Tuesday, June 30, 2015

S.D. Skye's Hell or High Water 365-Day Blog-athon Day 16 -- The New Blog Schedule

About 5 days into this self-inflicted blog challenge, I realized that what I really needed was a schedule...so that I'd actually have interesting topics to talk about that didn't require me to burn brain cells every day. And it occurred to me that if I structured this the right way, I could actually research and learn a bunch of stuff that I could use in my own career, especially if I'm the only one reading this. 

So, this is what I've come up with. 

Motivation Monday --  Let's start the week out on a high note. I'm going to try and find inspirational stories about writers and share a brief summary of them on this day. Rags to riches stories, indie authors with movie deals, first-time writers who sell screenplays, any type of writer stories that will keep you (and me) motivated to write. 

Ad Talk Tuesday -- Thought I'd use this day to talk about anything I've heard about new and special in book marketing or marketing in general that we could apply to 

What's New Wednesday --Thought I'd use this day to talk about writing tools and technologies that I've come across. I don't know about you but I'm truly the gadget queen. If there's a cool gadget out there for writers, I either want it or I have it. There's no in between. 

Craft Talk Thursday -- Thought I'd use this day to talk about something related to the craft of writing. I read TONS of books on craft, watch tons of author videos, documentaries, etc., and I'm always learning great tips to share so I'll share them each Thursday.  

Fiction Friday -- I thought I'd take this day to highlight other indie novelists in the industry within the mystery, thriller, action, romantic suspense, suspense genres. That way this blog doesn't seems totally narcissistic. And I really want to focus on the writing journey. Speed bumps, triumphs. Something more inspirational than the typical book interview.  If you're a writer and you want to participate, I will send you a list of questions to answer...and you can promote one current or upcoming book at the end of the interview. In the event that I don't have any participating authors, I will highlight new books that I want to read or have read--fiction that is. 

Hot Links Saturday -- This day I will share links to some of the most interesting publishing-related news stories. I'll also give you the list of book publishing newsletters that have been released in the week that you should be subscribing to. I'll also share with you my favorite articles from my favorite writing magazines when they come out -- The Writer & Writer's Digest.  

Anything Goes Sunday -- On this day I'll cover anything that I want to talk about that didn't fit into the above days. 

This schedule is subject to change--daily. It really depends on my work schedule and how much interesting stuff I come up with to talk about.  I'm not fortunate enough to be doing this writing thing full time YET so paying the mortgage and posting SOMETHING is more important to me than sticking like glue to this content. BUT if I don't cover something you're interested in, then please feel free to drop me a line via email. I'm open to suggestions. 

Tomorrow, we begin with What's New Wednesday. I think. Tomorrow is Wednesday, isn't it??? I'm losing track. 

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Monday, June 29, 2015

S.D. Skye's Hell or High Water 365-Day Blog-athon Day 15 -- Marketing Plan Day Part II

Yesterday I started discussing my marketing plan for my new book until the sleepies hit me after taking a pain pill so I'm going to finish up my discussion today.

So, where were we? Postcards and bookmarks...

I usually order my postcards and bookmarks from a company called GotPrint.com. Absolutely the cheapest printing anywhere, I believe. I think they charge about $30 for 1,000 postcards, color on both sides.  Book marks are about $40 or $50 per 1,000. Of course the more you order, the cheaper they get per thousand. I always order a minimum of 1,000, more often 2,500. The reason is because I don't want to be one of those authors at events who are scared to give them away because they are so expensive to print. No, when I do events, I make it rain...postcards. (I keep the ones in my pocket.)

I usually create banners for my books--some for one and some for all. Table banners and retractable banners. I use eSigns.com (6-ft. table banners for $60) and BuildASign.com (retractable banners for $79 with your own design).

Yes, I do list these types of things on my marketing plan.

Twitter, Facebook, and Blogs/websites. These are an absolute must these days and you must talk about this on your marketing plan. Now, in reality, I don't bog twitter down with buy-my-book tweets. What I try to do is MOSTLY tweet my blogs about writing and other topics, blogs from my virtual book tours. But when they come onto my site, they see the books and if they are interested, they check them out. I add to the mix some book reviews, inspirational quotes, etc. And then mixed in there are a few buy-my-book tweets. (Just as an FYI--I maintain separate accounts for my romance vs twitter stuff and brand them under different names for the simple reason that my audiences are so completely different for the most part. )

Book signings and book events--I make sure I include a list of every event and note whether I'm a featured speaker. There was a time when I did 10 or 15 a year. Anything and everything. Now not so much. And now I know what book events and signings are really for. Less for selling then in that moment, and more for fostering relationships with readers, collecting email addresses for newsletters, and selling in the future.

Your best marketing tool...especially if you are trying to get into bookstores? The book itself. A professional cover and catchy back cover copy is a must--completely non-negotiable. It's one thing you hear over and over again about indie published books--horrible covers. Here is my best advice for you--when you come up with a good mock up cover (front and back with back-cover copy), take it to Barnes & Noble or your local indie bookstore (before you complete your design). Ask the bookseller to look at your book cover and tell you -- 1) Based on the cover and the back cover copy, would they carry the book? If not, why not? and 2) Where would they shelve it?  I've done it before. They are really happy to help.

