Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Marketing--What Do You Mean by That?

Marketing has been on my mind a lot lately, not in the least because I posted on Facebook about my aversion to it and was immediately jumped on lectured by two authors who feel very strongly about marketing. I ended up pulling my post because of the context and the fact that I didn't want to have a face-off on my FB wall. The reason I'm sharing, though, is because it is this incident that got my thoughts going regarding this blog post.

Marketing. It's starting to make me think of the quote we all know from The Princess Bride: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."


:D

OK, I am by no means a marketing expert. I'm barely a marketing amateur. But I'm an observer, and I've noticed that the definition of the word has grown by leaps and bounds in the world of authors. It now includes everything from our blogs and Facebook pages, to book signings and school visits, to press releases and newspaper interviews, to bookmarks and free online samples... There's also advertising and getting professional reviews. I'd even lump paying for bookstore shelf space (and Amazon newsletter space) in there, and cover art and title choice...and a whole slew of other things.

My point being: When an indie author is asked questions like, "When you hear the word 'marketing,' how does that make you feel?" as was asked on the Realm Makers Facebook page yesterday, the answer tends to be something along the lines of, "Like I've got a freight train heading straight at me." Each one of the cars of the train is filled with those things I mentioned in the above paragraph.

There was a time when authors had to "market" only in the sense of showing up for book events and meeting their fans. Blogging opened the door for connection online, as did Facebook and such, but now it's like, Oh, hey, since you're out there anyway, why don't you just.... And that's not really too bad.

Still, the big presses do way more. They are still setting up author events for the the authors (indies must book their own). They take care of landing those professional reviews (many of which indies have no chance of getting). They provide review copies for bloggers (as opposed to indies who have to provide those copies out of our own pockets). In other words, much of what the big presses do has nothing to do with author presence--it's behind the scenes.

The frustration I'm finding is that there are two sides to this issue, but they keep getting lumped together. And here is where that Princess Bride quote comes in.

Marketing in the personally-getting-in-front-of-readers sense is a totally different animal than the business side of marketing.

I am fine with the first. I like doing signings and author events. I like visiting with students at schools and meeting people at conventions. I was a teacher before taking up writing, so leading sessions at writers conferences and speaking at writers groups is something I actually enjoy.

It is the business end of it that makes me want to throw up. It's setting those events up, and trying to figure out how to increase my reach online, and studying social media numbers and SEO patterns and...and....

Blerck.

For other authors, it is the other way around. They are shy, introverted (I'm introverted but can go into extrovert mode when I put on my teacher hat) and they would rather focus on the behind-the-scenes stuff. Some of them are more business-minded and have no problem dealing with that end of things.

And yes...for some authors (a lot of them, actually) it's both that are problematic.

But my point is: The word "marketing" isn't so easy to define. It's meaning is different for different authors, depending on where their likes and dislikes, talents and weaknesses lie. It's meaning can also vary depending on how the author is published, and who the author's audience is. Yet most of us use it as this catch-all word, and therefore many discussions about marketing and its importance and what authors do/don't or can/can't do end up with everyone talking in circles around each other.

So--what does marketing mean to you?

Monday, March 17, 2014

My Writing Process Blog Hop

I've been invited to do another of those blog meme thingies, and I thought this one would be pretty fun. The focus is on an author's personal writing process. I was sent four questions to answer...

First, let me thank the author who invited me to participate in this: Jeff Chapman writes speculative fiction that falls somewhere in the fairy tale, fantasy, and ghost story genres. Find him at http://jeffchapmanwriter.blogspot.com/. You won't be sorry if check out his writing, I promise. 

And now, without further ado:

1) What am I working on?

Right now, I've been focusing mostly on a story that I think will finish at novella length (it's about 1900 words so far), but the way it's been growing (it was originally meant to be a very short story) it may end up full novel length.

The premise is this: A young girl comes to a very small town with her father, who happens to be a land developer starting construction of a bridge that will lead across a deep ravine into a heavily wooded area where he intends to build a retreat center. The problem: there is already a bridge in that area, a hundred-plus-year-old bridge, that the locals don't want to see disturbed...

