Tag Archives: life of writer

Writing Process, Book 2 (Part 2)

With the help of my critique group, I improved the setting, description, and physical cues of my second book. But they still complained that the first third was too slow. (By the time we reached halfway, there were no brakes on the story and no complaints about pacing.) I tried this and that to increase the tension and the plot movement, and it improved, but people still complained.

After rewriting things several times, I wanted to tear out my hair. Yeah, being an author is sometimes not much fun at all. Then I had to go out-of-state to help my parents declutter–again. Since I knew I’d be too busy to actually write, I decided it was a good time to do a lot of brainstorming and figure out how to fix my pacing at last. One advantage is that my mom is very familiar with my stories and characters and is willing to talk to me about them.

We went over each chapter, one at a time. For some of them, we figured out small things to increase the tension and pacing. Then we got to chapter six. Plot: inadequate. Chapter character goal: missing and unfulfilled. Dialogue: lots and lots of that… Pacing: very, very slow. We tried to fix the poor thing, but eventually decided it was just broken.

*We will pause for a moment of silence for a dead chapter.*

I hate broken chapters. I really do. This wasn’t my first one and probably won’t be my last. Still don’t like it.

We talked it over for two days and still got nowhere. Though Mom knows my stories and characters, she’s a novice with story structure and beats and other writerly jargon. Then one of my author friends kindly offered to call and chat about the problem. We brainstormed several bad solutions (okay, not bad, just not very workable for the rest of the story) and then finally hit on something I hope works.

Yes, I still have to rewrite the entire chapter. No, I’m still not happy about it. Yes, I’ll do it anyway. And again, and again, and again, until it’s finally good enough to share with the rest of you.

What are the lessons here?

  1. When you get stuck, ask for help.
  2. Don’t give up.
  3. You won’t succeed without lots of hard work.
  4. Don’t call a book finished until you’ve fixed everything you can possibly fix and polished it until it shines.

My brain died on my “vacation,” but as soon as I get it back in working order, chapter six is up for a complete remodel, and I have a page of other edits to incorporate. (That doesn’t sound as bad, but they aren’t simple “change this word” things. Nope, more rewriting all over the book.) Once I finish (*pause for hysterical laughter*), I hope to have it ready for beta readers. Or at least alpha ones. My publisher would still like me to get it out in a reasonable amount of time after the first one.

(Update: That chapter passed my critique group. Another chapter still has to go through the process. Sigh.)

Wish me luck, and good luck in your own writing,

M. C. Lee

Lifelong Reading

I hear some of you like to hear personal things about your favorite authors. I have a pretty big space bubble around my personal life, but I thought maybe you’d like to hear about my reading experience. After all, I have been recommending books to you, as well as writing books FOR you.

I’ve been reading (fluently) since I was four years old. Yes, really. My mom says I was reading at 7th-grade level before I even hit kindergarten age. Since I am not one of those people whose memories go back to toddler-hood, I literally can’t remember I time I couldn’t read. I’m pretty sure it’s had an impact on my view of the world. 😉

I started reading “big-people” books very quickly, and by the time I was eight, I was reading Lord of the Rings. No, I didn’t understand all of it; I was only eight! But I read it about once a quarter every year for many years, then dropped to twice a year, then annually. When my sister dropped her book and lost her page, she called me on the phone. “Quick, tell me what page I’m on!” “What just happened in the story?… Okay, here’s your page.” No, I didn’t have it memorized. Yes, that’s about how long it took me to find it.

Junior high was the first time I attended school (lousy timing!), and people started asking me how many books I read a year. Well, I don’t know! The library only lets me check out ten at a time, and I go every week. But I read books from home, too… So I started tracking. For three years, I wrote down every book I read that had at least 90 pages and wasn’t a textbook. Back then, there was no electronic way to do this (not much internet, folks, and the school computers could put their entire hard-drive on a single floppy drive!), so I did it all by hand. Decades later, I typed it all up so I could analyze it. Yep, I’m a nerd.

