Tag Archives: emotion

A Field Mouse, A Crow, and A Writing Lesson

Have you ever been reading along in a book that has multiple viewpoint characters and wondered for a moment, “Who is talking here?” I confess, that’s happened to me a time or two–when I was reading my own stuff. That’s when I know I haven’t been doing my job properly.

Fae Rowen has written a great post about how to fix that problem.

A Field Mouse, A Crow, and A Writing Lesson.


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My Self-Publishing Journey: Pareto’s Law Revisited

I wrote a while back about Pareto’s Law: the 80/20 Rule. That’s the idea that 80% of your results come from 20% of your effort. The trick, of course, is knowing which 20% of your effort is producing the results.

Castle Rock Publishing is preparing to publish DANGEROUS TALENTS. Part of that process is deciding what level of editing to pay for. DANGEROUS TALENTS has been through multiple rounds of critique with authors who have published well over 100 books between them. Is that enough?  Do I (as the owner of Castle Rock) hire a less expensive editor to go over this much longer book? Or do I stick with an editor whom I know does excellent work? Do I pay for a developmental editing pass I may not need, or do I pay only for copy and proof editing?

This is no small matter. I’m in business. Every dollar spent up front pushes the break-even point further away. At the same time, my books represent me. They can build or hurt my reputation.

I’ve made my decision based on my dedication to producing high quality entertainment for you, my readers. But I wanted to share my dilemma with you because if you’re self-publishing these are the kind of decisions you’ll face too.

In the meantime, I want to announce the winners of my drawing for a free copy of one of my books. These winners may choose either a print or digital copy of VEILED MIRROR, LIGHTBRINGER, or DANGEROUS TALENTS when it’s released next spring.

Congratulations to Christine Wunch, Caroline Mickleson, and Benita Grunseth. Thank you for leaving reviews of my books. You can contact me with your preference at FrankieRobertson@earthlink.net.


Filed under Publishing

My Self-Publishing Journey: I Am a Professional.

I recently read Kris Rusch’s blog post about being a professional. Various writers have been coming to Kris lately for her opinion on a contract they received from their publishers and, in most cases, have already signed.  Most already had an inkling that it was a bad contract. What they were looking for was reassurance that signing it hadn’t hurt them too much.

Why am I talking about this here, in an article about self-publishing? Because this series is as much about the self, the emotions of publishing and how they help or hurt us, as it is about the publishing part. And emotions were definitely in play with those writers. One author even said she knew the contract was bad for her career, but she’d promised her editor she’d sign it and didn’t want to make her editor mad by negotiating something better.

Passive Guy recently put up this quote by Dorothy Parker:

He’ll be cross if he sees I have been crying. They don’t like you to cry. He doesn’t cry. I wish to God I could make him cry. I wish I could make him cry and tread the floor and feel his heart heavy and big and festering in him. I wish I could hurt him like hell.

. . .  I don’t think he even knows how he makes me feel. I wish he could know, without my telling him. They don’t like you to tell them they’ve made you cry. They don’t like you to tell them you’re unhappy because of them. If you do, they think you’re possessive and exacting. And then they hate you. They hate you whenever you say anything you really think. You always have to keep playing little games.

When I read this I was expecting it to be a snarky comparison to traditional publishing.  Instead it’s just a riff on emotional abuse.


Kris Rusch  also writes that many writers fail to take the business side of  writing seriously.  The danger in this is that the publishers take it very seriously indeed. They, and agents, know they are in business, and they are looking out for their own bottom line. Many writers are not. Many writers have conducted business believing  that their editor and their agent will look out for them. The publishers and the agents have encouraged this. Just as in many a dystopian novel, a passive populace is easier to control. And many authors are complicit in their own abuse. The problem with allowing your future to be controlled by others is that it trains you to be passive. To seek approval. To accept bad treatment because that’s “just how it is.” For a long time authors didn’t have a choice. Now we do.

The point of this is not to bash traditional publishing.  The point is that for many of us, our business decisions are affected by our emotions, and we should be aware of how we react to situations that are emotionally difficult.

Are we making a certain choice because it’s less frightening, even though it’s not in our best interest? Do we choose something else because our friends are doing it? Because it’s safer and won’t expose us to ridicule if we fail?

Demanding respect for what you have done is not hubris.

It starts with self-respect. It’s having confidence that what you’ve done has value. It’s knowing where you sit on the spectrum of accomplishment, and having the humility to learn from others. It’s knowing that you are in business and being able to negotiate for what you want, and willing say,  “No, you may not treat me badly.” It’s walking away from a bad deal.

In this shifting world of publishing some people will disagree with your decisions and question your judgement. Some will feel threatened by what you’re doing, and disparage it. But if you made your choices for the right reasons, it won’t matter.

