Suit Up Sunday

I don’t know about you, but as far as I’m concerned, there’s not much sexier than a man in a suit. Make it a silver fox in a suit? Welcome to Hot and Bothered, Population: Poppy.

The law of entropy (AKA Change takes Work)

I saw mention this week of the law of entropy, and realized I didn’t know what it meant. That ever happen to you? So being the intrepid Googler that I am, I looked it up. Since it’s all about physics, and I’m no Sheldon Cooper, I didn’t get the majority of it.

But one part of the definition caught my eye:
The second law of thermodynamics states that in general the total entropy of any system will not decrease other than by increasing the entropy of some other system. Hence, in a system isolated from its environment, the entropy of that system will tend not to decrease. It follows that heat will not flow from a colder body to a hotter body without the application of work (the imposition of order) to the colder body. (from Wiki)

They gave a great example of a iced drink, and how the drink changes. Being the dedicated coffee drinker that I am, I applied that to my coffee. My fellow coffee drinkers (and tea drinkers, too, can’t forget you) know all about entropy. We sit our piping hot cup of coffee by our side and proceed to get distracted by the shiny. Next sip we take, our coffee is cold. Epic Fail.

Now if I were one of those fancy folks who had a cup warmer on my desk, it wouldn’t be such an issue. But heaven help me if I put one more thing on my poor desk. It’s grumpy with me as it is due to the massive pile of books I’m using for research.

There’s also a lot of talk about order, disorder, and even chaos with this whole law of entropy business. Oh, I know all about chaos! Chaos and I are friends. We go way back. I’ve been trying to tame chaos, but it goes back to that definition above, especially the part that says “without the application of work”.

Who knew? Life is work. Writing is work.

I love those times in my life when I become a master of the obvious.

So now I’m thinking of creating a new law, and changing the face of physics as I know it. The Law of Poppy states that in order to make things happen, you have to work for it.

No one will hand me the shiny gold medal just for being so darn nice? What? That doesn’t seem fair! But as my mother loves to tell me “Life’s not fair.” She’s full of those little bits of wisdom. She also loves to tell me to “Get over it.” But that’s another blog post.

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to treat writing like a career in 2012. The great thing about it? My job is fun! I get to write, which is what I love, but I also get to play on Facebook, interact with other people who have the same interests I do, and even take trips! (Albuquerque better watch out!)

It’s definitely a new way of thinking, but the law of entropy (and my now-cold cup of coffee) tells me that if I add a little heat, do a little work, I can do it. Well, either that or I just need to drink my coffee faster. I’m still figuring that part out.

It’s a learning process, that’s for sure. So what do you need the law of entropy for?

The Business of Writing Part 2

Part 2 of my interview with Heidi Cullinan, Ethan Day, Amy Lane, Z.A. Maxfield and Marie Sexton on the Business that goes along with being a writer. 

What promotion have you found most successful for you?