Three years. An average of 620 books/year. Lowest year was about 430, highest was a bit over 800. Yes, I realize that’s almost two a day. No, most of them did not have 90 pages; most of them had several hundred pages. Yes, that included some repeats, but most of them were new. You can also assume I read that many books every year until I had kids. (Children require attention, go figure, so I dropped down to only 300 or 400 books for a while.) Even now that I’m writing, I still manage to read over 200 books. Guys, that’s a LOT of books.

No, I don’t read sixteen hours a day. When I was seven or eight, I asked my mom what speed reading was. She gave me the 30-second explanation (or less), and I promptly forgot about it. I apparently started using some of the techniques, though, because my reading speed kept going up until it hit borderline-speed-reading. Not real speed-reading, just borderline. My family thinks it’s amusing to watch my eyes when I read. When they’re really bored, they’ll add pinball-game sound effects. They’re not as funny as they think they are.

By now, you might think I’m bragging. I’m not. I’m just pointing out that I have a lot of experience in the field. 😉 By now, I’m pretty good at picking out fun books. My tastes might not match your own, but if they do, then you’re probably fairly safe taking recommendations from me. Handy, isn’t it? Go ahead, search my posts for all the different lists… I’ll wait for you here. 🙂

As for writing, being a good reader doesn’t necessarily make one a good writer, but it certainly helps! I hope you decide my books are good enough to make your list of recommendations.

Happy reading,

M. C. Lee

LTUE 2019 Business Class Notes

Every year for several years now, I’ve gone to the Life, the Universe, and Everything sci-fi/fantasy conference in Utah. It’s sort of a writing conference, and sort of not. They also have art classes, and a game room, and presentations of academic papers, and meet-and-greets.

But I mostly go for the writing classes. And the business classes. And the worldbuilding classes. And the oh-that-sounds-super-cool classes. Two of my family members got to attend a weapons class with real weapons. They raved for weeks.

I wrote about my other classes here, and now I’m moving on to the business classes. If the class was a panel, I didn’t list the speakers and I didn’t keep track of who said what.

Finances
Rules to pass audits: Keep mouth shut. Answer questions clearly and succinctly. Don’t volunteer anything.
One-time sales tax must be paid right after. Regular sales must have license.

On the Road
Road stuff is no fun
Write what you love, and lots of it

Video trailer
Stock video sites for video clips
Kaden live free software or Adobe premiere
Sony Vegas good for beginners $50
DaVinci resolve free

Tools of the Trade
Scrivener is good for disorganized
Storyoriginapp.com, Prolifwords, and Mybookcave for reader magnets
Bundle rabbit
Kdp rocket

Working with Reviewers
Be polite & professional
Try to build a connection
Kirkus reviews are useless

What I Wish I Knew When I Started Indie, by M.A. Nichols
Don’t wait for book to be perfect
Income is the goal, not sales
Write more books!

Realistic Self-Publishing (all notes for rest of page), by Keary Taylor
Smashwords is a common source of piracy
Publish 2nd book before spending money on ads
She spends $60/day on ads
Be organized

Are you willing to:
Find & hire editors, proofreaders, cover artists, & formatters?
Manage your own marketing & PR?
Learn a lot of new skills?
Get creative with books AND entrepreneurship?
Treat this as business?

Average costs:
Editor/proofreader: $300 for 70K book
Format: $175 e & print
Cover designer: $150+
=$600-1000 to launch book that has a chance

Series starter marketing:
Only book: launch $2.99-5.99 depending on genre/length (pref 2.99-4.99)
Once established, first-in-series:
Full price= more cost to marketing
$0.99= charging a little helps pay for marketing
Free= no risk for readers

Follow-ups in series:
Increase by $1 each book (2.99, 3.99, 4.99)
Same price for each in series
Same price until last book, then increase $1

Backmatter:
Immediately after The End, have lead-in to next book with LINKS
Also by with LINKS
Thanks for reading, ask for review
Author bio
Social links
Follow on Amazon
Newsletter signup
CHOOSE SOME, NOT ALL. Keep it clean & simple.

Don’t get caught up in swag or book signings. They’re fun, but not profitable.

