Flirting with Burnout

Image purchased from Adobe Stock.

I’ve been pushing myself really hard since 2016, the year I started publishing and somehow put out four books in seven months.

Each year I told myself I wouldn’t work so hard, but I kept on and sometimes added even more.

And now, almost four years later, my characters won’t talk to me. That’s a big problem because I can’t write without them.

So I think I may be reaching the burnout point. Luckily, I’m not fully there, but I think I’m getting close.

Looking back on my year, it’s not surprising:

Suffrage Movement Book:

  • Researched two sample chapters.
  • Wrote sample chapters (17,315 words)
  • Co-wrote proposal.
  • Queried agents with co-author.
  • Shelved book.

Virginia and Francis Minor biography:

  • Researched 105,557 words of notes.
  • Took research trip to University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
  • Wrote proposal and sample chapter.
  • Queried agents.
  • Project on hold.

Historical fiction book:

  • 9,041 words of notes (not complete)
  • Project on hold due to project below.

WWII book:

  • Researched 21,634 words
  • Developed detailed 7 page outline, with becomes 40 pages with notes.
  • Did this in three weeks.
  • Wrote 6,218 words.
  • Now the book is refusing to cooperate.

Other writing:

  • Wrote a short story for an anthology – 10,000 words
  • Researching book chapter: The Ethics of Writing Guinevere for the Modern Age.
    • So far at 15,410 words of notes.
    • Have four articles and two books to go.
  • Wrote three articles for NINC newsletter.
  • Reported on 11 sessions from the NINC Conference.

That’s a total of 185,175 words written (not counting the articles and reporting), even if most were notes.

Other 

  • Attended four conferences, speaking at two.
  • Spoke at five other events.
  • Conducted a successful USA Today bestseller list campaign.
  • Read 86 books (not including research) to date. Will likely hit 100 by end of year.

Oh and I have a full-time job.

But yet I hesitate to let myself have a break.

  1. I’m not sure I know how. I don’t know how to person without writering.
  2. I worry someone else will get to this latest book before I do.
  3. I feel like I always need to be doing something.
  4. I worry that taking a break will harm my career.

Yet, I know I have to slow down/stop for a while. The only thing I can muster energy and interest in right now is playing Covet Fashion on my Kindle. That is not a good thing because it costs money, rather than making me money. And it takes up time I could be using for writing. But at least it is a creative outlet, I guess. (And I am a damn good stylist!)

I know how I got myself here; now I just have to figure out how to get out of it.

A 21st Century Writing Dilemma: Expand into Transmedia or Focus on New Stories?

Image is free to use per Imgbin.

Hi. Wow. It’s been a minute since I posted anything here. Life has been crazy with research and work and well, life.

Late last month I had the wonderful fortune to attend my second Novelists Inc. Conference in St. Petersburg, Florida. That is one of two conferences I will not miss (the other is Historical Novel Society, when it is stateside). The programming is smart and meant for writers where I am–not beginners, but not household names either–okay, most of us.

The two sessions (well, actually it was four because both were two-parters) that I liked the most were Growth Hack a Bestseller by Entangled Publisher Liz Pelletier and You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Story by Houston Howard. Both were applicable to traditionally published authors as well as indies. But the interesting thing to me, as an indie author, is that they seemed in some ways to offer conflicting advice.

Let me explain. What I heard overall on the traditional side (not just from Liz) is that you should keep writing the next book, with the focus on it becoming a bestseller, rather than worrying about the books you’ve already written. (Liz’s talk was about how you can plan your way to writing a bestselling book and it was really, really good.) But on the indie side, there was a clear focus on diversifying the books you already have to gain more readers. What they mean by this is expanding your story in new formats. This is directly from my conference notes:

Houston calls this multi-platform strategy your Superstory. It begins with thinking bigger than a novel. In Superstory, you extend your story into multiple platforms and surround your novel with other things that can help it compete.

Superstory is NOT:

  • Promotions or advertising.
  • Online tools like new media/digital.
  • Multimedia (franchising, merchandising, etc.) in which you are giving your audience the same content in a different format (i.e. the movie version, the comic book version, etc.)