ZAM-I feel that blogging, both on my own blog and guest blogging is a very helpful thing. I am starting a monthly newsletter. I also find that being nice to people, and being genuinely interested in other writers and their careers, is the best promotion you can have. Generosity of spirit is a very cool thing to have, and to experience from others.
MS-Goodreads is absolutely the #1 place to promote. I didn’t even know it existed when my first book was published, but it is definitely where I’ve found a huge portion of my readers.
Beyond that, I recommend just paying attention and watching for opportunities. There are tons of yahoo groups for authors and readers. Some of them you can use for promotion, and they may or may not be helpful. But often, you’ll find other authors looking for guest bloggers. Take them up on it. Join blog tours. Reach out to other authors who have releases when you do. We’re all this boat together. Yes, in a way we’re competitors, but we’re also each other’s very best resource.
HC-Making the blog Coffee and Porn in the Morning. It was a whim one afternoon, but it’s turned out to be one of my favorite things. We get a lot of traffic, have a lot of fun, and my name and books and links are all right there for every visitor. I do YouTube book trailers as well, and I invested a lot of money in getting a smooth, good-looking website. I think Twitter helps me as well. But mostly I invest in the places where I have interest and means. If I hated Twitter, it would be a bad place for me to network. I can’t stand Yahoo groups, so it’s not surprising I’m seldom there. We need to go with what works for us and not feel bad when what doesn’t work for us seems like the new black for everyone else.
ED-Unfortunately there’s no real or accurate reporting of sales, and because the resellers often times pay months and months down the road, I’ve found the success of promo to be VERY difficult to track. If you’re a super organized person who spreadsheet and keep track of what you did & when you did it, then six months or more down the road you can perhaps pull out your royalty invoices and try piecing all that together.
For me…I could write a book in the time it would take me to do all that, so it’s not something I deem to be an effective use of my time. I try to base my promo on things I enjoy doing, because I’m more likely to actually do it that way. And I happen to believe that anytime you can team up with other authors for promo you should. It costs less per author and 12 authors will always draw more of a crowd than 1.
I don’t know. There are some authors who might disagree, but whatever you do for promo – you will always catch more flies with honey…honey. In other words, don’t be an ass in public.
AL-Mostly just being a part of my community. If I can chat, I do. If I have time to go on twitter or Facebook, I do. If someone asks me to post a blog, I do if I can. If I have time to write a free story, I’m there. For me, it’s not any one thing that’s successful, it’s being out there, caring about my fellow writers, being an ear or a friend or a guest or a one-liner. I keep up my blog, and although that was never really about promotion, it helps make all of the other things gel.  I read about the issues, I know whose voices are heard, and I try (it’s hard–I am opinionated, even though I also try to be tolerant of opposing opinions) not to alienate anybody. It’s a small place, and many of these people are my friends. I keep thinking like that, even as the world opens up to some extent–it helps to remember that everybody in this small community has a story to tell as well.       
Any tips on how to handle reviews, both good and bad?
ZAM-Don’t. Ever. Read. Them. How often do I break this rule? Too. Often. One of my mentors recently admonished me to ignore reviews, he said if they’re good they’ll make you lazy and if they’re bad they’ll make you crazy. (Or words to that effect.) I think the point is for me, if I’m looking for validation, I’m not likely to find it from reviews or reviewers, in fact, I’m not going to find it outside myself at all.                    
MS-DON’T READ THEM. Period. Especially reader reviews. For a newly published author, it’s way too tempting to track each and every review. Trust me: that way lies madness. DON’T do it. Resist the urge with all your might.
Here’s the thing: we all love positive feedback. We all love to read those good reviews. But for most of us, one negative review can undermine a hundred good ones. Reader reviews are worse, because there is nothing to compel them to be professional. Yes, you may get some great ones, and it’s easy to get sucked in. It’s really easy to think, “Yes! This is why I write!” But eventually you’ll get that one that calls you a fraud, or makes a personal attack against you, or one that so blatantly misses the point that you know they didn’t actually read the book at all. You’ll get that one that says, “I bought this historical regency romance expecting it to have killer robots from outer space, and since it doesn’t I’m giving it one star.” (I’m not even kidding.) And you’ll sit and stew and think of all the things you want to say in response, but can’t. Things like, “So, why EXACTLY did you think there would be robots in a historical regency novel?” But no matter what the review says, you can’t respond. You can’t defend yourself. And so instead, you stew some more.
It’s an absolute waste of time and brain power.
Now, do I think reviews or reviewers are worthless? Hell no! I love them. I send my books to lots of them. I hope they review my work. I of course hope even more that they love it. But I’ll be the first one to say, they owe me nothing. Reviews are for READERS. My advice is, save yourself a billion headaches, and stay the hell away.
Now, if you do read one, and it tears your heart out? Cry. Drink. Bitch to your spouse/partner and your closest writer friends. Do not respond to the review. Do not argue. Resist the urge to blog about it or tweet about it. I wouldn’t even recommend complaining on the author lists, because you never really know who’s in those groups. There are authors who are also editors at other houses or who review for review sites or who are friends with people who are. It’s easy to think you’re in a safe forum, but really, I don’t think there’s any such thing. There are eyes and ears everywhere, and not all of them are friendly. One of the hardest things about this gig is the fact that you’re not really allowed to have opinions anymore.
HC-All reviews, be they one-offs on someone’s lunch on Goodreads or a professional one in Booklist, are opinions. Taken collectively they do begin to bear a bit of weight, but even then, they’re still opinions. Also, once you approve the galleys, the book is done. Everything that happens past that point for you are just interesting occurrences, except for collecting royalties. Everything but the money is stuff about The Book, not you.
There’s this vague concept that one can learn from commentary, but only so much, and only from certain commentary, and if that commentary makes you despair or shuts you down, shut                 it down. Ignore it. Delete it. Do what you have to do to protect your work and your sanity.
Others disagree, but I’m of the camp that votes for authors not commentating on reviews. A “thanks for the review” is nice, but I don’t think it’s essential. You wrote the book. You did some PR for it. That’s all you have to do, because now you’re writing another one. You’re always one universe ahead of the rest of your book world, because you’re creating the space for the next party. If nipping back to see how the party actually turned out interferes with your future parties, don’t go.
Now, if reviews don’t bother you or throw you off, then by all means, do what you like. Personally, I’ve found even the good ones make me anxious. I always feel like I’m waiting for some other shoe that never comes. Part of it to me is that you write it and you always wonder if it’s okay, and the truth is, you never really know, because there’s no answer. There are ten million answers, and at best you can even them out and get an average, which is so very not the same thing.
ED-I do read them and no longer comment other than perhaps a thank you for taking the time. When my first book was released I made a comment about a review I received where the editor was mentioned and not in a good way. From my perspective that crossed a line. It’s my name on the cover of that book so I have opened myself up to criticism – it’s merely part of the biz. To bring anyone else into the line of fire just felt wrong to me. Yes – the editing is part of what can make or break a book so I get that can be seen as pertinent and topical for a review. At the same time – no one outside of the author and their editor truly knows what has gone on behind the scenes. For all the reviewer knows, the editor may have brought up all the points they have issues with and the author may have disagreed and insisted those changes not be made. Depending on the severity of those changes they may not have been large enough for the publisher to have walked away from the project so the book was published anyway. My point – if you don’t know you shouldn’t bring it up. The reviewer has a responsibility to read and make an honest assessment of the book. I still believe any comments should be leveled at the author alone. If the problems the reviewer had were things an editor should have mentioned and didn’t then the author will be able to judge from there if they want to work with that editor again. No one has the right to assume anyone guilty outside of the person listed on the cover of the book. That’s just my opinion, lol. In retrospect, I’m not ashamed that I spoke up for something I believed to be wrong. That being said, I likely wouldn’t do it a second time in a knew-then-what-I-know-now type of scenario. I enjoy dialoguing with a reviewer or reader when I feel like they made an honest attempt to read and review the book – even if they didn’t like the book. I’ve learned things from those experiences and hopefully that feeling is mutual.
