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.

How Should You Publish?

Sometimes other writers ask me whether they’d be better off self-publishing or working with a publisher. This is a response I often give.

Which is best depends on how wide an audience you want to reach, how much control you want to have of the finished product, and how much you want to earn. If you publish it yourself, you’ll have to *spend* some money, though if you do it through something like Amazon, the initial expenses are low, usually just the cost of having someone make a book cover and someone edit. You have full control over the book, but you also have full responsibility if something’s wrong with it. And you have to be really good at marketing and business to be able to manage that side of things, or you won’t sell many copies, if any.

Going through a publisher, there is no expense up front. (Some “publishers” will try to charge you money. They’re vanity publishers; they’ll print anything someone pays them to print. Steer clear of them, because a lot of people consider them not legitimate since there’s no quality control.) A publisher will pay you; you might get an advance of money when they accept the book, and you’ll get royalties. The publisher takes care of having the cover art done, takes care of all the editing, and does at least some of the marketing and nearly all of the business stuff; you just have to keep track of your own earnings.

With a publisher, you don’t have as much control over the finished product; you might not have any. You earn less, because the publisher only pays you a percentage of what they make from the book; the rest goes to paying cover artist, editor, marketing expenses, etc. And it’s harder to get in with a publisher, because they have high standards. You might have to try several before you find one that will publish your book, and it can get discouraging. But they also will usually be able to get your book available online and sometimes in stores.

Self-publishing, you’re responsible for every single bit of getting the book out there, and you might not be able to get it into stores because some places won’t even consider carrying self-published books. But you keep all profits from the book. I know some authors–mostly romance authors who also have a background in business and marketing–who are earning well over $100,000 a year self-publishing.

Sometimes the best way to find a publisher is to find an agent. Agents will take a percentage of your earnings but aren’t supposed to ask for money up front. They act as the middleman between you and publishers; you submit your book to an agent the way you would to a publisher, and once the agent agrees to take you as a client, they take care of sending the book to publishers for consideration. Some publishers will *only* accept books from agents, not directly from authors.

The Story Behind Deep Secrets and Hope

This Thursday is the official release of the Deep Secrets and Hope bundle from Harmony Ink Press. This is a six-book series following the lives of several LGBTA+ teens as they navigate bullying and other difficulties in their lives.

I never really planned on this being a series. It just kind of happened. Originally, I don’t think I actually planned on there being even one novel. I wrote a short story for a friend’s blog, Tales of Rue and Woe, on which they posted about writing, LGBTA+ topics, and an ongoing short story about two teenage boys named Rue and Woe. (Note that my short story isn’t on the blog linked above at this point, and the blog itself has been inactive since 2012.) A bit later, I expanded the short story into what I intended to become a free read e-book, though it didn’t quite work out that way.

The character Evan Granger was inspired by one of my older offspring’s best friends, and has some of that friend’s mannerisms. He was also, to a lesser extent, inspired by the reality TV series RuPaul’s Drag Race, in which drag queens compete with one another in an elimination-based format.

In fall 2012, I went to the GayRomLit readers and authors convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico. That was where I first heard of Harmony Ink Press, then a quite-new imprint of an adult male/male romance publisher that had published one of my alter ego’s novellas. After talking with the people at Harmony Ink’s booth, I decided to give them a try once I had a book that would work for them

And then I realized that Evan Granger deserved a full-length novel. So I gave him one.

I greatly expanded Nail Polish and Feathers from the free read short story. I added more characters, including Evan’s cousin Holly. I included the “drag queen competition show,” and Evan’s correspondence with Taffy Sweet, one of the queens on the fictional version of the show, became a part of the story.

Harmony Ink accepted the novel, which was released in August 2013. One of my favorite authors, who writes for both Harmony Ink and the adult imprint of the publisher, read it–fan girl moment! She actually read *my* book! And liked it so much she told me there should be more about the characters! With that kind of motivation, obviously I had to write another book.

So Shoulder Pads and Flannel came into being. Followed by the other four Deep Secrets and Hope books over the next few years. The final one, Ball Caps and Khakis, was released in February of this year.

If you haven’t read the books yet, I hope you’ll take advantage of Harmony Ink’s bundle. And if you have read them, I’d love to know what you think!

What’s Coming Up

I have a few things in the pipeline that I wanted to tell my readers about…

First of all, my next book from Harmony Ink Press is releasing in exactly one month! On June 2, Where No One Knows will be available, though it’s already up for pre-order on the Harmony Ink Press website. This is a re-release of a novel that was originally published in October 2013. Rights were returned to me when the original publisher went out of business a little over a year ago, and I thought it would be a good fit for Harmony Ink. Fortunately for me, they agreed! It’s about a transgender boy who is kicked out of his home–for having psychic powers.

At the beginning of April, I submitted Midnight Chat, the novel about a girl whose best friend tells her he’s planning a school shooting. I’m waiting to hear back from the publisher on that.

I spent the past few weeks taking a look at some old manuscripts of a series I wrote about a decade ago. Some of the books were previously published under the series title The Dark Lines (now all out of print), but most of the series was never published. It occurred to me that I might be able to rearrange some characters and plotlines and develop a newish series using pieces of the old, so that’s what I’m currently working on.

After a lot of brainstorming and spreadsheets and family trees (the original series was confusing!), I’ll be starting work on the first novel, Turnaround, later this month. The series is about a group of teenagers with psychic abilities who are drawn into the universal war between the forces of light and the forces of darkness.

So that’s where I’m at right now with upcoming projects and things in progress, and I’ll keep you posted!