Superstory IS:

  • Continuing your story over multiple platforms (a.k.a. transmedia).
  • Each new piece of content is a piece of a puzzle, something unique that is only explored there and leads to something else. It is all part of the same story, but the story is expanded in a coordinated way. (i.e. anthology of the backstory of minor characters in your book series.)
  • So it could be that the book tells the story, the movie continues the story, then spins off into a video game, and ends in comic book, so that they all work together to create a different experience for the fans.

Think about Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It began as a movie, got much more back- and front-story as a TV show and then continued on past the finale in the comic book realm with new stories.

I LOVE this idea! But there’s only one problem: There’s only so much of me to go around, and both things take time and money, two things I have precious little of.

I am seriously so inspired by his ideas. (I bought Houston’s book but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet.) Without giving too much away, I can see:

The Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy

  • An anthology of stories of the other characters (Elaine, Corinnia and Leodgrance, Mona, Vivianne/Merlin/Nimue, Lancelot’s backstory, etc.)
  • Jewelry line (I’ve had this in mind since I started the series).
  • Some kind of a tie-in to the history of Avalon.
  • Instagram visual series from one of the characters.
  • Interactive website.
  • Music. The voice of Guinevere. (A friend and I actually talked about this one time.)
  • Video game. I’ve wanted to do one for ages, but that is far down the list.
  • I have a bunch of other ideas written down (but not to hand) for what I would have put into a companion guide.

Been Searching for You

  • The two additional books in the series.
  • A comic book version (which I’ve been wanting to do for a year or two now anyway – yes there ARE romance graphic novels).
  • Annabeth’s Millie Mysteries books (assuming I can figure out a plot and how to write a mystery).
  • An old-time radio show version of the Millie Mysteries.
  • Instagram visual series from Annabeth, and one from Mia.
  • Annabeth’s dream wedding board on Pinterest (which kind of already exists, but it is hidden).
  • Alex’s Pinterest board (you know he has one since he uses it in the book).

Madame Presidentess

  • A podcast around women’s suffrage.
  • I could do stories about the other characters, especially Tennie, but I’m not sure if I want to go there.
  • Something with Spiritualism. I just don’t know what yet.

Fun stuff, right? But it’s also a lot of work–time I could be using to write/research my next book. You can see where I’m torn.

It’s especially hard because I don’t write full-time. On top of this I have ideas for seriously about 50 OTHER stories I want to tell, each of which could get its own Superstory list.

I’m not sure what the answer will end up being. Probably a little of both.

As readers, what would you like to see from me, either on the list above or something else? Or do you think I should just move on to new stories? I’m really curious.

Titles – Often the Hardest Part of the Whole Book

Image purchased from Adobe Stock

Image purchased from Adobe Stock

If you’ve ever tried your hand at writing advertising copy or even had to come up with a title for a paper in school, you’ll understand how difficult today’s blog challenge topic is.

“How I Choose a Book Title”

It’s such a seemingly innocent, easy answer. But that’s like calling a crocodile gentle.

I don’t have a set process for picking my titles, but I’m going to try to break the basic idea into steps:

