Posted in writing advice

The Power of the Skinny Draft

 There are a thousand ways to draft a novel. They can be broken down by scene, chapter, character. The list goes on. They can be told in order or have scenes shuffled around like a deck of cards. A method I’ve learned about more recently is the skinny draft. A skinny draft is a complete draft that focuses on placing the plot elements in the correct order with minimum description. It can contain dialog and locations, but describing the setting and emotion is left at a bare minimum.

I know what you’re about to say. Erin, aren’t we supposed to use description and emotion in our stories? Of course we are. Those are the things that bring a story to life, but that doesn’t mean you have to have every possible detail in your first draft.

A skinny draft is designed to get you to a completed draft as quickly as possible. A lot of writers struggle with feeling discouraged because of the time it takes to complete their first draft. This method shortens that time and gives you a little shot of dopamine to help you stay motivated.

Another benefit of the skinny draft is the ability to learn more about your characters

and plot without having to sort through a massive word count. This can be doubly important for discovery writers or pantsers. Answering the “what happens next?” question can eliminate the need for as many drafts because the plot is solidified much faster.

While skinny drafts can keep you from writing a bunch of words that end up in the trash can, it is not a method that works for everyone.

I used the skinny draft method on my current WIP. It helped me identify issues a lot quicker, but I found that the overall process is going a lot slower for me.

I am an over-writer by nature. (Remember my friend’s wordy bitch comment?) My style tends to include a lot of fluff that must be cut later, but that is also how I learn more about my characters. It is much easier for me to take stuff out than put it in. Without those details early on, I don’t feel as connected to my characters. This makes it harder for me to keep working on it because I’m not as invested in their journey.

 Regardless of your method, ensuring you get to the end is the most important part.

 How do you do your first draft? Have you tried using a skinny draft? What method works best for you?

Posted in resources, writer life, writing advice

Lessons Learned: Book Signing Events

One of the many things I never thought I’d have to do when I decided to become an author was public speaking. My mentality was that book signings are only for big-name authors. Nobody is going to want a signed copy from a debut indy author. They only want best-sellers. Boy, was I wrong.

I recently did a book signing at a public library near where I grew up. I loved every minute of it, but there were a few things I could have been better prepared for. Here are a few takeaways I have after being a part of my first author event.

BRING MORE BOOKS THAN YOU THINK YOU NEED
People love signed books. I thought that since this event was in such a small town, I wouldn’t need very many books. The library was packed to the gills. I could have sold twice as many books if I’d had them. Next time, I’ll double the number of books I take. Turning people away because you are out of books is a terrible feeling.

BE READY FOR SOME NON-BOOK/WRITING QUESTIONS
I’m a prepper. I spent time reviewing interview transcripts from authors I follow to try and see what kind of questions I would have to answer. I wasn’t prepared for the questions about me and my life. People find it fascinating that you were able to write a book and want to know about you. Not just your work.

HAVE SWAG AND TELL PEOPLE ABOUT IT
Everybody loves free stuff. Having a few free giveaways on your table is a must. This will help people find your book later if you run out, and it helps promote your brand. Just be sure you tell people you have it before they start coming up. The transition from Q&A to signing was so fast that I forgot to tell people I had bookmarks and pens they could have for free until they got up to the table. It does no good to have swag if nobody knows to take it.

DON’T FORGET TO TELL PEOPLE WHAT YOUR BOOK IS ABOUT
I feel like this one should have been obvious, but I totally forgot it. I introduced myself and gave a bit of my background, but it took somebody asking me what my book was about for me to give the synopsis. Embarrassing, I know. Maybe lead with that one next time.

Author events are a fun way to get your book in front of readers and interact with them. While no two events are the same, it’s always good to cover the basics. Do some prep work ahead of time to be prepared when that inevitable curveball arrives.

Posted in Uncategorized, writing advice

Walk Away: Getting Space From Your Work

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Writing is hard. This is readily accepted, but what many of us never talk about is that it never really gets any easier. We expect more of ourselves as we gain experience and learn more about our craft. This can leave the door open for impostor syndrome to wreak havoc on our writing lives.

This is something I’ve been dealing with lately. My edits seemed to take my WIP farther away from where I wanted it to be. Every time I sat down to write, all I could think about was how god awful it was and how inept I was at fixing it. I was seconds away from setting it all on fire and walking away. That’s when I realized I needed some perspective.

