There is Time

Authoring is hard. And those seventeen hour days finally caught up to me.

Here’s some truth: Being an author doesn’t only involve writing and editing. It involves answering emails and posting on social media and writing blogs and marketing. It involves updating your website and keeping track of trends in the market and thinking of innovative ways to sell your work. It involves reading and reading and reading some more, inside and outside of your genre.

And if you work a full time job (like so many of us), that means a lot of late nights and weekend hours. The reality of being an author is much less illustrious than the movies make it out to be. Over 77% of self-published authors make less than $1,000 a year from their writing. For traditional authors, that number is still 53.9% making less than $1,000 a year.

I don’t know about you, but $1,000 a year really isn’t going to pay my bills. Especially considering my rent is $1,200 a month, and I’m single. So I work a full-time job. A vast majority of authors work part-time or full-time or have another income to help out. And at the end of the day, the full-time job has to come before writing. Because I have to eat. And not live on the street.

So I work my 9-5:30 (or later), Monday through Friday, and I write/edit/market/blog/Twitter/Instagram/Facebook during the evenings/into the wee hours of the morning and on the weekends. But that kind of schedule catches up to you.

In my world, things started to pile up. My apartment was a mess. I was ordering out too much because I felt like I had too much to do to go to the grocery store or cook (which increased my expenses). My diet suffered. I drank too much caffeine. My dog got antsy and bored. My social life suffered. I hardly left my apartment. Sleep was something I daydreamed about.

So I promised myself that after I submitted to Pitch Wars I would take a break. Not just from writing, but from everything. From social media, from blogging, even from reading. I needed to recharge my batteries.

At first, the author anxiety almost destroyed my much needed authoring hiatus. For the first few days of said break, I found myself in the presence of my friends without engaging. Instead, I sat in a literal corner silently obsessing over what I had to do. I have a third book in a series to finish revising. I have continuing edits to The King’s Blade to hammer out, because regardless of how it does in Pitch Wars, I’ll be querying soon. I have an idea for a women’s fiction novel that’s itching at me. I have emails to answer. I have reading to do. I have to post on social media to keep my presence up. I have to write a blog. I have to do, do, do.

The “break” didn’t come easy. I had to force myself to take it. But after three or four days, I started to slide into it. There is time became my mantra. It’s okay not to write every day. It’s okay not to read two books a week. It’s okay to leave my phone on the charger. It’s okay to take a day or two to respond to an email. It’s okay to take some time to clean my apartment and go to the grocery store and catch up on Game of Thrones and sit outside with my friends for hours doing nothing but shooting the shit.

We only get one life. Writing is my passion. It’s what I love to do. But when it becomes a chore, I’ve lost something. And that something is the fire, and I need the fire to write.

So writers, as hard as it can be, go ahead and give yourself that break. You don’t need to write every day. There is time.

❤ Always,

Aimee

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The Dreaded Bad Review

I’ve been thinking about this post for awhile and have hesitated to write it. The thing is, this is a sensitive topic. It’s sensitive because there’s a line that should exist between authors and reviewers. Reviewers should never feel intimidated or bullied or pressured into giving anything except their honest opinion of a book. As an author, when you ask for an honest review, you should understand that’s what you’re going to get. And it’s not always sunshine and rainbows. Some people aren’t going to like your book. It’s simply the way of things. Welcome to authorhood, you’ve arrived.

That said, I strive to speak openly here about the emotional experience of this whole writing journey, and I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t speak on the extremely emotional experience of receiving a bad review. Before we begin, however, I want to emphasize this isn’t a “sub-blog post” or something of the sort. This isn’t a direct response to any particular bad review I’ve received and “bad” is pretty subjective anyway. I think we can universally acknowledge that a one-star review is bad, but I’ve seen authors who also struggle with four-star reviews. Authors, as a breed, tend to be perfectionists, and anything less than perfect can sting.

Your Book Isn’t Going to be for Everyone

The best thing about art is that it’s completely subjective. The worst thing about art is that it’s completely subjective. Some people are going to be on the same wave length as you. They’re going to “get” your work and love it. Others aren’t. That’s okay. It just means humanity is diverse and beautiful and lovely and we all have different likes and dislikes. It’s what makes us interesting. And messy. And glorious. It’s important to try and keep that in mind when the inevitable bad review comes knocking.

It’s really interesting to me to see the responses I’ve received on The Wheel Mages. Some people think my world building is great, the best part about my writing. Others think it’s confusing. Some people think my style is unique and refreshing. Others think it’s stilted. Some think my characters are well-developed and believable. Some people think they’re one-dimensional and unnatural feeling. Some people think I defy conventions. Others think I play into tropes. If I take a step back and look at it all laid out before me, the differences can be a beautiful thing. They prove what I already knew: that humans are marvelously complex beings with diverse interests and tastes.