  1. Working title – I usually start out with some idea of what the book is going to be called, even if it’s really rough. Been Searching for You was called Romance all the way through the end of the first draft because I couldn’t think of anything better. Morgan’s Story and Isolde’s Story are called just that right now. However, when I’m lucky, like with Madame Presidentess, the book idea comes with its title and it doesn’t change. But that doesn’t happen often. When I don’t know, I go with instinct or anything that makes sense. At that point, I’m the only one who sees it and only a handful of people hear it, anyway.
  2. Research – I always look on Amazon to see if a book with my title already exists, and if it does, if it is in the same genre. If not, I go with it. If it does, I look to see if I think readers will get it confused with others. (Have you ever tried to search for a book called Hide without knowing the author? There are like a million. That’s the situation I’m trying to avoid.) Been Searching for You got its title after someone else beat me to publishing a book called He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not (which was its second working title). But that turned out to be a good thing because its current title fits the book better.
  3. Marketability Polling – Once I come up with a solid idea that isn’t already taken, I ask a few reader friends what they think. They have a pretty good barometer for what resonates with readers and what is pretty snooze-worthy. I’m going for something that will grab you and tell you something about the book. One of my pet peeves is titles that don’t have anything to do with anything. Like Twilight. What the hell does that have to do with vampires? Nothing frustrates me more than finishing a book and not understanding the title.
  4. Cover Art – I’m usually certain of the title by the time I get to this point, but seeing it on the cover is the clincher for me.
  5. Series – Series are difficult because you want all the book titles to tie together somehow. That makes it easier for readers to know the books are all connected. For example, I knew way back when I started my Guinevere books I wanted the titles to be in the format of “x of y.” Book 1 was originally called Guinevere of Northgallis. When I decided that was too boring, I held a poll of blog readers and also consulted my best friend. Somehow, all of that resulted in Daughter of Destiny. I wanted Book 2 to be called Queen of Camelot, but there’s already a book with that title, so I settled for the very similar Camelot’s Queen. Book 3 has always been called Mistress of Legend. I just liked it because it evokes something we all know about Guinevere (that she was unfaithful to Arthur) and ties in the idea of an enduring legend. Similarly, I’m hoping to have all of the Chicago Soulmates books have titles that tie in the idea of searching/finding/looking, etc. that started with Been Searching for You.

I know some people take a line from the book as the title, but I haven’t had any yet that sound like they’d make good titles. I’m sure traditional publishing houses have their own scientific methods to make book titles attractive. If anyone ever finds out what they are, please let me know!

Authors, how do you choose your book titles? Readers, what makes a book title appealing to you? If you had to rename any of my books, what would you call them? Ideas for Isolde and/or Morgan’s book titles?

Music as Muse

untitled-1Appropriate timing for this week’s blog challenge: Music to Write By, as I was just a guest on Roz Morris’ Undercover Soundtrack earlier this week, talking about songs that inspire my books.

I’m also participating in the #authorlifemonth challenge on Instagram, where a few days ago the topic was writing music.

Each of my books has a playlist, which you can listen to on Youtube:

But when a scene doesn’t have a specific song, I fall back on about a dozen or so movie scores that always work for me (see picture on the right). I love listening to movie scores for a few reasons: 1) I can’t listen to music with lyrics when I write; it’s too many words in my brain at once, 2) they have built in moments of emotion and drama due to the storylines they go along with, and 3) I see stories in my head when I hear classical music. Even if I know what scene a song goes with, often my mind gives the music a totally different story. In this way, the music acts as inspiration.

A few others not pictured that I love:

  • The Last of the Mohicans
  • Becoming Jane
  • The Dutchess
  • North & South (BBC 2004)
  • Mansfield Park (1999)
  • Jane Eyre (2011)
  • Northanger Abbey
  • Wuthering Heights
  • Cider House Rules
  • Chocolat
  • Pretty much anything scored by Alexandre Desplat, Rachel Portman or Nico Muhly

What is your favorite music to listen to? Do you like film scores? If so, which ones? Do you imagine songs to go with your favorite books? If so, what’s on your list?

PS – Yes, I skipped last week’s blog challenge. I was busy and it was about hobbies – I don’t really have any outside of reading, writing book reviews, and research, which are related to my writing. 🙂

Mea Culpa! My Top 5 Common Writing Mistakes

Quick Writing Update
I’m busy working away on my non-fiction book on Guinevere – three research books away from writing. I’m going to try to do my own cover and format that myself. Right now I’m thinking a summer release. I’m also researching for Mistress of Legend. I already have some great new ideas on how to improve the draft I have. I’ll probably be writing on that one in late February. I’ll get back to more book-related blog posts around that time.

I’ve also decided to take a break from social media (Facebook and Twitter) for a while. It’s just not fun right now with all the political stuff. I’ll still be on my FB author page, Instagram and Pinterest, if you want to interact. If nothing else, this will give me more time to read/write.

On to the Blog
This week’s blog challenge is “Sorry, Editor! My Common Writing Mistakes.” No one is perfect (even though I like to think I am). No matter how hard I try, there are some mistakes that I make over and over again. My poor editor and proofreader are probably so sick of them. To compile this list, I went back and looked at previous edits to see what they pointed out.

