Can Christian writers get traditionally published?

Recently a lot of writers in my circles have been evaluating their success (or lack thereof) with publishing. Becky Minor, of the Realm Makers Conference, articulated the question this way:


Many of us have the goal of writing stories with Godly underpinnings, even if the Christian values or themes are not overt. We’d love for our stories to reach beyond “preaching to the choir,” so to speak.

What I wonder is this: do such stories actually have a chance of being traditionally published? Or are they more likely to collect rejections for “lacking freshness” (because the story contains moral absolutes), committing cultural appropriation/exploitation (because an author opted to write outside of the typical American churchgoing experience), being misogynistic (a hierarchy of authority might be headed by male members of a society) , or land on the wrong side of any of a number of hot button thou-shalt-nots?

As you ruminate on the strictures of the both the CBA and the ABA worlds, what is really true about the publishing prospects of Judeo-Christian-leaning speculative fiction?


This launched a discussion with all kinds of opinions. One science fiction writer talked about being told that Anne McCaffery is no longer relevant to the genre:


I think they’re likely to collect rejections, and unfortunately it’s not a failing of quality stories or even a measure of what people will buy or read, but a failing of traditional publishing. They’re so committed to secular humanism and the politics that follow with it that there’s no room for heroes anymore. Their sensitivity readers will wash it all out.

The good news is they keep pushing the boundaries of what’s acceptable and tolerable to them into a smaller and smaller box. Just last night I had the trad pub crowd on a fake news site railing on me while I was defending Anne McCaffrey, as they called her a “problematic writer”. No joke. There may not be a traditional publishing in 10 years time if they tell most of the reading population that they’re not wanted.

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Dragonriders of Pern, while it does have dragons, is actually science fiction

Another person remarked,


The general market is very open to all of the above as long as the story isn’t clearly “message driven” or “preachy”. It’s all about a good story. I just look at all the great LDS authors like Brandon Sanderson who have theology and/or moral underpinnings in their works. Readers in the general market love it. The authors don’t preach, but their worldview is infused in their stories.

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Cover art for The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

And then comes the mic drop.



I think too often these musings are just another layer of excuse. I’m certainly not saying that was Becky’s intent here, but it’s something I do see a lot, particularly in culturally/politically like-minded groups. “This story probably won’t sell because the market blah blah blah it’s out of my hands.” And note that the “other side” is wringing their hands over the identical issue. “I can’t sell my story about my black lesbian abortion doctor because it’s too marginal/controversial.” They have the same experiences of rejection which seem to support that view. Neither end of the bell curve can see the other, only the bump in the middle which appears to be the opposite end. We all think we’re being shut out, when in fact there’s an enormous bump in the middle.

But really, it’s very much in your hands. No, you don’t get to make the final buying decision, that’s all on the editor 🙂 but you are 100% responsible for the submission package you send. And most of the time, that’s about your story, not about you.

And in my observation, it’s not as limiting as described above. The limitations are OURS. If a writer can’t write the difference between a male authority character and misogyny, that’s the problem, rather than a cultural conspiracy. Likewise while there are a few cultural appropriation landmines to avoid, the majority of the market is pretty fair and accessible (I’m super-white, and my last traditional short story did not have a single white character and was set in a country I’ve never visited).

I think much of the time, this is the same emotional response I see in myself to the CBA. It’s not what I know and am comfortable with, so I think it’s constrictive, I find it unwelcoming, and I might call it names. 😉 If we look around this group and are very honest with ourselves, we’ll see we are predominantly white, predominantly Republican, predominantly homeschool, etc. But those tribes have NOTHING to do with Christianity, if we really think about it. To say “I can’t sell because I’m a Christian” is a false oversimplification at very best, while to say “I can’t sell my climate-change-is-a-global-conspiracy story to a hard science mag” may be a more accurate assessment.

We don’t have to “sneak” our worldview in. If it’s really our worldview, it’s already in, wholly permeating our story. But we have to keep in mind what our ultimate message is, too. Is our ultimate theme to convert people to a political view or a change in habits? (Hey, that’s a longstanding literary thing, go right ahead, just don’t pretend it’s your *faith* which is holding you back from publishing success.) Or is our ultimate theme a message of love and hope and spiritual redemption? Because that should carry through regardless of male or female characters, cultural setting, politics, etc.