After that, I would go to the section that features your genre and look at the other book covers there. If it feels like you're playing a game of "Which one of these is not like the others?" then you may want to reconsider your choice. I'm just sayin'. At the end of the day, bookstores want books with a clear genre that they could shelve with like books and sell. There are no guarantees, even with traditional publishing but set the best conditions possible to promote success.

And that's all I've got on Marketing Plans today. Any questions? Anything I missed?

Hope you found that helpful.

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Sunday, June 28, 2015

S.D. Skye's Hell or High Water 365-Day Blog-athon Day 14 -- Marketing Plan Day

Today I spent most of the day developing a marketing plan for my new romance novel and then actually executing some marketing strategies.  The reason for this is that I actually plan to attempt to get this book into Barnes & Noble and when you submit to the Small Press Office, you must send your book along with a market plan.

This is my first book...since my first book...that I actually feel might appeal well enough to the department to at least get some limited play in select areas. I sent my very first book thinking it was a long shot and it got picked up...even before Simon & Schuster ever entered the picture. So, I'm just gonna give it a swing once more. If I miss, oh well. Nothing beats a failure but a try.

Marketing is one of those things I really push to the bottom of my To-Do list when it really needs to be at the top. In my mind, I always justify by saying, "The writing is all that really matters..." And to some extent that is true. There really has been no better marketing for my J.J. McCall novels than publishing the next book in the series. Every time the new book comes in always get a good sales bump for at least 6 months of the year, maybe more.

But is that enough to carry an entire career? Heck no.  As someone who has earned an MBA I know that the idea that all you have to do to keep selling books is keep writing them is bull pucky. It may help you sell some books, but if your goal is to sell enough books so that you can write full time, then you have to do more. Well, unless you're on of those 1 in 1,000,000,000 people who catch lightning in the bottle, so to speak, and your sales just take off by catching a lot of word of mouth and press early on. Otherwise, you have to market.

So what are the kinds of things I do?

Well, today I put together a newsletter. The first one for S.D. Skye. (If you'd like to subscribe, you can do so from that newsletter form on the right side of my blog. Everyone who subscribes knows the big idea for the Book 4 plot because only newsletter subscribers will get it that privileged information.) In it I update my events and what's going on with the current and upcoming books.

For every book, I always do a blog tour, and my chosen Virtual Book Tour organizer is Goddess Fish. You can see the many blog stops I make on my "Interview and Blog Posts" section on my blog.

I also do a little bit of advertising, although I really have not determine what's the best site to get the most bang for my buck.  Two I'm going to give a shot this time around are Kindle Nation Daily and Bookbub. I hear Bookbub can really produce spikes in your sales if you catch the right genre, the right day.

I always send out press releases. Why? I don't know.  I have never had a response to one press release in the 6 years that I've been writing them.

I reach out to as many book clubs as I can. The best way to do that is to always have a sign up sheet at my book signings where people can sign up. Then I contact them when the book is published and give away review copies. I have started only giving away paperback copies just to ensure that I keep optimum control of my books.

I, of course, create bookmarks and postcards to give out at events and other outings. If you don't write any store names on them, you can give them away in libraries.

There are a few other little items that I do, but I'm falling asleep  because I took a pain pill for my carpal tunnel pain. So it's probably better for me to continue this post tomorrow. Until then...

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Saturday, June 27, 2015

S.D. Skye's Hell or High Water 365-Day Blog-athon Day 13 -- Finding Your Passion

On Friday my editor returned the edits for my romance novel and I spent yesterday and all day today incorporating the changes. I'm totally wiped out. It would be safe to say that I should be able to go the next few days without touching the computer but alas, that is not to be so. 


Because I'm a workaholic writer. My brain never ever ever rests. The minute I finish one book, I'm diving into the next one. I just booked my blog tour for Book 8 and my mind is already set on writing so I can meet the deadline for book 9--which is J.J. McCall Book 4. 

One thing I've come to learn about writing over the years is this: The reason I'm able to spend an 11 hour day editing and then sit down with my carpal tunnelly wrists and write a semi-cohesive blog about the previous 11 hours is because writing is so much of a passion for me. I mean, I can work all day and it doesn't feel like it when I'm plugging through. Time disappears. I don't feel the effects of the day until it's over and the adrenaline wears off (I am, after all, over 40).  But I mean, I truly love writing. 

It took me almost 40 years to figure our my passion for this writing thing even though I'd done it for most of my life--even as an Intelligence Analyst. I mean, I've kept journals since I was 7 or 8. The best thing my mother did was buy me my first diary. I wrote my first word and never stopped writing. I write more now than in any other time of my life. And as I reflected on the joy I felt in doing this thing, I kept asking myself over and over again -- Why in the world could I not have figured out that I was meant to be a writer sooner? 

That's one of the key themes of my newest romance novel--finding your passion, directly as a result of this question to myself. And I came up with this theory about theory about how people find their passions--and why it doesn't matter which road you take as long as you get there.   