...not because it means anything to them, but because they fear the wrath of the man who built it and then died three months later.

Yes, my first ghost story :).

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

This work in particular...I'd say because this book lies right on the edge of Middle Grade and Young Adult, the whole ghost story in a small town thing isn't a common trope. And I hope the angle I've taken makes it truly unique. (That part's a secret, though.)

In general,  my YA writing tends to be more focused on situations where paranormal/supernatural elements (including magic, like in my Toch Island books) are contrasted with viewing those things purely from a physical position. The main characters tend to be kids who are very scientific and logical, but also open to the ideas of things beyond the physical.

3) Why do I write what I do?

Probably because that (see question above) describes me so much. I am one of those "both sides of the brain" people. I'm equally strong in language and math. I'm artistic/creative and scientific/logical at the same time, all the time. I love the merging of ideas and realms. The idea of different dimensions residing in the same space, of a physical world a spiritual world being both separate and fully connected. It's all very interesting to me.

And I tend to write from a MG/YA/teen perspective because it comes naturally to me. I love reading MG/YA/teen fiction, and not because it's "easier" (see my recent guest blog post here on that topic), but rather because many of the constraints of adulthood are lifted in fiction for younger people, and you can explore the world, and beyond, with more openness.

4) How does your writing process work?

Who says it works? Hah!

Honestly, I don't have a set process. I tend to write with a little outlining--more like scribbling of ideas in a notebook and then sorting into a logical order--and a little seat-of-the-pants writing. I have no set time of day during which I write. Sometimes I'm most motivated first thing in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon, sometimes late, late at night. Of course, a quiet house helps a lot, and that doesn't happen much these days.

Anyway, I tend to get the first draft done, then focus on whatever self-editing I can do, then send it off to a trusted critique partner. Depending on what needs work, I may start on the edits immediately, or stave them off until I have better figured out how to tackle them. I've completed three novels so far (two of them published) and the process for all three varied drastically.

....So, there you go!

And check out those I chose as the next victims--er, I mean, some awesome authors who will be posting their "My Writing Process Blog Hop" posts in the next week or so:

Lelia Rose Foremnan : http://www.leliaroseforeman.blogspot.com/

Heather A. Titus: http://hatitus.wordpress.com/

Travis Perry: http://travissbigidea.blogspot.com/

Jill Domschot: http://jilldomschot.com/

Kessie Carroll: http://netraptor.org/blog/

Tina Yeager: http://tyeagerwrites.wordpress.com/

Rebecca P. Minor: http://www.rebeccapminor.com/

Dana Bell: http://danabellauthor.blogspot.com/

Melanie Gillon: (link to come)

Adam Graham: http://www.adamsweb.us/blog/

Lisa Godfrees: http://lisagodfrees.com/

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Branch Out--Please!--But Don't Uproot Speculative Fiction (Or, My Take, Again, on Christian Spec-Fic)

This is a Banyan tree. It branches out, and drops roots
from those branches. Much the way spec-fic should be. 
I've belabored the idea of this blog post for days and days. It's a topic I feel really strongly about, but don't know how to post about it without, as a friend in whom I confided said, taking someone to task. I will try, very hard, to be as general as possible. There are people out there with real feelings and true kindness to whom my references would seem less than positive.

That said....

I read a lot. Most writers do. Some of us stick more closely to a preferred genre. Others branch out more. I probably spend most of my reading time in my preferred genre, but I do, in fact, branch out quite a bit as well.

I'm a Christian. I don't, however, read standard Christian fiction as a rule. I've tried reading mainstream Christian fiction several times, and with few exceptions I could practically feel the sweat on the preacher's brow and taste the sanitizer used to scrub the manuscript clean. I've also tried reading "popular" (and I use that term loosely) Christian spec-fic, and I find the same preachiness and the same taste in my mouth, albeit flavored with dragon. (There are exceptions--not many, but I name some of them below*.)

So, I read mostly secular fiction, with a few Christian spec-fic books thrown in, and most of those are published by small presses because small presses tend to have looser guidelines when it comes to creativity and content, and actually appreciate subtlety.