TL;DR: Don’t confuse politics and faith, don’t assume a lack of sales is relevant to faith, consider Occam’s Razor when guessing at cause of rejection (if 95% of secular stories are rejected, yours might be just rejected too rather than the rejection being a specific anti-Christian response).

(Note: somebody is probably going to read this and interpret that I’m recommending a personal sellout to get sales. That’s absolutely not my point at all. That is in fact the opposite of my point.)


After that, the discussion was pretty much over. I thought it was fascinating–the idea that maybe the problem isn’t publishing. Maybe the problem is us.

It made me really evaluate my own writing. I have a faith-based element in the Malevolent books, and their sales are mediocre. It could also be that the YA paranormal romance genre is a hard sell right now. My cozy dragon mystery, which has no religion at all, but lots of nice people being nice to each other, is selling really well. That “permeating worldview” seems to speak more powerfully than writing a sermon.

(All quotes have had the names removed to protect identities. If you would like your message here removed, drop me a line.)

Love is the motive

I’ve been brainstorming up a new Sonic story. I write about one per year, and it makes my fans so happy.

Anyway, as I was figuring out the character arcs for everybody, it dawned on me that the root motive of every last character is some kind of love. And it’s funny, because it’s has almost no romance.

One character loves his sister with this obsession, because she was in stasis for years and has just recently awakened again. He’s extremely jealous of the other characters for having any contact at all with her.

The other characters are fond of the sister, except for one character, who falls in love with her magic. This is bad for him, because the magic is slowly killing him.

All of them love their home island, which has been stolen from them by the bad guy, and they’re struggling to get it back.

As I was pondering this, I started looking at other books. Who else is motivated by love? Harry Potter? (Love of friends and home.) The Railway Children? (Love of family.) Trumpet of the Swan? (Love of family.)

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It’s interesting, because I’ve also been plotting out murder mysteries for my dragon cozy series. Murderers are motivated by everything except love: lust, greed, jealousy, pride, anger, and so on. (Is sloth ever a motivation for murder? You’d think a slothful person would be too lazy to kill anyone.)

It’s interesting to see the way things turn out. A bad motive leads to evil actions. A good motive (like love) can lead to good outcomes, except when it doesn’t. (I’m thinking of the necromancer in Malevolent who is obsessed with resurrecting his dead wife.) Or when love of one’s country (patriotism) turns to frenzied conquering of the world.

But when you have selfless, sacrificial love, you get beautiful stories like Linnets and Valerians, which I just finished reading to the kids. Four children get caught up in a series of curses and black magic that surround this little English town. They have to break the curses with the help of friendly animals and good people, who are pitted against the evil animals and people. Their love has to overcome a bitter root of jealousy that has been there for years.

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I think the sacrificial love stories are the ones that stick with us the longest. That’s what makes a story beautiful. The nice thing is, it has nothing to do with romance. Oh, it works in romance, too, but love is so much bigger than that.

Villains can be motivated by love, too. Love of self is the easiest one–“I’m better than everybody else so I deserve better treatment/a better spouse/more money/to rule the world.” But what if a villain is motivated by love for a person? That’s why Mr. Freeze from Batman is one of my favorite villains. Everything he does is to try to save his wife, who is frozen in stasis with incurable cancer. The motivation there is fascinating.

So, next time you write a story, see if your characters are motivated by love in some way. Pay attention to movies and TV shows. Who is motivated by love, even if it’s twisted?

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Fire and Ice Cream – cooking in books

In his book On Writing, Stephen King observed that people love to read about work. That’s why Tom Clancy novels are thinly disguised manuals about how things work, yet people read them by the truckload.

The cozy mystery crowd is the same way. Is there knitting on the cover? There’d better be technical knitting stuff in the book. In one of my Facebook groups, a reader complained that Silence of the Flans didn’t actually have any flans in it.

When I read mysteries that involve the victim being poisoned via blueberry pie, I want to know about that pie. Did it have a normal crust? Or was it a Marie Calendars sour cream blueberry pie? Is there some twist to baking it, like all the tricks it takes to make a perfect cheesecake? How do you hide a bitter poison in a sweet confection, anyway?

