Should Published Stories Be Set in Stone?

by Jami Gold on October 20, 2016

in Writing Stuff

Letters carved into stone with text: Should Books Be Set in Stone?

Several years ago, I wrote a post questioning whether ebooks were ever “done.” As I’d pointed out in that post, in the world of traditional publishing, if errors make it through the editing process for a book, authors (and their readers) are stuck. While a lucky few authors are able to correct egregious mistakes like wrong character names or missing paragraphs in later print runs, most of the time, errors remain in the text forever.

Contrast that situation with epublishing and self-published authors. Ebook and Print-on-Demand (POD) files are easier to fix and upload than the hard-formatted versions used in traditional printing. And authors who self-publish can ensure fixes are made.

So in my old post, I’d questioned whether this ability to change an ebook or POD file was a good thing. Now that I’m published and self-publishing has matured, I’d like to take another look at the question… *smile*

Does the Ability to Update Make Us More Sloppy?

My first thought in that old post was that the ability to easily update our stories was a bad thing. Too many times, if we think something is temporary, we won’t be as conscientious.  I don’t know about anyone else, but my handwriting is neater when I know I can’t get a “re-do.”  *smile*

Similarly, I think most readers want authors to treat their ebook files as a permanent, final version, at least enough that we can trust they did their utmost to ensure a book is free from errors.

Yet I’ve seen self-published authors confess to skipping editors in responses to reviewers because they figured their readers would point out their mistakes. Luckily, that level of reader disrespect accounts for a minority of the many hard-working indie authors out there now.

Just as likely among writers I know would be a perfectionist author, constantly wanting to tweak their books because they’re unable to let them go. Neither approach is healthy.

Or Does Art Require Flexibility?

Before I wrote my original post, I wanted to think of ebooks as being as permanent and unchanging as paper books. But then, as I mentioned in that post, an article made me question my attitude.

The article was about an opera of all things, but it pointed out that most art forms are malleable.

Orchestras today have standards for what an A note is (440 cycles per second, apparently), but back when many classical songs were composed, there was no standard. In fact, musicians often tuned their instruments “up” to sound more “brilliant.” As a result, what we think of as an A note has changed over the centuries, and the classical songs we know don’t necessarily sound as they were intended.

The article then points out that da Vinci’s Mona Lisa has been trimmed down over the years and that there are three very different versions of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. How did we decide which one was the real masterpiece?

In other words, the article raised the question for me of whether art is ever “done” or “unchangeable.” I’d always preferred feeling like the book I held was the final version, but perhaps that was just my perfectionist nature speaking. *smile*

As we’ve gotten used to the flexibility of self-publishing, epublishing, ebooks, and POD, many don’t seem concerned about changes to books. As long as the author doesn’t release sloppy crap—expecting readers to help them clean up the issues—most readers accept that final, permanent versions don’t exist anymore.

EPublishing Offers New Opportunities

As I anticipated in that post, as more readers transition to ereading, we’ve seen changes in our culture’s attitudes toward the nature of books.

No one bats an eye when self-published authors update…:

  • Book Cover: Some authors update covers as they can afford better cover artists, some update to reflect better marketing, and some update just to keep attention on their work.
  • Book Description: Where a book description used to be permanently printed on the back of a book, authors now regularly tweak their descriptions on online retail sites to gain keyword or marketing advantages.
  • Front & Back Matter: Many authors update the ebook files of their backlist books to list all their current releases or to advertise that their newsletter subscribers now get a freebie for signing up, etc.
  • Price: Prices used to be printed on books, but the epublishing world of ebooks and POD allow for quick pricing changes to reflect sales and promotions.

(Some authors have even updated their book’s title, but that can cause problems for retailer sites and readers, so authors need to be careful going that route.)

So that’s a much bigger list than it used to be, but it still doesn’t address the potential attitudes when changing the story. What issues might we run into when we update that content?

Can We Update the Story?

I’ve seen several authors update their book descriptions to talk about how they had their story edited since some of their book’s reviews were left. In fact, I’ve picked up a couple of those better-edited books. *smile*

Does that mean we can update our story too?