At the end of the day – a review – outside of technical and grammatical issues is merely one person’s opinion. That’s all that they are. If you’re unable to deal with people leveling their opinion about your work then don’t become an author. It’s that simple. It will happen and it will happen more than once. You will NEVER please everyone so you need to accept that as fact and move on. If you can’t then you either need to not publish or never go looking. I’ve had good reviews, bad reviews, and the other kind, where the comments are so ludicrously heinous and in some cases utterly baseless, that I understand they come from an individual who has decided they do not like me for whatever reason and has decided to take it upon themselves to take me down a peg or two. These are the ones I usually laugh my ass off while reading. Perhaps I’ve simply seen too many pissed off drag queens on a verbal rampage in my day to be phased by it, but I’m able to read them, laugh it off and move on. If you really wanna see me cry, take my DVR away! : )
I do not now nor have I ever expected everyone to like my books. My entire college writing career took place in workshop type environments where everyone in the classes read and commented on everyone else’s work. I quickly got used to hearing both the good and the bad along with everything in between. That desensitized me to a certain degree.            
AL-My first is to believe in what you have written, and to believe in why you are writing. Be aware when you are writing something that is very often disliked in your genre–cheating, polyamory, non-traditional heroes–and decide if that is really what you want to do with the story. And if it is, then commit. People will still rip it up and tear it down, but if you believed in the character’s action when you wrote it, that makes it easier to deal with the criticism. (And that goes for everything you write–blogging, tweeting, e-mail, whatever. Stop, think about what you’re saying, and only press send if you really believe in it. You’ll still probably put your foot in your mouth (or that could only be me) but at least you know that, at the moment, you were being true to what you believed.) There was an entire contingent of people who hated Keeping Promise Rock because Crick cheated when he was in Germany, and that same group hated Chris and Xander for the Third Home Game of the Month.  But those were things I felt necessary to the story, and necessary to the characters as they were established. I knew they would catch heat when I wrote them, and I wrote them anyway, because it would not be the story I needed to tell if I didn’t. Being true to your story makes the criticism easier to handle.               
Oh–and for the good ones?  Say thankful. Be grateful. Somebody got you–it’s not always a given, and it’s always a miracle.
What do you think makes a successful interview?
ZAM-I think honesty is the best and most interesting thing. For someone like me, who can talk all day about how I write and why I write etc., having to face the fact that I’m not really that great about the business end of things was eye opening. Seriously. Receipts. Pffft. My accountant would just brain me if he knew.
MS-Well, one that makes people go buy your books, of course! 😀
Seriously, now:
I think a lot of times, interviews focus more on the writer than readers really want. They ask about our opinions on the latest hot topic, or the latest controversy, or that one controversy that’s been brewing for years. They ask how long we’ve been writing, and what our inspiration comes from. I’m not sure readers care about that stuff. It seems to me that the ones readers like the most are ones that are sort of goofy, or the ones that focus on the story and the characters. I could write some kind of manifesto on why I prefer first person over third, but I think most readers would just yawn. But if I wrote up a random post that said what Matt gave Jared for Christmas, or where Jon and Cole went on their honeymoon, I guarantee people would read it and ask me for more.
HC-Good question. I don’t know. I think that’s better asked of readers. Probably not too long of answers unless you’re fantastically interesting. Brief and witty or at least genuine. You don’t have to bare your soul, but be yourself. It works on dates and it works in interviews.
ED-Being yourself obviously, but people still have to read them and you want them to be entertained enough to read through the entire interview so they get to the blurb and excerpt for your book at the end. Approach the interview the same way you would a story. Look at yourself the way you’d look at a character in your story and treat your answers like the dialogue in your book.
I think the most important thing is to remain consistent with your online and public persona as well as during your promotional ops. Don’t be a dick ever…at least not in public, lol. If you need to throw a hissy – do it at home or amongst close friends who may still judge you for it but would never post it on You Tube. : ) You can be professional and still have fun.
AL-I have no idea. I just try not to bore the holy shit out of people.          
Human Resources-
Do you have help with any other areas in your writing? If so, what role do they play?
ZAM-I have the most terrific husband who wrangles kids while I work. He’s lovely! He lets me read all my work out loud to him, and he’s so fricking patient! And my daughter makes my video trailers when she can. She’s in college now, so she can also do some initial editing for me. Mostly writing for me is kind of a family business. The boys (who are too young to read the work) help with things like matching up trading cards, and bringing coffee to my office for me. I’m pretty lucky. I have tremendous support.
MS-Beta readers, of course. Ones like my husband, who will always tell me it’s great no matter what, and others who will be more honest. I also often need them to prod me. I need them to say, “I really want to read more about those two! Get to work!”
My husband, who supports me while I sit around playing with my imaginary friends.
Readers: Seriously, every email or comment on my website is like a little gust of wind in my sails. It’s great.
I recently did the Artist’s Way book creative-recovery thing. Mostly, I thought it didn’t apply to me, but I will say, I LOVE the morning pages.  Every day, first thing (or, in my case, whenever you actually remember) you sit down and actually write out three pages longhand about … whatever. Anything. Whatever you need to clear out of your mind before you can work. For me, it almost always starts out with a list of things I need to do that day, and then possibly a bitching session about whatever has my panties in a wad, and then I generally move onto my current WIP and whatever I’m stuck on there. I can’t really explain it, or why it works, but it’s been tremendous for me. It’s like clearing out the cobwebs before I get down to business.
HC-I have an agent and a publicist, and I adore both. I love having partners in getting my work out and protecting it and getting paid. I have beta readers too, a whole host of them, who give me good, honest feedback. I also have one of the most understanding spouses in the universe. He is my right arm.
There is of course my “wife” as well, aka Marie Sexton, as mentioned above. We have a chat window open at all times, and I think she keeps me sane most days. Everyone should have a buddy in the trenches, and she is mine.
ED-I do not – but I’m on desperate need of a minion. Before any of you go judging me over that admission, my minion would most likely end up running the asylum. I’m a huge mess, completely disorganized and totally ripe for a hostile takeover. : )           
AL-I have the best beta readers in all of explored space, and I really trust my publishers and editors.       I don’t always do what they say, but I trust them to have the same goal as I do–to tell the best story possible.       It really helps if everybody believes that literature (YES, ROMANCE IS LITERATURE, DO NOT WRITE IT IF YOU ONLY THINK IT’S PORN!) is important to the human condition and should be treated with respect.       It means that we can all sacrifice our egos (and mine is sized a little like my ass–unhealthily large) for a final product that makes us proud to be in this business.   
Thanks again for answering my questions! I learned a lot from this, and I hope you did as well. Let me know if you have any other questions you’d like to ask! 
About the authors:
Heidi Cullinan has always loved a good love story, provided it has a happy ending. She enjoys writing across many genres but loves above all to write happy, romantic endings for LGBT characters because there just aren’t enough of those stories out there. When Heidi isn’t writing, she enjoys cooking, reading, knitting, listening to music, and watching television with her family. Heidi also volunteers frequently for her state’s LGBT rights group, One Iowa, and is proud to be from the first midwestern state to legalize same-sex marriage.
Ethan lives in Missouri. He is currently single but always looking for that special someone that makes his heart skip a beat. He was the youngest of four children and the only boy. After a few stints in college, he eventually signed up for a Creative Writing Course. He took the class because there were no tests. For once his scholastic laziness paid off, and he found an outlet for all the fantasies running amuck in his head. It was love at first write, and he’s been doing it off and on ever since.
Amy Lane dodges an EDJ, mothers four children, and writes the occasional book. She, her brood, and her beloved mate, Mack, live in a crumbling mortgage in Citrus Heights, California, which is riddled with spiders, cats, and more than its share of fancy and weirdness. Feel free to visit her at, where she will ride the buzz of receiving your e-mail until her head swells and she can no longer leave the house.
Z.A. Maxfield is a fifth generation native of Los Angeles, although she now lives in the O.C. She started writing in 2006 on a dare from her children and never looked back. Pathologically disorganized, and perennially optimistic, she writes as much as she can, reads as much as she dares, and enjoys her time with family and friends. If anyone asks her how a wife and mother of four manages to find time for a writing career, she’ll answer, “It’s amazing what you can do if you completely give up housework.”
Marie Sexton lives in Colorado. She’s a fan of just about anything that involves muscular young men piling on top of each other. In particular, she loves the Denver Broncos and enjoys going to the games with her husband. Her imaginary friends often tag along. Marie has one daughter, two cats, and one dog, all of whom seem bent on destroying what remains of her sanity. She loves them anyway.

