Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Namedropping (I Finished a Book!)

Last week I typed the final words to the first draft of The Former Self. At 105,000 words, the fantasy novel took four years and a lot of sidetracking to be finished.

The manuscript started as a National Novel Writing Month in November 2013, haphazardly named The Clone as a working title. I “won” that year, finishing November with the first 50,000 words. I wasn’t doing well, honestly. I found 2012 to be much more productive, having gotten down the first 60,000 words of The Dying Breed (a manuscript that would become 180,000 words over the course of five months) in twenty days.

I graduated from college in January ’12, and found my writing slowing way down. Back in high school, I was successfully writing almost every day, finishing four novels my senior year. I had some plays and short stories done during my university days, but not a lot.

The Dying Breed started for the Writing Month, coming out easily compared to anything else I’d written. (Funnily enough, most of those first 60,000 words that were so obvious to me did not survive the later cuts.) I started working on The Dying Breed seriously for publication for the first time, something that I finally acted on this January after years of edits.

The Former Self was my next attempt. I started stories and wrote a little, but a lot of my time was taken up in theatre. I didn’t finish anything, nothing came as easily or as naturally as before. In November, I again picked up my pen and kept up with the quota demanded of me by an internet graph.

For several years, National Novel Writing Month was the only time I really got any work done. I have pulsed through the first 50,000—though painfully, but never finished any until last year I finally managed to put the finishing touches on the first draft of The Vicarious Saving of the World.

Summed up, I started The Dying Breed in November 2012, The Former Self in November 2013, and I believe the Vicarious Saving of the World in December 2013, drawing my attention away from The Former Self  until I finished it in 2016. In the meantime, I wrote numerous other books, many for the Writing Month, but didn’t finish any.

I had been hoping for a while to get back to my prolific writing style, but have been unable to do so. I blame depression and a lack of enthusiasm for life; 2014-2015 was a terrible time in my life.

Recently though, I’ve been getting ahead. On my web comics, on my Stories of the Wyrd, on my blogs. On the same day I finished my book, I also finalized a quilt top, and got five comics ready for scanning, as well as worked on my painting for a long-term project, Making the Horizon.

Do I like working on these projects all at once? Somewhat. Not entirely. I find that the long duration of writing a book sucks out some of its inspiration. There’s also a natural continuity that is encouraged when you remember what you’re doing. When you take so long to finish a book, you don’t remember what you were going for, what you’ve done, or even hold the same inspiration for it.

So why do some stories need to be finished while others don’t? In honesty, it is tempting for many authors to always start something new rather than continue to work on the old. I personally recommend trying to stick with a manuscript until you finish it, and prefer the results of having my head in one game.

On the other hand, switching back and forth can also increase motivation. It is easier to write five pages in five books than five in one. When you get stuck, you can switch over. When you get inspired, you don’t have to.

But why did The Former Self beat out all of the others I have open? What about it made it need finishing? Well, for one thing, size does matter. The closer to the end something is, the more likely I am to prioritize it. Finishing a first draft feels good. You’ve accomplished something! And it’s something that you can accomplish on your own accord. Unlike all the other hurdles (getting picked up by an agent, getting published, getting lots of sales, getting awards), it’s something you can achieve by sheer will alone.

But The Former Self also has a beginning that keeps me reading for the first 20 pages, even if I’m supposed to be writing. The concept, unlike most of my other books, is decently pitch worthy, more easy to sum up. It was one of the three books I cared about, for whatever reason, but it had the most marketability.

A young merchant girl comes to find that the man she loves is actually nothing more than a supernatural shadow, created by the aristocrat known as the Coffin Prince.

I’m not too fantastic at my pitching or blurbs, nor am I inspired with the one above. In fact, I don’t have any attempts at a query letter or any sort of sales pitch going. I just know that it has more of a concept than either The Vicarious Saving of the World or The Dying Breed.

As of right now, I’m not too satisfied with it either. It comes off as too young adult for me—a style I’m trying to get away from. There’s a traveling scene—a conflict I’m trying to get away from, and some places in which I need to bring it way down while others I need to pump it way up. To make it more adultish, I need to add to the sexual tension, but surprisingly, I want to take away some of the violence. The Coffin Prince (whose name came up recently and I’m not sure I’m too thrilled with, depending on the direction I want to go) actually, I think, needs to be less cold blooded. Though the antagonist, I believe it would serve that instead of massacring his copies in murderous ways, he actually absorbs them back into his blade, making it clear why he doesn’t see it as murder, but still painting a terrifying picture as their clothes and metal bones are left behind.

The nice thing about working on several books at one time is that it’s not as hard to transition to the next one. Usually there is a lag between them, and I’m not always inspired to write something the moment I finish with something else. It’s not as clean cut as that.

But looking through my works and how far along they are, I’ve decided to continue the next in line—the one that will be easiest to finish.

The Song Bird’s Lie (working title) had been started several months before The Dying Breed. I believe I had begun it after Silver Diggers, the manuscript that Stories of the Wyrd is based on, still in my one manuscript at a time stage. I stopped midway through because of the intense inspiration I had and the good timing of the Writing Month coming up, planning on picking it back up afterwards. I didn’t. I worked on it, of course, even making a detailed outline of 100 pages of what would happen. It still lacks an ending, but I have a summation of events picked out for me. At 55,000 words and everything that’s going to happen, I think it’ll be actually pretty easy to get it done soon.

If I was diligent (ha) and loyal, I could theoretically finish it at 90,000 words within two weeks’ time.

But no. I’m still working on The Plane (slowly but surely) like I said I would, am filling up my portfolio of Stories of the Wyrd to make my life easier in the future, plus know that my big project of Making the Horizon, needs to be worked on piece by piece, otherwise I’d be committing solely to it for the next decade, and that’s not going to happen.

My ambition seems to getting ahead of me, but I actually look at all the little bit I’ve moved forward—inch by inch, piece by piece—has progressed me towards something. I’m not as far behind as I thought. I’m pretty happy, even though I know Former Self is going to take some work to get it up there.