Developing a Thick Skin is a Real Thing

So if you’re involved in the writing community at all you’re going to hear that you need a thick skin. I’m sure I’ve said it about a billion times. It’s true. Very, very, very true. This industry is not necessarily the kindest one that ever was. But then again, life doesn’t happen to be particularly kind, at least not 100% of the time. Developing a thick skin is important, but so is simply being able to build yourself boundaries.

For example, some authors don’t read reviews at all. I don’t have enough self control for this, but I’m a new author. Maybe after I’ve been through this half a dozen times I’ll be able to ignore reviews too. For now, I can’t. If you can, awesome. If you can’t (like me), be prepared. Remember to build yourself boundaries. It’s okay to not check every day for new reviews. It’s okay to know you’re in a bad place and couldn’t handle it if you got a bad one. Heck, it’s okay to have someone pre-screen them for you (if you have someone that generous). Taking care of yourself is important. You’re important, and you are more than your words. Just because someone didn’t like your book doesn’t mean they don’t like you (they don’t know you, likely). Even if your main character is a self-insert character and people say they hate her, it’s still not personal. <– This may have been for myself. Regardless, you are more than your words.

Let it Sting

This is the hardest part for me, and it’s the hardest advice to give. Because it does hurt. The first time I received a bad review of my published work (which is infinitely worse than receiving criticism of something you can fix, so unpublished writers, sorry to tell you, it doesn’t get better), I crawled into bed and didn’t emerge for 29 hours. I didn’t cry because that’s not a thing I do much, but I did run my failings as an author over and over in my mind. I felt terrible about so many things: about inflicting this scourge of a book on the rest of humanity; about being insulted on the internet; about potentially hurting someone’s feelings or at the very least wasting their time; about how angry I was and how ungrateful and selfish and stupid and unworthy. I felt like I should never write again. I felt like my voice didn’t matter and then felt selfish and vain for ever thinking it should matter in the first place. What a narcissist I am, thinking someone should care what I have to say. What an arrogant, egocentric asshole I was for then being angry when someone didn’t “get me.” Every nasty thing I could say to myself was said. I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep, I didn’t move, I just played this grotesque game with myself. It. was. awful. So telling you to accept that is hard, because I know what it feels like and it’s not pleasant.

What I really wish I could say is for you to just brush it off, mutter to yourself that person doesn’t know what the hell he/she/they is talking about and move on with your life. But I can’t tell you that for several reasons.

First, the reviewer probably does know what he/she/they is talking about. They are reading tons and tons of books, and they know what they like and don’t like. They also probably know a little bit about what a book should have. They know what world building is and pacing and plot and such. A lot of reviewers are writers themselves. That’s part of the reason it hurts so much to receive a bad review. I think for me, most of the sting of a bad review comes from being able to recognize that something in that review was true, at least for that individual, and that hurts because I feel like I’ve failed as a writer. Failure sucks.

Second, reviews can actually help your writing if you’re open to them. Don’t get me wrong, you’re probably not going to be open to them right away. But after the initial sting has worn off, a bad review can help you improve future books, so simply brushing it off isn’t always the wisest approach. This is especially true if the reviewer is in your target audience.

Third, if you’ve been hurt by a review, you’re probably not going to be able to simply move on. Period. You might be able to mask some of the pain (guilty), and if you have to do that for a little, do that. But eventually, you should confront it. Storing pain isn’t a great decision (trust me, I’ve got years of it I’m dealing with).

It’s okay to let it sting, to take a few days off, to recenter yourself. But get back up. It’s like falling off a bicycle (or horse, in my case). Confront the pain, but don’t let fear of falling stop you from doing something you love. You’re going to fall. Again and again and again. Learn to tuck and roll and protect yourself as best you can. When you fall hard, heal, then go right back out. Life is too short to let the voices in your head control you. And at the end of the day, those voices are yours. The review or the reviewer didn’t put them there. You did. Your experience, your self-doubt, your insecurities, those are what did that. Battle them. Valiantly. You deserve no less.

Do Not Engage the Reviewer

Seriously. Don’t do this. It’s an extremely bad look. Especially if you asked for the review. In my view, there is little more distasteful than an author coming for a reviewer. And if your reviewer is a teenager because you write YA or MG or what have you, please remember you are the adult in this situation and act accordingly. You’re a professional. Be professional. No matter how hurt you are.