This is where things get sticky, but it's the heart of what this blog post is about.

You see, when I or some others I've seen open up discussions about our lack of enthusiasm for the current selection of Christian spec-fic, particularly more "popular" (there's that word again) books/series, we are told that we're not reading enough of it. We're told, "Hey, you want innovative and different, go try (insert author/book/series)."

The problem is that too often those exact books are ones we'd place in the camp with the books we're complaining about--or in some cases are the very books we have already put in that camp. Or, even if it's a decent read, it's one of the first of a genre to be represented among CBA fiction...but that same genre has already come and nearly gone in the secular market. The "originality" the CBA claims to have is just something I haven't been able to see--not after having tasted so much of what's outside that bubble.

Now, let me turn things on their head a bit.

The other side of the coin is that many writers seem to be going for (and agents/editors looking for) new/trendy/different simply for desire to either gain popularity or stand out among the crowd. Mish-mashes of genres can be very fun, especially if they are done well (Bid the Gods Arise by Robert Mullin is one I highly recommend**), but there needs to be roots kept in what makes a genre what it is.

In other words, some of the tropes of fantasy and sci-fi are tropes because they are the things that drag sf/f fans back to the genre again and again.

I can read about a kid discovering magic again and again and never get tired of it. Put a dragon on the cover of a book and I am all over it. Good old-fashioned quests, prophecies and Chosen Ones, telekinesis, alien encounters and evil emperors...Well, you get the picture. The important part is to put an original twist on those tropes. Give us something rooted in the genre, but freshen it up. Sure, we don't want stagnant stories, voices that all sound the same, characters that are rehashes of characters we've already read, but you can still keep a solid core to your work that appeals to the die-hards and branch out a bit at the same time.

Anyway, I hope this post has been read in the spirit in which it was meant. Not a bashing of the CBA, but as an illustration of what I've been saying for a long time: The CBA is what it is, and works quite well for that, but it is a bubble. It has limits and spec-fic, at this time, it outside those limits for the most part.

But I promised to offer some suggestions...

*A few large press Christian spec-fic books that have actually impressed me:

Tyger Tyger, In the Forests of the Night, When the Stars Throw Down Their Spears by Kersten Hamilton - in that order as it is a series. YA fantasy with goblins and Irish folklore!

Dragonkeepers Chronicles by Donita K. Paul- fantasy, allegory, and full of traditional fantasy tropes including dragons and wizards

The Gates of Heaven Series by CS Lakin - fantasy, fairytale - a "series" only in that the stories all take place in the same story world, but you can read them in any order. (My personal favorite is The Map Across Time.)

The Telling by Mike Duran - Supernatural suspense. Very dark. His other stuff is very good, too, but this is the best of them, imho.

Demon: A Memoir by Tosca Lee - she's brilliant.

**Some other self-pub and indie books I'd recommend:

Anna and the Dragon by Jill Domschot - literary fantasy and beautifully written.

Seabird by Sherry Thompson - traditional fantasy, YA, with a rich, unique story world.

The Duke's Handmaid by Caprice Hokstad - a truly unique fantasy world with some rather deep and hard-to-grapple-with themes.

Alpha Redemption by PA Baines - sci-fi with a unique voice and an unconventional story telling technique.

The Windrider Saga by Rebecca P. Minor- dragons and knights and elves and a great voice.

Winter (and Prophetess) by Keven Newsome - YA/NA with a Goth main character and lots of dark supernatural elements.

I Am Ocilla by Diane Graham - uses every fantasy trope out there and combines them into a totally unique story.

Mareritt by Krisi Keley - a private investigator helping some college girls dealing with demonic dreams. A unique voice and compelling characters.

I know I'm missing some, but that's a start! At least you can see what I mean about finding more interesting stories among indies in the Christian market.

