How to Write Women of Colour and Men of Colour if you are White

This amazing article has given me lots to think about and learn from!

Media Diversified

by Kayla Ancrum

A colleague of mine was talking to me recently about her misgivings about her capabilities regarding writing Women of Color. She wanted very badly to include several WOC characters in her sci-fantasy series, but she had some concerns about correct portrayal and writing them in a way that wouldn’t instantly piss people off. I told her I would write something about it that might help. So, here we have it: How to write POC without pissing everyone off and doing a horrible job.

When writing people of color, producing quality work comes down to three things. Research, Persistence and Consideration. To streamline the effectiveness of this essay, I am going to use the individual struggles of Black women, Native Women and Mixed Race women as examples within each section, as they each represent different (yet very important) racial environments that need consideration.

1. Research is by far…

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Nicola Does Dedham! New England Crimebake and research trip to Boston

Boston Skyline by Dennis Forgione. CC BY 2.0.
Boston Skyline by Dennis Forgione. CC BY 2.0.

Crimebake

I returned this week from an adventure in Massachusetts, where I attended the New England Crimebake conference in Dedham and then stayed on in Boston to sightsee and do some research for a couple of days.

Here's a selfie of me in the outfit I had to wear for pretty much the whole conference due to missing luggage!
Here’s a fuzzy selfie of me in the outfit I had to wear for pretty much the whole conference due to missing luggage!

Although Air Canada oversold my flight and lost my luggage for three days,  I can’t say enough good things about Crimebake – the food and service at the hotel were great, and the speakers and sessions were awesome.

Super cute picnic lunch on Day 2 of Crimebake. It's the little things, you know? And thumbs up on providing adequate quantity - I'm a BIG eater for my size.
Super cute picnic lunch on Day 2 of Crimebake. It’s the little things, you know? And thumbs up on providing adequate quantity – I’m a BIG eater for my size.

Some of the topics covered included:

  • investigation tips and techniques from real-life police officers and PIs
  • how to conduct great research interviews (especially useful for aspiring true crime writers!)
  • writing great settings
  • developing a series

and lots more!

There were also sessions on developing your manuscript and query letter/pitch, individual pitch sessions with authors, and round table discussions with various experts.

One of my favourite things about the conference was the mock crime scene that was set up. A retired MA State Police Lieutenant went over the scene with us at the end of the conference and showed us in detail how the clues would be interpreted to catch the criminal. This included really fascinating information about things like blood spatter patterns, canvassing a neighbourhood, and crime scene contamination. Definitely stuff I’ll use in my writing!

Although most writers who attended were more firmly in the “crime writer” category than I am as a romance author, I didn’t see this as a downside. Instead, it gave me a chance to meet lots of writers I wouldn’t otherwise have come into contact with, and I learned things that I wouldn’t have at a romance writers’ conference. If your primary motivation in attending Crimebake is pitching to agents/editors, though, you might want to keep the demographics in mind.

One other major plus about this conference (in my mind at least) – I learned to line dance!

All in all, I had a great time. Schedule and finances permitting, I’ll definitely be back next year.

Boston

Once I left Dedham, I headed in to Boston to sightsee and research the city a bit, since most of my fiction is set in MA and I expect Boston to figure more prominently in my work as I go. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I took lots!

The lone adventurer.
The lone adventurer.

After the conference, I took the commuter train to Boston and felt very accomplished and adventurous. We don’t have a very sophisticated transit system here in little ol’ Halifax, Nova Scotia (buses only, no trains or subway), so I’m very impressed with myself when I go to a bigger city and manage to find my way around.

My first night in Boston, I just wandered around to get the lay of the land. I checked out the Christian Science Center reflecting pool (no water in it for the winter, but the fountain/courtyard are still beautiful) and then I went to Feneuil Hall to check out the tourist shops and food. I LOVE gift shops and touristy knickknacks with a passion, so it was very difficult to restrain myself, but I managed not to buy any junk I didn’t need.

Christian Science Center courtyard/fountain.
Christian Science Center courtyard/fountain.

 

Feneuil Hall lit up at night. So pretty!
Feneuil Hall lit up at night. So pretty!

One thing that stumped me was the pronunciation of Feneuil Hall. It looks like French pronunciation should apply (sort of like Fen-oi), but apparently you say Fen-you-ell. When I tried to say it to a cab dispatcher for the first time, she actually had no idea what I meant!

