Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Why do you write?

i iz hiding from monster  in closet

I've had a few other writers ask lately how I sold so many e-books. I promise I'll get to that in another post soon - or at least give my best guess - but first I need to back up and explore something a little more basic.

The first question I always want to ask other writers is: Why do you write?

You see, I write because I have to. Sorry to get esoteric on you, but the truth is I write because I am an emotional creature, constantly analyzing why people do and say things. I learned long ago that while I couldn't control other people and events in my life, I could neatly arrange everything on the page, make sense of it all and find the closure that simply doesn't exist in the real world. A control issue? Hmm, maybe. But I think it's more about expression, about sharing the human experience, about bonding, sometimes with complete strangers (readers - yay!).

While I'm sure there are writers out there who can neatly build plotlines from formulas and find success that way, I'd imagine a lot of writers are just people trying to make sense of the world. We're made, rather than born. Life beats us up and being the overly sensitive creatures we are, we try to heal those wounds by living through our fiction. We create heroes because we need them. We make challenges and provide our characters with ways to overcome them. Really, we're just people with deep souls, chasing demons. And winning.

I love to be alone for at least part of the day. I love to think. I love to create something out of nothing. And I love the way words sound. Most of all, I understand the impact words can have if arranged in just the right way. They can inspire, paint vivid pictures in our minds, and teach; they can also hurt. They can connect us, in both good and bad ways, and they can drive us apart. Words are powerful - and that fascinates me.

Writing - and by the same token, reading - help us better understand and cope with the monsters in life. Cheap therapy, if you will. So, that's what I've been doing - writing. For a looong time. Like ten years. Trust me, if you keep writing, you'll end up having written more than a few books and you'll get better with each one.

If you truly have the soul of a writer, keep writing. Don't worry about whether or not you'll succeed. Don't worry about how much money you will or won't make. Don't get discouraged by criticism or naysayers. Don't let fear or perfectionism paralyze you.

Just write. From you soul. Say something worth saying. Write stories worth telling, with memorable characters in extraordinary situations. Exorcise your demons. Be funny, be informative or be poignant. Be you. And share that part of you with others through writing.

Happy writing,

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Crown in the Heather - 99 Cent Holiday Sale!

For all those folks opening up their shiny new Kindle Touches and Kindle Fires, The Crown in the Heather (The Bruce Trilogy: Book I) is just 99 cents on Kindle for a limited time during the holidays!

Need a last minute gift for someone special? Just click on 'Give as gift' and your present will be delivered electronically.

Don't have a Kindle? FREE Kindle apps are available for PC, Mac, iPhone, Blackberry and other devices.

Here's hoping your holidays are filled with loved ones, peace, good times and great reading!

All the best,

Thursday, December 22, 2011

What a Difference a Year Makes

Sometimes, dreams can be elusive. You pour all your energy into them, years go by and it seems you're no closer to than you were when you started. The bigger and bolder those dreams are, the smaller the guarantee that you'll ever attain them.

It can be a struggle. It can be painful. Hope appears unexpectedly and then gets dashed on the rocks into a million little pieces. Writers know this heartbreak well. Yet dreams spur us on, whisper in our ear to 'keep trying, keep trying'. Many times we talk sense into ourselves and settle for a safer, less frustrating existence.

I don't know how many of you are reality show junkies, but I shamelessly admit to being one. There are always contestants, particularly on talent shows like The X-Factor and American Idol, who step forward and share the story of their struggles: poverty, addiction, years on the road seeking out that one big break. Talent and persistence alone don't always equal success. Sometimes the missing element is just plain luck.

A year ago, I had sold an unimpressive total of about 400 e-books after six months and three books. It wasn't even enough to cover my start-up expenses. Satisfied, I'd given it a go, I signed up at the local community college for courses in biology and geology. I had bills to pay and I accepted that my life was headed down a new path - that of becoming a teacher. An admirable vocation and it was about time I put my neglected degree to use. For four months, I didn't write a single word. Encouraged by a steady uptick in sales, I continued to market my work, but I was thoroughly convinced there wouldn't be a fourth book. It just wasn't worth the effort anymore.