(Disclaimer--four of the indie books I recommend here are published by Splashdown Books, who published my novels. However, I had no part of the production of Alpha Redemption. I edited Winter and I Am Ocilla. I did artwork for The Duke's Handmaid, but was not involved with it otherwise.)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Making a New Realm: My Thoughts on the Realm Makers Conference, 2014 Blog Hop

I've really been struggling lately with this labeling thing. The Christian this and Christian that. I am totally okay with what is commonly referred to as "sanitized" fiction/movies/music being available for people who like that. I don't care if they want their own aisles in the bookstores, or their own awards. What I'm starting to get sick of, though, is the idea that one must choose which box to be in. "Christian" or "secular"...with the implication that one is "clean" and the other "dirty."

There is so much clean, wholesome fiction out there that doesn't address Christianity or faith at all, and it kinda only gets a polite nod from "Christian fiction" advocates, a "nice try, but where is GOD??" Or, on the Christian side, if you do include God but also include a single bad word or some other no-no...or maybe you write all that weird speculative stuff...you may get told that your story is great, blah, blah, blah, but it won't have a chance of being published in the CBA.

There have been interminable debates among Christians for as long as I've been writing (about 7 years), and judging from those discussions the debates started long before I boarded the ship. While sometimes it feels as if we're talking in circles, gears spinning, at other times it seems that little by little the cogs of those gears are catching hold.

If nothing else, what it's done is draw attention to the issue...and drawn like-minded writers toward each other.

A great example of this is Realm Makers. I attended the first Realm Makers Conference last year (August 2013) and it was amazing. All of those writers, all Christians, all writing weird and dark--some cleaner, some with lots of CBA no-nos--coming together in one place and connecting.

I wrote a bit about that experience HERE shortly after the conference. Basically, it was amazing to realize that I'm part of a movement. Not that I've been welcomed into the fold of an already existing, fully-formed genre, but rather that I'm getting to experience a genre taking form and taking root.

That is exciting. That is what totally pumps me up about being involved in Realm Makers.

Don't get me wrong--I'm not saying others haven't played major rolls in carving the way for Christian speculative fiction. Oh, they have. Early writers of the genre, small presses that  have managed to find a measure of success. Even online forums have been around for several years that have allowed us to reach out to each other.

But Realm Makers is another huge step forward, and it has to do with that idea of not being forced into one box or the other. There are loads of writers conferences and sci-fi/fantasy cons. But they come in two flavors: Either purely secular, or overtly, primly, conservatively Christian.

Realm Makers is neither of those things. It seems to be its own animal right now, and that is what I love about it so much. It is, truly, Making its own Realm.

 So, intrigued? Check out the Realm Makers website for more info on the conference.

And head over to Becky Minor's blog to enter the RAFFLECOPTER GIVEAWAY for chance to win a digital subscription to Havok magazine and a five page edit from Grace Bridges, the owner of Splashdown Books.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Dark Kid Lit, Realm Makers, and Whispersynced Audiobook

It looks like I've not even thought about this place for a few weeks now. But I assure you, that's not true. I've started--and deleted--several blog posts lately. I simply can't get hold of a topic solidly enough to post about it.

So, today I will at least get some links and such up:

I have another post up at A Flame in the Dark. It is my take on why kids should be allowed to read dark fiction. Check it out HERE.

I don't normally post links to reviews of my books, but this one just made me feel so awesome when I read it. Review of Seeking Unseen on Yellow30 Sci-fi Review--click HERE.

Realm Makers. If you haven't heard (did I post here about this yet?), I'll be on faculty at the Realm Makers Conference this coming May (30-31) at the campus of Villanova University, which is just outside Philadelphia, PA. I'll be teaching a session on Writing for the YA Market, and co-teaching one on Science in Fantasy Writing. For more info and registration, click HERE. (PS--we have Tosca Lee as Keynote Speaker, and I am stoked!)

The last thing I want to mention is that Finding Angel is now Whispersync enabled. That means, if you buy (or already own) the ebook copy, you can purchase the audiobook for $1.99. That is ebook and audiobook together for just shy of $6. The coolest part is that they will be synced, so if you want to listen for a while, then read, then go back to listening, etc., it will keep track of where you left off and keep going from there.

HERE is where you can purchase both. You have to buy the ebook, then the audiobook will show up at the lower price and you can then buy that. (If you find that they can go in the cart at the same time, let me know, but I'm pretty sure they have to be bought separately.)

