Sunday, October 23, 2011

What is Normal?

When I started seeing a therapist almost four years ago (best investment of time and money ever) I was obsessed with whether or not I was normal. After about the sixth time of asking “Is that normal?” I noticed that I was constantly asking that question. After thinking about it for several days, I realized what a ridiculous question it was and still is.

“Normal” changes all the time, depending on the times, country or culture in which we live. It’s also subject to family structures, personality traits; and physical, emotional or intellectual capacities.

Now, as a writer and blogger, I’m hearing the same question, worded differently. “How am I supposed to do that?” or “Do I have it right for my genre?”

If we accept that the word normal equates, in some degree, with average – then do we really want to be doing everything the “normal” or accepted way? Just as our quirks make us who we are as people, what we do outside the norm will be what helps us to stand out from amongst the rapidly multiplying crowd of authors. Let’s face it there are a ton of us.

However, I’m not advocating trying to be different. Unless you’re really good, it’s going to come off a little strained for most writers. Instead, what do you say we let our natural selves flow a little into what it is we create, without flinching when it feels a little too personal, hits a little too close to home. It is that fear that we may be discovered to be “not normal” or some dark side would be revealed that keeps us from relaxing and letting the truly sparkling stuff come forward sometimes.

I have an example for you. A good friend read my novel Red Mojo Mama and when I asked her what she thought she immediately launched into a diatribe about the sex in it. She mentioned that I was a mother with children who would read this stuff and sex in the shower was so extreme. Really? Let me just say that the sex scenes in this book are extremely mild in comparison to mainstream authors we’ve all read. I let this comment get to me for a while. Her words had made me feel abnormal – weird. Once I realized that she was the one with the problem, I relaxed again and as I’ve been writing my sequel I’ve been able to allow Red to be a sexual woman.

This is a very small example. There are larger things at risk. Will you step out of the box created by friends and family to fully form a character without fearing it will reflect on you? When you find that you have broken a “rule” of the publishing world, but it completely works in your project, will you find the strength to go on with it?

It is still a struggle for me, sometimes, to go forward with something that feels a little different. I hope that will continue to be a smaller and smaller consideration over time.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Self-Publishing and Social Media Course of Study

I’m hoping this post will generate a lot of sharing. The past four months have taught me that I “don’t know nothing.” Seriously, there is so much to learn about self-publishing, social media and marketing that I’m often in the process of getting up to speed on a tool I’ve either just learned about or finally gotten around to exploring.

I had decided that I love Twitter and blogging so much that I was interested in getting a degree in Social Media. So, I went in search of a community college, University or online college that offered one. Well, one doesn’t exist (that I can find) and the “certifications” available online are in my mind very questionable and extremely expensive at $3-4K a pop. I thought, “Why can’t I get my own certification?”

What I mean by that is this – why not take advantage of all the how-to YouTube videos out there to become an expert? So, I’ve decided to do just that.

I plan on creating a course of study – by subject. For instance, I will develop a course for self-publishing, one each for Twitter, Facebook, Linked-In, etc. and one on each of the available tools for managing these sites.

So, I’ll be surfing the web to see what worthy videos are out there. When I’ve compiled the list I will publish it right here as a way for writers to self-educate. I invite anyone with a video that’s helped them to please share the link in the comments. I will attribute the link to the first person to offer it.

Let’s help each other become more proficient at what we do. Eh?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Double-check Your eBook After Publication

I am actually in the process of correcting the formatting on one of my eBooks, and have recently uploaded a corrected copy of Red Mojo Mama – my first book.

Here’s what happened to me. I published Red Mojo Mama, bought it and checked the first 10 pages or so and everything looked fine. So, I let loose a sigh of relief and closed the book for a couple of months until I had to re-open it to research something. This time the search took me into the second chapter – and there I found it. My paragraphs were all messed up.

