Boom! Publishing Like Beyoncé

by Jami Gold on February 26, 2015

in News

Firework explosion with text: Boom! Publishing Like Beyoncé

A bit over a year ago, Beyoncé surprised the music world by secretly dropping a new album onto iTunes with zero advance promotion. Her release made news a) because it was Beyoncé and b) because the strategy was something new and different.

Recently in the publishing world, there’s been grumblings or suspicions that traditional marketing events like months-in-advance cover releases weren’t generating the excitement they used to. Some book bloggers have flat-out said they’re no longer interested in hosting cover reveals. “What’s the point,” others said, “when there’s no way to take advantage of that attention with a buy link yet?”

Good question. What’s the point of gaining eyeballs if there’s no “call to action”?

I don’t know about you, but with ebooks so cheap, I tend to purchase a story that interests me when I first hear about it, and I have a hard time remembering whether I’ve already bought a title or not. (One of my main reasons for buying from Amazon is because of the “You purchased this product on…” banner. That’s saved my wallet more times than I can count!) So when a book is mentioned that I know I’ve heard of before, I might not check it out, thinking I’ve already grabbed it.

That’s the danger of promoting in a long run-up to release. By the time we have buy links, people might think our book is old news.

So with that in mind… *smile*

Boom! I’m a Published Author!

Some of you might have heard the news when I announced this yesterday, but for the rest of you, I know what you’re thinking. Half of you are probably going, “Wait, weren’t you published already?” And the other half of you are saying, “Geeze, it’s about time!”

Believe me, I know. *grin* It took me a long time to get to this point, and I’ll be sharing the details here on my blog in the weeks to come, but let’s get to the announcement stuff first, and then we’ll talk results down below.

I decided to go into stealth mode about my publishing plans and not even hint at what I was working on. No buy links—no point in mentioning it. Now I have two books out in some shape or form now, and they’re both part of…

The Mythos Legacy Series

The Mythos Legacy Series — Real Love for Real Myths

Paranormal Romance / Contemporary Fantasy Romance

Each standalone story in the series can be read in any order and ends happily(!), as mythological beings—from shapeshifting gryphons and dragons to unicorns and gargoyles—find their perfect match (who are more than up to the job) among humans.

  • The series kicks off with a short story, Unintended Guardianavailable for free at some retailers.
  • The first full-length novel, Treasured Claim (winner of 3 Grand Prize/First Place RWA chapter contests), is available for pre-order at a special sale price.

First Up… Unintended Guardian (Out Now!)

Unintended Guardian Book CoverCursed to darkness,
he makes a wish for freedom.
She shows up instead…

A shapeshifting gryphon cursed to eternal darkness…

Sunlight shouldn’t be deadly to Griff Cyrus. Determined to break his curse, he follows an oracle’s bizarre instructions to have a magical package shipped to his apartment. Since when do brown trucks deliver mystical cures?

A lonely woman craving the spice of life…

Kala Kaneko’s social life couldn’t be more bland. When a strange parcel arrives at her door by mistake, she seizes the excuse to introduce herself to the intended recipient, her mysterious neighbor.

Fate has a twisted sense of humor…

Griff expects the package to free him from the curse, but opening the box unleashes a mythical creature bent on Kala’s death. Yet if Griff follows his instincts to protect her, he could sacrifice his last chance at freedom.

*****

Welcome to the Mythos Legacy!

Unintended Guardian is the short story introduction to the Mythos Legacy series. An excerpt of Treasured Claim, the first full-length novel in the series, is included at the back of this book!

Available at:

Amazon | Apple iTunes | Barnes & Noble | GooglePlay | Kobo | All Romance eBooks | Smashwords

(Click here for the latest links)

To give you a taste of the Mythos Legacy world, Unintended Guardian is listed for FREE everywhere except non-U.S. Amazon stores. I’m still working on the Amazon international stores, but if you live outside the U.S., feel free to “report a lower price” to them. *grin*

Next Up… Treasured Claim (Pre-Order Sale)

Treasured Claim Book CoverDesperate for treasure,
a dragon resorts to thievery,
but a knight steals her heart…

A shapeshifting dragon on the verge of starvation…

For Elaina Drake, sparkling jewels aren’t a frivolous matter. Without more treasure for her hoard, she’ll starve. On the run from her murderous father, she’s desperate enough to steal—er, acquire.

A modern-day knight seeking redemption…

Disgusted by his father’s immorality, Alexander Wyatt, Chicago’s biggest corporate titan, is determined to be a man of honor. Yet the theft of a necklace, stolen by an exotic beauty at his latest fundraiser, threatens to destroy all his charitable work.