Another thing I noticed about Boston is that everyone jaywalks like crazy – you Bostonians are all jaywalkin’ maniacs! No one waits for a light to change, ever. They just go for it and the cars have to stop whether they want to or not. I asked a Bostonian about it and he said it’s because the police don’t give out fines for jaywalking, which I guess makes sense, but I’ve never heard of a jaywalking fine in Halifax and we definitely wait at the crosswalk. I guess we’re just a bunch of scaredycats here!

I also went to the central location of the Boston Public Library – and friends, I was in book-loving heaven. The marble! The old books! That reading room!

Murals and marble at the Boston Public Library.
Murals and marble at the Boston Public Library.
Boston Public Library reading room.
Boston Public Library reading room.
Let me at 'em! Old books at the Boston Public Library.
Let me at ’em! Old books at the Boston Public Library.

Since I’m a huge animal lover, I was really pleased to meet the ginormous grey squirrels that run rampant in the Boston Public Garden. They’re so bold, they scamper right up to you in anticipation of being fed. The owner of the B&B I stayed in was less enthusiastic since they dig in his garden and hide things there, but I thought they were adorable.

Oh, hello there! Thanks for stopping by!
Oh, hello there! Thanks for stopping by!

Another thing Boston has that Halifax doesn’t is an aquarium. I have been to very few aquariums in my life, so the New England Aquarium was pretty thrilling.

(Insider tip, I think they have the best gift shop in Boston. Want a painting made by a seal? This is the place to get it. I didn’t buy one because the price was a bit much, but man, I was tempted).

Finally, I also checked out a bunch of museums, including:

  • the Museum of Natural History at Harvard. (People kept thinking I was a student the whole time I was in Boston. I’ll have you know I am a VERY SERIOUS BUSINESSWOMAN. Yeah, sure…)
  • and the Museum of Fine Arts

Do I have any readers out there who are from Boston? Anyone else ever visited Boston? Let me know what I should see next time I go!

 

Author, Know Thyself! How your personality type shapes your writing

brain power by Allan Ajifo. CC by 2.0.
brain power by Allan Ajifo of aboutmodafinil.com. CC by 2.0.

 

 An introduction to personality types (and a bit about me)

Lately I’ve been thinking about how personality type affects my writing – specifically, how it can improve or hinder my word count. In my day-job-world, I’m currently enrolled in a management course that has afforded me the opportunity  to take all kinds of personality tests (I love this stuff). And when my writers’ group met last weekend, we were treated to a great presentation from the fabulous Linda O’Toole on how to harness our personality types to get the most out of our writing time.

One thing I have learned from all of this is that I am an INTJ – a personality type outlined by the famous Meyers-Briggs instrument (MBTI). According to this “test”*, my personality profile looks like this:

I          Do you focus on the outer world or on your own inner world?

            This is called Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I).

N         Do you focus on basic information or do you add meaning?

            This is called Sensing (S) or Intuition (N).

T         Are your decisions based on logic or people and circumstances?

            This is called Thinking (T) or Feeling (F).

J          Do you get things decided or do you stay more open to new options?

            This is called Judging (J) or Perceiving (P).

According to Wikipedia**, INTJs are one of the rarest of the sixteen Myers-Briggs personality types and account for 1-2% of the population. So does this mean I’m a super special snowflake?

Well, no. Not particularly.

It just means that I’m my own special little weirdo, like everyone else. No one personality type is any better than the others, because each comes with its own quirks and pros/cons. According to various combinations of characteristics, the sixteen Myers-Briggs personality types are sometimes further grouped into one of four categories:

  • Guardians
  • Artisans
  • Idealists
  • Rationals

My INTJ classification makes me a Guardian, meaning that I am supposedly analytical, pragmatic, logical, and not scared to tell someone when they’re being stupid. As you can probably imagine, there are benefits (getting stuff done) and drawbacks (calling the boss stupid). The Myers & Briggs Foundation says that its instrument is approximately 75% accurate, and in this case I think they got it right – I definitely see myself in the INTJ profile. I love efficiency, and at times I can be both a loner and an excellent leader.

According to tvtropes.org, INTJs’ natural talent for planning and system-building also makes them the perfect villains (though we’re not all evil!). Some examples of fictional INTJ’s include:

  • Jafar from Aladdin
  • Bruce Wayne from Batman
  • Howard Hughes from The Aviator
  • Rupert Giles from Buffy The Vampire Slayer
  • The James Bond villain, Le Chiffre, from Casino Royale
  • Ebeneezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol 
  • Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty

and the list goes on.

