Currently browsing tag

advice to new writers

Burn Out is Real…and it’s Scary

I’m a burn out. Wait, wait! Let me rephrase that. I am burnt out.

I am in the process of writing my fourth book in a year and a half… During that time, four other books released. I know there are some amazing authors who can kick out a book every two months — or one month. I wish! But that’s not me, and I know that.

Let me be clear…I’m not complaining. NOT ONE BIT.

But I am admitting…
I’m burnt out.

As a debut author who had never signed a contract before, I didn’t realize how grueling a publishing schedule would be. I didn’t realize that I wouldn’t be able to just put my head down and write as I did for years before I even tried to get a book deal.

Sure, I knew all about the other things that go into being an author—the editing and editing and editing, social media, marketing, conferences and continuing education workshops, author events and signings and more editing…and, of course, writing.

I signed my first contract in February 2015 and I haven’t been able to catch up yet. As soon as I signed that contract and put myself under a real deadline: Reality happened. Exhaustion and stress and life unraveling happened.

Real life doesn’t stop when you get a deal. And for me, it got a whole lot more complicated.

An entire re-write of my fifth book is staring me in the face. Minutes click quickly toward the date that it’s due (again). So how do I get my mojo back? How do I muster up the strength and energy to write the best damn book I possibly can?

I went back to my favorite place to write. A local French bakery in the “Noda” neighborhood of Charlotte called Amelie’s. It’s got such an eclectic vibe. There are always people there. Creative people. Business people. (Not that those two can’t be the same,) All ages from toddler to Betty White.

I settled into a seat and put my head down. No Internet. No writing companions. Just me, the music (because you guys know I need the music) and my laptop. And I wrote my ass off. I was there from 6pm to 2:30 in the morning. The next morning, I jumped out of bed and was back at a cozy table with black coffee and a delicious breakfast sandwich (eggs, spinach and asiago on a croissant—in case you want to get the full picture) by 8am.

The words were flowing. The ideas kept popping. It’s almost as if I had to get out of that pocket of life that was stifling my creativity and go back to this vibrant, happy coffee shop where I’d written so many words previously—before the contract.

Life. Moving. Jobs. Deadlines. Marketing. Motherhood. Social Media. Events. Separation. Moving. Kids. Time. Love. Loss.

There’s always going to be something. Find your happy place and get back on track. If that doesn’t work—mix it up. Try something you’ve never tried before (I just started yoga again after 9 years). Go where creative people are. Find meet up. Be in the presence of individuals who like the same things you do. Don’t try to be someone you aren’t. Find yourself. <3

After a few more sessions at Amelie’s, I’ve almost finished re-plotting and restructuring my current work in progress. And I’m going back tonight.

 

P.S. Photo: A scrumptious berry tart and dark chocolate covered strawberries. Happy Valentine’s Day to me. 🙂

Sophia Henry writes Heartfelt Flirty Fiction featuring hot, hockey-playing heroes. DELAYED PENALTY and POWER PLAY, the first two books in the Pilots Hockey series from Random House Flirt, are available now at all major e-book retailers.

4 Comments

Editing and Critiques…oh my!

I’m pulling a Carol Burnette and taking questions from the “crowd.” Does anyone else love her as much as me? Or even know who she is? Went With the Wind is my favorite skit ever….YouTube it, people!tumblr_mq5avosuov1qar83lo6_500

Over there in the back, what’s your question?

How do you know when you’re finished editing? It could go on forever!

Yes, yes it could. This is where deadlines help. Unless you not even near the finish line, you’re hitting send to your editor on the due date. That’s a nice, abrupt end to your edit! But, gearing this toward a newer author, I think what you really want to know is when to let go of that manuscript you’ve been working on for months (years)? You query and get a full request from an agent and suddenly you’re convinced your manuscript needs one more pass…and then another. Sending off requested pages or even entering contests can be daunting. Is it ready for prime-time?

I’m going to reference something I heard Eloisa James say, and I apologize that I’m going to have to paraphrase, but basically, she said write the best book you can RIGHT NOW and send it out into the world. This is not to say you shouldn’t study your craft and do your very best, but people (and women especially) aim for perfection and will beat themselves up and hem and haw over every single sentence. Basically, when you are tweaking individual words, you need to let it go.

