Introvert? Empath? Good Literary Citizen? (2 of 3)

I suck at social obligations.

Three Myers Briggs tests have found me to be an off-the-chart introvert, and my abilities as an empath once made me fear I was secretly from Deanna Troi’s home planet. It’s not a great combination. If I have to go somewhere, I soak up everything around me and it leaves me drained.

This doesn’t mean I can’t function around people. I’m practiced at faking normality. (Aren’t we all?) What it does mean is if I have to deal with people for very much or for very long, I can’t write.

The first time I heard the phrase Good Literary Citizen, my heart sank.

You see, I agree with the principals behind the idea, but I’m horribly suited to putting them in practice. Over the years, I’ve found three avenues that work for me, at least in limited quantities. I’ve found corollaries of these that have the capability to be my kryptonite. This second post covers one of these sets. (See the first post. See the third one.)

A Problem:

Engaging in chit chat stimulates many people. Some find it relaxing, others create better when they feel less alone. Most conversation happens to drain me, but the online kind is particularly exhausting. People can and will say any old stupid thing from the safety of their computer, and the conversation just keeps on going.

Please, please don’t make me respond to any more people on Facebook, or try to sound witty or important on Goodreads, or, you get the idea … I really don’t like this. And yet, online is where most of the conversation is happening.

A Solution:

I’ve found online forums and blogs that I find worthwhile, and you can do the same. There are  amazing sources of information online for writers. What you will find useful is different than what I will, but we can all seek out what speaks to us. Then read, enjoy and support them.

One of my favorites is a blog called Mythcreants. Self-described as “Fantasy & Science Fiction for Storytellers” it offers a wealth of ideas for avoiding common writing mistakes and I’ve been reading it for years. I still have a link to Four Tips for Depicting Disabled Characters, a post I reread several times as I developed Violeta, my telepath with an old judo injury that forced her to walk with a cane. I like to think she was the better for the fine advice I was offered. Another post entitled Why We Shouldn’t Be Fighting Over Trigger Warnings convinced me to add trigger warnings to the descriptions of two of my books.

I’ve recently come to enjoy Fantasy Book Critic and have been following along with their reviews as part of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off. This has given me the chance to read detailed analyses of what other self-published authors are doing, sometimes along with interviews of the authors. While I think this keeps me more in touch with what is happening out there, I do need to be careful. Sometimes too much reading about how great other books are can leave me discouraged about my own. There is a balance to be struck.

What to Avoid:

My kryptonite in this arena is clearly comments. I’ve learned to stay away from them. Do not engage. I’m not all that quick about these things, anyway, so by the time I read a post, dozens of people have already expressed themselves. Even I did have something interesting to add, it’s usually been said, and often several times.

I do like and follow the blogs I enjoy, and try to do the same for the writers providing the material. There are other ways to provide support, too. Some places ask for donations. I donate. Some get mentioned in my own posts, some on twitter. It’s possible to spread around appreciation without getting drawn into a conversation. For me, that’s the way to do it.

 

Can you sell books on Facebook? Can I?

I received a lot of excellent advice about marketing my books a year ago (thank you Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) but much of it boiled down to this. Concentrate on Amazon and Facebook ads and stop trying to do everything everywhere else.

I liked the simplicity of it. I bought the recommended books on how to use ads on each platform, rolled up my sleeves and got started.

Amazon has been a rocky journey so far, but I am selling books and making progress. Part of my problem is Amazon changed the types of ads available to authors about the time I dove in, so Amazon’s tools for picking my target audience were greatly diminished.

In contrast, Facebook offers the promise of being able to select potential ad readers with a LASER like precision. Oh boy.

For my first novel, I sought out mature women who liked science fiction and fantasy, were interested in telepathy and (I’d been told this was very important) liked or owned a kindle. Wahoo. This group was going to LOVE my spec fiction e-novel about Lola, a forty-something telepath. I mean, how many of those are out there?

It took no time at all for me to have 4823 such women view my ad 10,527 times and click on my link 275 times. It took no time at all for me to spend  $48.98 to make this happen and to sell, you guessed it, not a single book.

