Tumblers Clicking Into Place

One of my neighbors is an 84-year-old widow. She recently had me over for tea. (I think this is an 80+ thing because my grandma is always having people over for tea as well.)

Anyway. We talked a bit about my being a writer and the question was immediately asked, “Where do you get your ideas?”

Of course, the answer is everywhere. And that once you start writing that first idea they just seem to grow exponentially because you’ve told some part of your mind that it needs to start collecting ideas and so it’s back there happily picking up new shinies everywhere you go.

Some person makes an interesting comment, idea. Some news article mentions something you’ve never heard of, idea. A person you cross on the street has an interesting hat or nose or way of walking, idea. You get your heart broken, five ideas. You meet someone you like, a zillion ideas.

But for me there’s also another component to it. And that’s that I’ll have the big idea for a while, but I need to wait for the tumblers to click into place to unlock the whole idea.

So maybe I think about writing a story with a young girl who finds a dragon in a cave. (One of my maybe someday stories I’ve had for a while.) But that story just sort of sits there percolating with no real direction to go.

Until someone makes a comment to me one day and I hear that little tumbler turn and lock into place. Ah, it’s not just a story of a young girl who finds shelter with a dragon in a cave, but the dragon has a story to tell.

And then the idea goes back to percolating some more until the next little piece appears. (I can’t take that particular example too far because that’s about as far as it is for me right now.)

Sometimes you can make your brain bring up the rest of the story by starting to write. There are little bits bubbling around back there that your brain can bring in if you get started but they’re buried too deep or are too peripheral to the core story to click into place just by thinking about the main idea.

But for me it feels like sometimes I’m waiting for that serendipitous conversation to really trigger the whole thing. I can’t write X book now because in six months someone is going to make a passing comment about a book that sounds interesting and I’m going to read that book a year later and that concept the person talks about in the book will suddenly give dimension to the story.

And sometimes that wait is agonizing. Like I just know I’m missing one more piece on this one, where is it?

And, yes, sometimes you can just sit down and write the story you have. But it isn’t necessarily the story that it could be if that one little piece were there. It’s a delicate process waiting for all the little pieces to drop into place, but when it happens it’s magic.

No Regrets

As of June 1st I will no longer be a full-time writer. For a while I may not be a writer at all. Oh, I’ll still have way too many books published and available for sale and I still have some audiobooks I want to record. But I may completely step back for a while.

And, honestly, I don’t have any regrets about doing so. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time then you know that I wasn’t the most driven of authors. The idea of fame actually makes my skin itch and I was far more motivated to give my dog a quality life and myself time to breathe than I was to “be the winner” or “be the best”. (While other authors were spending sixty hours a week writing and giving themselves carpal tunnel I was…not.)

Now that my dog is gone it’s a good time to make that transition. I need the structure of a full-time job right now and the one I’ve accepted will pay my bills and leave a bit of a cushion. And I like what I’ll be doing. It actually excites me.

It’s also much more certain and stable than self-publishing. I don’t like what I see coming down the pipeline for self-publishing.

I was already well along the interview path when this news hit, but the recent Amazon paperback pricing changes will increase my print costs for a lot of my books by around 30%*. This at the same time that I think they’re playing some games on the AMS side to drive up bid costs. So that means less profit per sale and making it harder to get those sales in the first place.

(*My product mix is not like most self-published authors. I sell far more in print than most and I also publish in the 7.5″ x 9.25″ size for all of my computer or image-heavy books, which is not the case for most. Also on the non-fiction side I have a lot of new buyers I have to attract for my titles so advertising is more important for me than an established fiction author.)

I also think AI is going to mess things up for at least the next few years and will likely hit non-fiction first. It doesn’t matter if it’s good enough to pass, there will be people who see a pretty cover and spend their time/money on an AI-generated title. And there will be lots of them published. Which is going to further sour the reader experience and drive readers back to “trustworthy” sources. I think it’s also likely that AI can copy non-fiction easier than it can copy a novel.

Established names will be fine. If you have an audience already that autobuys your books, you’re solid. But for those who never established themselves I think it’s going to be rough. Same with new authors who don’t have some sort of support from existing authors who will vouch for them. So if you’ve got friends in a genre and they tell their mailing list about you, great. But if you’re just new and eager? Ouch.

