Thursday, October 30, 2014

Using Multiple Pen Names

Caitlin here. There are a lot of good reasons for using a pen name instead of your real name. But what about using multiple pen names?

I spend more time than I probably should trying to build up just the one author platform right now. If I had to manage two or three platforms, I seriously wonder when I’d find the time to, you know, actually write. Spreading your brand out that way seems inefficient. I’d rather pool my resources into one, single brand.   

However, the argument for multiple pen names concerns the idea that readers come to expect a specific kind of story from you and, if you don’t deliver it, you could disappoint them and lose them as fans. And I do write across genres. I’ve already noticed a disconnect in my writing on Wattpad, where I have a collection of literary flash fiction and a YA Scifi. Very few readers seem to enjoy both.

So am I annoying the flash fiction readers every time I send out a message about my young adult book? If people subscribe to my newsletter because they like the YA on Wattpad, are they going to want to hear about my New Adult books? And if readers love the fluffy contemporary romance I’m wrapping up now, will they be putt off by my darker short stories?

This concerns me, but I also like to have faith in my readers. Faith that they understand I write varied stories. Faith that they’ll pick and choose what they like based on the description. Even faith that they might be up for reading something a little different from a familiar author. After all, I’ve noticed a handful of readers who are voting for both my YA book and my literary fiction.

But perhaps I’m expecting too much of my readers. What do you think? Are multiple pen names a must if you write across genres?

Karlie: Personally, I've never seen the appeal of using pen names. Like you said, Caitlin, that's just a lot more promoting to do. I write across genres, too, but I've found on Valorpen that most of my readers are loyal no matter what genre it is, and most of my writing buddies say the same thing. As a reader, I also read across genres, and I'm more likely to try new things if it's by a familiar author. So for me? I will probably never try to publish with multiple pen names.

Lisa: I wouldn't use a pen name for the very reason you've stated, Caitlin. Though I do write such varied genres (paranormal romance, thriller, horror, romantic suspense and contemp romance), I can't bring myself to do it. My writing time is too valuable to try to build a brand for each of my genres. However, I have seen a valid reason other than different genres for different pen names. I know a lot of writers who are still fairly young and post their writing online. They've established pen names for their "covers" and/or blogs rather than display their real names for everyone to see.

Dan: I will tell you that pen names are far more prevalent than I had ever realized... Many authors I know use them. I am considering one myself, mostly because my name is so hard to spell. But you're right, Caitlin; it means building and maintaining multiple platforms, which is a lot of work. If you intend to write different genres it's almost a requirement.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

That character's doing what? I ain't buying it.

Hi! It's Lisa again, and I'm having problems believing some things in books. Are you?

Sometimes as I'm reading I come across actions, sometimes often used actions, that I just can't buy. Isn't it actually impossible to clench your hands so hard that your fingernails make your palms bleed? That skin is too tough, isn't it? My hands are pretty darn soft (don't judge, I'm a writer), so it'd be easier for me to do it rather than someone else who does regular labor with his or her hands. But guess what happens when I try. My nerve endings won't let me continue; those little things run to my brain and tattle on me. My brain makes me stop. My fingernails also buckle. If I try really hard, I break the skin, but those darn vessels are just too hard to get to. Also, that wore me out; my finger muscles were screaming at me to let go. I guess I'm just weak...but I type all the time so those little muscles are used regularly. Hm, I don't know. Anyway, to my other point. Let's not forget the melodrama this makes me picture when it's in a story. I'd like to roll my eyes when I read it. Really? So this character is so pissed he's clenching his fists hard enough to make himself bleed? Not buying it, and I'm not totally into this story anymore.

In my opinion, there are only two ways I see this clenching/bleeding actually happening. 1) If a person is having a seizure because the nerve endings are a little bit busy and clenching, and they aren't worrying about telling the brain to unclench. After all, people have been known to bite their tongue until it bleeds, and sometimes all the way off, during a seizure. 2) The second reason has a little to do with the first one: there's brain damage or nerve damage or both. Maybe the pain sensors in your hands have been damaged so clenching until you bleed happens without you knowing. The nerve endings could be working but the brain isn't working so well - brain damage. There is brain damage or a brain disorder, and it can't/won't receive the message to relax the hands.
A character clenching until the skin is broken is a tad bit more believable, though I still have to lift an eyebrow and move on. It's just overdone. Are 99% of the world's population hand-clenchers in moments of stress? No. Then why are 99% of our characters? Do something else.