I have a button with the quote, “Among animals, it’s eat or be eaten. Among humans, it’s define or be defined.” Whatever path you choose, don’t give up your power. Take control of your career. Define yourself as a professional.


Filed under Life, writing

Self-Publishing — The Emotional Component, Continued

My last post discussed some of the emotional baggage we carry that can hold us back from self-publishing our work. I’ve thought of a few more things I’d like to say on that topic.

I’m really interested in how the mind works (or doesn’t) and one interesting tidbit I’ve collected is that no matter how rational we like to think we are, our decisions are affected by our emotions.  No matter how much rational information you have, until the emotions line up, nothing happens. The funny thing is, this often happens under the covers. For example, I collected information about self-publishing until I was comfortable taking the next step.  I had to reach a tipping point where I wanted the opportunity presented by self-publishing, the potential, more than I valued the opinions of the nay-sayers. I decided that moving forward NOW, having control, was worth the additional work,  worth sacrificing some of the traditional markers of success like being recognized by professional writing organizations.

For those who haven’t also sold to advance paying publishers, chosing the self-publishing path results in exclusion from “The Club.”  No large professional writing organization that I know of (RWA, SFWA, MWA, HWA) recognizes self-published work.  Some specifically exclude it. (Disclosure:  I’m a member of RWA and despite not recognizing self-published authors, I highly recommend it.) If you’re self-pubbed you can still join some of these organizations,  but you won’t be recognized as published.  You can’t even attend the Ninc. conference unless you’ve had two books traditionally published.  Potentially losing the respect of the people I admire, of never being seen as a peer slowed me down for a while.  (Maybe I should submit to just one more agent, one more editor. . . .)  I didn’t even realize that wanting to be a member of “The Club” had been a part of my desire to be published until I thought about losing it.

Through  my research, I learned that there’s another club composed of knowledgeable and accomplished  people who have succeeded by going their own way, and they are not all the looser-wannabes that proponents of traditional publishing paint them to be. (It’s not superficial to need community.  We’re social animals, after all.)  Through my research I realized that the issue is not all one sided.  There are pros and cons to every choice — but for me, now, self-publishing provides a community I want to be part of.

I’m sharing my journey with you so you’ll find your comfort zone more quickly than I did.


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My Decision to Self-Publish — The Emotional Component

I had half a post written and then scrapped it. It’s hard to write about being nervous. We do it to our characters all the time, but we don’t want to admit to it personally, except mabe to our closest friends. I think occasionally we ought to, just so others know they’re not alone.  Most of the blogs and books I’ve read about self-publishing focus on the changing face of tradpub and why that makes going indie a good choice for many. It worked for me.  I finally took in enough positive information that it outweighed the fear.

What fear?  The fear that I’d do it wrong, whatever that is. The fear that even with a professionally covered, edited, and formatted book, I’ll still only sell twenty copies to my friends and family. What if, despite the postitive feedback I’ve gotten from multiply published authors and professional editors, the readers don’t like it? What if, despite all evidence to the contrary, my stuff stinks on ice?  If I self-publish, everyone will know that I can’t really write. 

Irrational? Yes. Fear often is.

I don’t fear that anymore. It could still happen, but I don’t fear it.  But it took me a while to get there.  What helped?  Reading lots. Talking with people who’d already done it, and hadn’t died. Doing it simultaneously with a friend. A supportive and encouraging spouse. Recognizing that I was happy and excited about self-publishing. (Physiologically, anxiety and excitement are pretty much identical — it’s all in how you interpret events.)

What else held me back? Inertia. It’s hard to change trajectory even when the old path isn’t getting you where you want to go. Is it crazy to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results?  The funny thing is, sometimes the results are different. After collecting my share of rejections, I sold one of my novels, Veiled Mirror,  to a small press. Getting that external validation gave me that extra bit of confidence to go out on my own.

I know that every self-publishing effort isn’t a success story. My sales may be far less than I hope.  But not to try is to surely fail.

The funny thing is, now that I’m moving forward, I wish I’d started a year ago.


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It’s Your Business

Amazon Publishing announced today that it would be publishing 32 books this summer and fall through its various imprints, including Amazon Encore, Amazon Crossing, and Thomas & Mercer.

Thomas & Mercer is the imprint that J. A. Konrath and Barry Eisler both recently contracted with. Konrath, of course, is  an outspoken supporter of indie publishing and the author of the blog “The Newbie’s Guide to Publishing.”  Barry Eisler is the author who astonished many by turning down a $500K, two book deal from St. Martin’s earlier this year to self-publish his next book. So many people felt these authors had betrayed their trust with their Amazon deals that Konrath and Eisler addressed the issue in a blog conversation here.