Again, the maturity of epublishing and my own publishing journey have changed my thoughts over the years. Before, my focus would have been on the old readers, who might get left out in the cold with sub-par versions. Now, in my mind as a reader, it comes down to reader respect.

Let’s take a look at a couple of examples…

Improved Editing:

An author updating their work for stronger edits might piss off old readers, but they’re also being respectful of new readers. If they think an update would benefit more people than hurt, I’m not sure I’d argue with them. An improved book for 1000 readers might be more important than leaving a bad book out there to be read by 100.

Even better, if they offer free updates to anyone who had purchased the book before (through retailers if possible, or at least through their website), I’d respect that they’re trying to do the right thing now.

They’re taking responsibility for their screw-up. They know they deserve those early bad reviews and that they didn’t put out a product worthy of their readers, and now they’re trying to fix it.

(Obviously, I’d still encourage authors to try to do it right the first time, but sometimes new authors don’t recognize that their editor is bad until they have more experience—and receive reviews setting them straight. *smile*)

Tweaks to Fix Small Issues or Formatting

Reviews occasionally call authors out on mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes aren’t actually mistakes (either because the oddity was intentional or because the reviewer is wrong), but sometimes the reviewer is right.

A book’s formatting can get garbled despite the author’s best efforts, typos can make it through multiple editing rounds, dialogue might be accidentally misleading, a character’s job might be portrayed incorrectly (a nurse doing something medically dangerous), or a diversity element might be worded insensitively, etc. These tweaks might be minor compared to major editing issues, but even small inaccuracies can be harmful or offensive, or simply make our story less enjoyable to readers.

In this case, I have no problem with the author making the update. From a perspective of reader respect, it could be considered disrespectful to leave the issue in place, and most readers with the old version will probably never realize the difference.

Changing the Storytelling

I’ve also seen book descriptions that reveal the story itself has changed. One book description gave a disclaimer along the lines of:

“Note that since this book was published, the story has been expanded from a short story to a novella length and the ending has changed.”

To that, I say: Now wait just a minute…

Is it still being sold under the same title and retailer IDs (like Amazon’s ASIN) to keep the old reviews and sales rank? If so, think about this from a reader perspective. If the story itself has changed, readers have no way of knowing what aspects of previous reviews still apply.

  • Does it still have a happy/sad/cliffhanger ending?
  • Is the plot twist still unbelievable?
  • Do the characters still do “too stupid to live” things?

Readers don’t know. So all of the previous reviews are now invalidated.

In other words, an author who wants to update a story to the extent that the actual story itself changes (plot events, character arcs, endings, etc.) should just publish the new version separately. If they dislike the old version, they could unpublish it, or at the very least, direct readers to the new (and maybe improved) version.

The point of updating a book’s file is to not start over with reviews, sales rankings, etc. But if those won’t help readers make purchasing decisions on the new version, it seems disrespectful (to me) to act like the new file can just slide into place.

In other words, readers purchase a story, and it’s disrespectful to change that story in a way that misleads readers or pretends that only character names or the premise matters. A hundred authors could write the same premise and all the stories would be different. The story matters.

So as we’re considering whether we want to make changes to our ebook or POD files, we should keep readers in mind. Will the changes we want to make help or hurt readers? If we can answer that question, we might know better how to approach the changing expectations of books and our art. *smile*

Do you have problems with authors updating non-story material in their files? If so, why? What do you think about authors changing the story? Do you disagree with any of my examples or conclusions? Have you updated your ebook or POD files, and if so, how?

P.S. Don’t forget that I’m taking guest post proposals to help me out during NaNoWriMo. Check out the details here!

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Bundle of wires with different connectors with text: Connecting a Series: Do We Need a Plan?

It’s no secret that many authors who have found success write book series. With a series, when readers enjoy one story, they’re more likely to purchase other books in the series than they are to buy unrelated books. So an author who writes a series might see more sales than they would otherwise.

But that brings up the issue of how much a series should be planned in advance of later releases. Should authors have an idea of where the series is going in future books? Should they know how the series ends?