A predator made prey…

Passion ignites between thief and philanthropist, sparking a game of temptation where jewelry is the prize. But when Elaina’s exposure jeopardizes Alex’s life, she must choose: run again to evade her father—or risk both their lives for love.

*****

Available at:

Amazon | Apple iBooksBarnes & Noble | Kobo

(GooglePlay and a print version coming soon—click here for the latest links.)

Treasured Claim is currently priced at $0.99, just for the pre-order sale. Its normal price will be $2.99, so order your copy early. *wink*

The Results: How Did a No-Teaser Release Work?

I’m not a numbers person (hence all my auto-math beat sheet worksheets *smile*) because numbers like those are easy come, easy go. I don’t want to become obsessed with checking my sales figures or ranking.

(In fact, my beta buddy Angela Quarles teased me about being the first author she knew who didn’t check their sales numbers. Impatient for me to “get around to it,” she looked up my numbers for me. *grin*)

I’m sure the numbers I saw last night aren’t going to make it through today. (I might be a Pollyanna, but I’m also pragmatic about reality.) But what I saw yesterday convinced me that I didn’t hurt my release by not talking about it in advance ad infinitum.

When I braved looking at the Amazon rankings last night, Unintended Guardian was at #28 in Kindle Short Stories, #60 in the Hot New Releases for the Fantasy and Futuristic Romance category, #94 in the Hot New Releases for the Paranormal Shifters Romance category, and broke below 8,000 in the overall Kindle Store.

Treasured Claim landed somewhere in the Top 100 of the Hot New Releases for Fantasy and Futuristic Romance too. I saw it at #75, but it was lower earlier, when I didn’t have a clue yet how to look it up to know the actual number. As a debut “nobody” with no promotion other than my friends from here, Twitter, and Facebook, I’ll take all of that. *smile*

I’m extremely lucky and blessed that my nearly 5 years of blogging and being on social media gave me a platform that most don’t have. If I didn’t have that support, no strategy would have made a difference.

And that’s what I really took away from the chaos yesterday: Either people are excited about our book and/or about supporting us, or they’re not. No amount of false rah-rah promo is going to get someone excited about our release.

Might we be able to create an image of excitement? Sure. But that sounds like too much non-writing time and effort to me.

Others’ mileage may vary, of course. As we’ve often mentioned here on my blog, the right choices for us depend on our goals. For me, I’d rather get back to the work of writing than spend time pasting promo onto Facebook every other day.

Speaking of getting back to work, I want to share two events with you:

So… Do I have any grand advice based on my one measly, less-than-24-hours experience? Nope.

However, as I mentioned at the outset, the high rate of information turnover online might mean that if we talk about a milestone too much in advance, the news might “sound” old by the time the event comes to pass. Besides, with how busy I was, trying to get two books ready at once, I didn’t need the stress of pre-release promo too. *smile*

Do you still get excited by cover reveals? Do you tend to think news is old if you’ve heard it before? Has this impression affected how you think of book releases? What do you think would be the perfect release strategy—and why? If you disagree with my perspective about pre-buy-link promo, please share your thoughts!

P.S. If you want to hear about my next release as soon as I announce it, make sure you’re signed up for my New Release mailing list. Sign up for one or both of my newsletters (New Blog Posts and/or New Releases) on the sidebar, or if you already receive my blog posts by email, click the “Edit your subscription” link in the footer to add the New Release list to your subscription.

P.P.S. If you’re super excited about my releases and want a Backstage Pass, request a GOLDen Ticket here to get access to exclusive content and information.

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What Scares You about Writing or Publishing?

by Jami Gold on February 24, 2015

in Writing Stuff

Woman looking scared with text: Do You Have Writing or Publishing Fears?

Many large, life-changing events can scare us—even terrify us. We can probably think of several times in our life when the thought of moving forward was near-paralyzing.

Maybe we experienced that when starting a new job. Maybe when we stared down the aisle at our wedding. Or maybe when we learned our first child was on the way.

Not surprisingly, we often hear people say about big changes, even when they turn out well in the long run, “It’s a good thing I didn’t know how hard it would be, or I might not have done it.” Sometimes ignorance is bliss. *smile*

Many aspects of writing fall into that category. If we knew…

  • how hard it was to improve our craft…
  • how much there was to learn about publishing…
  • how much rejections or bad reviews hurt…
  • how much we have to market and promote…
  • Etc., etc.

…then we might not have started.

How Do We React When Faced with Obstacles?

It is often a good thing that we don’t know what we’re in for when we first start down a path. But then the question becomes, how do we handle it when we do learn the truth? How do we react when we learn all the steps we have to go through, or learn of the odds against us?

