Writing

On Writing For Your Best Reader

So I saw this screenshot on Twitter from an interview with Melissa Febos and it made me think a lot about what a lot of writers grapple with, especially writers that haven’t been publishing for very long. You can read it below.

There is a fundamental difference between not wanting to accidentally include something that is racist or -phobic (aka being a conscientious writer) and constantly worrying about what someone might say about your work. The former is being responsible. The latter is setting yourself up for failure.

Someone will always interpret your work in the worst way possible. Someone who doesn’t like you or started off your work on a bad foot will read it wrong. They will purposefully skew things and misinterpret them, just as they would something you said online or in real life. It is an inevitability. I’ve had reviews of my books where the reader thought I was referencing something I had never heard of or media I’ve never actually interacted with/watched. It’s going to happen, but the best thing to do is say, “This book isn’t for you.”

My book isn’t for that reader. My writing, my characters, my genres, my inner voice isn’t meant for that reader.

There’s a push online for universality of work. That things should be sanitized for everyone’s palates. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t be “offensive.” Offensive doesn’t even mean racist or -phobic in this sense. It’s just don’t upset other people, which is, frankly, ridiculous. My mere existence as a nonbinary, queer, neurodivergent person upsets some people. Should I stop? Should I sanitize myself to placate others?

In the same vein, we can’t neutralize fiction to avoid things that could upset people simply because you don’t want to see a bad review or have someone be rude to you on Twitter. We put up trigger or content warnings as a heads-up to keep from ruining someone’s day. That’s enough. You’ve given people warning. They have time to opt out before they get too deep or brace themselves knowing it’s coming. If they continue on or don’t read the warning, that is on them.

I used to get upset when I would get homophobic reviews on my books. I still do when I see my second book get returned on Amazon. That means someone read book 1, totally missed the heavy pro-queer message and got upset when book 2 focused on a gay couple. Those people aren’t my readers. A part of me relishes that they were offended. Good. Be mad. I did my job.

After eight books, I know who I write for. I write for other queer people who want to see themselves in stories set in the past, to know that they could have had a happy ending. That the world can be messy and cruel but there will be people who love and support you. You just have to find them or carve a place for yourself regardless of what others think. I write for the people who want that, and I market my books while highlighting those things.

New/young writers, I am begging you to write for yourself first and write for the people who would love your books second. Do not be under the illusion that everyone will love your books or that you need to write for the largest swathe of people possible. Yes, that will help with marketability, but is it fulfilling? Are you happy writing stories for people who wouldn’t appreciate you as a person? People who would read your book and enjoy it but not support you as a person are not your audience, or at least, I don’t think they are. I will happily take money from cis straight people who enjoy my work, but I’m not writing for them.

Being an author or creative in general means making yourself vulnerable. You’re flaying yourself open in your art for people to see the bits of you beneath the surface: the dreamer, the darkness, the sadness, the hope, the traumas we’ve maybe not spoken of aloud but permeate our work. Locking those things away to avoid scrutiny will leave your work flat. You can’t present yourself as the perfect person or your work as the paragon of goodness and still make something worth reading. People are messy. Characters are messy and should be. As creatives, I think we often need to have a long hard look at purity culture and remember that it upholds white supremacy and its values. Would you rather have someone misinterpret your characters in bad faith or uphold white supremacist values by sanitizing yourself and your work?

The answer feels pretty clear cut to me. Any time someone tells you to take things that aren’t truly offensive (aka not ableist, racist, -phobic) out of your book/work, ask yourself why? What standard is this upholding? If it has anything to do with goodness or purity, I’d think long and hard before changing it.

Personal Life · The Reanimator's Heart · Writing

The Fear of Success

This isn’t actually the post I had planned to put up this week, so bear with me if this seems off the cuff because it is.

Since the end of last year, I’ve been trying to get my shit together, especially in regard to my writing life. I ended up taking both of Sarra Canon’s classes, HB90 (a planning/goal setting system) and Publish and Thrive (a course on indie publishing), because I felt like I was spaghetti flinging hoping what I was doing would work. I’ve been sort of methodically moving forward trying to set and hit goals in order to move toward what I want. That goal is having more time for creative pursuits, leaning more into my writing, and only teaching at the university that gives me better opportunities and is better for my mental health but pays less. I have a chunk of savings as a cushion and have been trying to strategize how I can go about doing this in a way that doesn’t totally kick my butt and doesn’t depend on my partner landing a much better job as we cannot control that.

The Reanimator’s Heart has sort of been step one in that goal. It’s the project I’ve been working on since I started trying to get my shit together, and things have been going well. I do well with structure and goals, so I have surprised myself by actually getting a lot done. After taking Publish and Thrive, I was also able to brush up on what is working in indie publishing right now, and from watching various indie authors on Youtube, I’ve been working on my publishing strategy for this book. In the past, I’ve sort of just haphazardly launched things. I would let them rip as soon as I finished or not send them to any bloggers/ARC readers. I’ve certainly done things to tank my own success because I was more excited about people reading my work than doing a good job with the launch. This time, I’ve purposely slowed myself down, made lists, made a half-formed plan for releasing this book.

The problem is that I’m scared because it’s working.

Yes, I raised my eyebrow at myself too at the realization, but as reviews have been rolling in and people are enjoying the book, I’m panicking more. The cover is beautiful (thank you, Crowglass Design), the characters are lovable messes, and the pacing and such is solid. Between this book and Kinship and Kindness, I think my skills leveled up in certain areas, and that sort of rise and recognition of that rise is scaring me.

What if this is the best book I ever put out? What if everything after this is a disappointment?

Thus far, I haven’t gotten too far into my own head, but the panicked thoughts are seeping through more and more. The pitiful thing is that this isn’t like super viral panic-worthy success. This is “I’m doing better than my previous launch” success.

