Monday, July 28, 2014

A Dirty Word

Last week we talked about following our hearts -- writing what we believe we were born to write and boldly taking our places in the grand scheme of publishing.

This week, we're going to look at the other side of the coin...Ambition.

For every person who crushes our dreams by telling us following our hearts is foolish, there's a person who whispers in our ears that being ambitious about your career is wrong ...that ambition is a dirty word.

A few of those whisperers believe that shooting for the stars is setting yourself up for heartbreak. The rest believe being ambitious destroys the "art" of writing.

I'm making a funny face at the computer. First, thanks to those people in your friends and family who have so little faith in you they don't believe you'll make a list, win a Rita, find a following. Second, um...how can wanting people to read your work destroy the "art" of your project?

It can't.

In fact, I like ambitious people. They are the writers with the most passion. True, sometimes it's misguided. I saw a newbee...a writer so green she'd only decided to WRITE last year...and when her book was done she simply put it up on Amazon...Yes. Gasp. Wheeze if you want. Then realize this author believed in herself and her book. Think for a minute about her passion. And ask yourself if that isn't what's missing from your career.

Ambition doesn't make you less of an artist. Sometimes hitting the marks of a bestseller (heck, figuring out the marks of a bestseller) is a boon for your readers. The harder you try to be the best, the better your books will be and the more wonderful their reading experience.

It doesn't matter if you come at writing from the perspective of writing the books of your heart or writing the best darned books anybody's ever read...if you're giving readers your all...if you're creating interesting, compelling stories, readers win.

So don't dismiss ambition in favor of heart books. Some of the best books were written by ambitious people who desperately wanted readers to love their work. And don't dismiss heart books because people who write for the joy of the story can break barriers.

Find YOUR place. Find the system, mindset that works for you. And be YOU.


Happy Monday and Happy Reading

susan meier

Monday, July 21, 2014

Quietly Giving Up

Last week, when I realized it was time for people to begin zipping off to RWA I actually breathed a sigh of relief. I've been 40 pounds overweight for two years. I exercise at least four times a week, diet (most days) and obsess over old clothes I can't fit into, but I still can't lose the weight. Not having to be mad at myself for being overweight was such a relief that I wondered...

When do I let go of this and just start buying my clothes from Omar The Tentmaker...when do I quietly let go and let life go on...

Which made me segue into wondering...are there times when writers should let go?

I used to have the ambition of being a New York Times bestseller. Never made it. I wanted to make great gobs of money...that didn't happen either. LOL But I do have a very nice following of readers. Enough to make me feel that my stories touch people. :)

And  that prompts me to ask the question...

Is it okay to be just "good"  and not be one of the best? Is it okay to not make the lists? Or is it time to just go quietly into that good night? As authors, how do we measure success? Now that making the NYT list isn't what it used to be, and our benchmarks are skewed by a plethora of $.99 bundles, what should we be focused on?

I'm thinking kinda deep today! LOL

I've never written for editors or chased trends. (Though it's true that I've EDITED books based on editor comments...that's a have to. LOL) My guiding source of inspiration has usually been "what I wanted to read." And, yes, I fell into a real boom of writing about babies. LOL!!!

Still, readers responded to those books.

By today's standards, though, the following that was a "nice" size, back before ebooks and Indie authors, isn't a number anybody's jumping up and down for anymore.

So do I quit?  I mean, really? I'm now small compared to my competition who are leaving me in the dust. I'm not a contender. Not close to being a contender. Am I not just wasting time?

And if I quit...what do I say to readers? Isn't bailing almost like deserting the readers who faithfully followed me for two DECADES?

When I really thought all this through, in my heart of hearts I knew that everybody has a place. Every BOOK has a place. True, the place of some of my first books in my career was to teach me how to write (LOL) but that's an important place too.

When authors talk about following our hearts, writing books of our heart, there's sometimes an air of rebellion to it. But is it really rebellion to sense your place in the grand scheme of things, walk over to it and own it?

You might not make billions of dollars, but there's a readership out there looking for you, for your books. The TIMES or USA TODAY lists might never pick you up. But a lonely widow might. Or a teenager. Or a housewife. Or a woman on the beach who just wants a break from her life and to be swept away in another (cooler...LOL) life.

Right now, money is tight, jobs are difficult, raising children a full-time job. Every time a tired or lonely or desperate-for-a-break reader picks up your book and finds a few stress-free hours...you've fulfilled your calling.

So, the next time you don't make a list, don't sell enough books to pay for your cover, feel like a failure when your friends can afford three beach trips each year with their over-abundant royalties...think of that reader.

You might not have made a lot of money, but you fulfilled your purpose. And isn't that really why you got into this profession? To entertain? To tell your stories?

