DIYDay Lesson 18: How NOT To Write

Write

When I began this series with the very first post, I told myself (and all of you) I would never tell you how to write. It’s not for me to say; I have been writing something or other since I could hold a pen in my hand, which gives me roughly 22 years of experience on the subject, and I still don’t feel qualified to give advice.

I have, however, received a lot of advice on writing, much of it unsolicited, some of it useful. Lately I have seen a lot of posts by bloggers, authors, etc. containing lists of rules for writing a successful novel. Rules for avoiding elements, things that are overdone in writing, things new writers do wrong… you name it, and there is probably a list out there for it.  It’s a thing now, people want to know the secret. How did you do it? How did you get so famous? What do I need to do to break through into the NY Times Best Sellers list? TELL ME!

I won’t tell you. Mostly because I haven’t done it myself yet, but also because I believe all those lists and rules are a lot of snake oil. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. In the end, we’re the ones who decide the outcome. We’re the ones holding the pen. All the rules and guidelines in the universe won’t make your story stand out if you don’t have a good story to tell. They might even smother your book, diminish its potential if they make you cut out what makes your story unique. Because that is what rules do: create cookie cutter novels for public consumption.

Here’s how I approach writing:

Continue reading “DIYDay Lesson 18: How NOT To Write”

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Fairy Tales (or why my childhood was better than your childhood)

Brace yourselves, this might get political.

Christmas in my family is a time of re-watching old movies, mostly fairy tales, from the home country. See, when I was growing up across the pond in Europe, Disney movies were picture books with accompanying audio tapes (one side in English and the other in my home language translation). I was therefore never indoctrinated in the magic that is Disney, and though I love it now, I have to say I love my own childhood fairy tales more. Here is why:

CinderellaCinderella2 Cinderella vs. Prince Charming

Everyone loves a good rags to riches story. Every poor girl dreams of being a princess. But given a choice, I would rather be a kick ass princess than, well, what Disney presented. In the animated Disney version, Cinderella has a household of mice to help her make a dress, and when it’s destroyed, the fairy godmother magically appears to save the day, giving her a beautiful carriage and horses to boot! She doesn’t have to do anything to earn it except have a magical relative. And think about it. If the godmother can do that much, why does the magic fade at midnight? Why couldn’t it last forever? When the prince goes to find her afterward, all he has to do is fit the shoe on Cinderella’s foot and the happily ever after music plays. Sweet, but eh…

In my version, Cinderella is a rebel. She goes riding when her stepmother doesn’t see, she hunts, she shoots crossbows, and she’s not afraid to stand up for what is right. She pokes fun at the spoiled prince, bests him in a shooting contest, and at the ball, when he asks her to marry him, she doesn’t say yes. She gives him a riddle and tells him that until he can answer correctly, she can’t be with him. Her magic is limited not by an arbitrary time of night, but by a number. She has three magic tree nuts, each of which holds a special disguise, and once they run out, that’s it.

The moral of the story: While Disney teaches kids that magic makes everything possible, the European version teaches that magic only gives you a chance. You still have to be worthy of the prince at the end–and he has to be worthy of you! More importantly, there is a practical limit to what it can do and you must use it wisely. Now that’s the story I would want to teach my kids.

AuroraAurora2 Sleeping Beauty vs. Thorns

The biggest question of this tale is why? Aurora is cursed at birth because (in the Disney version) the evil fairy Maleficent wasn’t invited to the birthday celebration. It seems a bit weak as an excuse, don’t you think? I mean, of all the kids being born in the kingdom, did she get invited to all of them? Was she at the king’s or the queen’s birthday celebration? Why was this particular one so unique, especially considering how antisocial Maleficent seems to be? I have no answer. Do you? How about this: Why did no one tell Aurora not to mess with spinning wheels? I mean, it seems pretty obvious, right? You don’t want someone to do something, you tell them not to do it. If I know one thing about kids, the more you try to hide something, the more determined they are to find it.  Another thing that always sticks in my craw with these princess stories is why is there never time for the hero and heroine to get to know each other? It’s like it doesn’t matter who they are. They’re beautiful and rich, and that’s a solid basis for marriage and happily ever after. Umm… no.

