Posted in Other Stuff, Publishing, Reading, trends, Writing

What Readers Want

I can’t say it better than Stephen King does, but I also can’t find the quote. So I’ll have to tell you the story the way I remember it. He confesses that people often ask him… less frequently, perhaps, than they did when he was starting out… “Why do you write that stuff?” And the question stymies him. Mostly because (he says) “They seem to think I have a choice.”

In other words, Stephen King writes what the muse sends him.

Oh, anxious young writer, desperate to produce something that sells, I see you. I see you at writers’ conferences, studying the latest publishing trends with a seriousness and a concentration that should be reserved for prayer. I see you in bookstores, frowning at the shelves with a mixture of contempt, jealousy, and longing rarely experienced outside of high school. And I promise you from my heart: writers who chase trends are like those guys who wander through haunted houses with video cameras, forever disappointed. Trust me. You, too, are chasing a ghost.

Whatever is on the shelves in that bookstore, publishers purchased at least a year ago. By the time it hits the store, it is only an example of what publishers used to like. Mimic it at your peril; they are buying something else today, and by the time you complete and submit your masterpiece based on the trend you see before you, it will be next year (if you’re lucky), and the wave you hoped to catch will have long ago spent itself upon the sand.

So write what the muse sends you. Listen to no one else. Write what you love. Write the story that resonates with you, and trust where it leads you. And it will lead you. Outline bedamned; you’ll know you are doing it right when the story slips off its dockline and heads for the rapids, dragging you in its wake.

I worry about you, fledgling writer taking copious notes at the conference. I mislike the intensity of your expression. Do not trust your notes if they send you north while your muse whispers “east.” Nod and smile and thank anyone who gives you an “industry tip,” but take every tip with a gigantic grain of salt. Many of the tidbits are good to know, and some will come in handy. But none of them will matter if you ignore your muse while following the advice of People Who Know.

The thing is, nobody knows what sells books. If publishers really knew what readers would buy, there would be no bins of deeply discounted remainders at the front of your local Barnes and Noble. Each book in the bin represents some editor’s roll of the dice, his or her best–and demonstrably wrong–guess at what readers want.

You can’t write a sure-fire bestseller, so you may as well write what you love. Your muse knows as much about what readers want as anyone else does. Probably more. It knows what you want, and aren’t you a reader?

No matter what you love to write, if you love it enough to do it well, there are like-minded readers out there. Ten years ago, you had to get past an editor at a publishing house before your work could reach anyone else. No more. So it is the best of times to stop chasing trends and write what the muse sends you.

And yes, I just gave you advice after telling you to listen to no one but your muse. The irony does not escape me! Oh well …

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Posted in book promotion, Books, Other Stuff, Publishing, Reading, Writing

Don’t Miss to Read this Fiction Book

I am not a believer in book promotion. The only time I buy a book based on an author’s tweet is when I am already a fan of said author and have been eagerly awaiting his/her next release. I tune out the constant background noise on social media urging me to try this author or that, trumpeting the release of books that don’t interest me written by people I’ve never heard of. This is why I limit my own promotion (if you can even call it that) to family, friends, and those dear souls who already follow me. I post and tweet messages along the lines of, “Hey, guess what, Epic Cool is finally out. I bet you thought I’d never finish it.”

Except once.

A little over a year ago, I was approached by someone who was starting up an author/book promotion business. This person was so kind, and so persistent, and so cheap … one dollar! For a year’s worth of regular tweets! … that I finally relented and gave her a dollar.

I did not anticipate that I would find tweets promoting my own books just as annoying as all the other book promotions flooding my Twitter feed. Nor that the tweets would be composed by people who were not fluent in English. A tweet recommending The Fortune Hunter by someone who clearly lacks the language proficiency to have read it is not a convincing endorsement. For over a year now, my Twitter feed has been filled with images of my covers accompanied by messages like, “Don’t miss to read this #fiction book”  and “Read author @DianeFarr amazing Book.” :sigh: Bless their little well-meaning hearts.

I haven’t noticed a huge spike in sales, in case you are wondering.

 

Posted in Books, Publishing, Reading, Writing

My Favorite Things — for Christmas!