  1. Comma splice – This is by far my most frequent offense. My proofreader is probably sick of writing “Comma splice. Em dash or ellipsis recommended if you want to pause for effect.” Here’s an example of a line I did wrong: “We didn’t have much experience seeking out the spirits; usually they came to us, and privately at that.” It should be “usually they came to us – and privately at that.” I seem to think commas are enough of a pause when they don’t really function the way I think they do in these cases.
  2. “Was” phrases – Because I write in past tense, I have a tendency to say things like “I was walking to the door when it suddenly opened from the other side.” Many times that can be better phrased as “I walked to the door…” The “was” makes the sentence more passive. I have to break myself of that habit.
  3. Forgetting “had” – Again, because I write in past tense, I sometimes forget that when you are talking about the past in a past-tense book, you need to use “had” to indicate the action took place in the past. For example: “My suggestion of a theme had come at the end of a long brainstorming session…” My tendency is to want to write “My suggestion for a theme came at the end…”
  4. Redundant phrases – I think a lot of people have problems with this, partly because of the way we speak. It’s common now to say things like “she was just a tiny little thing.” You really don’t need both “tiny” and “little” since they both mean the same thing. My most common mistake here is “sit down on the chair.” Where else are you going to sit, but down? You can sit up, but when you’re talking about being seated, down is the only way you can go, so you don’t really need that word.
  5. Typos/misspellings – I used to be an okay speller, but as I’ve gotten older and learned to rely on spell check, I’ve gotten bad at it. Part of it is because we don’t always say words the same way they are spelled. Plus, there are some words I have a mental block against, like “convenient.” Typos are more of an early draft thing, but sometimes they make it into the published book. (Eeeeek!) Missing words tend to be most prevalent, I guess because I’ve read it so many times I see it as it is supposed to be rather than how it is. Also, my brain moves faster than my fingers so sometimes not all the words make the transition from mind to keyboard. I seriously love readers who point out the typos they see so I can get them fixed.

Plus, every writer has tics that show up in a book. In Madame Presidentesss, everyone smiled and nodded a lot. In Been Searching for You, people pointed with things a lot – pens, forks, etc. In Daughter of Destiny, I kept emphasising Morgan’s red hair to the point that my editor commented something like, “OMG, she has red hair. We get it.” Whoopsie.

 We all write in some form or another, whether it’s in email, social media, blogs, for our jobs or for books. What are some of your bad habits? Please tell me I’m not alone!

Updates and I Admit to Being a 1st Person POV Author

Sometimes this is how I feel when writing in first person POV. Plus, I love this movie. And it    IS all about me, darn it!

Sometimes this is how I feel when writing in first person POV. Plus, I love this movie. And it IS all about me, darn it!

  1. I’ll be attending the Chicago River North RWA Chapter’s Spring Fling event next May. Because I’m hoping to do a signing there (it is the city where the book takes place, after all – Annabeth will be so happy!), I’ve moved the publication date of Been Searching for You up from May 23 to May 16. That doesn’t really affect anything now, but thought you would want to know.
  2. On Friday, I’ll have a guest post at Daemons Domain about the All Souls Convention that was September 12 in Los Angeles. It was so much fun! Be sure to check it out. I’ll post a link here once it’s live.
  3. Been Searching for You (under its old title, He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not) made the final-final found in the Molly contest! Results will be announced in October.
  4. I have the proofread copy of Daughter of Destiny back and as soon as two more sets of eyes (and mine) read through it one more time, it goes off to the formatter. It’s starting to look like a real book..

Okay, so my point in writing was really to finally admit I’m a first-person POV author and likely always will be. I think I’ve just gotten used to it after writing Guinevere’s books for so many years. Plus, I tend to write fictional biographies, so it makes sense that my characters would tell their stories in their own words.

I tried third person with Victoria in Madame Presidentess mainly because it came out of my fingers that way – plus I didn’t want to look like a one-trick pony – but I’m now planning on changing the POV of the whole book to first person. A lot of work? Yes. But I feel that it’s necessary.

I came to this conclusion after several rejections from agents saying they just didn’t connect to Victoria emotionally. I think some of that may be due to the narrative distance that third person (even deep POV) gives you. So I’ve decided to go back and change the whole thing, plus take another agent’s advice and add in a section at the beginning showing you her early years. I think that will help you understand why she does some of the things she does later in life. Thank God this one doesn’t come out until July!