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The cozy mystery genre is hot right now, but it’s been flooded by a lot of indies who don’t really understand the genre. They promise a culinary cozy, then the dessert in question is barely mentioned. Does the heroine run a cupcake bakery? Tell me about cupcakes. I want to know the sizes, the types of batter, the way the icing is piped. Does the heroine sell those tiny cups of frosting that were so popular a few years ago?

When I set out to write a culinary cozy with dragons, I picked ice cream, since it’s my favorite dessert. I love eating it and I love making it. In the book, the heroine debates things like almonds vs walnuts in rocky road. She constructs the perfect coffee ice cream.

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I looked up tons of recipes as I wrote. Having never made Rocky Road before, I checked that out. Turns out it’s a kind of frozen chocolate pudding with nuts and marshmallows folded in. I researched coffee ice cream. You make a custard with coffee in it, the higher quality, the better.

This book is packed with cooking. When the heroine isn’t interviewing people or eavesdropping on conversations, she’s mixing up ice cream or batches of brownies. At home she cooks breakfasts worthy of a restaurant.

Food is comforting. Eating it with friends is comforting. In all my books, across all genres, my characters experience downtime and safety with food. I guess I have too much hobbit in me.

My first dragon cozy, Fire and Ice Cream, launches today. I hope people like it, because I want to write twenty more of these. The characters are adorable and the mystery is fun to figure out. And there’s so much food.


fire-and-cre-cream-coverTianna Tokala is starting a new life in Carefree, Arizona, working in an ice cream parlor. She also has the magical ability to turn into a small dragon called a drake. All she wants is a quiet life where she can make ice cream with her wonderful ice breath.
But when her manager is found dead with a bowl of Tianna’s Rocky Road ice cream beside her, Tianna springs into action. With a knack for observation and her enhanced drake hearing, she delves into her manager’s smoky draconic past.
Aided by a secretive drake, a single mother, and a four-year-old dragon shifter, Tianna must unravel the web of lies that surround this dragonic death … or there may be more fire than ice cream.


 

Watch out, paranormal cozy mysteries: here there be dragons

Last time I talked about five worldbuilding tricks I learned from the show Grimm. I mentioned that the reason we watched the show wasn’t for the monsters or the grisly murders–it was for the cozy character development.

While going through a stressful patch in my life a few years ago, I rediscovered the mystery genre. Particularly the cozy mystery genre. These are the stories where the heroine, usually part of a knitting club or a restaurant or a bookstore, suddenly finds a dead body. This launches her into an amateur investigation, questioning the natives of her quirky hometown, and discovering the murderer before the police do a la Hercule Poirot.

There’s a whole subset of these called paranormal cozies. Here the sleuth will be a witch of some kind, or be able to see ghosts, or be psychic in some way. Often there will be cats that talk and help her solve the mystery. Also, interviewing ghosts of the murdered always has its thrills. There will be magic, usually in small doses. But otherwise it’s the same quirky characters, the same small town, the same heaping doses of good food, books, and humor.

After reading a few piles of these, I went looking for cozies with dragons in them. “Wouldn’t it be cool,” I thought, “if the sleuth could turn into a dragon?” I’ve loved any kind of shapeshifter for years, but the shifter genre is predominantly hardcore porn these days. I’d like something lighter. Like a dragon shifter who solves murder mysteries, interviews quirky residents of her hometown, eats lots of good food, and trades zingers with her friends.

I couldn’t find any. NONE! Oh, I found every kind of witch you can imagine. I found witches + werewolves, even. But no dragons.

So I took the worldbuilding I had learned from Grimm and began building my own world.

Imagine the world of Grimm, where instead of wesen all over the place, there are a couple kinds of people who shift into dragons, or a smaller subspecies called drakes. Drakes have ice breath instead of fire. Dragons hate them, so drakes live on reservations for their own protection. Instead of Grimm, we have slayers, who can identify both kinds of shifters. But slayers don’t actually slay dragons anymore–they just see them. Sometimes they become lawyers who sue dragons, because the worst thing you can do to a dragon is to take away their horde, right?

