Adventures in Marketing


Long time, no post. Didja miss me?

The only “real” update I have is that I am giving away two signed paperback copies of Reclaim on Goodreads! The giveaway is open through April 27th (U.S. residents only) and you can access it here.

This post will serve as my monthly check-in for April, but since I don’t have any earth shattering updates, I’ve decided to do a post about my recent “adventures” in marketing. And by adventures, I really mean me trying different marketing platforms to see what works.

So what works? The truth is, I don’t know yet, haha. ūüėČ I am still learning and exploring what options are out there. And I’ve only recently started toying with Amazon and Goodreads’ marketing tools. I know it will take more than a few months trial and error to see what really works, to figure out what I think works best. So this is more of a post that–if you haven’t played around with any of these tools yet or simply don’t know what’s out there–will hopefully give you somewhere to start. And, if you come across this post with experiences of your own you’d like to share, feel free to comment down below! ūüôā

Facebook

I’ll be honest with you: Although I loved Facebook when I was first starting out as an indie author, it’s slowly becoming one of my least favorite platforms.

Don’t get me wrong. I still like it for certain things. I still value it as a go-to spot to connect with friends and readers, to post links to interesting, book-related articles or to my own blog posts. But, ever since Facebook has started pushing its own advertising platform (and, as a result, decreasing the number of followers who see your posts unless you pay up), it’s become less of a fun thing to do.

And, believe me, I get it. I totally get that if you’re going to have your author page or whatever on Facebook, and you’re advertising a product (in this case, my books), that Facebook would like some compensation for that. The only thing is, I’m not super convinced (yet) that paying Facebook to advertise your books leads to tangible results (i.e., book sales). In my experience so far, it doesn’t, and–compared to the other options I’m going to talk about next–it isn’t cost effective, or any kind of effective. And at the risk of getting banned from Facebook forever (would they do that? lol!), I started to feel like the money I was paying to advertise on there would have been better spent getting flushed down the toilet.

Not that advertising on it is completely useless. What you’re really paying for is extending your reach on Facebook, so if you advertise the page itself you will see some new page likes trickle in, or if you boost a post you will see more likes on said post than you would have had you not shelled out $20. But as for any of those people buying your book…I am still skeptical. Maybe if you run it constantly enough and people see it all the time they might finally get curious and buy it or something. However, I’m not convinced enough of this yet to use Facebook for constant advertising, unless maybe it’s around the time of a book release.

Also, just as a heads up, you have to be careful how you lay out your advertisement on Facebook because it gets angry when there are too many words haha. Only a certain percentage of it can be text. As a result, you will likely get a warning message when you prepare an advertise for your book that includes the book cover. Usually it’s okay because book covers are one of the exceptions to this rule (Facebook will still approve the ad), but it’s something to be aware of. I think it’s kind of dumb, though. A LOT of authors are trying to promote their books via Facebook, and including the book cover is an important part of that.

Amazon

Although I will have to experiment more with Amazon’s, for me it’s definitely a more appealing option than Facebook. For one thing, on Amazon (and Goodreads, as you’ll find out next), you only get charged if someone actually clicks on your ad. So, even if they don’t end up buying it, at least they have to physically do something for you to get charged, and it feels a little less like flushing money down the toilet, haha.

Amazon Marketing Services offers two campaign types, sponsored products or product display ads. So far, I have only tried the former. You include a catchy tagline for the advertisement, and you select the start and end dates for the campaign, as well as the maximum amount you are willing to spend per day. So, for example, I ran a sponsored products ad for Reborn for about a month with a daily cap at $5 per day. (Sounds like a lot, right? Because over a month, if you actually reach that threshold every day, you could end up spending $150. But more about that in a second.)

You also choose what keywords may lead to your product getting display (for my book, I chose keywords like “paranormal romance” and “urban fantasy”). Amazon will have suggestions for you based on past searches that have brought people to your book. You can pick as many keywords as you like. You also choose a bid for each click…so, for instance, I could pick “paranormal romance” and bid $0.10, so I will get charged that amount if someone using those keywords happens upon my ad AND clicks on it. I would reach my daily threshold of $5 if 50 people clicked on my ad at $0.10/click.

Next time, I will probably up the bid (I think $0.25 or $0.50 are the usual suggestions). I *think* the bid has something to do with how often your ad is shown (that’s how it works over on Goodreads, at least).

The ad for Reborn, as described above, made about 49,500 impressions in the month it was running. It got 79 clicks, and I made two sales. I mean, now that I’ve put all that out there for you, it doesn’t sound super great (ha, ha), but in that month I only spend $12.70 on this, because not everyone who sees your ad will actually click on it. You may not end up spending anywhere near your daily max every single day of the ad.

That being said, I wouldn’t recommend picking a daily max you couldn’t actually afford if you did end up paying that much. I’m obviously still experimenting with this, and maybe if I said I was willing to spend $100 per day on advertising I would get better results, but that is not happening any time soon. Although I think people should be willing to invest both time and some money into their dream, I’m not recommending you splurge your life savings on it. (Please don’t do that.) This is the cheapskate’s guide to marketing your e-book.

Goodreads

By the way, I should probably have put in this disclaimer much earlier, but I do not work for or represent any of these companies. I am just hoping this post can serve as a source of helpful information that’s all in one place and giving my honest opinion about each of them.

Like the others, Goodreads’ usefulness remains to be seen, but so far it might be my favorite. It’s true that it will likely be a challenge to get a click on an ad on Goodreads to turn into an actual book sale, but it also seems like I will be able to run my ads for a much longer time on there while spending the least amount of money. Which is what I’m always aiming for. Like I said. Cheap. Skate.

Seriously, though. You can create ONE Goodreads campaign, with one budget, and run MULTIPLE ads simultaneously. I have one campaign running right now with a budget of $25, and four ads (one for each book/novella in the Reborn series) running at the same time. I chose to just end the campaign (I started it March 22nd) when the $25 credit runs out. In the meantime, it just keeps on runnin’.

On Goodreads, you can also choose a daily maximum so you can cap how much you are willing to spend per day. I again chose a $5 daily cap and this time chose a $0.50 cost per click. You can choose which genders, countries, and genres you want Goodreads to display your ad(s) to. You also choose a tagline and other info you might want displayed (number of reviews, a link to the preview, etc.).

This campaign is currently running and is obviously still an experiment-in-progress. Since March 22 when it began, it’s been viewed 10,556 times. Only one person has clicked on one of the ads, so I’ve only spent $0.50 so far. I think what I like about it is that it will just keep running, I don’t have to do anything, and, like on Amazon, I don’t get charged unless someone who sees the ad makes a meaningful action (i.e., clicks on it). This is opposed to Facebook, who just gets your $25 either way, ahaha. (I’m sorry Mark Zuckerberg. Don’t take it personally.) Talk about paying for people to “like” you.