Fast forward a year later and not only is the fourth book out, but I'm close to finishing my fifth. By Christmas, I'll have sold a total of 30,000 e-books. So yeah, for now at least, it looks like this is my career. It doesn't touch what Amanda Hocking, John Locke or a dozen others (see here) have done in this rapidly changing world of publishing, but it's waaay more than I ever imagined possible.

I wanted to share this because I know a lot of writers who have published more recently or who are still struggling to increase sales. I can only advise patience and hard work. It's extremely rare for a book to take off out of the gate, especially a debut. It's crowded out there and it's getting harder and harder to get noticed. I understand the frustration, but if you chuck your dreams today, whatever they are, you may never know how close you were to reaching them.

Meanwhile, enjoy the journey. As Socrates said, "If you really want to get to Mt. Olympus, make sure every step you take is in that direction."

Oh, and Merry Christmas! In celebration, I'm going shopping because my brain is fried from reading medieval history.

Until later,

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Why I Haven't Enrolled in KDP Select

I usually shy away from controversial topics, but here goes...

For those of you who haven't heard yet, Amazon recently offered a new program for authors and small presses who upload books to Kindle directly called KDP Select. In a nutshell, it requires that the e-books enrolled in the program be withdrawn from other retailers for the initial 90 days. This does not apply to audiobooks or print versions, just e-books. For buyers, the upside is that if you're a member of Amazon Prime ($79 annual fee) you may borrow one Kindle book per month for free, provided it's part of KDP Select. Authors whose books you borrow then get a per cent of a fund set aside by Amazon, based on the number of borrows. Authors may also select to offer any book in KDP select for FREE for up to 5 days.

Let me just say this has been the most divisive topic among indie authors that I can remember since I started indie publishing a year and a half ago. Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords and probably the first and biggest distributor of digital content to embrace indie authors, had his own understandable thoughts on the matter. He spoke about the possible far-reaching implications here, from both a broader business perspective and the potential effects for both authors and readers.

For many authors who weren't selling enough copies elsewhere to justify not joining in the KDP program, it made sense. With free books, there's a chance for fresh exposure to new readers. So far, I've not made any of my books free, but that doesn't mean I don't see it as a viable marketing tactic. It's just one more tool in the kit.

Added exposure is another allure of KDP Select. Amazon Prime members are voracious consumers/readers. What author wouldn't want to be placed squarely in their sights?

Frankly, I feel like part of the minority, because I didn't join. David Gaughran discusses the topic more thoroughly here in his blog. I had many of the same misgivings.

But what it really came down to for me is that MY READERS MATTER MORE TO ME THAN MY SHORT TERM GAIN. Indie author Kait Nolan gives her perspective as a Nook owner here.

A couple weeks ago, I had a lovely e-mail from a fan waiting for the final installment of The Bruce Trilogy to come out on Nook. The delay was primarily with me not getting a properly formatted book to Smashwords in a timely manner (too many irons in the fire, yeah, yeah). Eventually I uploaded to Barnes and Noble directly, so that lovely reader had his book just two days later.

I don't sell piles of e-books through Apple or B&N. Not even 2% of my digital sales are through retailers other than Amazon. But that 2% matters to me. I don't care what kind of e-reader you choose to own. I want my books to be available in as many places as possible. Variety and competition, I believe, enrich our lives by making our options more individualized.

There are many, many things Amazon does well and perhaps the greatest thing going for the site is that it is soooo easy for readers to search for new titles there. I have found so many fantastic new voices this past year since I first got my Kindle, that I've never been more satisfied as a reader.

As an author, I'd prefer to just sit back and see where this is going and how other retailers and distributors will counter this move. For now, everything is status quo on this end.