I think one of the most important comments in that conversation came from Barry, “publishing is a business for me, not an ideology.”  This is something that seems to be lost in much of the conversation on this subject.  Publishing is a business, whether you’re a large legacy publisher with contractual obligations to a multitude of stockholders, artists, distributors, and booksellers, or an individual deciding whether to sign a contract with that traditional publisher, a small press, or go indie.  Unless you’re writing just for fun, you’re in business.

While you’re doing the actual writing you can be an artist. That’s when you get to let your emotions out to play. But when you start trying to get someone to give you money for your work, you become a business owner.  It behooves you learn the craft of doing that, just as you learned the craft of writing. And as long as you’re not doing anything unethical, there’s nothing wrong with pursuing the course of action that will benefit you most.


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Who Do You Believe?

I’ve been writing a lot about various aspects of traditional and self-publishing lately, and pointing you to the blogs of several other people who are in the camp that believes that digital self-publishing is a vital part of the future of publishing.

Obviously, I think these folks are sharing important and useful information or I wouldn’t be encouraging you to read them.  There are, of course, intelligent people out there saying the opposite, and often saying it quite eloquently.

So who do you believe?

We face this decision every time one doctor prescribes one thing, and a second doctor recommends a different course of treatment.  We face it every election. Climate change: natural cycle or man caused? Evolution or Creationism?

Who do you believe?

I recently read “Made-up Minds” an article  by Chris Mooney in the May 20th issue of The Week. (A longer version of the article is available here.) Basically, the article talked about how new discoveries in neuroscience have demonstrated “how our pre-existing beliefs, far more than any new facts, can skew our thoughts and color what we consider our most dispassionate and logical conclusions. This ‘motivated reasoning’ helps explain why we find groups still polarized over matters where the evidence is so unequivocal. It seems that expecting people to be convinced by the facts flies in the face of, you know, the facts.”

This certainly can apply to the debate about the relative merits of self-publishing.

The point is not to assume that whoever doesn’t agree with you is being emotional and irrationally refusing to accept facts.  The point is that we all are influenced by our emotions.  “Left or right, conservative or liberal, we all wear blinders in some situations.” New information that conflicts with our values (i.e. how we see the world and ourselves in it) is not easily taken in or acted upon. Is it really rational to “discard an entire belief system, built up over a lifetime, because of some new snippet of information?”  Especially if those facts are myths or half-truths.

Even with an avalanche of information people resist facts that contradict what they “know” to be true. There is still a significant percentage of Americans who believe that Saddam Hussein and al Qaida were collaborating.

Clearly, the only people persuaded by facts alone to adopt a new position are those who haven’t yet made up their minds or who have no associated emotional investment in the subject.  If you want to convince someone to accept something counter to what they believe, make sure to present it in a way that won’t trigger a defensive reaction.

Fortunately, the question of whether to traditionally publish or self-publish is not an either/or question. Both have their strengths and weaknesses, and both can have a place in any author’s career.


Filed under Life, Uncategorized, writing

Mental Habits that Support Success

I like to draw upon helpful ideas wherever I find them.  Here are three good ones from Isabel De Los Rios.

1.        I start each and every morning with a gratitude list.  This is non-negotiable.  It takes me no more than 3 minutes and it changes my spirits for the entire day.  How’s setting aside 3-5 minutes for a joyous rest of the day?  Worth it, right?   I write “I am so grateful for…” and then just write, write and write.  For me that list always includes my family, my health and my work.  I wouldn’t start any day without this.

I like doing this because it’s so easy to lose sight of what we already have achieved when we’re focused on working toward what we want.

2.       I go to sleep each night playing my personal mind movie in my head as I go to sleep.  What is a personal mind movie?  Basically, it’s you imagining yourself looking, feeling and doing whatever it is you would do if you achieved your … goals.…  This approach helps me to fall asleep happy and is much better than lying there thinking about all the things I have to do the next day or harping on stressful events.  I sleep so much better at night like this.

I’ve heard of some writers creating their own book covers (even before self-publishing was a viable alternative to traditional publishing) so they could visualize their future success.  You could also imagine yourself receiving a desired award, write potential reviews, or design bestseller lists with your book on top.  This may sound silly, but athletes use these visualization techniques all the time.

3.       Only talk to yourself as you would a small child….  Would you tell your children all day long that they were never going to achieve their goals, that they should stop trying or that they shouldn’t even try in the first place?  No, I sure hope you wouldn’t.  You would encourage them, give them hope, and tell them that anything is possible with hard work.  Treat yourself, in your own mind, the way you would want to speak to your children or better yet, the way you would want others to speak to your children or speak to you.

