'm not going to go into any more detail except to say if you measured my book against others in the genre, by comparison, my stuff is fluff.  They are more like romantic fantasies and would probably not appeal to those who prefer hardcore material.  But that's what I write.  I'm not into the nitty gritty of real life, and I don't care for heroes who "get off" on dispensing pain.

So, the point I'm struggling to make here is that it wasn't my book she disliked so much as the genre.  Although that really didn't matter, since I still would have taken the time to write and thank her.  She took a chance, read my book, didn't like what she found, and reviewed it accordingly.  All she was doing was giving her opinion about what she read.  Of course, I would have preferred that she loved my characters and plot, and raved rapturously about my prose.  Who wouldn't?  But the fact that she was totally turned off by what she read didn't invalidate her opinion in my mind at all.  If anything it made it all the more valuable.
Not me, but a good representation of how I felt (only imagine slacks and a T-shirt rather than the evening gown.)
Yes, I nearly hyperventilated when I first read her review.  I felt absolutely crushed, but I wasn't angry.  How could I be?  That's where Stephen Covey's book came in.  Her opinion was vastly different than my own, so I needed to value it for that reason if no other.
Yup, that's much more like me, though about 100 lbs heavier, older, no pigtails....  Okay, that doesn't look like me either.
We started a light correspondence where I assured her I respected her opinion, even if it did make me unhappy. I didn't expect her to change what she wrote.  She promised to give me an honest review, which she did.  I had no right to ask for more.  However, she really appreciated the fact that I didn't berate her or tell her what an idiot she was for not recognizing my prose as a literary gem.  Hey, even I know my books aren't literary gems by any stretch, and that one especially wouldn't qualify.  Her reply was gracious.  She liked me as a person, just not that particular book, so I told her I would write a blog about how to handle negative reviews and this is it.  Below are my 5 suggested things you should do if you receive a negative review.
1. Acknowledge the pain of rejection, but don't react to it.  It hurts, and you have a right to feel like you've been stabbed, but don't respond.  Wait.
2.  When you're able to breathe again, go back and read the review.  If it is vituperative or just plain mean, rather than an honest opinion....  Pick up the pieces of your shattered ego, acknowledge the loss of something valuable, and get out from under the bed.  Then yank out the knife that's currently lodged in your heart or stomach, and do whatever you must to staunch the flow of blood.  Try reading the many positive reviews you've received, (which you will undoubtedly begin to doubt because this last reviewer has totally convinced you that you have no business writing in the first place and you should crawl back under your bed and stop littering the world with your--stuff).  And, if you start to feel depressed, tell your inner critic that one bad review does not a legion make.  You enjoy what you do, and as long as others enjoy it too, you will prevail.
3.  If the review has some valid points, and isn't hateful, take time to consider what the reviewer wrote.  Most reviewers aren't out to ruin your career (although I've heard there are a few on Amazon that make a living out of slicing and dicing others' work).  You don't need to dwell on the points, or throw your body on the sword of martyrdom, just consider them, then put aside your wounded pride and thank the reviewer for her time.  This is just a recommendation, and as an author you need to decide if this is something you can do without developing an ulcer over it.  If you feel you cannot respond without attacking the reviewer, or attempting to justify your work, you should skip this step and the next.
I expressed regret that she didn't care for my book, but admitted what I wrote was not to everyone's taste.  I know that.  I also knew I was taking a risk by asking someone, whom I suspected might be new to the genre, to read and review my slightly controversial novel.  This was not an unsolicited opinion.  I'd requested this review, but that also didn't make any difference to my chosen course of action.  All that mattered was she was willing to try something new, found she didn't care for it and gave her honest opinion.  So, from my viewpoint, she deserved an acknowledgement and my thanks for at least taking a chance.
4.  If you write them, they will respond, sometimes, and sometimes they won't.  If the reviewer takes the time to graciously respond to your note, give the courtesy of a return response.  In this case, she thanked me for my response, so after taking a few deep breaths I wrote her back.  I'm not saying this was easy, folks.  It wasn't.  I was still in a lot of pain and my heart was beating double time.  I tried to joke about it with my husband, but failed miserably through my tears.  However, she wrote me back, so I owed her the courtesy of a return response.  I was scheduled to submit an interview to her site, and after her reaction to my work, I questioned whether or not it would benefit either of us for me to submit it.  I was still willing to finish what I started and send it to her, I just didn't see how she could still want it.  Through that correspondence we became a little more honest with each other, but maintained the respect we had for each other's feelings and opinions.
5.  Whatever you do, don't let a bad review stop you from doing what you love.  Don't give into despair or anger no matter how much your aching pride urges you to. Get rid of any ill feelings that might still be festering inside you.  The longer you give them the food of your anger and the shelter of your heart, the more damage they'll do.  And you're the one who suffers the most by harboring them, although your family may disagree with me on that.
Below are what some other authors recommend to survive and avoid a bad book review.  Hope this helps.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Thoughtful Thursday - Hook Line and Sinker - Writing Back Cover Copy