  • Some give up.
  • Some plod along, muddling their way through.
  • Some are gung ho about carrying on.
  • And sometimes we’re stuck in limbo, unwilling to give up but too scared to continue.

Many, many writers had to work up the courage to send out their first story to beta readers or their first query to agents. And sometimes those moments don’t stop.

We might still have to work up heroic levels of courage to enter a contest, hit publish on a book, or wander into reviews to find good ones for pull quotes. We might shudder before our first booksigning. Or we might have a panic attack before attending a writing conference Every. Single. Time. (Er, or maybe that last one is just me. *smile*)

The brilliant Courtney Milan, a historical romance author, once shared on Twitter that she’d put off something on her to-do list for a year because of her fears. That horrible thing she had to do? She had to call someone on the phone and make a request. *raises hand in introvert solidarity*

We Can’t Let Obstacles Turn into Paralyzing Self-Doubt

In other words, it’s normal to be scared by this writing path sometimes. This is yet another reason the writing community is so important (and awesome).

Surrounded by others, we can learn that we’re not alone, that there are others out there going through the same freak out or experiencing the same worry. The best corners of the writing community include our friends or others helping us with support, a calming voice, or a kick in the pants.

I know I’ve sometimes needed all three. Support is great for feeling that we’re not alone. A calm voice can subdue the panic. And a kick in the pants prevents us from becoming too paralyzed.

My best beta buddies had to step in recently to knock me out of paralysis mode. My perfectionism had shot my self-doubt sky-high. Everywhere I looked, I saw more evidence that I didn’t know what I was doing, and I feared making the wrong decision, until I reached the point that I wasn’t making any decisions.

A little perfectionism can be helpful in ensuring we’re doing our best, and a little self-doubt can help us avoid becoming so overly confident that we’re unwilling to learn new things. But too much of either can hold us back. And too much of both can be paralyzing.

We could probably say the same for other traits. “Analysis paralysis” isn’t limited to perfectionism or self-doubt. Any fears that reach the point of terror are going to have a negative effect on our ability to function.

7 Steps to Overcoming Our Fears

There’s no one right way for us to overcome our fears, but here’s the process I went through recently to snap out of my paralysis.

Step #1: Name Our Fears

Many times, simply assigning a name to our fears can make them seem less overwhelming. Naming our fears is the first step to accepting them because we’re acknowledging they exist and that our lack of progress has a cause.

Step #2: Identify the Aspects Holding Us Back

Here’s where we start breaking our big, overwhelming fear into pieces. Some pieces might not intimidate us as much as others. By seeing the pieces and identifying which ones “aren’t so bad,” we’re making that fear a little less intimidating.

Step #3: Make Progress on Any “Not So Bad” Pieces We Can

If there’s anything—even if it’s little—we can do to make progress on those less intimidating aspects, we might get momentum started. Momentum alone might help us through the next step.

Step #4: If We Can, Make Progress on the Harder Aspects

Now that we have momentum, see if any of the next harder pieces are doable. We might be able to power our way through this fear by taking bite-sized pieces. Courtney Milan announced on Twitter each step she took: She brought up the number she had to call, she set her phone in front of her, she planned her words, etc.

Step #5: No Progress? Call in Reinforcements

Momentum alone might not help us. In that case, we have to reach out for help. Maybe that means doing a Google search to see if others have advice, posting a question on a writing forum for help, or talking through our fears with our family, friends, or writing buddies. As I mentioned above, Courtney gave the play-by-play on Twitter so others could cheer her on with “You can do it!” messages.

Step #6: Try Again to Make Progress

Now that we’ve received support, understanding, a calming word, or a kick in the pants, it’s time to try again.

Step #7: If We Still Can’t Make Progress, Step Back

It might be good for us to gain a bit of distance from the situation. We might need a change of scenery, or we might need a break from thinking about it. We might need to come at the problem from another angle, or we might need to change our perspective.

For me, the kick in the pants from my beta buddies helped. The support from my family helped. But what really made the project doable was changing my perspective on how big of a deal the problem was.

In our stories, we might write life-and-death stakes, but in real life, the stakes are seldom that high, especially when it comes to our writing. It might feel like the end of the world when our “perfect” agent rejects us or a blistering review comes in, but it’s really not a sign of the end of our career. The publishing world has grown and changed so much lately that we can always find another chance, another opportunity, if we want it.

That perspective—thinking of the worst possible outcome and realizing that it still wouldn’t be the end of the world—helped me accept the risk more than anything. That attitude quieted the panicked screams of my perfectionism into something closer to a soft muttering.

Many of us suffer from self-doubt and fear of failure. And that’s the fear that really underlies many of our problems.