Right now I’m focusing my editing on Vicarious in hopes to get it ready for submission much faster than I did with The Dying Breed. Editing always takes a backburner, so does publishing for that matter, and I think it’s time to prioritize it. I might be okay with writing a bunch of different things, but I’m trying to zero in my focus.

So, you’re probably not going to be reading this any time soon. I am actively looking for readers and critique partners however. If you’re interested in traded manuscripts, giving me feedback, or just telling me how you responded, send me an email at and we can see what we can do.

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Monday, April 24, 2017

Knowing When to Take Criticism

It is far better to make your own mistakes than someone else’s.

There’s a continuity to them, a meaning; everything you did you did for a reason. It might be a stupid reason, like you were just really tired and phonetically spelt out learn as luren (true story), or it might be that your subconscious knows something you don’t.

Even great advice, when misunderstood, won’t be any good to you. To implement something correctly the nuances of it huge factors in its success. It is so important not to make a generic, homogenized work, (It wasn’t even bad enough to be good!) which is what will happen if you take every piece of advice you get. Remember, people often comment on the different more than what’s important, and sometimes, different is exactly what you want.

And sometimes it isn’t. So how do you know when to take it and when not?

Do you see it?

It’s not about whether or not you agree; it’s about if you understand where they’re coming from.

Say someone tells you you overuse adverbs. When you look at your work, you really don’t think you used very many. In fact, you just don’t see any that you used at all.
1. Reputation. We all know that person who says they love Kafka to sound intelligent. This person is prone to deceiving others about what they like and don’t like in literature. “Name dropping” in critiques (a tactic I can’t stand), is where they’ll say, “Oh, you should read A Clockwork Orange,” simply because it makes them seem well read, not because it has anything to do with you.
While this person is secretly reading Fifty Shades and you couldn’t force to see a staged reading of The Old Man and the Sea, they’re still giving out Hemingway rules of writing; they’re pretending that things that don’t work for them do while incorrectly begrudging pieces that were successful.
I didn’t simplify all my prose, I simplified the important and extra wordy sentences. I didn’t explain everything, just added in a little more detail here and there. I made one scene from another character’s point of view, but left others the same.

Admit this. It’s hard, partially because people are so terrified of looking like the asshat who can’t take criticism, but not saying what you really think will prevent further communication, and the truth is there’s a reason you can’t see it and further conversation will help you find that reason.

This has happened to me probably about six times in the past. Someone would say something—“You need to set up the scene more.”—and I felt strongly that I didn’t need to, that I had done whatever they said I messed up on fantastically.

So I explained to them what I thought. “I believed I had set up the hut really well. I thought it was vivid and grounded, you could see where you were…”

Every single time, every time, there had been a miscommunication: “Oh, no. You set up the hut perfect. I was talking about the world. Like are we in outer space?”

Or, more often, “I was complimenting you, you idiot.”

If you don’t think their perception on your book is true, it’s likely because how you’re interpreting it isn’t what they mean. It might be that you saw the word “scene” as different than the scene they were talking about, or it might be that they misspoke. You don’t really have a lot of adverbs, but when you do use them, they’re noticeable.

If you don’t see what they’re talking about as being true, you can’t really move on from there. If you do get where they’re coming from, it still might not mean they’re entirely correct (it’s possible they just have a petpeeve about adverbs), but you’re at least starting from the same base.

Do they believe what they’re saying?

Start with the philosophy that no one is stupid. Their opinions have some validity, but the context in which it is valid might not be the context in which you’re working in. Under this belief, the only time someone is outright “wrong” becomes when they themselves don’t even believe what they’re saying. No one is stupid, but there are liars.

Why would someone lie about that?

Usually an immaculate lie is rare. Generally speaking, if, say, I had a vendetta against you and wanted your book to suck, I could find something that truly did bother me and blow it out of proportion. I’d be lying about the magnitude of the problem, but there’s still some honesty to what I’m saying.

There are three common motivations for a person might lie which you should listen for:

Sometimes, people lie about what you need to fix simply to sound informed. It can manifest in many ways and can often be hard to catch. You should look for hypocrisy and inconsistency. They love Shakespeare but hate when you toy with words. They say you use too many adverbs and yet theirs is riddled with it. It’s not an end all, but you’ll start to catch some patterns in their contradictions and know it’s not just a simple mistake.

2. To segue. Similar to reputation, but slightly different, people will often use the topic at hand to jump onto the topic they really want to talk about.

So while Joe is complaining about your over use of passive-sentences, Susie hears the phrase passive-sentences, and she’ll immediately jump on it, going, “Yes, Stephen King once told me my book was fantastic except I overuse passive-sentences.”

While it sounds like she’s agreeing with Joe’s assessment of your writing, but what she’s really saying is, “I once talked to Stephen King and he likes my book.”

3. The Emperor’s New Clothes. Obviously the individual is afraid of looking stupid or disagreeing with either the crowd or a more intense/experienced member of the group. They avoid saying what they really think for fear of being judged or making themselves a target, so they say nothing, implicating they agree when really they don’t. Or worse, they’ll actively agree with the powerhouse to get on his side.

Look for inconsistency in behavior. Most groups have one member who the others are afraid of. (It might be you.) If someone never talks, it probably means nothing, but if a chatty Kathy shuts up when Mr. Snuffy is speaking, don’t take her silence as agreement. In fact, silence is rarely agreement. It’s either disinterest, shyness, or passiveness.

There are reasons to lie, and if you are suspicious a person is lying to you, then it’s a good sign that you shouldn’t put the work before them.

But, more importantly, if you get the feeling that they truly believe what they’re saying, that’s who you should listen to, no matter their experience level.

What is the problem they’re trying to solve?

The biggest reason constructive criticism gets confusing is that people talk in solutions, not in problems.

A solution is an action you can take, (or an implication of an action), whereas a problem is the effect your book had on them. I define “bad” writing as when the reader as a reaction he doesn’t think he was supposed to have.

Going off of that, first and foremost there are five common reactions people often don’t want to experience:

-Being jarred out of the story.