Some people are born knowing exactly who they want to be. I think of someone like Michael Jackson. I mean he was practically moonwalking in the crib. He was born knowing exactly who he wanted to be and he was driven to do that until he died. Music was a part of the fabric of his life, of his being, and he never thought or considered doing another thing. For some people, it's that easy...and that hard. 

Others have ZERO clue about their passions or their callings, so they kind of wander around life from thing to thing to thing to thing, trying to find that ONE thing that drives them, that brings out the best in them, that awakes their souls. To those on the outside looking in, they seem flighty or unfocused, but in truth I believe the lack of focus is a sign of hopefulness. They try and try and try but just can't figure out the passion--yet and still they haven't given up. 

Then there are people like me. They know EXACTLY what they are supposed to be, what they are called to do, where their true passion lies. And they've known it from a young age. But they talk themselves out of it. Tell themselves that the dream is impossible. They don't have training, the education, the looks, the knowledge, the energy, the will, whatever. So, they flit around from thing to thing succeeding or failing miserably. You can succeed miserably if you're succeeding in something you have no true passion for. And you're driven by this debilitating misery and constantly hitting ceilings and brick walls and road bumps dead ends, all of which I believe, are designed to guide you to the thing you truly love. It's the most painful process of elimination EVER. And the journey feels unnecessary, but I believe, in many cases, it is very much necessary.  

I would not have the LIFE EXPERIENCE to pull off the romance books I've written or this J.J. McCall series if I  had not taken the significant detour from writing so early in my life. I'd probably still be a good writer--but then what the hell would I write about? Nothing quite as interesting as the subjects of my books today--that's for certain! 

Bottom line is no matter which route that you take to get to your passion, your calling, the thing you were meant to do above any other, enjoy the journey and use it as fuel to help propel you forward in whatever stage you find it. 

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Friday, June 26, 2015

S.D. Skye's Hell or High Water 365-Day Blog-athon Day 12 -- Kindle Unlimited Part Deux

So, just as I mentioned in my Day 2 blog, Amazon announced plans to pay by the page and there was a great cry across the land. Authors who write shorts have started complaining  out the wahzoo about the new payment structure on Kindle Unlimited--that is paying by the number of pages read rather than the number of times borrowed.

I get the problem for shorts and novella authors. They were making a killing in the old system. But there is some faulty logic out there that I would like to dispel.

So, I was perusing the internet for interesting stuff when I came across this blog and the post--The New Kindle Unlimited--What Does It Mean for Authors and Readers? 

The blogger indicated she was raising cane with Amazon about this controversial decision and Amazon did what they usually do--listen then ignore and do what they want anyway. She likened borrowing a book from Kindle Unlimited to buying a DVD and never taking the plastic off, but someone still earns a royalty whether you watch it or not. Right? I understand the principle--if you buy a book you don't read, the author still earns the royalty right? That would be fair.

Now, not that I feel the need to defend Amazon but the logic there is faulty. People in the Kindle Unlimited program ARE NOT buying books listed there. They don't get to keep them forever. They get access to them for a time, while they pay to participate in the program, and then they give them back (so-to-speak). So what they are buying in actuality is a membership to a club that allows people to borrow books. It's like if you had to pay a yearly fee to borrow books from the library.

Now, in libraries, authors don't get paid by the borrow. They get paid one time for the initial sale and that's it.

So comparing book purchase to a borrowing program is all apples to oranges. What Amazon is essentially paying authors for is the right to list authors book in their catalog so they can charge the membership.  So, if you're going to be mad at least be mad with the right understanding of the business model.

For authors who only write 50-page books, they are really going to lose out in many ways, but maybe not. I know a bunch of authors who cut a single book into 10 smaller pieces to make quick reads and charge readers more. If you keep the reader engaged for all 10 pieces, you earn the same. But I would think there is some incentive in keeping the reader hooked and reading the whole thing while you have them captive.

The other thing blogger mentions is that authors who write mysteries, thrillers, action, or spy thrillers (like moi), we are going to make out big time (which is what I said in my Day 2 blog).  Might be longer books but if you can spin a tale that leaves the reader wanting more, I don't think you have anything to fear in the new model.

I'm still playing wait and see with this whole thing. I think it will definitely make for interesting news later this year when the royalty checks start (or stop) rolling in.

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

S.D. Skye's Hell or High Water 365-Day Blog-athon Day 11 -- Getting Your Unpublished Work Critiqued

A couple of days ago I received an email from one of my readers in my alternate writer life--you know, the shmoopy romance stuff. Anyway, she met me at a writer's guild meeting where I gave a speech about my publishing journey and gave advice to other up and coming writers (even though I still consider myself one). She asked for some advice about where to get her unpublished work-in-progress critiqued, especially since the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award is now defunct, and she wanted to do so in a way that she wouldn't "give up her rights." 

I figured I'd share my advice to her here. 

FIRST OF ALL--New writers...you gotta get over the rights concerns. Granted, there are reasons to be concerned and I'm not saying there's no danger of your work getting clipped by another writer...what I will say is that the likelihood of your work getting stolen is roughly the same is the chance that I'll sprout wings--tomorrow. It's not very likely. And what I will also say is that if someone is determined to steal your work, there is very little you can do to PREVENT it, although you have many legal means to rectify it. 