I know it’s hard. Trust me, there have been reviews I’ve received where I’ve wanted to ask questions. To try and explain myself. To tell the reviewer if they’d just read a little bit more they’d see I was about to twist that trope or that wasn’t quite the way they thought it was or or or… Don’t do it. You had the words to make your point and for that person, you didn’t. There is nothing to discuss and it’s only going to turn out badly for you. There will be other reviewers and other reviews. Some of them will likely laud the very things that particular reviewer didn’t like. It will be confusing and annoying and frustrating. But it’s not your place to make a case or state a claim. And it’s not the place of your friends or fans, either. Of course you can’t control the actions of others, but if someone approaches you asking if they should/could come to your defense, the most professional response is to tell them you’re okay, thank them for their support, but explain it’s unnecessary. It’s part of being an author. This isn’t a courtroom. This is Goodreads.

Build Your Community

This is another biggie you’ll see on refrain in the writing community, and it’s also extremely true. Having a community of other writers to vent to is crucial in this business. Because it’s a hard business and when you do receive the dreaded bad review, you’re going to want to have someone (or several someones) to talk/scream/weep to. Fellow writers are great for this because they understand the sting in the way perhaps even your friends and family don’t. They understand it on a visceral, personal level, and good writing friends will be able to act as a crutch or talk you off the ledge or commiserate with you on the level you need. Having these people around will help you get what you need off your chest without doing anything rash (like… uh… coming at the reviewer). Writing pals are a Godsend. Make lots of them.

You’re not a Failure

You might feel like one. But you’re not. If you need it, take a few days off from whatever you’re working on to absorb the hurt, and then expel it however you do. I know that when I receive a bad review, then try to work on something immediately thereafter, it affects everything. I received, for example (again, not calling anyone out, just an observation), a review about my style once. Specifically, that it was stilted and this reviewer didn’t like that. I went to edit the same day, thinking my armor was well enough intact to get what I needed to get done, done. But nope. Everything I read that day felt fake and awkward and didn’t flow and was terrible and gross. My brain was doing a weird brain thing where it was absorbing my insecurities and bringing them to life.

Good news is I was able to recognize what was happening and put the pen down before I destroyed everything I’d written by trying to be a writer I wasn’t. It’s true that certain aspects of my style are stilted. I was trained to write postmodern literary fiction. It’s not necessarily a flowing style (as much as postmodernism can be defined as anything), and it does sometimes find itself out of place in the YA/NA fantasy world. Some people find this refreshing, some people find it off-putting. But it’s how I write. It’s what makes me unique. Was the reviewer who critiqued my style correct? Yep, absolutely. Does that mean I should change? Not today, it doesn’t.

Who knows, though, what tomorrow will bring. The only thing to do is to make sure there is tomorrow.

Keep writing.

❤ Always,

Aimee

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Next week on the blog: I’m going to the RWA Day of YA in Orlando! And I’ll hopefully talk about it! The Wheel Mages is up for an award, too, so I’ll be revealing the results of that 😛 Don’t want to miss it? Don’t forget to follow!

On Beta Readers

I think I promised to write a post about beta readers back in November when my first book came out and then… didn’t. Until now!

Let’s start with basics and branch out, shall we? I’m going to try another FAQ format, because I think that worked last time I used one.

What is a Beta Reader?

Beta readers are non-professional readers (read: not editors or sensitivity readers who are being paid by you or your agent, publishing house, etc.) who read your manuscript (your unpublished book) at varying stages in the process. Some people also use the term “alpha reader” which is basically the beta reader who reads your manuscript first. I don’t differentiate, so for purposes of this post, any non-professional reader will be referred to as a beta reader.

A beta reader is different from a critique partner. A critique partner is another writer with whom you exchange chapters and/or whole works. You scratch my back, I scratch yours, kind of thing. A beta reader does not necessarily have to be a writer nor does the relationship extend both ways. So a critique partner is always a beta reader but a beta reader is not always a critique partner.

When should you send your manuscript for beta reads? 

Every writer is different and the timing of when to send your manuscript for beta reads might vary based on the way your process works and the time your beta readers can devote to the project. For me, I’ve come to a point in my writing career where I don’t send my manuscript out for beta reads until it’s finished and I’ve been through it at least twice. I take beta reads seriously (if you hadn’t noticed, I’m a pretty serious person). My beta readers are reading my manuscripts for free, meaning they’re spending their valuable time on my work pro bono. I don’t want to waste that time by sending them something I know isn’t as good as it could be. Also, if your beta reader is too caught up in gaping plot holes, or confusing description, he/she/they might be unable to really hunker down and get to the meat of your work. Basically, my thought is to treat a beta reader exactly as I’d treat an agent or an editor. I make the manuscript shine, then send it out, then I have the room to really grow and level up my work.