Boring and confusing are obvious. No one ever thinks they’re supposed to be bored, and usually people don’t think they’re supposed to be confused. When a book rambles on and on and sounds like it’s just talking for the sake of talking, not only is it boring, but it feels like the author is deliberately wasting your time. A meaningless book is one that ends with you going, “So what?” Condescending books are ones that insult the reader, and jarring passages are where you are distracted from what is important, brought back to the real world, and forced to think about the writer and what he’s trying to do. Immersion is ruined.

The problem is far more important than the solution for a lot of reasons.

One, the solution could solve myriad of different issues, but if you try to solve the wrong one, it won’t be implemented correctly. For instance, they say you have “Too many characters.” Well, for starters, you can tell this is a solution, not a problem, because of the quantifier. A problem is a problem no matter the magnitude. Having too many characters is very different from having too few characters or even just having characters. But being too boring and being boring is exactly the same thing, where as not being boring enough doesn’t make sense. Solutions have contexts, problems rarely do.

So let’s argue that the reader was bored because you went off on all these tangents about characters he didn’t care about. When he says you have, “Too many characters,” however, you hear that he was confused, not able to keep track of them all.

You go through your manuscript and cut and merge characters that are forgettable, making everything about the main five. It’s possible you cut the most boring characters, but it’s also extremely possible that you didn’t touch the offending issues at all. You needlessly cut and merged all these characters (often adding to subtle continuity slip ups, like calling someone by the wrong name which hasn’t come up in the story before or after), and people are still bored.

Two, as Neil Gaiman says, “When people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

I say you can always use any piece of criticism given honestly. But it requires you to take it apart, find the root of the idea, then understand the context, and through that you will find something useful. Sometimes the benefit isn’t worth it, but it’s a required process for a lot of feedback.

You might use the advice without using the solution. It might not be the best solution to their problem, it might not be a solution you want to take at all. You have the right and ability to make any of your choices work, but you have to figure out what’s not working first.

When you understand the problem (“I was bored by most of the characters storylines.”) You don’t have to take their actual suggestion (“Cut them.”) but can still fix the issue. And you’ll probably be your most creative. (“Go through and make the storylines have higher stakes, more in-depth characters, find some moments for the readers to become empathetic to them.”)

Sometimes you might realize it’s not worth the work, but at least there’s the option there.

Three, most problems won’t be solved by one solution.

On the first book I really got a lot of different eyes on, I found little consistency in their responses. One person would say to “Simplify everything,” the next only said to change the point of view. Someone else asked for more description. When they pointed out words they didn’t like they were never the same ones. I gave three chapters to over twenty different people and the only thing they had in common was three of them didn’t like, “He clamped his mouth shut.” (“With what?” they said.)

For several months I found myself frustrated and mixed-up, but at the end what worked was when I started to find the common denominator—they were confused—and the solution was just doing a little bit of what everyone said.

People will try to give you a blanket solution that wouldn’t have solved the problem on its own, and, implemented too strongly, would cause even more issues.

It was my understanding of the feedback that enabled me to work effectively and efficiently.

Four, you might not give a shit. Pardon my French.

For my senior thesis in college I wrote a play called, Molly Aire and Becca Ette Do Theatre. The very first thing my professor said to me was, “You need to clarify they are not lesbians.”

The plot was very Mystery Science Theatre 3000, old guys from the Muppets style. Two girls at a play, making fun of it. Nothing homoerotic about it.

This might have frustrated me if I hadn’t heard it before. Truth is, you write about women, everyone wants to know who they’re having sex with. If there are no men around they must be having sex with each other. Someone has made this comment on three of my plays before. I mean, it’s possible that I am unconsciously having lesbianonic overtones, but I can’t deny the literature in which it is being compared to.

I told him that trying to prove someone’s assumptions untrue always just made them question it further, that going into these girls’ sex lives was not relevant to the storyline, and finally, if a director wanted to take it that way, then I was fine with that. Okay, it’s a date. Directors love making characters gay anyway.

My professor was the sort of personality type to back down, immediately, so the subject was dropped. Over the course of the semester, he kept giving me strange feedback that I didn’t really understand, like “Add in a third character,” and “Talk about their external life more.”

Adding in a third character would mean a complete rewrite. Because the two only speak to each other and had very different personalities and a dynamic (that I thought was the most successful part of the work) that would have to change with a third person involved, it seemed like a lot of work for what I thought was just him trying to add his two-cents.

I had forgotten about the conversation at the beginning of the semester, and so it wasn’t until the end that I started to connect the dots. Every suggestion he made could be tied directly into proving it was not a date.

The problem, to him, was that they might be lesbians and he thought they weren’t supposed to be. This was not a problem I cared about, and the effort required for his suggestions really made it all the less appealing.

Sometimes you won’t know if you agree with a criticism until after you truly understand it.

If you don’t understand, stick a pin in it.

Don’t try to take advice one piece at a time. Details make up the big picture, but it’s still about the big picture in the end. If the forest looks fantastic then there’s no reason to freak out over a misplaced leaf. Especially because quality of creative writing isn’t linear, and so that mistake might be exactly what makes the picture look real.

If you thought about a piece of advice—even if you feel like something’s there and you just can’t figure out what it is—don’t worry about it. Set it aside. If it’s important, it will come up again later. If it’s not, you’ll forget and move on to more important things.

Fixating on something can warp your view on it. It’s like saying the same word over and over again; it loses its meaning. If you start focusing on every adverb you use, you’ll stop hearing the cadence of the whole sentence. It is important to let things go.

How do you know it’s pride or your gut?

Saving the biggest issue for last, when we are most fraught with taking a piece of criticism, it has to do with our ego. Mainly that we don’t know if it’s our ego or not.

Someone implies you did something wrong, an innate part of you balks. It’s our nature to want to be right. But a big part of you wants to create the best work possible, and you’re willing to push your ego aside if that’s what it takes. Yet, on the other hand, their advice seems wrong, somehow. Your gut is rejecting it. How do you know it’s you’re instinct or just your need to be right?