This goes for biting your lip until it bleeds too. One, like the clenching-hand-cutting-skin deal, it's a bit dramatic. Two, it's overused. However, I will concede that the skin of your lip is much softer, so it's much more believable that making it bleed could happen before your brain makes you stop. And it's much easier if you have dry lips, peeling lips or already-present sores. But it still makes me roll my eyes.

Now, that's my little two cents worth on stuff I just can't swallow. But I'd like to know yours! The reason I decided to write this post is because I came across this in a book again and then started thinking: I probably have some things like this in my books and don't even know it! I need help!

What do you read regularly in books that you just can't swallow?

Dan: Interesting topic, Lisa! As long as we're not talking about self-mutilation (which is a real thing) I'm with you. Having your character's palms bleed is a cheap way to show what he or she is feeling. In my experience, real people who are angry or scared often show less emotion than you'd expect. With anger, it's often subtle things, like using shorter phrases while speaking or not making eye contact.

As long as we're talking pet peeves: personally, I hate it when there's a misunderstanding that could be resolved by a simple open conversation, and that misunderstanding is the core of the book's conflict. Guess what? People talk about stuff that matters to them. Realistic problems tend to be far more complex.

Caitlin: I was totally with you on the hands bleeding (and impressed you went to the lengths to test it out! :) ). As for lip have that in one of my books. :( I'll be re-analyzing that soon! I'm with you Dan on the misunderstandings, although I used to enjoy Threes Company. Heh. My pet peeve? I guess it would be when the author deliberately tricks you to no effect via a character's thoughts. I recently read a book where the MC thought he saw Character B. He realized it wasn't him but still shuddered because it would have been like seeing a ghost. The previous fate of Character B is important to the this obviously is a pretty strong hint that Character B is dead. Thing is, he wasn't. And the MC knew that. At the end of the book that ghost comment didn't make any sense at all! Grrr... If a character thinks something, it should make sense he/she'd think that in the context of the story.

Karlie: Great thought, Caitlin!! I'm completely with you there. I also hate it when the hero gets a injury that should have taken weeks to heal, but the next day he's up and going again. I don't care how tough you are, it's gonna take some time to recover from broken ribs/wrist/ankle.

Another personal pet peeve of mine is the "deus ex machina," or that moment when the answer drops out of the sky and hits the character on the head. You know, that warrior that never showed up anywhere else in the book suddenly defeating the bad guy and then disappearing again. Even though it's usually a little more disguised than that, I come across it a lot more than I'd like.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Turn It Up Tuesday: My Immortal

It's Karlie here - and my song is My Immortal by Evanesance.

He left in so many ways - in bitterness and crushed hope, abruptly and without warning, leaving behind neither closure nor advice. But even though he's gone, Anne Brisban finds that he still lingers in every facet of her everyday life. In the shadows, in the sunlight, in every thought, in the quiet hours before dawn. He's everywhere, and sometimes she hates him for it.

If he had to leave, she wishes he would just leave. Maybe then she could move on. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Building Your Author Platform

Hello, it's Dan today, and I'm here to talk about platform.

In the modern world of publishing I often hear discussions of author platform, especially among new writers trying to break in. There are a lot of misconceptions about what platform means, and how important it is, so I thought I'd take a crack at clearing things up, and offer some useful resources for authors hoping to build their platform.

What is a platform?

Broadly speaking, an individual's platform answers the question, "How many people know this person, and in what way?"

The definition of author platform -- at least in machiavellian publishing-industry terms, might be more accurately phrased as "How many people will buy this author's book, and why?" 

Your platform matters to publishers because it affects how they can market your book, and how many copies they might expect to sell. Here are some of the things that might be considered part of an author platform.

1. Celebrity status

This is arguably one of the most powerful things to sell books. Like it or not, being famous (or infamous) makes your book marketable, even if it's an absolute pile of drivel.

2. Qualifications

For non-fiction, an author's qualifications are an essential part of his or her platform. We expect people who write books on a topic to have expertise and/or a unique perspective. Books about science or medicine, for example, are generally written by scientists or doctors. Harrowing survival stories are written by survivors. Cookbooks are written by people who cook.