See, in the European version, it’s the queen’s sister who curses the child. And she does it because she was spurned by the king. He was supposed to marry the older sister, but fell in love with the younger instead. She was invited to the celebration, but chose not to attend, and when the king and queen brought their daughter to meet her aunt, she cursed the child out of spite. In this version, the king and queen rid the kingdom of all prickly things, and tell their daughter early on that she is cursed and therefore must be careful. And on her 17th birthday, they try desperately to save her by marrying her off so her prince can take her away from the cursed kingdom. Only problem is, she falls for the younger brother because the older is a douche, and when the engagement to the older is announced, she refuses him and the royal family (including the younger prince) leave. She is tricked into pricking her finger, and it is the younger prince who saves her (because the douche doesn’t think it’s his responsibility). But he doesn’t immediately know what to do, he has to learn to swim, he has to dig through a channel until his hands are bloody, he has to cut through the rose bushes while the evil aunt tries to kill him, and when he finds the princess, he sings to her first, hoping to wake her. Only when that doesn’t work does he kiss her and save the day.

The moral of the story: Love is not easy, and it is not fair, as Disney would have you believe. Life is complicated. People are multifaceted and even those closest to you can turn against you when their pride is hurt. Love needs to be found and fought for, it’s not a natural birthright that will magically happen when you turn 18, and the royal prince is not always the one who will give you that happily ever after. Yet another lesson well learned.

BelleBelle2 Beauty vs. Beast

This is one of my favorite fairy tales, both Disney and otherwise. While I love the Disney version, it has issues. For example, why was the prince cursed, really? For not letting a stranger into his house while his parents were away? Where were his parents? Why ten years for the curse? In all that time, he must have cared for some of his servants, and they most certainly cared about him, so why wasn’t that love enough to break the curse? Why did he have to get the most beautiful girl in town? Wasn’t the point that he learn beauty is found within? In the end it has to be Belle who learns it. It doesn’t seem right.

Now, the European version (or rather the Russian one, since Russia is part European part Asian), there is no prince, or kingdom. The hero and heroine are both from poor village families. The hero, a beautiful but vain and careless snot, decides to go out into the world. He encounters a magical gnome who plays games with him and gives him an enchanted bow as a prize. But the hero doesn’t thank him properly, so he is cursed into a bear for his lack of manners. He only turns back into a man when he performs a good deed (and learns the meaning of the phrase). The heroine is more like Cinderella. Her evil stepmother and stepsister force her father to take her out into the middle of the woods in winter to freeze to death because she’s prettier than the stepsister. There, she is found by the king of winter, who sees her goodness and takes her in. He has to go out to do his job, but forgets his frozen staff which turns anything into ice. The heroine touches it and freezes until her hero finds her and wakes her with true love’s kiss. But it’s not over yet! Bandits conspire, an evil witch has a bone to pick. On their way home, the hero and heroine are attacked and have to fight for their lives. Now isn’t that more believable than talking furniture?

The moral of the story: Magic isn’t arbitrary (or shouldn’t be). A good heart will get you farther than a beautiful face. Caring for people is more important than pretty dresses and jewels. What goes around, comes around. And most importantly, never mess with forces beyond your ken. R E S P E C T.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. In its quest to entertain with lovely music and pretty moving pictures, Disney has created a franchise of entertainment, but left out the true heart of its fairy tales, the lessons those tales were created to teach in the first place. Are they beautiful? To be sure. Worth watching? Absolutely. Should they be used as role models and aspirations for children? I think not. Nevertheless, they are. Every little girl wants to be a Disney princess, without thinking about what that truly means. Fairy wands and pretty dresses, and a prince charming ready to sweep them off their feet. Because Disney tells us this is a veritable guarantee. For every little girl there is a handsome prince and all she has to do is wait for him to show up–and notice all these stories have little to say about the princes themselves. What is a little boy to aspire to? Showing up and being handsome and rich?

Thanks, but I think I’ll keep my fairy tales gritty and realistic, and my expectations low enough to be achievable. I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty in the name of love. Are you?