We often struggle with taking that first step, no matter how tiny, because that momentum means we’re trying. And once we’re trying, we might fail.

But we can’t think that far out. The big picture is often what makes the problem overwhelming.

Instead, as a certain blue fish named Dory might say, we should “just keep swimming,” as any amount of progress is better than nothing. And once we get past what’s holding us back, maybe we’ll react like Courtney and think the obstacle wasn’t nearly as bad as we feared. *smile*

Do some aspects of writing or publishing scare you, or do you suffer from self-doubt or fear of failure? If something paralyzes you, do you know what it is or why it has that affect on you? What stops you from making progress? Do you know how you could make progress? If you’ve overcome a paralyzing fear, do you have any other advice to add?

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What Are Your Favorite Writing-Related Books?

by Jami Gold on February 19, 2015

in Writing Stuff

Shadow of reading glasses create a heart on a book with text: What Are Your Favorite Writing Books?

I spent a couple of hours yesterday playing with a plugin my Tech Guy installed on my site. (If you’re hosted with TechSurgeons as well, you might be able to get it on your site too if you ask Jay, our very own tech genius.)

The plugin is called MyBookTable and allows me to list books in different categories and offer buy links. Useful plugin for authors, right? *smile*

In my For Writers section, I created a page to list my favorite writing craft and reference books. I’ve added several books that I thought of off the top of my head, but I know I’m forgetting a bunch too.

When we start down the writing path, we have a lot to learn. We might have to learn story structure or the basics of grammar. Many an author has had to learn about point of view options or techniques for showing instead of telling.

And that’s just covering some of the basics of writing craft issues. We might also want to study query writing, how to self-edit, or how to self-publish—and there are books to cover all those topics and more.

So let me share the books I thought of yesterday (and more importantly, let me share why they were useful enough to be top of mind), and let’s see what others have to add as suggestions. *smile*

The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression

Emotion Thesaurus coverThis book has been my #1 Go-To Writing Help book ever since it released. With 2 full pages of ideas about how to show character emotions for each of the 75 different entries, we can learn endless options for the physical signs, internal thoughts, and internal sensations (visceral reactions) for every emotion, whether the character is the point-of-view character or not.

I could go on for pages and gush about the awesomeness of this book. *grin* Instead I’ll just point you to my post about how we can use this resource to improve our writing.

The Positive Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Attributes and The Negative Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Flaws

Positive Trait Thesaurus coverNegative Trait Thesaurus coverFinding the perfect mix of strengths and weaknesses for our characters can be difficult. We need to choose the right blend of strengths that make them admirable and worth rooting for—without making it too easy for them to succeed—and we need to figure out which flaws best fit our characters.

These books, cousins to the Emotion Thesaurus above, are great tools for creating three-dimensional characters. Check out the guest post by Becca (one of the co-authors) for more about how these books can be used in our writing.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself into Print

Self-edit Book CoverIn this book, two editors step us through the process of editing our own work. They cover most of the major issues all writers—and newer writers especially—tend to struggle with in the pursuit of better writing.

No matter how we plan to publish, we should strive for a cleaner manuscript. If we’re taking the traditional publishing path, quality writing craft makes it more likely an agent will request our pages. If we plan to self-publish, I wouldn’t recommend relying only on our own editing abilities and skipping an outside edit, but improving our prose the best we can on our own ensures that a freelance editor will be able to focus on the issues we can’t fix ourselves.

The Power Of Point Of View: Make Your Story Come To Life

Point of View Book CoverMany writers struggle to understand the differences between distant and close third person point of view, or when first person might work better than a close third (or vice versa). This book will make us a POV expert. Learn about the different styles of point of view, from omniscient third person to close first person—and everything in between.

This book is perfect for those of us unsure about the differences between point-of-view styles or those who wonder which style is right for our story. Most of what I learned about POV started with this book.

Story Engineering: Master the 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing

Story Engineering coverYes, this book has a strong anti-pantser (writing by the seat of our pants) bias, and I’ve pointed out before that story failures are more often a symptom of not understanding story structure than with pantsing methodologies. Pantsing and plotting strategies can both fail or succeed, and in either case, those who understand story structure will be more likely to come out with a coherent story.

Pantsers able to ignore that naysaying, or those who plot in advance, will find a great discussion of story structure within these pages. Don’t miss my post or worksheet to help writers of any length stories use this structure.

Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need

Cover image of Blake Snyder's "Save the Cat"This book isn’t my favorite for learning story structure (and it’s geared toward screenwriters rather than novelists), but it is a classic that literally “wrote the book” on many story structure ideas and strategies (like the concept of beats and beat sheets).