Here’s the truth: what will get you signed by an agent or your book contracted by an editor is not which verb you picked to use in the last sentence on page seventy-five, it is your VOICE. Is it compelling? Does it draw the reader in and not let them go? Voice matters more than perfect grammar or even plot sometimes. Plot and grammar are fixable; voice is a more elusive creature. (As an aside, I didn’t understand what a dangling participle was until my first editor pointed them out…eek!)

How do you know whether your critique group is helping or hurting?

One thing I’ve learned in the years since I started writing is there is no right or wrong way to approach a manuscript. Some writers I know write 1-3 chapters and send them off to their critique partner or group and wait for feedback before moving on. Some writers have sworn off critique groups/partners.

I fall somewhere in between. I have one critique partner, and I usually “use” her to read projects where I’m stepping out of my usual genre. For most of my manuscripts, I write/edit/turn in without anyone else reading it before my editor, mainly because of those pesky deadlines I mentioned above. Honestly, I usually don’t have the time for someone else to read my manuscript.

My rule of thumb comes from entering somewhere around a million unpublished contests…if the critique makes you feel like crap and question whether or not you should even be a writer, then it has turned toxic. I’ll be honest, some people are toxic by nature. Maybe they’re jealous, maybe they’ve had a bad day, maybe someone kicked their dog when they were eight and they have a vendetta against the world. Who knows?! If the feedback resonates and fires new, better ideas, go for it. But, all feedback is not good feedback. Do a gut check. Basically, if you’re excited about the feedback you get and can’t wait to make your manuscript better, then you have a helpful critique relationship. If the feedback makes you want to cry and instills more doubts than optimism, then move on!

Don’t let your critique group/partner become a crutch, and don’t change something just because someone else thinks you should, even a more experienced writer, which leads into my next point…

It’s important to TRUST your stories and your voice. I queried and signed with an agent and sold two manuscripts without having any critique partners, so I’m proof it’s not necessary for success. I learned early on to trust my method and my voice because I had no choice (aka ignorance is bliss:) There will be many, many times after you get published that you won’t have the chance/time for someone else to pat your head and tell you everything looks good before you hit send. And once your’re published, you have to trust yourself enough to weather rejections and bad reviews, because if you don’t believe in what you’re writing, all those flung arrows from outside sources will eventually kill your joy. Don’t let it!

13 Comments

The Down Low on Life with a Multi-Book Contract

Hi ho! Sophia Henry here and today I’m giving you the inside scoop on what happens after you sign a multi book contract. 🙂

1. Celebration! Seriously. Dance and shout and let it all out because you scored a multi book contract with a publisher! That is awesome!! Congratulations! Get the celebration out of your system, because it’s time to…

45840449 - writing with quill pen last will and testament or concept for law, legal issues or author

2. Write your butt off. Remember that first novel you wrote? I’m guessing it takes most of us more than a year to research, write, edit, rewrite, and re-edit that first book. It took me over three years w/ my first. You *probably* won’t have that kind of time again during your contract. Do you write slow? Save yourself some stress >> Be honest and realistic about how fast—or slow—you draft and build that time into your contract.

3. Editing. You will go through at least two—maybe more—rounds of edits on each book. The first will be developmental edits from your editor. Once you complete those your MS is sent to copy edits. (*Keep in mind you may go through more than one round of developmental edits to get the book where it needs to be). If you have a print book, you will probably have a page by page proof to go through after copy edits.

4. Market/Promote. While you are doing all the edits on the book to polish it to perfection, you will also be marketing and promoting. On Facebook. On blogs. On Twitter. On Instagram. Wherever you chose to have an author presence. 🙂 My advice is: take those posts to heart and make them the best they can be. Whether it’s an author interview, a guest post or an excerpt–this is what you ware showing the world about you and your writing. Maybe the blog only has 25 followers. It doesn’t matter. Promotion is promotion. 25 is better than Zero. AND if someone googles your name, that blog might come up. So always best at your best. Your brand is your career.