Addendum 4/17: So, I wasn’t exactly correct about how Goodreads’ ad campaigns worked…namely about how/when they charge you. I’ll fix it above later (when I have more time), but for now I’m adding this. It does charge you when it creates the ad, but only takes money off the credit when someone clicks on it. BUT…but…this still means that your original credit could still go a long way.

*****

It is too soon to tell what my feelings on all of this will be a few months from now, or a year from now. I will keep you posted. For now, I hope this has been an informative post for those of you who have yet to try any of these things out. I know there are other avenues out there I haven’t explored yet. So far, the results of these ad campaigns haven’t been crazy successful. I guess I’m also hoping there is some value in just seeing the ad (in addition to clicking on it) that may prove useful in the long run…that it will, in time, lead to an add on a Goodreads to-read list and, eventually, to a sale.

Only time will tell.

The M Word


….Marketing. (Why, what were you thinking?)

I am slowly but surely trying to get back into the swing of writing and blog updating. Just last week I successfully defended my PhD dissertation (hooray!!!), and now my hunt for a “real job”¬†resumes. Since I can’t seem to stick to one field, I’m also thinking ahead to my plans for the rest of the Reborn series, and I’ll update the good ol’ blog about that soon. (It feels good to get back to story writing.) But, like I said, today’s post is about something many writers perhaps view as a necessary evil: marketing and promotion.

I’ve talked about marketing strategies and what’s worked (and hasn’t worked) so far for me before on this blog. Since I’m still trying new and different approaches to see what works–it’s definitely a learning process–I thought I’d touch on this subject again. I know that some of us as writers detest marketing and promotion out of principle–we want our stories to stand on their own and attract an audience because they’re great stories, not because we’re shoving them down our potential audience’s throats. Although I get that, I’ve never really been averse to the mere concept of promotion. No matter how good your book actually is, no one is going to pick it up (or download it onto their Kindle) and read it unless they know it exists/where to find it. Nevertheless, as I’ve come¬†to accept myself, there are definitely other factors–many of them beyond your control–that will affect your sales. So, here is an updated post about what I’ve tried as far as marketing goes, what’s worked for me (and continues to work), and some other factors to consider.

1. Free Promotions

I’m listing this one first because it’s worked the best for me (I can’t speak for all authors), although, as with any strategy, there are upsides and downsides. Clearly one of the disadvantages is you’re giving your book away for free and not making even the 35% royalty from your $0.99 book (or whatever rate/price combo you’ve chosen). But, if you’re just starting out and primarily concerned with building an audience (like I am), it might be something you want to consider more seriously. If you’re new to self-publishing, a little bit of background about Amazon Kindle: At least in the beginning, you will probably sell most of your ebooks on Amazon’s platform. It really does seem to dominate the e-book market. When you enroll your book in the KDP Select program, you are able to take advantage of Amazon’s free promotion tool or something called the “Kindle Countdown Deal” (a note about that in a moment). One possible drawback, depending on your view, is that the electronic version of your book has to be exclusive to Kindle for the three-month enrollment period. So you can offer a paperback version through Createspace (spellcheck wanted to change that to meatspace…), but no Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Apple, etc, at least until the enrollment period ends.

Advantages:¬†You will likely “sell” lots and lots of books using Amazon’s free promotion tool because readers like to stuff their Kindle Cloud with free books. (There are downsides to this–see next.) My debut novel Reborn sold exceptionally well during the first few months of its release using this tool–and still does the few times I’ve tried it since then–and usually hits the Kindle Free bestsellers list in its genre. Obviously if some people are merely downloading as many free ebooks as possible, like I said, not everyone is going to get around to reading it right away…but even if a handful of people do, that’s a handful more than you may have had otherwise. Some Facebook and Twitter pages are on the lookout for free/$0.99 books, so it helps get the word out about your book without you having to do too much (except put it on sale).

I’ve also noticed that, after the free promotion, my sales remain pretty steady for a time after the book goes back to its original price. Something similar happened when I decided to make Reborn free on Smashwords (which links to a network of other major e-book platforms–again, B&N, Apple, etc.). I had never really tried it using Smashwords before until recently, and I haven’t really sold many books through these other platforms. (Unlike Amazon, your book doesn’t have to be exclusive to these other sites to make it free–you just change the price on Smashwords, and it updates all related sites.) Well, it certainly boosted sales, particularly to B&N, including after Reborn went back to its original price. I picked up a few more readers this way who are excited for Relapse to release to these other platforms this summer. Further, with Amazon’s price match option, Amazon takes the liberty of adjusting the price of your book to better compete with other retailers. (This is a neat trick to circumvent ¬†KDP Select…shhhh, don’t tell Amazon…)

Disadvantages:¬†Since readers are stuffing their Kindle or whatever with free books, don’t expect this to necessarily correlate with more¬†reviews on Amazon/B&N/Goodreads or an influx of followers on your preferred social media sites. With every promotion, a few more reviews, followers, or additions to someone’s TBR list trickle in. So it’s up to you how much time you really want to pump into these types of promotions. Yes, it seems to help–but you also seem to have to do it pretty consistently to start seeing some real results, and it can get frustrating. You also have to put aside your ego a bit since you’re giving away your months and months of hard work for free (or at least very cheap). The jury is still out on how this tactic will work for me in the long run.

A note about the Kindle Countdown Deal (KCD): I wasn’t very happy with the results when I tried this. For the KCD, you reduce the price (but it can’t be free) for a number of days you specify. For example, I set a sale price of $0.99 for my ebook that’s usually $2.99, and on Amazon there’s a little timer that counts down to the day the deal will end. You can also raise the price back up in increments ($0.99 to $1.99 to $2.00, so on and so forth). I created a two-day promotion for Relapse on Amazon.com and sold maybe like seven ebooks in about the first 12 hours of the deal…so, ok, but not great. When I next tried it on Amazon.co.uk (and made the sale period longer), I sold a big fat zero. Unfortunately, you can only run one KCD per market (US or UK) per enrollment period, which is pretty long (three months). Maybe it would have helped to make the sale period longer in the US (where I live), but I’m not re-enrolling Relapse in KDP select, so that might be a future experiment. However, other authors have been pleased with their KCD results.

2. Social Media (subtitle: Popular! You’re gonna be popular!)

Clearly, this encompasses a variety of platforms–Wordpress, Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and a lot of newfangled apps that I’m too old/stubborn to try.¬†I’m going to touch on the ones I use here, with some advantages/disadvantages and dos/donts. Obviously, I use WordPress to host my blog. Maybe one day I’ll be willing to shell out cash for a real web site (when I get my real job), but for now my blog works just fine. I use it for the same things and have tried to confine it in recent months to just writing and book-related posts.