After everything that’s happened these past two years and my own issues with confidence as a creative person, I am always waiting for the shoe to drop and things to go wrong. It is an absolutely shitty way to look at life, but part of me feels like I should be bracing for impact instead of celebrating that things are going well. It’s possible to do both; I wildly vacillate between “Omg, look at my preorder numbers” and nail-biting panic.

Part of this, I think, has to do with also reaching outside my comfort zone with this launch. I set up my book with a review service, and I’ve reached out to a few authors I love and respect for potential blurbs, which I’ve never been brave enough to do. Pointing eyes to my work is something that could pan out for me, but also could potentially magnify the imperfections. Logically, I know not everyone will like my book. Certain people will absolutely hate Oliver and Felipe, which is fine. It really isn’t bad reviews that are bothering me (trust me, I’ve seen enough homophobia on The Gentleman Devil‘s reviews to cure me worrying about them). It’s a fear of success.

What if this book does really well? What if more people start reading my books? What if they’re disappointed when they go through my backlist and the rest of my books aren’t as good? What if nothing I write after this is as good as The Reanimator’s Heart? Or what if someone outside my usual circle sees it and sends the 1 star mob after me due to homophobia or whatever other assholery they can come up with?

Living in the age of the internet means constantly worrying about the wrong kind of attention for your creative projects, especially if you’re a queer author writing queer characters or in this case, a neurodivergent author writing neurodivergent characters. Will someone flag Oliver as “the wrong kind” of autistic and rip me and him to shreds? I could come up with a myriad of what-ifs at this point, all of which get more illogical and self-destructive.

On the flip side, I’m constantly trying to remind myself that people preordering and/or enjoying The Reanimator’s Heart is a good thing. It means I’ve done a decent job planning this launch, and that its success might move me a step closer to my goal of having more of an income from writing. This success isn’t random is something I have to remind myself. It means that I took the things I learned and applied them in a way that worked. Like I said earlier, this isn’t a runaway, gone viral, wtf happened kind of success. This is a building upon past success with previous books to make this launch even better. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I put in the work, and by doing so, things feel less out of my control.

I’m sure I’ll still have several absolute oh-shit panic moments between now and October 25th, but I’ll just reread this post and stare at all my past to-do lists to remind myself that months of work went into this launch and I should be proud of what I’ve done instead of scared.

If you’d like to help out while simultaneously adding to my panic, you can preorder The Reanimator’s Heart here. Paperbacks will be available closer to release day.

Writing

Indie Book Covers on a Budget

A few weeks ago, I talked about the process of having a professional cover artist create my covers. For me, this is the biggest expense I have when publishing my books, but covers matter and I know I’m not particularly gifted when it comes to cover creation, hence why I’m willing to save up and pay. My first covers were done by my partner who has a degree in art, but eventually, I felt I needed to update them to stay competitive. A lot of authors starting out don’t have that sort of budget, so today, I wanted to talk about ways to do this on a budget.

$200 or less

If you have a small budget for your book cover, I might suggest checking someplace like Fiverr to see if there are any good budget cover artists out there, but sometimes it’s hard to figure out what’s a scam and what’s legit or how much the added fees will be once you get your cover made. There are also plenty of new cover designers who have fairly low pricing since they’re just starting out. Once again, the problem is that you are taking a chance that it may not be what you hoped or expected.

Something that can be very useful to new authors is premade covers. A lot of cover artists make “for fun” covers or extra covers that they sell on their websites as is. You basically plug in your title and author name, and it’s ready to go. Most of these are $150 or less with the vast majority on premade cover websites under $100. These covers are typically ebook only, and it will cost extra should you want the cover to be altered into a paperback cover (which is why I made the budget in this section this high). If you write cozy mystery, YA, SFF, and romance, you typically have a lot to choose from. There are plenty of websites that sell these, but one I particularly like is The Cover Collection. They seem to have a nice mix, and the cozy mystery covers are graphic and gorgeous.

The downside to a premade is that it may not be exactly right for your book and you can’t change it. The other issue arises if your book is part of a series. You can’t brand the books perfectly if different people made the covers, which means you may end up with disparate styles between books in the same series. Some people try to buy covers together at the same time or buy a premade and reinvest their book 1 money on a cover for book 2 that is made to match. You might also consider rebranding in the future when you have more money and just using the premade as a temporary cover.

No Budget

This always has me sort of tense up because I have seen some BAD do-it-yourself covers. I would suggest that if you aren’t halfway decent at Photoshop/CSP/other art or editing software, don’t try this yourself. Your cover is something people are going to see first online, and if it looks like a hot mess, they aren’t going to buy your book because they will [wrongly] assume the inside looks like a hot mess. If you have no budget, I might suggest bartering with a friend who has better graphic design skills than you. Please do not read this as go pester your artist friend. Most of them don’t make a whole lot of money either, so unless you’re willing to do something decently large for them (clean their gutters, watch their kids for a week, edit their manuscript, etc.), do not be upset if they say no. A simple but clean cover is far better than something that looks like someone did a bad job in Paint. Know yourself.

If you are going to forge ahead doing it yourself, I do have a few suggestions.

1) Look at covers within your genre on Amazon and other distributors. See what is often represented on those covers, the colors used, the styles of fonts, etc. Even if your cover isn’t perfect, you can at least sort of blend in. You don’t want to stand out in a bad way. It might also give you direction on what stock photos to look for, which leads me to point 2.

2) Look for stock photos. You cannot grab any old picture off Google and use in a book cover. Someone owns the rights to it, but using Shutter Stock or Pexels will give you tons of photos and vector art that is royalty free, meaning anyone can use it. You may need to alter them with editing software, but the photos are there for you to work with.