For authors who plot their stories before drafting, extensive planning might come naturally. However, for those who write by the seat of their pants or for those who like experimenting with ideas even as plotters, the story of their current book might be a mystery, much less the stories of future releases.

Is that a problem? Do we need to plan our series in advance?

Does a Series Need Planning? It Depends

As I’ve discussed before, there are different types of series. In general, books are designated a series because they share at least one element:

  • Setting: These series take place in the same “world” but might each feature different characters. The characters of book two may or may not have been introduced in book one. The events of book two may or may not be dependent on the events of book one.
    Many romance series fall into this category, each book featuring a different couple that receives their “happily ever after” by the end of their story.
  • Characters: These series feature the same characters. The events of book two may or may not be dependent on the events of book one. Many urban fantasy series fall into this category, each book featuring a different bad guy for the protagonist to defeat.
    However, series like Nancy Drew also fall into this category, where each book stands alone and can be read in any order.
  • Story Arc: These series follow a main story over several installments. Each book usually features at least some of the same characters. Sometimes a story will end with a cliffhanger to be resolved in the next book. These books need to be read in order to make sense.
    Typically, these series have a definitive ending rather than going on forever (a story arc needs to end sometime), but for sales reasons, some authors have attempted to turn a story arc series into an open-ended series (to mixed results).

Obviously, series can share more than one common element. Those with a common story arc usually share common characters and settings as well. The Harry Potter series has common characters and settings (and individual book arcs) in addition to its series-long story arc.

Depending on what the comment element(s) is, authors might need to plan ahead more for some types of series than for other types of series. Let’s take a closer look…

Least Complicated: Series without Plot Dependencies

Series that take place in a common setting or story world are often the easiest to write without prior planning. Each book follows different characters, who may or may not know the characters from the other books, so the interconnectedness of the series is limited.

For example, a series set in a small town might focus on the coffee-shop owner one book and the local sports celebrity the next. The only sense of continuity authors have to worry about is setting related. If the local sports celebrity visits the coffee shop, it shouldn’t have a different owner all of a sudden.

Obviously, authors can create more connections. The hero of one story could be introduced in a previous story (and may even be related to another major character). Past characters could show up in future books, etc., but the events of each story don’t have to be seen as chronological to each other unless we want them to be.

Similarly, series with common characters can potentially be uncomplicated as well. Nancy Drew type stories are written like episodic TV shows, where nothing happens to the characters that will affect them in future books, eliminating the need for continuity.

Even where characters can die and situations change, we as authors can often adapt to those changes. Our hero can change jobs, start a relationship, or mourn the death of a loved one without us needing to figure out those changes in advance. Each story simply becomes the backstory of the next.

Most Complicated: Series with an Overall Story Arc

Series with a long story arc, either set up as related episodes or as cliffhanger endings are the most complicated to write. Essentially, the series can behave as one big story, likely with carryover characters, settings, antagonists, problems, goals, etc.

This type of series is thus likely to need the most amount of planning. Some authors might even choose to write the whole series before releasing any books to ensure all the pieces and foreshadowing they want are in place.

At the very least, most authors will plan out the general arc to know what big events or problems are going to happen in each book. They might decide who needs to live and who can die without causing issues down the line.

However, pantsers can be a different breed. (I should know. *smile*) So now the question is, can pantsers write series with an overall arc?

Writing a Series Arc: Options for Pantsers

Pantsers often don’t know where their current scene is going, much less the whole story, much less the whole series. Whether this is a problem for writing story-arc-style series depends on their strengths and weaknesses.

If we break down pantsing authors into three different styles, we might be able to gain insights. Note, however, that authors could be a mix of these styles, especially from book to book. The point here is to see what we might need to watch out for…

Type #1: Extensive Editor:
“What Am I Writing Again?”

For some pantsers, their first draft is all about discovering their story. They might change their mind about story directions mid-draft as they narrow in on what they really want to write or say during the drafting process.

