Creating Worlds

The exciting thing about writing books is the ability to create my own worlds. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed doing, even when I was very young. When I was a little kid, I didn’t just have *an* imaginary friend. I had forty or fifty of them! They lived in a place called “Invisoland,” and I was the only non-invisible person who was allowed to visit that place. I created this when I was about three or four. By the time I was in school, Invisoland had cities and towns, an orphanage, and a pretty large population.

This ability to create was the catalyst for me starting to write. I had a huge imagination. I had to do something with it! So I kept inventing worlds where people had magical or psychic powers, where someone could control the weather with their thoughts, or become an accidental secret agent, or conquer evil. Finding out where the stories in my head would lead, and who would become part of them, was exciting to me. I literally didn’t know what would happen in my stories until it happened, and that was a big part of the joy of writing.

As I got older, I didn’t always have the easiest time with my peers, or with other people, but in my stories, and therefore in the world I created, the  main characters had friends. They could do whatever they wanted. I didn’t write the stories about myself, but there was at least a bit of me in every main character I created, and so the things my characters did, and the friends they had, kept me going. Things are a lot better for me now than they were then, but I still love creating new worlds and characters to populate them.

Worldbuilding is one of the most important parts of writing. Even in contemporary fiction, things have to be consistent. Fortunately, for me, it’s also one of the most fun.

First Drafts

Every story begins with an idea. Then sometimes a brainstorm or outline, or not, depending on how and whether the author likes to plan their books.

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And then the first draft comes along. Sometimes, that’s when the problems start.

For me, the first draft is a time to get the ideas onto the page, but it’s also a time when I constantly catch myself trying to write perfectly. Which isn’t even possible in the most carefully edited and revised draft, let alone the first one.

The thing is, the first draft isn’t meant to be perfect. It’s meant to be where the ideas go from the author’s head onto the paper or screen. The writing technique doesn’t matter nearly as much as just having the stuff visible. As a friend of mine used to tell me, you can’t edit what’s in your head. Get it out, and then worry about how good or bad it is. You can’t fix your brain, you can only fix what’s on the page.

I get hung up on that a lot. One thing reviewers often ding me for is the pacing of my books. It’s either uneven or too slow. So when I’m writing the first draft, I keep stressing about getting the pacing right, and then the pace of my actual *writing* slows way down, to the point where sometimes I get discouraged and stop working on the thing altogether.

That isn’t useful, and it isn’t going to get the book done. It’s a hard habit to break, though. I have to completely shift my thinking from “My publisher won’t accept this if I don’t do it right” to “I’ll have plenty of chances to do it right, so for now, let’s just get it done.”

Just getting it done is the reason first drafts exist. Everything can be fixed later, once the story is written.

I Don’t Write That

Since I’m a published author, occasionally I’m contacted by people who are writing books, or who know someone who’s writing a book. Usually they want advice on how to get that book published. Even though sometimes, the book isn’t even started yet, let alone ready for publication.

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The thing is… I’m published in young adult fiction. My publisher only takes LGBTA+ young adult fiction. I don’t have a mental database of knowledge about every publisher of everything ever. So when someone comes to me to ask about getting a memoir published, or a picture book, or a nonfiction book about magic, I’m not going to be much help. I don’t know how publishing those things works, nor do I necessarily know publishers who take those things.

When I tell people that, though, sometimes they don’t take it well. “What do you mean, you don’t know? It’s a book! You write books! How could you not know?”

Easy. All books are not the same. All *writing* is not the same. I write pretty darn good YA fiction, but I’ve tried writing picture books and can’t do it to save my life. Sometimes I can manage writing nonfiction, but if it’s something that involves research, it probably isn’t something I’ll do well with. And most nonfiction involves research of some kind.

All publishers are not the same. Many of them, especially smaller presses, specialize, the way Harmony Ink Press specializes in LGBTA+ young adult fiction. They aren’t going to look at a memoir, or a nonfiction book, or a picture book, because that isn’t the kind of thing they publish.

Sometimes my “I don’t know” response is met with, “Well, can you find out and let me know?”

Um…no. Because I’m not willing to do *your* research and *your* legwork to get *your* book published. I have enough to do with my own books. You have access to the same resources I do. Look at books similar to the one you’ve written or want to write, and see who publishes them. Find those publishers online and see how to submit books to them. Join an author community either online or in person, or both, where you can find out more about how the process works. If all else fails, Google is your friend.

Don’t get me wrong. I love hearing that someone is excited about something they’re writing, and if they get it published, I would love to know that. But generally, the most I can do, and the most I’m willing to do, is give general advice about writing and about avoiding publishing scams, and steer people in the direction of some of the resources I mention above.

Writing is work. And some of that work is finding out for yourself *how* it works.

Time Off

Wow… It’s been a while since I posted! As I said back in August, my husband and I moved to a new apartment. That took a lot of time and energy, and things hadn’t quite gotten settled yet when I got into a car accident. I wasn’t hurt, but my car needs quite a bit of work. I’ve also started a new part-time job that takes only a few hours a day…but then takes over two hours in commuting time.