I honestly think it will make trade pub more attractive for some newer authors. And if trade pub ever gets their heads out of their asses about ebook pricing and starts putting out ebooks in the $7.99-$9.99 range with price promotions on a periodic basis? Double ouch.

And I know there will be someone out there who says something along the lines of how you only fail at writing if you quit. Which, fair enough. But there are only so many hours in this life that we get to live and putting those hours into publishing into an increasingly ugly market just doesn’t seem like a good use of mine. (Especially when someone then comes along and outright steals or copies what I just did. Why offer myself up as a victim if I don’t have to?)

I have always been a storyteller. Set me in a waiting room without a book to read or on a long road trip and I’ll be spinning some sort of story in my head. And putting those stories on paper is an interesting experience because the story evolves when it’s written down and turned into 90K words of prose versus that sketched out shape of a story that existed in my head.

But the publishing side is something else entirely. I’ve enjoyed learning the process–formatting books, designing covers, etc.–but at this point I’ve done that. And if I’m not trying to make my writing pay my bills, publishing is not necessary.

I do still have some collections to publish at some point for the non-fiction so I’m sure you’ll see me announce a few more titles here at least. I’ll also still have thoughts about writing because I’m not going to stop reading books anytime soon.

And, who knows? I may have become addicted to all of this and not know.

Between my sophomore year and junior year of college I took a year off with the full intent of taking five or so years off to make enough money to pay for the rest of college flat out. (I was a bit naive.) But I really, really missed studying Mayan hieroglyphs and it turned out that the local library didn’t have books on that. So I decided I had to go back to school. (Not that I spent all that much time studying them when I got back, but I did get to take a cool course on language change.)

So you never know.

I do know that removing the profit pressure from my writing is going to be a good thing. It will let me write whatever fiction I feel like writing because whatever I write will be for me first not some nebulous “market”.

And, yes, I’m lucky that I can do this. I know of authors who had to make it with their writing because they were on welfare/public assistance and had no prospects or were stuck in a minimum wage job and didn’t have a pathway to a different job. Or writers who are busy parents and writing is their escape and validation.

But for me, personally, I did have other choices and I’m taking one of them.

I’ve loved learning all that I have the last decade. And taking the time to see a broader world than I would have if I’d stayed on my original path. I think writing has made me a better person. Not a great person–I’m still arrogant–but at least I know that now. 🙂

Anyway. I’ve shared my writing journey up to this point so figured I should share this, too. Wish me luck. And best of luck to you on your continuing journey, wherever it takes you.

Expectations vs. Outcomes

I think I mentioned before that last month I took a week and just sort of sat down and tried to figure out who I am and what I want in life.

What am I good at? What drives me and gives me satisfaction? What do I value?

It was a good exercise, because I think in this world that if you don’t really assess who you are and what you want that it’s too easy to be pushed around by the tides of what people tell you you should want. Or what society tells you is valuable.

And so it’s easy to get sucked into living a life that is successful by external standards and makes you absolutely miserable. For some people the fit is perfect and they never understand that conflict, but for others they can only fit into the common mold by hiding or cutting off half of who they are. And even the ones that can fit are sometimes exhausted by what society demands of them. (I see you married career women with multiple kids under five.)

But that’s actually not what prompted me to write this post today. What I was thinking about is how when I looked at my “failures” in life they were often driven by my expectations of what should happen instead of being objective failures.

I am especially bad about this when it comes to relationships. Essentially, if I’m dating someone and they show me that they don’t want to be with just me, I’m done. I walk away. I can be enjoying the time we spend together, I can feel strong emotions for that person, but my expectation is that if they felt the same way towards me they would just want to be with me.

I theoretically understand that the world is not perfect and that you meet someone and they’re probably dating others or have others in their life where things are complicated, but after a month or so my willingness to allow that disappears.

Which has cost me good connections in the past. Maybe if I’d just held back and been patient and let things develop a little further that person would’ve come around and we would’ve built some sort of amazing life together.

(Or not. I mean if you’re not all in at the start when all the giddy emotions are bouncing around, hard to believe you will be later.)