That’s how I do it. Others do it differently (obviously). I’ve been the beta reader for scenes, excerpts, unfinished works, etc. and that’s fine as long as I know what I’m getting myself into. Sometimes bouncing ideas off people and getting a new perspective before the work is complete can help you breathe new life into your ideas or help you get unstuck. I do send small scenes to my beta readers on occasion, mostly to share excitement and get out of my own head, but when it’s time to send the final thing, I want to try and respect the time of my betas by sending them a self-edited product.

How do you pick beta readers?

There are some great resources online about where to find beta readers. I just googled it and briefly perused. This looked like a good start. But that’s not how I found my beta readers.

I’m fortunate enough to have a lot of talented, bright people in my social network who read in my genre, so I put a post out on Facebook seeking beta readers. I had a bunch of responses. It worked well, and I’m extremely grateful for all the help I received on that first manuscript.

Now, though, I’ve narrowed my beta readers down to three. These three all bring something different to the table, but they share some commonality I think is important to have in a good beta reader:

  1. Knowledge of the genre. Meaning they’re widely read and are up to date on the latest works. They might not be market experts, but they know what they like and they’ve read the big names of the genre. They know what a book in your genre is supposed to look like. Bonus points if they’re aware of popular tropes and themes and are willing to discuss their likes and dislikes and why they have those views.
  2. Analytical readers. My beta readers don’t stop at “this is good” or “this is bad”. They all tell me why they like what they like in my work and why they dislike what they dislike. They know what world building is, they know some common pitfalls, and they have a good understanding of what good writing looks like, even if they don’t know the technicalities. Bonus points if they do know the technicalities.
  3. Constructive Criticism. This one seems like a no brainer in a beta reader, but I’ve found that it’s not. I see a lot of writers default to beta readers who are “safe” for the writer. And by safe I mean they’ll serve as an ego booster to the writer. “My beta reader said it was great!” Is something I see a lot. My first thought when I see this is: “You don’t have a good beta reader.” I know, it sounds shitty, but in my experience, it’s true. “This is great,” is the least helpful “critique” you can receive. Nothing is ever perfect, not published works, and certainly not manuscripts. Having someone there to cheer you on is excellent and important for writers who tend to be a down on themselves lot, but a cheerleader is not a good beta reader. A beta reader is someone who will be willing to tell you the hard truths behind your work. The opposite end of the spectrum is a beta reader who only sends negative feedback through the line. Negative feedback is arguably more important than positive, but you need to know what is working, too. I like to have beta readers who understand how to provide both.
  4. Enthusiasm. Not to be confused with “cheerleader” as discussed above. A beta reader should be enthusiastic about your work, but not to the point where he/she/they is blinded by said enthusiasm and defaults to “everything you write is divine.” True enthusiasm, as I see it, is a beta reader who enjoys your work so much she’s excited to help you make it better. One of my beta readers, for example, consistently kicks my ass on her critiques, but she was the first person to buy my book when it came out, and she was the first person to get my book into a real library. A good beta reader has some skin in the game, and is emotionally invested in your work because they helped make it what it is.
  5. Growth. A great beta reader will become a better reader as you become a better writer, and you’ll grow together. When I learn something at a conference or workshop or read an article that sparks me or something happens on Twitter that makes me reflect on my own work, I share it with my betas. We all learn and grow together. It’s definitely a collaborative process.

How many beta readers do you need?

I think this is subjective. I currently have three, as I said. These three give super detailed feedback. I’m confident in their opinions, and I’ve created a close working relationship with them. I might seek more readers for the standalone fantasy I’m working on right now, but for my series, I’m content. I tend to prefer a smaller number of readers who will give me more detailed feedback than lots of readers who will give me small amounts of feedback, but there’s a lot to be said about many different eyes and points of view as well.

If you could do it again…

I definitely made some mistakes with my beta readers in the beginning, and my process is constantly changing as my knowledge of craft grows. The good news is that if you’re planning on doing this writing thing for a living, you have more books in you, so you can make some mistakes and still keep moving forward. I’ve been able to correct my beta reading process in subsequent manuscripts, but if you’re looking to maybe save time and do this a tad more efficiently than I did, here are some things you might want to consider.