 

How does your personality affect your writing?

So how does all this affect writing and learning? I found this Georgia State University paper*** on student learning and the Myers-Briggs type indicator fascinating. I’ve summarized some basic key points below and added my own ideas about how knowledge of these traits can be harnessed to enhance your writing:

Extroversion v. introversion

  • The majority of university undergraduates are extroverts, while the majority of university faculty are introverts.
  • Extraverted students report learning best when working in a group (think writing partners, collaborative projects, and critique groups), while introverted students want to create frameworks to connect information so that it becomes knowledge (think plotters v. pantsers, outlining, using writing programs like Scrivener).

Sensing v. intuition

  • Sensing students prefer organized, structured lectures (think RWA University online classes, how-to books, and workshops rather than panels).
  • Intuitive students must have the big picture to understand a subject (think plot mapping, “write the ending first”, and reading widely in your genre for research).

Thinking v. feeling

  • Thinking students like clear topics and objectives. “Thinking” writers will likely be more comfortable working with agents/editors/publishers/writing groups who set clear deadlines and provide specific feedback.
  • Feeling students need to work in harmonious groups. For writers, this may mean that deadlines and sales numbers aren’t as important as working with a team of people who really “get” your vision for your work/career.

Judging v. perceiving

  • Judging students focus on tasks and like to take quick, decisive action. When writing, this strength can be maximized by fast-draft writing (getting it all down on the page without worrying about revision until later) and colour coding dialogue or scenes for easy mixing and editing later.
  • Perceiving students often postpone assignments until the last minute – not because they’re lazy, but because they  want to gather as much information as possible. If you are a perceiving writer, you may find that you have a tendency to over-research or plan a project, and that you never get around to actually finishing it. You can get around this by breaking a project down into more manageable sections (think of the three act structure, for example). You might also find it helpful to set yourself a specific word count for the book and break it down by chapter so you know exactly how much should fit into each section.

 

Test Yourself

So now that you know so much about the MBTI, where can you take the “test”? The answer is that while the official MBTI must be administered by someone who has been trained and certified in its use, there are plenty of similar, free resources online.

This one, for example, is not endorsed by the Myers & Briggs Foundation, but it is “based on Carl Jung’s and Isabel Briggs Myers’ typological approach to personality”, and the results were pretty close. (According to this test, I’m an INFJ today rather than an INTJ).

And this one also thinks I’m an INFJ. I assume the difference is related to how I’m feeling today, rather than some flaw/discrepancy in the tests, but they’re still pretty darn close either way. (And for those who are interested, I prefer this test over the one above – there is more information given, and it was more fun to answer).

 

* I say “test” in quotation marks because the Myers & Briggs foundation website is quite clear about the fact that “MBTI® tool should be referred to as an instrument rather than a test or psychological assessment”. For more on finding reliable MBTI® info on the internet, check out the Foundation’s webpage on “Trusting MBTI® Information on the Web“.

** Yes, I am aware that I quote Wikipedia a lot on this blog, but this isn’t exactly scholarly, peer-reviewed academic writing.

*** “This material can be copied and used for educational, non-profit purposes only. Copyright: Harvey J. Brightman, Georgia State University”. From The Master Teacher Program website (warning for those reading at work – there is a video on the homepage that plays automatically on click through).

Interview With… An Entertainment Lawyer

Q: What’s the difference between a lawyer and a vampire?

A: A vampire only sucks blood at night.

Lawyer jokes abound, but as an author there’s no one I’d rather have in my corner when it comes down to questions of entertainment law or intellectual property (IP) than my good friend and colleague, Jillian C. Allen, Esq. Luckily for us, Jillian has agreed to take some time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions!

Jillian Allen

Jillian received her Master-In-Laws degree from Santa Clara University (2010), specializing in Intellectual Property law. She received her law degree from Dalhousie University (2009). She also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Acadia University (2006) majoring in Sociology with minors in Psychology and Fine Art. During her years at Dalhousie University she received several scholarships and the David M. Jones award for outstanding character and inspiration. She is a member of the State Bar of California and the Nova Scotia Bar Society.

 

What is the difference between an agent and an entertainment/IP lawyer? If agents negotiate contracts, what does the lawyer do?

Agents are pro-active. Entertainment lawyers are reactive, and they process the deals the agents create.

