Monday, December 30, 2013

We can learn a little something from everyone

This is my last post before we start the new year. Not entirely sure what I'm posting next year, but I think it's time to get back to some hard core writing stuff.

Also, there will be  a blog every week for readers. Writing blog will still post on Mondays, but the reader blog will post on Tuesday...which means you may have to scroll down to get to the writer post if you come to the site after Monday. :) But I'll remind you.

And now for the last blog of 2013...

In the finale for Dancing with the Stars, we heard the eliminated couples express their gratitude for the opportunity to have been part of the show. They hadn't merely learned how to dance (or how difficult dancing is); they'd fallen in love with their competitors -- made friends with the very people who wanted the trophy as much as they did. They'd tested their abilities. Each had had successes and failures, and to a person they spoke of how those failures had taught them lessons.

They'd made a few bucks. They'd gotten some publicity. But those things faded when it came time to really evaluate their experiences. What they would really remember was that they'd had a good time, reset their limits and discovered a new part of themselves.

Isn't that what we do when we write? Okay, granted, nobody likes making the money more than I do because I still have a mortgage. But I've also been writing a long time. If I didn't enjoy it, it would have driven me insane long ago.

Publishing isn't a sprint. It's a journey. Like those dancers on Dancing with the Stars, you should be enjoying it. You should be pushing yourself. You should be learning new things about yourself...and you should be noting the pronoun you that keeps turning up in what I'm saying.

You can't compare yourself to anyone else. You are running your own race. If you do it right, you'll have enough success. You'll make a little money. You'll get some publicity. But you'll also get the wonderful satisfaction from growing and becoming the best YOU you can be.

As long as we're writing ALL of us are successful. Not in the weird, everybody gets a ribbon for competing kind of way. But in the good way. In the way that says, if you're still in the game, you're still in the game. Your biggest success, your greatest novel, might be just around the corner.

So compete with yourself. Be honest. Study when you need to. Hold yourself back when you're not ready. Push yourself out front when you are. And enjoy it. In this month of December when we typically begin thinking about New Years Resolutions...maybe this year count your blessings, count your achievements...and be proud of yourself.

You've come a long way, baby. :)

Happy Reading ... and Happy New Year!

susan meier

Monday, December 23, 2013

Happy Holidays!

Enjoy the week! I know I will be. No writing for me. Just family, friends, food and fun. :)


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Daring to Trust the Boss by Susan Meier

Daring to Trust the Boss

by Susan Meier

Giveaway ends December 26, 2013.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Monday, December 16, 2013

The muddle in the middle

My recent book totally bedeviled me. I kept trying to tell one story. The characters were living another. I'm not the kind of author to let characters take over. I'm a dictator. LOL Or maybe my storyboard and I are dictators. But this hero and heroine had really odd pasts. And, you know, you can't walk into your future without taking your past into consideration. Only fools do that.


Come the middle of the book, my storyboard was obsolete. For me this is worst case scenario.

I made a new one and in two chapters it was obsolete too.

I ended up pantsing this book which took me an additional two weeks over what I normally need to write a book. It was so shocking to my system that I nearly panicked four times. But I didn't. :)

Though I have to admit, I needed new strategies to get this one written...and written well. Not just drafted and tossed at my editor for her to decipher! LOL

So...what did I learn?

That not everything can be tidily summed up in a storyboard.

I know...That sounds like blasphemy. But this story was unique. And if you stay at this business for any amount of time, you may find yourself with your own bedeviling book and need to write from the gut. Best to hear that now so you can be prepared and not think your book can't be written. :)

That some books are better coming from the heart <3 em="">

Frankly, I try to make sure my STORYBOARDS come from my heart. But there's nothing like an entire story that comes from the heart. I have no idea if this book is good or bad, but it is honest and sometimes our souls need that kind of breathing book. One where our heart and soul get to lead. :)

That slowing down, not panicking, giving yourself (or your brain) a little time to recoup might be necessary.

In other words, sometimes when you think you should push, push, might be better to take a day off. (Wincing here...not giving anybody permission to procrastinate...but reminding you that writing is a work of the heart and soul. Frequently, they don't have a schedule.) Talent, ideas, real story flow sometimes take thought. If you push to write, you may not write what needs to be written at that point in the story.