There are fewer minimum qualifications for the fiction author, though being able to string coherent words together might be one criterion. Professional short fiction credits and agent representation support the idea that the author can write well enough to be paid for it. It also helps if the author has proven experience that informs the book, i.e., Afghan-American Khaled Hosseini's book THE KITE RUNNER is about a boy growing up in Kabul.

3. Audience

Your audience comprises people who know you already and may be interested in buying your book. Celebrities have audiences. Columnists and reporters have audiences, as do many experts who have published articles, won awards, or had speaking engagements.

Established authors of fiction already have an audience, one that's reflected in sales of previously published work. Thus, if you've published books already, their performance (for good or bad) is part of your author platform.

4. Personal Connections

Your personal connections may also contribute to your platform, especially if you have relationships with people or groups who can help promote or sell your books. For example:
  • Members of the publishing industry (agents, editors, publishers)
  • Celebrities or famous authors
  • Members of the media (TV, radio, magazines, or high-profile blogs)
  • Professional and amateur organizations (SFWA, conventions, book clubs, etc.)
  • Bookstores and libraries

5. Online Presence

I mention this platform component last, because it gets the most attention sometimes but may not have a significant impact one way or the other. Granted, we live in a digital world, and readers increasingly go online to find new books and connect with their favorite authors. An author's online presence might consist of:

  • A web site and/or blog
  • A newsletter / e-mail list
  • Social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) 
  • Online community membership (Codex, AbsoluteWrite, etc.)
Remember, these are ways for you to reach out to a potential readers and to build relationships with other influencers. A "Buy my book" link in your Twitter profile is not a platform!

How important is the author platform?

If you're reading this article, the answer is probably "not as important as you think," but this is a question best answered by what the author hopes to write. As I mentioned before, a platform is essential for a non-fiction author, because it directly affects how the book will sell. 

A platform is less important for authors of fiction, with the notable exception that authors who have already published books can bring a readership to the table. Most new authors trying to break in don't have a substantial platform, and that's fine. It's hard to build up a readership when you haven't published anything! That said, if you have 10,000 people following you by e-mail or on social media, you have a greater ability to promote your own work.

How to Build an Author Platform

I use the word "build" quite intentionally, to highlight the fact that building a useful author platform requires hard work and should be done with a long-term plan in mind. At a minimum, a new author should have:
  • A web site and/or blog
  • A presence on social media sites
These two things are well within your power to establish, and if you're serious about getting published then you probably should. Next, I recommend the wonderful Platform Pick-up series by literary agent Sarah Negetovich, which covers elements such as:

What About Short Fiction Credits?

I've read books about platform-building in which the authors suggest that you begin submitting stories to professional magazines right away in hopes of snagging one. I think this advice is a bit outdated, for a couple of reasons:
  1. Short story writing is an art form. Many authors who write long fiction struggle with short fiction, and vice-versa. 
  2. The short story market is fiercely competitive. Magazines are constantly inundated with submissions. The acceptance rate for most pro markets is well below 1%.
  3. A short story sale does not promise that the author can write long fiction.
Then again, if you write short stories that go on to win prestigious awards, it can do wonders for your career. It's a considerable time investment to write a publishable short story, but if you enjoy doing it, go forth.

What's Your Platform?

Now it's your turn. What are you doing to build your author profile?

Caitlin: Great post, Dan! I'm always trying to build my platform in strategic ways and it's so hard to know what will yield results. As for publishing short fiction, I agree it often takes different skill sets, but I'd definitely encourage novelists who enjoy writing shorter pieces to submit them. I've published a few pieces of short fiction and a handful of people have reached out to me from the depths of the internet to let me know how much they liked one of my pieces. And yes, these occurrences are utterly awesome! Maybe those "fans" will buy my book. Maybe they won't. But it does serve as a potential way to connect with readers who may appreciate my style and sense of humor. And, it's just fun! :)
Karlie: This is something I've started to seriously think about, Dan, but truthfully, I haven't done a lot on it. Like you said, if you have nothing published or even about to be, it's hard to promote yourself as a writer! But I'm trying to increase my online presence as much as I can, because I'm serious about writing and I want to be successful with it. In this day and age, that usually requires being all over the Internet, LOL. Awesome post, and it really got me thinking. :)