The Business of Writing Part 1

One of the tough parts about being a “newbie” is that there are so darn many questions you have. Where do you go to get the answers? No where better than with other writers who’ve been there, done that. I sat down with some of my favorites to get some ideas on how to handle the Business side of this whole writing gig. 
Today’s post is on Contracts, Pen Names, and Accounting. Heidi Cullinan, Ethan Day, Amy Lane, Z.A. Maxfield, and Marie Sexton were all kind enough to answer my questions.
What do you know now about book contracts that you didn’t know when you got your first one?
ZAM-I know that reading them carefully is important. Also asking for help from people who have been through the process. At first blush, it’s such an unimaginable pleasure just receiving a contract that you’re likely to sign it thinking, wow, I don’t dare say anything, I don’t dare ask questions. But definitely, make yourself conversant with all the terms, and go to places like Preditors and Editors, find other writers, and compare publishers. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
MS-I did not know a single darn thing when I signed my first contract. Frankly, I still don’t know much. I’m one of those people who is probably not nearly as careful as they need to be. I tend to sign and hope for the best. (Note: I’m NOT recommending this method.)
HC-I knew a lot, because I’d done a lot of research before. Like to watch out for moral rights clauses. (Basically, anywhere someone asks you to let them make changes to your work without your approval.) Most of what I learned are about net vs gross, percentages of royalties (what’s good, what’s not), terms of contract, etc. I’ve gotten better at looking at a contract and being able to tell if the publisher is looking out for them more than they are me. You can get a strong idea of the professionalism of a publisher by their contracts. Also how and what they’re willing to negotiate. Most of it is little stuff or global stuff that’s hard to pin down. A lot of it I’ve learned by having an agent too.
ED-I think that could be different based upon what’s most important to each individual. Royalty splits is obviously a big one – the percentage & whether that percentage is based upon net or gross profits. Author copies and what you’re charged per book once you’ve used the author copies allotted to you? If there’s a print option along with the ebook option, does it expire if it goes unused? There’s so many things to consider but most importantly, I’d tell anyone signing any contract to always consult a lawyer if they’re at all confused about the terms.                                           
AL-Mostly I know that contracts are pretty easy to read–and it’s worth the read.                                            I actually turned a book contract DOWN for the republishing of Vulnerable, my first book (m/m/f menage, ucf) because the contract language told me I had no cover art input and their distribution was not as wide as the self-pub I’d used for the book in the first place–it was all there in the contract, and I’m glad I looked for it.
What do you think are the most important things a new writer looks at in their contract?
ZAM-I honestly think the most important thing is that there is no fee for the writer. Real publishers don’t charge writers to publish their work. After that, the time a contract is in effect is important, as well as the rights you have (as an author) to your characters and the worlds that you’ve built. I haven’t been a genius about this, but I do read contracts and if there’s something I don’t understand, I make it my business to find out.
MS-I don’t know the answer to that one. I’ll tell you things a writer might want to consider that they might not think of the first time around, in terms of both choosing a publisher, and signing a contract:
First, choosing a publisher:
Royalties: Percentage of course, but also net vs gross
Cover art: We can say it doesn’t matter, but for myself, I want to be able to hand somebody my paperback and not feel like I have to apologize for it.
Editing: Different houses do it different ways. In some cases, you have a specific editor who you work with directly for your content edits. In others, you’re just dealing with an anonymous set of editors. Some publishers do a lot of content editing (meaning, asking the author to make big changes to the story), and some are more hands-off. There’s no right or wrong here, but think about what you want.
Print: Some houses do print on anything over a certain length. Some don’t do print at all. Some do, but they won’t actually disclose what the criteria is for getting it. Of the ones who do guarantee print, some release print at the same time as the ebook, and some wait 3-8 months. Again, no right or wrong, but it’s something to think about.
Distribution: Some houses put the book up for sale on all vendor sites right away, some keep them on exclusively on their own site for the first few months.
Piracy: Do they have any kind of system in place to help send take-down notices, or is it all up to you?
Marketing and Visibility: Some of them are simply more active and more visible than others.
With regard to contract:
How long is the contract for? Two years? Seven?
Exactly what rights? Is it spelled out. For example, does it say specifically distribution of ebook and paperback, or does it say something really vague like, “all distribution rights”?
Do you retain ownership of your characters?
Does it include a Right of First Refusal clause? Almost all epublishers have this, but there are a few that don’t. In most cases, all this means is, if you write a sequel or spinoff, the publisher has dibs. It generally does not apply to work that is unrelated to the contracted book. But make sure you know the terms.
Make sure you know how many copies you get.
Make sure you know if and how you can resell your books.
Make sure you know if and how you can use your cover art.
HC-The same thing an established writer does. The more you sell the more power you get for negotiation, but all authors should be looking for the future, not the next five minutes. I hear a lot of stories of authors signing bad contracts with publishers just so they can be published. It’s their choice, yes, but it tends to be that authors who don’t take contracts seriously don’t get taken seriously. Money is very important, as are rights. Make sure you don’t sign too much of your future away. Long term contracts are bad unless they’re with a very solid publisher for a very good deal. If you’re getting a crap percentage at a mediocre publisher for seven years, you aren’t getting a good deal. You’re signing on for slave labor.
It’s scary to turn down a contract, but it’s better to do that than sign a bad one. The illusion is that “someday I’ll be big and can fight.” The truth is that unless you fight when you’re small, you’ll never be big. Success isn’t handed out. It’s won through blood and sweat and a hell of a lot of tears and antacids.
AL-Make sure that international rights are covered (you’d be surprised how often this comes up), make sure your percentage is competitive with other publishers–and if not, are there other considerations. An example of this would be does this particular publisher keep your work in circulation for two years, or for seven? If your work is quality, sometimes it takes on a slow sales build–in which case, it may continue to sell after a two year window, and re-marketing the book may take time away from your writing (which is really the fun part, right?)                                       
Also, see if there are audiobook considerations (always a plus) and, if you’re the kind to write sequels (raises hand guiltily) see if the publisher asks for right of first refusal.  This is not always guaranteed, and sometimes, you need to negotiate that with your publisher. An example of this would be the Green’s Hill series. I published two novella spin offs of the series itself, and I also had the werewolf series completed as well. I told my strictly m/m publisher about those stories, but knew that, since there was a female character in the menage, they wouldn’t take them. That way, when my contracts for the m/m novellas were written, they left that clause out so that I was free to market the werewolf spin-offs somewhere else. It was very amicable–and all it took was knowing my contract.
Oh–and this isn’t something I’ve never had to use, but do make sure there is an “out clause” giving your rights back to you if your publisher doesn’t pony up with either money or publishing the books in a timely manner. I’ve been lucky–all of my publishers have been on the up and up, but the Aspen Mountain Press horror story is still very very frightening.                                       
Using a Pen Name-
Are there any special considerations writers need to make when using a pen name?