Facebook:¬†This may come as some surprise, but, even after all of Facebook’s changes, it still seems to work the best for me, personally. I have both my Facebook page (S.L. Stacy), and I created a separate profile (from my personal account) to network with reviewers, readers, and fellow authors and writers. (Be my friend!¬†LOL) When I first started out with just my blog, I had about 20 or so followers (mostly my friends and family), and now I’m up to 319…more than some, measly compared to others, but it’s still helping me expand my readership. With Facebook’s new restrictions, there has been a decline in the number of people that see my posts, but some of them still do well considering I don’t pay for ads. And I’m on Facebook more than I’m willing to admit, so I update it fairly regularly.

By the way, has anyone else taken out an ad on your Facebook page to extend your reach? I tried it once (for only $5), and it definitely helped boost the number of people on Facebook who saw the post and increased interaction a bit (as far as likes and shares go). It definitely did not boost book sales, though. I’m really cynical about social media ads because I can’t remember the last time I actually clicked on one and bought something (never).

Twitter: Oh, Twitter. Although I see the possible utility of Twitter and I do use it from time to time, I get super annoyed with it. This is one social media platform that I think authors need to be very careful with. I’ve noticed a lot of writers who just constantly blast tweet after tweet about their books every single day, and I don’t see how that could possibly work. Even though you have your profile description and little picture/avatar, you are still (hopefully) an actual person behind it, so show your followers that and tweet about other things besides your book. Not that you shouldn’t tweet about your book(s) at all-I tend to do it a lot when the book first releases and during any sales, but that’s it. I also HATE getting direct messages from other accounts asking me to buy their book or follow their Facebook page. I don’t see how that works, either (If it’s worked for you, feel free to let me know in the comments. I’m interested in your experiences, too.)

Although, just like the next platform I’m going to touch on, there can be a lot of hate/negativity on Twitter. I’m just philosophically opposed to the whole let’s-gang-up-on-this-artist-and-tweet-mean-things-to-them-because-rage thing that seems to happen on Twitter. You probably wouldn’t do that in real life, so why is it ok to do it on social media because you get to hide behind your computer? (WHY CAN’T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG?!!!!) The whole idea of it just makes me sad for humanity, even when I don’t necessarily disagree with why people are angry/annoyed.

I do somehow have over 900 Twitter followers now. Again, I don’t really know what that means, but it makes me feel kind of awesome even though it’s not uncommon on Twitter these days with all the follow-back etiquette.

Goodreads:¬†I’m on Goodreads, and, yes, it’s just another way to reach potential readers–and that’s awesome. But beware of trolls. Also, don’t stalk your reviews. (I’m still guilty of that. Do as I say, not as I do.)

Tumblr: I have a Tumblr, but I don’t really use it that much anymore. Honestly, I’m pretty sure most of its users are in high school-early 20s, and it just makes me feel kind of old. As far as book promotions go, it hasn’t really helped or hurt me when I used it more frequently.

3. Brand/Genre

Branding is a fun one, and another thing some may be wary of. It’s supposed to be about the art, not the brand, right? Although often branding seems to take over, diminishing the value of the art itself (this seems to happen a lot with the “music” industry, or is at least talked about a lot), establishing some sort of basic brand/persona isn’t a bad thing. It lets readers know what you and your books are about, what they might expect from them, if your work might mesh with their usual tastes in reading material, etc. Well-designed blog and/or Facebook banners can help convey a sense of this. (Hire a graphic designer if you’re not good at creating banners and book covers. It’s probably one of the best investments you can make as a budding author. I love the work that Heidi, who has designed my banners and both of my book covers, has done for myself and others. I find it’s better to establish a relationship with a graphic designer rather than using those pre-made book covers you can buy on certain sites, but that could just be me.) Your presence on social media and topics you like to cover on your blog(s) also helps establish your brand.

Genre is probably an obvious one. Is your book primarily a mystery? A romance? Sci fi? Literary fiction? Thriller? Horror? Your book might merge elements from multiple genres, but pick a few that you think describe it best.

Although this seems straightforward (and maybe it is, for a lot of people), I’ve found that trying to categorizing one’s book can be a bit tricky, especially when you’re writing “romance.” Apparently, what this genre term means to me and what it means to other readers differs in some aspects. To me, “romance” has always been an umbrella term or euphemism for…lady smut? Haha! I’ve dubbed my series a paranormal romance because it definitely has overwhelmingly paranormal elements, and one of the primary themes (although there are a lot of other plot threads) is an intensely erotic relationship between my two main characters (that is not always romantic, although they have their moments). But, apparently when some people see that PR or romance tag, they want the formula, HEA or HFN ending. Yeah, sorry guys. you’re not going to find that here (or at least not for another few books. (You learn very quickly when you put your work out there that you aren’t going to please everyone, so don’t expect to or even try.) For me, I’ve found the best description for my work seems to be “PR/urban fantasy” or “urban fantasy with strong elements of romance.” (Because urbanfantasciencefictionmance is not a genre.)

This is a little off-topic, but we had a lively little discussion on one of the Facebook groups I belong to, the Indie Author Review Exchange, about genre–more specifically, what constitutes “women’s fiction” and whether or not we should even call it women’s fiction or use designations like “chick lit,” etc. As far as marketing strategies go, it will help you to know who you’re writing for, who you think will want to buy your book. (Are you writing for young adults? 20-somethings? Men? Women? Do you think your work has broader appeal and could be enjoyed by just about anyone?) It’s not a bad thing to want to read a book with a main character who will resonate with you, who you can relate to because you share a certain characteristic with them. And, on the one hand, I’m proud to be a female writer writing for what I expect will be a primarily, 18+ female audience.

BUT. But. On the other hand, I’m starting to see the downsides to gender-targeted advertising of any kind. It would probably be ok if it felt like it was an even playing field–maybe men tend to like this set of things, and women tend to like this set of things, and it’s all good because it’s all worthwhile entertainment. Well, first off, we know that not all men like the same things…ditto with women. We’re all different.

Secondly, it usually isn’t treated like the above. When you’re a woman, it usually feels like: Men like this set of things, which are awesome and worthwhile and manly, and women, being inherently silly, like this other set of silly, terrible things that are unrealistic and a complete waste of time. (By the way, I’m not saying that only men or all men feel this way. Women put down each other all the time for the things they like. Everyone has done it at some point, myself included. I’m consciously trying to stop and catch myself when I do it.) Yes, some of our female audience-targeted entertainment may indeed be silly, even stupid. I’ve come to accept that I like a lot of “silly” things. But, men–as much as I love you–a lot of the things you like are silly (and unrealistic), too. ūüėČ

I’ve grown in my opinion of this topic of genre and gender since I’ve entered the indie writing world. I’ve come to realize that a lot of the assumptions we make about our intended audience–even though it’s a useful marketing tool–are restrictive and kind of sexist. As a romance writer, I didn’t realize how many male romance writers were out there (besides Nicholas Sparks…). Men write romance and read romance–some because they want to support fellow writers (male or female) in the genre, even if it’s not their favorite, and others simply because they like it. I’ve been able to reach a lot of different kinds of readers with Reborn, which–even if most of my audience will, in the end, be composed of my target, 18+ female readers–is pretty cool.