2000 books published/day on Amazon
WILL have to pay for visibility
Readers WILL forget you
Market constantly changes
For full-time, can’t take this casually

Set up social media sites, Goodreads, BookBub, Amazon Author Page, website.
Study what other authors are doing

Places to advertise:
Facebook
Amazon Ads
Bookbub
Other paid sites (in order of effectiveness)
eReader News Today
FreeBooksy
BargainBooksy
Free Kindle Books
RobinReads
FussyLibrarian
BookBarbarian
BookAdrenaline
BookSends
ManyBooks

Schedule sales around book releases
Stack ads (same day or close together)
Cycle ads, including backlist
Plan at least 6 weeks ahead (sites fill up early)
Mailing list advertisers WILL list permafree books

Downfalls: Genre bouncing, not interacting/getting personal with fans, not collaborating with other authors

Whew! I feel overwhelmed now. How about you?

Happy writing,

M. C. Lee

Writing Conference Report: LTUE 2019

Every year for several years now, I’ve gone to the Life, the Universe, and Everything sci-fi/fantasy conference in Utah. It’s sort of a writing conference, and sort of not. They also have art classes, and a game room, and presentations of academic papers, and meet-and-greets.

But I mostly go for the writing classes. And the business classes. And the worldbuilding classes. And the oh-that-sounds-super-cool classes. Two of my family members got to attend a weapons class with real weapons. They raved for weeks.

First, a little practical advice.

Wear good shoes and comfortable clothes/hairstyle. Take food to eat, especially if you aren’t going to take an actual lunch break. Look for a freebies table. Talk to people–lots of people. If weight bothers you AT ALL, slim down your bag to lighter than you think you can carry all day. Ask experienced attendees which bathroom tends to have shorter lines, and use it immediately after class. Drink lots of water (if you lightened your bag, take a small bottle and refill it every hour). If you have business cards, bring them. If the class you want to take is full, try something else or find someone for a conversation.

I’m going to have to split my best take-away advice from the classes I attended this year. I’ll put the business notes in a different post. Here’s the worldbuilding and craft notes. If the class was a panel, I didn’t list the speakers or keep track of who said what.

Foraging, by Cedar Sanderson
Some plants are topically poisonous (absorb through skin).
Never test edibility by tasting.
Blue-colored berries are probably fine, red be cautious, white avoid.
Some things will slowly make you sick, so just because you ate it once and didn’t die doesn’t actually mean it’s safe.
Animals are a better source of emergency food than plants.
Predators are usually not yummy.
Some animals have poison glands. Even deer have scent glands that can spoil the meat if punctured (same for gut).
Fuzz/hair is usually toxic /nasty.
Just because an animal ate it doesn’t mean it’s safe for you.

Objective Correlative  (accent on the second syllable of Correlative), by Rosalyn Eves
Telling emotion is worst, showing is better. Putting the reader inside your characters to feel the same emotions themselves is better.
5 ways to do that:
Objects (readers must understand importance)
Metaphor
Situation (setting, events, etc)
Chain of events (action-reaction)
Movement or gesture
Build up moment until reader is immersed and feels like the character.
Don’t overuse; save for important moments when you can slow down.
(I left the class thinking, “THIS. I want to learn to do THIS.”)

Suspense
Every chapter should have conflict. Some should still be rest chapters
Ticking time bomb + obstacles
Switch from high tension to low and back again to reset the tension
Reader knowing something character does not, creates tension
Don’t withhold information the pov character knows

The Beginner’s Guide to Self-Editing, by Kelsy Thompson
A great class, but since she offered her slides to attendees, I didn’t take notes. Also, it was a two-hour class and she moved fast enough through enough material that taking notes wasn’t very practical. If you get the chance to take the class, I recommend it. She covered development editing first (big-picture story items) and then moved down to line editing (actual language) and proofreading (typos).
I did like her encouragement to aim for professional but forget about unattainable perfection.