On nearly every project, every writer will reach a point where they want to rip their work to shreds and call it a day. It’s the nature of the beast. So what do we do when we get like this? How can we possibly find a way to pick back up and move forward when we are convinced our work is a steaming pile of cow dung? 

I reached out to some of my friends in the writing community for advice. I asked my personal circle and left messages on several writer community pages I am a part of. Everyone came back with the same basic answers. Space. Recharge. Critique.

I can’t resist a Supernatural reference.

Stepping away from a project is challenging. At least for me. I am one of those 100% completion kind of people. I will spend hours aimlessly exploring one tiny section in a video game. I make sure I find all the hidden items and mine as much XP from it as possible from the game. If I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it tenfold. There is no halfway. However, there are times when you just need to back away. Set the project aside for a while. And I’m not talking for a few hours. I’m talking days. Months even. It’s so easy for us to get wrapped up in the cycles of fruitless effort that we may as well just sit and bang our heads on our keyboards for as much good as it’s doing us. Getting some space from your work allows you to return to it with fresh eyes and see it in a new light.

This is how I picture my brain.

I know I have referenced the spoon theory in previous posts, but I’m not sure if I’ve told you all about the “hamster wheel.” I often refer to my brain’s ability to function like a hamster wheel. When things are clicking, the hamster is running for all he’s worth without a care in the world. Those are good days. They are productive and leave me feeling accomplished. Then there are the days when I’ve exhausted the hamster. He’s just laying on the wheel, one little leg hanging off the side, gently rocking it back and forth just enough to keep essential bodily functions operational. Anything beyond that is simply out of the question. Don’t exhaust your hamster. Give it a rest and do something else to recharge your brain. Better yet. Try to do something that has nothing to do with books or writing. Watch a movie. SLEEP. Drink a cup of tea on the porch while watching squirrels chase each other. Whatever it looks like, let your hamster rest so he can get back on the wheel and keep running.

Me starting the editing process.

As authors, we spend a lot of time with our stories. It takes an average of three to five years to finish a novel. That’s a long time. Because we spend so much time in these worlds, our perspective of them can be a bit skewed. We know things about our characters and settings that never see the page. It may be useless drabble. Or it could be a crucial piece of their character that informs the overall plot. Regardless of what it is, we are too close to the work and need an outsider’s perspective. Finding a small group of fellow writers to read your work with a critical eye and provide feedback is invaluable. It lets you see where your story stands from a reader’s perspective while having a writer’s keen eye. They can help you brainstorm solutions to problems they find and pick you up along the way.

Regardless of the route you take, give yourself some grace. What you are trying to accomplish is not an easy task. It takes time. So give yourself some space from your work. Recharge your battery, and get some fresh perspective. It just might save your sanity and keep your WIP alive.

Posted in writer life

Two for ’22

I know I’m a little late on this one, but New Year’s resolutions aren’t my thing. While I’m a big goals setter, I feel like waiting for the end of the year to decide to change something is a waste of time. That doesn’t mean that I don’t set goals for the new year. I do, but they are usually smaller pieces of a larger goal.

That being said, I set two main writing goals for 2022.

1. Complete content edit

Some of the edits for my first novel, Batter Days, came down to the wire. This made an already stressful situation a supernova of nerves and angst. I don’t want to live through that again. So I’m proactively setting early deadlines for myself to avoid it. One of the biggest pieces of this is the content edit.

A content edit is where a professional editor sits down and tells you where all the problems are in your novel. For me, this comes after my self-edits and beta reading edits. It’s the first time an editor will see my work and will likely be the most labor-intensive of my professional edits. Once complete, the story should be more or less set with only a good prose polishing needed.

2. Hold three author events/sales

Events are going to be a big part of my strategy moving forward. I want to spend time talking to readers. Maybe even hand out some free swag. Building a relationship with your audience is a sure-fire way to get your book in their hands. That’s why I plan on doing no less than three events this year. 

I already have one on set, a book signing at a library near where I grew up. The rest are still in the embryo stage. Getting through this first event will help me understand what I need to make future events more successful.

I’m curious. What are your goals for 2022? Did you make any? Better yet, what’s your game plan for getting there?

Posted in recommended

Favorite Book of 2021

Yes, my friends. Once again, it is time for the annual lists of all the things we liked this year. When I sat down to pick out my best book, I realized I hadn’t read many new releases. I focused more on getting through my ever-growing TBR list (take one off, put three on) than gobbling up the new stuff. So this year’s book is actually a 2020 release, but its literary power cannot be contained to a single year.