In California, you need a license from the Labor Commissioner in order to call yourself a talent agent. In order to get a license, there are several requirements, such as that the prospective agent must submit a filing fee, which is renewed annually, and other supporting documents. Most A-list artists sign with talent agencies.

In terms of “differences” between an agent and an entertainment lawyer – the path that one takes to become an agent vs. a lawyer is different. Most agents work as assistants at agencies before becoming a licensed “agent”. Whereas to become a lawyer, you typically have to obtain a four-year undergraduate degree, prior to going to law school for an additional three years. In California, once your legal education is complete, you must fulfill several requirements in order to practice law in the state. You must pass the moral character exam, professional responsibility exam and finally the bar exam. The California bar exam is hands down the most difficult bar exam in North America, with a pass rate in the 40% range. The path to becoming an entertainment lawyer is therefore longer than the path to becoming an agent.

 

How ‘famous’ should an author be before they see a lawyer?

Not famous at all! The first time an artist is presented an offer, whether it be orally or in writing, get an entertainment/IP lawyer to review it for you!

 

Are there any common mistakes that artists make that could get them into legal trouble? What advice would you give to clients that you wish they would follow (but they usually don’t)?

Too many times I’ve seen artists bring in a contract for a lawyer’s opinion, after they’ve already signed it! For many artists at the beginning of their careers, that very first offer/contract that they receive is so exciting that they want to sign right away. For many, they’re scared that if they don’t sign right away, they’ll seem ungrateful or difficult to work with. So they sign without negotiating any terms or seeking a lawyer’s advice. Some beginning artists don’t think they can afford to involve a lawyer, so they don’t. However, most entertainment lawyers understand that an artist starting out their career isn’t looking to spend thousands of dollars negotiating a 5-page agreement. Most entertainment lawyers will set a flat fee to review an agreement and offer simple advice.

Another common mistake is an artist signing away all the rights in their work. For example, a production company may want to purchase the rights to make a motion picture based on an author’s book. If they are purchasing the copyright in the work, they’ll want rights to sequels, advertising, merchandising, franchising, and the list goes on. What about what the author wants? An entertainment lawyer’s job is to expect the unexpected and try to retain as much of these rights for the author’s use as possible. A lot of the language used in these types of agreements can be technical and intimidating, so that’s why an artist should always seek legal advice from a lawyer who has a background in entertainment/IP related work.

 

Can you tell us any interesting stories about your work as an entertainment/IP lawyer in California? (leaving out names or identifying details, of course!)

Hmmm…a lot of the deals that I came across involved reality show pitches/pilots. Everyone involved is always so optimistic that this is going to be the “next big thing”, when in reality, most never get off the ground. The lawyer’s role is to register the corporate structure(s), and review and negotiate the contract particulars for the parties involved.

Another common issue is collaborative works. Many times a group of friends will come up with an idea that they want to get off the ground, but when it comes down to money, publicity and credit, this is where fractures begin. For example, we had a client on a popular reality show who grew to hate several of her cast mates and was refusing to film any scenes with them. A lot of the “lawyer work” in this particular situation involved many phone calls trying to defuse the situation and convince her that her role would be written off if she continued to insist on only filming scenes that involved her and her immediate family.

The entertainment industry in California does have a “small town” feel in the sense that it’s all “who you know” and getting people excited about your project.

When Life Gets In The Way – Writer’s Block and Creativity

time by
time by Sean MacEntee. CC BY 2.0.

Ever feel like there just isn’t enough time in the day to accomplish everything you’d planned?

Or worse, that there was enough time but you’ve squandered it, frittered away the hours doing God knows what when you could have been – should have been – writing, or reading, or doing anything but watching back-to-back episodes of The X-Files on Netflix? (Guilty as charged.)

When I started this blog, I had the best of intentions. I posted something new every week, and I had no problem coming up with the time or energy to maintain the schedule I set for myself. The same went for my writing – I worked on my current novel every day, rain or shine, without fail.

But somehow in the past couple of months, something changed…

Life got in the way.

First there was some day job stuff that took up a lot of energy.

Then I had knee surgery, and my convalescence ended up being longer than expected.

And then…and then…and then…

And then, nothing. “Regret for wasted time is more wasted time“*.