Once you put pen to paper, you own the copyright of your book or any written work. The only way to give up your rights is to literally sign on some dotted line to give them up. Posting your work on a blog doesn't affect your rights. Sending your work for review to literary agents or editors does not impact your rights. Submitting your work for a contest does not impact your rights. You can only give up rights by signing them away with pen and paper (or some equivalent action) and I'm sure you're smart enough not to do anything like that without consulting someone first (an attorney, an agent, etc.)

So, let's just get rid ourselves of that fear. You will never get published or get your work reviewed if you're scared to pass your work to other people. It's a nature of the beast. The likelihood that someone will steal your work (or my work for that matter) out of all the works in the world is slim and one. Don't sweat that. 

Now, with that said, there are many other contests out there in which to submit your completed novel. Writer's Digest hosts a self published novel contest every year...for a small fee. There are tons of indie award in which you can submit your work. 

But for unpublished writers with WIPs -- I have one GREAT suggestion--an online critique group. 

The one I used was called The Next Big Writer (thenextbigwriter.com). You submit your book one chapter at a time and other authors on the site critique it. If you're lucky you get a few regulars who will get so engrossed in your work, they will read it all the way through. I met some of my best and closest writer friends on this site and we stay in touch even today. 

It is a paid membership--$50 a year (at least when I used it) and it is WELL worth the price. 
Your work is only available on the site. No one could pick it up in a google search. To post your work on the site, chapter by chapter, you earn points by reviewing other people's work or you can buy overly expensive credits. Best to review other people's work because that's how you build those quid pro quo relationships. You really have to give to receive there. 

The good thing is everyone is on the site because they have a book or story to publish, they all want great feedback, so they are all motivated to give great feedback. Your book doesn't need to be edited (although some editing helps with the reading). Most of the authors on the site will probably help you find mistakes and offer suggestions on how to correct issues. 

I highly recommend the site. 

I've used it for three or four books. Never had a single copyright issue and two of the books I workshopped there were picked up by Simon & Schuster. I don't believe I could have gotten my books in publish-ready shape without workshopping them on this site. That is the absolute truth. 

I don't use it now because, frankly, it's a slower process than I can bear on my publishing schedule. This site is BEST for NEW writers trying to get helpful critique support in an environment that fosters the writing and editing processes. 

Are there trolls? Not from what I can remember. There are certainly cliques in some circles. And there is bound to be someone who doesn't like your work. BUT there are rules of conduct and they are strictly enforced. 

Hope that is helpful. 

Feed a Writer. Buy a book. :) 

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

S.D. Skye's Hell or High Water 365-Day Blog-athon: Day 10 -- Spy Games & the French Fraud

So I woke up this morning to the news that Wikileaks released a report indicating the that the U.S. spied on French presidents once upon a time and now they're a little irked with the United States. President has gone so far as to announce that we are no longer spying on the French. I've tried to stay away from the political talk because I'm very passionate about U.S. national security and I tend to get very spun up--overly so--but I just can't keep my mouth shut on this.  The hypocrisy of it all is too much to bear.

The French aren't the only ones irked by this revelation. So. Am. I.

I wish MY country had the backbone to confront our allies when Wikileaks drops these bombs willy nilly.

Make no mistake about it--and you are hearing this from someone who knows--France is one of the U.S. allies MOST guilty of spying against the United States. Economic espionage. Espionage espionage. You name it, they've stolen it from us. They cost us MILLIONS each year with their thievery. You don't have to believe me. Google french and espionage and United States. I'm sure there's tons of articles on it from over the years.

When the French tried to posture against us and claim it will take time to restore our relationship, what President Obama should've done is let the U.S. Ambassador walk into the meeting with the French Ambassador and dump the files from every case of espionage the FBI has opened against the French. They could grow grapes for French wine in the carpet in the French Ambassadors office faster than they could dig out from under that pile of SHAME.

What gets me about Wikileaks is that you never see them leak information about other countries spying on the U.S. You never hear about the thousands of spies that come into this country and operate against us right in the heart of our Nation's capitol.  No they will lead you to believe that the United States are the ONLY bad guys in the world and we should apologize for activities undertaken by every single country in the WORLD--and EVERY country spies against the United States in some way shape or form.

If you still believe the French have a remotely valid claim and we're the only ones spying, I'd offer you a glass of Kool-Aid but you've probably had your fill. Wikileaks is serving it by the pitchers full and too many Americans are sopping it up. If I ever went back into government service, it would be for the sole purpose of shutting those jackasses down.

And in the words of Forrest Gump, "That's all I have to say about that!"

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

S.D. Skye's Hell or High Water 365-Day Blog-athon Day 9 -- Reading in My Genre

Do you read in your genre?

Every piece of advice I read about becoming a better writer (which I read today in fact) advises that authors should read widely and in their own genres. I have to admit that I do not read very many spy thrillers. Not because I haven't tried or I'm disinterested, but it's so hard for me to suspend believe and finish the books. I have all respect for writers who have stories to tell in fields they don't know. It's tough. I've done it. Not as S.D. Skye but as my alter ego. But when I do, I research...ALOT! A little bit of research goes a long way toward believability.