  1. Sending your manuscript too soon. See: When should you send your manuscript? I was so excited to share my first manuscript with the world that I sent it for beta reads before it was ready. As a consequence, I think some of my potential beta readers dropped out, and I might have lost some good readers. This was also a problem because for those beta readers who did stick around, a lot of time was spent discussing things I knew had to be fixed, which wasn’t especially helpful and was frustrating for both parties. Additionally, for the few beta readers who were willing to give the manuscript a second look after I’d made changes, some things became confused because they no longer had “virgin” eyes. They’d already read the work at that point and versions became confused, dampening the impact of some of my revisions.
  2. Being specific. I am one of those people who doesn’t like to feel like they’re infringing on someone or being too pushy or sounding ungrateful. Beta readers are doing me a huge favor in agreeing to read my work, so when I sent my first manuscript out I was basically just a ball of excitement, fervent gratitude, wishful thinking, and “here it is.” This was… not helpful. As the writer, it’s your job to explain to your betas what they’re getting into, especially if they’re not a writer. You need to be specific: “This is not finished. There are going to be grammar errors.” Your beta readers aren’t line or copy editors, but they might not know that, so you should tell them. Specific instructions can help. “Please tell me the exact location where you stopped reading or felt thrown from the story.” “Please tell me where you became bored.” “Please tell me where confusion happened and what you were confused about, specifically.”
  3. Thicken your skin. Seriously. This might sound callous, but I mean it. Criticism is hard, and it hurts, and thickening your skin is the only way you’re going to be able to protect yourself from it. If you want to be a writer, be prepared to take some hits. I joke that my beta readers are the toughest reviewers I have, but my betas are also people I know in real life who are aware they’re speaking to an actual human being on the other end of the keyboard, one they mostly like. The critique of your betas is nothing compared to hits your manuscript-turned-book will receive in the big, wide world, so consider this a test run.

Final thoughts

LISTEN. You don’t have to take every bit of advice your betas give you, but make sure you consider it and consider it hard. Think past the sting and the pain it might cause you and really chew on it, then digest, then edit.

WAIT. Always, always let your critique rest before you start making edits. Do not allow yourself to be blinded by whatever initial feelings you might have about your critique. Give yourself some time to get over yourself (and your feelings) before you make a determination about any critique point. Bonus, as you grow as a writer, and as your relationship with your betas grow, a lot of your knee-jerk reactions to their critique and advice will fade and you won’t have to wait as long.

THANK. Do not forget to thank your beta readers. They are awesome, amazing people who have done you a great service. Put them in your acknowledgements, talk about them on your blog, bake them cookies, give them free copies of your book, bring them presents, and mostly, when your book is out there in the wild, make sure to remind them that their hands are on this thing, too, and you love them for it.

Have things to add? Pop them in the comments.

❤ Aimee

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Why I Write YA

Youth is wasted on the young.

~ George Bernard Shaw (maybe)

If you Google: “What would you tell your younger self” you’ll find literally hundreds of articles written by people of all ages and professions. You’ll see articles written by 65-year-old astrophysicists and articles by 26-year-old postdoctoral students all wishing to speak to some version of their past selves. You’ll see photographers, and writers, and presidents all with a message to send to a version of themselves they wish they could go back and nurture.

Writing young adult fiction is a bit like that. I’d like to sound romantic and say my writing is a love letter to my younger self, but if you’ve read my writing, you’ll understand why that’s not actually very romantic (or true). What my writing really is, or what I strive to make it, is a quiet narrative of reality. From the fantasy author, yes, I know.

I was recently asked by an interviewer if I had things I wanted to say with my writing. My answer to this is emphatically yes. I think every writer does, whether he/she/they knows it or not (arguably, not knowing it is much more dangerous than embracing it). And because what I want to say with my writing has so much to do with things I believed as a teenager, it only seems to make sense I would write young adult fiction.

This is also probably why I have such a fascination with trope bending. Tropes, to me, feel a lot like stories that aren’t fully fleshed out. A little like me as a teenager. As a teenager, I was a plot-driven story. Lots of things happened to me, but I didn’t have much agency. I wasn’t driving my own story. As a consequence, I fell into a lot of tropes (and I’m not talking about the fluff tropes like love triangles and enemies-to-lovers, I’m talking about the big, problematic tropes).

Rejecting tropes flat-out, however, seems like avoidance. I’m kind of tired of avoidance. I’m driving my own story now. I have agency. I want to confront the beasts I had to battle during adolescence, and I’m encouraged to see so many young adults in the community rattling sabers as well. Tropes may never be a part of their stories, and that’s an amazing thing to witness.

But for me, there are still things I need to address. There are things about myself I’d like to go back and change but can’t. Truths I wish I’d realized sooner. These ugly realities, while not romantic, are what you’ll find in my writing. My writing is not a love story to my younger self, nor is it a pep talk to young adults. My writing is ugly and scarred. It’s about battling the beast inside of you. It’s taking an incomplete story and filling it out, then turning it upside down.

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