Lisa: I guess you could say I had a smattering of a platform as a non-fiction writer before I wrote my first book. Though I never looked at it as a platform at that time. Now I'm glad I gleaned followers in the newspaper buisness before starting the uphill battle of reaching a whole new audience. (Since I'm pimarily Young Adult writer, it doesn't exactly mean my previous followers will transfer over very smoothly). However, there are some loyal ones that are hanging in there. Now that I'm more focused on what a platform actually means, I see how a person can either look like a writer waving a bunch of flags to get attention, or how he or she can simply be friendly and gain an audience more organically. Both may do the job but who will have long-standing fans?

Also, something I believe you touched on a little bit, Dan, is you can't let your platform overreach your writing goals. Afterall, an audience is important, but if you don't have any books to share with them, it's all for naught. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Ordinary World by Duran Duran

It's Lisa here for Turn It Up Tuesday.

I'm going to take you back a couple or three decades and give you a song that represents both of my main characters in my current WIP, 17 Promises.

Ordinary World by Duran Duran

Johnny just wants to survive. He's a realist.

But I won't cry for yesterday
There's an ordinary world

Charlie, Johnny's sister, won't settle for simply making it. She wants more and she is desparate to get it. Both have their own way of getting through the day, but that's what they're doing, trudging through their dreary life the best they can. But news comes of something that could fracture their tenuous hold on happiness.

Somehow I have to find
And as I try to make my way
To the ordinary world
I will learn to survive

Thursday, October 9, 2014

NaNo Season: Tips and Tricks

Image Credit:
Karlie with you, offering tips and tricks to survive National Novel Writing Month, which is (gulp) less than a month away.

How To Survive The First Week
  • Chocolate
  • Coffee
  • Sweatshirt
  • Notebook
  • A Very Good Idea

How To Survive The Second Week

  • Call your neighbor to water your plants, and let her know you're not dead so the police don't suddenly show up one day.
  • Remember that it's unhealthy to go two solid weeks without a shower
  • Drink more coffee.
  • Keep pressing forward, even though your Very Good Idea is rapidly becoming more and more complicated.
  • Remember that at some point, sleep is necessary
  • Keep typing. 

How To Survive The Third Week

  • Forget about editing, you don't have time!
  • If you feel like adding pink dragons, go for it. There's always December to edit it out.
  • Don't be afraid to experiment.
  • Drink coffee.
  • DO NOT GIVE UP! The end is in sight.
  • Sleep? What is that?
The last week is the hardest for some, panic mode for others, and the downhill slide for a significant few. But you will make it, because you did not come this far to give up!


How do you survive these days and weeks of magical, stressful insanity? Do you discover things you didn't know about yourself and your writing? Did an incredible story emerge?

Caitlin:  Ha, this post had me laughing out loud. :)  What story couldn't be improved with pink dragons? I don't have much to add being a #nanofail myself. But good luck to you and everyone else who is gearing up for NaNo!

Dan: What a wonderful (and timely) post idea! First, let me say this: if you're serious about writing, you should really do NaNoWriMo. I often hear friends saying, "Oh, I would do that, but November isn't a good month for me." Of course it's not a good month. Two of those thirty days are treasured American holidays: Thanksgiving and Black Friday.

Look at your calendar and think about it: is there really a month that's wide open, with no family or work commitments, when you could write for 30 days straight? I doubt it. So if you want to get 50,000 words on paper in a short time, you might as well do it alongside thousand of other writers. Try it at least once. Even if you don't win (reach 50K), you'll be glad you participated.

I highly recommend planning ahead. There are plenty of ways to get ready for NaNoWriMo before November 1st. You won't have time to outline or do much research next month. Now's a good time to build up goodwill with family and friends. You might also want to get ahead on laundry, sleep, and personal hygiene. 

Lisa: I LOVE the NaNo process--I even won last year--but I'm not so keen on participating on the actual site again this year. So now I'm sad because I can't participate in National Novel Writing Month, and neither can anyone else who has left the site. Right? Wrong.

