Thursday, April 27, 2017

Trying something new



KIM, in her late 30s, sits at a cluttered desk in a guest bedroom/office space and types furiously on her laptop. She stops and addresses the audience.

I'm trying to write a screenplay.
If it isn't obvious, I don't know what the hell I'm doing.

There are shouts and the sound of children squealing, their feet scampering across the floor, and then the sound of something crashing. Kim looks up at the ceiling.

That can't be good. I'll be right back.

She jumps from her chair and hustles upstairs.


Hey, folks. It's KGG. In case you haven't noticed, this little snippet is my attempt at screenwriting. Pretty pathetic, right? Well, this scene, yeah, if you can call it that. But not, trying a new format.

I've been itching to learn screenwriting. Not because I have a great idea for a film. [I wish I could back in time and tell my 22-year-old self to be adventurous and move to LA and work in TV, but that ship has long sailed.] But because I want to learn something new. To challenge myself in a way that is different from novel writing. To vary my routine and my work. Some authors might try a new genre, I'm going to try a new medium.

For Hanukkah, I got Syd Field's Screenplay: The Foundation of Screenwriting and The Screenwriter's Workbook, two must-have tomes. I was always a writer, but I had to teach myself story craft. I've spent years (still am) reading books on plot, characterization, world-building. No different with screenwriting. Would I love to take a screenwriting class? Yes! Can I afford to do so right now? No. So, right now I'm analyzing scripts and reading books and listening to the Writers Panel podcast. I do have an idea for a television show that would be fun to work on in between novel projects. In the meantime, I sort of walk around narrating things like in a screenplay. "Kim pushes the grocery cart through the store. She picks up a box of cereal, reads the ingredients, grimaces, puts it back on the shelf, and continues down the aisle just as a young boy comes running around the corner, knocking over a display of Corn Pops."

It's not Scorsese, people.

Some may be wondering why I'm bothering. I mean, I have limited time: shouldn't my focus be on novel writing? Except, screenwriting does inform my novel writing. Reading the Veronica Mars pilot script reminds me that I should incorporate more snappy dialogue into my scenes. Studying Don Draper's mannerisms tells me that my characters need more personality quirks to make them real. Studying Mickey Milkovich's speech in Shameless teaches me to build characters with a distinct way of talking. And goddammit, use props. I am always struggling on what people should do with their hands while they're having a discussion.

I do plan on writing a screenplay of my TV pilot. One day. It's a learning curve, but I plan to tackle it.

Plenty of novelists write screenplays. Do you?

Monday, April 24, 2017

3 Ways Pets Can Enhance Your Story

We’ve had our cat since she was the size of my palm. She’s now almost 12 and, while small for a cat, is much bigger than my palm.

After I rescued her, I worked for one week and then went on a leave of absence during my pregnancy. She got used to having me (or rather my lap) all to herself for 9 months. Then came a screaming ‘thing’ that quickly started to move and chase after her. To this day, the cat still hates the kid. But the cat as been my buddy, and was happy when I left work once again to stay home. She even wrote a post for me once here on Across the Board.

Then, about a year ago, we got a puppy.

We weren’t sure how the cat would react to the dog, but it’s been better than we anticipated. There are even times when the cat will initiate the playing.

Having both in the house has given me the opportunity to observe them closely. I love their little personalities—how in some ways they are very similar but mostly they are very different. I then got to thinking about pets in books. Out of the books I’ve read recently, very few had pets included. When there was a pet, it was usually a dog and only sometimes a cat.

Including pets in fictional stories should not be overlooked. Here are 3 good reasons why you should consider it.

1. Pets add a layer of realism.
According to the Pet Products Association, 62 percent of Americans own at least one pet. That means a good majority of your readers are likely to be pet owners, or at least owned a pet at some point in their life. Giving your protagonist a pet will make them seem more realistic and approachable to your reader.

2. Pets can enhance a character’s personality.
There have been several studies* that look at the personalities of pet owners, which can be applied to fictional characters as well. Using pets can be a very effective way of highlighting your characters personality using the old ‘show don’t tell’ philosophy. I’ve summarized some of the more common pets below and traits they can help bring out in your characters.

In general, dog owners are considered to be outgoing, loyal, and honest. Dogs also require a lot of attention and responsibility, so if your character is unreliable, a dog is not the right pet to include! 