It reveals audience (or in our case, reader) reasons for why stories are structured the way they are, and that’s good for every writer to understand. Don’t miss my post about how writers of any length stories can use this structure.

Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go

Hooked Book CoverWe’ve discussed the importance of story openings many times here before, from how to avoid first-page clichés to what makes readers close a book. Grabbing readers’ attention is an important skill because if our story has a bad beginning, no one will keep reading. Period. The end.

Whether we traditionally publish or self-publish, a great beginning is a necessity. This book covers the elements inherent to any great beginning and can help us overcome weak openings.

That’s a start for a few books that I’ve read and appreciated, but I’m missing loads, I’m sure. I don’t have any grammar books up there. Or any publishing industry or self-publishing books. Etc., etc. So I suspect this page of recommendations will be a work in progress. *smile*

What are your favorite writing-related books? What makes them your favorites? What books have helped you the most in your writing journey? How have they helped? Is there an area that you still struggle with and want recommendations for books in that specialty?

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Should Our Protagonist Be in the First Scene?

by Jami Gold on February 17, 2015

in Writing Stuff

A face hidden by a hoodie with text: When Should Readers Meet the Protagonist?

Most stories open with the protagonist on page one, but every once in a while, our story seems to work best if we start with another character. Is this a good idea? Can we make it work?

Today’s post was inspired by a question from Glynis Jolly, who asked me if I thought an author would sabotage themselves and their story if their protagonist doesn’t enter the picture until later. I thought that was a great question and decided to explore the scenario more deeply so we could all learn together. *smile*

Let’s take a closer look at why the protagonist usually works best as the point-of-view (POV) character for page one, scene one. Then let’s see if we can gather insights into how the exceptions might work—or how we might be able to avoid some of the pitfalls for those exceptions.

Why Do We Usually Start with the Protagonist?

The first step in figuring out when exceptions might work is identifying why we usually start with the protagonist. What does that structure provide the reader and the story that makes it the default approach?

Benefit #1: Anchoring

When readers start a new story, they’re essentially exploring a new world of characters, settings, and rules. We’ve discussed before the importance of giving anchors to readers for the setting.

The sooner readers know something about the setting at the start of a story (or scene or chapter), the easier they’re able to imagine the scene in their minds. Readers might skim—and miss important information—in their search for setting details to anchor the story in their imagination.

The same goes for characters. We usually start with our protagonist as the POV character because that gives the reader an “avatar” through which to experience the story. The POV character is the anchor perspective for the story experience.

Benefit #2: Forming Connections

Going along with anchoring, readers like knowing who to center their attention on and who they should be rooting for. The POV character on page one is usually the protagonist, so readers will likely assume that character is the protagonist.

They’ll start interpreting the story through that character’s filter, filling in the blanks of who and what the story is going to be about. Readers often look for reasons to “like” or connect with the POV character.

If we start with a POV character who’s not our protagonist, readers might attach their sympathies to the “wrong” person. They might not like the POV character and decide to close the book without realizing that character wasn’t the protagonist. Or they might feel cheated when they figure out the POV character isn’t the protagonist (like a False Start cliché).

Benefit #3: Establishing Story Problems or Questions

Stories usually start near the point when the story problems or questions are first established. Our protagonist’s job over the course of the story is to attempt to solve the story’s main problems or to answer the story’s main questions.

So by staying in the protagonist’s POV at the beginning of the story, readers will be there when the protagonist first encounters those problems or questions. Readers will have an “anchoring” touchstone for the story’s beginning.

Why Might We Want to Start with a Different Character?

That last benefit gives us the key to understanding when it would make sense to start with a POV character other than our protagonist. Sometimes, our story is structured such that the story problems or questions are established before the protagonist becomes involved.

In the thriller or mystery genre, stories might start from the antagonist’s POV because their actions kick off the story. The protagonist might not be assigned to the case until a scene or chapter later.

Similarly, those genres sometimes start from the victim’s POV because their experiences (e.g., their death) can kick off the story too. And the victim’s POV might not give away hints of who the villain is the way an antagonist POV scene might do.

In other words, a story starts just before things begin to change. Especially in plot-driven stories, if that plot kickoff event happens away from the protagonist, it makes sense from a story structure perspective to focus on a different character in the first scene, just so the reader can be there for the story’s establishment of the main problems or questions.

The same reasons that make a prologue worth keeping make a non-protagonist opening scene work too. A valid page-one scene with characters other than the protagonist is one that:

  • shows an event that foreshadows the story problems or questions, or
  • establishes the situation the protagonist will soon be dragged into.

In fact, some stories call these initial non-protagonist scenes prologues. The best prologues are those that establish the start of the story, so whether we call these scenes prologues or chapter ones, this structure can work.