This applies to self-publishing, too. Because if I set aside others’ performance and judgements and the over-hyped expectations I was sold when I started down this path, I have objectively done more with my writing than most writers will ever do.

I’ve written sixteen novels. That right there is, objectively, huge. And doesn’t include the bulk of my writing which has been in non-fiction. I have also likely helped over 20,000 people learn a computer software that can expand their work prospects or help them better manage their lives.

But I continuously crush those accomplishments with my expectations of what I should have been able to do with my writing.

Even knowing that I don’t follow the steps you need to follow to do as well as I would like to at this (publish consistently, use pre-orders so people can just one click on the next one, write in a series in a popular genre, stick to one pen name, etc.), I still put those expectations on my writing.

I’ve spent a decade writing whatever I wanted, however I wanted, and just throwing it out to the universe. I rarely do big releases with lots of promo or advertising. This blog here is about the extent of my social media and networking. I did post on forums back in the day which did help at times and I am still in one private FB group and one private group elsewhere, but really, for the most part, I have just hung out with myself and done whatever I wanted for a decade with the writing. (Which has included advertising, I’m not saying I did nothing to sell my books.)

And I made over $300K in revenue doing that. Doing it all wrong.

I should be proud of that. But because I expected more, I’m not. Because I expected easy sales and six figures and to replace a job that was part of an entire industry that was built to extract wealth, I feel like I failed.

I have times when I’m tempted to just quit and walk away from all of it. To go back to some simple job that pays really well and just spend my weekends reading good books and watching TV shows or movies and eating good meals.

But that’s because my expectations were off. Not because my outcome was bad.

I’ve seen it said in a number of places by the old, grizzled writers who are still at it thirty, forty, fifty years in. There were authors with more talent than them who fell by the wayside. Those old-timers are still there, making a full-time living at it, because they stuck in there through the rejections and setbacks while those other writers walked away.

(And quite possibly those long-timers now have far more writing skill than the bright shiny stars that didn’t stick with it, because they kept plugging away and improving and learning. Also, just sticking in does not in fact guarantee success.)

Also, that is not to say that everyone can just keep going. Our world requires money, right? More and more with every day that passes. (My first apartment in Denver in 1996 cost me $400 a month and was a nice little one-bedroom with a washer and dryer in the unit. Now? Try $2000 or more for that same type of apartment.)

But back to the point. Expectations can ruin good outcomes.

And I honestly don’t know how to reset those expectations. I don’t know how to be objective about these things. I’ve never been particularly interested in okay or average or good enough. Even if it would make me happier to expect less or accept what I have, which I’m not sure it ever would.


If this all seemed a little too familiar, maybe step back and set aside the expectations and just look at what you’ve accomplished as if you weren’t you. Give yourself a quick moment to celebrate what you have done as opposed to what you haven’t done.

(I know. It’s hard. In my little look at my life that I did the only accomplishment I listed that I was “proud” of was triple-majoring at Stanford even though objectively I have done a lot of other things I should be proud of. But that was the only thing that truly pushed me to my absolute limit–the last two years of getting that degree while also working full-time–so it was the only thing that counted for me and my whacked out brain that expects too much all the time.)

Be kind to yourself. If you can.

A Writing Pet Peeve

We all have things we don’t like as readers. I know my writing is certainly not to everyone’s taste. (Which is why it’s so important to find your readers, not just any readers.)

Anyway. I ran across one of those pet peeves today and I don’t think I’ve shared it here before, so thought I would real quick. It’s the “trying too hard to find another way to refer to someone” problem, which usually involves the use of “the” in front of some identifier.

There’s a very, very popular author who does this with their own character talking in first person, which is even more bizarre to me, but the example I saw today was actually with someone referring to a dog.

Here is the passage:

X’s crate rattled. I…looked down at her. The Golden nosed the latch again….I sat up and gazed at the dog….The retriever sighed and lowered her chin onto her front paws.”

What would’ve flowed right by for me is:

“X’s crate rattled. I…looked down at her. She nosed the latch again….I sat up and gazed at her….She sighed and lowered her chin onto her front paws.”

And, again, I certainly have my own writing issues, so not meaning to call out this particular author, but it is something that I as a reader find very jarring.