Cat owners tend to be more introverted, adventurous, creative, and sensitive. Give your independent and highly active character a cat. They’re pretty self-sufficient so your busy on-the-go protagonist won’t be tied down. 

Fish owners have a reputation for being the most content of all pet owners. They are non-materialistic and optimistic.

3. Pets can add depth to your story.
Don’t just use pets as character enhancements. Get creative and use them to help drive certain plot elements. Have your pets cause mayhem, interject humor, create trauma, provide healing—the opportunities are endless. Some examples for the types of pets listed above are:
  • A dog can allow your tougher-than-nails hero show a moment of vulnerability. A loyal dog is a perfect outlet for a character who doesn’t like to let his guard down.
  • If you’re going with a cat, use their reputation of sass and an ‘I’ll do what I want’ attitude to your advantage. Maybe the cat pees in the shoes of your heroine’s new boyfriend.
  • Fish might seem like a boring add to a fictional story, but throw in a beautiful fish tank and let it lead moments of retrospection for your character.

There are many more pet options available than what I’ve listed here—birds, reptiles, bunnies, hamsters, horses, ferrets . . . Don’t just resort to a dog or cat every time you want to include a pet in your novel. Get into character and figure out which pet is best. Do your research just as thoroughly as you would any other aspect of your book. There’s loads of information online, but you should also consider a trip to your local pet store. Ask the experts some questions, or what they would recommend for someone that fits the description of your character. You might even be able to hold the animal you are considering.

So don’t forget to include a little furry (or scaly) friend in your next novel!

~ Carrie

Monday, April 17, 2017

Tips for Authors Doing Their First Edit

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!

Hey, all!

I hope everything's going well for you.  I'm hip-deep in the middle of...well, let's just be frank, about fifty projects right now.  But at the top of my priority list is edits for my upcoming collaboration with Stevie Kopas, SLASHVIVOR! from Sinister Grin Press.

Thinking about what to write about today, it occurred to me that there is a hell of a lot of advice out there regarding how to self-edit and how to be an editor - read it aloud, check for junk words, print it out and use a red marker, etc., etc. - but not so much advice about how to behave when you've received notes from your editor.

Seems like a no-brainer, right?  You get notes from your editor, and you make the changes, bingo bango.  Well...not so much.  And I've had to hold hands with so many authors going through their first edit, that it occurs to me this might be a hole in our collective internet consciousness.  People may either be scared or ashamed to admit that they have questions or concerns about working with an editor, or they may just be so excited to actually have a book deal that they just let themselves be bowled over when they shouldn't.  

So today I'm going to talk a little bit about how to handle your first edit.  Let me know in the comments if you have any input or further questions.

1.)  You're going to feel overwhelmed.

Every author has a secret dream.  After slaving away on a manuscript for months, possibly years, they wouldn't even send it out if they didn't think it was perfect.  And, secretly, we all hope that when editorial notes come back they'll simply say, "No matter how hard I search I can't find a single flaw."

To my knowledge, that dream's never come true.  (Although I think we've all heard rumors about HARRY POTTER IV and more than a few of Stephen King's works.)  In fact, it's not going to be anything like that.  Your manuscript is going to come back riddled with red ink and thought bubbles, and quite possibly with a separate letter listing overarching concerns.  I've personally received editorial letters of upwards of nineteen pages.

The reason we all secretly hope we'll get that "perfect kill" note is that this is all very scary.  Because if you thought your manuscript was perfect, how is it possible that there are thousands upon thousands of flaws?

I'll just say this: don't fret.  Or, more accurately, go ahead and fret.  Fret for a few hours or days.  Piss and moan and groan to all of your author friends about your nineteen-page letter.  But then relax.  Go in and make the few hundred easy changes.  (Missed capitalizations and so forth.)  Then it won't seem so bad.  Then make a few hundred more middling changes.  Then you'll be halfway done and it'll seem downright manageable,  Don't feel bad about feeling overwhelmed.  Just don't let it paralyze you.

2.)  Learn to love track changes.

This is kind of a nuts and bolts thing.  I should probably entertain at the beginning of this section that not everyone writes in Microsoft Word, and all kinds of other programs are perfectly serviceable and blah blah blah.  Okay, has that pointless thought been fully entertained for the benefit of those who are going to complain about it?  Okay, now that we've dispensed with that, let's deal with the fact that you're writing in Microsoft Word and your editor is responding using track changes.