That if you're writing a book that takes place in a short amount of time, you might need to use a real calendar and keep track! LOL

Seriously. At a certain point I realized I had a 4-week book happening in two weeks. Not good. I got out a calendar and added some The following week...LOL and got myself on track again. Sometimes too much focus on the artsy part of writing causes you to forget you still have to keep track of things. LOL

And that's about it.

I hope this never happens again. LOL But if it does, I'll be ready too.

Happy Reading,

susan meier

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Long Awaited Garth Brooks Post :)

A few weeks ago, I had a bad cold and spent a Saturday and Sunday in bed. If you know anything about weekend TV, you know I was bored to the point of tears and ended up watching a "special" about Garth Brooks. But, man, am I ever glad I did. The show was designed so that Garth himself didn't do much talking. His friends talked about him, his work ethic, etc. After a while I started making notes. :)

And here they are ...

8 things about Garth Brooks that might change the way you write. (Sometimes I think I can find a blog in almost anything! LOL)

1. He loves music and wants everybody to love music.

That sounds pretty simple, until you really think it through. Because he loves music he promotes well...but he also writes, produces and sings the best songs. The best songs. And what does that mean for his audience? He doesn't shortchange them. They always get the best.

So...If you really, really, really love WRITING and your genre, you should be looking for the best ideas. You should be doing YOUR best when you write. Your love of writing (or your genre) should shine through your work.

2. He has respect for other musicians and songwriters.

You have to have a healthy respect for what you do and everyone who does it in order to be your best. If you only half-heartedly love romance, I genuinely believe it shows in your work.

If you're working hard, if it takes you months to write a book, if you study writing, if you tear your scenes apart again and again to make them perfect...So are your peers. Lots of people are working full-time jobs and writing. Lots are caring for kids, elderly parents or disabled adult children. We should never, ever, ever discount the trials and tribulations of other writers.

It just plain makes us better people to be kind to each other. And God likes that. :)

3.  He has a good range.

Garth might be a country singer, but his songs transcend the genre.  Because of #4...

4.  He loves telling a good story.

That's so true. His music is all about storytelling. And he does it well. He picks subjects that resonate, and he makes them vibrate with reality and emotion. Literally. LOL

I heard Elton John talk about storytelling and music once and it totally changed the way I looked at music. He said smart songwriters tell a story because people love stories.

Well, lucky us! That's our business. But that takes us back to not shortchanging your audience (something I talked about a few weeks ago in the Hybrids blog), to figuring out what they like to hear, to learning to write your story is the best it can be.

5. He is an entertainer.

And so should we be. People get a show when they go to see Garth. People want to be entertained when they read our books.

So many times we get caught up in word counts and craft that we forget we're entertainers. Nora Roberts wasn't afraid to break a few rules. Suzanne Brockman took regular romance "hook" or trope stories and turned them  on their ears. Laura Kaye's writing vibrates with sensuality, even as her characters charm you to death. LOL

When I pick up a book, I want to be swept away. And it took me a few books (like 20 -- sometimes I make my younger self sound like a real idiot) before I realized, as a reader, I wasn't special. All readers were like me. A book doesn't have to have tons of action or ideas that transcend the norm. The writer simply has to take her genre or subgenre's conventions and use them to entertain readers.

We are entertainers. So...entertain. :)

6.  He has a respect for his audience (very much, his friends said, like another successful guy...Frank Sinatra)

The pundits  used to tell us our audience was bored housewives. We now know that's not true. Our audience is lawyers, doctors, accountants, engineers, secretaries, nurses, business owners...Everybody.  You should appreciate the fact that a reader picked up your book. You should give her her money's worth. But most of all, you can't talk down to her.

Readers are very smart. If you write poorly, they will spot it. If you don't research, they will know. If you don't like what you're doing and "phone in" your book, they'll see it.

And they won't come back. So even your books with the tightest deadlines have to be your best work.

(I'm talking to myself here because I'm a week late and tempted to write fast and get this turkey in. Instead, I slowed down...God help make sure the book is the best it can be.)