46744572 - promote yourself concept

5. Write your butt off. While you are doing all of this you are also (or should be) writing the next book in your contract—because I bet your deadline to have that to your editor is coming up soon.

6. Release Day! CELEBRATION TIME! Stop what you’re doing and celebrate today. I don’t care if it’s your 1st book or your 71st. Take the time to celebrate each accomplishment. You published a book (or 71 books). You ROCK!!

7. Release Day Continued… Don’t plan on doing anything on Release Day other than: answering calls, texts, FB messages and posts, Twitter, Instagram, commenting on blog posts. THANKING everyone who bought, read, shared, helped in any way with your book.

8. Write Your Butt Off. At this point you should be very close to turning your next book in to your editor. Can I just say that TIME FLIES when you have all of this going on. It goes in warp speed, I swear.

9. Edit. See above. Just because you’re a super awesome published author with an amazing book out doesn’t mean your second won’t need (major) editing.

10. Market/Promote. See above, but you’ll be doing it for Book 2…AND Book 1. You can’t forget about that puppy! Because it’s probably going on sale a few weeks before book 2 comes out and you want to get people into your series so they preorder book 2 or snatch it up on release day!

11. ARE YOU WRITING BOOK 3 YET?? BECAUSE IT’S DUE TOMORROW!! Okay, maybe not tomorrow, but all of these things will sneak up on you. You *may* need to ask for an extension. I’m not promoting it, but it happens. Be honest and upfront with yourself and your editor. If you are honest, changes can be made. Don’t avoid contact with the world because you’re embarrassed or stressed. We are humans, not machines. An e-mail or phone call is a glorious thing. 🙂

12. #2 through #7 above OVER and OVER and OVER and OVER and OVER until you die. Death may be a *slight* exaggeration, but the cycle continues so you must be prepared for it. It’s overwhelming and amazing simultaneously. YOU’RE AN AUTHOR!!

This post is not meant to scare. It’s meant to PREPARE. Because on top of all this–you have REAL LIFE. Jobs, family, root canals…Life doesn’t stop when you are writing. Honest and realistic are my favorite words. If you are honest and realistic with yourself and your editor: You’ll be happy, your publisher will be happy, your readers will be happy. WIN WIN WIN!

Has anyone felt the heat yet? Please share your words of wisdom from your magical and crazy experience. 🙂

Sophia Henry writes Heartfelt Flirty Fiction featuring hot, hockey-playing heroes. DELAYED PENALTY and POWER PLAY, the first two books in the Pilots Hockey series from Random House Flirt, are available now at all major e-book retailers.

4 Comments

Where to Begin…

snoopy

Beginnings—why are they so !@#$%^&* difficult to write? I recently started a new manuscript, therefore the opening pages of books have been on my mind. So, it’s fitting that this series on the one thing we always screw up has come along. I have to admit, Bad Girlz of the World, I struggle with how and where to start a story. I cringe and hold my breath all the way through drafting an opening scene—every time. But it’s a subject I’ve also researched heavily, screwed up again and again, and have now (hopefully) learned. Here’s what I’ve discovered…

Start with the story’s inciting moment, not the character’s inciting moment. This was one of my earlier mistakes that led to Jenna Patrick telling me I didn’t need the first 3 chapters of my manuscript. (And I’m glad I listened, she was right.) All characters have a past, but the past is no place to start a book. Instead look to the plot of the story. What is the catalyst for your characters to interact? That moment is where the story really begins.

Open with action. Have you ever noticed that movies usually start with an action sequence? There’s a reason for that. We want to grab our reader’s attention so they become invested in the story, and gripping action is a great way to do that.

Limit the number of people in the opening scene. I made this mistake in the first draft of Desperately Seeking Suzanna and had to make people vanish during the editing process. You don’t want to instantly confuse your reader by dropping them into the middle of a crowd of characters, so keep the numbers down and introduce the characters gradually.