Both of the times it’s been noticeable enough that it threw me out of the story have been with trade-published books in first person, so maybe this is considered an acceptable technique, but it doesn’t work for me because I think it’s not good character voice.

I’ve had my dog for almost ten years and I never think of her as “the dog” or “the Newfoundland”, especially not interchangeably with her name and referring to her as she. I might refer to “the St. Bernard” when a dog I don’t know approaches, but not with my own pet.

In the same way I never think of myself as “the X” whatever X is, which was the other one I noticed. I think in that case it was “the Assassin”. But I might think of a stranger as “the cop” or “the doctor”.

Anyway. Something that bugs me I thought I’d share.

The Name on the Cover

Publisher’s Lunch has a discussion today about a book that was supposed to publish but had to be delayed due to plagiarism concerns. A further review shows that other books by that same author also had instances of plagiarism as well.

According to the article, these passages were not the responsibility of the main credited author but due to his co-author. Unfortunately for the main author, most of the discussion I’ve seen around this particular issue has used his name.

The reason I mention this here is that if you’re using your real name to publish your books you need to consider the reputational impact of any contract terms, work arrangements, or edits to your work.

I occasionally will get approached by publishers related to my Excel books because they see the books are selling well and want me to write versions for them. (Which also generally would involved unpublishing my existing titles.)

The last time this happened I had to say no because the contract terms would have allowed them to continue to publish new editions of those books using my name as the author even if I didn’t write the new material. I think it may have even been worded that I would have to pay for any new author they hired to make those edits to update the books, too, because I would’ve still been paid for sales of the books.

That was an immediate no for me. Because that book and any examples it used and any language would have been published under my name. And my coming back and saying, “Oh, but I didn’t write that part, some random person who isn’t listed on the cover did” isn’t going to save that reputational hit I could’ve taken if the content were plagiarized or wrong or offensive in some way.

I also had a situation in college where I had a poem published in a literary magazine and the editor wanted the last two lines removed, changing the overall tone of the poem. I went along with it at the time, but have regretted it ever since because that poem came out under my name and was interpreted as my work even though the poem that was published is not the poem I wrote.

(Stay away from random college lit mags, kids. I also basically had that same editor steal something I wrote and publish it as their own because they made a few minor edits to it. College kids are not professional enough for that role. At least that one wasn’t.)

If you’re going to sign contracts related to your work, you need to know what you’re agreeing to. And even if there isn’t a contract involved, you need to keep in mind that at the end of the day if something is published under your name, you will be judged for those words and that story, regardless of whose idea it was behind the scenes.

Emotions in Writing

I got a little distracted in my life assessment this week and ended up going through my favorite writing books and jotting down from them the parts I’d underlined when I first read them.

One of the common themes I noticed was this idea that you need to make your readers feel something. That events don’t matter so much as the meaning and impact of those events and that it’s the writer’s role to convey that meaning and impact.

Which made me think about one of the books I want to write. Because the book I want to write would be about hope and healing. But I realized while reading all those writing advice books that even the stories that end on an up note–the bad guy gets his and our heroes prevail–have to take the reader down to get to that point.

Most stories take a person and make their life worse and worse and worse and worse until it gets better. I can’t off the top of my head think about a story that takes a person and builds up and up and up from the starting point.

And to be clear, I’m not talking about some story where Hero is perfect and nothing goes wrong and he just does everything easily because, yeah, that’s boring.

But I think there is a way to write a story where the individual overcomes challenge and conflict while only moving to a better place.

Maybe though, this down before up pattern happens because it’s easier to make people feel negative emotions than positive emotions. It’s easier to scare them or make them sad than it is to lift them up. In the same way that it’s easier to destroy a building than build it.

So in storytelling it’s easier to engage a reader by giving them someone to hate or to fear or by hurting a character than it is to share a moment of happiness or joy or hope.

And maybe that’s because those moments of happiness or joy or hope come from overcoming the negative?

But I’m not sure that’s true…

Or maybe it’s because the things that hurt us are more universal than the things that lift us up? And so to lift a reader up with your character you have to spend two hundred pages getting them into that character’s mindset. Only then does that individual joy convey itself?