The best way, unfortunately, is to be wrong. A lot. The more you are wrong, the faster you will recognize when you really are right.

Unless you’re planning on self-publishing tomorrow (which if you’re having an internal conflict, you might want to wait a couple of months, otherwise you’ll get the truth from the public.) then there’s nothing wrong with being wrong. Don’t be disrespectful, you don’t need to announce you’re not taking their advice, but you should stick with your gut. Either it is your pride, and you will become more accustomed to telling the difference, or it is your gut, and you’ll have made the right decision.

Sometimes it’ll just be the person telling you. Someone more respectful might be better apt to convince you. Sometimes it’ll just be the shock of hearing something you didn’t expect and letting it die down for a while will make it easier to swallow. Sometimes you need to do more research, and sometimes you just need to figure it out for yourself.

Most problems aren’t severe enough to destroy your story. There are often a lot of solutions, flexible perspectives, and enough context in your book that allowing a few mistakes to survive through a few more beta-readers and editors and an agent isn’t an issue.

The trick is to not be impatient, the answer will come with time.

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Friday, April 21, 2017

Think for Yourself

You don’t think you’d have to suggest this to a group of writers, and yet I unfollowed a blog for the first time this week because of the writer’s adamant declarations about what is acceptable in writing. After a few times, I couldn’t even begin to read her articles without getting peeved about her outlook. In that vein, you should know that I am, in fact, pissed off, at the moment. And, as I told my ex-boyfriend, I’m mad, but I’m not mad at you. I’m gonna rant here, don’t take it personally.

Her advice was cliché, lacking personal response or addition to rules already parroted by numerous of other authors who often rarely followed the ideas themselves. Learn the rules to learn to break them, as they say.

As someone who had a hard time following orders but has been writing long enough that eventually, statistically, I’ve had to do what I was told, I could tell you all kinds of anecdotes when following the rules led to my success just as much as I could regale you on the times they’ve screwed me over. So, from my perspective, anyone who listens to their own advice and practices it accordingly should have a similar series of personal insights about context.

Writing is not about getting permission. It’s not about doing things the “right” way. It’s not a science, and that makes it all the more important that people filter in other’s opinions and then analyze them. It’s perfectly understandable and useful to wonder how a decision will be received by readers, but it’s a whole other matter when you start asking, “Am I allowed to…?”

If you were to follow the rules, you would be playing it safe, be homogenized, and be ridiculously limited, and you wouldn’t necessarily be writing anything that anyone cares about. That does not mean they’re not useful at times.

The internet does not need another blog telling us that “using said” is the best way to fix dialogue. It isn’t. Stop fixating on easy solutions and start going a little deeper. Writing is about illustrating a new perception on God-aged ideas and experiences, so why, when you are a writer writing about writing, are you saying something that is older than God?

Writing advice is like the straw that broke the camel’s back. Camel’s back got broken. What happened just before it broke? You put a straw on it. So don’t put straws on camels’ backs, obviously. And even if I don’t know the camel’s back got broken, someone I highly respected told me not to do it, and so, when giving advice out to others, I am going to give you the opinion that “matters.” Not my own, because theirs must be better than mine; they’re famous after all! So I’ll repeat the idea that I don’t really understand because it came from a source I trust and am completely unable to put it into context.

The important part is, of course, that the camel’s back got broken at all, and if I’m asking for a quick solution off the top of your head and that’s what you come up with, that’s reasonable. But if you’re repeating the advice for something you’ve allegedly being doing for twenty years, then I have to severely question how much you’ve actually been thinking during that time.

A real expert would be able to say, “I too have broken the camel’s back. If you remove the straw, this is what will happen. If you move the 90 pound statue, this is what would happen. Here’s why I recommend this option…”

Overuse of the word said, overuse of synonyms for said, are the surface level projection of a deeper problem. What is that problem? Finding that problem over just using a simple trick to lessen the problem will solve your issues in one sweep. Putting “cover-up” over a few obvious words will… well, look like you did what you did.

My first advice to someone struggling with dialogue will never be about the tags. The tags are a separate issue all together, usually stemming from lack of variation in general, or—more often—come from someone having said, “Never use said,” or “Always use said.” The writer, focusing on it, makes it unnatural, and thereby noticeable.

My first advice to someone trying to be a better writer is not about adverbs. Adverbs are the symptom of a larger problem. If the larger problem does not exist than the adverbs aren’t a problem.

My first advice would not about deleting semicolons. It might be a part of a laundry list on how they act pretentiously or they jar me over and over, but an excellent writer who I trust will gain my acceptance of the strange device over time. If semicolons really are the biggest issue, we've gotten to the stage where the book is fantastic and now we're just polishing. But if you hate the character and have questions about gaping plot holes, talking about those issues trump the easy fixes.

If I were trying to edit a book for someone, I wouldn’t be discussing word choice. Not at the early stages. I’d focus on the largest problem—This is why I wasn’t in love with it. The issue with this tactic, however, is it requires authors to think for themselves. But, if you want to be a writer, you’re going to have to do anyway. Yes, it’s easier for me as a teacher to go through and say, “Change this word and this word and this word,” but it’s more effective for me to say, “If you want this result then look for these influences.”

Here’s my writing advice: Intention, intention, intention. And variation. That’s it. Vague, no? Yes. That's the problem. Critical thinking is complex. It's hard to teach. There's no real quippy phrases to clarify how to do it. You learn from experience. But those experiences can be taught, discussed, and learned from, which is why it's so important to go into them instead of summing up a overly simplified solution.

When is it bad to only use said? When it looks like you’re trying to only use said. When is it bad to not use said? When it looks like you’re trying not to use said. When it looks like you don’t actually know what the word means. When it looks like you couldn’t find a better fit. When it looks too much like you’re trying to be Hemingway without understanding him. Or when you’re doing one or the other too much, when it looks like you don’t know any other way to say it, or are too lazy to figure it out.