As I said, the idea of setting aside a month for people to write a book is amazing. But what about the few who don't want to go the traditional NaNo route? Or what about those who want to write a novel in a month at different times of the year? Or every month of the year?

There are tons of sites that offer a goal/word count meter. And as long as you already belong to your own writing community, you're set.

Some, like Valorpen (a site where I'm both a member and editor, :) shameless plug), offer both a community and a meter. Valorpen is a writing community that has threads in which you can delete your forum posts as well as the actual thread you created. There are NaNo discussions, there is a word count/goal meter. It's free, as in it costs no money (just like the Credit Karma commercial...please excuse the TV addict). You can also upload your current and/or past project in a private and safe setting and glean helpful feedback from others in the community. Though I obviously like Valorpen best, I have to acknowledge other sites that people are seemingly happy with: Wattpad and Figment for example. Also, there's a much smaller site called Write and Review in which the feedback and the threads are for much more laidback writers. Though none of these latter sites have a word count meter last I checked, plenty of writers are happy there as well.

It's possible you already have a writing community. Do you like it? Keep it. You can get a word count/goal meter elsewhere. There's a very thorough post about them on Tracy Lucas's blog, complete with a list of 13 word tracker meters. They're all free, and she even gives a short review on them. By the way, Tracy has a mound of other great blog posts; you should check them out.

So all is not lost if you want to go your own way. Write your book in a month anyway. Post your progress on this blog (whichever route you take), and we'll heartily cheer you on! Good luck to all NaNoers! I'll be trucking right along with you :)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Turn It Up Tuesday: Paris

Hiya, it's Karlie here!

My song for today is Paris by Faith Hill, and it fits my character Gwen McCann perfectly. Going to France alone is always a little bit sad, but for Gwen it's much deeper than that. Her soldier fiancé had always promised her a honeymoon in Paris, but when she opened the door to two somber uniforms one morning, everything had changed.

She would tear the Mona Lisa up in little pieces and lay them at his feet if he asked her to; she would break the whole wonderful city down into grains of sand; she would give him the world.

But she can't give him Paris. Not anymore.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Writing Conferences

A book signing at the James River Writers Annual Conference.
Caitlin here. I’m going to talk a bit about writing conferences, mostly because I’m excited to be going to the James River Writers Conference in a few weeks! 

My goals for this conference are to really hone in on some aspects of my craft that need some work, figure out some additional strategies for preparing for my book launch in February, and, of course, trying to make friends with writerly folks. 

I’ve only been to a few conferences before, and they’ve ranged from large, genre book focused events to smaller, literary journal focused events. While the content and feel of these conferences has varied, they’ve all left me re-energized and excited to keep writing and publishing. 

As we all know, writing can be solitary, and that’s okay, but it’s so great to be able to connect in person with new people over a shared passion. So, even though the travel costs and registration fees can dig into my wallet, my loose goal is to go to one or two a year.

How do you feel about conferences? What goals do you set for yourself (if any)? Do you have any advice for conference-goers?

Dan: I've not been to a writing convention myself, though I've heard wonderful things about the Dallas/Fort Worth Writers' Conference (DFWcon). In SF/F we also have the convention (or "con"), which brings together authors, celebrities, and fans of science fiction and/or fantasy. I'm headed to my first such con (ARCHON 38) this weekend to be a panelist, and have no idea what to expect.

Tex Thompson, who's the editor for DFWcon and a veteran of these things, suggested meeting up with (or making new) friends throughout a convention, so that you have someone to talk to / have lunch with / introduce new people.

Karlie: I haven't been to one either. I've heard wonderful things about them though, and I can't wait to attend one in the future. I don't really have a lot to contribute here, except don't be shy! Mix and mingle with as many people as possible - you won't regret it.

Lisa: I've never been to a confernce, though I'm looking diligently for one.My problem is how long they are. Some are a three-day weekend and some are even a week long. However, I have found in my research that you don't have to attend the whole thing nor do you have to pay for it all. There are workshops scheduled that you may have no interest in. For example, mystery workshop. If you write romance, you might not have any desire to sit in on that workshop. So why pay for it? You might find that other things conflict with your desires or schedule as well, and that's when it's best to pay a la carte. So, I guess in my research I have figured out one thing: only pay for what you're interested or able to participate in.