ZAM-I chose to use a pen name because I had younger children when I started and my family belonged to a relatively conservative church. I never really made a secret that it was a pen name, and my bio reflected the truth about who I am, housewife, mother of four. I’m kind of boring actually, and I’m fundamentally incapable of the presence of mind it would take to keep up an author persona that is more exciting than I am. I always want to tell everyone I’m a hot air balloonist who travels to fabulous places and has wild adventures, but I think readers would prefer that I stay home and write, and that my characters do all the cool stuff.
MS-I’ve heard some authors call out those of who use pen names as cowards, but for myself, I’m glad I have one, and it’s not because I’m ashamed of what I write. I don’t go to any really great lengths to protect my “real” identity. But, what I like is being able to compartmentalize a bit. Facebook is a good example. I have my personal account, which is where I talk to friends from high school, and my family members. I also have Marie’s page, where I talk mostly about things related to writing (with a few random personal bits thrown in). Frankly, I figure Marie’s fans don’t want to hear most of the stupid personal crap I post on my regular account, like asking if anybody knows whether or not it’s a snow day, or if anybody knows when the Windsor/I-25 exit will be done. Also, they probably don’t want to be bothered with my politics (and I don’t blame them). Along the same lines, my friends and relatives all know what I write, but they don’t necessarily care about what kind of progress I’m making on my WIP, or what my latest blog post is about. Also, Marie gets TONS of friend requests. That’s fine, especially when they’re from fans, but often they’re not. As Marie, I can accept them all without risking anything. If that was also my personal account, where I want to talk about my kid and post tons of pictures of her (even more than I do as Marie), I would feel those things were at odds.
Also, of course, some people really can’t let the world know what they’re writing. I’m lucky to not be in that boat, but it’s clearly something that needs to be considered.
I’m sure those who don’t use a pen name could give you all the reasons it’s great to write as yourself, and it’s obviously a personal preference, but for myself, I enjoy the freedom of having an alter-ego.
HC-Speaking as a reader, it’s sure nice to know how to say someone’s name. The idea of  picking a name and then making it impossible to remember/say/spell isn’t just silly but will likely cost you sales. I write under my own name, so it was established, but my name isn’t exactly impossible. My maiden name is a nightmare and likely would have necessitated a pen. The goal of your name is to establish your brand. If you’re choosing it, make the most of that.                                   
Some things to consider when choosing a pen name:
memorable (easy to say/spell/remember)
pleasant (Don’t pick Sally Stinkwater, for example)
unique (Mary Smith is a bad pen name)
possibly related to your profession or the aura you’d like to present. though not required (Marie Sexton. How smart is she? SEX. And yet it doesn’t bang you upside the head.)
The last is obviously not essential, but it can be fun. Another one I like is VJ Summers. Easy to say, and it sounds nice and breezy and fun, like summer.                                   
Another thing to do is make sure a bunch of other people don’t already have that name. If there are six other writers using Lionel Leopold or something very similar, you’re going to have trouble in Goodreads and Amazon and google searches. Also, other people in the genre who have similar names can be a problem. Either they’ll get your business or you will look like you’re trying to poach theirs, which is uncool. Again, if you’re using your own name, you’re stuck with what you’ve got. But if you’re picking, be smart.
ED-Yes. If a reader can’t figure out how to spell your name then how do expect them be able search for you on the internet? I don’t understand this trend whereby authors chose these outlandish names or simple names with outlandish spellings. Perhaps I’m missing something, but the largest reason I’m using a Pen Name to begin with is because my real last name is difficult for people to spell correctly. If you want to be known as the author, Amy Smith, I would highly recommend you not spell it like this: Aimee Smythe.
Just because we now live in an online world where most of your promo can and will be done there, I wouldn’t recommend handicapping yourself in this way. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve run across a book I was interested in buying only to go back later and not be able to find it because, while I was able to remember the author’s name, I couldn’t recall the weird spelling and therefore was never able to find the book. Irritating to me because I don’t get to read the book I wanted, bad for the author who lost a sale. My suggestion: leave the unique and creative names for the characters in your books! : )
This isn’t meant to be an indictment for any author’s who have done this. Nor am I attempting poke fun at you here. This is intended ONLY to be helpful, not bitchy. For me, it just seems like common sense, but it’s not like I know everything. These are just my opinions. I’m sure you’ll have another author come along and tell you because it’s an online world you need to make yourself stand out. I just happen to think your pen name doesn’t need to be one of those ways. Plus, people do still talk to each other…in person! I know, right? Who knew! : ) Word of mouth by mouth isn’t completely dead, lol. If I hear the name Amy Smith, I’d never think to spell it any other way. You need to be able to be found.
I also highly recommend you go to Amazon and do a name search within the Books section. If there are multiple authors already out there using the pen name you wanted then pick something else. Ethan Day was not my first choice, but there weren’t any others out there – so Ethan I became.
AL-*sigh*I was hoping we wouldn’t go here–this is a pretty volatile topic of conversation right now, not just because of stuff that’s been going on in the m/m world, but also because of stuff going on in MY world. I can’t talk about everything, but I CAN tell you this. I don’t compartmentalize well–I never have. Although Amy Lane IS a pen name, Amy Lane has all the stuff that the regular me has–an awesome husband, four amazing children, an aging dog, a couple of cats, and a weirdo, over-active imagination.                                  
She also has an enormous mouth and no discretion whatsoever.                                  
So even though I blogged under the name of Amy Lane, when I opened my enormous mouth up about my job–in spite of the fact that I used pseudonyms for pretty much EVERYBODY in the blog–it was enough to really cook me. The situation is actually bigger than that, and uglier, and really painful–but it does need to be an object lesson.
If you are writing about sex (even if you don’t see it that way, the rest of the freakin’ world is going to see writing gay romance as writing about sex, and don’t even get me STARTED on the unfairness of that assumption) you need to be VERY CAREFUL about your identity. That does not mean to appropriate someone else’s–it just means that you can not assume a pseudonym protects you, because that only works if you keep your identities separate. At this point my identities are so very merged that I answer to my pseudonym in public–and I think that’s the only way I can be. If you’ve got an option about keeping these things separate, do. It will make your professional life easier.                                
Are there any tips for new writers for keeping track of writing expenses?