4. Other Variables

Despite everything I’ve said, about sales/promotions, social media, and branding, I’m beginning to realize that there’s a few major variables in the self-pub equation that are pretty much out of your control. Namely, time and luck. Ok, time you do have control over, as far as just keep on writing–don’t give up, and as you build your brand and your body of work, the readers will come. It just takes time. A lot of time. Patience is not one of my virtues, but I’m working on that. You also have control over how you budget your time between writing, networking, promoting, reading, and doing other life things. But luck? Waiting for the right reader to come along and download your ebook and love it so much they tell their vast social network about you and your book? Yeah, you have no control over that. I hope it happens for you (and for me, too).

But in the meantime, experiment with a few marketing strategies and see what works the best for you.¬†Have a presence on your select social media platforms¬†without becoming one of the “BUY MY BOOK! BUY MY BOOK!” automatons. The most important thing you can probably do, though, is to start on your next project–write, write, write. Remind yourself why you’re doing this: Because you love it, you love writing, you love your imaginary world, you love your characters and you want so share that passion with others. There will be many ups and downs on this journey, and sometimes you will need to be your own biggest cheerleader.

Speaking of writing…..

*****

Here are some other blog posts that I’ve found helpful (albeit cynical) and that motivated my own evolving attitudes on marketing and promotion:

Marketing, Social Media & Book Signings: Why NONE of These Directly Impact Book Sales

Please Shut Up: Why Self-Promotion as an Author Doesn’t Work

Art and Culture


I’ve been debating over whether I should write this post or not. I’m still not sure, but–since the Internet provides us with such an easy avenue for (over)sharing of opinions–it’s happening. Why the uncertainty? Well, for one, this post was inspired by a certain movie, based off of a bestselling book, that released on Valentine’s Day and has, in a short time, grossed bajillions of dollars (I may be exaggerating, slightly…). That’s right–the both much beloved and reviled Fifty Shades of Grey. And, to some degree, I–as some of you may also be–am simply getting sick of hearing about it, period. So I will try to make this post a little more broad than just this book/movie, but I can’t ignore it completely. Secondly…if the Fifty Shades controversy has shown us anything, it’s that some people can’t engage in a critique or debate without being just plain mean. More than likely, only my friends will read this post and few others will actually come across it–and fewer still will leave a comment–but there’s always that nagging fear that someone will just respond with something nasty and counterproductive.

And, third…I don’t really feel strongly about this book either way. I read all three of them out of sheer curiosity (I jumped on the bandwagon after they became popular). I haven’t seen the movie, yet. I’m nowhere near a super fan…nor am I an extreme “hater,” either. It’s been awhile since I read them…I reviewed all three of them (you can read my review of the first book here). I was surprised when I went back and read my critiques, because my opinion has changed (somewhat) over the last several years.

I will tell you upfront what this post is not about: the quality of E.L. James’s writing. Did I feel like they were the most well written books ever? No. Did I like the main heroine, Anna? Not particularly. Like the franchise the Shades books were inspired by (Twilight, if you’ve been living under a rock and don’t know that by now), Anna is sort of a bland character, if you prefer strong, vivid, interesting characters (and I hope you do)–then again, she’s the perfect character if you are seeking to “insert” yourself into the book in place of Anna for the purposes of fantasizing. Look, there’s a lot of bad, poorly written porn (even if it’s more visual rather than literary) geared towards men’s fantasies–and I don’t think I’m exaggerating this time when I say it’s probably a billion dollar industry. My point is, just because Shades is in a book form, doesn’t mean it’s required to have outstanding style. Its purpose is to titillate (and, most likely, shock).

(As an aside: That’s definitely not to say that a book can’t have all the things–be well written, with strong, interesting, dynamic characters, and also be sexy. I’m just saying that, when it comes to what may be a book with mediocre writing that is written by a woman intended for a bunch of other women to read–suddenly everyone has exceedingly high standards of the written word and cinematography.)

I’m going on off a tangent–as I’m prone to do, with posts like this–so let me bring it back to today’s intended topic: art and culture. Because, while some dissenters criticize James’s writing, and others call it a Twilight rip off and accuse her of plagiarism, much of the criticism has been over Christian’s personality, his relationship with Anna, and how that might affect impressionable readers.

I don’t think any of us can deny that art can affect us, and can do so deeply. In fact, as artists, writers, singers, performers, etc., we’d be doing our crafts a disservice by trying to argue otherwise. We’re usually willing to accept this when we find other people who consume and enjoy the art we put out into the world, but it becomes a little harder to stomach when we have to admit that it can also affect some people negatively. So I think we can all agree that, yes, art can evoke both positive and negative responses–including unintended ones–and that the culture surrounding us in turn affects art, maybe sometimes in ways we don’t even realize.

At its core, art is¬†also a very selfish activity. Before you put your art out into the world (whether it’s a painting, a short story, a book, a song, a movie)–before you have readers, listeners, viewers–it’s just you and your idea. In the case of writing, you’re writing characters and themes that are, for whatever reason, interesting to you–you’re expressing yourself and your emotions. (I’m not trying to speak for all writers when I say this, but…to be completely honest, I haven’t always worried about what others might say/how others might interpret my books, or how they might affect people (in the negative sense). Recently, I’ve started obsessing over this, but, if I’m going to get anything down on paper, I have to block it out. I’m not going to censor myself because I’m worried about what someone else might think.)

What motivates the people consuming said art can vary widely and, often, be at odds with the creator’s self-expression or intention. I’m going to try to stick to the book example because a book inspired this post, and, as a writer, it’s what I can speak to best. Fans may fall in love with the book for any number of reasons–the style, atmosphere, and characters drew them in, the characters really spoke and jumped off the page for them, they see themselves as one of the characters, the book got them through a difficult time, whatever. For some others, it may be the opposite–it could be that a situation or character reminds them of a difficult time in their life, or something about the book clashes with a believe or value they cherish–whatever the case, they find the book offensive. Critics analyze the book and, not only consider aspects like the style and quality of the writing and characters, but also perhaps what it reflects about our society–and how it might affect other readers. This is all fair. The artist also has to be aware that, once that book or painting or song goes out into the world, it’s open to different and varied interpretations.