What does too much look like? How do you know what intention your readers are seeing? Well that’s up for the writer to decide. He has to think about it. But I know that most people can do it. And if they can’t, if they are incapable of thinking for themselves, then they have bigger problems.

It’s hard, but analyzing the complexity of the real issue of “why” will end up being far truer, far more effective, then “don’t.”

I know some people believe that adverbs are the devil’s work, and they have every right to believe that. But if you only believe it because someone said so, if you haven’t tried it out, or have, but never paid attention to the results, you’re not an expert. It is damaging for someone to push an untested theory onto fresh minds without reminding them of alternative opinions and options.

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Five Signs Your Marketing Campaign is Too Nice

Love thy neighbor that got a HaperCollins contract long before you could even get a draft without six thousand typos. Love thy neighbor that is struggling in the obscurity you have long forgotten. Hell, love thy neighbor who flipped out at their first negative review and is making an ass of themselves.

If you speak to most authors, they say supporting each other is an integral part of your career.

And it is. Networking, creating a sense of community, and just gaining good karma can benefit you so much more than many of your marketing schemes. However, there is a point in which you take it too far.

-Your social sites are a blaze of ads.

The first recommendation you’ll hear when it comes to marketing via Facebook or Twitter is that you want content before marketing. The rule of thumb is usually a 3:1 ratio—Three “content” statuses for every pitch, at least.

In essence, your Twitter page is filled with jokes, anecdotes, or interesting factoids, not just, “Buy my book!” over and over and over.

But what some people don’t realize is that’s it’s not the self-absorbed pitching of your book that’s annoying; it’s that no one likes ads… period. So, while you think you might be doing everyone a favor by retweeting all of their “Five-star review!” posts, you are really just making your page a minefield.

It’s not about the “self-involvement” of “buy my book.” It’s about how uninteresting and annoying it can be to keep seeing it. If you want to support fellow authors, make sure to include any “ads” in your content to pitch ratio, whether or not they’re your own book.

Also, make it personal. If you can add an opinion about why people should buy their book, it’s more likely to be effective.

-Your social sites say nothing about you.

In fact, I rather see a page filled with the author’s Amazon links and teasers than one filled with other people’s.

Twitter and Facebook are not places to promote yourself; they’re to keep in contact with your readers. You want to let them know what you’re doing, remind them you exist, and keep them antsy for the next book.

If I go to your page, it’s because I want to learn about you. I don’t want to have to shift through a bunch of different covers and try to figure out which one is yours.

The most effective pages are those that say something about the author. The content describes your life, your opinion, and your personality. Your picture humanizes you. And, most importantly, your social site makes it easy for potential fans to determine if and how they should by your books, and keeps already existing fans interested in you and your writing.

If your page is nothing but retweets and promotions of other people’s books, then it’s really not doing its job.

-Your opinion can’t be trusted.

I made a mistake early on in my social media career. A man sent me a message asking me to promote his book, and not having received any direct requests like that before, seeing no problem with it, I did. I copied and pasted his link on my Facebook page.

My fans let him have it. A self-published book with typos on the first page, they tore him apart for producing such crap—and me for promoting it.

No matter how obscure you think you are, your reputation is still at stake, and you’ll be surprised at how many people will take your opinion seriously and the ramifications when they realize you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Never promote a book you haven’t read, unless you’re willing to admit you haven’t read it. When suggesting a novel to your fans, make sure to tell the whole truth, not just a partial truth about the positives while leaving out the negatives.

-You try to make peace with the trolls.

Dealing with hostility on the internet is like arguing in a crowded restaurant. You have to solve the problem while still maintaining your reputation. And, unfortunately, when it comes to conflict, the public eye is quick to blame and shame everyone involved.

Basically, someone starts shit with you and no matter if you react pleasantly or hostility, people will say your behavior is inappropriate. In many cases, people believe the only option is to just ignore them.

But sometimes not responding won’t do the trick. They’ll continue to harass you, disparage you to others for not engaging (just as much as they would disparage you for a bad reaction), or even just say something that you believe should be addressed.

The important thing is, in any situation, not to try and pander to them. When you attempt to solve the conflict by appeasing them—“I can give you a refund if you would like.”—It looks like weakness or fear and encourages them to get worse.

People attack those they think they can get away with, which is why the internet is such a warzone. Always speak softly, but carry a big stick. If someone is harassing you, don’t negotiate.

-You never promote for fear of annoying someone.

You’re going to irritate someone no matter what. Accept it, do the best you can to be respectful and not be a hypocrite. Most times, annoyance comes from a bad situation; they’re having a terrible day, and you’re the sixteen hundredth person to ask.

The most successful method of marketing is to let people know you exist, your book exists, and to ask them straight up to buy it. If you’re worried about being a nuisance, consider your tactics carefully. Try to be interesting, try not to be pushy or repetitive. Understand that people have the right to be annoyed, but it really doesn’t mean you did anything wrong just because they are.

No one wants to support an asshole. You don’t have to be mean to get what you want. Just keep in mind that being assertive can help you gain respect and attention while being too kind can get you swept under the rug. It’s okay, or even more interesting, to talk about yourself than it is to always be helping others and never let anyone in on who you are or what you’re up to.

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Friday, April 14, 2017

Setting Up a World’s Mortality

Comparing Charmed to Supernatural, a part of me wants to take both T.V. shows, throw them into a bag, and shake them up.

Both feature siblings attempting to fight supernatural enemies in a modern world with a couple of similarities in concepts and storylines, but the actual execution is fairly different.

Even as a child, I was bothered by Charmed’s black and white mentality. Good versus evil. Tepid handling of death and pure sense of justice. Watching it, now that I’m older, I wish for a little more darkness and horror in their storylines, some grit and higher stakes.

Supernatural has that. It isn’t squeamish about killing innocent people, or making good bad and the bad ugly. It’s fairly graphic and heartless at times, yet it quickly gets to a point where you lack any sort of hope. Everyone dies. I don’t think they know how to end something without a death. Even the main characters are murdered or horribly sacrificed on multiple occasions.

I like that Charmed, with its female cast, has romantic subplots throughout its seasons, that the characters and their situations undergo change, evolving their lifestyles over the seasons. In the course of the eight years, one character launches a business, gets married, and has two children. Supernatural tends to fight interesting directions and change in attempts to bring back the status quo. No love story lasts long, and to be honest, I haven’t found any potential partner interesting enough to want them to stick around.

Mainly, the comparison of the two series got me thinking about what I wanted in a story, the appropriate amount of death to bring into play. I certainly don’t enjoy the meaningless slaughter of multiple characters just to tug at the heart strings. I hate killing off smaller characters who won’t be missed just for the same reason. Just because they’re not important to me doesn’t mean they’re not important. I like to know that death means something, and believe that if resurrection is possible, it should be foreshadowed more or less early on.

I like the idea that people can die, the moral ambiguity when bad things happen to good people, the tension created by uncertainty of if a character will survive, but it shouldn’t be the only thing on people’s minds either. I enjoy not constantly worrying in Charmed about the unfair deaths, but it also feels great to see someone finally survive in Supernatural.

Which brings me to my problem.

I’m currently working to get ahead on Mighty Morphin’ Canine Tales and I’ve come to a portion which I think will set the stage for the rate of mortality in the world. We’ve been following some minor characters who I’m not entirely sure will be ever seen again after this story arc, and they’ve been attacked.

Now is the time to demonstrate the danger that everyone’s been afraid of, the difference of power in the creatures they fight and the average set of humans. My first instinct was to kill a character who happened to be standing there, someone who had done enough talking that a little bit of attachment has formed around him, but not enough to be truly devastated by the loss.

However, I’m hesitant. I actually don’t want my readers to be uncomfortable during the comic. It’s supposed to be fun with some dark undertones, just the way I like it. If I kill this character as a meaningless casualty, I’ll have to keep it up, and it will definitely change the mood I’ve imagined for the next couple of scenes.

I believe death should be applied in moderation. I believe I might be predisposition for suicidal thoughts, though nothing I would as of yet define so has occurred. Regardless, throwing away characters because they’re not important to the leads, using them as a cheap means to hit people in the feels, or just solving a problem with death all say something about our mortality and an individual’s value that I don’t want to promote. Everyone is valuable. All deaths mean something. Moreover, you grow insensitive to it. Knowing a character is going to die because they always do takes away the impact of it.

I also have found that the willfulness to let go of minor characters while the protagonists constantly survive just increases the non-credibility of the situation, reminding the audience of the invulnerability endued on them by the author.

I have a few days to make a decision, and the comic will change depending on which direction I choose to go. How dark versus how whimsical? Ideally, I’d want both, that each fight scene could go either way. Sometimes optimism, sometimes pessimism. Unexpected success, unexpected failure. But if I were to be honest with myself, I’m not sure how much I’d enjoy reading it. Despite the thrill of unforeseen survival, sometimes I want to be safe, excited for a battle, and not slapped across the preverbal face by a sudden death.

I guess I’ll have to keep an eye out for books that have a less predictable mortality rate and see what I think.

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Monday, April 10, 2017

Hogwarts by Any Other Name

While in Ireland, I came across a few colloquialisms that sounded so absolutely Irish you’d think Dublin was a satire of itself. In contrast to Perth, Australia, it didn't seem as American with a few surreal differences here or there, but solely itself.

The food is, strangely enough, more akin to what I’m used to, Australia’s hatred of sugar and limited import keeping away some of my favorite brands. Yet the vernacular, the architecture, and even the fashion had a distinct personality to it that told you were you were at all times. Similar enough to not cause a culture shock, yet different enough to make you feel outside of your home country, walking around Ireland was a satisfying experience, teaching me the important aspects while developing a new culture for readers who want some novelty with their relatability.

Predominantly, the Irish are defined by their names. Their labels of things. Their cheeky sense of humor and lack of priority.

Australia was great because people were real. They had a lackadaisical attitude, and it wasn’t worth their time to lie or put on pretenses. But, in the same vein that they weren’t going to dress up for anyone, they also didn’t seem to have that same sort of “Fuck you,” attitude that the Irish do. They weren’t trying to prove how little they worried about looking good, or prove much of anything at all. They went about their lives and focused strictly on important things. That was not people’s judgment.

The Irish, however, seem to like having a little bit of shock value. They get a kick out of screwing the establishment in the most flashy way they can think of. You can’t tell me what to do, and I’m going to let you know it.

Around Dublin, statues and modern pieces of art get nicknames. This isn’t restricted to the Irish; my college campus received a giant, red, and abstract piece of plastic to decorate its campus, and we would call it all sorts of lovely names like “The Twizzler,” “The Melted McDonald’s Slide,” and the “Dildo.”

But these weren’t particularly clever, and didn’t exactly catch on. Even something like the Washington Monument, which we all say is an overcompensation, hinting at its erection-like appearance, but never really giving it a label that stuck.

First thing I found arriving in Ireland was that cockney rhyming slang doesn’t have to be slang, or even cockney to be decidedly cultural.

The Anna Livia Monument features a character from Joyce’s novel, Finnegan’s Wake, reclining in water—a personification of the River Liffey. She was quickly dubbed by Dubliners “The Floozie in the Jacuzzi.”

Other statues around the city are also known as…

The Hags with the Bags

The Stiffy in the Liffey

The Stiletto in the Ghetto

The Erection At the Intersection

The Trollop with the Scallop

The Flirt in the Skirt

The Tart with the Cart

Now what’s most interesting about these names is they give a sort of personality to the city and its culture. On tours of Ireland, they talk in depth about the iron fist of British rule and the lasting pride the Irish have in their freedom. Colorful doors are iconic due to the history of British demanding they be painted black. The people have love-hate relationships with their older buildings and how they were used for British control.

Irish culture, especially in Dublin, showcases their humorous flaunting of their disdain for authority.

This is important for the fantasy writer on two parts: One is that many of my worlds lacked surplus “decoration,” such as historical monuments, artistic statements, and the general public’s attitude toward its city. Two is that the way we name things tells you a lot about the kind of people we are.

I knew that names were important. I have the tendency to not use them or give them out. I am criticized for this, maybe rightfully so (the specific requests tend to come from critiques with mutual disrespect, so I’m more skeptical/biased), but have also gotten away with it in some strange cases. I wrote an entire book without naming anyone but the two protagonists and none of my critique partners noticed.

While editing my manuscript, The Vicarious Saving of the World, the first note I made was, “Names?”

Finding the right name is difficult, and I often won’t give people titles until I absolutely have to. But in Vicarious, I inserted pronouns with plans to go back and change them later, but never have. Now they seem intrinsically connected with the characters. I still don’t like them.

Using common names in secondary worlds always bothered me. Some books can get away with it, like Howl’s Moving Castle. However, the book’s pronouns still have an overall British tone, and the names are still fairly old fashioned—not something you’d see every day in my life.

Sophie, Howell, Lettie, Martha. Market Chipping, Porthaven, Kingsbury.

There’s a continuity with it and their world.

Vicarious’ base world is uniquely unclear for me. Typically I do like the Romans and make everything Anglo-Saxon based, but sometimes I’ll have a Russian or Japanese or even African vibe. As I’ve expressed before, my world-building could always be deepened and the decision on what culture I’m somewhat emulating isn’t always conscious, nor is it thorough or restricted. (The last part is a good thing). As I attempt to make a more grounded, visual, and vivid culture though, I’ve begun to examine the settings I love the best and realize many of them are actually not American. It’s not even that these authors have worked every nook and cranny… it’s that they grew up in a different place and their own culture fills in the cracks of their fictional world, making it something entirely new to me.

I wrote previously of my jealousy of the iconicness of Harry Potter’s culture, my hopes that I can create a town and a culture that is immediately recognizable in just a hat or scarf. Something that could easily be emulated by a cosplayer, not getting confused for another generic anime character.

I love America, even in its terrifying state now. After attempting to move to Australia, I learned how little I actually want to spend the rest of my life outside the country. I like the culture and the people and being inside it…

But it doesn’t actually interest me.

I’ve been working on the visual aspects of a world, trying to use drawing to force myself to come up with those “unnecessary” details normally I would gloss over. Yet, as I walked around Dublin, sketching castles and crypts, taking notes on the smell and temperature and feeling of the place, I started to write down other things I noticed. Some of it told a story about the city. Some of it told a story about the people. Some of it I had known all my life—like the humorous way my dad zones in and out of conversations and asks precisely the wrong question at the wrong moment—but never bothered to write about.

I came to Ireland to live more of life and left with a better understanding of it.

Hogwarts by any other name would not be as sweet because the names we choose tell you a lot more about your world and the people in it.

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Friday, April 7, 2017


The definition of editing is actually more inclusive than some would make it. Editing can mean proofreading, line editing, or developmental work, editing can be done by the writer himself, a peer, a professional, or even just some friend. Editing can be revising, rewriting, or it may be limited to a few corrections of typos. In fact, the word is so open to interpretation that if you ever find yourself in the position of dealing with an ‘editor’ (being or hiring) you should make certain that you are both on the same page as to what it is they and you are expected to do. Editors tend to give a more thorough and informed opinion on the piece than say beta-readers or critique partners. A beta-reader is mostly just there to point out his reaction as a reader, point out general problems he personally would have with it so the author is better prepared to how people will react, and possibly solve large issues before print. Critique partners vary depending on what you're looking for and have agreed to, but these tend to be friendly associates who you work with outside of a professional setting.

In my opinion, a good external editor is never going to revise or rewrite content themselves; they won’t even ask. You’d have to pay them more to do so, and that would be turning them into a sort of ghostwriter. They will point out errors, make suggestions on fixes, and it is up to the writer to change them. In the case of it being on someone else’s dime—as in traditional publishing—the amount of “allowed” disagreement will change drastically from if you’re hiring a freelancer, but regardless of the situation, a writer should never assume the editor just knows best, just as he shouldn't assume he does either. In most scenarios, there's room for discussion, and many necessary, non-negotiable changes will be discussed when the contract is first signed. Some writers have complete veto power while I've seen others (in bad small presses) have their work completely rewritten for them. Understanding how much creative control you will have is something you should research before signing a country.

A good editor will be open to flexibility of implementation. They will recognize that you may not see eye to eye on everything, and are more likely to clarify the problem rather than instruct you on step-by-step solutions or having their ego damaged when you don't like their suggestions. Both of you are required to behave professionally if you want the relationship to work; it's not just the author who needs to pull his head out of his ass. Regardless of where the funding is coming from, successful editors are respectful of the writer's ideas.

Having outside feedback is important to anyone who wants to be read. You don’t know what you don’t know, many of the mistakes you’re making you’ll never think to question. For instance, at one point, I thought the saying was, “little lone,” as in, “She’s not my mother, little lone my grandmother!” It’s actually ‘let alone’ and I would have never considered the saying might not be what I thought… because why would I?

You’re different than other people, and that’s often a good thing. But it can blurry your point when you don’t see the world in the same way as a reader, and understanding that (and how) other people don’t think like you will help you seize control of your writing and learn how to communicate complex ideas better. Being oblivious to the unique way you see the world might help with being genuine, but you will often find yourself losing credibility and impact due to poor translation. Not to mention you’re also pretty normal in some ways, and I can’t count the number of times a new writer has proudly shown me something that’s “never been done before” which was absolutely cliché simply because they weren’t aware of the world around them.

Self-editing, however, is an equally important part of the process. Despite all of what I said above, I would actually argue that if you, for some hypothetical reason, were forced to choose between the two, you would be better off editing yourself than blindly handing it to another person. Combine the options—third party and self-editing—and you’ll better set yourself up for being interesting and impactful for readers than if you were to just go with one over the other.