Publisher Summary: Book One of The Great Cities Trilogy tells the story of Five New Yorkers that discover they are the physical embodiment of their city and must come together to defend it from an ancient evil that threatens to devour it like so many cities that have come before.

This is one of the most original and intriguing stories I’ve read in years. Taking the concept that every city has a soul and building a world around it is genius. Every character is so vibrant and authentic that they leap off the page. Each guardian’s main traits are like holding up a mirror to the borough they represent. Their personalities and speech patterns reflect the different parts of New Your City in an elegant tapestry of words and imagination.

Not only is the story original, it is perfectly executed. It grabs you from the get-go and refuses to turn you loose long after the final page has been read. I don’t mind saying that I literally screamed for more when I got to the last page. I actually flipped back a few pages to make sure I hadn’t missed something because I wasn’t ready for it to end. Thank God it’s a series because I have to know what happens next.

I won’t give anything away, but the end masterfully sets up the future installments. No word yet on when book two will be out, but you better believe that I will be one of the first people in line to buy it on release day.

Posted in writer life, writing advice

Giving Up vs Getting Smart

I think we’ve all heard the phrase “don’t be a quitter” at some point in our lives. Giving up has this negative connotation attached to it that I tend to agree with. Throwing your hands up in the air and saying “ta hell with it” because something is difficult is never the way to go. But what if you want to explore another path to the same destination?

That’s what I ran into with NaNoWriMo this year. The traditional goal is to write 50,000 words in the month of November. I decided to go non-traditional and set a goal of finishing my first round of rewrites on the manuscript I won NaNo with last year.

It was going to be a heavy lift. I had to remove a POV, add a subplot, and fix a litany of general storytelling issues. The plan was to take the detailed notes I’d compiled during the drafting process and edit as I went. I knew the story well enough to start at the top and make the needed changes as I read through it. At least, that’s what I thought.

A week and a half into NaNo, I realized I was creating more problems than I was fixing. So I had two options; press on to win NaNo and fix it all later, or stop and take everything back to outline to get it right the first time.

I’m very goal-driven. The thought of not reaching a goal is crushing to me, so the idea that I wouldn’t win NaNo was devastating. I reached out to a fellow author friend of mine for advice, and they pointed something out to me. The only reason I was hesitating was NaNo. Not getting through the first rewrite in November wouldn’t impact my publishing timeline. In fact, forcing myself to keep going could do more harm than good because of the additional rounds of self-editing I would need. I wasn’t giving up; I was getting smart.

They were right. Not reaching my goal, while unpleasant, didn’t mean I was a quitter. It meant I was learning more about my writing process and what works best. 

I learned that pantsing of any variety doesn’t work for me. Stopping a process that is not working in favor of a new one, does not mean you quit. It means you learned and adapted. As long as I keep working on my manuscript, I’m not a failure.

Changing course is not giving up. It’s allowing yourself to find the most direct route to your ultimate goal.

Posted in publishing

Things I Wish I’d Known Before Publishing

I’m back! Sorry I was away for so long. My debut novel, Batter Days, launched at the end of September. Getting to the finish line was insane. There was so much to do in a short time. I had to take a step back from the blog for a minute to get my book baby off the ground.

Now that she’s out there in the world, I’m taking some time to reflect on some things I’ve learned. I did a lot of research into being an indie author before I started my first draft, but no amount of research could have prepared me for actually going through the process. There were so many unexpected things I had to learn on the fly. Shoot! I’m still learning, but maybe some of what I’ve learned along the way can help you on your journey.

Here are the top five things I wish I’d known before I became an author.

WRITING IS THE SMALLEST AMOUNT OF THE WORK

I think most of us have this romanticized view of authors’ lives. They sit in front of their computers all day in comfy clothes and reading glasses with endless cups of coffee and tea to keep them going. All they have to do is put the words on the page. As long as they keep writing, everything else will be fine, right? Wrong! As an author, you spend just as much time building your platform as you do writing. Maybe more.

Building an author platform is a ton of work. There are newsletters, websites, social media, and all that comes with it. It’s a lot. You have to be just as on top of that as you do everything else. Even this blog post is part of it. Writing the best book in the world does you no good if nobody knows to read it. Investing in building your platform is every bit as important as actually writing your book, and the time you spend on it should reflect that.