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So I haven’t been keeping up with writing and blogging as much as I could have. And that’s okay. Sometimes life comes along, and if you read back through these posts, you’ll see that life comes along quite a bit for me.

To be honest, discouragement has also played a role. I’m not seeing the book sales I would like, and that’s hard, especially when I know my publisher is losing money because of it. Even though I’ve been getting things published for almost nine years now, I still haven’t gotten the hang of promoting myself and my books, and it seems like every time I start to get a handle on it, everything changes.

But more than that, the ideas dried up. I got caught in the trap, under both this pen name and my adult romance one, of writing what publishers wanted me to write, or what readers asked for, instead of following my heart. The resulting books were…well, frankly, they were bad. When a writer writes from the head instead of the heart, it shows. Of course, that didn’t help my sales either.

This year, I’ve had two books rejected. There were valid reasons for the rejections, and I don’t have a problem with that, but rejection is discouraging. And the publisher that rejected them has asked that I only send them contemporary fiction (the two books they rejected were urban fantasy). If you look at my currently available books, you’ll see that contemporary fiction isn’t a problem for me, but it isn’t the *only* thing I want to write. And naturally, because my brain is what it is, as soon as I was asked not to send any more urban fantasy, those were the ONLY plots showing up in my brain.writer-s-block-1239338-639x334

My priorities as an author have gotten skewed. Instead of putting the writing first, I’ve been putting publication and sales first, and that hasn’t done me any favors. So I’m revamping my priorities. I’m writing for myself first, and not even thinking about getting published. That means it might be a while before readers see anything new from me, other than short stories I might post on this blog or my Free Reads page. But it’s the right thing for me to do. I need, at least figuratively speaking, to go back to the days before I was published, when I wrote because I WANTED to, not because I HAD to.

I plan to post one blog post a week. Sometimes it might be just a short excerpt from one of my books. And I plan to spend some time getting reacquainted with my imagination and seeing what happens.

Rejection

Recently, I got a rejection on another novel. This would have been the re-release of one of my past novels, one that I rather like and would love to see get a new life with a different publisher.

Rejection happens when you’re an author. It’s a normal thing. When I first started writing, I got a bit spoiled because I pretty much never received a rejection on anything. That wasn’t so much because I was an amazing writer whose stuff blew people out of the water, though I suppose that might have been the case with some things. Mostly, however, my stuff didn’t get rejected because some of the publishers I worked with didn’t always expect great quality. If the idea was good, they accepted it.

That isn’t anything against those publishers. If it weren’t for them, I might not have started getting published in YA at all. But it is a facet of working with small, digital-first presses.

This novel was my second to be rejected by the same publisher this year. When the first one was rejected, after I’d taken time to revise it according to feedback they’d given me the first time I submitted it, it hit hard. I thought I’d done a good job, but they pinpointed some of the same problems as the first time. I almost didn’t send them anything else.

But this time, the rejection didn’t matter so much. It was partly about the story, though one of the biggest things they didn’t like was something the original publisher and some reviewers praised me for when it was published several years ago. Mostly, though, it was about the genre. This one, like the one that was rejected earlier this year, is paranormal, and the publisher wants more contemporary fiction at this point.

It’s hard to take that personally. It just means I need to work on something different for a while, and that isn’t a bad thing. I enjoy writing paranormal and urban fantasy, but I can deal with writing contemporary. Meanwhile, now I have one book I might self-publish, and another I can submit elsewhere or to an agent, once I polish it a bit more.

The Waiting Game

Another book has been submitted. And now the waiting begins again.

Waiting is a necessary part of the whole “being a writer” thing. You have to wait for the book to be finished before you can revise and edit it. Of course, in that case, you aren’t just waiting. You’re writing. At least I hope you are, because if not, the book isn’t ever going to be finished.

You have to wait until you have the revisions and edits finished before you can submit the book. Once it’s submitted, you have to wait to find out if it’s been accepted. If it’s been accepted, you have to wait for edits. And cover art. And other things the publisher will send you. You have to wait what might seem like a really long time for the book to see the light of day.

If the book is rejected, you have to wait to find another publisher or agent to send it to. Or wait until you decide not to try it again. Or wait until you do another bunch of revisions and edits to try to address whatever made the first publisher or agent reject it.

When it’s published, you have to wait for reviews and royalty statements and checks.

A lot of things in life are all about waiting. Writing isn’t any different. Every good thing takes time, and having a book out there in the world with your name on the cover is definitely a good thing!

One Publisher Basket…

Currently, I’m only working with one publisher. They’re a great publisher, but sometimes I get a little worried about having all my eggs in one basket, so to speak. On the romance side of the publishing business, I’ve been watching a number of publishers, including two that were at the forefront of digital romance publishing, go out of business, and take authors’ dreams, money, and books along with them.

I haven’t seen that as much on the YA side of things, other than YA imprints of the aforementioned romance publishers. And I know my current publisher is solid. But I was burned by three of the publisher closings I mentioned above, and two of those were ones I thought were solid. So I’m a little more cautious than when I first started out.

I definitely plan on writing and submitting things to my current publisher as long as they let me. But I’m thinking it might be a good idea to try getting in with another publisher as well, maybe with the book that was recently rejected. (I can fix things…)  That way, I wouldn’t have everything in one place.