I guess where I’m going with this is: Critique is fine. I’m not about to say that we shouldn’t critique Fifty Shades, or talk about what kind of impact our society has had on it–and the kind of impact it could have on our society or even certain individuals. Art and culture are intertwined. I’m just wondering why, as a society, we can’t seem to have a reasonable discussion about a book written by a woman, seemingly intended for and read by millions of other women, without being mean. And not just mean–ugly and horrible. (I mean, E.L. James (as other famous people have) gets harassed a lot on Twitter. Which is one thing I hate about social media–although it has its perks, it also makes it really easy for people to anonymously harass other people and say things they would never, in a million years, have the guts to say to someone’s face.)

Okay, I was going to try to keep this general, but my brain keeps coming back around to Fifty Shades, in particular. Most of the cultural criticism I’ve alluded to centers around Christian and Anna’s relationship–some interpret it as abusive (well, I guess they wouldn’t say “interpret,” they would say it is abusive). I think it’s fair to say there may be undertones of that.

But I also have to say I’m not sure why we seem to be so afraid that millions of women can’t separate a book or a fantasy from reality. Like I said, it might affect some people negatively…and, maybe to try to prevent that, we should point out and discuss the seemingly questionable material (as we’ve been doing).

There’s something about the amount of criticism we’ve been heaping on James and Fifty, though, that I’m starting to find just as disconcerting as some people find the books themselves. For one thing, there does seem to be this element to it that we’re talking about it so much because, again, it’s a sexy book written by a woman for other women…and that we usually seem to be overly concerned with, not how art is affecting us, but how art is (negatively) affecting women…because somehow we’re more prone to messages (“hidden” or otherwise) in art and the media. (I guess the flip¬†side to this is not that we feel women are more susceptible to these messages, but that the formula in Fifty Shades is outdated and patriarchal, and that these themes are being perpetuated by the fact that the books are so popular.)

The other element I find disturbing is that I’ve started to see posts and things encouraging boyfriends/husbands to not to take their girlfriends/wives to see the movie because it’s not really “romantic,” and we don’t want them to get the wrong impression (because, see above comment)! I think that’s a terrible and counterproductive suggestion and could actually backfire. Your boyfriend does not get to decide for you what guilty pleasures or fantasies you choose to indulge in. I also read this article by some guy who went to see the movie and also seems to be overly concerned that a woman (again, I’m talking about adult women, here, not preteens or teenagers) is going to get the wrong idea about romance from watching this movie. Which brings me to what will hopefully be my last two points, because I didn’t expect this post to get so massive.

Why do women like Fifty Shades? Why do they “like” Christian Grey? Perhaps women like Christian because he sounds f***able. He’s hot, and he’s rich, and it sounds like he’s good, at, you know…doin’ stuff. ūüėČ I think it’s perfectly possible to like a fictional character and realize that not all of their traits are ideal traits for a mate in real life. Romance novels (we’ll get to the genre term “romance” in a minute), like those of other genres, are read for pleasure and escapism. At least when I read them, I’m not looking for the hero (or antihero) to have traits my next boyfriend is going to have. (And I don’t think anyone has ever expressed any concern or fear over whether men are going to date women like those in the porn they watch.)

And, finally, the other argument the crux of the Fifty Shades criticism seems to depend on is that it is a “romance” novel, and many of Christian’s actions are not romantic. Which…they’re not, really, but I think this is an even more complicated issue than you might think. For one thing, women in our culture are expected to enjoy stories about romance and not just necessarily those just about sex…so the couple often tends to have a deeper connection than just a physical one. If it is true that most women tend to need both the physical and emotional connection in their porn or erotica…that’s fine with me. Again, it’s a complex issue–is it true, or is it what society tells us is true?

A related issue: I know that, as a woman who writes stories with strong “romantic” themes, I feel compelled to put the “romance” stamp on it even if it’s not necessarily romantic, in the traditional sense. Romance, as a genre, encompasses more than you might think. Sure, much of it still follows the formula of your archetypal, charming, strapping hero falling in love with the sassy, buxom, virginal heroine…maybe they feel a mutual dislike towards one another at first even as they fight down their growing passion for one another…until one sweltering, starry night they give into that fiery passion…and, after a few more obstacles are thrown in their way–just when you think all hope is lost–they finally overcome all, get together, and live happily-ever-after. Formula romances are great. Often, they’re exactly what you need; sometimes you just wanna know things are going to work out for the best, and not be disappointed when they don’t.

But not all stories that get this “romance” stamp are like this–and they’re not supposed to be. Well, at least not to me. I do know firsthand that there are readers who see “romance” and expect the formula, expect the HEA ending–and, when they don’t get it, are confused, at best–and at worst, pissed. But I think the romance genre has expanded and can evoke more raw emotions than just “awwwww….how romantic!” “Romance” novels can be dark, shocking, or even disturbing–and the characters aren’t required to be cookie cutter heroes and heroines who only do good things and have sound morals. (Maybe what we really need is a new genre name.) Personally, I enjoy writing deeply flawed characters–it’s more fun and challenging to imagine what might motivate someone to choose wrong over right.

I guess what I’m trying to say is…what the heck am I trying to say, anyway? When I read Fifty Shades, I noted that Christian was controlling and some of his behavior disturbing…but I didn’t think this behavior was supposed to be traditionally romantic. To me, it was an author pushing a certain type of character–a controlling, manipulative one with some deep, dark demons and a Red Room of Pain–as far as he could go in that direction. At its core, Fifty Shades is just a forbidden lust story. Anna knows that Christian has flaws and is maybe into some stuff she’s not sure if she can handle, but she’s intrigued by this darker, forbidden aspect. Christian isn’t supposed to be a role model or dating material.

Then again, I could see where maybe a more impressionable reader might be more easily influenced by a story like this than I would be. Not everyone would share the same outlook going into the book, or probably even feels the same way about the genre. Even so, I just personally don’t think there are many types of situations or characters (if any) that are completely off-limits in fiction, although context is also important. I just take Christian to be a (rather poorly constructed) antihero who has a lot of skeletons and not too many redeeming qualities.

So some will love, some will critique, and some will be offended. And some, like myself, will be totally wishy washy and kinda understand where the criticism is coming from, but then again, not really. I just wish we could all discuss it in a civilized way. Because, really, when is the last time you’ve ever heard of a male artist, writer, or anything getting so much slack? (Robin Thicke? He’s really the only example I can come up with.) I don’t think the answer is to ban the movie, either, as others have also suggested.

What I’d hoped would be a more general post kind of just turned out to be about Fifty. For that, I am sorry…but it’s been on my mind lately, and, you know…must…vent…on…Interwebz. I’d love to hear your thoughts…as long as you can keep it rational and civil.