7. He's never afraid to be passionate.

And don't we love that? Being passionate, I think, is part of being a good entertainer. And we're all in the entertainment industry.

I love category romance. :) I love the point in the story when the tension is so tight you know it could snap. The story could change. The characters could do something they regret. It puts me on the edge of my seat.

That's what I want to see in books I read. That's what I want to get into my stories when I write. Granted, I'm not always successful...but I'm not afraid of that passion. Not afraid to confront it.

In fact, smart romance writers use it! We are, after all, in the passion business! LOL

8. Even with success he remained a nice guy. :)

Ah, would that we all could be. Sometimes I think it's easy for the uber successful to be nice guys. Let's face it. They're making the money. Readers are stroking their egos. Their Facebook fan page numbers are through the roof. Amazon loves them. Agents call them out of the blue. Editors call their agents and ask them to write something for them...

Sigh. I could be nice if I were on top!

But the funny part of it is, the people on top have greater struggles than those of us hovering in the middle. There's constant expectation. Not just from their publishers, but from readers...AND THEMSELVES. When you are on top, you want to stay on top and there are thousands of wannabes nipping at your heels.

So whether you're on the top or in the middle or just starting out, know this:

You're going to have bad days. There will always be somebody who is doing better than you are. You will question your talent. There will never be enough hours in a day or days in a deadline...

That does not give you license to be mean.

In fact, given that we're all in this together, being nice to people is a way to form support groups, critique groups, lifeboat groups and make the friends who may someday save you. :)

But being nice is just plain the right thing to do. Jealousy, meanness and condescension only make you sadder than you already are. In other words, you're hurting yourself.

So grab your talent by the handle and get going. Don't worry about what anybody else is doing. Don't think you're better than anybody else. Don't worry that you're not getting the recognition you deserve. Just write your best book. Enjoy the process. And be a well rounded person. Enjoy your family. Love your spouse. Go fishing (or swimming or bingo playing or shopping). Have other passions aside from writing.

Because nobody's ever clearly the best. Rankings change. Genres go in and out of style. Things like Facebook get invented and change everything. :) Don't be so one-dimensional that you can't be happy unless you're the best. :)

And think of Garth Brooks. :) Be passionate, love your industry, love your audience, love your craft, love your peers, be a storyteller. A great storyteller. Be proud of yourself. :)

Happy Reading...


Monday, December 2, 2013

Genres, Sub-genres and Hybrids (oh my)

Again, because of thanksgiving, I'm reposting an older blog. This one from 2011. But when I read it, I thought, sheesh, this is really relevant...esp in these days of self-publishing. So wish me a happy day off and enjoy....

Genres, Sub-genres and Hybrids (oh my)

Sort of like lions and tigers and bears, oh my.

At the beginning of my Story, Theme and Idea workshop, I have each attendee condense his or her next book idea to one paragraph. Then I ask them the following five questions:

1. Is your paragraph clear. If it isn't, try again. Cut out all extraneous explanations and get right to the point. What's really going on in your story? Is it a bodyguard story, an older man/younger woman story, a mystery, a thriller? If it is, just say that!

2. From this paragraph, can I (or could an editor) tell your story is interesting, consistent, credible and compelling? 

3. Is something -- strong conflict, compelling goals, gripping motivations -- "missing" from your story?

4. Could you add something to your summary that might shoot your story idea over the moon?

5.  Should you rewrite your paragraph to incorporate the shoot-over-the-moon idea? And if you did, could you see yourself changing your book to match the new story summary? (Just in your head! Never start rewriting until you've tested things out first in a storyboard, story summary or with a could, might, must and should list!)

Okay...If you read all of those with your current story in mind, you were probably fine until #4...THE SHOOT THE STORY OVER THE MOON IDEA.

There's a lot, lot, lot we could talk about in terms of finding an idea to shoot your story over the moon, but for the purposes of today's blog GENRES, SUBGENRES AND HYBRIDS (oh my), I'm not going to tell you how to get these ideas. But rather, I'd like to talk about when a shoot-a-story-over-the-moon idea is good and when it's bad.