Happy Monday...and Happy Reading

susan meier

Monday, July 14, 2014

Never Underestimate the Power of a Magic Marker

I preach all the time about using highlighters or markers to hone in on one thread of the story, the hero or heroine's conflict, or their growth arc. It's a neat, clean way to to focus on one part of the story -- apart from everything else -- and make sure it works. Because writing a book is a lot like braiding, one story line overlaps the other as a third story line twists around those two, it's sometimes hard for us to imagining pulling one thread out, examining it, making sure it works...but, trust me, sometimes it needs to be done. As in the case of my recent hero who needed to be tormented more than I'd tormented him. :)

Still, this goes beyond "needing to be done." When you're working to make your project the best it can be, you owe it to yourself, your audience, and the project, to give it your best. And sometimes that means putting every aspect of the story under a microscope.

I'm here to tell ya, it's not hard. LOL Print your document and use a highlighter to illuminate an individual thread and then focus only on that thread. The first thing you're going to find is that because threads are only a "part" of the story, they're not long or hard to follow. The second thing you'll see is how easy it is to spot both errors and successes. In an hour or so, you will have not just followed a thread, but you'll either have approved it or fixed it.

And in the long run, you'll have a better book.

Happy Monday...and Happy Reading!

susan meier

Monday, July 7, 2014

Hold the Cheese

This weekend my husband and I finally watched the episodes of Dominion that we'd recorded. Frankly, (lean in so I can whisper) I didn't think I was going to like it. Oh, it seemed cool enough. One good angel out of an army of angels who'd gone awry (when God got tired of us and left us all to our own devices) trying to save humanity from hoards of bad angels who thought we were spoiled pampered children...but it also seemed kind of hokey. And done. Seriously...who hasn't seen a fallen angel story?

Enter some great characters and interesting scripts acted out by some really great actors, and I sat up on my chair and watched episode two with real interest. This was far from cookie-cutter.

A lot of ...well, not nice ... people will say that romance novels are the same story told over and over. To a degree that's true. You have a hero and heroine who ultimately fall in love and have a happy ending.

Beyond that, though, everything is up for grabs. Your setting, your conflicts, your external plot can be unique and make your story different enough to take readers on a unique journey.

But notice above that I also mentioned the acting in Dominion? I did that for a reason. This show could have come across as same old same old...or hokey, or cheesy...except for good acting and good directing.

That's one of the bugaboos of our profession. You can come up with a great story, but that doesn't mean it will be a great book. Poorly written, even the best plot can fall flat or read like string cheese. 

Probably the best decision I ever made I made twenty years ago, when, after having been published at least five times, I decided to study craft. I went from being someone so desperate to be published that she threw spaghetti against the wall, hoping to please someone, anyone. To being someone who finally got it that books were meant to entertain. And if I was going to come up with great stories, I was going to tell them in such a way that people would enjoy them...or a way that would transport readers...or a way that would really touch readers.

Because that's your job. Not to reach 50,000 or 60,000 or even 100,000 words, but to entertain people with those words.

So watch Dominion. Keep an open mind. LOL But, notice how villainous the villain is, and the way the hero has damned good reason to be a reluctant hero. He isn't just "not in the mood" to save the world. He's been let down by the very people who now want him to save them. See how the little girl (who could, if poorly written, only be a plot device) actually worms her way into your heart. And notice how the hero angel Michael and villain angel Gabriel sort of have their own story -- a bigger, juicier story -- going.

That's a good story. And luckily the producers seem to be taking the time to do it well.

Happy Monday...and Happy Reading!

susan meier

Monday, June 30, 2014

What's a writer supposed to do?

For fun and games last week, I decided to go to HAN (seriously not sure why) and I discovered sixteen of my old Silhouette Romances were released as ebooks. This floored me because they were sixteen of my favorite books I'd written. For years, I'd wanted these books released as ebooks so readers could find them ...

And then I sort of felt like somebody smacked me on the side of the head. Really? How WERE readers supposed to find them?

Discoverability is the devil.

I have enough friends who publish their books independently to know there are a few "tools" that help readers find you. The first one is pricing. That one's out of my control...so no point thinking about it. Then there are reviews. But people have to read the book before they can review it which means they've got to find it so that's an endless loop...so cross that one off.

You can post on Facebook or Twitter but with everybody saying, "Buy my book! Buy my book! Buy my book!" won't my cry just become one of the many?

And while I'm sitting here pondering how to get out the word that I have sixteen glorious titles on ebooks now...I'm neglecting my current WIP!