This last one is something I was thinking about just last week.  I’m not a big fan of new-age talk, but I do think it’s true that deep down our emotions (which motivate our actions) are often those of the children we once were.  It makes sense to nurture that inner child.  As Isabel observes, we’d never speak to a flesh and blood person the way we often talk to ourselves.

I’ve caught myself thinking in a vague, wordless way, “You haven’t succeeded in the past, and you won’t this time either.”  Where the hell did that load of malarkey come from?  The vagueness is the red-flag. When I stop and put this message into words so I can examine it, I recognize it for the lie it is.  I have, in fact, succeeded in the very areas I’m so critical of myself.

Even if you haven’t yet attained your “big” goal, that doesn’t invalidate what you have achieved.  Don’t let vague, unexamined, false messages stop you from moving toward your success.  Do set short-term, measurable goals on your way to “success,” however you define it.  Do examine, if you’re not making progress, what behaviors are getting in your way.

And when you do succeed, as you will, don’t expect it to solve all your problems.  You set yourself up for disappointment when you do.  (I didn’t really succeed because getting published/losing weight didn’t change my life.) Many of the issues you want your success to solve for you will still be there.  You’ll still have to deal with them.  That doesn’t mean success isn’t worth reaching for.  It is.  Just recognize what it is, and isn’t.  It’s a measurable acheivment to build your next success upon.  It’s not a panacea.

Now get out there.  Be grateful.  Visualize your success. Be kind.  And get to work.


Filed under Life, writing

The Point of Anguish

I’ve been pulling together the outline for my next book.  It has a fairly intricate plot and plenty of spice.  I’ve even written about the first ten pages of the manuscript.  Unfortunately, I realized today that I don’t have one essential ingredient figured out that will make this book fun to write:  The point of anguish.

There’s a piece of advice I’ve heard that I think is very useful:  Know what your characters would do anything to obtain, or anything to avoid.  This is related to what I’m talking about, but it’s not quite the same.  For me, the point of anguish is a scene I hold onto that is fraught with powerful emotion, usually loss.  (For Veiled Mirror the scene I held onto was when Jason first sees Ellie, his lover’s identical twin, after being told Beth is dead.) It’s not the same as the Black Moment that many romance writers talk about.  That usually comes shortly before the denouement, when all seems lost.

The point of anguish is linked to all the pain and sorrow the character endures throughout the story.  It’s nature reveals character, as does the way the protagonist copes with it.  As writers we have to torture our characters.  Without conflict and struggle, our stories would be boring.  For me, the point of anguish is an experience that all the other pain in the story is a lead in to, or a consequence of.  By the time you’re done writing there will be a lot of points of anguish in your book, but you have to have at least one to start with.

At least I do.

I found and used this technique instinctively for several of my stories, even if I didn’t know that was what I was doing.  Unfortunately, I didn’t really have one for the last book I wrote and writing it was a very long and hard row to hoe.  I’m still not satisfied with that one.  Likewise, I haven’t got a good point of anguish for this new book either.  Finding that has become my priority before I go any further.

There’s a ton of advice out there on how to write your book and make it great.  However even the best advice doesn’t work for everyone.  We all have to find our own way.  But if you’re feeling stuck on your current work-in-progress, try imagining the scene where your main character feels like he’s been emotionally sucker-punched, and go from there.


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Poetry Monday: “What I Do” by Ellery Akers

As I did last week, I’m drawing today’s poem from The Poet’s Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux.

“What I Do” by Ellery Akers is a prose poem in 22 stanzas.  It’s a poem I’ll probably return to again and again because it shows me how to describe the ordinary from a different angle.

I drive on country roads where kangaroo rats shoot across the blacktop and leap into the bushes, where feral cats streak through fields, and cows lift their heads at the sound of the car but don’t stop chewing, where the horses’ manes blow in the wind and the cheat grass blows, and the grapes are strapped to stakes as if they have been crucified …

Writing teachers all talk about the importance of showing rather than telling.  That’s the prefered technique these days, and has been for some time.  (It wasn’t always so, as anyone who loves Jane Austen knows.)  Tied to that is the telling detail, that specific way of describing something in a few words that makes it clear what’s going on with a character.  That’s the strength of this poem.

There is an overall detatched feeling to this poem, while it provides snapshots of emotion through specific images.

... I notice the dead mouse on the path, its tail still curled, its snout eaten away by ants

So that although I’ve forgotten what John and I said to each other outside the airport, I remember the cedar waxwings chattering and lighting on the telephone wires, the clipped stiff grass and how sharp it was against my thighs as the waxwings flashed by …

It’s exactly these kinds of sharply focused details that the best fiction writers include in their writing, and “What I Do” serves as an excellent reminder to look around and really see what is there.

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