Bad? A great idea can be bad?

Yes. All because of two little things called genre conventions and reader expectations.

Oh, and did I mention that these shoot-the-story-over-the-moon ideas might be either why you get published or why you don't?

Lots to talk about.

Okay, so let's start with genres, subgenres and hybrids. In Susan Meier world, genres are obvious: Mystery, Suspense, Romance, Thriller, Sci Fi, Western (etc.)

In Romance we have tons of subgenres. Romantic Suspense, Romantic Mystery, Sci-Fi Romance, Romantic Thrillers, Traditional Romance, Sweet Romance, Medical Romance, Small Town Romance, Paranormals, get the picture. (Mysteries, Thrillers, Sci-Fi, Westerns [etc] also have lots of subgenres or types.)

These subgenres actually came about because somebody was bold enough to write a HYBRID.

Simply put, a hybrid is a combination of two things that create a third. Romance with Suspense = Romantic Suspense. If that third thing catches on with readers, it becomes a subgenre. Publishers even push this. (Taking advantage of the excitement over a new thing, they publish lots of that thing until it becomes a subgenre or sadly fizzles from oversaturation.) [By the way, I'm not talking fancy here. Just down to earth so you "get" what I'm saying.]

So it almost seems that we're saying if you want to become wildly successful write a hybrid.

Yes and no.

Hybrids are fun. They are fun to write. They are fun to watch when they come out to see if readers love them ... or to see if they create a new subgenre. But hybrids are hard to shelf. And before the days of over-the-top self-publishing, lots of publishers didn't want to touch them. Why? Just because they are hard to shelf? Yeah. Basically. Except there's another bugaboo in there. YOU may like the combo you've chosen, sweet paranormal romance...but will anybody else?

Sexual tension, sexual curiosity, great sex and general weirdness [read: great imagination on the part of the writer] typically sell paranormals. Readers of "sweet" romances generally don't like weird or unusual things. They want the writer's imagination spent on unique twists of their own particular subgenre, not weird things.

I can't see a true "sweet" romance reader liking a true paranormal. And if you water down the paranormal aspect of your story enough that it's a "sweet" romance, then I can't see paranormal readers liking it. And if you don't water down the paranormal elements, then you don't have a sweet romance.

Get the picture?

So, writing hybrids is fun, but you can't say for sure your particular hybrid would hit a mark or find an audience...At least not one big enough for traditional/legacy publishing. Which means you might make some money self publishing but I think that's another blog! LOL

So when does a hybrid catch on?

When you mix the right two genres (obviously) but also when you target an audience and reach them.

What do I mean? Years ago, I wrote a book called IN FOR LIFE. It was a romantic suspense written for Intrigue. Intrigue is a category romance line. So my first responsibility (yes, it is a responsibility) to readers was to give them a category romance. I had to hit all the conventions of a category romance to satisfy readers and I used the suspense of the story to further the romance. Why? Because it was a category romance. I was writing for category romance readers so I was pleasing them. Plus, it was a nice [easy, fun] way to up the sexual tension as well as the general tension of the story.

The suspense and the romance drove the story equally.  The suspense and the romance braided together. Each impacted the other.

I did my job by knowing my audience and giving category romance readers what they wanted, even though the suspense played as great a part in the story.  Now, the book might not have pleased straight suspense readers as much as it pleased category romance readers. But I was writing for category romance readers. It was my job to please them.

And that's another risk of a hybrid. You won't necessarily please all the readers of the original subgenre. But the interesting thing about romantic suspense is that, if written well, most romance readers will love you.

So the trick to writing a hybrid is to pick an audience and speak to them.

But that's also the trick to writing a category romance, building an audience and becoming successful.  It's also the trick to writing a great single title romance, building an audience and becoming successful. It's also the trick to writing a great ANYTHING and becoming successful.

And it's also why you can write a truly WONDERFUL story that doesn't get bought.

And here we come to the point of today's blog.

Lots of people can and do write fantastic stories that are never bought or don't find an audience because whatever they chose to shoot the story over the moon shot it right out of their genre's, subgenre's or line's conventions.