Maybe it was a fluke. My second novel is about a young gay male who can alter his appearance. I sought out gay men who liked fantasy novels and had kindles. Before I knew it, 3,472 of them clicked my ad 201 times and bought zero books. I spent $36.64. I was starting to see a pattern.

My working theory was that when people saw my ads on their kindle, or while they were shopping for books on Amazon, they at least were thinking about books. Or buying things. In either case it wasn’t such a large leap to consider buying my book. On the other hand, people scurrying around on Facebook aren’t shopping or thinking about reading. It’s much more of mental detour to make a purchase.

I thought my third novel, though, was different. Twists of Time deals specifically with the damage white nationalism can do, not only to the minorities it targets, but also to the community as a whole. Furthermore, the book has a lot to say about the Dream Act. It addresses why such legislation is needed (though the life of a fictional character), and it provides a lot of historical context most readers are likely to be unaware of.

Perfect for Facebook, right?

I designed my first ad to include a reference to white nationalism. Then I sought out science fiction and fantasy fans who liked time travel stories, had a kindle, and — here was the good part — had expressed an interest in the Dream Act. This was going to be so easy.

Within minutes I had a horrified teacher somewhere forwarding my ad onto her friends claiming I was promoting white nationalism is schools. What?

I changed my ad to make it non-political, and tried again with the same audience.

Within minutes I had some troller claiming he could make time pass more slowly anytime he talked to a democrat.

Alright. Enough of this shit.

To be honest, I did make a few more tweaks and try a few more things, on this book as well as  the first two and the fourth one. My options seems to be (1) pay for a lot of clicks with no results or (2) getting the sort of attention I truly don’t want. Here’s the final tallies.

No, I’m not proud of spending $186.14 for advertising that didn’t produce a single sale, but I guess it does show I don’t give up easily.

If anyone out there is selling books on Facebook, I’d love to hear about it.

Maybe once I get better at designing ads for Amazon, I’ll come back to Facebook and give it another try. Then again, maybe not.

 

So that’s what he really looks like?

My vision of main character Alex was always more emotional then physical.  He was solid, dependable, someone to rely on and hang on to. Okay, he was also tall and blondish, but that was about all I knew.

My first cover for Twists of Time (originally published as z2) showed an outline of the man, and I sort of liked the vagueness of this portrayal.

When I decided to rename my books, I needed new covers. Current fashion is to show the characters, so it looked like I had to find someone who could show the world what Alex really looked like. I found a group called Deranged Doctor Design.

I decided to tolerate the model they selected for Alex, even though I wasn’t crazy about him. He really didn’t look like Alex to me, but I felt like I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted and if I gave it some time then maybe this one would grow on me.

Lucky for me, my sister disagreed. She didn’t know what Alex looked like either, but she was so positive it wasn’t this that she went to Shutterstock and emailed me photos of several other models.

Okay, it looked like we’d have to find another Alex. Option one she sent was clearly too young, but the other six could work. I went searching for any of them.

Man number four was easy to find, and I asked the fine folks at DDD if we could use him. Back came the new Alex and I knew he was right.

When it came time to create the last cover, we needed Alex to make a second appearance, but not with an identical face. This particular model had dozens of photos to choose from, but unfortunately most of them had one of two expressions. Alex was either grinning, or looking puzzled. (Or both.) And on this cover, we needed Alex to be a bit menacing.

The first attempt worked for me, but I got a lot of push back from others who thought Alex looked sneaky because he was looking away. Well that wasn’t the intent, so I asked DDD to see what they could do. I was pretty pleased with the eye surgery they performed, and when I saw the final product, I knew this was what Alex really looked like.

 

Coming down the slide in 10 days

I remember the feeling of walking to the top of a high, convoluted slide in a water park and thinking I spent 45 minutes in line to get here. Why? Do I really want to go down this thing?

I always did go down, of course, because I’d spent 45 minutes trying to get there.