But I have to go, for now…actually, because I’m going to the movie…

 

The Journey So Far


I’m trying to write at least a post per week leading up to release day. This post is in part a reflection of my self-publishing journey so far; I’ll also share some things that I’ve learned along the way and offer what I hope will be helpful advice. I’m not an expert, but I can tell you what worked for me, and what didn’t. I hope some of my tips will work for you, too. ūüôā

I started this blog in the summer of 2012…looking back at my old posts, it was June 6, 2012, to be exact. I wanted to get back into creative writing, and a blog seemed as good a way as any to do so. I had tried blogging once before, in undergrad–I created a Blogspot blog, where I posted a young adult sci-fi book I had written (and had been rewriting since high school) chapter by chapter. I don’t think anyone ever read it, lol. I didn’t know how to direct traffic to it. I’ve found WordPress to be a lot more straightforward as far as networking with other bloggers goes, but that’s just me. Anyway, I started out on this blog, The Urge to Write, by posting random excerpts from stories I had written, book reviews, and pretty much anything else I felt like. Eventually I made a little blog schedule…which I have since abandoned…but it worked pretty well at the time. I accumulated some WordPress followers and started a Facebook page so my friends and family could follow along, too, if they wanted (and, for some reason, many of them did, and I feel so blessed!).

cover for rebornfinalI also posted the earliest draft of Reborn, a chapter per week. At the time, it was called The Fallen. (I’m glad I changed the title, because, among other reasons,¬†there’s a pretty popular YA series out right now called Fallen.) I can’t say publishing it on my blog was the best decision ever–but I don’t really regret it, either. On the one hand, it was a really, really, really rough draft and wasn’t ready to see the light of day. I wasn’t sure where I was going with it. I didn’t even have all of the mythology ironed out yet. (The Eros and Psyche back story–which obviously turned out to be kinda important to the book–was something I went back and added later.) On the other hand, a few people read it and liked it, and it forced me to write every week.

Eventually, I took it down from the blog, but continued to work on it and refine it. My goal was to do something with it, whether that was going the more traditional route or self-publishing it. After a half-hearted attempted ¬†at trying to get an agent by sending out a handful of pretty terrible query letters, I decided to do the self-publishing thing. I realized there was, unfortunately, stigma attached to it, but I thought, if I did it right, it would help me build a readership base. I didn’t know what to expect. Well…that’s not entirely true. What I expected was that Reborn would languish on Amazon and sell two copies or so after months and months and months.

OK–here comes the bragging part. Somehow, miraculously, that’s not what happened. Well, maybe it isn’t so much a miracle as partially the result of the various marketing strategies I experimented with (see below). Most of it’s probably due to Heidi’s awesome cover art, which is the first thing people see. And I think I wrote a pretty intriguing book summary. The rest of it’s due to taking advantage of Amazon’s free promotional tool. Reborn hit Amazon’s free bestsellers list; it peaked at #15 in New Adult and College Romance and #16 in Paranormal & Urban Fantasy. That was unexpected and super cool. (Of course, it also makes me really nervous. I mean, even if Relapse didn’t do as well, it would be fine, but still…..) Including the free copies, I’ve sold over 4000 copies of Reborn, and over 1000 paid copies. Considering I had really low expectations, it’s been really overwhelming.

Now, here comes the what I’ve learned/advice part (in no particular order):

1. It’s not going to be easy. It’s like the saying goes: Anything worth doing isn’t going to be easy. I’m an impatient person, so accepting that this wasn’t going to be an easy undertaking (if done right) was a big step for me. There was a point when I was tempted to just throw the original version of Reborn up on Amazon because it seemed so easy. Obviously, I’m glad I didn’t…when I reread it I realized how much work it needed, and I got some valuable input from beta readers and such that I was able to incorporate. I’m just saying: The temptation to put up an unfinished product will be there, but you must resist! I appreciate all that Amazon’s done to make self-publishing easier for independent authors, but I don’t like that they overemphasize the “easy” aspect in all of their marketing materials. Yes, maybe getting your book up there is relatively easy, but you have to realize and accept that there’s going to be a lot of work leading up to that moment. (On a side note, it’s not as simple as Amazon makes it out to be. You have to strictly adhere to their formatting guidelines and then check the previews to make sure it’s going to look good on someone’s Kindle screen. No, it’s not rocket science, but it takes up a little bit of time.)

In my opinion, if you think any of this is “easy,” you’re doing something wrong.

2. Tell people about it. “It” being your book, of course. This is probably the hardest step for most writers. Many writers are introverts and may not feel comfortable with marketing their work, putting themselves out there. I’d say I’m an introvert because I like doing intellectual or creative solo activities and I sort of live in my head a lot. I definitely have hermit tendencies, lol! But I’m not the type of person who’s afraid to put themselves out there or talk about my work–or talk in front of people, for that matter. So maybe I’m not a true introvert. In any case, you may have to dig up some courage to market your book(s) because, otherwise, people simply won’t know about it or how/where to find it. This advice goes for any author,not just self-published. I’ve heard that a lot of the promotional responsibilities fall to authors just starting out, even when they have a publisher. Maybe you think your book should just be able to stand on its own–and, if it’s a good book, people will find it and read it. That’s a nice thought, but, if potential readers don’t even know your book exists or where to find it, they’re not going to read it.

As far as social media goes, Facebook and this blog have worked the best for me. This blog was a great way to connect with fellow authors and book reviewers, and it’s also how I found my incredible graphic designer! My Facebook page enabled me to update my family and friends about this blog and, later, Reborn, and I’ve managed to build up a small following on there–mostly by following other Facebook book club pages and pimping my page there. Twitter has worked out ok, I guess. I have over 700 followers on there, but except for a handful of people, I’m not sure it’s very meaningful–at least not yet. There are a lot of spam profiles on Twitter. Twitter seems best for, again, networking with authors and book reviewers. (By the way, when you’re first starting out, a lot of the people who are going to read your book are also writers.) Fellow authors: I’d like to know which social media platforms have worked for you, so please share in the comments!

Goodreads is another platform you can use, although don’t stalk your ratings/reviews on there unless you have a thick skin. Then again, if you’re going to do this and put your work out there, you’re going to have to

3. Grow a pair. Haha, I’m just being blunt. But, seriously, you’re going to have to. Because, even though I’ve interacted with a lot of nice, supportive authors, bloggers, and reviewers out there, there are a lot of @$$holes on the Internet, too relapsecover(as you may be aware of from reading any comments section to basically any article on the Internet, ever). You might think you’ll be able to handle it well–that first time someone criticizes your work–and, hey, maybe you will. But I don’t think most people (writers) are like that. Now, I have noticed that, in the indie author world, people don’t seem like they think anyone should ever criticize their work, ever (I’m talking about helpful criticism here that might actually help you develop as a writer). I mean, no matter what you do in life, no matter what you choose to pursue, someone out there is going to disagree with it/criticize it/have something to say about it.¬†Or maybe because I’m in grad school I just go into everything now expecting to get shot down. To be honest, this is why sometimes I find the atmosphere of the indie world to be a little thin-skinned.