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Male and female drake (Bruce and Tianna) looking up clues on a smartphone.

So into the middle of this interesting world comes Tianna Tokala, shy, introverted drake who takes a job in an ice cream shop in Carefree, Arizona. Her boss, a dominating dragoness, winds up dead after eating ice cream Tianna had just made. Now Tianna is not only a suspect because of her cooking skills, she’s a drake suspected of killing a dragoness, which brings in a whole extra element of intrigue. Tianna and her friends Katie and Bruce must team up to figure out the real killer before more people wind up dead. Or before Tianna winds up behind bars.

The first book, A Dragon by the Tail, will launch in a few weeks. I’ve almost finished writing the second book, and I’m mulling over the third. They’re super fun to write, and these characters and this world are totally adorable. I hope readers love them as much as I do.

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Five worldbuilding tricks I learned from the show GRIMM

Grimm’s final season aired a few weeks ago, and there was much lamenting among its fans. People are hoping for a sequel. It was a fun show for those of us who wanted something a little darker than Once Upon A Time. It was a police procedural show where the hero cop is a Grimm. That is, he has the supernatural power to see Wesen–fairytale monsters who live among us in human form. Basically, it was urban fantasy.

Each week, we tuned in to see some new wesen committing some interesting crime, and to see our sleuth figure it out while trying not to reveal his Grimm secrets to the world at large. Over the course of five seasons, friends became enemies, enemies became allies, and layers of intrigue are slowly revealed as the Royals (the princes and princesses of fairytale fame) try to take over the world. Yet somehow, the human populace at large remains unaware of the wesen subculture, even though their lives are being impacted by the politics of fairytale creatures.

The worldbuilding was great fun for a TV show that pretty much only got off the ground because of the werewolf sidekick. Here’s what I picked up:

If your fairytale monsters live in plain sight, make sure they’re tied tightly to folklore. Ghosts, aliens, Krampus, sewer gators, and the Loch Ness Monster are all various kinds of wesen. Each species has its own motivations and needs that make them sympathetic. For instance, the episode with the aliens mutilating cattle turn out to be a type of bioluminescent wesen whose women have to eat beef ovaries as they get ready to give birth. Oh, and other wesen hunt them for their glowing skin.

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The government makes sense. Over the course of the series, we meet the Wesen Council, a governing body of monsters who make sure that the monsters don’t reveal themselves to humans. The Royals, on the other hand, function like some kind of Austrian mafia. They have far-reaching dealings with humans and their governments. We also meet a secret government organization that tracks the movements of wesen and Royals and tries to neutralize threats.

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If your hero has superpowers, make sure they’re explained. Over the course of the series, Nick gains not only the power to see wesen in their true form, but also crazy powers of hearing, strength, and the ability to hold his breath for long periods. But it feels logical, because we see him go through crazy, terrible stuff, and the powers are the side effects of almost being dead. Or something.

Don’t be afraid to jump the shark. Urban fantasy, in particular, seems to revel in this. Whether it’s the wizard in the Dresden books raising a zombie T-rex, or Nick taking off his sunglasses in the middle of a wesen wedding (wesen identify Grimm by their eyes), or a formerly dead character reappearing as a brainwashed superweapon. This genre is all about following the worldbuilding to its logical conclusion. And that means finding the most bonkers, broken thing you can and slapping the audience in the face with it.

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Don’t forget the cozy elements. Every week, I’d chat with my mom about the latest episode. “It was so nice,” we’d sigh. It didn’t matter how grisly the murder had been. That wasn’t why we watched it. We tuned in each week to see if Nick was going to tell his girlfriend that he was a Grimm, or see if Monroe and Rosalie would get together, despite being different species of wesen, or to see if Monroe would trot out some obscure wesen factoid with his typical nerd delivery. We watched to see how Hank, Nick’s partner, handled wesen murders without understanding anything about that world, and if anybody would ever tell Wu, the other cop who always delivered the best one-liners. We loved the character development.

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I’ve noticed in other urban fantasy that if they can nail these particular elements in their worldbuilding, I’ll typically follow those series through hours of TV or multiple books. Sure, there’s plotholes. But we stick with it because we’re so invested in the characters that we don’t mind.

