Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Finish What You Started

When I first started writing, my books were all standalone. I wrote one story and moved on to the next, leaving those characters behind. It didn’t even occur to me to consider writing a series until readers started asking for more of the characters they loved so much.

Encouraged by my readers, I took what I thought would be a standalone young adult novel and created a new adult spinoff that turned into a four book series. That series spawned another four book series, which ultimately led to me writing a trilogy. All because the readers liked the characters and wanted to hear each person’s individual story.

I am currently working on two different series, which I’ve never done. I had finished the first two books in my six book, New Beginnings new adult series when I was struck with the urge to write a gay romance novel that I realized would be the first in a five book series. I hope to have the first draft of that book finished by the end of this week. Then I’ll move on to my third New Beginnings book while my first m/m romance is being edited.

The plan is to alternate my releases between each series. The next book coming out will by the first of my m/m romance series. After that, I’ll release my third book in the New Beginnings series; a new adult m/f romance entitled Coming Back Broken. Then it will be my second m/m book and so on and so forth.

I understand this will mean a lot of time in between releases for each series, but I’m hoping readers not reading both series will think it’s worth the wait. So far, I’ve never started a series that I didn’t finish. Too bad I can’t say the same for all writers, which I say as a reader and not a writer. As a writer, I’m not going to be critical of my peers. As a reader, it irks me when authors start something they don’t finish.

The reasons for abandoning a series can be everything from losing inspiration to not being able to secure a contract for the next book if the last one didn’t sell enough. Whatever the reason, it feels like nothing but a flimsy excuse to those of us who have spent the money in faithful support of our favorite authors.

And I’m not talking about taking a long time in between releases. I read a lot authors who aren’t always good for more than one or two books a year. Do I get impatient? Sure, but I’m not usually disappointed when the next book finally does come out.

My irritation stems from writers who give us a few good books that are clearly part of a series and then nothing more. I don’t know what’s worse. When a writer quits a series and seems to drop off the face of the earth, leaving fans to wonder what happened or when an author tells you they’re going to be releasing that next book soon and then it never comes.

I recently saw what I thought were two disturbing Facebook posts from authors. The first was an author announcing he was quitting because not enough people liked his work and he was sorry to those who did. The other was an author who went on an extensive rant because a reader took exception to the fact that the author’s last book in a series ended on a cliffhanger and it’s been years since then. The second author felt like she was being bullied to finish the series and thought it was pointless when so many people have said they didn’t like her, didn’t like the way she ended the last book, didn’t like the darkness of the series, etc. The author made it clear no one was going to tell her what she could and could not write and she was not going to write that last book no matter what anyone else wanted.

All I could say to both of these was ‘Wow, really?’ I guess I have a different attitude. I don’t think it should matter if you have one reader who loved that series or one million. You started something that people became invested in. Maybe it wasn’t as big or as great an investment as you wanted, but someone cared enough to buy your books. You owe it to them to finish what your started, and as long as I’m standing on this soapbox, I might as well say one more thing. Don’t start something you can’t finish.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

You Still Deserve the Best

I’m not just a writer. I’m a reader, a pretty voracious one. In fact, it was reading that nurtured my love for writing. It’s the same for a lot of authors.

There was a time where getting published was nearly impossible. You needed an agent with a proven track record of sales, an agent who had already cultivated a relationship with the big name publishing houses. As a result, agents were inundated with submissions and publishers took on only a small number of projects.

Self-publishing was known but not talked about. Self-publishing companies were referred to as a vanity press, the obvious implication being that authors were so vain they would pay to see their books published. Personally, I don’t think it was so much about vanity as it was about desperation to see your dream come true in any way you could.

The publishing game changed when electronic books and readers became a reality. It became easier and cheaper to buy books. It also became easier for all authors to get published. These days you can use sites like Smashwords to publish your electronic book and they will work with most major online retailers to get your book into their stores. With these types of sites not charging authors upfront costs, the authors can afford to put lower price points on their books, thus attracting more readers and netting more profits. Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program allows authors to upload their novel and sell it exclusively to Amazon customers allowing readers with a Kindle Unlimited subscription to read for free.