Looking forward, I envision a few books that will have multiple first-person POVs. I’ll use the person’s name at the beginning of each chapter so you know whose head you are in. I can think of three off the top of my head. One will have only his and hers chapters that will likely alternate and another will have *counts on fingers* four different POV characters (well, five, but one takes over after another one dies…). That will be an interesting experience to write, especially when I get into the male first person characters. The other will also be dual time period, so that might get tricky, but I’ll figure it out.

Long story short, if you pick up a book from me, it’s 99% likely it’s going to be written in first person. I’m just not good at third. But hey, they are my stories and I have to do what’s best for them, right? And I’m likely to write in past tense. Present tense doesn’t make sense to me for historical fiction and irritates me a lot even in contemporary books.

Do you have a POV preference as a reader? Do you care or are you more interested in the story? Personally, I think there’s an intimacy to first person that third usually lacks in all but the most skilled of hands. Agree or disagree? Why? Do you think an author should write in a range of POVs or stick to what he/she knows? Discuss.

New Book Titles Selected

I wasn’t thinking it would happen this fast, but my best friend Courtney and I did some brainstorming yesterday and came up with new titles for both books. Thank you to everyone who gave suggestions.

The new titles are:

Daughter of Destiny (was Guinevere of Northgallis)
(Other two books in the series are Camelot’s Queen and Mistress of Legend)

Been Searching for You (was He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not)

I’ll be able to tell you in a bit why I needed these new titles. You will be very happy when I do. Now I need to go and change them throughout this site.

Your Help Needed: New Titles for 2 of my Books

book titleI’m excited to finally be able to involve all of you loyal readers in an important part of the book creation process! Two of my books need new titles and I’m looking to you for help and suggestions. If your title is picked or your word suggestion is key in coming up with the final title, you will be mentioned by name (unless you tell me otherwise) in the acknowledgements included in the book, and you will receive a free digital advanced copy of the book as soon as it becomes available. I’ll report back on the final decision here once I’ve made it.

Here’s what I need from you: What titles do you think fit the descriptions of the books below? If you don’t want to think of a full title, what words or phrases would make you want to pick up the book? Short titles tend to stick in people’s minds better, so I’m aiming for no more than four words. (I’ll do the research later as to whether or not a title is already taken; you don’t have to worry about that unless you want to.)

Re-title #1: Guinevere of Northgallis
This was always a working title and I’ve never been happy with it. This is the story of Guinevere’s life before King Arthur. I want something that says Arthurian legend (but not literally) when you read it. I want you to know right away that this book is connected to the story of Camelot, but is Guinevere’s story. The two other books in the series are titled Camelot’s Queen (book 2 – someone else already took Queen of Camelot, darn it!) and Mistress of Legend (book 3) – these are final titles that I love. I want something that fits with these. The trilogy will collectively be called Guinevere’s Tale.

Book description (This may well end up being the back cover copy):

Before queenship and Camelot, Guinevere was a priestess of Avalon. She loved another before Arthur, a warrior who would one day betray her.

In the war-torn world of late fifth century Britain, young Guinevere faces a choice: stay with her family to defend her home at Northgallis from the Irish, or go to Avalon to seek help for the horrific visions that haunt her. The Sight calls her to Avalon, where she meets Morgan, a woman of questionable parentage who is destined to become her rival. As Guinevere matures to womanhood, she gains the powers of a priestess, and falls in love with a man who will be both her deepest love and her greatest mistake.

Just when Guinevere is able to envision a future in Avalon, tragedy forces her back home, into a world she barely recognizes, one in which her pagan faith, outspokenness, and proficiency in the magical and military arts are liabilities. When a chance reunion with her lover leads to disaster, she is cast out of Northgallis and into an uncertain future. As a new High King comes to power, Guinevere must navigate a world of political intrigue where unmarried women are valuable commodities and seemingly innocent actions can have life-altering consequences.

You may think you know the story of Guinevere, but you’ve never heard it like this: in her own words. Listen and you will hear the true story of Camelot and its queen.