PS--if you want a taste of the audiobook, you can listen to the first couple of chapters here:


Friday, January 17, 2014

The Alien in a Room Full of Bonnets

I wasn't going to blog about this, but I woke up at an ungodly hour this morning (4:40 am to be exact) and could not get back to sleep, even after snuggling on the couch with a book and a nice, warm blankie. So, instead, I made some coffee. Being that it's still very early (yes, 6:45 is "very early" for me) and I have caffeine coursing through my veins...I guess maybe I'm still simultaneously groggy and wired enough to write about last night.

A local writers group had a special guest speaker last night. With the right Google fu I'm sure you can find out who she is, but I'm not naming names because I don't want things getting tangled. She is a very sweet lady. But, she writes Amish fiction, and to be honest I attended pretty much just to confirm my...irritation with the genre at large.

You see, one of the things she said was that she was lucky to catch the wave of the Amish trend. She admitted to not seeing herself as particularly gifted when it comes to writing--it is something she has to work very hard at. She also basically said that you don't have to necessarily be a "good" writer if you're writing what is popular.

Sure, this was meant as encouragement, to cheer on those in the audience doubting whether or not they can really do it if they're not brilliant writers.

I would like to say it encouraged me, but it did not. It only confirmed what I already know about the publishing world, and more specifically the Christian publishing world.

If you've not followed me for long, let me state this--I am a Christian, but I don't write "Christian" fiction. Everything I've ever written, with the exception of maybe two flash fiction pieces, is suitable for the secular market.

That means that this woman's comments in many ways don't apply to me. Still, it's one of those things. Because I want to see a place where writers can be both faith-driven and, well, weird, I find the whole idea that popularity rules so far above good writing to be a bit atrocious.

I mean, yes, I get it. And I've come to terms with the fact that I'll never be one of "those" names. As much as I want to be widely read, I love my small band of rabid fans who love my work for actual intelligence and substance.

Anyway, it was distressing in other ways because I have very talented friends who DO see themselves as writers for a specifically Christian market, yet they don't fit the trends.

BTW--this speaker also read a list of what's hot in the Christian market according to, I believe, her editor or agent (can't remember specifically, but it was a pro in the field). The top were of course historical, Amish, and women's fiction.

One quote that stuck out was that YA is supposedly on the up-rise, but she (the editor/agent) *was not seeing that*.

Spec-fic was not even mentioned.

(Well, unless you count the mention of Amish Vampires in Space that turned into the big opening joke. I tell you, it was hard to keep my mouth shut about it, but I knew that making a stink would only create a scene and not actually convince anyone in the room to take the book seriously. Kerry Nietz has done nothing but impress me with his writing so far, but demographics are demographics. If you don't get that statement, reread the title of this post.)

Oh, this feels like it's turning into less of a post with a point and more of a "I just had to get it out of my system" thing. I suppose that's fine. Many of my contemporaries can relate, so I'll leave it this way.

And I will end with a link for what I think is going to be the driving force behind Christian speculative fiction--a genre which may have not gotten much notice but is NOT going away.

Click HERE to learn more about Realm Makers and this year's conference, which will be May 30-31 at Villanova University, just outside Philadelphia, PA. (BTW, I'll be teaching a couple of classes there, so check out the schedule when it's posted.)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

20 Years of Marriage...so off to Harry Potter World!

I am completely shamed by the fact that my last blog post was sooooo long ago. Well, I would be if it weren't for the fact that I've been so busy. The holidays completely consumed us, and then they were quickly followed by....
My 20th wedding anniversary!

Jeff and I decided to do what any true theme-park-and-Harry-Potter-geek couple would do and we spent three days at Universal Studios. Without the Beasties.

I know, right??

What this means for you...

Well, it was GOING to mean a blog post with a lot of pictures. But Blogger is being a pain in the butt. So, I've loaded all the pics into a Public Album on Facebook. You should be able to see all the pics without a membership or anything. (Let me know if you have issues.)

Hope you enjoy! And of course, there will be another blog about the new Harry Potter section when it opens and we go visit again!