Coming soon, in 2020!
I’ve been writing since I was a little girl. Mostly, I would just draw pictures and follow my mother around the house and tell her the stories I’d come up to go along with them and be ecstatic when they went on the fridge. I was also a voracious reader, but I was never content to only read; I always wanted to create. I didn’t know what writing was, really; I just knew I had stories to tell.
Writing wasn’t about plotting or world building when I was young; I just wanted to put all my ideas down.
I used to write stories for my friends and then leave them on cliffhangers for weeks while I figured out what came next.
In high school, I was the editor for the paper and wrote several articles. I created “Stickman! The Series!” which was an ongoing comic I passed out to various people in my classes. It was filled with dark humor and constantly skirted the safety of a PG-13 rating in every issue. By the end of my senior year, I was making a handful of photocopies in the library because people I’d never even met before had read it and wanted more.
“Hello dear sailor, I’m a siren, here to kill you.”
“Kill me? Why?”
“It’s what I do. I gotta be me.”
(10th grade humor. You’re welcome.)
But through all of this, I never once had much doubt about my ability to write. It was just something I did.
Writing was as much a part of me as breathing. But without knowing why, I knew I wanted to get better. So I started researching how to write. And this is where I hit my first real hurdle and my lack of skills became self-evident. My talents were raw; they were unformed clay next to master sculptures. I saw the divide, and for the first time, it bothered me that I wasn’t a better writer. It was like seeing color when I never even knew I was colorblind to begin with. But I was still excited to dive in and learn, so I did. I started reading everything I could find on how to be a better writer.
But the more I learned about writing, the harder it became to write. As technical concepts starting taking root, it felt like my knowledge was actually ruining my ability.
Before, I wrote what I wanted, completely in the dark as to whether it was good or not. But the more I took in, the less the words seemed to flow.
No one ever tells you that self-doubt isn’t just a natural instinct you get handed the first time you put a pen to paper. It’s a creeping sensation that comes out of nowhere. Like walking into a classroom you’ve been in a hundred times before and realizing that something seems different. The desks have been rearranged. You’re not by the window anymore. You have a new seating chart and your buddy is this prick that constantly asks what you’re working on and then compares it to everyone else’s work to make you feel bad.
And when you start to understand the technicalities of what you’re doing (or not doing, as the case may be), writing isn’t “easy” anymore. It’s not comfortable. It’s not fun. It’s a jerk that looms over you and keeps whispering, “Just quit already.”
So what happened? How did you get dejected from Paradise and sent crashing into this new world? Are you actually a bad writer?!
The moment you become self-aware, your brain is not going to take it easy on you. Suddenly, all those books you loved before aren’t just for you to enjoy. They’re also a model of everything that you aren’t, and that you may never be. And when you compare yourself to them, you’ll feel incredibly foolish for even trying.
By the time I graduated, I was exhausted from “creating” on demand. I shelved many of the books I’d started because I literally got sick of them. I was tired as hell of writing. I had more doubts about my abilities than when I’d started. I was scared of what would happen when I actually finished my novels. When I tried to publish. Would everyone hate it? Would they tell me that my efforts were incomprehensible garbage?
This fear compelled me to quit writing for a little while. I threw myself into work instead and got a position as an editor with several indie publishers. I doubted myself for choosing writing as a college major. I wrote only enough to keep the hinges oiled, and considered jobs outside of my field. But then I got a job with an online magazine as an editor and writer. Inside, I hoped the writing portion wouldn’t come, and for a few months, I got my wish. I was a writer who was afraid to write. The fear of how I would be received had crippled me.
The first time I was assigned an article, I had a full-blown panic attack. I had to get up and walk away from the computer because I was petrifiedof writing again, especially for a widespread audience. My biggest writing credits at this point were publications in my college newspaper and some minor poetry anthologies.
But I knew, under the fear, that I wanted to do it. And that I wasn’t going to let anyone—least of all me—ruin it. I decided, pass or fail, it wouldn’t be because I gave up.
I wrote the article. It took hours. I hated every minute of it. I was convinced it was the worst drivel I’d ever produced. But when I was done, I realized that I’d written. I’d gotten through it, and I could breathe again. Sending it in to the editor was like a weight lifting off my chest. Then came the next assignment. And the next. And before I knew it, I was writing 4-5 articles a day on a variety of topics. And so I stopped focusing on the technical aspects of how to “craft” everything. I focused instead on the writing. I had a job to do; I had to produce. So even if it still terrified me, I did it.
Before I knew it, I had written over 200 articles.
And while this was going on, I discovered the drive to just sit and write. I stopped self-editing so much; stopped telling myself I couldn’t do it. I let the technical aspects I’d learned guide me, but I put down the story I wanted to tell (reminding myself every time that I could edit later), and suddenly, writing was happening again.
I think I repeated Terry Pratchett’s quote, “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story,” like a mantra, whenever I felt like I couldn’t make it.