“Any good story is a before and after picture.” –Michael Hauge

Character, character, character. I recently attended a workshop by Michael Hauge where he touched on the subject of opening scenes. It was awesome! If you ever get the chance to hear him speak, do it! I learned so much, and here are a few tidbits of that knowledge. The opening scene should demonstrate who that character is at the beginning of the story and the opening lines are a snapshot of that time in their life. It’s a good idea to throw in a line somewhere in the first scene that shows the reader how screwed up the character’s life is even if they act like they’re happy with things. This will establish longing for the change that the story will bring.

I’m certainly not perfect, but I’m learning and that’s what matters. Right, Bad Girlz? Do you want to see a few examples of opening lines from my writing?
[Please endure the following shameless plug for my books. Thanks. 🙂 ]

Must Love Dukes:
As Devon paused to allow a carriage to pass, a heat spread across his back. Someone was following him.
Desperately Seeking Suzanna:
“Who are you supposed to be?” Holden asked, adjusting the animal skin draped over his shoulder as he attempted to settle further into the chair.
How to Lose a Lord in 10 Days or Less:
Andrew rounded a bend in the road and urged his mount into a small patch of woods. Damn the open terrain of the moors.
The Infamous Heir – Book 1 of the Spare Heirs Series (coming soon):
Another punch skimmed past Ethan’s ear. The rush of air and cheers of the other men closed in on him as the blow sailed by. He put his weight behind his next swing, his knuckles colliding with his opponent’s jaw. He watched as the man toppled to the floor with an echoing thud, and he waited.

What are the opening lines of your current manuscript? Post them in the comments so we can chat about them!

6 Comments

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Subtitled:  Staying Sane as a Debut Author

Having to follow Jeanette’s moving and truthful post is tough! (See I’m comparing myself right there *slaps wrist*) But, seriously if you haven’t read it hit the link above.

I settled on a topic that’s relevant for me as my first book was published this year. I imagine every book has its own challenges, but your debut book is a special breed.

Not only is it the first time you’re sending your words out for the masses to read, but it’s an unknown. Expectations are sometimes far from reality. I pinged a special group of women for input—the Golden Heart class of 2014, the Dreamweavers. If you’re every lucky enough to final in the Golden Heart, you come to understand these other women are kind of like your graduating class. All of you finaled as unpublished authors, but a huge percentage go on to publish. Several of us have published our first books since the Golden Heart last year, and many, many more are scheduled to publish within the next year. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Do not stalk Goodreads for reviews – This was especially difficult for me as my book hit NetGalley six weeks or so before my release date. You veer from elation to despair depending on what the reviewer thought. And, as many times as you tell yourself, it’s out of my hands or I know not everyone will love it. It stinks when someone actually, really doesn’t like it. I’d liken Goodreads to a form of torture.

Am I doing better as I approach my next release? Actually, I am. I’m not following my own advice to stay completely off Goodreads, but neither am I taking any reviews personally (yet).

2. Do not follow your Amazon ranking like a stock price – I poached this advice from my GH sister Julie Mulhern who heard it on an RWA conference recording. Amazon is crazy, y’all. Rankings change hourly, and with the introduction of Amazon Unlimited, can jump around like a rabbit on crack.

I pretty much fail at this too. I don’t check as obsessively as I did when my book first released, but I do check for trends, especially if I’m trying some new promo.Freaking-out

3. Temper your expectations — Unless you’re an anomaly, you are not going to be a bestseller. You will not be in Amazon’s top 100 or even 1000. Heck, you’ll be doing great to crack the 10,000. My expectations were too high, and when I didn’t reach them, it messed with my head in a very negative way. I started to doubt myself. My productivity went down. I was distracted and unhappy and anxious when I should have been celebrating a release. Of course, I want my book to do well, but I’m entering my second release with more realistic expectations.

This is where other writers can really support you. They can pat you on the back and tell you what you’re feeling is normal. If all else fails, take a step back from your computer. As Lenora Bell advises, go soak up the sun and remember there is life beyond writing. In fact, life will feed your writing.

4. Publicity is never-ending – This can be terrifying or comforting depending on where you fall. Especially for a debut book, you can feel a little like a lost chick looking for someone to herd you along. Your publisher may be very supportive (setting up reviews/blog tours, etc.) or not at all, leaving you to hire a town yeoman to announce your book release.