When Wouldn’t We Want to Start with a Different Character?

Conversely, just like how we don’t want to include unnecessary prologues, we don’t want to include non-protagonist opening scenes if that’s not where the story starts. If the scene just reveals a piece of information that won’t come into play until later, it might make more sense to use a flashback or similar technique at that later point, when the information is actually relevant.

How to Make Non-Protagonist Story Openings Work

When we understand the benefits of starting with our protagonist—but we also know that a non-protagonist scene is where the story starts—we can avoid some of the pitfalls of “breaking the rules.”

As with any opening scene, we need to start with a hook—a problem, question, situation, dilemma, or choice to act as a “now what?” and leave readers curious. Remember that opening scenes aren’t about setting up the character and their situation. Beginnings are about setting up elements of the story’s conflicts.

If we’re starting with a hook at the point when the story problems or questions are established, we’ve automatically taken care of Benefit #3 listed above. Now let’s take a look at how we might be able to regain the two other benefits despite the fact that we’re not starting with the protagonist.

Tip #1: Tie Scenes Together to Provide the Anchoring Benefit

In a non-protagonist opening scene, we want to at least give hints for how this event ties into the main story and characters (i.e., how this event can/will affect the protagonist). Our readers will pay attention to these events, even though this POV character isn’t the protagonist, because this scene is immediately relevant to the following scenes.

From a plotting perspective, the next scene should usually be a “therefore” or “but” transition and not an “and then” or “meanwhile” transition. We might be able to get away with an “and then” or “meanwhile” transition if the following scenes tie together quickly enough or if there’s a strong enough hint that they will tie together.

The point is that we don’t want the reader to feel a disconnect and wonder why the story started with the non-protagonist scene. If the reader is left wondering for too long why the other scene existed, we can create an impression of sloppy writing, and a disconnected reader is more likely to close the book.

On the other hand, a strong tie between the scenes will act as a baton pass for the reader. They’ll know how to translate one character’s POV experience to another character’s POV experience because they’ll know how the scenes are related.

Tip Summary: Tie scenes together to create an anchor that will pull the reader from one POV character to another and avoid causing a reader disconnect during the transition.

Tip #2: Set Reader Expectations to Provide the Connection Benefit

Another problem that causes a reader to disconnect from the story is when they feel misled. Readers experience a disconnect when they assume the first page POV character is the protagonist, only to discover that character was actually the antagonist, the protagonist’s friend, a victim who’s now murdered, etc.

Genre expectations can help with this. As I mentioned above, some genres frequently start with a non-protagonist scene. For the rest, we can use a combination of the anchoring technique and the back-cover blurb. In other words, we should give context to the reader and avoid misleading them.

For example, if the reader knows from the book description that the main character’s name is Sue and the story opens with the non-protagonist character talking about Sue, the reader will realize this POV character isn’t Sue and will also have a hint of how the characters (and scenes) are connected. Or if the reader knows the main character is a detective, they’ll understand why the story starts with a crime victim.

We might cause problems, however, if our blurb doesn’t make it clear who the protagonist is (name, occupation, description, etc.) or if our opening scene doesn’t make it clear how the POV character isn’t that same person. For example, a book description about a female teacher wouldn’t help if the story opens with a different female teacher. Readers might not catch that the characters aren’t the same.

The point is that while we want readers to care about the events of the opening scene, we want them to care about the events (and POV characters) in the “right” context. That means not misleading readers into rooting for a character who turns out to be the story’s villain or imminent murder victim, etc.

Tip Summary: Give context to readers so they aren’t misled by assuming the first POV character is the protagonist and avoid a reader disconnect when they realize the truth.

To go back to Glynis’s question, there are plenty of examples where stories start with a non-protagonist character, especially within certain genres. For others, sometimes a flashback will fill in the story blanks. For the rest, we sometimes don’t have a choice: The story works best with that non-protagonist structure as the opening scene.

When that’s the case, our main goal should be to minimize “speed bumps” in the story, plotting, or POV that cause reader confusion. The less disconnected we make the reader during those crucial opening scenes, the more likely they are to stick around for our whole story. *smile*

Have you ever written a prologue or chapter one that featured a non-protagonist POV character? Why did you decide to start it that way? Have you wondered how to tell if that was the best approach? Do you have a story that needs this type of opening but you weren’t sure how to make it work? Do you have any other tips or suggestions for how to make this technique work?

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Is “Love Conquers All” Realistic?

by Jami Gold on February 12, 2015

in Random Musings

Close-up of a rose with text: How Powerful Is Love?