Let's put it this way. I write about the Italian mafia in my books. I'm not nor have I ever been mafia--even though I did some work in that field when I was at the FBI. But one of my Italian American readers told me she read all three books in 2.5 days. Couldn't put them down. That to me was the biggest compliment anyone could pay my work. Most of my readers (not all) but most who give my work a try say it feels authentic. I don't know whether reading in the genre would enhance that or ruin it.

But research is so critical to believability in spy thriller and other genres, like historic fiction. And when authors don't do it, I end up rolling my eyes and putting the book down quickly. Sadly I have a Kindle full of half-read bestsellers. Now I read a lot--nonfiction, romance, anything non-thrillery. I can't put down Game of Thrones, which is about dragons mothers and white walkers. I'm enthralled. Why? Because at the core of the story it's politics and a struggle for power--with swords and dragons--and it stays true to human nature and how people vie for power. Much more believable to me than a spy thriller that features an NSA super-operative with guns who chases bad guys. If you don't know why the previous sentence is scream-worthy and hilarious, you've got some research to do (see below).

So why am I complaining you ask?

About 6 months ago I was asked to speak at my first writer's conference (which I'll discuss more fully as we get closer to the conference date). Although I've attended many conferences and countless presentations on The Business of Self Publishing and my life as an indie author as my alter ego, the romance writer, this will be the first time I actually get to speak at a conference as S.D. Skye.

Even better, one of the presentations I've been asked to give is basically an intelligence community and law enforcement primer -- and my pet peeves --and help authors who write about the intelligence world and law enforcement, especially regarding the FBI, avoid those eyerolling faux pas that zap all believability from their stories.  I can't wait for that. Maybe after it's done, I will post the notes on this blog to help other writers who can't make it. It's so important.

Anywho, back to the subject at hand.  Sometimes, I can't help but wonder whether writing more unbelievable stories, instead of my stories which are really close to what play out on the streets of D.C. today, would my stories be more believable...and successful?

I dunno. But I'm probably not going to find out either. One thing that I can feel good about -- I have truly found my own voice in this genre. I own it. I'm comfortable with it. It's not a cookie cutter. And readers won't find anything else out there like it. Whether that's a good or bad thing in terms of my career, only time will tell.

For me as writer...it couldn't feel better.

Bottom line--I think you have to read to be a good writer. I don't know if reading in your genre is a hindrance or a help.

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Monday, June 22, 2015

S.D. Skye's Hell or High Water 365-Day Blog-athon -- Day 8 -- The 9-to-5 Blues

Welp, today is going to be a short one.


Because I am blessed and cursed with a day job. I'm on a proposal deadline and my input is due by tomorrow, which I just found out about an hour ago.

But this brings me to today's point.

Oh, how I wish I had the means (and/or the sales) to quit my day job, stay home and write and blog all day, and still live my life at the standard to which I've gotten myself accustomed. I bet I'm the only working writer with this dream...NOT.

Am I the only one who turns evergreen with envy every time I hear about an author writing full time? I can't imagine how glorious that would be. I mean, sure there would be a lot of pressure to produce BUT to be able to write all day every day, whenever I want.

To not have to drive in this constipated rush hour traffic...

To not have anyone dictate the activities of my day except me...

To have the time to write the 5 works in progress I don't have the time to finish...and the new great idea that hits me every day that I may not get to write in this lifetime unless I can clone myself.

While I say this, I should note that I'm highly thankful for the 9-to-5 I wish I could quit. My son has become quite accustomed to eating. And the joy we get from the whole roof-over-head thing  can never be over estimated.

But still...
Dare to dream.

Back to the the 9 to 5. I'll be back with something more meaty to discuss tomorrow...after my deadline.

But I will leave you with this parting thought...

Feed a writer...buy a book.

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Sunday, June 21, 2015

S.D. Skye's Hell or High Water 365-Day Blog-athon -- Day 7 -- Happy Father's Day...and more Outlining

First, I would like to begin this blog by wishing a VERY HAPPY FATHER'S DAY to all of my readers who are dads. If you look up Daddy's Girl in the dictionary, you would find my picture there so I know how very important all Dads are in their children's lives...especially your girls. :) Thank you for all you do.

Can you believe I blogged seven days in a row? I think this is a first for me. I'm actually enjoying the daily release of the massive jumble of thoughts going on in my head at any given time. Today, after I drop off father's day gifts, it will be an outlining day focused on Book 4 in my J.J. McCall series. I'm going to type up the notes I've written so far with the twists and turns and try to structure the chapters. My other book will be edited and submitted by July 6th and then the work on The Crazy Itch begins.

Today I'll just say a few words about outlining. When I first started writing, I turned my nose up at outlining and was a strict pantser. I thought a story would lack authenticity if I didn't just allow it to come to me. And really that was fine for romance. But when you're writing complex spy thrillers--NOPE. Pantsing doesn't work. Even if you manage to write the book, which I did in the first book in this series, you will end up with so many holes in your plot it will look like a minefield.