Once you've written your book and you're ready to submit it to an agent or publisher you'll need a tagline or hook to grab your audience along with a blurb or what is sometimes referred to as "back cover copy."

Coming up with a tagline usually isn't a problem for me - it's a two sentence summary of the plot meant to intrigue my audience into reading more.  Sort of a TV Guide synopsis with zing.

For Mortal Illusions - a story about a 200 year old vampire who refused to make more of his kind, and a woman who was desperate to save her dying brother, I came up with....
"She would do anything to save her brother's life, even give herself to a vampire.  Except, he wasn't biting."

For Arrested by Love - an erotic romance about a young woman who was determined to snare the man she'd been in love since she was ten years old, but who refused to give her the time of day until she started pulling outrageous pranks that bordered on illegal.  Since this book was written as an erotic spanking romance, I wanted to appeal to that particular audience, so....
"She was willing to break the law to catch a police officer.  Except, he caught her first, and then turned her over his knee."

I think both of these taglines give a glimpse into the initial conflict of the book without giving too much of the story away, while at the same time they provide the reader with a sense that there will be some humor in the book as well.  (On a side note, I got dinged for not having enough humor in Mortal Illusions by the Romantic Times reviewer, but I think that was a matter of personal taste.  It's a lot more serious than Mary Janice Davidson's Queen Betsy series, which is what I think the reviewer was looking for.  A great series BTW, if you like humorous vampire stories with a little mystery added.  Davidson's first book has what I consider to be one of the best opening lines ever....  "The day I died started out bad and got worse in a hurry.")  But I digress.

What I personally find more difficult to write is the 100-200 word blurb that gives a little deeper insight into the story and the conflict, without giving too much away.  Well, I am now faced with this task again, so I decided to do a little research before I began writing my blurb to see what advice I could find on the topic.

Below is a list of the articles I found, and a brief summary of what they offer.

Emily Chand and friend

1. Keep it short and sweet - 100 to 200 words
2. Don't try to explain everything - give the reader the basic set up and a hint of what is to follow
3. Embody the genre(s) - pick one genre for the book, then convey the others in your back cover copy
4. Avoid inundating the reader with too many proper nouns - use strong verbs and adjectives to convey key info; don't rely on proper nouns that only you, the author, understand.
5. Don't showboat - let the story stand on its own

Marilyn Byerly and friend

First and second paragraphs - introduce hero and heroine, give simple plot set up and introduce internal
Third and fourth paragraphs - external conflict (what must they overcome to achieve their goals)

She also provides examples on how to shorten a blurb as well as details on how to structure your blurb for Romantic Suspense, Mystery/Suspense, Sci-Fi and Fantasy and Other types of fiction books.

Joanna Penn

Give a hint of the plot
Use words that evoke images and resonate with the readers of the genre
Name and characterize your main characters
Provide an idea of the setting
Provide a question or a hint of mystery that draws the reader in

1. Read the cover copy on other books in your genre
2. Have a friend write a description of your book
3. KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) It's about quality not quantity
4. Borrow from your own work
5. Got Reviews?
6. Brag a little

So, most of these articles agree the blurb should be pithy, provide the basic conflict, setting and a hint of a future problem or mystery that will need to be resolved.  Easy peasy, right?