3) If you decide to go the Penguin Classics route and use an old painting, make sure you can use that painting on a cover. There’s a small issue with copyright when it comes to works of art. Museums and galleries have the rights to the images for many of them, so you may not be able to slap that picture on a book cover. A lot of museums, galleries, etc. do have websites where you can browse their pictures and see which ones are for commercial use. It’s a pain in the butt, but I’d rather not deal with copyright issues.

4) Show your finished product to other people to get their opinions before putting it on your ebook. Think of this like getting a tattoo. You want someone else to look at their artist’s portfolio with you in case they notice the flaws while you are enamored with the art. Your book cover will be out for everyone to see, so it’s better to catch a weird line or unreadable font now before it’s all over the internet. Be willing to take feedback from people because they will be your customers. The Courtney Project on Youtube has a great playlist of book cover critiques, which may be helpful in showing you what you should look for when making a book cover.

Final Thoughts

Your book cover is an investment in your brand and in your book. If I was going to spend money on one thing, it would be the book cover, BUT I am pretty sound with grammar and editing. If you aren’t great with those things, then, your money is better spent on editing.

At the same time, premade covers can be a great way to get a cool looking cover without breaking the bank. If you have no budget and want to make your own cover, I would definitely be realistic regarding your art/editing skills and make sure to follow the genre conventions for books within your genre in order to make something that will appeal to readers of your genre. Once you finish it, make sure to get feedback from others as you may not readily see the flaws in your cover design.

Writing

The Indie Author Cover Design Process

With my recent cover reveal for The Reanimator’s Heart, I have had a few people reach out to ask me about the cover design process, and I thought this might be easier than trying to string together several Twitter posts.

So far, I have worked with two different cover designers, both of whom I love (Cover Affairs and Crowglass Design), but they each have different processes. Before I get into this, I want to be upfront that I don’t think either process is better or worse than the other. They are just what works best for the artist. Also, I will not be showing the mock-ups and such that I’m going to talk about here. It’s like showing someone your first draft, and without permission from my designers, it would be very rude.

The General Process

  1. Go online and find a cover designer– sounds simple, but you have to keep in mind that you should find someone who jives with your genre, does good work, is within your budget, and can work with you during the time period needed for your book. This can take time, so I suggest doing your research ahead of your book being ready for publication. I found Cover Affairs by looking at books within my genre whose covers I liked. I asked the author who designed their cover (and/or checked inside the book for the cover designer info) and reached out to the cover designer. Sometimes you run into the problem of your cover designer being very popular and having openings 6 months out. You may have to wait to put your book out, or you might opt to find someone else to do your cover. This is why I seriously suggest reaching out months before you’re ready.
  2. Book your cover designer and settle on a deadline– Contact the cover artist, find out their lead times, settle on when you want to schedule it, and then go back to working on your book.
  3. Your cover designer will send you a form to fill out- Both cover designers I’ve worked with have sent me a Google Form to fill out, and the questions were fairly standard between both, so I will summarize the gist of it. Name, email, book title/subtitle/series (#), genre and subgenres, time period of the book, settings or specific imagery or objects that are important in the story, other covers you like or other book covers in your series, stock photos you might use for characters or elements you might want to include in the cover, general vibe of the book, back of cover blurb for the book, anything you do not want at all on the cover. Basically, your cover designer is trying to feel out what you want and the overall feel of what they’re going to create. This is also where you should probably tell your cover designer if you want an ebook, paperback, audiobook, hardcover version, etc. Tell them upfront, so they can find what they need (and so you can get an accurate bill/idea of cost). You can always add a paperback or audiobook cover later, but you will probably pay more as most cover artists would prefer to do everything in one shot.
    1. For my one cover designer, she worked off the Google Form and that’s it. For my other cover designer, he wanted to read the book to get the feel for the work. *Cue panicking as I wasn’t done and wasn’t expecting him to ask for it* Now, I know. It worked out though as he was fine with me sending chunks of it as he was working on the cover along with my Pinterest board and music playlist for the book.
  4. First draft mock up– this will probably be rough, so don’t panic. Your cover artist can do this several ways. They might send sketches, stock photos for your approval (Lou at Cover Affairs and I usually send stock photos back and forth until we find someone who works), or even rough cover concepts that are a patchwork of styles or ideas. You should send your cover designer feedback. Don’t just say it looks great to be nice if you don’t like the idea or it doesn’t jive with your book. At the same time, do not be a pain in the ass and shoot things down without looking for stock or giving direction. Sometimes you cannot find exactly what you want, and you need to compromise and pivot to a new idea. It can also be your wording in your Google Form that is throwing off your cover designer, and you may need to explain further what you mean. If you absolutely feel like you and your cover designer are not figuring things out, this may be the point to call it quits and find someone else. You might lose your deposit, but it’s better than paying in full for a cover you don’t like or that doesn’t fit your book.
    1. Things to keep in mind with the first draft mock-up: does it fit your genre? Does it fit the vibe of your story? Does it make sense? I air on the side of your cover should be unique and pretty but still fit the general conventions of your genre. I do not like the naked people romance covers, but they do sell. If you’re trying to be very commercial, I’d say follow the trend to a T. If you’re in a looser, more niche genre, you generally have more wiggle room for what can/will be successful online. Look at your genre’s Amazon top 100 section to see what styles are popular. Your cover should make sense among those other books. Standing out like a sore thumb isn’t great because people might assume your book is a different/wrong genre and skip it.
  5. Second draft/real draft– you have locked in a design with your cover artist, so now it is time to sit back and see what they come up with. At this point, major changes should be done. You and your cover artist might have some back and forth conversations about minute details like font, flourishes, weapon/item options, dress color, etc. But the design should not undergo major changes at this point. Once your cover designer comes back with the second draft cover mock-up, you should be happy with it. You picked the first draft idea, you approved the smaller details, and generally when this is done, you should be looking at a nearly completed book cover. Don’t hesitate to ask for small changes, most cover designers are more than willing to tweak, but we are past big picture issues.
  6. Optional paperback cover– if you have a paperback cover, your cover designer will generally make the ebook, then extend out to make the paperback. Once the main design is locked in, they will then work on the back half. Please send them the most updated back blurb because if you are like me, you have messed with it substantially since they first started working on it and now what they have in their Google Form is outdated. Also, they will probably want a guestimate of the size your paperback will be in pages and inches (6×9 or 5×8), so they can format the spine and covers correctly. When you get closer to releasing your paperback, generally you reach out and tell them the exact page count, so they can tweak the cover perfectly to fit the size.
  7. Optional audiobook cover– your cover designer will make an abbreviated or truncated version of your front cover for the audiobook since it’s square instead of rectangular.
  8. Optional hard cover– I have not done this, but if you decide to you, you will need to tell them if it’s an Amazon hard cover (no flaps/wrap) or an Ingram hard cover (has flaps/wrap), and you will have to decide what goes inside the wrap part versus the back.
  9. Sizing problems– this happens without fail no matter how fantastic your cover designer is because the printing/ebook companies are a pain. Files are too large, the cover doesn’t fit right, something isn’t bright/is too bright. Reach out to your cover designer and tell them the specific error. Mine reply quickly, and the crisis is averted without issue.
  10. Set up your preorders, buy your author copy, profit (maybe)- remember that your book cover is what is going to help sell your book. It should be something you love and are proud of, and this is where the vast majority of my budget goes. Put your best foot forward, and lure in readers with your cover for preorders.
Writing