In late 2015, two years after graduation, I finished writing my first soft sci-fi novel, Mercury in Retrograde. I edited it for months, waffled on my resolve, and then finally wrapped it up and researched query letters. And even though I felt that same doubt that said I wasn’t any good, or that no one would like it, I sent it out. I cried because I thought it was the dumbest thing I’d ever done.
Just over a year later, it was published. And just over a year after that, it got silver in a book awards contest. And even now, knowing what I know, the voice in my had still tells me that it’s not good enough. That I’m not good enough.
The hardest part of writing is the deceptive idea that it should be easy. That it should always feel fun, and that if you’re struggling, it’s because you’re a hack. But this simply isn’t true.
Writing is an exercise. A mental one, sure, but you’re working out muscles you may not even know you have yet. It’s going to hurt quite a bit before it gets better. And just like anything in life, you can either use it to make you stronger, or you can cave in and let it smother you.
Don’t focus on your fears. Focus on what you can control. Don’t wait for inspiration; make inspiration happen. Sit down, write that novel.
Don’t worry about what people will think of your book. Write the story that you want to tell; edit it later.
The voice in the back of your head is never going to be satisfied, even when you exceed what you thought was ever possible.
So don’t let it stop you.
“Indie authors… there’s a reason none of them have been traditionally published. Most of them need to…leave the writing to the writers who are actually good at it.” — Actual quote from a book group I’m in.
When it comes to writing, criticism is easy to come by but difficult to receive. And given that writers are a notoriously delicate, brooding bunch, it’s not hard to understand why sorting through the criticism chaff to get to the good advice wheat is one of the hardest things to do as an author.
You’ve created this book baby. You birthed it from your own head, fed it all of your fears and hopes and dreams, watched it grow, helped it overcome obstacles and form into a coherent being… and then handed it over to a group of people with eager red pens and asked them to tell you all of the ugly, bad things that are wrong with it.
It’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. It never gets easier, no matter how many times you go through it.
And if that weren’t enough, you have to keep going through this process, day in, day out, for the rest of your life, facing criticism, backlash, and yes, bad reviews. And some of these reviews might be nothing more than a misunderstanding or someone who is the polar opposite of your target audience buying the book and making your day suck, but some might have valid points. And those are the ones that will really keep you up at night, wondering if you’re a crap writer after all.
In the writing world, some people are so incredibly eager to cut down someone else’s book, it’s astonishing. And many of these unhelpful remarks get unfairly pointed toward indie and self-published authors by people who have never written a book themselves (or take their job as an indie book reviewer a touch too seriously). It’s completely, totally, unabashedly unfair.
And it’s also an accusation that’s fully baseless.
Just because a book has been published by an indie or self-published author does not automatically make it crap.
It doesn’t mean that the book couldn’t stand the test of going through a traditional publisher. It doesn’t mean that it’s not any good and shouldn’t ever be read. And it’s not even just readers that have this unfair bias against indie/self-publishers. It’s also other writers who look down their noses at self-publishers with scorn because they haven’t “passed the trials” that other writers had to.
“But,” you might say, “there are some really, truly, 100 percent awful self-published books that the writer had no business sharing with the world.”
To be perfectly honest, I agree with you. Some of the self-published books I’ve seen and edited are so bad they could curdle milk. But does that bring down the self-publishing market for everyone? No. Does it flood the market? Sure. Does it make it more difficult for your book to be seen? Not if you’re marketing, no.
That’s like saying because some indie movies sucked, that all indie films are awful and lesser than their blockbuster compatriots and not worth watching. But this isn’t true. Amazing indie films get released all the time while the not-so-great ones continue to pour in around them. That’s just the creative process. And once upon a time, your favorite director or author might have been down among those “lesser” indie creations, trying to learn how to get better.
It’s the same thing in the book market. The only reason that you might struggle to make room with indie or self-published authors is if you’re publishing through Amazon’s Kindle Direct, which encourages everyone to make their books as cheap as possible… But that’s another discussion entirely.
The truth is that traditional publishing doesn’t rest entirely on the merits of your work. Maybe you really struggled to get the words out in your query letter and the reader trashed it immediately. The agent or reader might just have a migraine and not really focus on your work that day. They could read literally the first line and hate the way you’ve introduced your character without reading further than thirty words into your entire 80,000-word manuscript.
This is 100 percent a real issue. I have talked to agents and publishers I’ve met at conventions about this. Yes, it really happens. There is literally nothing more inspirational than remembering that Harry Potter was rejected by publishers twelve times before a kid ended up reading it and loving it. But these stories of inspiration are few and far between, and it’s usually rejection for the majority of writers trying to get their work seen for a myriad of reasons — only a small portion of which might be their actual work.
In the real publishing world, it isn’t just that you’re competing with other writers and vying for that golden pedestal position. It’s a battle against timing, opportunity, and sheer dumb luck. Sometimes you’ve got a great book but you can’t get it in front of a traditional publisher. Maybe they aren’t accepting unsolicited manuscripts. Maybe they’re not accepting new work, period. Maybe they’re full up on the genre your book is written in and don’t have plans to publish more for about a year.