These types of pantsers often have to do extensive editing to eliminate plot holes, misleading information, and subplots or clues that never play out. Everything from who the main characters are or the genre of the story might change during drafting.

Series Writing Tip:
This type of pantser might find series arcs difficult, as once a story is released, they can’t go back to change those aspects to meet the new direction for the series. If they wish to write this style of series, they might find it better to write the whole series before release of the first book, so the stories can be edited as a whole.

Type #2: Normal Editor:
“I’ll Figure It Out”

Some pantsers don’t worry about plot holes because they avoid elements that need consistency (much like how episodic TV avoids killing anyone off). For example, these authors might not include foreshadowing in general, so they don’t worry about that element from one book to the next either. Or the changes from one book to another could be gentle, etc.

Other pantsers don’t worry about inconsistencies because they’ve learned how to incorporate them into the story. Much like with the approach for common characters above, they simply adapt as the situation changes. Elements they included in previous books might even inspire them for future plot events, turning existing descriptions into foreshadowing after the fact, etc.

Still other pantsers don’t worry about issues because they’ve become skilled at how to explain them away. For example, if their idea for the identity of the mystery bad guy changes during their series, they might include dialogue along the lines of:

What do you mean the bad guy is your father? How could we not have known that before now?”
“I don’t know, okay? I’m just as surprised as you are.”

Series Writing Tip:
This type of pantser might be just fine with series arcs. If they can adapt to changes in a single story rather than needing to go back and change early scenes, they might be able to do the same with a long, connected series and thus be able to release each book as it’s ready.

However, they also have to watch out for explanations that don’t make sense or create other plot holes. Outside of the old Scooby-Doo cartoon, where the villains often wore masks, an explanation where the bad guy switched from being a woman to being a man to accommodate the new “father” idea would just be cheesy.

Type #3: Instinctive Drafter
“My Muse Knows All”

Some (rare) pantsers are blessed with a logical subconscious. Even though they might not consciously know where their story is going, their subconscious already has it figured out, from clues and subtext to foreshadowing and themes, and their writing includes those elements naturally.

Their style of pantsing is essentially trying to capture on their keyboard the story that already exists in their subconscious brain. They might not understand why their subconscious wanted them to include an element until later books, but they’ve learned to trust their muse on what to include.

Series Writing Tip:
This type of pantser, if their subconscious is really as together as they assume, might be able to successfully write series arcs. But because it takes time and experience to know whether their subconscious actually works at this level, new authors should be cautious before trusting their ability to write connected series and release books as they’re ready.

Final Thoughts

Personally, I have a strong amount of Type #3. I’ve even talked about trusting my muse or discovering long afterward why my muse had me include an element. But I also often find myself inspired by elements after the fact, like the incorporating style of Type #2.

Back when I was drafting the fourth book in my Mythos Legacy series, I realized the bad guy’s arc could connect to a character mentioned once in the third book. Ta-da, instant foreshadowing that turned into a huge connecting element between the stories with lots of “Oh, that’s why…” reactions.

The point here is that plotters might not need to plan every element of their series if they recognize some of the skills of Type #2 and 3 in themselves. And even if we’re pantsers, we might also be able to write a connected series with an overall series arc, but knowing our pantsing style can help us know what to watch out for.

For example, if our stories often need extensive editing to correct plot holes, we’re likely to run into more problems with series arcs and need to write our series before releasing the first book. But if we’re not willing to hold our books until they’re all completed, we still might be able to enable faster releases if we can develop our skills at incorporating or explaining away inconsistencies.

Writing series can be good for authors, and hopefully this post helps give all writers ideas for how they can make series-writing work for them. *smile*

Do you write series? How connected are your books? Have you needed to plan future stories to prevent inconsistencies or plot holes? If you’re a pantser, have you struggled with writing series-arc stories? Does this give you some ideas for how to make those stories work for you?

P.S. Don’t forget that I’m taking guest post proposals to help me out during NaNoWriMo. Check out the details here!