With it being so much easier to become a published author, I have noticed a disturbing trend. There seems to be a willingness to accept a less than perfect product. In other words, readers are willing to overlook errors in the novel because they like the story or the author or both. Just to be clear, I’m not talking about a few errors. I’m talking about books riddled with errors. Not just riddled with errors but getting multiple four and five star reviews.

Just yesterday, I was reading a story where the main character had been in an accident and he needed to be assessed for his injuries. Instead of assessed, the author wrote he needed to be accessed. The author also used OK throughout the book instead of okay, which is the correct format. And in this same book, there was a single sentence in which the word evacuation was used three times. Imagine my surprise to find this book had a five star Amazon review.

Authors are also getting away from remembering they need to show readers what is going on and not tell them. Going back to the story I referenced a moment ago, there was a lot of narrative in this book with many sentences starting with “I saw”, “I heard” or “I felt”. These are fine once in a while, but instead of relying on them to describe the scene, authors need to show readers what’s going on. Don’t say ‘I felt someone touch me’. Instead, try going with ‘Rough hands seized my shoulders’ or something along those lines.

Once upon a time agents and especially publishers would not accept a single mistake in a book. If one happened to get through, readers took a certain amount of glee in finding it. It was nice to be reminded our favorite authors were human and made mistakes too.

With there being more independent authors than traditionally published ones, we have access to more books than ever. That doesn’t mean we should tolerate errors or be willing to let authors sacrifice quality. I for one, try my best to produce a perfectly polished book every time. It doesn’t always happen. Sometimes things get through, and it makes me sick when I find them, but believe me when I say I invest just as much time on editing as I do on writing.

Just because I’m an independent author doesn’t mean my readers don’t deserve the best of me. Lower price should not equal lower quality.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Word 2016 Is The Work of the Devil

As I’m sure you’ve figured out by the title of this blog, I’m really not a fan of Microsoft Word 2016. I know. I know. I’m on the slow train with this. It’s 2018. Here’s the thing. Until recently, I haven’t been using the upgraded version. My old laptop was running just fine so I didn’t need it.

Not too long ago, my laptop crashed. I had to go out and buy a new one, which meant I had no choice but to take the upgrade. And don’t even get me started on licensing. That’s a topic for another day. Since being forced to work with MS Word 2016, I have discovered some things I truly hate about this program. Shall we discuss them?

It doesn’t like contractions. Every time I write the words, I’m, you’re, I’d and so on and so forth, I’m hit with the blue squiggly lines. When I right click to see what the problem is, MS Word suggests that I use does not instead of doesn’t or you are instead of you’re. Whether or not I should follow this suggestion depends on who you ask. Some editors will say you should only use contractions in dialogue while others will say it’s fine to use no matter what. I do what I think is natural and makes the story flow better, and I definitely use it a lot in dialogue. The result? My document is littered with distracting blue squiggly lines.

Use of the passive voice is a big sin with MS Word 2016. Saying that I am being forced to use this program is an example of passive voice. I hate to tell you MS Word, you may be right but correcting it will sound awkward. And I don’t know if you or MS Word creators realize this or not, but most writers use passive voice as do most speakers. You know what that means don’t you? More of those annoying blue squiggly lines are cluttering my document. You want to hear something funny? I am currently staring at 'don’t you' being underlined in my earlier sentence. MS Word thinks I should say, ‘you know what that means do not you?’ No squiggly blue line, but you have to admit it sounds awkward.

Starting a sentence with the word and apparently throws MS Word into a tailspin. I’ll admit that it’s not common. Years ago, our English teachers were slashing red lines through our papers whenever we did it. These days, it’s more accepted. Again, how well accepted depends on who your editor is, but the point is that it’s okay to start some sentences with the word and. I don’t need MS Word telling me to use ‘moreoever’ or ‘in addition to’ instead. I get it Microsoft. You don’t think it’s proper English to start a sentence with the word and. Guess what? I don’t care what you think, and I’m going to keep doing it.