No, I've come to appreciate outlining for three key reasons.

  1. It helps eliminate plot holes and helps me to build a strong story structure.  
  2. It keeps me productive when the muse is off on a bender. At the very least I can write to the outline and then edit it later.
  3. Because I don't have to wait for inspiration to strike, I write my first draft more quickly, which allows me to get the books written in 6-7 months rather than a year. 

I don't know how you guys outline, but for me it's basically a paragraph or two that summarizes the major action in the chapter. And I use the cork board feature on Scrivener to lay out the chapters. It really makes it easy to do because I can move the order around or add in chapters if I need to. And then when I'm done with the outline, I print all notes out, staple them together, and keep those notes with me wherever I go along with my Moleskine notebook and gel pen (my two writerly vices). I'm at the age that when inspiration strikes, you have to write it down or it disappears into the ethers forever.

Rarely ever does my end product look like my initial outline. It's always way better. I truly believe in letting the characters have their way. If they make a decision I wouldn't have made or go in an alternate direction, I do my job--which is to follow them and see where they lead me. This has been my greatest lesson in outlining--YES, I write an initial outline but then I must allow myself the freedom to ignore it. When I allow my story to flow with the unexpected twists and turns, I still get to exercise my pantsing spirit--so it's really the best of both worlds.

Are you a pantser or an outliner...and why?

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Saturday, June 20, 2015

S.D. Skye's Hell or High Water 365-Day Blog-athon Day 6 -- Amazon Review Reform???

If you're an author, then at some point in your life you've had a complaint about Amazon reviews. I've really gotten to the point in which, depending on the product, reviews weigh less and less in my decision whether or not to buy. I've quit running to Amazon every day to look at my own reviews because I've been trolled. So many authors are gaming the system, too. Not a day goes by that I don't get bombarded on twitter from fake review sites willing to use their little armies to boost my ratings...for a "small" fee. I'm sure some authors out there use these sites to manipulate their book ratings. I do not.

And how about legion of Internet trolls who live to do nothing but crap all over authors' work? It's sad the way people hide behind aliases to write spiteful reviews.

I've been the victim of at least two trolling reviews--and from two fellow authors no less who write in the spy thriller genre (whom I don't know, never met). They each wrote ONE book review EVER and it just happened to be of my books? Really? And this one book you read--of all the books in the world--my book is the one that compelled you to write a review? No, I don't think so. Then they changed their "review names" to protect the guilty, but I'm former FBI--I can find out stuff. There's other ways to find out the true name from an Amazon account. Even though I know their names I've never said anything and wouldn't. Just not worth it. But I'm not the only author who has gone through this kind of thing. Lots of other authors go through the same crap. 

And then there are those 1-star reviews "because the UPS put my shipment in the bush instead of on my front stoop" or "I received it in three days instead of two days as promised."  

The Amazon review system is begging for reform...and it looks like they've headed the call. According to this article on CNET, Amazon is IMPROVING it's customer review system. 
Looks like they are going to start weighting reviews, so that "newer reviews, reviews from verified Amazon purchasers and those that more customers vote up as being helpful" are weighted more heavily than other reviews. 

Will it really help? 

I don't know. Doubt it. Amazon needs more extensive reviews of their reviews and they need to have balls about how they handle them. Delete people who create trolling accounts for the sole purpose of 1-starring books. Delete any review that does not review the actual product, rather the shipping speed or some other madness. They need to delete any review that attacks the author versus the book. And the vast number of "reviewers" who create accounts for the sole purpose of reviewing of giving a bad review to ONE book? I mean c'mon, it's clear that's just someone guzzling haterade. Plus, people will always find a way to game and manipulate the system. For example, now instead of selling fake reviews these review companies will start selling fake helpful votes.  

I guess in time we will be able to better judge the effectiveness of this reform...but let's just say, I'm not holding my breath for "improvement." 

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Friday, June 19, 2015

S.D. Skye's Hell or High Water 365-Day Blog-athon Day 5 -- Publishing and the Diversity Gap

I'm browsing around the internet the other day being stalked by my Internet cookies (which eerily suggest articles about things I've been searching in Google) and I guess because I read a lot about the industry, two articles on gender and publishing popped up which I thought were really interesting. 

The first was an article about how books by women about women are FAR less likely to win major literary awards than books by men about men. Duh. I mean, the publishing industry is dominated by male senior editors and authors...and really white male authors. I don't think stating that fact is going to give anyone a heart attack. It's just a simple truth. A sad truth. Certainly additional food for thought in the discussion about diversity in publishing. 

Slightly disheartened by that article, I ran into this next one that said in 2018, a UK publisher has vowed to publish titles by women only. Zero titles by men. This was a challenge by novelist Shami Chakrabarti to even the score for women in publishing. Now granted it's a small publisher that I think publishes less than 20 titles a year, but it really got me to thinking about what would happen if even ONE of the Big 5 limited their titles to only women authors for one year.  Can you imagine how that might change the literary landscape and the kind of much needed exposure such a move would give to long ignored female authors? 