ZAM-Oh, my goodness, YES. Start with that first month, and do it faithfully. Put every receipt where you can find it. I don’t! I always have to search around at the end of the year, and I’m sure I miss things. Also keep track of sales. That will become important to you in ways you don’t know yet.
MS-If there are, I’d love to hear them, because I’m terrible at it. I have a big manila envelope stuffed full of receipts.
HC-God, I’d like some. Mostly I have a file I shove all the receipts in, and I have a mail file as well. I just shove crap in both all year long, and in January I avoid it until my husband makes me sit down, and then I sort it all out. I go to a tax person because it boggles my brain trying to figure out what to file, but before I go I write up invoices for my expenses, attach my receipts, and she goes to town.
Postal receipts. Save them. Last year I had over $200.
ED-I certainly hope so…I’m waiting with bated breath.
AL-I’m sure there are, but, umm, you have to be more organized than I am to use them.                           
Do you handle the financial side of your writing career differently now than you did at the beginning of your career?
ZAM-No, I really don’t. I’m more likely to want to spend the time working on a book.
MS-A bit. I didn’t do anything the first year as far as keeping receipts for expenses. My accountant (who’s also my father) scolded me like crazy when he had to do my 2010 taxes. I’m doing much better this year (see note above about big manila envelope).  🙂
Just remember that anything related to your writing career can be written off. Obviously all advertising. All swag. All seminars or conventions. Postage for books or swag mailed was one thing it never occurred to me to keep track of until recently. 
HC-I think more about what time and monetary investments will pay off and how and if I have the brainpower to do them. Part of me feels like I should network on blogs and such more, but the mental drain it would take is not worth the potential advantage at this point. I don’t do a lot of pay promotion and very little swag because I’m not sure how much of it comes back in sales. I see the value, but at this point my focus is on increasing my backlist.
As for the contract details and the money therein, I have an agent, and thank god for her. I would not do this without one.
ED-No…which is a huge problem. I need to marry an accountant…who knows how to fix plumbing…as well as understand computer techie stuff. I need a Swiss Army Husband!                         
AL–  LOL– my first check came from my first self-published book. It was $25.03. I spent it on yarn. My next check was around fifty dollars. I spent that on yarn too. My NEXT check broke three digits. Yup–still spent it on yarn. Now I’m spending my checks on insurance, food, Christmas, clothes, vet’s appointments–the list goes on. Now I have to declare my earnings on my taxes, and I have to save part of them in order to pay the taxes that don’t get taken out. It’s almost like a teenager working for play money versus an adult working for rent–but the increase was very gradual.    
I definitely learned a lot from this, and hope you did as well. Part two of this interview will be about marketing, interviews, and…gasp…dealing with reviews. 