I don’t know. It’s something I’m trying to work my way through.

(And as I re-read this I realize that maybe erotica actually does that? Starts good and goes up from there? But it uses the almost universal appeal of sex to make it work.)

I don’t know.

I do know that I personally have cried over probably a handful of books but I can’t think of any book that made me feel joy to that same extent.

(Maybe that’s just my personality, though…)

Anyway. Something to consider. And if you’re not trying to make your readers feel as they read your stories, maybe you should be. Good or bad. At least that’s the advice in the writing books I tend to read and like.

Who Are You and What Do You Want?

I have a tendency because I’m a #2 Achiever on CliftonStrengths to just plow ahead constantly doing things and accomplishing things without ever stepping back and sitting with my thoughts and asking if the things I’m doing are what I should be doing.

And, in general, that’s a successful strategy. If you want to reach a destination, it’s a good idea to move in that direction because sitting around on the couch thinking that you’d one day like to go to X place is never going to get you there. Right?

But this week I decided it was time to step back and assess.


Because often in this world we act like we all want the same things and all think the same way and value the same outcomes. And yet, we really don’t.

For example, I know about myself that I will give up a six-figure-a-year job that allows me plenty of time to write if what I’m being asked to do is boring and doesn’t challenge me. Or if it doesn’t further develop my skills.

For most people, that makes me a lunatic. Or at least someone who certainly doesn’t share their values.

And, well, you know, perhaps I am a little off.

So, at least for me, as someone who doesn’t have the same goals as most people I know, it’s an important exercise to sit down and ask who I am and what I want and then brainstorm from there.

Here’s what I’m planning to do this week:

First, I rounded up all the various personality tests I’ve taken over the years. Strengths but also others that I took through work or on my own over time. And I wrote in a journal a summary of the results of each one. One page each.

I asked, what did this test say about me as a person? And then, what are the commonalities across all of these tests? Who am I as evidenced by my responses to a large variety of personality tests over time? Does that fit with who I think I am? (It better, since I was the one providing the answers.)

So that was step 1. Who am I? At least who do I think I am.

Step 2 will be making a few lists. I do this periodically already. Lists of what do I want. What do I value. What do I have to have in life.

(Last time I made this list books and music were at the top of the list above food and shelter, so sometimes the list is not entirely realistic, but it’s useful nonetheless to ask myself that question.)

Usually, this is a bulleted list for me, but this time I’m going to write out the thoughts about each one. The why of it. And the what do I need to have that? What assumptions are hidden underneath that item.

For example, if I list that I value Peace, which I do, what does that mean to me? It means operating in environments that aren’t high conflict. It means that I avoid high drama friendships and relationships. If you’re always upset and angry about life, we’re probably not going to spend a lot of time together. Same with work environments. A boss who shouts at employees? Nope. Not sticking around for that.

Step 3 is going to be looking back over past accomplishments and failures and jobs I liked or disliked. What do I consider my successes? When do I think I failed? Why? How?

For the failures, could I have done something different to make that a success? And would I have done what was required to do that?

For example, I consider not being able to convert my visa to a residency permit in New Zealand a significant failure in my life.

But when that happened, someone actually offered to fake a job for me so I could get a residency permit to live there. I could have “succeeded” if I’d taken that offer, but I declined, because that was against my ethics. And also who wants to spend their life waiting to get caught for something like that.

Still, at the time I also was completely blind to the hundred other ways I could’ve approached that goal. Just because I failed in that one way of getting there didn’t mean there weren’t other options available to me, like calling up a recruiting company and seeing if I could get a legitimate job offer.

So I’ll do a deep dive there. Learn some lessons perhaps.

Step 4 will be strengths and weaknesses. What am I good at? What am I bad at? Where do I thrive? Where do I fail? What environment do I need for success?

And then, once that’s all done, I’ll turn to the writing side of it. (Non-writers could stop there or take that and apply it to their life in general.)

Step 5 will be what kinds of books do I love? Why? What is it about those stories that draws me in? What doesn’t work for me? Why?

I’ll try to put together a personal id list as Jennifer Lynn Barnes mentioned in an excellent RWA presentation in Denver many years ago.