It's an intriguing thought, even if completely unrealistic for this market. I mean, I've watched with awe and admiration as Jennifer Weiner railed against the New York Times for not reviewing "chick lit" titles--or more accurately stated, titles by women about women. She's been relentless but I totally get it. Not that I want to male bash, because some of my favorite authors are men, but c'mon...as a female author I get it. I mean if I put a man's picture on the back of my J.J. McCall spy thrillers and claimed he was the author, sadly I do think I would get way more sales, even though I have more real-life experience than 90% of the male authors who write in the genre. 

Look at what they told J.K. Rowling about using her androgynous name...you know, like S.D. Skye. Even in a few of my reviews, some readers thought I was male. Of course they did, I mean Russian spies vs the FBI--there aren't many female authors that cover that territory. 

But can you imagine if just for one year, the New York Times only reviewed titles by female authors? Not only the joy that it would bring to the Jennifer Weiners of the world but the level of exposure it would give to women authors across this country. The mere thought gives makes me giddy. 

I'd go a step further. What if for one year, the major publishers and New York Times put their money where their mouths are and pledged to publish and review for one year all segments of the publishing community that have been largely underserved--women, asians, latinos, African Americans, indie authors, etc. etc.  

I don't know about you, but that's a year in publishing I wish I could live to see. Someone should really start a petition. 

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

S.D. Skye's Hell or High Water 365-Day Blog-athon Day 4 -- I'm Stuck...Now What?

If you write books long enough (and you write more than one) at some point you're going to find yourself in the position that I'm in right now...which is stuck. 

I'm waiting on my editor to finish the edits on my upcoming romance novel, so my mind isn't totally free to pursue my next project which is J.J. McCall Book 4 -- The Crazy Itch. Meanwhile, I've seriously got to get the outline finished so that the second I hit send on my romance, I can seriously dig into writing Book 4. But my brain won't cooperate. All I've been able to write is a general summary of the book's twist and turns from the beginning middle to the end, but no chapter by chapter break-out. And the December deadline is looming over me like a dark cloud because I've only got about 3 months to get the first draft done or it's not going to be ready on time. 

Part of the problem for me is that this series is working within two story arcs. There's one for each book...and how the character and story develop within a single book in the series. But there is also a larger arc that I have to think about because this was always planned to be a 5-book series. In my mind, I really saw Book 3 as the climax, especially because of the explosive last 10 or so chapters of the book. But it doesn't feel like the climax. Given the plans for Book 4, I really feel like I have to kick it up an extra notch, not only to keep it interesting for the readers but because that's simply the trajectory this story is on. And this trajectory of taking the story up yet another level has left this poor author confused. After all, there's only supposed by one more book. 

Either I figure out a way to bring it back down at the end of book 4 to bring this series to a logical close, I end the series on a cliffhanger--or I add more books so I can bring it to a logical but exciting close.   

What's a writer to do? 

Well, sometimes it really helps to engage in some productive procrastination until you figure out what it is that's got you stymied. My productive procrastination is reading a book -- Story by Robert McKee. Now, I'll just say that this book is really geared toward screenwriters but I think some basic characteristics and principles of story and character arc development absolutely apply to writing novels...or at least they should. 

Why am I reading this book to get unstuck? 

Well, the thing I really like about this book is it really takes you step-by-step (in sometimes excruciating if interesting detail) through the entire story and character development arc, giving you very explicit explanations (using movies as examples.) about how to determine what motivates your character through the stages of the story. And as I'm reading the book and the examples, almost without fail, I will think of a great way to apply the idea to the structure of my character's development or even in terms of how to deepen the plot. And it really works no matter what genre you write it. I mean there are as many examples that apply romantic comedy as there are that apply to thrillers.  

I think it's one of the reasons that The Crazy Itch may be just about the best book yet out of the J.J. McCall series. Even though I somehow weave together these incredibly complex plots, I've got a lot of ideas for how to further deepen the character development and make already compelling characters even more so thanks to this book. 

It's a highly recommended read for ALL WRITERS. Yes, it's long but it's interesting. Yes, it's not cheap, but it's worth it for how much you'll get out of it.

Speaking of which, I'm off to do more reading right now. Do you read books to help you get through mental blocks? If so, share. I'm always on the look out for a new great read about craft. 

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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

S.D. Skye: Hell or High Water 365-Day Blog-athon -- Day 3 --Finding Inspiration: The Movies, the Books, and the MasterClass

This may surprise you.

But I'm one of those RARE writers who needs a touch of inspiration to get the muse off of her ass and the creative juices flowing. Why would I need to be inspired, you ask, when I get to spend hours on end with crazy people...in my head??? Well, here's another little secret, sometimes the literary industry can be a real downer. I mean valium downer. At least 12 times a year, I'm on the verge of quitting. Of those 12 times, I quit at least 4 times for a total of 6 hours, give or take 15 minutes.  Sometimes I'm just a plain old Lazy Maisy. Sometimes I need a positive way to procrastinate. 

Whatever your reasoning or situation, have I got some information for you!

Nine times out of ten, when I need a kick in the tukus to get going, I will look toward reading books about successful people, reading books by successful people talking about their journeys, watching documentary type shows that talk about people's creative journeys, watching documentaries about writers, struggling writers, especially.  