Ellis Carrington On Writing, Rockstars, and “juuuuice”!!!

Oh, am I one lucky Poppy. This week, I had a chance to ask the delightful Ellis Carrington a few questions about life, writing, and her amazing new release, Amor Prohibido. 

What was the first story you wrote, and what inspired you to write it?

My ex and I had these silly high school obsessions with rock stars, we used to be part of the crazed throngs of fangirls that waited for hours by the band tour buses and whatnot. I would write stories for her about these heavy metal hair-band guys as if we were friends with them in real life and stuff. It would end up being like 15 more years though before I started writing seriously and that realized that writing romance was where my passion was.

When is your best writing time?

Obscenely early in the morning! My day job is parenting since my kids are still really young, and there’s just no way you can write hot guy on guy action when Barney is singing in the background and someone is yelling “Moooom, I want juuuuice!” so I get up crazy early while the house is still quiet so I can do it then. It’s wacky, back in my party girl days I was usually crashing at around 4 am, and now that’s when I get up to make the coffee!

Do you set writing goals for yourself? If so, how do you set them?

I have to. There are a lot of things/people vying for my attention and it’s easy to let life get in the way. When I’m drafting I set a daily word count goal, and when I’m editing I set a goal by which I will have my editing finished. I don’t always make those goals, but it helps to ensure things don’t languish.

Amor Prohibido has a surprising supernatural element. Do you have any beliefs in the supernatural that might surprise us?

Well anyone who reads my Facebook stuff knows I’m religious about checking my horoscope, I guess I’ve always been a little into the “woo-woo” stuff. I don’t know that I have any specific supernatural beliefs; I do have a pretty vivid imagination, which is probably why a lot of my writing leans toward the paranormal.

What made you decide to use Mayan history as the basis for Amor Prohibido, and what kind of research did you have to do for the story?

The story was inspired by a call from Amber Allure for a series of stories they were doing called “Postcards from Paradise.” I immediately thought of Puerto Morelos, Mexico. If I ever needed to get away and relax, it’s the first place I’d go. There are a lot of Mayan ruins in the area. When I started researching the ruins, I started finding information about the mythology and the underworld, and it all just kind of fell together for me. The idea of these trials that mortals had to fight through in Xibalba, and what if these two men had to fight through them together in order to have their happily ever after?

In Amor Prohibido, Jacob has just come out of an abusive relationship. When did the character reveal this aspect of his history to you? 

Music inspires a LOT of what I do. It’s always been my first love. Interestingly enough, even though Jacob in my mind kind of drives the story of Amor, Pakal was who came to me first. When I thought of the basic premise, I saw him right away. Jake was a little blurry. And then one day on the radio I heard The Bravery’s “Believe,” and right away I felt like that was Jake’s song. It painted him so clearly in my mind, and suddenly I had this guy who was totally in a state of limbo, he had surfaced from a bad situation to one that was just kind of okay—and he didn’t know whether or not he wanted to go on.

And domestic violence, especially in same-sex relationships, is still not discussed very openly. It’s estimated that as many as one in FOUR same-sex relationships contain some form of abuse. And it’s hard to get help because it comes in different forms, there is more isolation, less safety net. Gay men, in particular, don’t want to cop to it because they don’t want to seem weak, and in a lot of cases may fear homophobia from law enforcement. So I wanted to shed a little light on it, but at the same time, make the story about healing and finding love again rather than about pain.

Can we expect any other stories with a Mayan setting?

Yes!! I left the ending of Amor in such a way that there could either be a sequel or not, and feedback points to folks wanting a sequel, which is awesome.

What can we look forward to next from you?

I just finished a vampire story that will be released right around Valentine’s Day 2012, and I have a contemporary short story that should be coming out around the first of the year.

How do you balance your real life responsibilities with your writing ambitions?

Uh, not very well? LOL! My kids watch too much TV and my house is a mess. And I won’t be as prolific as some of my fellow authors. It’s frustrating at times but I am unerringly grateful for both my kids and for being able to write, so I balance as best I can, and cling tenaciously to the last remaining marbles that I have!

What’s your favorite tool in your “writer’s toolbox”?

Perseverance, and constant improvement, I guess. I do my best to write daily. Some days I just can’t, but I try. Even when I feel “blocked” I try to get something down. And I try to periodically find online writing workshops through or the RWA which are very inexpensive, and I try to put whatever I learn in those classes toward polishing whatever manuscript I’m working on at the time. I think there’s always room to improve your craft.   