Step 6 will be looking at the story ideas I have and fleshing those out. Seeing why I want to write them. Seeing what I have. Seeing what I could add to them. Asking myself which of those ideas could be expanded to an interesting world and which are just that story.

And then…

I’ll take all of that, and, knowing me, I’ll probably go write a book on PowerPoint instead of doing anything else with it. Haha.

But that’s the goal for the week. Step back and assess my life. Ask”Am I on track to where I personally would be happy to be?” and “If not, how do I get there? What’s missing? Where’s the road map that does get me there?” If so, “How do I keep on this track?”

One of my personality traits is that there is no “one path” for me. I’m a “I never get stuck” person. So I doubt I’ll personally come out of this exercise with “the answer” or “the goal”, but it will help me prune the branching possibilities down to paths I actually want to take, which is useful thing to do, I think.

Emotion and Mystery

As a follow-on to this post, I set aside that book that was dragging for me and am now 320 pages into a different book that did work for me. And I realized that what this book I’m reading now had in the first chapter that the other book didn’t have was emotion. Specifically, love and concern towards the main character.

This book I’m reading now opens with two characters interacting and one, in their thoughts, is worried about the other. You also can clearly see that the character whose viewpoint it is cares deeply about this other character.

The book itself is about that other character, and we as readers are immediately told this person is someone to care about by being put in the viewpoint of someone who cares for them. Someone who sees their vulnerability and strength and loyalty. We want good things for this character as a result.

And then there’s a mystery, which is why we keep reading. (This is a fantasy novel.) There’s something this character can’t share right now. We know they’re hurting. We know this other character wants to help them. But we don’t know why they’re hurting or if they’ll find a resolution.

And that’s why we keep flipping pages. Or at least why I do.

In writing often the question is, “why should I care?”

Think of all the boring conversations you’ve ever had in your life where someone was telling you about something that mattered to them but not to you. Your reader is that person sitting at the table with you listening to you tell this story.

If there’s no emotion or adventure or mystery to draw them in…their eyes are going to slowly glaze over. It doesn’t matter how passionate you are about the subject, what matters is if you can find a way to draw your audience in, too.

Anyway. I am now a day late in getting my next audio release finalized as a result of this book, but I don’t regret a thing.

(And this is yet another reminder that the really good authors are not at all interchangeable. There may be millions of books published each year, but the number that are operating at that top level of story telling are few and far between.)

Some Writerly Thoughts 20230224

This one’s going to wander a bit, so I don’t have a good title for it.

First, last week I read one novel and three novellas by two different authors. All were very easy to read. I’d start one and by midday be at 80 pages without even realizing it.

This week I started a new novel by an author I’ve read for decades, but it’s like pulling teeth to get through it. There was two pages of description of some sort of device that I didn’t care about. At all. I skimmed, which is not normal for me.

So I’ve been thinking a bit about what makes a book an “easy” read versus a hard read. And this is not the difference between a Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky, which are to me very engaging authors who are not fast reads, and someone like a Sophie Kinsella, whose shopaholic books I also found engaging to read but were fast and easy. I think the difference between those two types of books is more about the number of layers to the story.

This is more about different genre books aimed at a similar audience. Why are some easy, fast reads and some a slog?

Part of it is sentences and paragraphs and chapters. I think authors who started out thirty-some years ago or more tend towards longer paragraphs and chapters and more dense description. (In general, not all, blah, blah).

So that’s part of it. Looking at a dense page with no breaks for pages and pages for me, someone who reads for ten minutes at lunch, at dinner, and at bedtime, is an ugh moment.

But I’d be okay with it if I were sucked into the story. Which is why I then ask myself, what sucks me into a story?

I think readers need a “why”.

(I as a writer am actually particularly bad at this one. At least with my cozies. I just finished narrating book four in the series and the mystery doesn’t show up until chapter seven in the book. Yikes. I still have readers because they like my characters, but not as many I could if I had better focus on my genre.)

The books I read last week that were so engaging set the goal of the story very early. If you ever read JD Robb (the book I read last week was not one of hers, but she’s a good example) you will see that the crime that needs investigated happens in the first chapter. Maybe in the fifty books she’s written there might be one where it’s in the prologue or chapter two instead, but it’s always up front and center.