Then again, with so many small presses and digital publishers falling apart lately, I don’t know whether I would be able to find another publisher that I could count on.

It’s something to think about, especially because I really like the book that was recently rejected and I’d like to keep trying to find it a home. But I’m not going to make a snap decision about anything.

What I’m Working On

I’m currently working on revising another of my out-of-print novels to send to another publisher. This one is interesting to work on. It’s different from most of my books.

For one thing, there’s sexual content in this one. Not explicit, but it is there on the page, rather than just being mentioned or not happening at all. And it happens between a 15-year-old and someone who claims to be in his early 20s. (It’s portrayed as being predatory and unhealthy; that’s part of the point of the book.)

For another, this is a direct tie-in with one of my adult romance series (which is also now out of print). I had a series about the world’s only gay vegan werewolf and his mate, the pack Alpha. Something in the Alpha’s backstory struck me as good YA fiction fodder, so with the publisher’s agreement I wrote the book and they published it under their children’s/YA imprint. The official story was that “Jo Ramsey” was a fan of “Karenna Colcroft” and got Karenna’s permission to write the book.

(Some people still don’t realize that I’m both of those authors…)

The book has its disturbing bits. I remember how badly I triggered myself writing the scene where the main character, Tobias, realizes that the older guy he’s crushing on actually intends to harm him. But it also has what, in my opinion, is some pretty good writing.

I don’t know what the future holds for the book. I will be submitting it to a new publisher, but there’s no guarantee they’ll accept it. It remains to be seen. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying the revising.

Fictional Diversity

In fiction, there seems to be a tendency toward main characters, especially females, all having similar appearances. Often white, often slim or at least average build, often long-haired, and so on. In the absence of a character description, some readers default to assuming that’s what the character looks like, and there have been cases where a character who does not fit that image has been depicted that way on the book’s cover.

(That includes one of my own books, several years ago, but I was able to explain to the publisher and cover artist, and they changed it. Some authors haven’t been so fortunate.)

It’s unfortunate that that’s the default mental image some readers—and publishers—have of fictional characters, though. It gives fiction the appearance of being a homogeneous place where no one who’s even slightly different exists. Which is completely the opposite of reality, and isn’t at all fair to those who aren’t seeing themselves represented on the pages.

This is, fortunately, beginning to change. The Tumblr blog Size Acceptance in YA talks about how important it is to have main characters who are overweight—or underweight. The #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag gives examples of why it’s so important to represent *everyone*. Both sometimes give examples of books that do show different races, ethnicities, body types, and so on.

On the flip side, I wanted my Deep Secrets and Hope series to have diverse characters, but I’m white. When I was researching for the final book of the series, Ball Caps and Khakis, I was accused by someone online of cultural appropriation because the main character, Manny Park, is Korean-American. I was doing the research so I *wouldn’t* be appropriating anything, but it bothered at least one person.

I think it’s important for everyone to be able to find at least one book with a character they feel represents them, whether racially, ethnically, body-type-wise, sexual orientation, gender, or any of the many other ways human beings are different from one another. Because being different is part of what makes life interesting, and in my opinion, that should show in fiction as well.

Self-Publishing vs. Vanity Publishing

I’ve recently had to explain the difference between self-publishing and vanity publishing. This is not the first time I’ve had that kind of discussion.

Both forms of publishing might involve paying someone else. But in self-publishing, *you* are the publishing company. Any expense you go to might be for things like professional editing, or cover art, or printing if you choose to have a print run done rather than print-on-demand. (Print run means you have a certain number of copies printed and try to sell them; print-on-demand is things like CreateSpace, where no book is actually physically printed until someone orders it.) But at the end of the process, *you* have published the book. You just paid for services you weren’t able to do yourself.

Vanity publishing, on the other hand, means you send your manuscript and a bunch of money to a company, and they take it from there—to an extent. They might handle the printing and cover art, but there is probably no editing done. You’re still responsible for marketing the book and making sales, just as you would be if you self-publishing. But the publisher of the book isn’t you, it’s Vanity Press Inc. (or whatever the name of the company happens to be.)

In self-publishing, it is entirely possible to do the whole process without spending a cent. Go with a print-on-demand service like CreateSpace; it’s free. Make your own cover if you’re good with digital graphics, or have a friend do it if you know someone who can. Or barter for it; offer to trade proofreading for cover art, for example. I wouldn’t recommend editing the book entirely by yourself, because it is easy to miss things, but you could also barter for editing, or have someone you trust read the manuscript carefully and call things to your attention. Not the ideal, but it is free.

In vanity publishing, you don’t have a choice. You pay, they do a book, and you have to run with it from there. You might not sell enough to recoup the cost. You might, as a friend of mine did, find yourself having paid $5000 for a box full of books you can’t do anything with.

However you choose to publish is your choice, but it’s important to know what you’re choosing. I’ve encountered a number of people who think that paying a company to publish your book is the *only* way to get published. I’ve also encountered a number who think paying a company to publish your book is the same as self-publishing. Make sure you know what choice you’re actually making.