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Helping Writers: Writing Coaches, Guest Posts, & More!

by Jami Gold on October 13, 2016

in News

Writers Helping Writers: Deepen Your Craft with Resident Writing Coach Jami Gold

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know I’m a huge fan of Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi’s work. They’re the genius duo behind the Emotion Thesaurus, the Positive and Negative Trait Thesaurus books, the recent Urban and Rural Setting Thesaurus books, and the Writers Helping Writers (which started as The Bookshelf Muse) and the One Stop for Writers websites.

Yeah, geniuses. *smile*

I’m lucky enough to have been friends with them since early in their Bookshelf Muse days—long before their first book released. I wrote an entry for their old Bookshelf Muse version of the Weather Thesaurus about dust storms and monsoons all the way back in 2011.

Since then, we’ve helped each other out many times over the years. In 2012, we celebrated the release of Emotion Thesaurus with a Random Acts of Kindness Blitz. In 2013, I gave writers advice in their Amazing Race event, helped them launch their then-new Writers Helping Writers site, and shared four common writing problems that their Emotion Thesaurus can help us fix. In 2014, I shared my tips for easy image editing on their site. And just one year ago, I cheered them on for the launch of their One Stop for Writers site.

In return, Angela and Becca have both shared their expertise and knowledge with all of us in guest posts here. Angela’s talked about using subtext to reveal characters who lie, and Becca has given us tips on how to use the Trait Thesauri books and how to use settings to create a mood.

I don’t say any of that to brag about connections but to highlight just how awesome I think they are. *smile*

The WHW Resident Writing Coach Program

I also wanted to share all that background so you’d understand how Holy Cow! excited I am to join their Writers Helping Writers site as a Resident Writing Coach! Woohoo! Yay!

If you didn’t see their announcement, check it out:

“One of the best ways to evolve one’s writing skills is to experience a variety of teachings and viewpoints.

Really, we’re all looking for the same thing: the brightest nuggets. The best bits of writing help.

We put our heads together and identified some of the best sources of writing information online… And then we begged bribed asked if they would like to join us here at WHW as resident writing coaches.”

And wow, did they ever assemble a fantastic group. I’m on the list with Michael Hauge, James Scott Bell, and a bunch of other super-talented authors. *looks again* Michael Hauge, you guys! I love his work!

So yeah… I’m a wee bit excited—even though my first guest post there isn’t scheduled until December. *grin*

Now It’s Your Turn!

Speaking of guest posts, my blog usually falls into the “I invite those I want” camp for guest posts. When I think of a blog topic that I don’t have the experience or knowledge to tackle, I reach out to someone who does and ask if they’d like to guest post.

But to help me out during NaNoWriMo, I sometimes open my blog to guest post proposals. Each time I’ve put out a call, I’ve received fantastic proposals that I was proud to include here at my blog.

I also love giving a boost to others by letting them “borrow” the audience of a “Top 100 Websites for Writers” blog here at the same time they’re helping me. Some of the guest posts from my previous proposal calls have been shared over 1000 times!

(And that’s not counting the usual online and newsletter readers, which also number in the thousands, or the ongoing exposure through my blog’s popularity with search engines.)

So I’m doing a call for NaNo November again. *smile* Have an idea for a guest post? For the next two weeks, hit me up through my Contact Page with a proposal for what you’re thinking.

I run topics here that cover all aspects of writing, from craft and publishing advice to the ups and downs of writing life. As long as the post will add value for my readers (no promo-only posts), I’m happy to take a look at all ideas.

NaNo Project Time: What Should I Do?

So that brings me to talking about NaNoWriMo. I love participating in NaNo every year, but I’m not sure what story I should work on for the month this time around.

Due to delays from all my health issues this year, the release of the next book in my Mythos Legacy series has been pushed back throughout the year but will be out soon. Now, though, I have to decide what to work on next.

  • Should I work on Book 5 of the Mythos series, which will be about a pair of assassins (she’s a siren and he’s a sniper)?
  • Or should I kick off my new novella series with gargoyle heroes, which is a spinoff of the soon-to-be-released Book 4?