I’m sure there’s probably a way to turn off the squiggly blue lines. If you can turn off auto correct or predictive text on your cell phone, I would be willing to bet someone has come up with a way to turn off the English professor feature in MS Word 2016. The problem with that is I actually find some features helpful. I want to know if the word is spelled incorrectly or there is incorrect comma placement. Other than that, I really wish they had left it alone. This is one upgrade that was not better.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

That's The Way The Cocky Cookie Crumbles

If you’re a romance author, especially one who has used the word cocky in a title, you have probably already heard the news. For the readers keeping up with this story, you might know too, but for those of you who don’t know. Guess what? It’s okay to be cocky in your titles.

Not long ago, I shared with you the story of a romance author who had trademarked the word cocky in connection with one of her series. Apparently, she has several books featuring characters with the last name Cocker so she decided to do something that she felt would tie all the books together in a clever way. Her answer was to use the word cocky in every title. For example, and I don’t know if these are names of her actual titles, but The Cocky Teacher, The Cocky Doctor, The Cocky… you get the idea.

You know what? I think that’s a great idea. Any author with a series has done it, myself included. When I wrote the Time for Love series, all four books had the word time in the title. Same thing with my Taking on Love series. Each book had the word taking in the title. Using a word in your titles to associate it with your series is great. Unfortunately, the author in question took it too far.

Somewhere along the way, she decided she wanted to trademark her brand. Again, I have no issue with this. Several authors have a brand trademarked, which keeps other authors from profiting from use of that brand. One of my peers, the amazing Erin Nicholas, has a wildly popular romance series set in the fictitious town of Sapphire Falls. If another author wants to write books set in this town, we need her permission because she owns the trademark. Trademarks work and none of us mind their use, but the author I’m talking about didn’t just trademark her brand when she trademarked her Cocky series. Nope, she decided that since she had a trademark on the Cocky Brothers series that she owned the trademark to the word cocky itself.

You read that right. The author decided she owned the trademark to the use of the word cocky in all book titles. With that understanding, she started sending cease and desist letters to all authors who used the word cocky in the title of any romance novel published after she secured her trademark. In that letter, she explained to each author that she owned the trademark of the word cocky and would take legal action against any author who continued to use the word cocky in her title. Further, she contacted retailers like Amazon and reported that because she owned the trademark on the word cocky, any author using it was in violation of her trademark. This led to Amazon and similar sites taking down other authors’ books, the ultimate result being lost income for those authors.

As you can imagine, this created quite the uproar. Some authors, fearing they didn’t have the money to fight a lawsuit, went ahead and changed their titles. Others refused to back down. After all, you can’t trademark a word. Several authors posted You Tube and or Facebook videos pleading with the author in in question to be reasonable. Blogs were written detailing why the author’s alleged trademark ownership of a word didn’t have a leg to stand on. Authors began tweeting about it, calling the whole fiasco cockygate. One author, who is also a lawyer, began an online petition to have the trademark reversed. Readers picked up on what was going on based on our social media posts and they weighed in, most seeming to agree that the author leading this charge needed to back off.

Not only did she not back off, she secured herself a lawyer and decided she was going to sue a few authors. Two authors and one online publicist were named in her lawsuit. How did the publicist get dragged into this? This poor woman promoted a book with a title along the lines of “Cock Tales”.  The book was an anthology with stories by multiple authors. All stories had the word cocky in the title. The purpose wasn’t just to poke fun but to start a legal defense fund since everyone saw the writing on the wall. Not one author in the “Cock Tales” book kept their profits. The author in question mistakenly thought the publicist was the author of the book and included her in the lawsuit.

This thing got so big that the Romance Writers of America (RWA) got involved. For those of who don’t know, The RWA was founded in 1980. It is a non-profit trade organization whose goal, according to their website, is to advance the interests of career-focused romance authors. When the RWA saw what was happening, they reached out to lawyers as well, and when the trademark author filed her lawsuit, the RWA announced it would fund council for the defense. Their generosity left a lot of us sighing in relief since there is no way most of us could afford to fight this in court, including the authors who were the subject of the lawsuit.

The case was heard before in a New York court earlier this year, and it didn’t look good for the trademark author. Preliminary findings indicated the trademark wasn’t necessary, that readers weren’t confusing her books with others and were sophisticated enough to know the difference. Reader confusion was one of her reasons for insisting she needed the trademark. Supposedly, multiple readers contacted her to state they had bought a book they thought was hers only to realize it was another author’s book with a  similar title. I don’t know about you, but if I happen to buy the wrong book, I simply return it. I’ve never had an issue with this, but I digress. The court also found the plaintiff hadn’t done her due diligence in bringing the lawsuit and certain aspects were without merit.

