Monday, June 30, 2014

5 People Watching Tips

by Jemi Fraser

Summertime is here (at least for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere) and many people will be heading out on vacation sometime in the next few months. As a writer, one of my favourite things to do on vacation is people watch.

1. Spot the Tourist

Or business person or teacher or musician or pilot or artist or... Switch it up to find different kinds of people during different parts of the day. Look beyond the obvious clothing and check out some of the less obvious clues: head up/down, eye movement, fluid/jerky body movements, facial expressions, accessories, hair, jewelry, hand gestures... Think about the vocations of your characters and find someone who does the same job. How do you know?

2. Eavesdrop

So much fun! Love hearing bits and pieces of conversations and wondering about what happened before to create that particular snippet and what will happen afterward. You can capture great hints for dialogue: length of sentences, tone, pauses, interesting speech patterns and so much more.

When you're eavesdropping, listen to the flow of the various languages and dialects as well. Can you identify the speakers' home regions? What makes their speech patterns special? Listening to people speak different languages to each other is especially fascinating - I love the blend of the languages and the brain's ability to think in both at once.

3. Big Crowds

If you have the chance to be in a big crowd at a sporting event, a concert, charity event or any other big venue, look for what stands out. Who's been dragged to the event and is bored beyond belief? Figure out why that person is there (obligation, business, love...). If it's a sporting event, spot the people who are cheering against the home team and watch how they handle it.

Look at the range of outfits in the crowd. Listen for the uncomfortable voice or the one that drips with sarcasm or the person on the edge of tears or temper. Find the most passionate fan. Watch the body language change as the event moves along. Find the couple most in love, the one about to break up.

4. Public Transit Footwear

When I'm on public transit (everything from subways to buses to boats) I like to check out footwear first. Then I build an image in my head of what else the person might be wearing. After I've got the image set, I check out the reality. It's often WAY different from my expectations. (You can do this anywhere, but for some reason, I like public transit for this  one!)

5. Clothing Fiascoes

(Disclaimer: I am one of the least well-dressed people I know!) As you're moving through your vacation, look for those folks with the wildly inappropriate outfits, then assess their emotional states and figure out how they ended up wearing the exact wrong thing. Are they over-confident? Oblivious? Obnoxious? Rude? Desperately uncomfortable? Superior? Again, body language, tone and eye movements are your friends and will tell you so much more than the person would expect.

So while I think vacations are the perfect time to leave your laptop at home and recharge your energy, there's no need to let your observational skills get rusty!

What's your favourite people watching venue?

Jemi Fraser is an aspiring author of contemporary romance. She blogs  and tweets while searching for those HEAs.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Lessons From an Anomaly

by +J. Lea Lopez 

One author's success doesn't diminish the possibility of our own. Because there's not a finite pool of sparkling, shiny success that slowly empties with each new book published. We all know that, right? But there are still book deals that make even the most level-headed of us go Umm... what? I'm still slogging away in the [midlist/query trenches/self-pub maze] while they're showered with stardom for THAT? For some it was Fifty Shades. For others it might be the latest reality star's memoir. For many, recently, it's the six-figure deal for a One Direction fanfic picked up from Wattpad.

I don't particularly care if someone wants to read fanfic about a boy band. If that's their thing, more power to them. I'm not disparaging that. Usually I ignore such out-of-nowhere rise to fame stories, because it's sort of like that one person who wins a multi-million-dollar lottery jackpot: the odds of it happening to you or me are astronomical, but it does happen to some people. This time, however, I got to thinking. Even if Anna Todd's 1D fanfic book deal is that one in a million jackpot that none of us are likely to experience for ourselves, maybe there were still things we could learn and apply to our own journey. Turns out, there are.

Pace and productivity

According to the article linked above Todd's fiction was posted in 300 daily installments and garnered several hundred million views. Not hundreds. Not thousands. Hundreds of millions. I think there's something to be learned from the pacing and serialization aspect of her success. It's sort of like blogging, where one of the biggest pieces of advice people have to give is to have a consistent schedule, and generally the more often, the better. If you're on Wattpad browsing stories and someone else is on there posting a story (or part of one) every day for almost a year, chances are good you'll stumble across something they've written even if you aren't searching for them specifically. Fans of the story will want to read more of the series or even more from that author regardless of the story world. If they're pushing out something new very quickly, there's less chance of fans getting bored, wandering away, and forgetting to come back to look again.

What does that mean for you or me? Self-publishers may have a bit of an advantage here because they have more control over their publishing schedule, but those publishing traditionally can pay attention to their pacing as well. It might mean waiting until you have the first two books ready to go and another nearing completion before self-publishing the first one so you're able to set a quick pace with your releases. If you aren't writing a series, that doesn't mean you can't try the same technique with unrelated books.  High productivity helps to create visibility and increase discovery. Setting a quicker pace ensures that people who enjoy your writing never have to wait too long for something new.

Where the fans are

Todd could have posted her writing on her own blog, or on another writing web site that didn't have a specific fanfiction category. But she didn't. Wattpad has a category dedicated to fanfic, and people go there to read it, if the number of views on many of the top rated stories are any indication. It sounds simplistic, but being where your audience hangs out is important. That's why it's important for aspiring authors on social media to understand that tweeting or blogging only about writing techniques, while great, means the audience you attract is going to consist almost exclusively of other writers. Yes, writers are readers, too, but there's also a huge potential audience of non-writers out there.