I don’t know. I mean, on the one hand, assassins—one a siren—but on the other hand, when my beta readers and editors read my Book 4, they all said “Please tell me you’re turning this into a series!” All the characters are chattering to me at once, and I’m not sure how to prioritize them. What should I do?

Does anyone else have this problem? Maybe we can help each other. *smile*

Which project should work on—my Book 5 novel or my novella spinoff? Are you participating in NaNo this year? Do you know what you’re working on, or do you need feedback? Do you have any questions about guest posting for me? And lastly, how cool is the WHW Resident Writing Coach Program? *grin*

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When Fiction Is Better Behaved than Reality

by Jami Gold on October 11, 2016

in Random Musings

Figures holding hands with text: Consent Matters: In Fiction & in Life

(Note: Some of my readers might want to disagree with this post because of politics. However,  consent—and lack of consent—should not be politicized, and consent is the topic of this post, not the politics or candidates of the U.S. election. Please try to keep that in mind while reading. Thanks!)

Over this past weekend, the insanity of the current U.S. presidential election increased. While I don’t delve into politics here on my blog, some of the statements excusing the latest escalation dragged in romance authors and readers. Uh, wait, what?

And yeah… That issue I feel like I need to address. *smile*

If you happened to be lucky enough to avoid the news since last Friday, a recording that captured Donald Trump’s words between official interview segments revealed him saying that he…:

  • attempted to have sex with a woman he knew was married, even though he didn’t indicate that she’d ever shown interest
  • kisses and gropes women’s genitals without their consent

I don’t want to get into the debate of whether he really sexually assaults women because Google exists, and those who want to know whether he’s been credibly accused of engaging in problematic behavior can conduct their own research.

What I do want to focus on are some of the Facebook memes and Twitter posts that tried to excuse and pass blame on the outcry over the recording. The gist of these posts is that women shouldn’t be mad about the words used in Trump’s bragging because…Fifty Shades of Grey.

*sigh* Where do I start?

“It’s Just Words”

Actually, before we start, I should make clear that I’m not a fan of Fifty Shades of Grey—at all. I’ve never read the book or seen the movie, and I have no plans to do so. My reasons for that dislike are many, but I’m definitely not jumping into this topic because I’m defending that specific book.

However, yes, sexy stories can use words like:

  • voluptuous
  • kiss
  • a**
  • P****
  • and many, many more.

It’s up to each romance author and reader to decide what words they’re comfortable with for descriptions of the development of the characters’ relationship. But there’s no sex-related word that could be used in a fiction book that should determine whether an author or reader deserves respect.

Words vs. Context

Depending on context, we might call someone a jerk out of anger or playfully. Context matters.

In this case, the memes are trying to conflate the use of words used in a fiction book and the use of words used to describe actions in a real-world, work-related setting, involving actual people. These are not the same context, and it’s disturbing that anyone would need to have this fact pointed out.

Would we ever say:

  • “Don’t be shocked by that gruesome real-life murder when you read murder mysteries”?
  • “Don’t treat real-world political scandals as a big deal because you read political thrillers”?
  • “Don’t get upset that your car was stolen when you play Grand Theft Auto“?

No and no and no.

So why do romance stories, their authors, and their readers receive this treatment? Why are the readers of Fifty Shades of Grey or any story of the romance genre subjected to the idea that if we read about something we must want it for real?

As Bree Bridges (one half of author Kit Rocha) said on Twitter, this idea claims:

“That a woman who choses to read fictional words on a page has abdicated her right to not like men who talk about sexully assaulting them.”

And spoiler alert: Even Christian Grey—as much of an a****** as many find him to be—never brags about grabbing a stranger’s genitals. So even if we ignore the fiction vs. real-world aspect, the context of how any words were used is not the same. Not even close.

As many have pointed out online, the word people most have issues with isn’t p**** but grab. It’s the description of a sexual assault—because there’s no consent.

Consent Matters

The stereotype of the romance genre is about 30 years out-of-date from the reality of most current stories. Long ago, many romances did fit the “bodice ripper” stereotype, where consent was fuzzy, but most of the genre has grown and matured along with modern culture.