I read those books to see how Eve and Roarke and Peabody and Mavis are living their lives, but the core of each book is about a police officer solving a crime and so that’s the focus at the start of every book.

In romances you put the meet cute or the relationship up front so readers know that whatever else happens, these two people are going to find a way to be together.

The books I was reading last week were all fantasies where there’s a challenge to be overcome and that challenge presents itself within the first three chapters each time.

This book I’m struggling with now is also a fantasy and there is a goal for the series, but this is book two and the goal of the book wasn’t clearly presented at the start.

From what I can see, the author is sort of treating this book as a continuation of the last book and so didn’t seem to feel the need to bracket the book with a goal.

They also didn’t remind me who the characters are and how they fit together, so I felt lost for the first forty pages. Is this a romance because this one seems to like that one? But wait, isn’t that one married? And if it is a romance, why was this much time spent on this other idea that’s not part of the “world” I’m used to from this author?

I think you can take readers on any journey you want. But I think to do so, the way the story is presented has to say, “this is the type of trip you’re taking” and then stay consistent to that promise.

So, mystery start with the murder or the disappearance. Romance start with that meet cute or introduce the two characters.

Fantasy and sci-fi can be trickier, because sometimes it’s about exploring a world. But I think a lot of the successful fantasy and sci-fi actually contain a different genre as the core. So, yeah, it’s a cool world, but there’s a mystery to be solved or bad guy to be defeated. Or you have the academy structure where the world is learned through the character going to school.

Another thing that I think about, too, is alignment of values. And maybe this is more true for me now than it was when I was younger, but I can be kicked out of a story nowadays when the author has a very different set of values from mine. The book I’m struggling through now started with a first sentence that put me off because it went counter to my current values. I’m sort of done with royalty being considered special so I was already on my back foot when I started.

You know, it’s funny. We can talk about all the things that do or don’t work in novels and then someone will come along and say, “but X book…”, and it’s true.

Books can do things that aren’t what a reader would ideally like and still sell. I have read twenty-two books at this point by an author whose sex scenes annoy the hell out of me at this point. I don’t know if I’m alone in that. Probably.

But it’s possible that someone would point to that series and say, “but X author writes Y type of sex scenes and sells like gangbusters” and be factually correct in that statement. At the same time that the books sell despite that not because of it…

I mean, I mentioned my cozies above. I think what I actually wrote was a small town family saga about finding your tribe that just happened to involve murders and mysteries. And if I had enough readers someone might point to that series and say, but X book is a cozy series and the mysteries don’t start until chapter six or seven but it still sells. And they’d be right, but it would be a bad example of how a cozy should be structured because the books were selling for a different reason.

I know that I could improve the appeal of my books if I could rein myself in enough to put a genre framework around what I write.

I’m not sure I want to do that, though, which is my ongoing challenge and why I end up writing so much non-fiction.

I know by now the basic “how” of things, I just have no strong desire to follow it…

Anyway. Read your genre. Note the patterns. And understand that the exceptions to those patterns may be hobbling themselves not proof that the patterns don’t work.

At the end of the day you can write whatever you want however you want you just have to be prepared for the consequences of that choice.

How Misuse of AI Hurts Us All

There are a lot of folks out there very stridently claiming that the fast evolution of AI for writing and image creation is no big deal and just the way the world changes and blah, blah, blah.

But you can’t have the ultra-fast generation of written content not impact existing systems in very negative ways.

As a self-publisher I think it will impact visibility and credibility for self-published authors.

Is that new author a legitimate new author trying to find an audience? Or someone churning out a novel a day using AI with light editing trying to make enough money off of a handful of sales per title or the slick presentation of crap?

Who wants to take those risks as a reader, right? So you stick to the tried and true authors you already know. Or you stick to trade pub titles who have theoretically vetted what they publish.

And even absent that impact, the competition for ad space and new release lists and all that is even harder when 100x as many titles are suddenly being published.

One I hadn’t considered though because I’m not active in that part of the industry was short story markets. But as you can see in this article, it’s gearing up there, too. And fast. (Look at that spike in February.)

You thought you needed a good opening line/ paragraph to sell a story before? Hoo boy, is that going to be even more important now…