I turned off my Kindle and thought, “Oh, no!” – figuring I would return on the weekend and figure out what had gone wrong and how to fix it. Part of me, suspected that it was just my Kindle, because I’d seen this same problem on a few books I had bought from authors who have obviously sold several hundred copies of their books.

See, I’d sold nearly 100 copies without a comment from anyone. Oddly enough, it was a few days later when a very kind man mentioned it to me after reading, and liking, Red Mojo Mama. He told me what was wrong and from the goodness of his heart, offered to fix it for me. I took him up on it, offering to be a beta reader for his next effort. During the process, he was giving me tips. Unfortunately, unlike publishing a paperback on Amazon, Kindle publishing does not offer an opportunity to review before clicking on the "publish" link.

Now, I find I have a few corrections to make to one of my other books (only discovered after reading 53% of the book) and have yet to double check book 3.

I suspect this is the by-product of that profound relief we authors feel when our baby has finally gone to press and being a newbie at the process. Let’s face it; there aren’t any definitive guides out there for how to e-publish. There are more than a few that point this or that out, but nothing that covers the whole spectrum. I’m also instructions-challenged. My head spins uncontrollably when I read instructions, unless I’m currently in the process. I have to have my hands on the thing I’m trying to put together, from tri-cycle to IKEA furniture to eBook, in order to understand instructions.

I struggled with myself whether to tell the two authors I can think of that they need to fix their eBooks. With encouragement from my helpful friend, I’ve decided to do so. More importantly, I realized I needed to write down this experience and share it.

In the meantime, a very thoughtful tweeter, Mimi Barbour, wrote up the instructions and I’m passing along her blog post link below for those who need them. I’ve already made use of her kindness and highly recommend you stop by her blog.

Mimi Barbour's Twelve Steps

I figure if Indie authors stick together and help each other, we will improve the overall perception of our collective product and thereby, help all of us sell more books.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Rules and Writers

First, let me say, I don’t think most writers are very good with rules. The hard and fast bumps up against their creativity and it’s not a pretty picture after that.

Very often – the most-acclaimed writers break the most time-honored rules and not only get away with it, but it propels them to a place of fame.

· William Goldman – the screenwriter for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and many others (Misery, The Princess Bride) – broke almost every rule of screenwriting early on – yet is fabulously successful. When I was screenwriting, the seminar gurus would hold up his work as incredibly good and at the same time warn the class not to try to duplicate him, for fear of alienating potential producers and directors.

· James Joyce – author of Ulysses – became literary legend by creating the “stream of consciousness” technique, telling a story completely outside the usual conventions of a novel.

· A more contemporary example might be the author of The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger who employed two narrators, telling the story entirely in first person in the present tense. Many editors and readers consider this method a mistake, yet her “mistake” worked out quite well, don’t you think?

Do I think we should all just throw up our hands and break every statute of conformity willy-nilly? No, because rules in writing are not really rules anyway. They are instead guidelines for how something is normally done and in a professional way – which are sometimes “Bible-ized” by those who are more comfortable with set ways of doing things.

In my opinion, a set of conventions should always be considered, used if appropriate, bent slightly if more appropriate and tossed away at last resort if they are not working period.

We should not, as writers, be married to an idea because it is through examining rituals, conventions, and normalcy that we actually change things for the better. It is the exposure, through narrative, of what doesn’t work that we sometimes discover what does.

Malcolm Gladwell (Blink, The Outliers, The Tipping Point) does this all the time – expose a conventional way of thought for the reality that lies beneath it. Fiction writers do the same thing, no matter what their subject, but an example would be Kathryn Stockett – whose recent blockbuster debut novel The Help, broke with the accepted wisdom of playing down dialect and accents, to reveal the truth of her black characters – which is that they did speak differently and think differently than their white counterparts.

The old adage “Rules are meant to be broken” holds special meaning for creative types. We know it to be true but are pushed to stay within our boxes. It’s up to each of us to find the happy path between the two extremes.