I can only imagine that the author in question heard the train rumbling down the tracks. Earlier this week, news broke that she not only withdrew her lawsuit but surrendered her trademark. This is a victory, not just for the authors named in her lawsuit, but for all authors. Forget breathing a sigh of relief, many of us are jumping for joy over this news. You can’t trademark a word and expect it not to be used by other authors, even those in the same genre as you.

Guess that’s the way the cocky cookie crumbles.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Showing My Pride

June is Pride Month. It’s a time for the LGBTQIA community to celebrate the freedom to be themselves. It can be done in any number of ways with everything from parties to parades.

In this day and age, most of us are familiar with the terms gay and lesbian and bisexual which takes care of the L, G and B of the acronym. That leaves the TQIA. For those who may not be aware, the T is transgender, Q is questioning, I is intersexed and A is asexual.

I love that our society has evolved enough that we recognize that people don’t fit into a simple box. We’re not all gay, straight or bi. Some of us are, but there are many more of us who are not. Many people are questioning their sexuality or have realized they fall on the asexual spectrum while others are intersexed.

I’m grateful to live in a time where we are dedicated to helping people feel less ashamed of who and what they are even though I don’t fall anywhere in the LQBTIA equation. I wish we didn’t have to single out one month for celebrating. I would love to see the day where sexuality isn’t something we worry about in others. It would be nice to have a normal that made it as unimportant to judging someone as their height or eye color. Meaning, we know these things about each other, but we don’t let it affect our assessment of their character or our interaction with them.

I am 100% straight. I’ve never questioned who I was or questioned my sexuality. From the minute my sexuality awakened, I knew I liked boys. I dated boys, loved boys and ultimately married a cute little nineteen-year-old boy who was the sweetest guy ever. Twenty-four years later, I’m still married to that guy. One of our daughters is gay and recently married a woman. When our daughter came out, it was with little fanfare. There was no big announcement. We’d suspected. We asked, she admitted it, we told her we supported her and that she should always be proud of herself, and life moved on.

Thanks to my very gay daughter, I’ve been exposed to things I never knew about. My daughter introduced me to the first transgender person I had ever met, a young boy named Josh.  She also introduced me to the wonderful world of drag and showed me her alter ego Apollo. The first time I saw Apollo, I told my daughter, ‘You make a really hot guy’. It must have been the right thing to say because she laughed and told me I was the best mom ever. I may be biased, but I stand by my assessment of Apollo.

I think a combination of living in this time and having a gay child has directly impacted my writing. When I first started out, I wrote romance novels with a male and female couple. Now, I’ve written characters who are gay and bisexual and this year I released The Truth Inside, my first book with a transgender male lead.

In the past, the romance genre has primarily been about straight couples, but LQBTIA romances are gaining popularity. I’ve been reading male/male romances for years and have just started trying my hand at writing them. While I’m sure this may offend some people, I don’t care. I may not be LGBTQI or A, but that’s not going to stop me from showing my pride damn it.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

It's the End of the World

Okay, yes, I’ll admit it. That title is a little melodramatic, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Just not in the way you’re thinking.

Two years ago, I was contacted by best-selling romance author Erin Nicholas and asked if I would be interested in writing a book attached to her Sapphire Falls series. For those of you who don’t know, and I’m sure that’s a small number, this popular series was set in the fictional town of Sapphire Falls, Nebraska and featured some hot country boys and sassy gals trying to keep them in line. As with most of Nicholas’ books, the Sapphire Falls brand was wildly popular. So popular in fact that it was getting its own Kindle world.

Until Nicholas reached out to me, I didn’t know much about Kindle Worlds. It turns out that Kindle Worlds is an Amazon brand. It takes a series of books that are being sold on Amazon and allows authors to write what basically amounts to fan fiction. Participating authors use the characters and settings of the original author with a few rules in place. Authors aren’t allowed to write stories for main characters already written but can use those characters to support their story. As the name implies, these titles are exclusively offered on Amazon.