My Editing Process

Two weeks ago, I posted about my writing process. This was originally going to be one GIANT post, but at some point, readers lose interest. It also made sense to me to break this up into before the end and after the end for simplicity’s sake. If you haven’t read the first post, you can do so here.

The End? Nope. Editing Time.

So the writing process typically takes me anywhere from 4-6 months, depending on how long the story is and how long it took for me to get past the beginning stage to start fully drafting. This is why I try to get the gooey beginning part started while finishing up another book if I can.

From there is the major editing stage. Something I started doing a few books back (I think while writing Selkie Cove) is to stop at the 33% to 50% mark and do some major edits early. This way, I tidy up the beginning, I make sure the characterization makes sense, and reacquaint myself with the beginning of the story and early stakes before moving on. This helps me a lot in terms of consistency, especially because it takes me longer to write the first half than the second half. Also, remember that I edit as I go anyway, so my book isn’t terribly messy after I’ve done the minor tidies throughout and the more major tidy at the halfway point.

Big Picture Edits

When I finish the entire book, it is time to do big picture edits. Typically, I don’t have anything too monumental because I edit as I go and do that 50% edit, but I do often have a list of things I need to fix or change but didn’t feel like doing while writing. I’m not someone who usually has to rewrite their entire book from scratch or move too much or insert whole scenes. This is probably because I go so slowly and have a lot of built in thinking time. An example of what I might fix is making sure character descriptions make sense, deleting unnecessary dialogue or lines of description, reorganizing scene breaks in a chapter to make it more dynamic/flow better, breaking a chapter in a new place, beefing up description if it seems lacking, etc. If I spot typos along the way, those get fixed as well.

Beta Readers and Round 2

Next, I send the book off to a beta reader if I have someone who is willing to take a look. I don’t always anymore, so if I don’t, then I put it aside for a few days while I work on something else and then dive into round 2 of edits. If I have a beta reader, I will still dive into round 2, but I may need to do another round of edits with their feedback. If anyone hasn’t heard of a beta reader, it’s typically a trusted friend or critique partner who is willing to give you feedback on your work. At this point, my hope is that their feedback won’t include major changes. As with any feedback, you should listen to what your beta reader(s) have to say, especially if more than one person tells the same thing, but if their feedback goes against what you’re trying to accomplish or just feels wrong in your gut, don’t use it.

Round 2 edits are line-level edits. Making sure things sound good, they’re clear, everything makes sense, etc. Smoothing lines, breaking out the thesaurus or double checking that words aren’t anachronistic. Inevitably, I will miss something, but I try. At this point (or after beta feedback), the book should be in pretty good shape and there shouldn’t be any massive changes.

Round 3 Edits (where the most weeping occurs)

Round 3 edits are copy edits. I tend to do this twice because I miss typos no matter how hard I try and something always manages to make it into the book, usually more than one. I read chapters out of order at this point to keep my brain from numbing out and not reading the words. I also use Microsoft Word’s speak feature to have it read me back my work a paragraph at a time to catch typos. It will miss homophones, though, so if you know that’s a problem you have, be like me and make a list of words you might screw up and use ctrl F to find them and double check (that and the verb tenses for lie/lay). Once I have finished rereading my work for what feels like the 800th time, we’re ready to format.

I will not go into the formatting process here, but I do my own formatting for paperbacks and ebooks. The good thing is, putting the book in either form also makes it easier to catch typos, so if you feel like you’re eyes are crossing looking at your computer screen, print it off on paper or read it on your phone/tablet to catch errors better. The change is format seems to help a lot.

I will admit that copy editing is my least favorite part. By the end, my eyes feel like their bleeding and knowing that despite reading my work so many times I still will miss things hurts. If you have enough money to do so, I highly recommend sending your work to a copy editor to find all those typos and grammar errors for you.

A Final Word

But yes, dear reader, we have come to the end of the writing and editing process. I’m sure some of you are appalled that my process goes against the usual advice you see online for writing books. Write a lot, write fast, but if you are like me and thinking about writing 30k, let alone 50k, in a month makes you feel ill, this may be a better process for you.