DIYDay Lesson 16: Taking Care Of Business: Getting A Book Published

Introduction

Time is moneyThis lesson is one every author should know. We are artists at heart, which means we don’t often think about the business side of writing, but believe me, there is one. To us, our books may be about the art, but to everyone else behind the curtain they’re about numbers. To them it’s as much about how you market yourself as it is about how well you write, and that is where a lot of writers (myself included!) stumble. We expect others to have the same passion for our stories we do. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Today I want to share what I’ve learned throughout the submission/publishing process in the hopes it will open some eyes and help some authors out. Fair warning ahead of time, it’s going to be a long post, but I think well-worth reading.

So let’s say you finished a book and are looking to get it out there for the enjoyment of the world. You now have a product. What do you do next? You should be thinking about two things: Strategy and Execution.

Continue reading “DIYDay Lesson 16: Taking Care Of Business: Getting A Book Published”

DIYDay Lesson 15: Public Relations and the art of “Be cool, Hunny Bunny”

Preface:

image description

This post was born out of frustration, watching people in the public light on the internet post updates, rants, and even threats and insults on a daily basis. It’s bad for business and bad for your health, so I thought I’d put together some “best practices” for how to interact with the public when you’re in the spotlight (however small that spotlight might be).

You may say, “Who are you to tell me what to say and how to act? I am a genuine person and people enjoy that about me. I won’t lie and pretend for the sake of appearances!”

And I would tell you, “Okay.” I’m not going to preach at you to change your ways, or pretend to be someone you’re not. If you get something out of this, great. If not, that’s okay too. I am sharing this for no other reason than to share, so take it as you will.

“Be cool, Hunny Bunny,” – The Art of Public Relations

People have written oodles of books on the subject and I won’t bore you with too much detail. Just a short bullet point list of tips to help you navigate the shark infested waters of the Internet:

  • What goes up, does not come down. What you put out there, stays there in one way or another. Before you post something, think about whether you will want someone to see it years down the line, maybe at a time when your public image will be the deciding factor in your success, whatever that might be.
  • ScaryWords hold power, and once spoken, they can never be taken back. Yes, I just quoted The Royal Wizard at you, but the point is a valid one. Don’t believe the lies, words can hurt as much as sticks and stones. Something you consider an off-hand remark might crush whoever is on the receiving end of it. Some of my friends and family are amazingly good at destroying my confidence with a well chosen sentence, so in this, I know exactly what I’m talking about. Don’t be that person.
  • Reputation is your currency. It truly is. It can take years to build it up, and lots of effort to maintain. Think of all those Bestsellers out there, raking in readers and sales based solely on the popularity of their name. Think of all the times a public figure was utterly discredited based on one story or rumor. That is all it takes. One mistake, and you can lose your audience. If you think building a reputation is hard, imagine having to rebuild it after something like that.
  • How you see yourself is not necessarily how others see you. We perceive the world through the filters of our own making. People might not share your background, sense of humor, or experiences. Alienating someone is as easy as being inconsiderate of their background or views. See the first two points above.
  • image descriptionLike attracts like. That is perhaps the most important thing to remember in PR, and it’s not some hokey spiritual nonsense, either. What you put out there is what you will get back. Think about it, when you turn on Facebook, for example, what do you want to see? A funny picture of a cute cat, or someone complaining about how much their life sucks? And when you see it, how do you feel, and how does it affect what you post? If we spread negativity, it will only create more negativity in others and rebound back to us. So instead of posting about that bad review you got (which isn’t attracting any new readers) or the weirdo sending you annoying messages (which only makes people paranoid about what you’re saying about them behind their backs), why not post something inspiring or uplifting? “I just passed 50,000 words on my next novel!!” packs a much greater punch than, “I can’t believe this @$$hole just slammed my book on Goodreads!”
  • Share your ups, not your downs. There are times when tragedy strikes and we truly need to see there are people out there who want to support us and give us a shoulder to cry on. This is not what I am talking about. I’m talking about the dozens of little things that go wrong throughout the day. A coffee spill, stand-still traffic, all the petty little things that drag us down. They tend to add up and if that makes up the majority of your online public presence, eventually all people remember about you is all the whining. In times like this, try to be your own cheerleader, not a ball and chain. Find something to be happy about and share that with the world. Not only will people admire you for your strength, tenacity and spirit, but you might just inspire them to be better, try harder, enjoy life more. Isn’t that worth doing?
  • And last but not least, be good. Be the change you want to see in the world. Treat people the way you want to be treated. Don’t lower yourself to petty fights on the internet. Make peace, not war. Step out of the shadow. Be the light. Resist the Dark Side. “Be cool, Hunny Bunny.” (Pulp Fiction) And any other cliche saying you can think of. There is enough bad in the world without us adding to it.  Yes, it’s hard work, but if something as simple as a smile can improve your mood, imagine what offering a hug or encouragement can do for someone else–as well as you!