Over the past few weeks, there has been nothing and no one preventing me from pursuing my goals but me. But the thing is, the longer you let your ideas and imagination languish, the harder it is to get back up and keep going. So here’s how I gave myself the kick in the a** I needed:

1. No judgment.

When you know you’ve been procrastinating, and you feel bad about procrastinating, but somehow can’t make yourself stop procrastinating – don’t worry about it. Just don’t. Maybe you needed a little vacation, maybe you’re just being lazy, but it doesn’t matter. Judgment and self flagellation is just more wasted time.

2. Find inspiration.

Maybe you find it incredibly relaxing to be out in nature, like I do. Or maybe you get off on the hustle and bustle of busy city streets. Maybe you like to play video games, or read comic books, or listen to music to unwind. If you’re stuck in a non-creative rut, at least put yourself into a good headspace so that you’re able to create when the time comes. So if watching Netflix all day is your thing, go for it. But on the other hand, if it gives you cabin fever and makes you lash out like a rabid badger…you might wanna put down the remote.

3. Learn something.

Watch a documentary. Read a book. Browse Wikipedia for towns with weird names. Maybe even talk to someone new. With more resources for knowledge at our fingertips than ever before in the history of the world, don’t you think it’s kind of a sin not to learn just a little bit every day?

4. Create something.

It doesn’t matter if you make a craft out of macaroni and popsicle sticks, or if you paint a masterpiece. I believe that just the simple act of creating something – anything – because it’s fun, or interesting, or challenging will pay off hugely. There have been more studies done and articles written about creativity than I could ever hope to summarize (or fully understand), but the Wikipedia article on creativity is here for anyone who is interested.

 

* According to Wikipedia, Mason Cooley was an American professor known for his witty aphorisms (an original thought, expressed in a concise, memorable form). Also from his Goodreads page:

  • “Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are”
  • “When you can’t figure out what to do, it’s time for a nap”
  • “If I can’t serve as a role model, let me serve as a warning”

 

 

 

 

 

You Can’t Throw a Gavel Without Hitting a Lawyer-Turned-Author

*
My Trusty Gavel by Brian Turner. CC by 2.0.

Some of the jobs I’ve held include: short order cook, nanny, postmaster’s assistant, and “background talent” (read – extra in movies and commercials). But of all the jobs I’ve tried, the one that I’m least likely to write about is the one that I spent the most time training for – my current profession of lawyer.

Although it sometimes seems like you can’t throw a gavel without hitting a lawyer-turned-authour, there are two main reasons you won’t catch me writing about my day job any time soon (though I’ll never say never):

  1. My source material would be pretty boring – and that’s how I like it.

Some writers have no problem turning the day-to-day life of a lawyer into the stuff of thrillers, but I have a hard time associating the reality of my job with the kind of romance and adventure I enjoy reading about. Actually, scratch that – I actively avoid romance and adventure in my day job. It decreases the odds of getting sued.

Do I personally find my work exciting? Yes. Would the general public? Eh, maybe it depends on the day, but if I had to guess – no. The types of law I practice do not lend themselves to Grisham-esque scenarios. Nor is there anything particularly glamorous about wearing pantyhose for 10-12 hours per day.

  1. Writing is my escape from the ordinary.

Everyone is familiar with the old advice to “write what you know”, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to write what you do. So far, I have written about ancient Greek legends coming to life, the colonization of a far-away planet, and the adventures of a high-class madam. As you may have guessed, I have first-hand experience with exactly none of these scenarios.

But I do have a lot of fun writing about them!

How about you? Are there any jobs you find duller than dirt? Any that you can’t, or won’t, write about?

(I assume all those romance-blog-enthusiast international spies out there are sworn to secrecy, but let’s hear from the rest of you!)

This post is re-blogged from my post on the Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada blog, a great place to learn more about some very talented romance authors. Check it out here!

New England Crimebake 2014 and tips for getting the most out of writing conferences

Check out the conference website at crimebake.org or facebook.com/crimebake.
Check out the conference website at crimebake.org or facebook.com/crimebake.

I am very, very excited to be attending this year’s New England Crime Bake, a mystery/crime writing conference in Dedham, Massachusetts. It’s an annual conference hosted by the New England chapters of Sisters In Crime and Mystery Writers of America, and celebrates New England crime fiction and non-fiction.

"The Cold Dish", book one of Craig Johnson's Longmire series.
“The Cold Dish”, book one of Craig Johnson’s Longmire series. You can buy the books and assorted tie-in merchandise from Johnson’s website, here.