Editing has always been haphazard for me. I liked writing and found myself overwhelmed once draft one was done, so I'd often put it off with literally thousands of pages I've never read again. As someone who predominantly writes without too much of a plan, it’s not uncommon for it to be all over the place. Not only does it need to be tightened, but I have to figure out where to tighten it. What’s important? What isn’t? Well that’s all based around my point, and I’m not positive what it is. Strangely enough, sometimes other people are better and putting together what you're trying to say than you are. Some people get you better than you understand yourself.

After deleting nearly a half of a novel in word count, I learned pretty quickly how much nuance influences things. The plot grew tighter, the pacing faster, but the characters and their relationship was changed. Their personalities, their connections. You’d be amazed at how cutting “unnecessary” words will alter the ambiance.

So it can be overwhelming. One decision affects another which affects another, and I don’t even know where I’m trying to get to. This is why I recommend to people to do “mild editing” the first go around, just to familiarize yourself with the story, think about the natural impact it already has so you know how to precisely navigate around choices that helped to create that impact. It also makes it easier to start when you don’t put a lot of pressure on yourself to fix everything immediately.

When I began the submission process of the manuscript I had been loyally working on for four-some years, I began to turn my sights to other projects. The road to publication has been pretty much what I expected, but I’d be lying if I found it easy to keep my morale up. I wasn’t even discouraged, just sort of apathetic.

As my life turned away from the depression and stress, as I moved to a beautiful city, found my apartment, found a job, found a routine, made some friends, and started talking to a guy, I have recently been more inspired to go back to my old ways. I’ve started working on my books again, and have been scheduling my time better. I’ve begun to have time for editing, and with that, I’m about to take up a few old manuscripts back into my arms. Hopefully they’ll have me after I ghosted them so cruelly.

But again, the process is daunting. Which one do I work on? How do I even begin? I haven’t really settled on one singular project in quite some time, and for some reason, the commitment is unnerving, and my impatience is strong.

I’m currently finishing up with a book I’m calling The Former Self about a girl who falls in love with the supernatural clone of a conquering royalty. While there are many parts I’m endeared to, I have some complaints, and I want to push my writing further than what it is now. Too much traveling. Too many talking heads. Is the narration in the beginning alluring towards her personality or too much monologuing?

The world needs to be built up more. Better visuals. More distinct rules of magic. Perhaps more character backstory. Definitely more stakes.

When working on The Dying Breed, the manuscript out for submission, I improved these things in a roundabout way. Most of them came from the constant close reading necessary to cut down on the size, just epiphanies from rereading passages over and over. I’d like to be more systematic about it. This book is probably going to end up being 100,000 words, which could stand from some trimming, but doesn’t need to be in the same way The Dying Breed did.

Meanwhile, the book I finished after The Dying Breed, (tepidly titled The Vicarious Saving of the World) has made a hit with my critique partners in ways that none of my other writing has. The main character is funny, flawed, and facing her pain in a way that immediately spills out from page one.

It too has some of the same problems as above though. Needs more unique world building. More defined rules of magic. Higher highs and lower lows. From my impression now, it actually doesn’t seem to be in too bad of shape though; I’d mostly like to improve the natural progression and pacing towards the end, and might have to add in a subplot, which will bring the word count above where I’d like it.

I care about word count, if you’re wondering, because it is such a large deterrent for agents and publishers and, yes, readers. And even if I were to go into self-publishing, it would be a deterrent for me for the exact same reason: It’s pricier to produce a larger book.

But mostly because I really do tend to be verbose and fluff things out with details that merely slow things down or clutter meaning.

I’d also like to get away from young adult tone of writing I have. The Vicarious Saving of the World falls strictly into that category unlike most of my other works. The Former Self does too, actually. And it’s not as though I have a problem with young adult books normally. I love them. Or I used to. Fans of YA books are devoted as hell. The covers are beautiful, much more so than most of the adult fantasy, and despite the disparaging comments from non-readers, there are some truly wonderful stories and writers that I’ve found.

I just feel limited by it. The glossing of the world building to keep teens interest, the necessity of writing about people of a certain age, being told I can’t use certain words because young people wouldn’t understand them. More so, when reflecting about my “high-highs and low-lows,” or basically any of the failings of atmospheric tension I see in the majority of the young adult books I’ve read recently, I’ve realized that it’s more or less what YA readers DON’T want. Not in the way I’m talking about.

Myself included. I liked happy endings and battles where you know the good guys win. Yet, I also realized that the bad things - truly upsetting things - were the straw that broke the ‘good’ camel’s back and turned it into great. As I get older, the less I feel excited about just a touch of the fingertips between two new lovers and the more I yearn for a touch of the fingertips for the last time.

I can’t say that I would mind being a young adult author. I’m sure I might have suggested otherwise in the past—I’m not completely free from bias, as my blog posts have indicated—but some of the careers I am most envious of are young adult writers, and I do have respect for them.

But if I want to push myself to write the books I’m craving, to be satisfied with my stories, I think I want to get away from the ‘safety’ that is shoved onto young adult and allow myself to explore the more so-called tedious aspects of crafting a grounded world, the distress caused by a disturbing torture, and just create a more intense read than what I’ve been doing. Or what I’ve been reading.

Today I have scheduled an hour to start editing. I had wanted to read Vicarious in one sitting to really remind me what I had created—it having been a few years—but I think that I’ll try to just take an hour for the next week and slowly familiarize myself through it instead of waiting for a fully free day to come around. Procrastination is a bitch.

I’m in Ireland with my family, so I imagine I’m going to struggle getting things done. A change in my routine always messes me up. However, I’ve also found in the last few days how much more time I have if I just stop putting things off and get going. Hopefully I won’t leave it alone until I forget what I have done.

First step is to familiarize myself with it, take notes as to the big picture fixes, correct a few typos and awkward phrasing here or there. Hopefully I’ll finish The Former Self soon and can attempt to edit it the way that I would like to. I’ll read it, put it aside for some time, work on Vicarious and, when I finally get that to some beta-readers (once I’ve started to need some outside perspective), I’ll go back to Former.

I’m continuing to submit The Dying Breed, and am trying to stay invested and positive as I go. But it helps to keep my mind on other things as well, so editing might prove really useful for me.

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