Let's take a look:

This is what track changes look like in case you've never seen them before.  

Now, a brief tutorial.  To get to track changes you want to click on your "Review" tab.  You turn track changes on by clicking on the bottom portion of the "Track Changes" button (1.)  (You should actually turn track changes off when you receive notes back from your editor.  Basically, you'll be making the changes they've requested and you want them to stick.)

You can simply accept or reject your editor's suggestions using the appropriate button (2.)  If it's more complicated than that, get into the document and make your changes manually.  To see a list of all the changes your editor has made, you can use the reviewing pane by clicking the appropriate button (3.)  You can also leave thought bubbles for your editor by clicking "New Comment" (4.)  Delete hers as you make the requested changes by right-clicking the bubble and selecting "delete."

Here's what a text with track changes looks like.  I've deliberately chosen a section of "Hamlet," (you know, the most famous play in the English language) to prove a point.  I can fuck with Shakespeare, so don't worry about your editor fucking with you.  It doesn't make you a bad writer.

Those little black lines on the far left indicate a row has changes in it.  Actual changes look just like red ink.  (When multiple people are working on a manuscript, their changes will appear in different colors.)  The highlighted portions belong to a particular comment.  Comments are also color-coded, and they also list the initials of the person who made them, as well as how many comments there are.  So SK4 is my fourth comment.

3.)  This is a back-and-forth

Here's what I think kills a lot of authors on their first edit: they feel compelled to bow their editor's every whim.  I will say this: I agree that you should address an editor's every concern.  But when I say "address" I don't mean "automaticaly acquiesce."  Editors are (gasp!) human, just like you, and they make mistakes, just like you.

So picture, if you will, (and, yes, this has happened to me) you reach a change in your manuscript that is just plain wrong.  You had it right the first time, so you dust off your Webster's and google five different sources, and all are in agreement: the way you had the words originally was correct.  Are you going to go ahead and make that change just because your editor said to?  Well, if you do, you're a weak-willed worm, so I guess there's not much I can do for you.  But the correct answer, of course, is no.  You reject it.  Maybe you even leave a thought bubble saying that you double-checked and couldn't find anything wrong with it as written.

Now I want you to just expand that concept to your entire manuscript, even down to the things that are a matter of taste.  Don't be afraid to have a discussion with your editor about something you disagree with.  It's not like talking back to a teacher in school.  It's like having a dialogue with a business partner.  (Golly jeepers, in fact, now that I think about it, it actually is that.)

4.)  That being said, don't be a tool

Now, when I say this is a back-and-forth, please, for the love of God, don't take that as carte blanche to fight everything your editor says.  And if you do, don't mention my name.

Here's a piece of really tangible, really easy advice.  Remember when I said up front that you should go through and take the hundred or so easy, impossible-to-fight-about changes, and just make them?  Let me expand on that a little bit.  I recommend you take every editorial change you can live with and just go ahead and make them.

Did your editor change some wording you kind of liked?  Ask yourself: can I live with it.  Did your editor fuss about a form of address or something kind of finnicky?  Ask yourself: can I live with it.  And on every single change where the answer is "I can live with it" go ahead and change that.

Now here's why I say that: because you need to pick your battles.  There are going to be a few things in this manuscript that you simply cannot bear to change.  That you nailed, that you're certain of, that your every authorial instinct is telling you needs to stay, even if the editor didn't get it, even if the first ten readers won't get it.  It needs to stay because you nailed that shit and you could write a book about why you nailed that shit and you don't care if only one thirteen-year-old kid in Omaha, Nebraska ever gets why.

Now there are two possibilities with those kinds of issues.  The first is that you have fought and kicked and moaned and fussed about every little Oxford comma and italicization.  In which case, your genuine concerns get lumped in with all your crap concerns under the umbrella of, "This is a problem author."  And guess what you don't want to be labeled as?  Guess what happens when your publisher tells other publishers that you're a problem author?  Now, you might get your way, but you might also be surprised to find out that suddenly that publisher isn't interested in your sequel anymore.  This is not to scare you, this is just to say: don't be a tool.