HIDDEN COSTS OF BEING AN AUTHOR

Being an indie author means you take all the production cost on yourself. I knew that going in. I was fully prepared to spend good money on editors and cover designers. As writers, we are often too close to the content we create to see the errors. We need editors to let us know where we are falling short. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve totally bought a book just because of the cover before. I want my book to look good so people will buy it, and I don’t have the skills to make that happen. That’s fine. I was expecting that. What I wasn’t expecting were the thousand other things that kept popping up.

Did you know that a single ISBN number is $125, and every version of your book needs a unique ISBN? That means the paperback, ebook, hardcover, etc., they all need their own ISBN numbers. Buying in bulk gets you a discount, but that is still a lot of money when you are first starting out. You also have to pay for your website domain and possibly your newsletter, depending on what you are looking for. And let’s not forget the design and marketing tools. Yes, there are free options for a lot of this stuff, but what you get out of it is limited. Saving the small piece of your sanity the account upgrade brings may very well be worth it if you plan on doing the whole author thing long-term.

AUTHOR EVENTS AND PROMOTIONS

So, this is something that was most definitely not on my radar before launch. I had no expectation of doing author events or needing a way to sell signed copies. This is my first book. The idea that there would be an audience for that kind of thing was laughable. I don’t have the following. My plan was to stick to social media and grassroots marketing. Maybe I’d get lucky and could expand more on the next book. Yeah. No.

Apparently, there is a demand for events regardless of where you are in your journey. People want to talk to authors about their process and how they got to where they are. They don’t care if you are a bestseller or in the dollar bin. They just want to be able to talk to somebody that wrote a book.

Paid promotions are popular too. I’m not just talking social media ads. That’s a whole other ball of wax I’m going to have to unpack and melt. I’m talking mini virtual blog or social media tours where other people feature your book for a week. People actually do this as a business, and first-time authors rely on them to get the word out. I’m looking into a few right now, and it is blowing my mind. Why didn’t I know about this sooner?

MORE PEOPLE WANT TO SUPPORT YOU THAN SEE YOU FAIL

I didn’t talk about my novel much outside of social media and a few very close friends before launch. I know. You have to tell people about your book if you want them to buy it, but hear me out. Writing a novel is a very vulnerable thing. You’re basically cutting open a vein and bleeding onto a page in hopes that someone will bring you a bandage before you bleed out. For every person that loves your book, there will be someone that hates it. Creative endeavors are so personal and the results so subjective that it can be hard to talk about what you’re doing for fear of rejection. But let me tell you, even if what you are doing isn’t someone’s cup of tea, they will still be excited for you.

People I never thought would be onboard with me writing a romance novel are fascinated by the process and want to talk to me about it. People are bringing me their copies to sign while others are messaging me on social media asking how to order a signed copy. I wasn’t even planning on doing that! Avenues keep opening up because people are rooting for me. People I didn’t think would care. It’s overwhelming but in the best way possible.

No matter how prepared you think you are, there are things about becoming a published author that will surprise you. Some are not so pleasant, and some are amazingly positive. It’s those positive ones that give me the motivation to keep getting up early to write before my day job and pressing forward on weekends so I can reach my next deadline. It’s amazing. And as hard as the work is, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Posted in Uncategorized

Street Team and ARC Sign-Ups

We are barreling towards the release of my debut novel, Batter Days. I am looking for a team of people to review my book on release day and help me spread the word via social media leading up to the launch on September 28th.

For those of you that don’t know, ARC stands for Advanced Reader Copy. ARC readers receive a free copy of the book prior to release so that they can read it and leave a review to help the book get off the ground. 

A book has to have a certain number of reviews before Amazon will start suggesting it to readers. This makes reviews super important, especially for indie authors like myself.

I will send the ebook at least two weeks before the launch (I will let everyone know if for some reason that changes.) A free book for honest reviews. Sounds fair right?

My Street Team is going to help me spread the word before the book comes out. They will share promotional graphics and messages across social media to let everyone know the book is on the way. I’ll give them access to a Google Drive folder with all the graphics and messaging they will need to post to social media, complete with dates and posting guidelines.

Don’t worry. They get a free gift too. Street Team members will receive a copy of Allys Favorite Recipes. It’s a fake cookbook compiled of all the #AllysRecipies posts you may have seen popping up on my social media every Friday. Just a little something from me to you as a way to say thank you.

You can be a part one or both teams. Sign-up by clicking the link below.