I will also add that I am a monogamous writer, meaning that I typically write one book at a time until I hit the later editing phases. Then, I might have an edit going and the early drafting process started. In order to keep my characters consistent, I need to be able to keep my projects separate in order to mold the best story I can. Some people just aren’t built for writing 3 things at once or writing 2k a day, and that’s totally fine. The point is that you need to find what works for you.

My process has evolved over time to become a process versus me just doing my best, feeling it out. I’m still feeling it out with projects, and over time, I’m sure how I write will change too, but as of 2022, this is what works best for me.

See you all next week!

Writing

My Writing Process

This week’s post was inspired by Magen Cube’s newsletter, Notes on Monstrosity, where they discuss their writing process. Finding out how other writers writer is something I find incredibly interesting, to the point that I will watch Youtube videos of writers trying famous authors’ processes or daily schedules. It’s fascinating how what works for one author would probably trample my brain into exhausted dust. In my creative classes, it’s a topic my students ask about and how they can best streamline the process. I’d like to make it clear that you will need to figure that out on your own and try what different writers do or venture out on your own and see what your brain jives with.

Some of you are going to read my process and be mad. So be it. My process is not what is preached by many writers. I do not hurdle to the finish line as fast as I can because, frankly, I am not fond of cleaning up the mess after. That’s it. I’m lazy. I do not have the mental fortitude to clean up the same draft 6+ times because I decide to speed through it the first time and now have a 100+ things I need to remember to fix AND do copy edits and such after. That’s not how this is going to go, so if you’re looking for how to write a book in 30 days or write 5k a day or whatever else the hustle culture is pedaling these days, this is not the blog post you seek.

Consider, I have written and published 7 (going on 8) books this way, so it works for me *shrugs*

The Beginning

Typically, my ideas start off with two characters or a single character, and everything sort of grows out of that. I spend a lot of time at the beginning feeling out who they are, what’s wrong with them, what they want, what their core personality is. From there, I think about how these characters would meet and interact because that will be the majority of the story. Then, I get stuck for like 2 weeks trying to figure out the conflict/plot. How do I figure this out? Usually thinking how I can best traumatize these characters. At the same time, I tend to start making a Pinterest board because I’m a very visual person. Once I start throwing together what they look like and where they are, more concrete aesthetic and plot things start to gel for me.

During this part, I’ll often try to start the story to better feel out the characters and have a few false starts. This happens more often with brand new characters than when I’m adding on to a pre-existing series, which makes sense because with new characters, this is more exploratory writing, not word count writing. During this early stage, I need to remember to be kind to myself because my first month or so of working on a book is SLOW. There is a lot of feeling in the dark until things make sense. At some point during this process, I can mentally see the ending or something toward the end to work towards. With that in mind, we get into the drafting stage.

Drafting

I want to make it very clear that I am a “slow” writer. Slow in comparison to the people who can bang out a 60k book in 2 months and have it ready for publication 2 months later. My books are usually 90k+, and I only write 500 to 1500 words a day with the latter being a *really* good day or me playing catch up because I skipped a day or two due to not feeling good. My monthly word counts average around 15k with the first month or two of a new draft often having less. Early on, I tend to write in 20 minute sprints, something akin to the Pomodoro Method. It forces me to write and move forward when I’m feeling hesitant.

But here is my cardinal sin, according to other writers. I EDIT AS I GO.

Yes, dear reader, I go back and edit what I wrote during my previous session as a warm-up. I do this because

a) I am an underwriter, so I need to add more detail. Often, after I’ve written a scene, that detail becomes clearer, and it makes more sense for me to add it now while it’s still fresh in my mind than 2 months from now when I don’t remember what the hell the room is supposed to look like. My brain is like a sieve or a browser with 25 tabs open and you can’t figure out where the music is coming from. I try not to over-complicate it if I can.

b) It’s less work for me later. Future Kara doesn’t appreciate it when Past Kara leaves cryptic messages in a draft that make no sense. [ADD CHAIR] For what, Past Kara?? Why and for what purpose do they need a chair?? I know some people can do this, I cannot. It just frustrates me. Then again, I am not a perfectionist, and as someone is who at least somewhat full of themselves, as many artists are, I tend to read my work and think it’s pretty good and editing it is just tumbling that shiny rock further. Ego is key for this process to work. I am self-conscious about many things; my writing is not one of them.

Once I have reacquainted myself with where I left off, it is time to write. As I said, I tend to write 500-1500 words a day, and this is either done in the morning around 10 AM or late at night with little in between. It’s when my brain works best.

Outlining or the Lack of

You may have noticed I didn’t mention making an outline. That is because I don’t make a traditional outline before I start writing. I do make a retroactive outline covering what I’ve already written, so I can go back and reference it as I move forward, which has been VERY helpful to me. I have a blog post about it here. Something I have been doing with The Reanimator’s Heart is using Sarra Canon’s Three Act Structure outline, which is based off Save the Cat! Writes a Novel and a few other structure books. I have been filling in scenes I think fit into the general structure to help me figure out the order of things and where I’m going, but I do this one act at a time. Act 1, then Act 2 part 1, Act 2 part 2, then Act 3 and not a moment ahead of time if I can help it. It is a very loose outline that is subject to change, but seeing everything laid out helps me keep the flow going.

Ironically, if I’m writing a short story, I tend to make a loose outline, but I think this is because, at most, I can hold about 30k words worth of direction in my head. Beyond that, my brain gets overwhelmed and sort of melts. My process is avoiding the brain melting stage at all costs.

To be continued…

Originally, this was going to be one MASSIVE blog post, but I have decided to break this up right here before the editing process. Truthfully, the drafting process and editing process feel very different to me, so it’s a good place to stop for now. In 2 weeks, the post on my editing process will come out, so I hope you will come back to read it.

Writing

Fighting the Process

I love writing.