The other possibility is that you come off as a reasonable, well-educated author who has a few concerns.  You've agreed with pretty much every change, even the ones that are a scoche questionable.  Suddenly your five or six "I can't live with this" problems seem like the product of an author who cares about his work instead of a whiner.  And guess what?  Your editor cares about your work being the best it can be, too.  So suddenly you have a reputation as a dedicated professional who's easy to work with, but doesn't just bend over every time an editor snaps his fingers.  Now guess what happens when that reputation starts to make the rounds?

Or, in short: don't be a tool.


How about you?  What are your tips and tricks for surviving your first edit?

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Emergency Room Epiphany

Cheryl Oreglia

Pacing outside of Good Samaritian's ER, I wait for the transport van to arrive with Mom, it's starting to rain, which is apropos for my mood. Her white blood cell count is almost undetectable, blood pressure dangerously low, and she's anemic. I blame the chemo but dehydration might also be a culprit. Her oncologist decided she needed to be admitted to the hospital for closer observation and some fluids. The transport driver pulls her out of the van, I have just enough time to say "I'm here" (you're not alone), before they wheel her through the red portal, boldly labeled - No public entry. I'm instructed to check in with the receptionist. 

If you've ever been to an emergency room, than you know it's a unique experience, and yet the same wherever you go. I walk into a dilapidated room full of grey plastic chairs, three vending machines, and one television loudly broadcasting the food channel. The first thing I notice is the moaning, than the blood stained clothing, and finally the blue barf bags that I visually try to avoid. I'm confronted with vacant or frightened expressions everywhere I turn. The intake nurse is swamped. 

I lean in to get noticed and she says, "Can I help you?" (with a strident tone I might add)

I think it is obvious but I say, "Yes, my mom was just brought in, can I wait with her?" 

"No, sit down, we'll call you went she gets assigned a room."

I'm carting around three large bags, filled with medications, tennis shoes, pajamas, extra socks, toiletries, medical cards, a computer bag, and a purse of my own. I set them in the chair next to me and browse my twitter account on my iPhone. I know I'm in for a long wait. The pale young woman across from me is nauseous, she's carrying around one of those barf bags, and she can not complete a sentence without saying "fuck." Her mother is completely unfazed. I consider moving to the other side of the facility but there are no vacant chairs. There is a man with a bloody bandage on his foot, a woman who is holding her head, and a teenager with a horrible cough. I wish I had a mask. 

An older man with chest pains, a child with what appears to be a deep laceration on his arm, and a woman with stroke symptoms are all quickly whisked into the system. The rest of us wait with our worries and our ailments. 

Forty-five minutes pass when I notice a lull at the front desk. I approach the woman tentatively, "Can I go see my mom now?"


"Ruth Johnson"

"Room 18, through the doors, on your right." (I think I would still be sitting here if I didn't ask) 

They usher me through an alarmed door, I feel as if I've been accepted into an exclusive club, but no, it's just another waiting pen. In emergency they put people into three categories: going to die regardless of treatment, might die if not immediately treated, treatable but not urgent. I'm not sure what category mom was dumped in but I imagine it was the last group. I find her jammed in a small cubby, one plastic chair next to the gurney, she's hooked up to to an IV, and several monitors. I dump the bags on the floor and sit down.
"Great necessities call out great virtues," Abigail Adams
Thank God I grabbed my computer. While mom sleeps, I browse my social media accounts, when I literally stumbled upon Seth Godin's recent blog. It was just too serendipitous to ignore. Seth argues that we can triage our opportunities. For example, I was recently invited to write a guest post for a popular blog, attend a writer's conference in Michigan, and take an on-line scripture course for professional development. So if I triaged these opportunities I would say the guest blog is going to survive, the writer's conference is out of the question (my mom is in ER and my daughter is about to deliver twins), and the on-line course will need to be postponed until the summer. Done. I didn't go to my customary 'no' because I was able to reduce some of the anxiety by triaging the opportunities. 
Opportunity triage by Seth Godin More opportunities come knocking than we know what to do with.They often come enshrouded with hassle, perceived risk and the need to overcome inertia. It's easier to just say no. And so no becomes the default, a habit, it's easier than discernment. Do you and your organization have a method to sort the opportunities out?In emergency rooms, they put people into three groups: Gonna die no matter what, going to be okay if we help them eventually, and needs help right this moment. By prioritizing where to focus, they serve the patients who can benefit the most. What happens if instead of ignoring opportunity, you triage it?
The more important question is can we triage our writing projects? I always have several drafts in the works. Some almost write themselves with just a little nip and tuck before publishing, others need to be deleted, and one or two might survive if I give them a lot of attention. Categorizing my works helps me to prioritize my focus. I can stop trying to mend the ones that will never work, spend more time with the ones that have potential, and a light edit for the rest. I spend five minutes browsing through my drafts deleting and categorizing. I feel so accomplished, I cast an eye on mom's blood pressure, and I can see she is stabilized.