My Favorite Things — for Christmas!.

Thank you, Diana Belchase and the Waterworld Mermaids, for including my Dashing through the Snow among your favorites!

This, by the way, is my first venture into audiobookworld. I chose it because it’s a novella. I figured, how hard can this be? It’s just a novella. I’ll sit down, read it into a microphone, and that’ll be that. After all, I used to be a voiceover actress in Hollywood. I still have my AFTRA card somewhere. Piece of cake, right?

Well … I sort of underestimated this brave new world of DIY. When I was a voiceover talent, I showed up, read my copy, did a take or two (or three), picked up my check and went home. It was probably the easiest acting job in the world. This project didn’t work quite that way. I had to not only read the darn thing, I had to engineer it too. I had to edit out all the dead air and random noises, watch a bunch of YouTube how-to videos on audio compression and blah blah blah, and drive myself crazy applying what I learned.

Okay, it was fun. But it took forever!

I hope you enjoy the result:

Dashing Through the Snow | [Diane Farr]

 

Posted in Books, Publishing, Reading, Writing

Pitching my tent at Muse Camp

I was interviewed for Muse Camp recently and allowed to natter on and on about my journey from “trad” publishing to “indie.” For those of you who are interested, you can listen to the interview for free through November 22nd: http://musecamp.com/spe_dianefarr/

Muse Camp is a great site, with inspiring stories, tips, interviews, and support for writers of every stripe. Anyone who has been to summer camp will understand the concept! There’s something about getting away with a group and focusing intently on something for a few days that refreshes the spirit.

Enjoy!

Posted in Books, Reading, rwa, Writing

Confessions of a RITA Judge

Did you watch the Oscars last night? So did I. And since I am simultaneously wrestling with an awards-judging process of my own, I found myself feeling unexpected sympathy for the much-maligned Academy.

Every year, there’s a certain amount of fist-shaking and eye rolling over Oscar nominations. Every year, someone is overlooked who totally should have been included. Every year, someone is nominated based on having been overlooked in the past. (“So-and-so should have been nominated last year, so let’s nominate them now even though their work this year was pretty mediocre.”)

Actually, of course, I have no idea how the nomination process works. But that’s how it seems.

And if you think people get passionate about the Oscars, you should see the brouhaha that goes on over Romance Writers of America’s annual RITA awards.

The RWA Board struggles mightily to be responsive to its large and fractious membership. So each year, the judging rules change, in an attempt to fix whatever people complained about the year before.

Which leads to a chaotic process — and even lousier, less fair nominations than the Oscars deliver.

Romance fiction is the 800-pound gorilla in the publishing world, much the way Hollywood is the 800-pound gorilla in the movie world. Of course there are other books being written and sold, just as there are movies being made elsewhere on Planet Earth. And romance novels, like Hollywood movies, receive their share of sneers — sneers from those who are jealous and sneers from those who are genuinely concerned about artistic quality. And actually, for many of the same reasons. Whenever an art form is really, really popular, commercial success is likely to occur. Once that happens, those who are making money seek to continue making money. And presto, the dreaded “cookie cutter” effect kicks in.

Nevertheless, the RITA is the most prestigious, most coveted award in genre fiction. Like the Oscars, the RITA represents the consensus of one’s peers. It bestows upon its recipient a heady illusion: you, gentle author, have written the best book of its kind among a huge field of contenders.

Have you? Have you really? Maybe. In the final analysis, who cares? You certainly wrote a good book. And now you have a wicked cool golden statuette to prove it.

But I would like to say, to the authors I am not allowed to contact — the ones whose books I am judging this year — you will probably not receive a nomination. At least two of you wrote fantastic books. I loved them. But I disqualified them.

And here is where the RITAs and the Oscars painfully diverge. The RITAs are intended to recognize romance novels. That’s the whole purpose of their existence. But they have become such coveted objects that lately — for the past two years, maybe longer — they attract authors who are not writing romance. I envy the Academy judges, who know, at a minimum, that they are judging a movie. We RITA judges are wrestling with the very definition of the art form.

The heroine of Book A has a boyfriend. This does not make Book A a romance.