And that, my friends, is just a drop in the Ellis bucket of awesome. Thanks Ellis, for taking the time to gab with me. If you’d like to know more about Ellis and her releases, you can find her at:

A Garden a Day…

I’ve been a busy Poppy over the past week. It’s gardening season and the first batch of crops is in. I’ve been shucking corn, snapping green beans, and prepping tomatoes. We can all of it, and it’s been a bountiful season so far! Yesterday’s yield included 19 quarts of tomatoes. We’re going to make salsa and marinara sauce with the next batch!
Tomatoes on the vine from Wiki
As these things do, the time away let me spend some time pondering my writing. I’m sure there are a million analogies that compare gardening and writing (planting a seed, watching it grow, harvesting…perhaps?) but for me, this week’s epiphany came from what to do with all those darn tomatoes.
If you’ve never preserved fresh tomatoes, there’s a whole process involved. First, you wash them then you put the tomatoes in boiling water for a bit. When they’re nice and hot, you scoop them out and dunk them in an ice water bath.
And that’s when the fun begins. The hot/cold water combination softens the skin and makes them easy to peel. Once they’re cool, you cut out the core and peel the skin off. Chop them to whatever size you require and voila! Tomatoes ready for preserving.
It got me thinking though. If writing is my harvest, I suppose the first draft is my crop. But that’s only the beginning. I still have to do the preserving, or the editing.
I’ve learned something valuable as I’ve been editing my first novel: Editing is not fun. Neither is prepping tomatoes, in case you’re wondering. But when the words are all cleaned up, dunked in proverbial hot water and all the crud stripped away, what you’re left with is something usable that will last for years to come.
There’s nothing wrong with grabbing a tomato off the vine and slicing it up for a sandwich, but I’d like to think all the hard work I’ve put into my writing is going to be around for years. It’s a nice thought, isn’t it?
It remains to be seen if all that hard work will pay off. I can tell you that all 19 quarts of tomatoes kept their seal for 24 hours so they’ll be going into the pantry for us to whip out next time we want a big pot of tomatoy goodness.
As I get my novel ready for submission to a publisher, I think I’ll keep the tomato analogy in mind. It takes a lot of work, but man, the results sure are worth it!

The Fanfic Phenomenon

Yesterday, one of my favorite fanfiction writers updated a story that I’ve been reading for several years.  I’m pretty sure it’s the longest fanfic in history, and I absolutely love it.  I started thinking about how fanfiction helped me get motivated to write again, and I thought I’d share the story with you.
True confession time.  I used to be addicted to soap operas.  Well, not soaps plural, but one in particular.  I recorded it on my VCR every day and when I got home from work, I watched my story.  I got frustrated though, because my favorite couple just *wouldn’t* get together.  After another teasing storyline, I decided to try to find a forum or something online where I could whine out my frustrations.
Jason Morgan, from General Hospital
I found a great one, and commiserated mightily with the other members.  We were all fans of this star-crossed couple, and wanted nothing more than a brief HEA for them.  Hey, it’s a soap.  We all knew he’d cheat on her, or she’d fall in love with his dad or something. 
But then, I saw this little topic labeled fanfiction.  With a clickity-click of the mouse, I found a few stories written by forum members where they did have their HEA.  I read everything I could get my hands on and discovered another little link buried in one of the stories.  The author couldn’t post the story in the group because it wasn’t my favorite couple.  It was my guy…and another guy!  What’s this?  *gasp and flutter*  So of course, I did the clickity-click again, and after I shorted out my laptop from all the drool, I realized that I’d found something to read that I really liked.
There were only a couple “slash” stories written about my guy, but I had to find more.  I found a site that hosted a bunch of different fanfiction and lo and behold I found my ultimate super favorite TV show in the list. 
I read for days.  I’m not kidding.  Days.  Couldn’t stop. And I realized…hey, I have a story I want to write.  So that weekend, I sat down and wrote my first fanfiction.  Twenty six thousand words of it, to be precise.  I didn’t know what I was doing.  But I posted it to the site anyway.  And got 300 hits the first night, and multiple comments begging for more.  Well, if that wasn’t enough to get my heart beating faster, I don’t know what was!
I posted a chapter every day for two weeks.  Then someone told me I should post it over on another site.  Alrighty, I thought, and off I went.  It started a new obsession for me.  I spent time reading and writing every day.  Comments poured in.  It was a real boost to the ego.
Two years later, I realized I was trying to force original ideas to fit the fanfiction mold.  My best friend (met on one of those fanfic sites btw), told me to get off my duff and write my own.  So I did.  And a year later, here I am, polishing up my first original manuscript and hoping beyond hope to become a published author.
I know some folks give fanfic writers a lot of flack. Heck, some of it is deserved.  But if it brings more people to writing?  I say slash, slash, and slash some more!

The Trixie Belden Effect

One of the questions I most want to ask other authors is “When did you first start writing?”.  For me, the answer is easy: after I read my first Trixie Belden book back in 1985.  My best friend from middle school had several of them and she let me borrow the first of the series.  I was hooked.  I read “The Secret of the Mansion” at least twenty times. My poor dad had to scour used book stores to help me get the next book in the series and when I was in between books, I made up Trixie stories of my own.
Trixie wasn’t like the other big teenage mystery heroine of the day.  That Nancy girl was rich, smart, and beautiful.   Not my Trixie.  Oh, she was smart, but that rich and beautiful thing?  Not so much.  Kind of like me.  We both lived out on a farm and cursed our freckles. We minded our Mommas and looked for adventure everywhere we went. She was the first character from a book that I really related to and more than anything, I wanted to be like her.
There are over 30 books in the Trixie series.  I was never able to get all of them as a kid, but the first thing I bought from Ebay was “The Hudson River Mystery”.  It completed my collection.  I still have the entire set, plus several different editions of them at this point.  I can never resist checking used book stores for rare copies. A few years ago, I saw a Trixie book at a big retail store.  They had re-released new editions. Oh, there was some fangirl squeeing going on. 
The thing is, that first book that takes you away?  That sparks your imagination?  That’s the one that sticks with you forever.  Over the years, I’ve read hundreds and hundreds of books. But not a one can give me what Trixie did.  That first glimmer that maybe I could write a book, too.
This week, over 25 years later, I completed the first draft of my first book.  So thanks, Trixie.  I couldn’t have done it without you.

Under Construction

Didn’t want ya’ll to think I’d started this up and abandoned it.  I’m working on the design (and I use the term “I” very loosely) but I’m hoping to be up and running soon!