Five hours later they move us from emergency to a permanent room on the fifth floor. It's almost eight o'clock at night. I have three drafts ready to publish, the rest I deleted, and mom is on solid ground. 

I'm Living in the Gap, drop-in anytime. I also write for Across the Board, a diverse group of writers, with an array of talents. And a guest post for OTV is coming up soon. 

I'd love to engage with you in the comments! What are you waiting for?

Monday, April 10, 2017

Rumpus Room Reads #5 - "The Eyes of Heisenberg"

Anyone who knows me in real life right now knows that my life lately has been like Shark Week, but instead of lots of shows about sharks it’s alternating episodes of crazy telenovelas and episodes of Maury Povich, and instead of commercial breaks it’s lots of long phone conversations with various entities through which I must adult.  It’s been very interesting, but there hasn’t been much time for reading, especially since my JCC membership and its correlated forty minutes of stationary cycling ended a few weeks ago.  When I got the reminder email over the weekend that my turn at this blog was coming up Monday, I slid open my credenza and browsed my book collection for a suitably ancient previously read title with an appropriately garish cover.  I grabbed Frank Herbert’s “The Eyes of Heisenberg,” which I read in the fall of 2015, and called it a night.

I vividly recall buying this book.  It was September of 2015, and I had been separated from my husband and living in my hep yet dilapidated dwelling on Independence Street for about a month.  I was eager to explore my artsy, funky new neighborhood, and my sister’s October 5th birthday was rapidly approaching, so I headed down to the monthly Piety Street Market to see if I could find her something cool.  After perusing several tables of jewelry and artisan baked goods infused with what seemed to be the contents of your elderly aunt’s potpourri sachets, I found a table of old books priced one for five dollars, two for seven.  I found two slim volumes by “Dune” author Frank Herbert.  “Hellstrom’s Hive,” about a secret group of people led by Dr. Hellstrom who model their lives upon social insects, was destined to be my sister’s, seeing as how she had recently gotten engaged to her now-husband whose name is also Dr. Hellstrom (a PhD of aerodynamic engineering, not of making people chew up wood and barf out paper or whatever the hive did in the book).  The other was the gorgeous tome you see above.

The cover of “The Eyes of Heisenberg” is right up my alley.  First of all, the title referencing Heisenberg – no, it’s not a book about Walter White “slingin’ blue glass and makin’ fat stacks” as Skinny Pete might say, but anything that even makes me kind of think of one of my all-time favorite fictional universes and characters is going to press my “yes” button.  Badfinger’s “Baby Blue” still makes me tear up.  Secondly, let’s examine the particulars of this cover.  “World-Famous Creator of DUNE and THE JESUS INCIDENT.” I haven’t read “Dune.”  I did watch the first few minutes of some miniseries based on the book, but all I remember from that is some space guy saying “I eat duty for breakfast.”  “The Jesus Incident” is also not within my realm of knowledge, but it sounds pretty noteworthy.  Then there’s the Frankenfurter-faced gold-bikinied being.  At first I thought she was wearing a big red pope hat but it’s actually a smaller pseudo-Cambodian headdress resting upon some super luxe floating massage chair that was probably 70% off at the store closing sale at your mall’s Brookstone last year.  Come on, did you really think you could just go in there and sit in those vibrating chairs and not buy something trip after trip and they’d just always be there for you?  You couldn’t have at least bought some of that gross wet sculpting sand?  It was only $19.99 for pete’s sake!  Below the chair on the uber-googie platform, we see the brass ring we are all to reach for in life.  Wait, I just noticed the shoes.  What are they, orthopedic slippers for a mummy?  They’re ruining this whole thing for me.