Now, picture me grimacing as I say it. I do love writing, but toward the second half of a book, I find myself fighting the process as it changes.

To me, there’s a big difference in how I write the first half versus the second half of a book. Think about the first half as laying down railroad tracks. I need to set everything up, I’m building, I’m adding. It all has to make sense and get me to a certain destination. Now, the second half is driving the train on those tracks. It’s more dangerous, it requires more focus, and I need to slow down around certain turns or I might run us off the tracks completely.

Every book I resist the slow down in the second half of the book. I know that the second half of act two needs the most careful attention because it’s where everything gets more complicated, but those complications have to rely on things I’ve already laid down in act one and the first half of act two rather than new things. Loose ends must be braided together, they have to make sense, and some mysteries even need to be tied up before the third act. It’s a complicated balancing act, and as someone generally lacking in forethought, it creates a bit of a problem because I need to parse out where I’m going before I start writing.

This leads to the bottleneck problem. I don’t want to just write anything to get my daily word count in, so I get stuck, stop writing for a few days, and fall behind. This leads to me freaking out that I’m falling behind and things are horrible. I start questioning the quality of the book or if I’m smart enough to figure out how to get it to the end. I become a mess. Sadly, this is also part of the second half of act two process. Don’t worry, I’ll think I’m brilliant again in act three when words pour forth with relative ease. But for about 20,000 words I’m very annoyed at myself because bridging the gap between all I’ve built and where I know I need to end up isn’t easy.

I would argue that the second half of act two is the hardest part of writing a book. It runs from midpoint to climax/final battle, and everything you build in the first half of the book needs to come to an emotional and physical head here while still making sense. The third act is probably the easiest for me. It’s all downhill from there. Everything I’ve written is coming to a crescendo, and typically, I know where I want the story to end up fairly early on. It’s the amorphous middle that causes me the most stress.

Something I’ve noticed with my last few books (because I’ve been trying to pay more attention to the process aspect of my writing) is that what works in act one and act two part one does not work in act two part two. At the beginning, I just sort of wing it, then tidy, then wing it, etc., at the halfway point I do a major edit, and while I write, I create some semblance of organization by creating an outline of what I’ve already written (I have a whole blog post on this). This helps me to avoid rereading my book over and over as I move forward. This is a process I’ve been doing since I started writing. It feels natural and works for me. The problem is that none of this works in the second half due to all the loose ends.

I struggled really hard with the second half of The Wolf Witch and Kinship and Kindness, and unfortunately, The Reanimator’s Heart is following in their footsteps. What I’m trying to do now is not fight the process and do what might actually help in the moment. There’s often a disconnect in my mind of what will help and what I think will help. I tend to assume I don’t need to make a small outline or I don’t need to take notes, I’ll remember (famous last words from someone whose brain is like a colander). What I’ve found that is helping is, shockingly, TAKING NOTES on what I need to make sure I incorporate in later chapters or things that I’ve introduced that need to be tied up later. My other go-to is making index cards with scenes on them because I find it difficult to figure out the order of operations with the major moments I need to hit.

I’d like to parse out why I suddenly become resistant to changing tactics in order to move forward. Part of it is I don’t want to admit that I am struggling with a particular part of the book. There’s a lot of internal chanting of “the words will come if I just relax, refill the creative well, and let them flow.” If it’s been more than a day and they haven’t come, they need to be forced out (unless you’re burnt out). The first step to writing more is admitting you are stuck. The other issue, I think, is a little more convoluted. Sometimes I think not changing tactics is almost self-punishment, like I can’t not be trying to write. How dare I take time away from staring at Word to do anything else! I catch myself doing this a lot.

What I’m trying to do now is when I feel myself getting stuck but pulling toward a certain tactic, I lean into it. Subconsciously, I must know I need it or that it might help, but I’m always afraid that I’m just procrastinating by making cards or writing out bulleted notes, etc. I’ve noticed that often when I get stuck, it’s because my subconscious has realized I messed up and my conscious brain needs to catch up. The problem is trusting that inner voice and actually listening to it because the part of my brain focused on productivity just wants to plow through.

This post is really me trying process what I’ve been dealing with these past few weeks as I dive headfirst into the second half of act two.

I must trust the process.

I must be willing to put in the time to create aids that will make writing easier.

I must understand that refilling my creative well and those aids are necessary for my process.

Finally, I must understand that the writing process changes depending on the stage of writing I’m on, and that I must be willing to be flexible and adapt to what is happening me in the moment.

Personal Life · Writing

When a Happy Ending is an Act of Defiance

I’ve been struggling to think of what to say this past week. Or really the past month or so, because most of my thoughts amount to “I have lots of feelings, none of them good.”

Living in the US, I have been constantly surrounded by headlines about overturning reproductive healthcare/abortion, attacks on queer relationships, and transphobic laws that seem to want to stamp out our existence. It’s so much all at once that it’s mind-numbing. I’m a nonbinary person with a uterus, and while my reproductive health is somewhat secure due to steps my partner and I have previously taken, this is all a lot. I think for anyone who gives a shit about other people, this past month has been a lot.

I’m tired, my brain feels pulled in a hundred directions, and I feel the negativity creeping through my veins because a very loud minority has decided I shouldn’t exist and many of my friends shouldn’t exist. Or if they do, it’s only on their terms.

And it has made it very hard to write lately. The weight of hatred and uncertainty looms over me constantly, but it reminds me why I started writing in the first place.

Back in 2014, we were still fighting to have same-sex marriage recognized. States were facing lawsuits after banning it even after it was legalized country-wide. Anti-queer sentiment was overt, loud, and just as painful as it is now. I remember staring at my books with their cast of queer characters and wondering if there was still a place in the world for me. Publishers were still pushing queer characters to the sidelines or cutting queer plotlines all together unless they were not on the page. I’ve written before about why I self-published, so I won’t stay on it too long, but the sidelining of queer characters/relationships was why I decided to self-publish. No publisher or company or anyone but me could make my characters straight.