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Five things I learned from my old terrible fanfics

My kids recently got interested in the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. This interest waxes and wanes, depending on who is raising chao at the time.

Anyway, this time when they got on a Sonic kick, I said, “Do you guys want me to read you my old Sonic stories?”

Their answer was Very Yes. So I started trying to read them the very first one I wrote when I was 15.

If I knew then what I know now:

melodramatic

1. Melodrama is not plot. I had pages and pages of little random dramas, but nothing really moving forward in the story.

There’s also quite a few loops. Professional writers use them to hit word counts. A character goes out to accomplish something, fails, and winds up back where they started. It adds nothing to the story, but hey, it added 5k more words. This is why fantasy books are so thick.

Solution: cut that fluff and keep that story moving. If I did this with the fanfic in question, it would go from 50k words of wandering fluff to 13k of tightly-written awesome.

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This actually happened in a Sonic game. It was awesome.

2. Bring the Big Bad in EARLY. In that first story, Metal Sonic is the main antagonist. But he doesn’t show up until about the 3/4ths mark. My enthusiastic teen self built the plot like a Lego tower. Let’s add on THIS and add on THAT and who cares if it makes sense? The plot muddles around with weaker secondary villains before finally settling on the Big Bad.

Solution: have Metal Sonic actively oppose the heroes from the start. He’s terrifying. Let him terrify the reader.

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3. Casts of thousands work fine for epic fantasy, but not for smaller-scope urban fantasy. I had eight main characters. Count ’em. Eight. And I really only liked four of them. So that’s who got all the character development.

Poor Tails. I apologize for always leaving you out in the cold. You get more love later in the series, I promise!

Solution: cut everybody not necessary to the plot. They can stay home and have an adventure next time.

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4. The idiot ball: don’t give it to anyone. Ever.

This is when a character who has been competent up to this point does something randomly stupid to move the plot along. Horror movies are full of these.

“Don’t go into the house alone!”

“Why are the lights out?”

“I’m going to ignore the spooky sound coming from the back of the house.”

“We know the bad guy attacks girls when they’re alone … let’s go hunt for him and leave our girl alone!”

Solution: Characters have to do things that logically follow. Sure, people are stupid in real life. But this is fiction. It has to make sense. Give the characters some freaking survival instincts.

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5. You know that perfect character who is perfect and never gets scared and has all the answers and is better than all the other characters? She’s called a Mary-Sue. She’s the author’s self-insert into the story.

:tears out hair:

Solution: Give her some freaking FLAWS. Let her make MISTAKES. My GOSH. I hate this character so BADLY. And she’s MINE.

I apologize to everybody who waded through my old stories. They’re awful and painful and … :whispering: … still available. I’d take them down, except I still get the occasional message from a fan who remembers them fondly.

Long story short, the kids and I skipped the first five stories. We’re just going to hit the ones where new characters get introduced. We’ll see if my writing gets any more succinct as we move forward in time.

Why women make such scary villains

I’ve been writing a couple of little cozy mysteries lately. Both my killers have been women, which has opened up a whole line of debate in my head: namely, why are female villains so much more frightening than male ones?

I was listening to Elizabeth Elliot over the weekend, and oddly enough, she touched on this very thing. She was talking about what it means to be a woman, and she had this interesting observation.

“I was having a conversation with my brother several years ago, discussing the topic of feminism. He pointed out that men are always the great generals, and statesmen, and artists. Women don’t do this because women are so much closer to the heart of things. They are occupied with helping, with nurturing, with caring for the weak, the hidden, the imprisoned, and the betrayed.” (Quoted verbatim because I can’t get back to that particular broadcast.)

But this gave me an interesting perspective. What makes the White Witch so scary? What made the original Maleficent so chilling? Why is the evil stepmother a universal trope throughout all fairy tales?

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Because the BBC White Witch had so much more style.

If women are closer to the heart of life, that makes them uniquely poised to strike and harm that heart.

King Solomon once observed, “A wise woman builds her house, but a foolish woman tears it down with her hands.”

There’s nothing more defenseless and harmless than a human child. Women have the wonderful power to birth and raise the next generation. But when a woman embraces selfishness rather than her innate power of helping and nurturing, she can also destroy that life–emotionally, physically, spiritually.