Now, most authors and readers demand that consent exists in the story. The heroines in romances often inspire women in the real world to feel more comfortable with expressing their likes and dislikes, and sex-positive relationships are good for everyone.

One of my favorite parts of a romance story is seeing the characters banter and parry, as they exchange information, power, and vulnerability. That’s how they negotiate the aspects of their relationship, and that’s sexual tension in a nutshell. In other words, consent is sexy.

Romance writers usually try to make the characters’ power equal on some level, no matter their circumstances. Even with a billionaire hero, he might fall in love first or fall harder, his desperation to win her heart making him vulnerable. In my story Treasured Claim, the billionaire falls for a shapeshifting dragon who’s stronger—as she demonstrates on him. *smile*

And not that I’m calling Fifty Shades of Grey a paragon example of consent, but even there, he verbally expresses his intentions and she has opportunities to say no before anything happens.

Without an equality of power on some level, consent is much harder to prove to the reader. And if the reader doesn’t believe there’s consent, they’re less likely to support the more powerful character or the relationship.

Consent Matters in Fiction…
and It Shouldn’t Matter Less in the Real World

In other words, for all the insults that assume romance readers can’t tell the difference between fiction and reality, it seems like the accusers are the ones who don’t understand reality:

  • They’re the ones conflating the words in a fiction book with a real-world description of actions.
  • They’re the ones who don’t understand that the issue is the implication of potentially hundreds of real-world sexual assaults and not the individual words chosen to express that potential.
  • They’re the ones struggling to understand what consent means—or what the lack of consent means—legally and ethically.

I’m proud to write stories where consent matters. In my next novel, the hero has been asleep for a couple of hundred years (and is therefore behind the times) and kisses the heroine without her consent. So she punches him. *grin* (And he learns to be much better—and enjoys many consensual kisses later on. *wink*)

If anything, romance authors and readers are some of the biggest experts in consent. Or at least they should be. I know many authors and readers who are disheartened by other romance fans sharing this meme.

But as I said at the outset, the issue is sexual assault and consent, and that topic should never be politicized. If you’ve shared that meme, I encourage you to rethink that decision.

Too many women (and some men) have been victimized by sexual assault. Victims don’t need anyone—especially not fellow romance fans—turning what could be an important conversation about consent into a “gotcha” for political purposes. We all should be able to agree that fiction and reality aren’t equivalent and that non-consensual sexual contact is assault.

Those supporting the romance genre aren’t the ones creating a culture that demeans people in the real world. So people need to stop dragging us into their issues to make excuses for real-world problems and bad behavior, whether we’re talking about politics or not. *smile*

/end rant

Note: This post is not about the candidate himself but about the excuses for his words that somehow decided to focus on the romance genre. Therefore, please refrain from comments about any candidate. My blog is not a platform for anyone to make political arguments or recommendations, and I’m not endorsing any candidate here either. I also won’t tolerate any comments implying that sexual assault is unimportant compared to the stakes of this election. The reality and trauma of sexual assault don’t belong on a political scale of importance at all. Violators will be deleted or edited. Thank you!

Have you seen this meme on Facebook or Twitter? What did you think of it? Did this post change your mind? Do you disagree with my statement for non-political reasons, and if so, why? What are your thoughts on consent in the romance genre versus in real life?

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Stick figure at a chalkboard with text: What's Your Newsletter Plan?

It’s time once again for my monthly guest post over at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University. We’ve been exploring the choices for what path we want to follow in our indie publishing career, and today, we’re continuing to dig deeper into how to implement our chosen path.

My series about Indie Publishing Paths at Fiction University has highlighted some of the choices we have to make and given us a few guidelines.

We first discussed how we need to know our goals because that will help us make the best decisions for us and adapt as the industry changes. Depending on our priorities, we might make different choices for distribution, release schedules, or pricing, which I focused on in the first segment of the series, calling them the where, when, and how much of our decision process.