So what was “the most terrifying mutation ever!”?  If you flip the book over, you’ll see that it had something to do with a “rogue embryo.”  In the dystopian future described in this book, all human reproduction is done in the lab to ensure that only the best genes make it through to the next generation.  This book came out in 1966, over a decade before the advent of IVF, so it was fascinating to read how close and yet how weirdly far Herbert got to scientific reality (one of the main draws of vintage science fiction, I’m sure).  The “cut,” which is a mandatory process for manipulating the genes of the embryos in the book, is somewhat similar to a procedure that exists today, but the procedures in the book involve a lot of vats.  In fact, nobody gets pregnant anymore, babies are just grown in these vats.  There are two genetic classes of people, the “Optimen” and the “Folk.”  The Optimen (including goldieboobs on the cover) are the genetically superior ruling overlords.  Everyone takes special enzymes and even the Folk live for hundreds of years, but the Optimen are basically immortal.  Only the Folk can reproduce, though, and of them, only a select few are chosen to do so (there’s some birth control gas keeping everyone from fruitful boot knockin’).  All Optimen are sterile from conception.  However, resistance is a’brewing, and when one of the embryo surgeons discovers an embryo that appears to be a fertile potential Optiman who technically shouldn’t exist and must be destroyed, the plot of this book happens.  There are cyborgs and clones and bored Optimen who’ve all humped each other already yet have never witnessed violence until all this kerfuffle over the dangerous embryo. 

It was a decent read, and I’m glad it had this cover and not this alternate one I found online, because mama don’t do sliced up brains ponging their inner glands betwixt their hemispheres while the eye that gets sliced open in that Dali movie wonders if it forgot to turn off the stove before leaving for work this morning:

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Building Your Street Team -- Interview with Cora Carmack

Unapologetic fan girl moment -- Cora Carmack is on ACROSS THE BOARD, you guys!!! My first Cora book was her New Adult romance, LOSING IT. I then devoured FAKING IT, and the third book in the series, FINDING IT, remains one of my favorite books, period. Then I heard Cora was releasing a YA Fantasy called ROAR. And I started seeing posts all over social media from her "Stormlings" -- as well as some awesome teasers -- and, besides adding on Goodreads (which you can do, too!), I started thinking about how Cora is amazing at building a street team (show of hands -- who was part of the Carmcats, her street team for her Rusk University series?) and I bet there are a lot of authors who would love to know how the heck she does it!

So, I asked. And Cora was generous enough to share the secrets of her success with us. I know I'm going to be taking some serious notes here and I hope you find something helpful, too!

1. So, let’s start with the application process for your street team(s) — The Carmcats and The Stormlings. What kinds of questions do you ask? Are you looking for certain “qualifications” that help you pick Person A over Person B? 

That’s a great question. I think you can frame the questions based on you and your book and your street team needs. My application process is a bit more stringent than what I would normally recommend, but that’s because I usually have to weed out a lot of people, and the application itself does some of that work for me. Some of the questions are specifically about me—what’s their favorite Cora book, favorite Cora character, favorite quote, etc. Those questions help me pick out my most loyal readers rather than perhaps people who have only read a book or two. It also helps me guess who might like my upcoming book best. Because they usually apply to the team before it’s available to read, I have to hope that everyone I pick actually likes the book. So if my upcoming book has a similar feel to a previous book, that might help me pick between people. 

The rest of the questions are focused on the applicant and their interests. We have them list various social media pages and their stats. It’s not always the best move to just pick the applicants with the biggest online reach. Sometimes those people are busier and you’ll only get a fraction of their attention. Whereas, newer and smaller blogs will glad throw themselves into your team full steam ahead. We ask them what their favorite social media network is? That way we can get a mix of people who prefer different sites, so we can divide and conquer. We ask them about any skills that might be helpful—everything from photography and graphics-making skills to fan art or swag-making. Others are good at organization and planning. 

When we’re narrowing names down, I use a color-coded system for yes, no’s, and maybe’s. I make several passes through the spreadsheet with all the applications. I make the first pass with my heart, picking the people whose applications grab hold of me, the people who are so passionate that they’ll be the heart of the rest of the team (regardless of what their social media stats look like). I make the next pass with my head, filling in the gaps and making sure we get diversified interests and skillsets. Then the last pass, I usually hand off to my assistant and publicist. There’s usually only a handful of spots left for too many well-qualified applicants, and I find myself unable to choose. So they then take on the bad guy role for me. 