Cheer

Smile! It will either cheer them up or piss them off. Either way, you win.

(Mis)Adventures in Marketing the Me

I didn’t have a DIYDay post in me this week. I don’t feel qualified to “teach” on this subject since I suck at it. But I am learning.

OystersMineFor example, I have learned that a well-made graphic will draw thousands of eager eyes. A graphic is like the three-second window into YOU, which has massive appeal in today’s world of  overstimulation, information overload and short attention spans. We can’t help it. We’re all busy people! We no longer have 30 seconds for the elevator pitch, there are too many of them vying for our attention.

Give us something worth looking at, do a double take, and then come back to find out more. An invaluable lesson learned: A site banner will signal what kind of site you are running. A graphic advertisement will decide whether people click on it or not. An author picture will have you judged from appearances alone (so make sure it’s professional!).  A book cover will make or break your book.

Now here is the problem with fantastic graphics: Where do you put them?? One side will answer, “Everywhere!” while another will say, “Consider the strategic advantages of each location and go with the one that will pack the most punch.” Yeah, that one is up to you, because I have no clue. With so many advertisements everywhere these days, people condition themselves not to look anymore. It’s not a challenge anymore, it’s a war zone and the winning side gets the business.

Billboards

Networking is supposed to be a good one. Word of mouth. You’d think that would be easier than creating a graphic. And it probably is–for extroverts. Going up to someone and sparking conversation out of thin air always seems like magic to me, the kind which I don’t possess. Whenever someone comes up to me and says hi, I always look over my shoulder to see who they’re talking to. When asked what I do/write, I can never find the right words, even though I may have rehearsed them a time or ten…thousand.

concert crowd in motion

But “You can write,” you say to me.  “You should take it online! Network on social media. Type out your heart and people will respond to you like gees to the pied piper.” This is a concept I have heard of before and never could figure out how to implement until recently when a PR minion’s good hearted effort took my friends list on Facebook from 60 to 900. For the first few days this was happening, I sat there, watching the number rise, my jaw on the floor. And then the question became, “Now what?”

CurtainSee? Back to square one. Sparking conversation out of thin cyber air. I am learning slowly, though. For example, I have business cards now. Yes, I can see why you would be making a “Huh?” face at me, but it’s true. Not that I go places where I could be handing them out, but they’re good to have anyway. A possible conversation starter (?) lol I also somehow managed to make friends with some truly amazing people who seem to want to help me out and spread the word about my books for some unfathomable reason. That must mean this networking thing really works, right?

But the biggest lesson I have learned is that for an author without an agent/publicist, marketing oneself truly NEVER stops. It’s not all book launch parties and then silence until the next release. Playing the recluse and being mysterious no longer works. Trust me, I tried. Keeping the juggernaut (whatever size it may be) going is… oh, how should I put this… a monumental pain in the backside. It forces you to be engaged in the outside world while actively trying to escape it into whatever universe you are writing at the time. If you have a full-time day job like I do, well, you do the math. There are only so many directions the mind can be stretched before something snaps loose. There is a thin line between genius and madness, and every artist or writer will walk it at one point or another for whatever length of time.  Ever wonder why creative people are so eccentric? Here is your answer.

But we still have the best jobs in the world. 🙂 Write on, my friends. Write on.

Disclaimer: For the sake of being consistent, here is my marketing pitch of the day: Like me on Facebook, Follow me on Twiter, Buy my books on Amazon, B&N, Sony, iTunes