Beats & Microbeats, by Devri Walls
For intense speed, shorten sentences.
Slow beats use longer, more descriptive sentences.
Do not overdo or everything will be flat
If action or romance scenes are lacking, slow down!
Dialogue: speech tags and action slow scenes. Cut for faster scenes.

4-part Pacing, by J. Scott Savage
Plot is events, pacing is timing
Use foreshadowing for something ELSE and your true twist will slip through.
1st quarter draws interest.
2nd quarter delivers on promise.
3rd quarter is heart of story.
4th quarter is climax.
There is a turning point at every quarter.

Backstory
Give the minimum your reader has to know, in time for them to use it. Not Tolkien!
Walk through as the character would, and be subtle.
Skip As-you-know-Bob (conversations held only to explain things to the reader)

Showing vs Telling
Boil things to the most important showing details.
Naming an emotion is usually telling.
Which parts do the reader need to feel (show) VS just know (tell)?
First draft is worry-free zone. Go ahead & tell, & edit it later.
War That Saved My Life (book): look for showing.
First chapter of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Foreshadowing
If you disguise the foreshadowing as something else, it can hide your real purpose.
Mix truth and lie to confuse readers.
Using multiple techniques is trickier.
Let some red herrings be true to throw readers off balance.

Sagging Middle
If you aren’t having fun anymore, back up and make a different choice.
The middle is the main part of the story.
Use MICE quotient to determine what kind of obstacles you need.

Ways to Help an Author

There are many ways you can help an author you like, whether it’s one you know personally or just one who writes wonderful books. I’ve tried to sort my suggestions into categories, so you can find one that fits your situation. You don’t have to do all of them, of course. Just pick one or more that sound like fun.

You like the genre and have a little money to spend.

Buy the e-book! (It’s pretty common for an author to get as much or more royalties on a cheaper e-book than a more expensive print book.) Pre-order the next book. Buy a copy shortly after it’s published (early sales do more for ranking). Buy a copy from the author’s website directly or from their web link (direct sales give more royalties). If you like the book, choose something from the “enjoyment” category to do.

You like the genre and have more money to spend.

Buy the book! (If you love the feel of paper books, go for it. If you don’t care, the e-book is likely to pay the author just as well or better.) Buy copies to give to friends or family. Abandon a paperback in a public place with a note saying it needs a new home. Buy a signed copy. Buy a copy from the author’s website directly or from their web link, or in person (direct sales give more royalties). Ask a local bookseller (in person, even if you know the answer) if they carry the book and where it is, then buy it if they have it. If the author has bookmarks or swag for sale, buy something you like and use it in public. If you like the book, choose something from the “enjoyment” category to do.

You don’t have any money in your book budget, but you want to read the book.

Ask a librarian if they carry the book. Request it at the library, and then check it out when it arrives. See if the book is available as an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), request it, AND review it. Watch for a free (or maybe 99c) sale on the e-book. If you like the book, choose something from the “enjoyment” category to do.

You want to share your enjoyment of the book.

Review the book! Positive (honest) reviews are one of the best ways to help an author, on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, your own blog/website, or your preferred book review site. Take a selfie with the book and post it on social media. Share an excerpt in person or on social media. Turn the book face out at the bookstore. Discuss the book in public or on social media. Blog about it. Create a Wikipedia page for the author/book. Post a video review. Recommend the book to friends or a book club. Share bookmarks or other swag. Link to the author’s website/blog/sales page or bookmark it on a bookmark site. Like the book page where you bought the book. Like the author’s social media or website.

You want to help/encourage the author personally.

Tell the author you like the book! Comment on the author’s blog or social media. Send the author a review quote. Nominate the book for an award. Interview the author on your blog. Host the author for an event. Contact the author with speaking opportunities. Send the author some fan art.

You don’t read the genre, but know the author and still want to help.

Choose something from the “enjoyment” category that doesn’t require having read the book. Give the author a hug. Pray for the author. Recommend the book to a friend who DOES like the genre. (This is not a situation where buying the book helps, at least not in the first several months. Thanks to “Also Bought” recommendations, early book-buyers should be from the marketing categories that normally buy similar books.)