That being said, the first time you get a bad review , it probably won’t be from a fellow author or a book reviewer, and it’s most likely not going to be the helpful kind of criticism that helps you improve your craft. It’s going to be someone venting about how your heroine is a slut and that, ugh, there are cheerleaders and sorority girls in this book! ūüėČ Yep…I can’t help you there. The book is simply not for you. And you have two hands and a keyboard and can vent about whatever you like on Goodreads, Tumblr, whatever. The anonymity of the Internet gives everyone the urge to vent.

Then again, knowing/accepting this isn’t going to make handling bad reviews any easier. You’ve dedicated precious time between work/school/your family/whatever to perfecting your novel, and in two minutes someone finds a way to shoot it down. I’m not sure I have a great advice on how to handle it, except to be ready for it…and maybe don’t stalk your reviews (especially on Goodreads, which has a lot of trolls). It’s hard to resist, though…I don’t do a very good job of it. The best way I’ve found to deal with it is to vent to my family and friends…and also to incorporate it into my book somehow, lol. Yes, I got a few people who, in so many words, called Siobhan a slut…and so several side characters in Relapse make snide comments about Siobhan’s love life/how many boyfriends she has. (I don’t cast these people in the best light…let’s stop calling women sluts, ‘k?) I’m not saying my approach is going to change any minds–and I’m not trying to–I’m just putting it to creative use rather than continuing to mope about it.

And, whatever you do, don’t do the reverse catfishing thing that one author did to the person that gave her a bad review. I’m not even linking to the author’s article on here because she went way too far and mentioned way too many personal details about the true identity of the reviewer (even if she didn’t mention any specific names).

4. Become Amazon’s bitch (at least at first). I’m borrowing the phrase Amazon’s bitch from Mr. Tom Benson. (I hope you don’t mind, Tom.) You can read about his self-publishing experiences on Amazon here and here. Besides everything else I’ve talked about so far, utilizing Amazon’s free promotion deal, which gives you up to 5 days of offering your book for free for Kindle (assuming that number hasn’t changed since I used it), enabled readers to take a chance on a new author (me) with no strings attached. There are also a lot of Twitter accounts, blogs, Facebook pages, etc. that scour Amazon for free books and promote them without you having to do anything (except make your book free). The only downside is, in order to use Amazon’s countdown deals or free promotion, the electronic version of your book has to be exclusive to Amazon for three months (hence, you are “Amazon’s bitch,” lol). Which might sound like a bad thing, except, as a self-published author, most of your sales are going to come from Amazon, anyway. Reborn was exclusive to Amazon for the first three months or so, then I uploaded it to Smashwords, which in turn makes it available to Barnes and Noble (Nook), the iTunes book store, Scribd, etc. I’ve made a little under $5 from all of these other sites combined.

Do whatever works best for you, but I would seriously consider being exclusive to Amazon for the first few months, especially if you’re just starting out.

5. Edit, edit, edit.¬†I also get the sense sometimes that some indie authors place less importance on the editing part than the writing part. And get offended when a reviewer mentions it. Polishing your story for spelling/grammatical errors/typos is just as important as any other aspect of the process. It’s one of my biggest pet peeves when I’m reading something. I don’t bother to mention it in my own reviews of fellow indie author’s work–because I notice a lot of avoidable errors in all of them. Yes, I’m reading critically, but there are usually a lot more in self-published books than traditionally published ones. This is a tough area, too, because, let’s face it, a lot of writers don’t have the money to hire an editor at first, or even a copy editor. And I wouldn’t necessarily recommend using Amazon’s editing service, although I don’t speak from experience–it just seems like a bad idea to send your precious book off to some faceless editor you haven’t built a relationship with.

But at least have more than yourself read over it, even friends and family that are sticklers for picking out these kinds of mistakes. Make it as polished as possible. Your book is, essentially, a product–don’t sell someone a bad product. Don’t sell something for $4.99 that isn’t finished and still has a bunch of spelling and grammar mistakes.

(As another aside, even when multiple people read over your book, a few mistakes are of course going to slip through the cracks. Poor editing is one of my biggest pet peeves, and yet I noticed the other day, when I was looking something up in Reborn, there’s a typo in chapter one–it says “titled” instead of “tilted.” It made me cringe. I’ll go back and fix it, at some point…..)

6. Be patient. I said this before, and I’ll say it again. Building up an audience is going to take time. Just have patience and keep on writing. It’s great to have people to write for, but remember to still write for yourself–because it’s something you love to do.

And, last but not least:

7. Don’t give up! ūüôā¬†Even if your first book sells two copies in two years…even if it has a one star average on Goodreads…don’t give up. Just keep learning, keep improving your craft, keep writing!!!

*****

I hope some of this, at least, was helpful! If you’ve gotten to this point, thanks for “listening” to me babble. And get excited, because Relapse releases December 2, 2014! You can read the prologue here.

The Girly Heroine


The subject of “strong” female characters has been on my mind a lot lately. A few of my fellow bloggers and writers have addressed this subject, most recently H.N. Sieverding’s blog post The Trouble with Alpha Males. So this is a post that I just really needed to write. I hope we can have a thoughtful, productive conversation about it.

First off, I want to say that I think it’s GREAT that people are talking about how women are portrayed¬†in books, on TV, in movies, etc. It’s a subject that really needs to be talked about, especially considering the way girls and women have been portrayed through these media in the past. I think it’s fantastic that we now have characters like Scarlett Johansson’s¬†character in the Marvel franchise, Black Widow, who is beautiful and smart and can kick ass. Women haven’t always been given these kinds of roles, and I think it’s an important step for our society to show women as warriors, fighters, soldiers, “superheros.” It may be especially important for young girls to see these kinds of role models–to read about strong female characters like Katniss from The Hunger Games and Tris from Divergent and then to see them in film. We need to teach and show them that women are smart and strong and awesome.

But today I’d like to make the point that being physically strong isn’t the only type of strength and isn’t the only way to make a “strong” female character. And to start criticizing female characters for being “weak” because they are not as physically strong as a man is going down a road that I think is just as bad as not showing women as warriors at all. I don’t know if you’ve seen this, but I certainly have. And I am going to attempt to explain what I mean by this in the following post.

Not everyone is physically strong–men or women. There are a lot of men who aren’t physically strong–who don’t fit the stereotypical “alpha male” mold. The alpha male is the ideal–we’re a society that reveres demonstrations of physical strength and power. And yet I think in our society there persists this idea that a man doesn’t need to be physically strong to be considered “strong” or “dominant”–there’s just something about being a man that automatically makes you “strong.”

I’m a woman, and I’m not physically that strong. I want to work out as much as I need to be healthy, but health¬†is what’s important to me, not being “as strong as a man.” I’d also like to take some self-defense classes at some point because I think those could be useful. But I have no desire to push my body as far as the human body can go. If that means I’m not as physically strong as some other people, be they men or women, I don’t really care. There are other things I like to do that are way more important to me. Does this make me weak? If I write a female character who is like this, does that make her weak?