I have one more special giveaway. One lucky team member will receive a signed paperback copy of my book. Each promotional graphic and review posted will receive one entry. The more you share, the better chance you have to win. I’ll draw and announce the winner on October 6th. That gives everyone an extra week to post their book reviews.

Thanks for taking the time to help me spread the word!

Posted in publishing, writing advice

SORTING THROUGH THE NOISE: HOW TO MAKE SENSE OF BETA READER FEEDBACK

The words are a giant blur. You’ve read them so many times that they have burned themselves into the grooves on of your brain. You know the story by heart. Every detail. Every phrase. And therein lies the problem.

We become so close to our stories that it’s hard to see the flaws. It doesn’t have to be on the page. We know the backstory, the nuances. It makes it nearly impossible for us to spot issues because we know it so well. That’s where beta readers come in. A beta reader is someone who reads an unfinished manuscript and provides feedback on the overall story, characters, and so on.

Beta reader feedback is as wide and varied as the individuals giving it. Each reader will each have their own preferences and styles. They will all find different things in your story, and the more betas you have, the more feedback you have to sort through. It can easily be overwhelming. Here are a few quick tips to help make sorting through the muck and mire a bit more bearable.

Give your betas specific questions.

If you ask someone to tell you what they think about the story. They are likely to give you vague answers. “I liked it.” “This character was cool.” While that can be fun to hear, it’s not going to make your story better. Limit the risk of unhelpful feedback by asking about specific characters, settings, scenes… whatever you’d like. Just make sure you provide them with a question that requires more than a one- or two-word response.

Look for common themes.

Somebody once told me that every book is somebody’s favorite. There is also a flip side to that. That same book will be someone’s least favorite. That’s why you can’t take a single comment too seriously. If Sally is the only one that doesn’t like the allegator chasing the protagonist out of the moat, maybe it’s okay to leave it there. But if the vast majority of your beta readers tell you John is hateful in a scene where you want him to be funny, you should probably look at rewriting it. Read through all the feedback. If something is mentioned more than twice, give it a closer look.

Take everything with a grain of salt.

The whole purpose behind this madness is to find the flaws in your writing. Yes, we all want everyone to love our work and tell us how amazing we are, but that’s not what we are doing here. If that’s all you want out of your betas, give your story to a relative you adore and let them give you feedback. They’ll tell you your great, but your story won’t get any better. Understand that you are asking for readers to point out the issues. They will find things they like too, but if that’s all they tell you about, then you are wasting your time.

Beta feedback is hard to manage. That’s all there is too it, but if you take a careful, well-constructed approach, you’ll come through it just fine.

What tips and techniques have you used to sort through the feedback you’ve received? Let us know in the comments below.

Posted in publishing

Making the Call: Why I Decided to Fire My Editor

Finding a good editor is hard. Even when they seem amazing, they may not be a good fit for you. That’s why you do sample edits and have a few conversations with them before making a commitment. It’s important to find a good balance between correction and encouragement. 

I thought I’d found that with my first editor. Every conversation left me feeling like I could take on the literary world. She didn’t just tell me what was wrong; she explained why it needed to be changed. In some ways, I learned more looking at her sample edit than I had reading an entire craft book. I knew she would be perfect. Then the wheels fell off.

It started off with a lack of communication. I like to think of myself as a fairly understanding person. Life happens. I get that. If plans need to change, let me know. Sure, I probably won’t be happy about it, but I can deal. But you have to tell me. It took me sending three emails to get one response. 

This lack of communication led to no explanation for missed deadlines. I’m a stickler for punctuality. In fact, I tend to arrive everywhere and get things done a bit early. I don’t like being stressed. If I can eliminate stress from my life by getting to places or finishing things early, I do it. So missing deadlines with no rhyme or reason was causing me to doubt everything. The longer I went without a reply, the more stressed I became. The release date that I’ve been working so hard towards was being put in jeopardy.

It had taken me three and a half years to reach this point. Now, my entire literary future was being held for ransom. Except, my bookbaby’s kidnaper wasn’t making any demands. The stress combined with the threat to my book’s future forced me to cut ties and ask for my manuscript back. It was a hard decision to make, but it had to be done.

I bare this editor no ill will. They are amazing. Life just has a way of happening sometimes. Luckily, I found a new editor and got everything back on track. This experience taught me the value of communication and that it is okay to put my foot down when I have to. Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that again anytime soon.