That’s where the evil stepmother trope comes in. The woman who takes in children who aren’t her own and works tirelessly to destroy them, whether it’s with poisoned apples, abandoning them in the woods, or condemning them to work in the ashes as a servant. Each of these things are carefully calculated to destroy the child either physically, spiritually, or emotionally.

What makes the White Witch so disturbing? Is it when she feeds Edmund the corrupting Turkish Delight? Is it when she turns the partying animal folk to stone? Or is it when she ceremonially kills Aslan?

In my opinion, it’s not the barefaced violence that makes her frightening. It’s the diabolical backstabbing, the curses, the poison, the lies. She’s even scarier in the Magician’s Nephew, because you get to see her talk about how destroying all life with the Deplorable Word (basically a magical nuke) was totally her right.

Men can be wicked, too. But a man will generally shoot you or rape you. A woman will poison your coffee. That’s the fun of the mystery genres. We WANT a diabolical killer who eludes the police with superior clue-hiding skills. That’s why men and women are both fair game for murderers–but a female killer is slightly more chilling. Because she’s reversed her role as a nurturing, caregiving woman and become the opposite–one who takes life instead of giving it.

The wicked stepmother is indeed wicked on many, many levels.

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Marketing (and how nobody knows how to do it)

Sign-ups for this year’s Realm Makers conference went up yesterday. All my writer friends are excitedly talking about it, exchanging yarns from last year, and looking forward to going this year.

Meanwhile, I’m sitting here thinking, “The only way I could possibly go to RM is as a panelist, and even then they’d have to twist my arm.” Which set me daydreaming about what topic I’d talk about. Which led me to probably the biggest question all writers have.

MARKETING.

HOW YOU DO IT.

One thing you must know first about all marketing: nobody knows what works. If publishers knew what books would sell, all books would be bestsellers. The ideal marketing is to put your product in front of people who want to buy it. But how to find those people? And how to entice them to buy your product at all?

Targeted marketing has become a big deal. Facebook ads that show ads only to a certain demographic of people who are the most likely to want the product. Or Amazon ads that only show you books similar to other books you’ve bought. (How many of us shop the also-boughts? I do!)

When I was in college for digital design, the whole focus of the course was on advertising. I learned a whole lot about advertising that I didn’t want to know. Want to know what I learned?

Ready for this?

All marketing boils down to hitting three points:

Lust of the flesh

Lust of the eyes

Pride of life

That’s all there is to it.

This book will give you FEELS. (Lust of the flesh).

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This book has a PRETTY COVER. (Lust of the eyes, and boy do I buy books with pretty covers).

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EVERYBODY ELSE IS READING THIS BOOK AND IF YOU READ IT YOU WILL BE COOL TOO. (Pride of life. I think a lot of lit-rit-chewer falls into this category. Like Mark Twain said, literature is something everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.)

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Chris Fox has a nice little book about marketing. You find groups online where your target readers hang out. For instance, one of my friends markets her fantasy books with science-based magic to homeschoolers whose kids want magic but who disapprove of Harry Potter. She could target all kinds of homeschool communities.

Cozy mystery authors who write mystery + knitting or mystery + baking can target the baking or knitting communities.

Really, it’s not rocket science–hunt down the people who are interested in your topic. Then you have to work on your presentation. Instead of bombing into the party and screaming BUY MY BOOK, you have to rub elbows, hobnob, make friends. Maybe do a guest post here and there on blogs, or run an ad on their network. Do it quietly. People have to see an ad at least six times before it registers enough for them to make a decision about buying.

But if you spam their social media with BUY MY BOOK over and over, you’re going to get blocked. I see this happening with politics right now. The media is hawking so much hate and rage that people are blocking it out. The louder they scream, the more they get ignored.

Kristen Lamb has a great social media marketing book called Rise of the Machines. In it, she goes into the neuroscience of how we ignore ads. We’ve been saturated in advertising for so many decades that our brains have actually evolved resistance. We physically don’t see the ads anymore.