I'm not saying we should all post our writing for free on web sites that have a lot of readers interested in our genre. But if you love to knit so much that the main character in your cozy mystery is a sweater-knitting sleuth, I really hope you're hanging out in knitting circles or online forums, or that you're tweeting your favorite knitting patterns in addition to writing advice. Does your book feature a talented tenor who must decide between his dream opera role and the love of his life? Then talk about opera and singing! Seek out places online or in real life to engage with other singers and other fans of opera. Most importantly, though, engage with people this way as a fellow fangirl first and an author second.


Fanfiction is, by nature, written by fans of something. They have a passion for the subject already. In reading her interview responses, it's easy to see how much Todd loves One Direction and how that passion bleeds over into the stories she's written. It may seem simplistic, but never lose sight of the joy and passion you have for your stories. If you aren't in love with the plot and characters you're writing, it's going to be difficult to get anyone else excited about reading it. Unbridled passion is contagious, so go ahead and let that cat out of the bag.

How do you usually respond to the latest big thing? What other lessons can we learn from these literary lottery winners?

J. Lea López is an author who strives to make you laugh at, fall in love with, cry over, and lust after the characters she writes. She welcomes online stalkers as long as they're witty and/or adulatory. Kidding. Maybe. Check for yourself: Twitter, Facebook, Blog.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

It’s Just Business (No, Seriously)

by Sophie Perinot

It takes a long time for the fact that writing is a business to sink in.

Let’s face it, when you get that offer from an agent (or two, or ten) it feels like the Hogwarts letter—magic baby, pure magic.  You are the few, the chosen, the 2%.  Then you take the next step, a book contract.  Now you are a lottery winner (since only roughly 50% of represented debut authors get this far). And you are being told you are brilliant and you might even think you are an “A”rtist.  But what you are, plain and simple, is a craftsperson under contract and beyond this a business entrepreneur with a small personal brand.

The sooner you recognize this the better.  Not just because it will allow you to make rational decisions about contracts, deadlines and promotions either.

The main reason to remember that writing is a business is so that when the bumps come—and they will my darlings, they will—you do not take them personally.  I have now been a published author for two years and from my not-so-lofty perch I’ve observed lots of other published author friends.  Every bit of feedback you get, every rejection (and rejection never really stops—whether you have a later project turned down or just get a really nasty review questioning whether English is even your first language) is NOT a judgment on you as a person nor even, really, your competence at your craft.

If you make everything personal you will spend a lot of time curled up in a fetal position over stuff that does not warrant that level of emotional angst.   

Example One: you turn in a manuscript to your agent or editor.  You a) think “well, it’s my best work product, I’ll have to see what they think and meanwhile I will work on X, or b) worry yourself sick that they won’t like it and that in rejecting it they will be rejecting you as a person.  FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PEOPLE THE ANSWER HAD BETTER BE A!  If it is not try substituting an evaluation at any other job into the scenario and see how silly it sounds to be second guessing your worth as a human being based upon that assessment.

Example Two: you pitch some ideas to your agent for your next project.  She/he doesn’t like one of your ideas (if you are lucky you haven’t written 200 pages of it already).  If you drank the cool aid you begin to feel both aggrieved and invincible—you will just write the book after all YOU love it and you are the “A”rtist.  And that is perfectly defensible—perfectly—if you are willing to take the chance that agent-dude won’t be able to sell the completed work you've now dumped two years of your life into and if you are not relying on writing to pay any bills.  BUT If you can view this as a business in which you produce a consumer product then chances are you will take the input, swallow hard and write something else.  After all, you hired your agent for his/her expertise and market savvy.  And the best book (or technology for that matter) doesn't always win in the market (says the women whose family owned a Beta Max growing up).

There are dozens of additional examples I could list.  But the point remains the same—almost everything that occurs after publication can be viewed either as personal or business and in nearly every case the latter view will lead to preserved sanity in a way the former will not.

Ultimately the MOST important reason to view writing as a business is so that you can rationally assess whether it suits your professional needs, and for how long you wish to continue in it.  If you worked at a widget factory and started to dread going to work every morning you would probably ask yourself some very pointed questions – 1) do I need this job to keep roof overhead and bread on the table? 2) Do I have the resume (qualifications and experience) to do something else that will achieve roof/bread while making me less crazy? 3) If roof/bread are my primary goals here might I be able to better afford them doing something else?  4) If I don’t need to work for roof/bread am I getting satisfaction out of my business that warrants sticking with it?  5) Is there a way to change my personal business strategy so that my job is more satisfying, provides greater remuneration or both?

Folks, those widget-maker questions work just as well for writing.  The number of writers I've met lately who seem tired of what they are doing (or actually crushed by it) is astounding and time and time again I find myself thinking “if the business of writing is killing you why are you still doing it?”  Of course the obvious answer is that for some people it is what pays the bills and there is no nice alternative.  I am not discounting that possibility for an instant.  I am saying, just make sure, as you would with any other business, that you are evaluating what you do under the right rubric.  This is not a “survival test” and leaving this business is no more a sign of personal failure than is leaving one employer for another.