Worse, every day thousands of books are released. Indies, traditional publishers, small presses, rereleases, funnel into Amazon, Barnes and Nobel, and all the other outlets every day, making discoverability that much harder.

As I pondered this over the weekend, working on a book due far too soon for me to have split brain syndrome, I realized how very little control I had. Punching up dialogue and following character arcs through my story, I lamented how very, very small my name is in a very big publishing world.

Working on new scenes, I pouted over the possibility that maybe no one would read my words...words I considered next to poetic LOL!...and then it hit me. I ALWAYS read my words. I ALWAYS have to love my stories. Even if I'm only writing for an audience of one (2 if you count my editor :) ), I am writing to please myself. To tell great stories. To enjoy the rush of adrenaline that accompanies falling in love. And over the story, the rush of adrenaline, I have complete control. (Mostly...everybody needs editorial input.)

It's hard to sit around and try to figure out how in the name of all that is holy you're going to get someone to discover your book-- or lots of people to discover your book. Writing is a lot easier when you stop that and focus on your writing.

Especially since that's what brought us to this profession in the first place. The love of writing/storytelling.

That's not to say discoverability isn't part of our job. We need to get out there and make sure our babies are found and read. What I am saying is I want to be sure that if I find a few wonderful souls to read my work...they'll like what they read.

Happy Monday and Happy Reading

susan meier

Monday, June 23, 2014

Research Ain't What It Used To Be

I just read a letter from my editor that contained the "tweaks" I need to incorporate in my next Harlequin to make the story stronger. (No biggie.) But one of the comments she made about the book made me laugh. She loved the way I portrayed Barcelona, Spain. Loved it. In a conversation a few weeks ago, she'd asked if I'd been there and I had to admit I hadn't but I told her not to worry, that YouTube was very good for actually "seeing" a city because there are hundreds of different kinds of videos to choose from.

You can go pure tourist. That's somebody who's wandering around the city, filming as they walk. That's a good street-level view. LOL But there are specialists. Travel agent videos will "show" you what you will see firsthand if you book your trip through them. One video poster actually does what he calls "driving through" videos. You see the city speeding by as if you were driving through. That one came in particularly handy.

But I don't just rely on YouTube. Lots of people post blogs about their experiences in the cities they visit. I also go to the official site...and even though Barcelona's official site was not in English...I could figure out what they were trying to say. :)

I've visited a candy factory in my area for one of my books. I've spoken directly to police, lawyers, and even a funeral director (Hi, Mark) for HER SUMMER WITH THE MARINE.

I'm not the kind of gal who has the patience to read books on a "subject" but show me a video and I can watch it again and again and again. Or give me a chance to chat on the phone with someone who has firsthand information and I'm all ears.

My point is...Research is whatever you want to make it. You can read blog journals, make phone calls, read books, watch YouTube. So make it fun. Make your trip into a subject something that resonates with you so that the information you need sticks with you and you have the fact you need at the exact minute you need it.

Happy Monday...and Happy Reading...

susan meier

Monday, June 16, 2014

Writing the Ending First

Last week I realized I was seriously behind in word count. So, I looked at my story board, seeking the scenes I knew well enough that I could draft them and know they'd fit, and I ended up writing my ending.

The next day I wrote the chapter before the ending. The next day I wrote the black moment chapter.

Writing the ending when you're desperate to get some word count so you don't fall behind is a smart thing to do. When we fall behind we tend to get overwhelmed and when we're overwhelmed we frequently don't write. We freeze. And then we really get overwhelmed.

So it's a good time management tools.

But there are other advantages, writing advantages that you might not have considered...

1.  Unlike the race to the ending you usually experience when you write chronologically, you don't have any "I'm-running-out-of-words" fear, so you don't skimp. I even wrote a few "lush" portions...Not all lush. LOL Readers usually read the ending quickly, so you can't overdo on words and sweetness. :) But it's good to know there is no restriction on what you are writing so you can give readers the solid ending they deserve.

2.  When you write the ending before the middle, you see how many words you've used, so you know how much real "space" you have to write your middle. :) If you use more words for your ending than you thought you would need, writing the middle might involve combining journey steps or cutting out lackluster scenes .... OR ... re-outlining so that you have a tighter story. But, that might actually be good. LOL

3. And...most important...When you really know your ending, you know what you're writing to. You know what the hero will say to the heroine to win her for good (or visa versa). You know what funny or cute "prop" you've chosen to make the ending cute or funny or heartbreakingly sad, so you can work it in. And knowing exactly what's going to happen, you can write to it.

Now...I can't always write my ending. Sometimes the story needs to be told chronologically...but when I can...It's great. It's a tool. It's an advantage. And it's a great way to beat procrastination. :)

Happy Reading...

susan meier