There was the first rush of panic, followed by a whoosh of tummy tickling pleasure, then a sadness to have it end, probably 30 seconds or so after it started. It was usually followed by an irrational desire to get in line and do it again.

It’s been a while since I’ve done that, but the past three months have had a similar feel. With each new novel I’ve released, the level of complexity of the tasks has increased, making each slide seem higher and feel more twisty.

I’m nearing the end of my slow 45 minute trek up the steps on book 3. The complexity comes from the fact that I’m  juggling more each time. The audio version of book 1 is in progress and requires my input. Newly released book 2 is in sore need of publicity. Book 4 is blissfully dormant but book 5 is getting edited, while the designers are starting on the cover for book 6 and have quite a few questions.

I feel apprehensive and drawn five different directions and I’m wondering why I thought walking up here and going down this was such a good idea. On March 16 I’ll be at the top, submitting manuscripts and covers and pushing the publish button once again, hoping for 24-hour turn around on the approval so I can claim a St. Patrick’s Day publication date just for fun.

Then it’s whoosh, and whee, and that was fun, followed by can I do it again? Yes, I can and probably will.

 

All Done and I’m Still Not Sure

Arrrghhh. Working with a professional designer on a cover is great fun, but it also can bring out the worst in me. I’m a perfectionist, at least about the things that matter to me, and my books matter to me a lot. I’m also a people pleaser. I hate to be a pest. The result is I tend to say I’m okay with something, when I’m really not.

You can see how these two impulses could combine to cause a problem.

My first two covers went pretty well. With the first one I accepted some things I didn’t like (Lola’s red lipstick, Somadina was supposed to be tall) because overall I liked the direction we were going and I wasn’t sure how many changes I could request. Plus, how much does lipstick and height of a character on a cover really matter?

On my second one I pushed harder to get Zane exactly right, and I’m glad I did. I’m lucky that Afi was perfect on the first try and the background was beautiful by attempt number two. The nice people I was working with seemed okay with my persisting on a single issue (Zane), and I couldn’t be happier than I am with the cover we ended up with.

I feel like I’ve strained the relationship, however, with cover three.  Two variables were perfect right from the start. I loved Xuha, and loved the Maya ruins the designer had found for the background.

But I wasn’t happy with Alex’s head or his body (two different elements with this designer.)  I was really unhappy with the first circle of yellow light that looked too much like the first book. My problem was that I tried to complain about only one thing at a time. (It seemed more polite.) So as the designer fixed one thing and thought she was done, back I came with something else I wanted different. I can understand her frustration.

She varied the light. I didn’t really like it. She changed Alex’s head. That was good. Then I didn’t like his body. She did new forms of light. She suggested five different bodies. She made the light swath different colors. More transparent. She added more white light behind the men. The more she dinked, the more I didn’t know what I wanted. Finally I decided it was time to stop whining and call it good.

But is it good? I do like the background, Xuha and Alex (now) but I’m still not happy with the use of light. The swath in front still looks too much like a feather boa, and the light from behind doesn’t have the power I wanted to see. But I’m at a loss for how to fix it.

So I finally said “This will do.”

Now I’m having buyers remorse. I opened up an editing program and tried to cartoon in what I wanted to see. Then, when I stepped back and looked at what I’d done I realized I didn’t really like it any better. Arrrghhh. Here is the final cover, followed by my two attempts to improve it. What do you think? Do I go back and offer to pay to have revisions made? Or do I tell myself to take a few deep breaths, maybe go have a glass of wine, and decide this cover is just what it’s meant to be?

Final cover

I add more light

I play with the light

Not my new cover, but I’m still having fun ….

Wahoo! I just got the first draft of the new cover for Twists of time.  I do love the work done by these fine people at Deranged Doctor Design. Yes this cover is cool. Yes this will need some tweaking. But go ahead and take a peak, and then I’ll share the input I sent back. If the past is any indication of the future, I expect something closer to the mark sometime tomorrow or the next day.