Writing queer characters who eventually got their happily ever after was an act of defiance. In romance, marriage is the usual happily ever after because that’s what cis het M/F couples do. It’s recognizable, it’s legally binding, it’s overt. I wanted that for my characters even if that wasn’t legally possible in the 1890s. The next best thing was a faux wedding (as seen in Dead Magic‘s binding ceremony), but having queer characters find each other, love each other, live closely, and be recognized as a couple by their friends and family was still defiance.

When you write anything involving historical elements and queer characters, reviewers will toss back in your face that “being gay was illegal” back then. Well, so was prostitution, adultery, theft, and murder, yet all those happened as well and no one complains when they read about those things in historical romance. The double standard is eye-roll inducing, but each of those obnoxious reviews spurred me to write more queer characters and eventually more trans characters.

In the back of Kinship and Kindness, I even included a short further reading section about trans people in the 1800s. So many lived normal lives where they worked regular jobs, socialized, and even married. Often, the weren’t even outed as trans until after death, but people don’t want to take into account that people could blend in or that their communities protected them or at least looked the other way if they knew. We all know of famous supposedly straight historical figures who had a “roommate they were really close to” or “a dear friend” they often holidayed with in the South of France that people still refuse to believe were some flavor of queer.

When we write queer characters during times that feel fraught, it is an act of defiance. Writing their lives is a declaration of our existence, our struggles, our love for each other. The stories don’t have to be happy. Their lives don’t have to be (and shouldn’t be) perfect. But writing queer characters into existence as complex, real people is hammering home that we cannot be stamped out. We will not disappear.

I’ve been trying to remind myself of this as I work on my writing. My projects matter even when the world feels like it’s pressing in. There’s always the hope that someone will see themselves in my characters and feel better for a time or lose themselves in whatever drama is playing out. The Reanimator’s Heart has a society of paranormals where people are more likely to be queer than not, and there’s also a lavender marriage where each participant has a partner of their own (one of which is a sapphic trans woman and the other is an autistic gay man). Even if it’s the mid 1890s, everyone manages to live a fulfilling life and eventually find happiness, and that matters.

If you’re writing queer books right now, no matter how bleak it feels, it still matters. Someone out there is clinging to your work in this storm.

Writing

Keeping Characters Consistent

This past week as I was knee-deep in working on The Reanimator’s Heart, I put out a call for blog post ideas because I was tapped. Someone asked how I keep my characters consistent. I’m not sure if this is from book-to-book or from beginning to end of the same book, but today’s post will cover both.

As with all writing, this is covering my process and what works for me. If my way of doing things doesn’t jive with you, luckily the world is full of resources that will hopefully work better. *shrugs* It happens.

My Character Development Process

I want to cover this [briefly] because I do think the way I create characters affects how I deal with consistency later. I am not a planner, at all, when I write, so the thing my stories really start with is the characters. Usually, I have a vague idea of who these people are and what issues they might have.

For instance, Eilian Sorrell from The Earl of Brass began as archaeologist who loses arm and gets a new one that is steampunk in some way. From there, it was an easy jump to say what if the other character/love interest was the person who made the prosthesis. That’s where Hadley came in. I stewed over Eilian for a while. Who in the Victorian Era could afford to be an archaeologist and travel all over? Well, someone who is wealthy, so maybe he’s titled. But would he like being titled? His family probably wouldn’t like him being a globe-trotting archaeologist, so he might not have the best relationship with his societal status or family. These attributes set the core issues the character has, and from there, I can usually see a personality starting to develop. He’s the eldest son but the black sheep of the family. He loves archaeology not for the prizes or accolades (he already has wealth and status) but because he finds learning about the past to be a giant puzzle. It also takes him far away from familial expectations, which is an added bonus.

Now that I have some of the core features of this character, I pick what they look like (sometimes I have that before I get too deep into their personality), but the minutiae of them as a character comes from writing them. Often I just start writing the story and see where the characters take me, and if someone is being particularly stubborn or not forthcoming (*cough* Adam *cough*), I’ll do some free-writing or use scene prompts to see how they would react or what might be lurking underneath. I don’t use DnD character sheets or those 100 question sheets about characters before I start writing them. This is partly because I tend to think of my characters as real people, so I don’t necessarily know everything about them and that’s okay with me. I’d rather give them the room to let me find out more as I work with them. It also keeps you from writing yourself into a corner later.

I can already hear someone say, “But if you don’t know everything about them, how do you keep them consistent?”

Well, you don’t. Not exactly.

Consistency, Not Uniformity, is Key

From the beginning to the end of a story or the beginning to the end of a series, a main character should change**. They shouldn’t be wildly out of character, but there should be a difference in them between the beginning and end, that’s why they’re the main character.

**If you’re writing detective fiction or a thriller or something pulpy with the same main character, this might be less true as they tend to be more static or change far slower than typical 2-5 book series.

When we talk about consistency, we have to be careful that we don’t mean the character must be uniform throughout a story or series. Their experiences in the story should and would change them. They should be affected by what happens to them and their friends, for better or worse. If your character is exactly the same from the beginning to the end, there is a problem. Sometimes this is because your story is following the wrong character, and you need to reorient the story to follow someone else’s journey. Other times, this is because you haven’t looked far enough into the psychological and emotional changes that would befall a character making this journey.

The question you should have is what change is consistent with who they are? Let’s continue to use Eilian from The Earl of Brass.