Two of my favorite writers to watch on video are Anne Rice and Stephen King. Hands down some of the best advice or writers on YouTube. 

When it comes to movies/documentaries (rented on Amazon Prime), some of my favorites recently include: 
  • Anne Lamott Bird by Bird (the documentary) 
  • The Writer's Room and The Chair (excellent TV shows, might be on-demand) 
  • Guilty Pleasures (documentary on the romance genre) 
  • Bad Writing (documentary) 
  • Made in America (Jay Z and Ron Howard documentary)
  • Author's Anonymous (a HILARIOUS movie)
Best written TV/Cable shows? The Wire, the Sopranos, The Good Wife, first 3 seasons of Scandal. 

Other times I'll read books. I've read two biographical non-fiction works in the past two years. Both were about Steve Jobs--Jobs by Walter Isaacson and Becoming Steve Jobs--Schlender and Tetzeli (hope I spelled them correction.  Ultra energizing and inspirational. Why? Because he was an odd misfit (no writers or authors can relate to that), he had a vision that few people understood until the genius was obvious, he was hugely successful, and even HE got rejected. He didn't just changes lives, he changed the world. All because of he followed his passion and stuck to his vision even when other people didn't get it. He was the "writer" of the technology world. An artist for certain. What could be more inspirational than that? 

Then other times, I'll take a class. I've taken a few through the Romance Writers of America which I've enjoyed. But my most favorite of all in recent days has been James Patterson's MasterClass. 

For $90, you get to watch a series of videos, 22 I think between 7 and 20 minutes long (viewed at your own pace), in which Mr. Patterson (or Jim as I like to call him because we're buds like that)  really talks about the entire writing cycle. From outline to publishing. He gives a lot of great tips on writing, how to structure your book, working with partners, just a little bit of everything. They also have lessons that you can participate in and a couple of different forums where you can engage with other writers at varying stages in their careers. 

This gave me the last blast of energy I needed to finish my 8th book. I highly recommend it to other writers. 

So, the next time you're in need of a little inspiration, pluck a few items off this list and tell me how they work for you!

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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

S.D. Skye's Hell or High Water 365-Day Blog-athon Day 2 -- Amazon, Kindle Unlimited, and Royalties

So, Amazon surprised me this morning with the announcement that they were changing the royalty structure for Kindle Unlimited. I know there are a lot of sour pusses out there, but as for me, I couldn't be happier.

What's it all about?

Amazon is changing the royalty structure so that when people borrow books in Kindle Unlimited, they will get paid by the number of pages read. Under the former structure, authors got paid a flat fee if the reader read more than 10% of the book.

The 10% structure significantly favored authors who wrote shorter works of fiction--novellas and short stories--which are flooding Amazon these days. Many people are writing serial short stories, and novellas like crazy. The shorter works allow them to produce a greater number of products and making a killing off the old system. Meanwhile, authors like me, who can only publish up to two books a year because of book length produce larger works in a smaller time frame and really missed out on the chances to earn in this evolving ebook market.

For example, let's say the royalty on Kindle Unlimited was set at $1.50 per borrow. If an author published a 50 page story, they got paid after the reader read 5 pages. I would only get paid if they read 30 pages. And we'd both earn the same $1.50.

I was really getting killed with my SpyCatcher Trilogy. Readers can borrow the first three books of my entire series in ONE volume--a 900+ page book. And many people have read and finished all three books, but I got paid only $1.40--$1.50 per loan. The same amount as someone borrowing a 50-page novella. Patently unfair.

So authors of these short novels and serial stories were making a killing. Meanwhile, authors like me who still write full-length 300+ page novels were getting the short end of the stick.

Way short.

July 1, 2015 is a new day.

Here's the way they broke it out in the announcement.

Assume the fund is $10M and that 100,000,000 total pages were read in the month: 

The author of a 100 page book which was borrowed and read completely 100 times would
earn $1,000 ($10 million multiplied by 10,000 pages for this author divided by
100,000,000 total pages).   

The author of a 200 page book which was borrowed and read completely 100 times would earn $2,000 ($10 million multiplied by 20,000 pages for this author divided by 100,000,000 total pages).

The author of a 200 page book which was borrowed 100 times but only read half way
through on average would earn $1,000 ($10 million multiplied by 10,000 pages for
this author divided by 100,000,000 total pages).

We will similarly change the way we pay KDP Select All-Star bonuses which will be awarded to authors and titles based on total KU and KOLL pages read.  

Awesometastic if I do say so myself. Of course, I don't think the numbers will break out this high in reality but we shall see. 

How nice it is for Amazon to even up the score...FINALLY. I think this is a move in the right direction and may encourage more authors with longer works to take advantage of the program.

What does this mean for readers? Well, it will probably mean that there will be a wider variety of books available in the Kindle Unlimited. I would be surprised if the structure didn't encourage more small presses and perhaps even the Big 5 to start listing books there (unlikely, but you never know) if it works out to be profitable.

We'll see how it goes.

You will hear bellyaching but it won't be from those of us writing longer, full-length works, that's for sure.


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