The second segment of my series focused on how to keep our readers after they finish our book:

We’re currently exploring the specifics of one of the options mentioned in Part One of the Reader Retention Plan above, which is to communicate with our readers via a newsletter. So far, we’ve covered:

Janice Hardy's Fiction University banner

But we could have all the subscribers in the world and still struggle with an ineffective newsletter. That’s because the number of subscribers doesn’t matter nearly as much as the number of newsletters that are opened and read. *smile*

If our subscribers delete our emails unread or just let them sit in a “junk” email inbox, our message still isn’t being heard. That’s why we need to talk about the open rate of our newsletters.

No one can agree on what open rates “should” be—partly because the measuring stick changes depending on the subscriber-gathering philosophy we discussed last time. Theoretically, quality lists should have better open rates than quantity lists.

That said, most people would agree that a single digit open rate isn’t good. For example, an open rate—which can often be found in the statistics section at our newsletter service provider—of 8% means that only 8 out of 100 subscribers (or so—open rates aren’t perfect because of email program variations) opened our email.

So if we need 100 people to take action for a promotion to work, we’d need a minimum of 1250 subscribers—and that’s assuming that everyone who opened our email would read it and then take action. In other words, that’s never going to happen, and we’d really need at least 12,500 subscribers—and likely a lot more.

On the other end, most people would agree that an open rate of 30% or more is good. But again, different philosophies would have different results, so there’s no set cut-off point for determining good vs. bad.

Regardless of those details, chances are that we’d like to improve our open rate. For that, we can try a couple of different newsletter opening strategies.

In this month’s post at Fiction University, I’m exploring our options and the pros and cons for each strategy. Each one follows a different approach we might take to encourage our subscribers to open (and hopefully read) our emails.

Depending on our writing schedule, our personality, our branding, and our subscriber-gathering philosophy, one strategy might work better for us than another. By learning our options—and the pros and cons of each—we’ll hopefully find the right approach for us.

For example, while I usually fall into the “New Release Only” style, I have occasionally sent out a “Miscellaneous Content” newsletter with other news, such as a big sale or my annual Blogiversary giveaway.

I’m careful, however, to keep those extra newsletters rare enough to not make subscribers feel inundated with emails. In addition, my sign-up form specifies that I’ll be sending information about promotions in addition to my new release notifications, so subscribers know what to expect from me.

I know successful authors who fall into every strategy camp, so there’s no “one right answer.” What matters is figuring out what will work best for us. *smile*

I hope you’ll join me at Fiction University for this month’s post!

If you have a newsletter, what strategy have you used to encourage subscribers to open your messages? Why did you choose that approach? Does that strategy match your personality or branding? What pros or cons have you discovered with your strategy? Do you have insights into other strategies or options?

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4 Tips for Preventing Flat Descriptions — Guest: Janice Hardy

October 4, 2016 Writing Stuff
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Story description has a bad reputation for being “skippable,” but a story without description happens in a vacuum. Today, Janice Hardy is here to share advice and examples on how to make our descriptions less flat, less “told,” and therefore, less skippable.

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The Business of Writing: Pen Names — Guest: Kathryn Goldman

September 29, 2016 Writing Stuff
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One of the things we struggle with as artists is handling the business side of writing. Today, Kathryn Goldman, an intellectual property attorney, is sharing insights on the business considerations for using pen names, whether for branding, copyright, or even content protection purposes.

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Strengthening Stakes: It’s Not about Going Big

September 27, 2016 Writing Stuff
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A story’s stakes are one element that keeps readers turning pages because they want to see if our characters succeed. At first glance, we might think bigger stakes are better for sucking in readers, but not every story lends themselves to huge stakes. Are “quieter” stories doomed to fail the “page-turner” test?

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Increasing Our Productivity: Why It’s Not Simple

September 22, 2016 Writing Stuff
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Most (probably all) writers want to increase their productivity because we want to make the most of the writing time we have. However, we’re all different, so we might need to figure out the right style of productivity advice for us.

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Writer Goals: Quitting the “Evil” Day Job

September 20, 2016 Writing Stuff
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Many new writers define “being a writer” as writing full-time, as though having day job equals an admission of failure or demonstrates a lack of professionalism. However, most writers do have day jobs, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

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