I notice this as we drive down the road.  My hubby will say, “Did you see that billboard?” I look around. “Huh?” I didn’t see any billboards at all. My brain has filtered them out.

Big fat graphic ads don’t work so well. You know what work? Links. Like these. People click little links like these WAY more often than the huge ad graphics.

To sum up, marketing is one of those things that are simple but not easy. It’s all about schmoozing. And social media is terrible at that. Just look at the summary of last year’s advertising for Rachel Aaron’s books.

The number 1 best way to sell books?

Write more books. Talk about them when they launch. Quietly run an ad on a different book newsletter every month. Indielister is a goldmine of a database of ads and results. Keep an ear to the ground for industry news. None of the steps are hard, but they do require getting educated.

Now go out and make people lust after your products!

Guest Post: Confessions of a closet fanfiction writer

I’m being hosted on Ralene Burke’s blog today as part of her confessions series!

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“Please, please, can we have a Sega Genesis?” my brother wheedled. “I’ll buy it with my birthday money!”

Our parents hemmed and hawed. This was the 1990s. Focus on the Family had been cranking out anti-videogame propaganda for years–anything from it ruining a kid’s grades to being a gateway to porn. But finally our parents said that we could buy a Genesis on one condition: they approve the games we bought.

The light was green! We bought our first video game system (and every single system after that). We played Sonic the Hedgehog and Jurassic Park and the maddeningly difficult Disney games. Batman Forever became a fixture.

Then–horrors–one hot summer day, our parents decreed that we spent too much time on games. “One hour a day,” they admonished. “Go do something else.”

Mutinous, I stalked upstairs to my desk. As a homeschooler, I had a very nice desk … Read More

How humanity makes us human

I’ve been knee-deep in revisions for months now, it seems like. The third Malevolent book, Malicious, is developing in all kinds of directions I didn’t foresee in the first draft. Heck, the first draft, I didn’t know what the plot was until I was almost finished. The plan is to release books 2 (Malcontent) and 3 (Malicious) a month apart, but I don’t know if I can do it.

So as I’m chewing on the various aspects of monsters and what makes them monstrous, I keep asking myself about what it means to be truly human. I’m beta-reading a book right now about a kid who turns into a vampire, and it raises the same question. What separates us from the monsters?

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The Stranger in the Mirror by ChristianaLeone

It’s interesting to see this definition of humanity:
humaneness; benevolence.
“he praised them for their standards of humanity, care, and dignity”
synonyms: compassion, brotherly love, fraternity, fellow feeling, philanthropy, humaneness, kindness, consideration, understanding, sympathy, tolerance

Isn’t it interesting that the higher virtues are the pinnacle of being human? When you talk about “the vampire seemed so human”, you don’t mean that he had four limbs and a face. You refer to his benevolent nature.

On the flipside, we also have the word inhuman:

lacking human qualities of compassion and mercy; cruel and barbaric.
synonyms: cruel, harsh, inhumane, brutal, callous, sadistic, severe, savage, vicious, barbaric

This is where you get monsters–the werewolves and vampires, the evil kings and wizards of fantasy, the evil aliens of science fiction.

So, to be truly human, one must exercise the virtues. To be a monster, one exercises the base nature. And it’s WAY easier to be a monster than it is to be a human. That struggle between the flesh and the Spirit. The Apostle Paul’s cry of, “Why do I do the things I don’t want to do, and don’t do the things that I want to do?”

As I’m chewing through these books, they constantly raise questions like this. If a dangerous monster protects the girl he loves, is he humane? And if a human being whose job is to protect people from the monsters suddenly begins destroying the people she should protect, is she the true monster?

I think that’s one reason people like the paranormal romance genre. We love the contradiction of the all-powerful monster who gentles himself in the presence of the one he loves. We want to see the transformative power of love and redemption. I mean, think about how people adore anti-heroes. We just love the semi-bad guy and root for him to join the heroes.

 

anti_heroes_by_lillykitten-d56o1tx
Anti Heroes by FuryKitten

So, really, our humanity (our virtues) is what makes us human. It’s possible to be a member of the human race and be utterly inhuman. It’s also possible to not be human (like with an alien) and yet be completely humane.

What do you think? Is this something you’ve ever wrestled with in your reading or writing?