The couple at the center of Book B face terrible dangers together. They seem quite devoted to each other, but the book is about facing terrible dangers, not the growth of a relationship. Book B is not a romance.

You’re killing me, people. Either stop writing great books that are not romances, or stop entering them in the RITA contest, I beg of you. Out there, somewhere, are romance authors whose books failed to get through the door because yours arrived first.

But thanks for the terrific reads.

Posted in Books, Other Stuff, Publishing, Reading, Writing

The Next Big Thing

I’ve been “tagged” in something called (I believe) a “blog hop.” I’m supposed to answer a few questions about the book I am currently working on, then “tag” the next author — who will post her answers to the same questions next Wednesday and tag someone else. And so on. It’s rather like the white elephant game many of you are playing at your office Christmas party, only without the gifts. Or the option to swap your white elephant with someone else’s if you get something you don’t want. Or the ability to sneak out and go home, or at least check your Facebook page, while everyone else is preoccupied. Or —

Okay, it’s nothing like the white elephant game. Forget it.

Anyway, these are the questions … and my answers.

What is the working title of your book?

It will be a two-word title and the last word will be “Cool.” The first book in the series is WICKED COOL. The second book is SCARY COOL. So this book, the third one, will be, um, “[something] Cool.” The “cools” I am toying with at the moment are WAY COOL, TOO COOL, and WAY PAST COOL. Oh, wait, that’s three words. But it fits better than the others. On the other hand, it’s kind of lame. What about HALF-PAST COOL? Nah, that stinks. Maybe I’ll just call the book BITE ME. Ha, ha! No, I’m not serious. For one thing, somebody’s probably already snagged that title for a vampire book. Hmm. So what is the working title of my book? Let’s go with TOO COOL. For now.   

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Actually, I don’t have “an” idea for the book at this stage. I have a bunch of ideas, and am choosing which to use and which to toss. Then I have to comb through the ideas I’m keeping and decide which are central and which are secondary. Then I must place them in order of what happens when. Right now, I don’t know what happens in the book. I can’t hazard even a guess as to what the book is about. Frankly, I have no business answering any questions about this book yet and I can’t believe I agreed to do this blog hop.

What genre does your book fall under?

Finally, an easy question! Thank you. Young adult paranormal romance.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I shall urge the director to cast whichever actors do the best job at the auditions.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

“A young man obsessed with death falls for an old woman obsessed with life.” Oh, sorry, that’s Harold & Maude. Crap. Guess I don’t have a synopsis yet.

Will your book be published, self-published or represented by an agency?

Yes.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I haven’t written a single word of it yet. But so far? Two months. And I only wish I were kidding.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

It reminds me a lot of WICKED COOL and SCARY COOL.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

The reviewers of SCARY COOL. So far, every reviewer has given it five stars. And every last one of ‘em seems to expect a “next book in the series.” It’s hard to withstand that sort of pressure, folks.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

If I knew the answer to that, believe me, I would tell you. You and everyone else in the English-speaking world.

Now for the good part: the tag for next week’s edition of  “The Next Big Thing!” I proudly refer you to Kate Rothwell, who also writes as Summer Devon. Her blog is here, and it’s great fun to read. So are some of her books. I can’t say ALL of her books, because I haven’t read them all — yet. She’s awfully prolific. And by “awfully” I mean I am in awe of her. So “awfully” in the nicest possible sense of the word.

Posted in Books, Publishing, Reading, Writing

Back-Burner Books

It’s definitely different to be an “indie” author. When I finish a book I must choose what to work on next. Choose! What a concept.

Perhaps that doesn’t sound momentous to most people, but trust me, it’s momentous. There is no one in New York telling me that I must deliver, say, a 75,000-word romance set in Regency England by such-and-such a date.  It’s liberating, naturally, but it’s also unsettling to find myself drifting, directionless — and having to make decisions that will affect the next couple of years of my life without the input of a team of interested experts.