Until later,

Monday, December 5, 2011

Imperfect Heroes: Tristan Vazante

Today's imperfect hero is Tristan Vazante, brought to you by the author of Artemis Rising, Cheri Lasota -

When my dear friend Gemi asked me to post about my “imperfect hero” Tristan Vazante, I thought: What a brilliant idea! We adore our fictional heroes as we read them and write them and daydream about them. Yet, oftentimes, we gloss over their imperfections and impatiently await the story’s happy ending—something we wish for ourselves vicariously through our characters. So much of how stories affect us comes down to reader expectation. Most genre fiction “requires” a happy ending (even series books) despite the sufferings and betrayals we put our characters through. But if we only wrote perfect characters, where would the story be?

We all go through experiences of deep betrayal and hurt in our lives, usually at the hand of those we love most. And much of what draws us to fiction is the ability to see how others deal with the problems we have had. How do they survive pain, cruelty and abuse and come out stronger than ever? Just as our dreams let our subconscious work out problem-solving situations, I attest that fiction does the same thing in our waking hours, albeit with a little more sense!

Fiction may be fantasy, but it often explores the most raw and universal truths about the dark side of humanity. When we read, we work on these societal problems within the context and safety of a world that does not exist. This helps us to process situations we may not be able to face otherwise. Besides entertainment, fiction has had the power to move us to action within our own lives. It empowers, enlightens and reveals. The pen truly is mightier than the sword!

My young Azorean Islander Tristan Vazante is an amalgam of many different people: the Knight Tristan of Cornwall (Arthurian legend), the Greek God Alpheus (to add a bit more of a dark side), pieces of several different beloved characters from other novels and films, and even parts of men I’ve known throughout my life. Most importantly, I needed to make sure that his personality and beliefs matched the time period and location in which he lived (1880s Azores Islands): deeply religious, kind and welcoming, salt of the earth.

That’s quite a patchwork quilt of a character, eh? This was all quite purposeful, because I knew my tendency was to protect him from harm, as he was my favorite character in the book. When I create any character, there are a few specific characteristics I give all of them before I can really get a sense of who they are. Here were Tristan’s:

• Greatest strength: self-sacrifice
• Greatest need/desire: the heroine, Arethusa, of course! =)
• Childhood trauma: loss of mother
• Deepest secret: his origins
• Fatal flaw: lack of loyalty

Tristan’s traits needed to both compliment and contrast with my heroine’s characteristics, so the characters could attract and repel each other at different points in the story. Early on in drafting Artemis Rising, Tristan’s main flaw was that he had no flaw. So I worked hard at creating a more complex background and personality for him.

In the end, his fatal flaw—lack of loyalty—tested the characters’ love right down to its foundations. The scene in which it is most forcefully illustrated appears to touch my readers deeply. Could this be perhaps because they recognize and remember such pain in their own lives? Certainly that scene fulfills that purpose for me. I remember, too, how difficult that scene was to write. It brought me to tears that day and it still does when I re-read it. And for some readers it does the same. There is a catharsis in seeing our own experiences laid bare in the life of another, fictional or otherwise. It helps us make sense of the madness and frailty of human nature and accept it for what it is.

Later on Tristan’s loyalty is tested once again. And this brings me to an important point. Writers seem to know inherently that if a character fails his first test, he’ll need to be tested again. The second time, a hero has to learn from his previous mistake. Or if he doesn’t, he becomes more of an anti-hero.

The beauty in Tristan for me is that he is always a hero, despite his imperfections. He has a moment of weakness—and it’s big one—but it doesn’t destroy his honor permanently. For me, he represents the epitome of hope: despite our flaws we can still be redeemed. This is such an important message for me personally. He reminds me of this every time I think about him. And isn’t that a mark of a good character? You remember him long after the book ends. Here’s hoping he nestles in your heart as much as he did mine. *sigh*

Cheri's Website

Artemis Rising on:
Barnes and Noble
SpireHouse Books

Thanks so much for sharing about Tristan, Cheri!

Happy reading,