I was both excited and honored when Nicholas asked if I would write a book for the October 2016 release. Even though she reached out to me in April, I jumped right on it and quickly churned out the book and secured a title and cover. I couldn’t have been happier when the book was well received by Nicholas’ rabid fans. In fact, it did so well, and I had so much fun being part of the Sapphire Falls Kindle world, that I released a second title in that world.

To this day, those two books are my most reviewed and possibly highest selling. I have no doubt those books are responsible for the increase in my fan base, and I couldn’t be more grateful.
Too bad all good things come to an end. Last week, I received an email from Amazon announcing they were going to discontinue the Kindle Worlds brand in the next few months. Not only that, but they’re pulling all existing titles. That means I lose the reviews attached to those titles as well as the income I net each month.

And no, authors can’t simply republish their titles. Some of us, me included, wrote under a trademarked brand. To republish would violate that trademark. Thankfully, the amazing Erin Nicholas is already on top of this and working with her authors so I will have some options in the future. I’ll keep you posted on those.

If you’re a Kindle reader, as many of us are, and you borrowed these books, you may want to consider buying them. If you don’t buy them, you could run the risk of never being able to read them again because the world is ending; the Kindle World that is.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Mess With One

The writing community is usually a pretty peaceful group. Since I only write romance, I don't know if it's true across all genres, but I find we are very supportive of one another as well. We'll reach out to each other and form friendships. We'll bounce ideas off each other, collaborate on projects and promote each other on social media. We've even been known to share our locales or characters or series with each other in an effort to cross promote.

With all of that support, you can imagine that we tend to band together against injustices. Now, I will admit there aren't many scandals in our community, but when there is one, it's epic. The latest one has turned an entire group against one author, and believe me when I say it's well deserved.

Okay, so let's go back to the beginning. Last week, several romance authors received an interesting email from one of their peers. The gist of the email was to order these authors to change the titles of their books or face legal action. Why? I could say it's because the sending author is an uppity bitch, but I won't go there. The author, whom I will not name and give any further publicity to, is insisting that she holds the trademark on the word "cocky", a word all of these authors had in their titles.

Yep, you read that right. This author went so far as to register a word as a trademark to brand her book series. The fact that she was allowed to do so is mystifying for many reasons, not the least of which is that titles cannot be trademarked. Logos can, and series titles can. Example, the Apple logo is a registered trademark for Apple Inc. Harry Potter was trademarked by JK Rowling. That means none of us can use the words Harry Potter in our book titles, but we can make reference to them in our blog posts.

Writers talk, and it wasn't long before word of this spread. As a result, romance writers across the globe have banded together to offer support to each other. There's been a lot of fun poked at the author who started it all. Just yesterday, I read a blog on the subject titled, Harry Potter and the Audacity of This Bitch. Authors are calling this whole fiasco cockygate, but it's not just authors who find it ridiculous. Book bloggers have thrown their support behind romance authors. Many have used their blogs to point readers in the direction of every cocky book there is. This has even gone all the way to the Romance Writers of America who are likely going to pursue a course of action that would lead to this trademark being revoked.

What is the author herself saying? Besides the fact that she's playing the victim card and claiming she feels attacked but is willing to turn the other cheek, she claims this is for the benefit of confused readers. Supposedly readers are searching for her books and finding someone else's. The author also alleges she doesn't want other authors to lose sales because of this. I have two words to sum up my feelings on this; bull shit.

If a reader buys the wrong book, it can always be returned. Most retailers have such generous return policies that authors cringe because readers are returning our books after reading them and we lose the sale anyway. If a reader finds my book by mistake and returns it without reading it, the sale I'm losing is one I wasn't going to have in the first place. No real loss there.

I  think her motivation was more selfish. She was losing readers. Maybe readers were finding the rest of us and liking us better. Ever heard that phrase there's no such thing as bad publicity? Seems pretty true here considering we've all had her name on our minds and social media posts the last two weeks.

Ultimately, only the author who started this hot mess knows why she did it, and at this point I'm not sure I care. I'll tell you one thing though. She can't pick this kind of a fight and then cry foul when we all hit back. It's absurd, and she learned a hard lesson. Mess with one of us, you're messing with all of us.