Things I love (and don’t want changed):
1. Mayan ruins in background
2. Model you found for Xuhu
3. The yellowish clouds, and feeling of sun behind clouds
4. The way the title color works with the rest of the cover
 
Things I’m okay with either keeping or with changing:
1. Model you found for Alex
 
Things that have to be fixed:
1. Relative height. Xuha is on the short side. Alex is a former college basketball player. I assume images can be shrunk or squeezed to achieve this effect?
2. Hair — Alex is described throughout the book as a sandy blonde. I’m fine with you lightening his hair and making him taller if you can, or with finding a taller, blonder guy
 
Things I’d like to have fixed:
1. Much less blue or better yet no blue sky on cover. More clouds instead.
2. Yellower clouds, at least at edges.
3. The circle of light around them looks too much like the first cover. Can we do something more unique? Maybe it somehow involves a twist? (It’s fine if it doesn’t …..)

My Eye-opening Second Reason for Writing

Over the past few years I’ve learned what it would take to climb a mountain in the Himalayas. I’ve studied supply lists for crossing the Pacific as a single sailor. I’ve wrapped my arms around high-frequency trading, come to understand the damage caused by oil exploration in the Niger Delta, and learned the history of U.S. immigration laws. It has been one hell of an adult education program.

My degree, if you will, is the six novels I’ve authored. I’ve discovered that the information living in my brain because of them is one of the seven reasons I write books.

Couldn’t you go research all these things and more, and not bother with the writing part, you might ask? It would be a fine question. Of course I could, but I probably wouldn’t. I’m curious about so many things, but my ability to get myself to sit down and learn about them instead of goofing off is pretty limited. Unless I’m doing it for one of my books. Then I will spend hours on it.

I’ve recently returned to participating in writers’ group, and that has started this reflecting on why I write. At a recent meeting, one writer was trying to describe the subject matter of Philip Roth’s books. “Anything he got a wild hair up his ass about,” she said.  I had to laugh, not only because it was apt, but because she had described one of the chief joys of writing.

You get to pick something you care about, anything that interests you, and then go learn enough to begin to weave a story. You don’t know where your imagination or your research will take you, but between the two of them you can bet it will be somewhere fascinating.

I haven’t only learned from research. The very act of producing books has forced me to to become more acquainted with software, graphics, and photo licensing. I’ve had to brush up my grammar. Do you know when to use “a while” and when to use “awhile”?  I do, now.

Writing has also forced me to stay more current with idioms and kept me more politically correct. No one says “on the QT” anymore, but “on the DL” is still used. Really? It is better to call a mentally challenged child cognitively impaired? Okay. Glad I know.

My ad hoc education program hasn’t been restricted to me, either. Others have been kind enough to seek out information for me in their own fields, leaving friends and relatives familiar with Mayan numbers and civil war battles. (Yes, my husband really did attend a re-enactment to help me with a book.)

Much of my education has come from the intriguing people I’ve been exposed to because of my writing. There is a lady in Denmark who shared her vacation photos from Iceland with me, to make d4 more realistic. Four wonderful women from India helped me with information and cultural sensitivity as I wrote c3. One went a step further, working with me to create a Sanskrit word needed for the story. I had taken a stab at it, using internet translation, and she laughed at my result. She took the problem to her father, a scholar who speaks Sanskrit, and “Jvalalaya, the Abode of Light” was born.

As I work to overcome the inertia and start a new series of books, the thrill of learning draws me forward. I have a giant “to read” pile already, much of it on artificial intelligence, which will play a large role in the world I am building. Anticipation of creating this world has me headed off in two very different directions this summer, attending two fabulous yet odd events I would have passed on without the added impetus of “this will really help me with the next novel.”

Yes, sometimes writing gets me up out of my chair to take in the world.

Of course, this still doesn’t explain what drives me to keep on with all the other time-consuming pieces of putting together a book. For that, I’m going to need to take a hard look at the other five reasons I spend most of my free time creating novels.

(Read more about why I write at The Number One Reason I Write Books, Nothing cool about modest ambitions  and I write because it’s cheaper than therapy.)