It’s tough. I had people apply for every Carmcat team and just miss the cut off each time (Happy to report that several of those applicants made the Roar team and are doing fabulous). But I do know, something about being chosen, about being wanted really bonds the team together from the start.

2. You said you want to foster a sense of friendship within your street team. What does that look like from an author perspective? Can you give some specific examples of what you do or have done to make that happen? 

It’s really just about treating them like you would treat friends. We don’t ask friends to do us favors without showing them tremendous gratitude in both word and deed. So don’t treat your street team like workhorses. Show interest in them and their lives. But more than that, you have to be willing to open up yourself. Any time I start a new street team, I make it clear that the group is a safe, understanding place. I tell them things about me and my life that I wouldn’t generally tell the masses. Sometimes this is serious stuff like when I’m suffering from anxiety or depression. Other times I let them into my life in sillier ways. I tell them about the horrific date I just went on. Or I’ll post funny pictures just for them of me hanging out with author friends at signings and conferences. 

I was so excited when we started the Stormlings, because some of my former street team members opened up automatically during intros, and new members followed their lead, just being super open and honest. From moment one, they were already supporting and championing each other. Sure, the end goal is to promote my books. But that’s only a minor part of what our group shares on a daily basis. We share about our lives, we talk books besides mine, we help each other learn new things. A time or two, we’ve even had an international movie date where we all synced up a movie and watched it together in our various homes around the world. Truthfully, we just really did become friends.

3. Related to question 2: In your Carmcats recruitment video, you have “testimonials” from bloggers and members of your street team who obviously LOVE you and love being a part of your team. They all mention how much FUN it’s been and what an amazing experience this has been for them, which is awesome. 

Have you found that your street team members want to move from series to series with you? How, if at all, are your requirements different for promoting ROAR, which is YA fantasy, than promoting the Rusk University series, which is New Adult?

Haha. I was really puzzled at first because I couldn’t remember making a recruitment video. Then I remembered, the Carmcats did that on their own without any guidance from me. I believe that was the second group of Carmcats (for the release of All Broke Down). I’d told them that for the All Played Out team, I wanted them to act as mentors. The team would be half old Carmcats, half new, and we’d pair them up big-little style. They really took ownership over it and set out to recruit the best littles they could find. I suppose that sort of answers the question about members moving on, doesn’t it? 

Yes, typically, I take a rather large contingent of previous groups into the next group. Which is why my groups keep increasing in size. I went from 25 to 30 to 35 to 50 on the Roar team. Some people pass on moving on because they’re busy or stepping back from the book world for a bit. And there’s always a few that will sort of fade into the background and stop participating as time goes on. That’s normal. But usually there’s a core group of close, committed members that stick with me. 

Things were slightly different with Roar. In the application process, we focused less on my past books and more on who loves YA and Fantasy. With the Carmcats that carried over to the new team, we had the romance side of the market pretty well covered, so I was looking for mostly YA-based applicants in my newbies. We also increased the size of the team because we really wanted my first foray into YA to have the best shot possible.

4. For those of us still building our street teams/launch teams — what do you think is the most important thing an author can/should do to begin building a street team? 

By the time I started my first street team, I already had a healthy online following. So, unfortunately, I can’t provide advice on how to build your teams completely from scratch. But my best piece of advice is still: Go for quality over quantity. You’d rather have 5 super fans than 50 sorta fans. And if you’re spending time getting to know those five people on a personal basis, they’re going to love you so much that you’ll see them start pulling people in on their own. 

To me, I tackle my street teams very much like I tackle in-person signings. If you’re an author who’s ever paid your own way to a signing, you know you’d need to sell hundreds upon hundreds of books to even break even with your trip expenses. So why do authors continue to do signings if we lose money on them every time? I can’t speak for everyone else, but my main goal at signings is to take casual readers and turn them into fans, and take fans and turn them into superfans. Because those people are priceless. Every time someone asks them for a book rec, your name is going to be on the tip of their tongue. So at signings, I talk… A LOT. (Ask my publicist. It stresses her out). I ask readers questions. I try to get them talking. Because I’ve never been a shy person, but when I first started going to signings as a reader, I would freeze up when I got in front of my favorite authors. I would think that I couldn’t possibly say anything they hadn’t heard a thousand times that day. So, if loud-mouth me struggled that much, I know there are so many readers who walk away at signings disappointed that they didn’t say as much as they wanted. So I try to make sure each reader gets their moment. 