Remember our sweet paranormal? Hard to please those two groups of readers in one story. But it's also difficult to please readers if you have graphic murder scenes in a sweet romance. Or not enough romance in a romance because your external story was so good you focused on that instead of the hero and heroine. Or too much romance in a straight suspense or mystery.

So when you're coming up with your idea, you have to be aware of your genre's conventions. Will what you're considering to shoot your idea over the moon actually shoot it out of contention?

Hum...something to think about!

If your publicity material says, my book will appeal to EVERYBODY, I cringe. My mother does not like romance novels. [Sad for me, huh?] She will tolerate a romance [like in a romantic suspense] but it had better take second place in your story and not be too sappy. If you appeal to her by watering down the romance or not having a romance, then you're not going to appeal to me because I only seem to like books that have romance in them. And I want the romance in front. Most important. With a nice helping of sap, thank you very much.

Do you see your quandary?

You cannot appeal to EVERYONE. But you can appeal to a large audience. My mom and I don't fit into the same subset. But there are plenty of other people who like romance and sci-fi being 50/50 in a book. [I'm one of them.] There are lots of people who like romance and thriller being 50/50 in a book. There are lots of people who like romance and military [new subgenre in my opinion] being 50/50 in a book. There are lots [and lots and lots] of people who like romance and paranormal being 50/50 in a book.

My mom just isn't one of them! So you're not speaking to her. Don't let that trouble you. There are plenty of romance readers out there. She'll find her own books. LOL

So the trick to a good hybrid is to pick a good, stable, solid audience and speak to them, spicing up your story with something else that you can easily give 50% of your story to without taking away from the romance that will draw the audience. In fact, a hybrid works best when the romance enhances the "other" story and the "other" story enhances the romance.

And that takes us back to when a shoot-the-moon story idea is bad. And why having too good of an idea might get you rejected.

Lots of writers tell me they use the question: What's the worst thing that can happen right now? And that's what they create as the next scene in their book. And that's how they "up" the tension in their story.

I remind them that full-scale nuclear war is the worst thing that could happen. Aside from planet-destroying asteroid strike. But that doesn't fit every book.

Actually, the whole planet-destroying asteroid strike would immediately end your book. :)

Anyway,  the question 'what's the worst thing that can happen right now' needs to be tempered by your genre's conventions. Just as a sweet paranormal doesn't make sense [though right now I can see eight of you deciding to prove me wrong! :)] if your shoot-over-the-moon idea doesn't fit your subgenre, story type or line, it won't make your book better.

Especially, if something about your shoot-the-moon idea alienates readers. Or doesn't fit the conventions of the line, subgenre or story type.

So when shooting your idea over the moon, really think about your story. Think about your AUDIENCE. Think about reader expectations for your line, subgenre or story type. Don't put an asteroid in the middle of a category romance, unless it's a small one that's needed for the external conflict and you can somehow use it to up sexual tension and strengthen the internal conflict!

Think about whether your shoot-over-the-moon idea enhances the story or takes over the story ... or makes the story feel irrelevant.

If you have a mysterious brother come home about 2/3rds of the way through your historical and even the heroine thinks he's hot, and he's the one who reveals the hero's secrets and maybe even the one who saves the've just blown what might have been a good story. Sure, having the brother come home might have been exciting. But if he upstages your hero, he failed. He didn't enhance the story. He ruined it.

Think through your shoot-over-the-moon idea the same way. Make sure you don't come up with something that's outside the realm of what readers want, and make sure the idea enhances the story...doesn't overshadow your story or make it irrelevant.

And that's about all the time I have today. I do have to write this week. (Though my poor body is trying to catch a cold and would like nothing better than to lay about in bed watching reruns of Gilmore Girls.)

So, try to give your story something wonderful, something with umph (like a shoot-over-the-moon idea), but respect your readers and what they want to read, and, also, don't ruin your original story with it.

Make it something that flows naturally from the story/conflicts you already have going.

That's the real trick to a shoot-over-the-moon idea, and readers will love you for it. [So will editors.]

And don't forget you're always welcome to post questions or comments on this blog.

Happy Reading,

susan meier