Every month or so, there’s an author or blogger or journalist making news by putting romance stories down. “They’re formulaic!” they say.

Uh-huh, and other genres don’t follow a formula? Mysteries regularly end with the mystery unsolved, do they? Or thrillers end with the terrorist’s plot succeeding? No? All righty then…

“They’re unrealistic!” they say. Well, sure, no one would claim marrying a vampire, sheikh, billionaire, or Lord is likely to happen. But then again, plenty of other genres contain unrealistic plot elements too.

Oh, wait… That’s not what “they” meant by unrealistic.

“They give women unrealistic expectations!” they say. Right. Because “they” believe grown women have never matured past the point of thinking they were Disney Princesses? Or is it that “they” think women are too stupid to realize that vampires, sheikhs, billionaires, or Lords aren’t any more available than Princes? How insulting.

No, too often “they” think romances are unrealistic because they end with love and a Happily Ever After. How is that unrealistic?

Do they think true love isn’t possible? Do they think love can’t be fulfilling enough to last? Do they think love isn’t, in fact, powerful enough to conquer obstacles and lead to happiness?

Now that… That’s just sad.

What Romance Stories Really Say

The message behind modern romances is that everyone—no matter our gender, race, ability level, flaws, beauty, brokenness, etc.—has the potential to find, give, and receive love. For those not in a good, healthy relationship, romance stories give hope that even someone like them deserves love. For those already in a good, healthy relationship, romance stories give reminders to appreciate the love they enjoy.

I’ve learned to ignore the naysayers because they don’t know what they’re talking about. A couple of days ago, Kassandra Lamb blogged about the misleading statistics of divorce rates.

I’m not a math person, so I won’t even pretend to understand what her numbers mean. But her point (and the point of the studies she links to) is that there are far fewer divorces than we assume (closer to a quarter or a third than to a half of all marriages).

The eagerness the media and we as a society have to proclaim love and marriage as “a dead end” or “too hard and likely to end in failure” does us all a disservice. Just as it does us a disservice to proclaim romance stories unrealistic.

I love this quote by historical romance author Tessa Dare:

"Women are constantly told it's fantasy to expect fidelity, respect, & orgasms ... It's not."

Yes, this. Those are the expectations a woman might walk away with from reading a romance. Are those unrealistic?

Absolutely not. I personally know too many people who have exactly that in their real life to think it’s not possible—to think it fluffy, stupid, immature fantasy.

It’s disrespectful to call their real life situations a fantasy, as though they didn’t work damn hard for that happiness. We need to respect when things go right in relationships and not just spout inaccurate statistics that lead people to think that it’s just too hard to bother fighting for happiness.

Can Love Conquer All?

I won’t claim that love can conquer all because “all” encompasses an awful lot. Everything, in fact. *smile* And love probably couldn’t conquer things like our sun going supernova and the like. *grin*

But from my parents’ experience, I know for a fact what love can conquer. In honor of Valentine’s Day, let me share a bit about how my parents’ relationship started…

  • My mom and her serious boyfriend had just “sort of” broken up when my dad walked into her life. (So right away, they’re falling into the “rebound” category. They’re doomed, right?)
  • My dad wasn’t looking for a serious girlfriend because he was getting ready to move. (Yep, “not looking” and a long distance relationship if it does continue. Definitely doomed.)
  • My dad leaves, comes back for a visit a couple of months later, and my mom gets pregnant. Cue the shotgun wedding. (Doomed or shot—maybe both.)
  • My mom moves to be with this guy she barely knows, away from her family, friends, and all support for the first time in her life, is pregnant, and doesn’t even know how to boil water. (Gah! This sounds more like a horror movie waiting to happen than a romance novel.)
  • They’re dirt-poor, and I mean that literally. Their kitchen floor actually used dirt in part. (Okay, now they’re just piling on. This can’t be real, right?)
  • Every nightmare you can imagine about rats, bees, fire ants, cockroaches the size of your hand, maggots, dangerous reptiles, etc. comes true while they’re living in their little backwater shack. (In other words, my mom could qualify as “Too Stupid To Live” for not just screaming “uncle” and heading back to her parents.)

So how does this not-so-romantic story end? As I mentioned on Facebook, nearing 50 years later, this was the card my dad gave my mom a couple weeks ago:

Card from my dad to my mom with text: You Are My Life, My Love, My Past, Present, and Future, My Yesterday, My Tomorrow, My Forever

Say it with me… Aww! *smile*

Was it easy? Nope. My dad worked two full-time jobs until I was a teen, and there were times I thought for sure they’d get a divorce.

But they persevered, they compromised, they sacrificed, they overcame, they conquered… They loved. And they still love.