Fuck no.

Like I said, as a society we may¬†look up to people who can kick ass, but physical strength isn’t the only type of strength. I’m going to be self-centered and¬†use myself as an example again. I’m really smart. I feel that my intelligence is probably my greatest asset–my greatest strength. I know that I can intellectually do the same things “as men.” It may not feel like it sometimes, but we have made great strides since the 1930s or so when women were expected to be housewives and maybe teachers or nurses. (Again, not that there is wrong with ANY of those things. The problem is not with being a stay at home parent, but that is what was expected of women at the time–like all women are the same and should be content with that and aren’t given any other options.) I’ve grown up in a society that has allowed me to go to college and graduate school and pursue scientific research.¬†Generally speaking, I’m pursuing something¬†that was once really considered a man’s world (and maybe, to an extent, still is). Intelligence is another type of strength.

So is what I’ll call emotional intelligence. Going back to the physical strength thing–in a¬†lot of ways we’re still a male dominated society, and maybe we seem to admire physical strength because that’s what men look up to. You’ve probably heard that women tend to be more helpful, more nurturing, more caring. Is that true? I don’t know–but I do know that they tend to be seen as more submissive traits, “weaker” traits, and that’s perhaps because they’re not valued as much by men. (Not all men. Or it’s that men are taught this. Again, I’m not talking about specific people, but about our society and culture.) Being nurturing or wanting to raise your children–whether you’re a woman or a man–does not make you “weak” or “submissive” or (gasp) “girly.” It’s not that there’s something inherently wrong with being this way, it’s perception–it’s the way we regard the task and why we look at it this way.

Speaking of which, let’s talk about “girly.” It’s not a bad thing to be girly. It’s not bad to be a woman that¬†has traits that are typically thought of as more masculine–but it’s not bad to be feminine, either, and being feminine doesn’t make you “weak.” I like the color pink. I like wearing skirts and dresses. I like flowers and bunnies and unicorns. I like romantic comedies. I don’t really give a crap¬†if this is because somehow I was¬†taught to like pink and romcoms. Maybe it is, but they’re things I like, and I’m not going to reject who I am. I also like things that aren’t typically geared toward women, like action movies and science magazines. Yes, Scientific American still seems to be in the men’s section of the magazines, and this really pisses me off. But my point is, you can be feminine and be smart and strong, too.

Maybe you’re wondering why I’m writing this. I’ve read a lot of articles and blog posts criticizing certain female characters for being “weak.” Like I said at the beginning of this post, “strong” female characters is definitely something we should be talking about. I’m glad people are talking about it. But the times I’ve seen female characters called “weak” seems to usually be because they aren’t physically strong. I think this needs to stop. Yes, it’s good to have female characters that are warriors, but not every single woman needs to fit this mold.¬† And if she doesn’t, that doesn’t mean she’s weak. I’m afraid we’re approaching an all-or-nothing type of model–that, unless a woman is EVERYTHING, smart, beautiful, strong (but also has the type of body typically thought of as sexy), clever, then she’s not interesting or not deserving or something.

This is¬†a theme I’m trying to incorporate into my Reborn series. If you’ve read Reborn, you know that my main character, Siobhan, is a runner, so she is athletic in this way, but she is not a super soldier. She has other types of strengths that will revealed throughout the series (and that may arguably make her a better match for the Olympians than physical strength would). She’s petite, blonde, and, yes, she was a cheerleader in high school and is a “sorority girl”–which I know bothers some readers. She likes pink and shiny stuff and dressing up. She also like scifi and fantasy and is a biology major. Her big sister in Gamma Lambda Phi, Victoria, is intelligent and clever, but also a warrior. In my book, I wanted to have all different kinds of female characters, but they are all strong, in my opinion. (But I’m sure at some point someone will insist Siobhan isn’t a strong female character…and if they do, kindly refer them to this post.)

I’m done babbling. So, what do you think makes a “strong” female character? Please respectfully share in the comments!

What Music Inspires You?


Heidi asked this question on her blog last week, and I’d like to hear from you all, too: What kind of music inspires your writing? Music Video Monday was originally supposed to be all about what music was inspiring my writing at the time -and it mostly has been, although I also include music that fits my mood and new old music discoveries. (Yes, you read that right: new old music.)

So watch this video from one of my favorite British duos, Erasure, and then let me know your musical inspiration in the comments!

Erasure: “Ship of Fools”

A Rose is a Rose is a Rose


Let’s discuss character names.

This has been on my mind because I’m considering eventually changing (among probably many, many other things) Siobhan’s name in my work-in-progress, The Fallen. To be honest, I chose the name Siobhan simply because I like it. I’d like to name my daughter Siobhan one day. But I realize that this could potentially be misleading, since it is an urban fantasy book -at least that’s the genre I would best categorize it as. Someone might think it’s going to incorporate Irish folklore in some way. It doesn’t. On the other hand, I do like the name of Siobhan’s mysterious teaching assistant, Jasper Mars, and it holds some special meaning, as you will find out if you’re following along. ūüėČ

I definitely don’t think it’s necessary for names to symbolize something specific, although I like to do that sometimes. Another one of my own favorite character names from another story is Celeste Lowe; I both like how her first and last name sound together, and she’s an alien, so her first name reflects her otherworldliness. Rather than be a symbol, it is¬†important for a character name to make sense with the setting of the story, time and place, especially if the story relies extra heavily on these elements. For example, if the story takes place in nineteenth century England. Maybe this is quite obvious, but I think it’s important to keep in mind.

Also, I think that characters can have “cool sounding” names even if they’re not especially reflective of anything profound. One of my favorite examples would be J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. Ms. Rowling is fantastic at character naming in general, but although a simple name, Harry Potter is just somehow catchy. Its simplicity may be purposeful on her part since Harry is supposed to be an unlikely hero (scrawny kid, brown hair, glasses), but she could have gone with something else equally as simple. John Smith and the Sorcerer’s Stone? Besides being an English explorer, John Smith just doesn’t seem to have the snap to it that Harry Potter does.

Karen Marie Moning, one of my favorite paranormal romance/urban fantasy authors, is also a name-machine. Mackayla Lane. Jericho Barrons (who owns Barrons Books and Baubles). Dani O’Malley. Adam Black. Drustan, Dageus, Christian MacKeltar, you name it. And I can’t forget L. J. Smith: Elena Gilbert, Stefan and Damon Salvatore, Julian, Faye Chamberlain, to name a few. And no matter how you feel about the Twilight saga, Bella Swan, Edward Cullen, and Jacob Black are memorable names. From the world of indie publishing, I always thought Dmitri Maximus from Emily Guido’s Light-Bearer series was a great name.

So, what are your thoughts on character names? How do you come up with your own? (What do you think of mine?) Please share your comments below!