This year’s guest of honor is Craig Johnson, author of the excellent Longmire mystery series, which you may have also seen on TV. (According to Johnson’s website, Longmire is A&E’s most-watched original drama series of all time).

I have a limited budget to spend on things like workshops and conferences, particularly those that require travel, so why did I choose Crime Bake?

Here are some of the more personal reasons:

  • Most of my projects are set in New England, so the setting and focus of the conference were an obviously good fit. (The decision to set my work in the US rather than Canada, where I live, is a whole ‘nother post for another time, but it is a conscious decision).
  • The cost wasn’t prohibitive, as Massachusetts is reasonably close to the East Coast of Canada.
  • One of my online critique partners is planning to attend, so I’ll finally get to meet her in person.
  • Enrollment is capped at a low number (250), so chances are better that I’ll make real, personal connections with other authors/readers/agents/etc. than at a big, “anonymous” conference (this will be my first writing conference!).

Aside from these logistical pluses, I’ve never been to Boston and am hoping I can make time to check out the city for a couple of days while I’m in the area. My first completed book, Fury’s Kiss, takes place on Cape Cod and in Boston, and while I’ve done extensive research online, there’s nothing like seeing the real thing.

I have also entered the short story contest associated with the conference, the Al Blanchard Award, and have just started work on a novel featuring the same characters, so the conference date in November gives me a deadline to finish it. If all goes according to plan, I’ll be able to talk about the book and pitch it at the conference.

So in the spirit of first-time conference attendance, here are some of my favorite online tips for getting the most out of a writing conference:

From Writer’s Digest, courtesy of Zachary Petit:

  • Arrive early to scope out everything, get settled and make friends.
  • Strike up conversations with faculty (those presenting/organizing), but don’t focus on your projects and what you think they can do for you  – make it your goal to learn from these conversations.
  • Focus on what you want to get out of the conference and come up with a specific goal. This could be something like “learn about police procedure”, or “come up with a better first chapter”.
  • Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions.
  • Don’t feel bad about cutting your losses – you don’t have to attend every session if you’re not getting something out of it.

Things to have ready and on-hand at a conference, from Scott Hoffman of Folio Literary Management:

  • A one sentence explanation of your book. For example: “It’s a literary retelling of the Noah’s Ark story.” Or: “It’s about a young Japanese-American man and woman who fall in love on the eve of World War II and are torn apart by the war.” Hoffman cautions us to expect an agent to ask what your book is about when you’re not expecting it.
  • A one-page synopsis of your novel.
  • The first three chapters, double-spaced.
  • A complete manuscript.

Chances are, Hoffman says, no one will ever ask for the chapters or manuscript, but it’s better to have them and not need them than vice versa. (And I have seen author accounts of situations where this sort of preparedness has led to representation and publication).

 

 

 

 

“No one wants to read about a supermodel” – How bestselling author Marie Force proved them all wrong

Last month, the Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada were incredibly fortunate to welcome bestselling author Marie Force to Halifax, Nova Scotia. She is a wonderful writer – I highly recommend her Fatal series and the new Green Mountain books – and a funny, engaging speaker. Here’s what she had to say:

True North by Marie Force. The book that no one wanted would go on to launch a bestselling self-pub career.
True North by Marie Force. The book that no one wanted would go on to launch a bestselling self-pub career.

“No one wants to read about a supermodel.”

Those are the eight words that changed Marie Force’s life. Before she was a self-pub sensation bringing in seven figures a year, she was just a regular suburban mom who worked a day job, cared for her family, and dreamed of making it big in her traditionally published novel-writing career.

The problem was that no one wanted to publish the work that she believed in most. It took six or seven novels before she was traditionally published, and even then, there was no golden ticket to success or creative freedom. After receiving significant interest from agents and editors about True North, the tale of a supermodel who yearns to find true love, the book was ultimately rejected by every single person who had expressed interest in it.

The reason? See above.

So Ms. Force did something incredibly brave – she self-published True North. In 2010. When she was under contract to publishers for other work. This was before everyone and their dog was self-publishing, and there was a very real chance that she would get sued. So she didn’t talk about the book, just quietly put it up for sale, and waited to see what would happen.

The first month, not much happened at all. True North sold 50 copies.

Then Ms. Force put the book on sale for a week, for free. The book sold 10,000 copies that month.

After that, she didn’t look back. After years of writing, modest sales, and numerous rejections – she was once blacklisted from an agency for querying too many times in one year – Ms. Force pressed on with self-publishing. By her measure, it took 25 books to “make it big”, and she had a full time job until 2011 (she was first published traditionally in 2008). Now she has employees of her own, an e-pub formatting business, and is asked to fly all over North America to talk about the business and craft of writing.

It turns out, people did want to read about a supermodel after all.

Aside from being brave enough to go for self-publication, here are a few other things that contributed to Ms. Force’s success:

She isn’t afraid to write what she wants to write. In Marking Time, book two of the Treading Water series, eighteen-year-old Kate moves to Nashville to pursue a singing career and falls in love with her father’s 45-year-old friend. As you can imagine, publishers were not enthusiastic about this – but readers loved it.

Marking Time by Marie Force.
Marking Time by Marie Force.

She keeps up a constant release schedule. It was no surprise to me to hear that Ms. Force writes 6-7 books per year. Everything I’ve read or heard from “big-name” self-pub authors indicates that one of the major keys to success is substantial, sustained output.

She interacts with fans. With a Facebook group for every series, Ms. Force has given her fans dedicated spaces to discuss her books with other readers. They are free to post spoilers, debate plot points, and they get extra content (such as a free short story only available on the group page). Fans who sign up for a newsletter can also opt in to a mailing list, from which they will sometimes receive actual snail mail from the author (Christmas cards, swag, etc.).

 

 

 

 

 

A Post Most Auto-biographical: In which I take the Proust Questionnaire

Here I am feeding one of the bunnies that hops freely around White Point Beach Resort in Nova Scotia, Canada.
Here I am feeding one of the bunnies that hops freely around White Point Beach Resort in Nova Scotia, Canada. At this time of year, the beach is neither white nor resort-like (see the parka), but the bunnies made up for the weather.

In case you were wondering what I look like on the weekends, when I haven’t had my hair and makeup done for an author photo, the picture on the left was taken last weekend while I was away with a couple of girlfriends from some R&R.

And in case you were wondering how I might answer the Proust Questionnaire that is habitually found at the back of Vanity Fair magazine – you’re in luck! (I doubt anyone was wondering at all, but I’ve always wanted to take the questionnaire, and now Vanity Fair will have a head start on their profile of me when I become the J.K. Rowling of paranormal romance). When I took the interactive version of the questionnaire on Vanity Fair’s website ( here), I was intrigued to learn that my answers were similar to those given by Ray Charles (90.56% – cool!) and Bill O’Reilly (82.56% – erm, ok then).

1. What is your idea of perfect happiness? Great books, great food, great company.

2. What is your greatest fear? Giving up on my dreams.

3. Which historical figure do you most identify with? Dorothy Parker.

4. Which living person do you most admire? Dolly Parton.

5. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Taking out my frustrations on others.

6. What is the trait you most deplore in others? A lack of compassion.

7. What is your greatest extravagance? Eating in restaurants too often.

8. On what occasion do you lie? To spare someone’s feelings. To avoid impertinent or overly personal questions.

9. What do you dislike most about your appearance? Wearing glasses.

10. When and where were you happiest? Childhood summers spent outdoors, when I was free to pursue whatever interested me.

11. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I would care less what other people think of me.

12. If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be? We would get together more often before it’s too late.

13. What do you consider your greatest achievement? Doing the right thing, even when I don’t want to.

14. If you came back as a person or thing, what would it be? I hope to be a dolphin.

15. What is your most treasured possession? A stuffed animal from childhood – “Willie Bear”.

16. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Guilt.

17. Who are your heroes in real life? Everyone who sacrifices comfort or security to pursue a dream. Everyone who sacrifices a dream to provide comfort or security to their family.

18. What is it that you most dislike? Being stared at.

19. How would you like to die? Peacefully and at an old age, before my husband.

20. What is your motto? Listen to your heart.

Another White Point photo with my lovely friend, Cheri (I'm the one on the right. People often mistake us for sisters/each other...do you see it?)
Another White Point photo with my lovely friend, Cheri. (I’m the one on the right. People often mistake us for sisters/each other…do you see it?)

Now that I’ve taken the questionnaire, I plan to revisit it in a year or two and see if my answers have changed. Over time, I’ve gone back and forth between feeling like I’ve changed so much, and then at other times feeling like it’s just circumstances that have changed, while I remain fundamentally the same person I always was.

What do you think – do people change fundamentally over time?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tips from Mark Leslie Lefebvre, Kobo’s Director of Self Publishing and Author Relations

Beach kobo by Jennie Faber. CC BY 2.0.
Beach kobo by Jennie Faber. CC BY 2.0.

As a member of Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada (RWAC), a Canadian chapter of Romance Writers of America, I am fortunate to have access to a wide variety of guest speakers, workshops, retreats and other writing events.

At RWAC’s April meeting, we were very pleased to welcome guest speaker Mark Leslie Lefebvre, Kobo’s Director of Self Publishing and Author Relations, and an author himself.

So without further ado, here are just a few highlights of Mark’s presentation:

  • The 3 “P”s of self publishing success;
  • Pricing advice from Kobo; and
  • Inside information on how books get featured on Kobo and why.

 1. The 3 “P”s of self publishing success

As we all know – and have heard ad infinitum – patience, practice, and perseverance are the only ways to really be successful as a writer. “Overnight” successes make for sexy headlines, but in most cases, years of effort have gone into those successes. What distinguishes Mark’s advice from this old (but true) chestnut is the fact that he expands on the traditional advice to just keep swimming – er, writing.

From a branding perspective, the trick is to just keep writing with your target audience in mind (think of Stephen King’s Constant Reader). If you don’t know who you’re trying to reach with your book – guess what? You probably won’t. In addition to this, you need to provide the best all-around book that you can, which means it must be of superior quality in all respects, not just in terms of writing. According to Kobo’s statistics, the success of a book is directly related to the quality of its editing and cover.

2. Pricing advice from Kobo

In his time at Kobo, Mark has observed that three things are necessary to ensure sales when pricing an e-book:

  • pricing deliberately;
  • pricing responsively; and
  • pricing often.

Authors are most successful and achieve highest sales when they price deliberately, taking into account things like genre (romance prices are low compared to other genres, but more units are bought by the average reader), book length, and comparator titles. They should also be aware of the dreaded “Dead Price Point” – $1.99. For some reason, books of all lengths and genres sell poorly at $1.99, and do better at either $.99 or $2.99 and up.

Pricing responsively refers to the idea that self-published book prices don’t need to be – and shouldn’t be – static. Since the author is in control, she has the power not just to take advantage of marketing opportunities, but to create them for herself. If you’ve written a book set on Halloween, for example, why not offer a sale in the days leading up to the holiday?

Or say you’ve written a series. You might want to consider making the first book free. In one example, Kobo found that 12,000 readers downloaded a free e-book, but only 2,000 actually opened it, and only about 350 read the whole thing. Of those who read the book, however, 50% went on to buy more books from the author, and the total downloaded units helped push the book higher in the rankings to increase its visibility.

Finally, don’t be afraid to try different pricing strategies. One bestselling author found that when she increased her book’s price from $5.99 to $6.99, her sales improved at iBooks and Barnes & Noble, stayed the same at Kobo, and decreased at Amazon. While many authors would have panicked at the hit on Amazon (the Holy Grail of self publishing, to some), the author decided to wait a while and see what happened. To her delight, sales at Amazon went back to previous levels within a week and a half and stayed high everywhere else, meaning she was now moving more units than ever and making more money on each book.

3. How books get featured

When asked how Mark and his team decide to feature an author in Kobo’s digital “front window”, the answer was simple – it’s a combination of serendipity and good planning on the author’s part. On the good luck side of things, Mark has featured artists that he has gotten to know through conferences, readings, podcasts, and networking. But no matter how much he or the marketing team likes an author, they still have to take into account the financial realities of selling books online.

The biggest challenge to an e-book retailer in promoting indie authors is price point. When a book is priced at $.99, the author’s share is $.45. This means that Kobo’s share of a sale is $.54, before costs associated with processing a credit card transaction. On the other hand, an author’s share of a book priced at $9.99 is $6.99, leaving $3.00 for Kobo before costs. This doesn’t mean that books priced at $.99 don’t get featured, but it does mean that when there is a choice between two equally great books, the one that will generate more money (or at least not cost Kobo money) is the one that gets top billing.

 

For more information on Kobo’s self publishing hub, check out Kobo Writing Life here. While it’s no secret that I’m seeking traditional publication (it says so on the “About Me” page of the website), I am intrigued by the concept of hybrid authorship. If and when I’m ready to go ahead with self publication, working directly with Kobo looks like a great choice. (I have not been remunerated in any way for blogging about Kobo – it just looks like a genuinely great bunch of people who believe in indie authors).

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