When Eilian finds out his father has died suddenly and he is now the earl, his reaction is shock. He’s shocked and terribly upset because he and his father never got along, never made up, and he’s grieving for the closure and support he’ll never have while also grappling with the fact that the life of traveling he loves may be over forever due to familial duty. He isn’t a fighter, but his flight reaction is hampered by the fact that he does love his mother and doesn’t want to make things harder for her. Instead, he agrees to go home and deal with it. He’s doesn’t like being the black sheep of the family, so while he won’t conform outright, he won’t make things worse either. Eilian returning home is consistent with who he is. Eilian marrying whomever he pleases (his middle class, independent, capable, masc-ish partner, Hadley) is also very on brand for him, but him standing up for himself to his family is his major change by the end of the story. It’s his experiences in the desert and see what he could lose that gives him more of a backbone. Even having this new title/position adds to that strength in the moment, turning a hindrance into an asset.

Is he still consistently the antithesis of what his family wants? Yes. Does he still do what he wants? Yes. But does his willingness to now face his family instead of fleeing judgment make sense after what happens in the story? Yes.

Confirming Consistency in a Story or Series

  1. Read the entire book over again once you finish. Pay attention to how the character is at the beginning, how they act after the first point of no return, at the midpoint, at the climax, and at the end.
  2. Looking at those points in the story, does the character’s emotional/psychological journey make sense? Do we see a logical behavioral progression? They should be becoming better people or overcoming their issues or even becoming more horrid, but we should see change.
  3. This does not mean we can’t have some backsliding in the middle. Often, there’s a 50-80% plot point where the characters panic and revert to hold habits, which makes sense because progress tends to be 2 steps forward, 1 step back.
  4. If there are moments where your character acts wildly out of character, reel them in. At the same time, make sure all your characters are not reacting the same way. For instance, a quiet character may have a high threshold before they start yelling while a more extroverted or short-tempered character might react more swiftly.
  5. Remember that every major plot point should have some reaction or impact. Some will be long lasting, others temporary, but there should be a ripple effect all the same (some may take longer to come out depending on the character, trauma, etc.).
  6. In terms of a series, all of the above applies, but you need to pay attention to the progression from book to book while still maintaining the core of who this person is. If you have a trilogy or five book series in mind, you might want to think ahead of time where you want this character to ultimately end up. Each book should be incremental change toward that. After each book, see where they came from to get a better idea of where they’re heading in the next installment. I read my entire series/books with those characters before I start working on the next book. It helps to reacquaint me with the characters.

The key takeaways are: reread your work from start to end. Reread it often (with each new book or even when halfway through your current project). Make sure the progression is logical and that there are reactions to actions. And finally, don’t force your characters in a direction they wouldn’t go because it doesn’t make sense for them.

I hope this helps as you all write your characters and work on your series! If there is any topic you would like me to talk about, please leave a comment below.

organization · Writing

Adding a Works In Progress Page

So you may have noticed something new in the upper menu of my website. It’s a “Works in Progress” page!

What is it?

I’ve been talking about potentially adding a works in progress page for a while but was hemming and hawing because I didn’t know if people would actually care. When I posted about it on Twitter, my friends and readers seemed enthusiastic, so here you go.

I also wanted to make this because it holds me accountable in my writing, and I think it adds a little more excitement surrounding my forthcoming projects. It’s basically a catch-all for the projects I am working on or intend to work on. And it’s a place where readers can keep an eye on what I’m doing and where the books they’re excited for are in their production.

If you want to, now may be a good time to check out the WIP page before I talk about it (I’d suggest opening it in another tab if you’re interested).

How does it work?

This page is broken down into currently in production, on deck, and backburner.

Currently in production is pretty self-explanatory. It’s the projects that I have started or am actively working on. Right now, I’m actively working on The Reanimator’s Heart and I have some words on Trousers and Trouble. In that section, I’ve also included a progress bar, and a slated release date. Since I’m not that close to being done yet, I do not have a specific date, so seasons/years will do. Right now, I plan to update the progress bars once or twice a month. I’d like to say twice a month, but I may forget (my apologies in advance). There will be a date for when the progress was last updated.

On deck is comprised of works that I know for certain I am working on soon. Typically I have plot ideas for these or know at least somewhat where they are going. I also want to specify that if there’s a series and there’s only a finite number of books listed, that is subject to change. I mention book 4 of the Paranormal Society Romances with a “the end?” because that’s the last book I have in mind now. That doesn’t mean that some character won’t steal my attention and become book 5. So don’t get sad if you see less books in a series you like. These books are also not in any sort of production order. Now that I have more than one series going, I don’t know which series’s book will grab my attention next, so I make no promises as to the order of completion (if only I could be so regimented).

Backburner projects are not shelved,they’re projects that are still marinating. I would like to work on them, but they’re still underdeveloped in my head. I don’t like to work on stories until I have a decent idea of where I want to go with them and who the characters are, so I make note of them and let them sit until they start to gel. I’m super excited about everything on this list, but I have to segregate them from my on-deck projects because I get overeager and scattered if I don’t have a semi-regimented to-do list. Having 10 series going at once is fun but not the best business decision.

How Often Will This Be Updated?

I’m aiming for twice a month. I would like to update it every two weeks or so because there should be a substantial change for my current project by then. As mentioned above, I may forget, but I promise I will update it at least once a month. If you’re very interested in this new page, do not check it every day, it will not change that often, lol. You also get to see how slowly I write.

Slowly but cleanly! Don’t panic when I don’t drop 50k words in a month because I tend to not need to do major edits on books, which is a perk of writing like a snail. Once I finish a draft, the updates will change from word count to editing progress.

Going Forward

Going forward, I will add more details as projects are fleshed out and come into themselves. So as I have titles and blurbs and links, those will appear on the “Work in Progress” page as well. Of course, I will still post about these things in regular posts, but that page will be a nice catch-all for things you may have missed on the blog.

Let me know what you think of the new WIP page!