The positive here is realizing that not everything hinges on having the most fantabulous release day ever. You can book blog tour a month or year later. Like my GH sister Nan Dixon says, a sale is a sale no matter when it happens.

5. Do not compare yourself to other writers — This was mentioned by two other awesome writers, Erika Kelly and Amy Patrick. And several of the BadGirlz mentioned this in their blog posts this cycle. It’s hard to put on your blinkers and focus on your path. Your path is not going to be like anyone else’s path, but if you keep to your path and put one foot in front of another, I truly believe you’ll reach the goals you set for yourself. And, those goals will different for every other writer.

So what can you do to make your debut a success? If you write a great book and put it out there, it will find readers. Will it be the day or month or even year you release it? Maybe not…maybe readers will find that book after you release your third or fourth or tenth book. The key to making your debut a success is to make sure your debut is not your only book. So…Quit focusing on your debut and go write the next book!!

11 Comments

It Gets Harder

Ah, my newbie writer self: so innocent, so enthusiastic, so convinced major success was waiting to fall into her lap. So enamored with her new calling, her story permeated her life. It was the focus of her dreams: both kinds. Her husband got jealous of the time she spent obsessing over another (albeit fictional) male. Her mother (almost) got tired of reading new drafts. Convinced of the rightness of her place in the writerly universe, the words flowed, and she put them all to use.

 
Notice I didn’t say “to good use” back there. Oh no. As Mae West once said, “goodness had nothing to do with it.” Her themes were cliché, her descriptions went on forever, and I’m pretty sure there are Duran Duran videos with more plot than her original novel had. But the passion was there, and her output showed it. The only thing standing between her and success was hitting that Submit button. Soon, (possibly too soon), she did. Instant success? Not so much. Did the realization dawn on her that she maybe had a little more to learn? Did it ever! So learn; she did. Young Syd got better—a hell of a lot better. Her story began to resemble a seventh-grader’s attempt at erotic fan fiction a little less and a real book that other people might actually want to read a little more. She got better feedback from critique partners, contest judges, and agents. She was getting closer—and not just in the lollipop landscape of her own mind.

 
This is where things changed. Somewhere along the way, it started to get hard to make the words come. It got harder, and I’m afraid to say, it stayed that way. So, when the Bad Girlz got together and decided to put together a series of “advice to our newbie selves” posts, I knew already what the title and concept would be. It Gets Harder. Thanks a lot, Debbie Downer.

debbie downer gif

 

 

 

 

 

Poor little newbie-writer Syd! What did she ever do to deserve such a crap mentor? And for that matter, how did her mentor-self become such a hardened old broad? It was a lot of things, some of which are beyond the scope of this article—but mainly it was a matter of quantity vs. quality. I knew more, so I recognized when my words were off right away. I became a compulsive editor, honing each sentence until it felt perfect, no matter if it was a first draft. Each day, I’d begin writing by going back over and picking apart what I’d written before. The quality was better, but boy was the going ever slow! The time it would take to produce five pages now produced one. As metamorphoses go, the timing utterly sucked. This time of my life is one where creative windows come in furtive snatches, much like trying to eat a cookie around a toddler without him sussing it out and demanding five for himself. A lot of little chances get wasted when you’re fussing around with old words instead of putting new ones on the page.

 
When thinking about this post, an idea came to me. Instead of bashing newbie Syd over the head with a club of her broken dreams, I’d think about what she could teach me. Her enthusiasm kept the same old story fresh through countless revisions. Her desire to entertain people with her stories made her fearless about handing them over to readers. Her exhaustive detailing of every little thing (down to her heroine’s favorite nail polish AND brand of topcoat) made sure she was never at a loss where to begin. Girl wrote in real time, y’all. So what if half of it ended up in the white void where deleted words spend eternity? That’s where the hardened broad comes in to do her thing!

 
I’m glad we’ve had this theme of looking back for our posts lately. It’s prompted me to think about not just the advice I’d give to my newbie writer self, but it also made me realize that she has a lot more to offer than I’d given her credit for, and she’s someone I want on my team.

 
So tell me, what awesome qualities did you have as new writers that you’d like to have now?

 

11 Comments

%d bloggers like this: