Today is all about sharing the love. Bloggers loving authors. Authors loving bloggers. Everybody loving books.

If you're looking for controversy in the book world, you wouldn't have to dig too far to find it. All of that negativity can often overshadow the amazing relationship that most authors and bloggers have.

I have always been a big fan of bloggers and appreciative of the immense amount of love and effort they pour into the book community. This love only increased when I organized my own blog tour. Without exception, every blogger/reviewer I spoke with was kind, generous, encouraging, and absolutely dedicated to sharing awesome books with their readers.

To highlight this mutual love and respect between authors and bloggers, the lovely ladies at The Book Bratz asked authors and bloggers what we'd like to say to the other. The result is a massive outpouring of warm fuzzies sure to end your work on a high note.

So be sure to stop over at The Book Bratz and check out the overflow at A Perfection Called Books. You can also share you own thoughts on the awesomeness of bloggers and authors on Twitter using the #BloggerAuthorLove hashtag and be sure to tell me why you love bloggers and authors down in the comments.

Time to give back

Last night I had a blast speaking at the Caprock Writers' Alliance. We talked about the business of writing, self-publishing and all things books. They had wonderful questions and an obvious desire to grow as authors.

I love speaking with authors like this. It reminds me of why this business is so amazing, but it also reminds me that we each have something we can give.

It's easy to forget that each of us started from ground zero. We learned from the amazing authors and professionals that came before us. Those folks gave back with speeches, videos, blog posts, and conference attendance. They chose to share their knowledge and experience so that the next round of authors could benefit from that expertise.

And each of us have something to give back, too. You might not think it, but I promise that you have knowledge and experience. If you've ever worked with CPs or Beta readers, you have experience.  If you've ever queried agents, you have experience. If you've ever worked with an editor, attended a conference, spoken on a panel, held a book signing, taught a class or any number of author book related events, you have experience.

And that experience is something that another author doesn't have.

So think about what you have to offer (I bet it's more than you think) and then find ways to give back.

Agency Lessons: Why you don't want an agent to make an exception for your novel

Agency Lessons is a weekly post that gives authors and readers an inside look into the mind of a literary agent and a peek behind the curtain of how books are made.
I get a lot of queries for projects that are outside of areas I represent. I'm not talking genre, because genres are fluid and I think there is plenty of wiggle room there. I'm talking about age groups. Chapter books, NA, Adult. Areas that I try to make very clear I don't represent.

I don't know why people do this. Maybe they just got my name off a list and didn't bother to look at what I represent. Maybe they're hoping I'll love their book so much that I'll take it on anyway.

But authors, you don't want an agent to take you on as an exception.

There is a reason I don't take on chapter books and Adult novels. I rarely read in those age groups. I am not keeping up on their trends. I don't know what's in the market. I am not familiar with the editors who acquire those projects. I don't know the best houses for them or how to position them to editors. In short, I am a complete dunce when it comes to those books.

So why in the sweet heavens would you want me to represent you?

I get it, I do. Remember, I was once a fellow soldier in those query trenches. All we want is someone to take a chance on our story. And it's not a far leap from someone to anyone.

But an agent is more than just the next step toward publication.

Your agent will be your cheerleader, book champion, confidant and a guiding hand in your career. This is a business relationship and you need more than just another person to love your book. We have mothers for that. You need someone who can sell that book.

I'll never get mad at someone for sending me something I don't represent. Because I understand the struggle you are coming from. But you aren't doing yourself any favors, and are actually selling yourself short when you lower your standards to someone who is not in a place to help your career.

You are worth more than that. You should be more than someone's exception.

Can I stop marketing yet?

Even though I think it's strange, I get that not everyone enjoys spending their time dreaming up and implementing marketing plans. If you've been reading this blog for any amount of time, I assume you realize I'm a big proponent of launching your book with a strong marketing effort. I guess it's natural at some point for authors to start wondering if it's okay to stop marketing.

So the good news is, you are allowed to stop marketing. You do not have to spend every day for the rest of your lives marketing your book. In fact, if your book has been out for over a month and you haven't written any new words because of all the time you're spending on marketing, it's time to ease back on the throttle.

You need to give yourself a break now and then. Your brain and creative juices need time to focus on other efforts, like the next book. Plus, your followers and fans need a pause as well. It can't always be about your book 24/7. And it doesn't have to be. Case in point, I've been totally slacking in the marketing department this month. Know what? I'm having my best month yet.* You don't have to market all the time to sell books.

*Please don't read that as "Hey, I should stop marketing to sell more books." It doesn't work that way. I promise.

The not so great news is that you can never really stop marketing. Yes, some books reach that famed level of popularity and no longer need promotion because they sell themselves. Do you have any idea how small that portion of the book population is? Infinitesimal. For the rest of us, we need to do what we can to keep our books in front of readers.

That might be guest posts, press releases, reviews, contests, or even getting out the next book. The options for marketing are endless, but the marketing isn't optional. With new books coming out every day, readers have more choices than ever when it comes to what to read. If you put marketing on the back burner, don't be surprised if readers put your book there, too.

Writing marketing into your novel

When I wrote Rite of Rejection, how I would market it was the furthest thing from my mind. I was focused on creating the best book I could, and gave some thought to my publication plans after I finished. I did not think about reviewers, press releases and giveaways.

But I should have.

The light bulb moment came for me as I was prepping my blog tour giveaway. I knew I wanted items that related to the book, that were useful and would appeal to readers. Thank goodness I actually had items like that in the book, or I would have been in deep water.

I got lucky, but I should have been smarter about how I wrote the book. I should have thought ahead to the types of promotions I would want to run and make sure that I'm incorporating useful elements into my book.

Now, before you start railing about selling out to the man or turning a book into some literature version of an action figure, hear me out. I'm not talking about throwing objects and symbolism into your book all willy-nilly where they don't belong. I'm saying you need to think about the symbols and items you do use.

For example, in Rite of Rejection, Rebecca starts out the novel with a simple necklace that has a type of Celtic knot charm. I never gave that much thought in the book. I only knew I wanted the necklace to be simplistic and not overtly flashy, just like Rebecca. The necklace becomes a symbol in the book (I don't want to give any spoilers here) and though it wasn't my initial intention, that necklace ended up on the cover of the book.

Now, as I'm working on book two, I'm giving more thought to what that cover will look like and I'm thinking more about the objects in the book. I ask myself if that object will be important, what is its significance, and would it look good on the cover of a book. I'm not going to add something to the book that doesn't belong, but I am making more marketing-driven decisions about what I use.

I lucked into having some good symbols and tangible items in my book that I could use. But I know better, or at least I should have. Lesson learned.

Maybe this is an aspect that you ignore in the first draft. But as you go back and evaluate your manuscript, dedicate a read-through to looking at your objects and symbols through a marketing eye. When it comes time to present your book to the masses, you'll thank me.

Agency Lessons: Crafting your opening

Agency Lessons is a weekly post that gives authors and readers an inside look into the mind of a literary agent and a peek behind the curtain of how books are made.

I had the pleasure of speaking to an MFA class last week. They had some great questions, including how do you write an opening that hooks readers. That's a pretty loaded question, but I gave it the old college try. And since writing an engaging opening is a crucial part of querying (when an agent only sees five or ten pages) I thought you guys might be interested as well.

There are a million different ways to grab readers with your first pages, but I've narrowed it down to three key points to keep things simple.

1. A "before" snapshot
The meat of your story is what happens when something crazy happens to your main character and their world gets turned upside down. It doesn't matter if that flip is an alien invasion or just meeting the perfect guy after deciding to give up on love. Regardless of what kind of plot you've got cooked up, you need to let us meet your character before everything changes.

By giving us a quick peak of their life pre-upheaval, we get to know them better and are more likely to care when everything goes to hell in a hand basket. By providing that glimpse, the change is more highlighted and will feel bigger than if you just leaped right into the action.

2. A trope headstand
We all know the beginnings that now make readers cringe: waking up, new job, driving to a new house, looking in the mirror, etc. Can we all agree to not use these anymore? So when you decide where to start the tale, consider activities or situations that are perfectly normal for your character, but will be outside the norm for your average reader. So, if your character likes to skydive, let him start at the edge plane. If your character is a cheerleader, show us right when she gets tossed into the air for a back flip toe touch.

But it doesn't have to be extreme. Maybe your character fills her afternoons sorting library books that have been incorrectly shelved, even though she doesn't work there. Maybe he's feeding the pigs on the family farm. Nothing crazy exciting about either one of those activities, but they are outside the average human experience and let us really get to know your character.

3. Tell me what you want, what you really, really want
And now that song will be stuck in your head for the rest of the day. Sorry about that. But you can really kick up your opening scene by giving your character a need or want. I'm not talking about their big story goal here, just a little want. This small goal gives your readers a way to immediately start cheering for your character.

Maybe your pig farmer is trying to rush through his chores because he wants time to send an important email before work of school. Maybe your cheerleader isn't just in practice. Maybe she is competing at nationals. By creating a mini need/want readers are immediately invested, trying to find out if they achieve their goal. Plus, it helps to give that opening scene a drive and purpose.

It should go without saying that in addition to these factors, your pages should also be squeaky clean of grammar issues and typos. But just in case, make sure you've got plenty of eyes to look at these pages. If I find several issues on every page, I'm going to assume your book needs more work than I can give it.

If you can incorporate all three of these tips, chances are you'll be submitting some pretty strong opening pages. Now you just have to perfect that query. :)

Did you have any other tips for writing compelling opening pages? Share them with us in the comments.

If you are a newsletter subscriber then this won't be new, because you guys always get the good stuff first (see, this is why you should subscribe). For the rest of you, I added two bonus scenes from Rite of Rejection to Wattpad this weekend. You can check them out, but be warned that they have spoilers so be sure to finish the book first. Have a great Monday, all!

Write like Taylor Swift Dances

By now, you've probably seen the Vine of Taylor Swift dancing at the Grammy's while Pharrell gives her some non-plussed side eye.

No matter what you think about Taylor's music, you have to respect her complete disregard for what other people think about her.

This isn't the first time she's been moved by the groove. When the music hits and she's feeling it, Taylor cuts a rug wherever she is and doesn't worry that the "haters gonna hate, hate, hate". See what I did there.

She doesn't wait for everyone else to get up and boogie. She's just "Hey, I'm an awkward, slightly gangly white girl and I'm about to get down."

So, how does that apply to us as writers?

We cannot wait for other people to give us approval to do what we love. When the English teacher or literary critic wants to give you side eye for writing amish vampire space opera (yes, that's a real thing), ignore them and get down with your bad self.

Taylor stays true to who she is, both as a person and an artist, and her fans respect her for it. Your work as an author needs to be the same. Write what makes you happy and then find the readers who enjoy what makes you happy.

I realize this can be easier said than done for some of us. Some people (raising my hand) are just born with a big "I don't care what you think of me" button. Writers tend to be on the opposite end of that spectrum, but we don't have to be. There is a freedom in being able to say that you don't give a rat's patootie about someone else's opinion.

A word of caution: there is a big difference between having the confidence to ignore what other people think and demeaning other people's opinions. The love has to work both ways, and that means accepting criticism as valid.

But just because an opinion is valid doesn't mean you have to let it impact you. So take the love and the one-star reviews. Embrace them for what they are. Be yourself without fear.

And when someone gives you the side eye...

Yes, you need to pay for an editor

This is a bit of a follow-up post to yesterday. If you didn't read that yet, go back and take a look at when you need to hire an editor. I promise I'll be here when you get back.

Just in case you still didn't go back and read yesterday's post, keep in mind I am only talking about authors who intend to self-publish. You do not need to pay for an editor if you go the traditional route.

I love reading stories about authors' paths to publication. And I think it's helpful for us to see these so we can be realistic about expectations, both of ourselves and for our success. But I've been a bit disturbed lately about a trend I'm seeing. Authors who don't think they need editors. Instead, they insist their CPs are good enough.

First, these people serve different functions. CPs/Betas are giving general feedback. While some may go into the smaller details and point out areas for improvement, they aren't going through your manuscript the way an editor does.

I love my CPs and when I give them feedback I try to be as helpful as possible. I also have one editing client. I can tell you without any hesitation that I could never critique my CPs work with the same level of detail that I edit. For one, the time it takes would make it impossible. I am in a good sized critique group and that level of work would be a full time job. And second, I don't want to. I love editing for my one client (and I'm not taking on more, so please don't ask), but I wouldn't want to do it for free. I do provide the same level of edits to my clients, but that is with the hope that I sell their book and then make money off that sale. I'm not doing it for free.  And neither are your critique partners.

And then there will be authors who claim that their CPs and Betas do provide them with that deep down edit that a paid editor would provide. I think that's still hogwash, but let's assume you're right. Let's say you have the world's best CP who pulls out a whole pack of red pens to edit your work at no charge. To that I say, you are a big jerk. If you have people who dedicate that much time to you and your work that you then turn around and make money on, you need to be paying those people. It's just the right thing to do. 

Sure, they might be doing it out of the goodness of their hearts, but everyone has a tipping point. And how will you know when they've hit it? How many books will they sorta, kinda edit before they tell you enough is enough. Are you really willing to risk your good name as an author on the cost of an editor.

Now, I get it. Editors, or the good ones, don't come cheap. And when you are the only one covering the bills, those expenses can add up. But if you can't afford an editor then you aren't ready to self-publish. Please don't think I'm being an elitist here. I had to save up to afford the editor I wanted. Same thing with my proofreader and cover artist. I knew that if I expected others to pay money for my work (thereby making me a professional), I needed to act like a professional. And that means paying for the services that make your book professional.

There are a lot of places that you can cut corners and save cost when you self-publish a book. And my friends will tell you that I am super thrifty and save wherever possible. But editing is not a place to cut corners. Save yourself the heartache of bad reviews and second guessing, and invest in your book.

Agency Lessons: When should you hire an editor?

Agency Lessons is a weekly post that gives authors and readers an inside look into the mind of a literary agent and a peek behind the curtain of how books are made.
There are tons of terms for new authors to absorb, especially with all the acronyms we throw around. So, it's no wonder that authors are unsure of the types of feedback they should get and what they need to do before submitting to an agent.

Let me breakdown the different types of people who read your book, just so we are all on the same page.

Critique Partner(CP): This person often reads your book in it's early draft form, usually in portions either as you write or edit. They provide general feedback on characters, plot, setting, etc. They may also point out grammar issues, though probably not since it's still early in the process. CPs can often serve as a sounding board and help brainstorm through issues. Because this is a partnership, you are expected to return the favor.

Beta Reader(Beta): This person reads the entire manuscript, usually after you have put it through several rounds of editing on your own and through your CPs. Betas provide similar feedback to CPs, but since they are seeing the whole manuscript, they are often better able to point out overarching issues and strengths in the novel. Some authors serve as Betas for each other, but most authors use independent readers who don't expect to have their own work read in exchange.

Editor: This individual is the only one included here who is paid. They take your manuscript after you have made it as good as you can with the help of CPs and Betas and go through it line by line to help you make it the best possible novel you can. Editors will often point out major issues in plot and characters as well as sentence level issues like repetitive word choice and awkward phrasing.

Okay, so now that we are on the same page, let's talk about who you should be using.

I will say without a hint of hesitation that everyone should use CPs and Betas. In fact, I tell my authors, that I still expect them to use CPs and Betas. An agent should never, ever be the first person besides your cat to see your book.

Note: Some agents may feel differently about this and that's okay. If you see an agent posting that they don't do things this way, their way is not wrong. Everyone takes a different approach and this is a good question to ask on "the call".

It doesn't matter if this is your first book or your fiftieth. We all need help. As the author you know what your characters are supposed to say and how they are supposed to feel. We don't always get that same emotion on the page. We need other people to help us.

If you plan to go the traditional route, this is where you query (or send your manuscript to your agent). Then, depending on how hands-on your agent is, they will possibly do another deep edit. You can never have too many eyes looking for mistakes in  your manuscript. Your agent will want to make sure you are submitting the best possible work you can.

I advise against hiring an editor if you plan to go traditional. For one, one of the bonuses of going traditional is the fantastic in-house editing your book will receive at no cost to you. No sense in paying for a service that will eventually be free.

The second reason is less obvious and has to do with how you look as an author. You hire a professional editor to get an agent, sign with them, and sell your book. So when you write the next book, are you going to hire an editor again? Probably not, since you already got your agent. So then you send the new manuscript off to your agent who wonders why this book is not as polished as the first. You've unknowingly set yourself up to look bad. No one wants to look bad.

Now, let's say you aren't going the traditional route and you plan to self-publish. You need to hire an editor. I'll write another post on why another day, but for now, just trust me on this. You need to hire an editor, who you pay, with actual money.

Now, I get it. Editors, or the good ones, don't come cheap. I personally saved up money and tucked it aside so I could hire the editor I wanted. I also paid for a proofreader, but you get the point. If you expect people to pony up their hard earned money to buy your book, you need to do the same to get it ready.

Maybe that means you don't get to publish as soon as you wanted. Maybe it means self-publishing isn't really an option for you. Only you know your situation. But if you decide to publish without hiring an editor, don't be surprised if the reviews are lack-luster and sales follow suit.

So that's it. To help out any new writers reading today, how about we fill the comments with tips on finding CPs, Betas and Editors.  Feel free to leave any links to CP match sites that you know of.

Around the self-publishing world in 60 days

It's been two months since the release of Rite of Rejection so it's time for another look at where I'm sitting with my goals.

First, a little housekeeping. I wanted to say thank you for all your kind words on Wednesday's post about paying with kindness. It was a little more touchy-feely than my usual posts, and I appreciate you all going there with me.

Second, I sent out my February newsletter this week and it had two exclusive bonus scenes inside. If you aren't on the mailing list yet, and don't want to miss out all the magic, be sure to sign up!

And now, on to the goals. Here's a quick refresher of my pre-publication goals:

1. Hit 50 Amazon reviews in first month (Goal achieved, woohoo!)
2. Make back my investment in three months
3. Sell 1,000 books in six month

We are now a month away from my second goal of recouping my initial investment. When I posted my expenses back in December, they totaled a little over $900. Since then I had additional expenses (as I expected) to cover the author copies I purchased and my blog tour prizes. My expenses now sit at just under $1200. This may increase again as I'm thinking about getting some bookmarks made, but I'm holding off on that for now.

At this point, I'm feeling pretty good about hitting this goal in the next month. I have a paid speaking gig next week and I'm counting that towards my book income since the book is the only reason I was invited. This is easy to attribute with only one book, but in the future I may have to figure out a different way to label this in my records.

With that speakers fee I will almost recoup my total expenses. So long as book sales don't fall off a cliff, I'm pretty confident I can hit this goal.

Goal number three is the one that has me a little nervous. To date, I've sold a little over 400 books. Don't get me wrong, I think this is fantastic. And if you do the math, it would be easy to think that hitting 1,000 with four more months to go should be easy. The problem is you can't use past performance to project future sales. It just doesn't work that way. I can hope that sales remain steady and do my part to keep them that way, but there's no crystal ball for this sort of thing.

Which brings me to marketing efforts. I really put this on hold after the holidays so I could focus some much needed energy on my agency clients and allow myself to unwind after the hustle of release month, traveling and the holidays. But now it's time to get back in the saddle.

I've been lining up some guest posts that should come out shortly and I'm hoping that will draw some new attention to the book. I am also anticipating a high profile review soon, though I don't have a firm date. I don't want to share more details on that just in case it doesn't come through, but I will let you guys know as soon as it's posted.

In my blog post on Netgalley, I mentioned reaching out to the reviewers on the site who indicated they would like to make contact. I've been working on getting them all into a spreadsheet (you know how I love spreadsheets) and coming up with an introductory email to send them. Hopefully, that will generate some guest posts/interviews/exposure.

For PR, I dropped the ball big time when it came to press releases. I let myself get behind and didn't send out a single press release when the book came out. No one's perfect, I'm far from it. So on the docket is getting press releases written up for all the schools I attended, organizations I've been a part of and several local media outlets.

So those are my big efforts at the moment. I'm trying not to plan for too much since I'm still trying to finish the first draft of the next book. Eventually, I'll need to start planning the marketing efforts behind that release. The fun never ends.

How are your writing goals going for the year? If you're hitting your goals, share some tips. If you're missing the mark, share some strategies for getting back on track. We all need a little helping hand to succeed.

Getting paid with love

If you didn't catch the Super Bowl on Sunday then I'm assuming by now you've seen the new McDonald's commercial. In case you haven't watched live tv in the past few days, here it is. I can wait.

Besides being a genius marketing idea and a fantastic commercial, I love the message behind it. Sometimes we pay in love. Lately, I've been getting paid in love.

I taught a plotting class at the library last week. First, let me tell you that this class was a complete fiasco. The powerpoint clicker stopped working so I had to use the wifi to project my presentation. However, something was very wrong with the screen resolution. In the end, the attendees only got to see the bottom right hand corner of every slide. I was frazzled with the technical difficulties so I was not even close to my A game. Also, because it took so long to get the tech business worked out, I didn't have time to eat my dinner and I was starving for the whole two hours. Fiasco.

When I got home my husband asked if I sold any books. Yeah right! After all that, the last thing I was about to do was let the attendees know they could buy my book. When I was done, I packed up and headed home feeling pretty down on myself and convinced this would be my last workshop.

Then I got an email from one of the ladies who attended letting me know how much she enjoyed the class and that one of my talking points helped her work out a plotting issue she was having.

Well, hey there!

Turns out the class wasn't the complete disaster I was convinced it was. That was exactly the little pep talk I needed. So this past weekend, when a writer's group in another city invited me to come speak, I jumped at the chance. I had my confidence back because someone else chose to pay me in love. And the bonus, this next speaking gig comes with an organized book signing. So hopefully, I'll get paid in more spendable ways as well.

The moral of the story here is two-fold. One, we should always remember to send out a little love to someone else. Even if we think that person is doing great, it never hurts to tell someone you appreciate what they've done. And two, sometimes we do events or put in effort when the pay is nothing more than a little love from others. Sure, we all wish we could make big bucks with everything we do, but that's not always the most important part. Plus, you never know when karma is going to repay you.

Someone asked me recently if I had any plans to quit blogging. I'm guessing they took a look at my schedule and figured I'd have to let it go. My answer: no way. This little slice of the internet is my own personal labor of love. And as much as so many of you have told me you get so much out of this site, I promise, I get more in return. Knowing that I can take the randomness shoved inside this nutty skull and use it to help others is a huge love payment that I'll take any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

So next time someone asks for help or looks for a little author flavor, don't focus so much on what you'll get in return. Cold hard cash is always nice, but no amount of money in the world can buy goodwill and warm fuzzies. Sometimes, it's okay to get paid with love.

Agency Lessons: Who is driving your story?

Agency Lessons is a weekly post that gives authors and readers an inside look into the mind of a literary agent and a peek behind the curtain of how books are made.

I spent the last week cruising through my query box and submissions list. As tends to happen when I read a lot of queries all at once, a few trends popped up. One of those trends was the passive main character and that really surprised me.

I had to sit and think about it. Why am I getting so many stories about characters that aren't actually driving the story? I have a theory.

There is a new trend in books coming out that I am in love with. These are books that are about some of the best supporting characters in literature. Princess Tiger Lily got her own book this year, which I think is fantastic. Also, lots of authors are writing spin-off series or novellas that feature the minor characters that readers fell in love with.

This is great, but not every character deserves their own book. You can only give a character a book if they have a story to tell. That means they have their own goal, conflict, motivation, etc.

I applaud authors looking for the not-so-obvious main character. There are tons of stories in literature and history that would be interesting to read from a new POV. The problem comes when an author selects a main character who doesn't have their own story. That character ends up being only a narrator, merely observing the action while it happens around and to them.

Your main character is responsible for driving the story. Without them, the story doesn't happen.

By all means experiment with form and go for something new. But at the end of the day, you still need a story and a main character making that story happen.