What gave them the power, the determination, the very idea that their problems could be overcome? Love.

Love gave them the strength to not give in when it would have been easier to throw in the towel. Love conquered all those horror stories. They made a choice to love, and every day they keep making the choices that create their happily ever after.

Happiness Deserves Respect

Romance novels and all forms of love are too often denigrated for being formulaic, trite, and generic. As though hardship and suffering are more noble than happiness.

We see similar issues with pessimists being thought of as realists and optimists being thought of as willfully stupid or blind. It’s easy to see the suffering in the world. It’s easy to be a cynic. It takes determination and hard work to focus beyond the obvious.

Courtney Milan has a brilliant rant about the stigma of happiness (emphasis mine):

“It’s easy to wallow in misery. Anyone can do it. Everyone has. It’s hard to do something about it…

I wonder what world these people live in, where they think that throwing up one’s hands and saying, “Oh, well, life is just one unending bitter cup of misery, and then you have to pay taxes on your deathbed,” is somehow hard and worthy and nonformulaic.

No, guys. Getting up off your duff and finding some kind of sweetener to add to that bitter cup of woe? That’s hard. Walking away from something that doesn’t work? That’s easy. Anyone can walk away. It takes a real hero to stick around and try to make things better. It is a thousand times harder to solve problems than create them, and dismissing the triumph of victory trivializes the hard work and heroism that every happy person puts into being happy.”

Happiness is hard work. It would have been so much easier for my parents to walk away from each other. For my mom to throw up her hands, for my dad to not be the rock in her life.

We see this in our stories all the time. Our characters give up at the Black Moment because it’s easier. They have to make a choice to work harder in the final Act, and only then do they have a chance at success and happiness.

Romance novel writers have to make the Happily Ever After ending seem impossible. And then they have to show their characters overcoming everything and doing the impossible. Finding a way to solve the characters’ situation—that’s hard. Romance writing only looks easy because of the “happy equals easy” assumptions from society.

Life is the same way. Every single happy situation, every happy relationship, every happy family, had to overcome their own obstacles. There was no cheat sheet for how they could conquer their unique situation.

We don’t even need a cheat sheet for how to wallow and be miserable. Yet somehow happiness is seen as easier? And stories about overcoming obstacles to reach that point of happiness are seen as shallow?

I reject that idea. It’s damn hard work to be happy. It’s a choice that often takes digging deep into ourselves and figuring out what we value, what makes us tick. Nothing easy or shallow about that.

So on this Valentine’s Day, I celebrate love. I celebrate romance. I celebrate those who have put in the hard work to be happy. And for those haven’t reached that happy place yet, might I recommend reading a romance novel for encouragement? *smile*

P.S. In case it needs stating, not all relationships are healthy and deserve to be fought for, and some books depict abusive situations and don’t deserve the romance label. This post is not about those exceptions.

Do you think romance novels create unrealistic expectations? How so? Do you have any stories of how love has conquered obstacles? Do you think happiness and the hard work that goes into creating it are disrespected? If so, why do you think that is? Do you want to add any points to this rant? *grin*

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What’s Influenced Your Writing?

February 10, 2015 Writing Stuff
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We often talk about how reading is subjective. But we don’t usually talk about how writing is subjective as well. The genres I enjoy writing and the stories I like to tell aren’t the same that others enjoy or like to write. That’s a good thing. If everyone wrote the same genre, readers looking for something new and different would be left out.

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How to Place Turning Points on a Beat Sheet

February 5, 2015 Writing Stuff
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Is a Catalyst the same thing as an Inciting Incident? (Answer: Yes.) How do I know? It’s not because there’s a secret cheat sheet with translations for every beat sheet term. *smile* If we know the functions beats fulfill in a story, we’ll always know where a story event belongs on a beat sheet.

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What’s the Biggest Lie You Tell Yourself?

February 3, 2015 Over-Achieving Perfectionist
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One way we develop our characters is by figuring out their false belief: What lie do they tell themselves? Now the fun thing is to think about how that idea applies in the real world. Just like our characters, we tend to hold false beliefs and lie to ourselves as well.

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How to Get Our Thoughts onto the Page

January 29, 2015 Writing Stuff
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Probably no one can claim to be an expert at making sure the cool character in our head makes it onto the page. We can only guess at how readers will interpret what we tell them. Advice can help us share our brain with our readers as much as possible, but the process will never—ever—be completely clean.

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How to Create Characters Worth Reading

January 27, 2015 Writing Stuff
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There’s no shortage of blog posts about what makes characters likable to readers. Yet readers still read and enjoy stories with unlikable characters. Why? Let’s take a look at what options we have for creating characters that compel readers to keep turning pages.

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