What are your thoughts? Please let me know in the comments below.

Re-title #2: He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not
I LOVE this title, but unfortunately, someone else recently released a book with the same title. There is no rule or law that two books can’t have the same title, but it causes confusion when readers search for the book and I’d like to avoid that.

This book is a light, beach-read love story. I consider it a romantic comedy. Beyond the love story, it’s about maturing and learning to trust, as well as the power of literature and education to change lives. It’s not a steamy book, but that was done on purpose (in fact, my historicals are way more graphic), though it is made clear who is having sex. There’s plenty of snark and adult language to distinguish it from the inspirational side of sweet.

I’m looking for something that says fun, entertaining love story. One thing that may help you in thinking of a title is that the book takes place in Chicago, and the location is very important to the story.

Book description (not finalized):

Annabeth is a hopeless romantic who believes in soul mates. In fact, she’s been writing to hers each year on her birthday since she was 16. Now, at 34, she’s still holding out hope of finding Mr. Right even though he’d be fighting an uphill battle to gain her trust, thanks to a traumatic experience years before with her childhood friend/college boyfriend, Nick.

When Annabeth meets a handsome literature professor named Alex on her 34th birthday, she thinks her quest may be at an end. But things don’t quite go as planned, so Annabeth resolves to do everything she can over the next year to get over her issues and find the unknown recipient of her letters. This leads to many awkward and humorous dating incidents, culminating in the unexpected reappearance of Alex, her handsome birthday boy, as a work client. Just when Annabeth thinks her life can’t get any more confusing, Nick comes crashing back into her life, turning her world on its head and forcing her to face all of her old insecurities and unresolved feelings.

Written in the tradition of Bridget Jones’ Diary, Kim Gruenfelder’s A Total Waste of Makeup, and Melissa Pimental’s Love By The Book, this novel shows love on the sweet side and would be right at home on the Hallmark Channel or Lifetime.

Thoughts? Ideas? Please leave them in the comments.

I really appreciate all of you and I hope you have fun with this. I really want to involve my readers in the book process as I can and I hope you enjoy this first opportunity to help shape the books you’ll soon be reading.

 

Summer Writing Challenge: Beach Witch

I don't know the source of this, but it would be my ideal book cover for Beach Witch. If anyone knows whose image it is, please tell me. I'd love to give credit.

I don’t know the source of this, but it would be my ideal book cover for Beach Witch. If anyone knows whose image it is, please tell me. I’d love to give credit.

The Challenge: Can a Midwestern, land-locked writer successfully tell a contemporary tale set in a magical (fictional) seaside town in Virginia using only these things as inspiration?

  • A local man-made lake with a beach
  • A pool
  • A CD of ocean waves
  • One day on Santa Monica Beach in September
  • Her imagination
  • A Pinterest board

I hope the answer is yes, because that’s what I’ll be spending the next few months doing! Because of other trips I have planned (like the one to LA in September), I don’t have the time/money to visit the real-life area the town is located in, so I’m going to have to do the best I can with what I have access to.

I can’t wait to introduce you guys to this town, because I love it. The plot is still taking shape, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to end up as light (read: happy) women’s fiction with a bit of magical realism, which is ironic because I don’t normally like magical realism. The working title is Beach Witch (which I don’t like and will change, but it has to have something for now). It’s about a 30-something woman’s struggle to find her purpose in life with the help of her family in this strange little town. And yes, there is a love story. Think of it as Sarah Addison Allen’s Garden Spells meets Barbara Davis’ The Wishing Tide.

Also Happening: I’ll also be researching my next historical fiction novel, which I hope to start in the fall. I can’t say who it’s about, but it’s another 19th century American woman who is little known. Her story is totally different from Victoria’s and she isn’t in any way involved with politics or women’s suffrage. It also takes place in a totally different part of the country, which is going to stretch my research and writing skills and my imagination. But it’s one I HAVE TO TELL NOW. She’s in my head and she wants to be heard.

Plus, I’ll be starting my DIY MFA as I finish plotting Beach Witch. Will let you know how that goes.

Any other suggestions for bringing the ocean to a land-locked girl? Thoughts on Beach Witch?