Okay, back to the drawing board.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Thoughtful Thursday - Time Eating Activities

The following is a list of time wasters in business settings that I found at http://www.business-personal-coaching.com/top10timewasters.html .  Since writing, if you're serious, should be treated like a business, I looked at this list from that perspective, and was surprised by just how many of them fit.  Now, each one of us works differently, so the places where I find myself just "spinning my wheels" may not apply to you.  However, looking through my list may prompt a few "time wasters" of your own.  Since one of my New Year's resolutions focused on being more productive this year, I thought this would be a good exercise for me to undertake.  Below is the business list of the top 10 Time Wasters.

1. Lack of planning, prioritizing and focus.
2. Procrastination.
3. Interruptions.
4. Lack of delegation.
5. Meetings.
6. Crisis management, fire fighting.
7. Telephone, email and Internet.
8. Not saying 'No'.
9. Lack of organization and untidiness.
10. Not enough time-off or time for yourself.

Below are the top five activities that keep me from achieving my writing goals.

1. Internet, email, Telephone.
Okay, I should probably include my blog in this list, but I'm going to leave it under the vague category of the Internet.  First off, I'm going to say that the Internet is evil in my opinion.  Now, by that I don't mean to say that Satanists are plotting to take over the world behind the Internet.  It's more like a time vampire.  While under its spell, you give it all your time and find yourself thoroughly enjoying the experience.  And that's evil.  Plain and simple.  Email is the Internet's enabler.  I receive an email on a subject that captures my interest, and the next thing you know I've spent three hours reading and delving into topics that have absolutely nothing to do with my novel.  I suppose I could say that "it's all gist for the mill," but I think that's just rationalizing.
Lastly, for me, is the telephone.  I actually don't get many phone calls, but the ones I do get, or make, usually cost me hours of time.  But social connections are important, and I'm not quite ready to give them up, yet.  And when I think about it, all three things in this section serve an important purpose in my life, so I just have to put them on a diet and try not to let them consume so much of my time and energy.

2.  Lack of planning, prioritizing and focus.
This is where the plotter versus pantzer conundrum exists for me as well as effective time scheduling.  I find I'm much more productive if I start out by plotting my story.  It's not as much fun, in some ways, but it cuts down on the dead time, or the time spent reworking a section where I totally ignored my story objective.  (Yeah, that scene in the department store where the heroine goes on an impulsive shopping spree and spends way too much money was fun to write, and seemed like a good idea at the time, but had nothing to do with her getting reunited with her husband).  Prioritizing and focus go hand in hand for me.  If I'm prioritizing properly, then my focus is much better aligned with my goals.

3. Interruptions, crisis management, fire fighting.
These go together for me.  Most of my interruptions are due to crisis management and fire fighting.  I think this is especially true if you have children.  I only have one child, and he's the adult male I married.  He does some very sneaky things to get my attention, and they are invariably not the emergencies he's made them out to be, but that's another story.

4. Lack of organization, untidiness.
I am not a "neat freak" by any stretch of the imagination, although I am trying to get more organized because I spend way too much of my time searching for something that I just saw but can't remember where I put it.  Organization is the key, and I'm really working on trying to stay organized, so I don't waste so much time in this manner.

5. Procrastination.
This is more writing avoidance for me.  Why am I suddenly inspired to pick up the living room and give it a thorough dusting during my allotted writing time?  I have time set aside for housekeeping (not much time, I'll grant you, but nonetheless it is on my schedule).  Writing time should not be spent on other activities.  I should probably put that on a plaque above my desk (even though it is passive voice and a negative statement to boot).  I often find myself procrastinating when I am stuck at a certain point in my book (see plotting above).  If I have my plot sketched out, I usually don't find my main character wandering about in department stores where she shouldn't be shopping in the first place.  So, for me, procrastination is a direct result of improper planning.

I still have a problem saying "no," but I've gotten better at it, so it's not the great time waster it once was, and it wasn't so much a time waster as it was a time consumer.  So, that's it for me.  I know if I concentrate on reducing my time spent on the five items above, I'll get a lot more writing done.  Oh, I did mention my blog, too, right?  Um....  Looks like I have to go now.  But before I slink back into the shadows, I want to leave you with a list of other articles that I found (um, on the web) that you might find fun, helpful or just another creative way to waste your time.  Bye.