Like most authors, I have a number of books knocking around in my brain, clamoring to be written. There’s Book 3 of my unfinished “star” trilogy, for example. Also a sweeping historical saga with lots of “sturm & drang” that my agent had me put together years ago— back in the days when we were trying to move me into, well, sweeping historical sagas with lots of sturm & drang. There’s a Christmas Regency that could be lots of fun, featuring two characters I love so much that I want to spread them out over four books and let everybody around them fall in love and marry off, one after the other, until FINALLY Gavin and Felicity get their happy ending in book 4. There’s at least one novella, which I’m drawn to as possibly easier to finish quickly and get out there. And then there’s the third book in my YA paranormal series, The Spellspinners.

So how to choose?

To my (mild) surprise, I find that a lot of my considerations are the same ones that a publisher would have. For example: Which, of all the possible books I could write, is the one most likely to find an audience? The difficulty with putting this consideration at the top of the list, of course, is that the question is unanswerable. Nobody knows what will sell. And the fact that publishers pretend to know, when in fact their guesses are wrong more often than they are right, has driven authors nuts for decades. So it’s ironic, to say the least, that I find this particular question pressing on me so—now that my fate is in my own hands!

I would love to write a Regency again. What’s stopping me? That darn YA series I foolishly started. Because it’s contemporary. Since the Regencies are set in the past (duh), they can be written any time. A book set in the here & now must be written in the here & now. Otherwise you end up with a Sue Grafton problem. She’s the brilliant author of those Kinsey Millhone “alphabet” mysteries, which started out contemporary but have gradually slid into the past … since Sue can’t write as quickly as Kinsey’s adventures happen. Now she’s stuck writing mysteries set in the 1980’s, and it’s not the 1980’s anymore, and it’s more and more difficult to remember exactly how life really was in the 1980’s (what was playing on the radio that year? Did everybody have a microwave oven or not? etc.). Sue Grafton’s writing historicals now, and I don’t think she intended that when she started out.

I had hoped that Scary Cool would be the end of the series, or at least this portion of the series, but alas, all the reviews seem to be expecting another book. Okay, I guess I did leave a few balls in the air at the end of Scary Cool. So Book 3 must be written. And it must be written next. Leaving all my Regencies still simmering away on the back burner. :sigh:

Fortunately, these Spellspinner books are a lot of fun to write.

Posted in Books, Other Stuff, Reading, Writing

The Natural-Born Writer (and other myths)

Saw this via a post on Patrick Ross’s blog: Want to be a writer? Have a literary parent – Science – News – The Independent. Apparently some researchers in Britain have unearthed, through a complicated study, evidence of a “writing gene.” And they support their theory by noting the existence of “writing families” — the Bronte sisters, for example.

I think I agree with Stephen King. Yes, writers have a gift. If you don’t have it to begin with, no amount of training or education can give it to you. In that sense, writers are born, not made. But a gift for writing is not a particularly unusual gift. Lots of people have the knack. So what turns a possible-writer into a writer?

The indispensable trait in a writer is that you begin as a reader — a voracious reader. I have a strong suspicion that “writing families” are, in fact, reading families. Clearly, if there are writers in the family — and especially if the writers happen to be your parents — you are going to grow up in a household where books are revered, reading is taken for granted as a primary source of information and entertainment, and any writing you attempt is both encouraged and intelligently critiqued. The “writing seed” will fall on fertile soil.

I did not discover until several decades into my life that there are people — indeed, entire families — who frown on reading as a waste of time, call magazines and catalogs “books” (evidently discerning no difference between TV Guide and War and Peace), and equate a love of literature with snobbery. These people have a point — although it took me years to see it. I have spent a large portion of my life oblivious to my surroundings, for example. Would my childhood have been better spent in the “real” world – doing chores and riding bicycles, for example, instead of sitting motionless with my nose in the Chronicles of Narnia or Girl of the Limberlost? Because it wasn’t all great literature that kept me from my chores, you know. Sometimes it was Trixie Belden and Cherry Ames, Student Nurse. When you come from a family where reading is sacrosanct, whatever you are reading is, ipso facto, more important than fresh air, exercise or an uncluttered closet.

I’m guessing that Charlotte Bronte was excused from embroidery and piano lessons when she was writing or reading. I bet the Waughs lived in a dusty house and ate a lot of sandwiches. Mark my words, that “creativity gene” theory is going to be debunked. It ain’t nature — at least, not the lion’s share of it. It’s nurture!