All that to say—if you don’t yet have enough super fans to be on your street team, you can fix that! Genuinely listen and talk to your readers. Get to know them. Show them they are appreciated. And I think over time, you’ll find that the love and respect you pour out comes back tenfold.

5.  And, conversely, what’s the number one “DON’T” for you as an author managing a street team? 

Don’t be a(n) [insert expletive here]. It’s simple, bloggers work HARD. I was a blogger before I was an author, so I know pretty intimately how stressful it is, and how thankless it can be. It’s a full-time job on top of your real job. Then a street team commitment is a huge time commitment on top of keeping up with your blog or Instagram or what have you. And sure we dole out giveaways and swag and deleted scenes as reward for hard work, but gratitude will go a lot farther than gifts. 

I find that I draw a lot on skills I utilized when I was a teacher. Some students thrive on competition, others on encouragement. Some need clear tasks, some need out of the box creativity. It’s about reading your “class” and figuring out how best to get them all to succeed together. Now that I think about it, it also reminds me a lot of my time in theatre and directing. It was about taking individuals—actors, crew members, designers—and creating the best possible overall performance. And the way I approach picking my team, is very similar to how I used to approach casting. Take that everyone who says theatre degrees are useless. You know nothing. :D

Monday, April 3, 2017

Bringing a Vision to Life

A post by Mary Fan
Hey everyone! As some of you may already know, I have a new book coming out this August from Snowy Wings Publishing :-). It's called STARSWEPT, and it's a YA sci-fi romance about a viola-playing girl whose world is upended when she encounters an alien boy. It's a combination of my two favorite things: old music and outer space. So when it came to the cover, I wanted something that conveyed both.

Now, Snowy Wings Publishing isn't a traditional publisher. It's an indie publishing co-op, which means we're all doing our own thing under one banner. We have to adhere to certain guidelines to meet the co-op's quality standards, but otherwise, we have total creative freedom. Which means I get to be in charge of my own book cover.

I wrote the first draft of STARSWEPT back in 2013, which feels like a million years ago. Since then, the poor thing's been through the wringer. It went to beta readers, got revised, got signed with an agent, got revised more, got a revise and resubmit from an editor, got revised yet again, got rejected anyway, and sat sadly on my hard drive for an eternity while more rejections poured in, until finally, it found a home with Snowy Wings. What a journey. And throughout the whole thing, I've known what I wanted the cover to look like. Of course, I knew if it got a traditional deal, I'd have little say over the cover, but since that's no longer the case, I had license to bring this vision to life exactly the way I wanted it.

First of all, I knew I wanted the cover to feature the main character, Iris Lei. Partly because I'm just a fan of characters on covers in general, and partly because it was super important to me to have an East Asian girl on the cover of a genre book (think about the last time you saw an East Asian face on a sci-fi/fantasy cover... or any cover that wasn't Memoirs of a Geisha). Secondly, I wanted her to be holding her instrument. And thirdly, there would be STARS.

Here's the thing: There aren't a whole lot of stock photos featuring East Asians. And there are none whatsoever that depict violas. Plenty of violins, but no VIOLAS. Of course, the only real difference is that a viola is slightly bigger, and pretty much no one would be able to tell the difference. But *I* could (I'm a violinist), and it would have bugged me to no end if I misrepresented my character's instrument. Especially since it's pretty central to the book.

So I organized my own photo shoot for the cover. And it was underwater... with the weightlessness of water simulating the weightlessness of space. The model was my kid sister, Angel Fan, who initially got the gig because of nepotism (hey, she's my sister!), but actually turned out to be uniquely qualified (1. She plays the viola 2. She's a dancer and excellent at posing 3. She's a skilled swimmer and a trained diver and therefore comfortable with being underwater... oh, and P.S. She's got the right look, as in young and East Asian).

Here's a pic of Angel right before we began shooting...

We spent a whole day at a diving school in Long Island, and it was a blast! Over 400 images were taken... and I somehow managed to pick just one for the cover. Though theoretically, I could now write over 400 books in the series with a different photo for each cover. Oh, and the image in the background of the announcement up there? That's one of the test shots from the shoot :-)

Anyway, after all that, the book will be coming out on August 29! And I'll be revealing the results of that crazy cover process on June 7... Sign up below if you'd like to help me unveil it!

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