I hope you found something here that will suit you. 🙂 Remember, writing can be a discouraging job. If you like an author, a bit of extra encouragement might keep the books coming. 😉

Happy reading,

M.C. Lee

The Best Time to Write a Novel: Circadian Rhythms for Writers

While I attempted to not quote, this information is taken from The Power of When, by Michael Breus. I recommend you read the book for more details.

In the morning, sunlight hits your eyes and activates your circadian rhythm for the day. Your temperature, blood pressure, thinking, hormones, energy, creativity, and more, fluctuate according to this inner clock. This means there actually IS a best time for you to eat, sleep, write, and learn.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the early bird and the night owl. In reality, there are four chronological types. I’ll call them the Earlys (15-20% of the population), the Mids (50%), the Lates (15-20%), and the Chaotics (10%). Up until the invention of electrical lights, the Earlys and Lates served to guard society at either end of the day, while the Mids worked during the day. The lightly-sleeping Chaotics would wake at small noises and warn of danger. There is a range within each category, so you could be an early-ish Mid, for example.

Some of you probably know your chronotype already. Some of you might wish you were different and want to know if you can change. Well, sort of, but no. Let me explain. Babies tend to be Lates, toddlers are usually Earlys, children are typically Earlys or Mids, and teens are frequently Lates. Adults tend to be Mids before turning Early or Chaotic as Seniors. But between roughly the ages of 21 and 65, you can’t change your type. You CAN, however, learn how to do the best you can with what you are.

Before getting into the schedule, let’s cover a few interesting things about each type.

Earlys don’t typically have trouble sleeping or waking. Their main improvement goal is to stretch their energy further into the day so they can enjoy the rest of the world for a little longer.

Main challenges: a bumpy adjustment and frustration at slow results.

Mids need at least 8 hours of sleep a night. They have an advantage, because most of the social world is set up for them already. They also have the longest ideal writing/editing time.

Main goals: get adequate sleep and exercise during the week, shift eating rhythms, increase energy in afternoons and evenings.

Main challenges: feeling trapped by a schedule, sleeping in/napping on the weekends, late-night snacking.

Lates frequently diagnose themselves as lazy or insomniacs, when in reality they simply have a different sleeping schedule. They have the second-longest ideal writing/editing time.

Main goals: improve efficiency during work hours, shift eating rhythms, increase sleep, stabilize mood swings.

Main challenges: rebelliousness (but biochronology is law of nature, not arbitrary rules), impatience, and impulsivity.

The smallest group, the Chaotics, are biologically backwards from the other three groups. For most people, cortisol goes up in the morning and temperature falls at night. The Chaotics are exactly the opposite, which explains many of their sleep problems. They also have brains that don’t turn off while sleeping, so they frequently don’t feel rested when they wake.

Main goals from a new schedule: increase energy in the morning, decrease evening anxiety for better sleep.

Main challenges: unrealistic expectations for 8 hours of sleep (a good 6 hours is realistic), and inconsistency.

I tried to predict some of your questions, like:

What if my optimal schedule isn’t practical in real life? Do the best you can. See if you can get any part of your schedule to align.

What if I don’t want to be tied to a schedule? Then don’t, but if you give it a try, you might find the improvements worth the changes.

What do you do if your life doesn’t allow you to write at the ideal time? First try to pick a closely related time (by function). Can you use your brainstorming or creative thinking time to write? Can you use your professional time to edit?

If not, is there a just-before or just-after your ideal time that would work with your brain and your schedule?

If neither of those will work, then you’re going to have to use the time you have available, even if it isn’t ideal. But don’t use your editing time to write, or vice versa! They are opposite functions, and your brain will protest.

What do you do if the important people in your life *cough your family* have different schedules from you? Can you compromise on a middling time, between the ideal for either of you? Can you compromise on what activities you do together or how you do them? For instance, a Late could sit & talk for an Early dinner, but actually eat later. Can you compromise on whose schedule rules for different activities? Maybe you could give a little on sleep time in exchange for some writing time, or vice versa.

And, of course, “But when is the right time to write?”