An indie author’s writing and effort aren’t the only things affecting their rejection from traditional publishers. And when you want to publish your book and your traditional options are limited, it’s great to know that there are hundreds of indie publishers with great authors and support staff that can fit your needs and get that wonderful story out to the world at large.
For others, self-publishing is the best way. Sure, it costs more money up front, but it gives you complete control over your book’s content and production, marketing, and even art choices. Plus, there’s no one to split royalties with!
So next time you hear someone suggest that indie and self-published authors are all failed writers who couldn’t cut it, remind them that they didn’t stop watching movies even though they’d seen a few bad ones. We all saw The Phantom Menace, and yet somehow Star Wars is still hugely popular.
Don’t judge non-traditional writers on the failures of others in their same field. Give them a chance. Who knows? You might just find a new favorite author you never knew existed before.
I am so pleased to announce that my first novel, Mercury in Retrograde, recently won the silver medal in the fiction/sci-fi category of the annual Readers’ Favorite book awards!
*does a little happy dance*
In other good Mercury in Retrograde news (who knew that was a thing?!), I’m also about 90,000 words into the sequel.
I am planning on having it finished, edited, and off to the publisher before the end of the year, so hopefully we’ll see it out in early 2020.
Have a great weekend, and I’ll have some more good announcements for you soon!
This week, Mercury in Retrograde is on sale on Amazon for only .99c!
Given that I’m nearly done with the sequel, I’d say now is a perfect time to buy! Get your copy now, so it can meet all of your other TBRs and make friends.
This is the letter that I have sent to Jeff Bezos regarding the problems with KU Book Stuffers, Scammers, and thieves. Take from it what you will.
Dear Mr. Bezos,
I am Suzan Tisdale. I began my self-publishing career in December of 2011. Within a year of releasing my first three novels, I was able to give up my day job. As a self-published, indie author, I made in one month what would have taken me a year to earn at my regular, 9-5 day job. I was a KDP Select Princess and constantly extolled the virtues of the KDP Select Program. Nothing and no one could get me out of it.
Then you launched KU 1.0, and my income dropped 90% in the first month of its inception. With that inception came the scammers. And those scammers have only become more brazen and prevalent, as time has passed…
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Anyone in the small and indie book-publishing community knows how hard it can be as a new or small author to get your name and your series off the ground. No matter how good your book is, one of the most important skills you need to learn as an author isn’t “how to write better,” although that one tops the list, most definitely.
No, it’s actually “how to create a brand and market yourself.”
And since authors are a notoriously introverted bunch who don’t do so well with being forced to tell other people how great they should think we are and to please buy our books, this can be problematic, to say the least.
For those who visit cons, attend writers’ groups and conferences, you typically learn that the writing community is full of wonderful, supportive people who love their fellow authors and encourage aspiring writers. Really.
In general, the indie market is filled with these awesome authors. So it came as a surprise to everyone when authors started complaining about getting letters threatening legal action against them because their books had the word “cocky” in the title.
Author Faleena Hopkins, a woman who will now go down in infamy, recently started sending cease & desist letters to any other romance author with the word “cocky” in their book’s title, demanding that they change the title immediately because she had copyrighted the word. Yes. She actually went and got a copyright on the word “cocky,” all in an attempt to have the word solely associated with her “Cocker Brothers” series of romance novels. And the first thing she did was go and threaten other authors—even those whose books were published before her trademark—with legal action if they didn’t remove any instances of the word from their titles.
In a way, it seems like a brilliant move. But there’s a reason that people don’t get to copyright common words or phrases and charge money every time someone says it.
It’s a simple case of Faleena misunderstanding what her copyright is actually for. And now that she’s unanimously become the face of evil that indie authors everywhere are uniting against, it’s important to know why Hopkins will lose every court case, no questions asked.
Copyrighting is one of those things that many people don’t think about. Intellectual property (IP) rules can sometimes be confusing, but when it comes to ownership, possession is, as they say nine-tenths of the law. When it’s a totally new idea or concept, that is. So just how was Faleena Hopkins able to copyright a word that’s been around for hundreds of years?
Hopkins did go and get two copyrights regarding the word cocky, it’s true. However, her first copyright was strictly in the use of “a series of downloadable e-books in the field of romance”—not for any and all usage of the word. And that was only in a “particular stylized form of the word,” which she also had the copyright for. However, therein also lies the problem.
When you copyright a word, like “Apple” did for computers, you have to show that your usage of the word is specific, unique, and unlike the common word. This is the reason that Apple got the copyright for computers and software, but you don’t have to pay $19.99 for every apple you buy from the Apple store.
In Faleena’s case, her first copyright was for the word “cocky” in a romance e-book series, in a stylized form. It only covers that single, particular use. Which means that other authors are not infringing on her use of it unless they copy it exactly, in stylized form, in romance novels. Someone could literally write a book of any genre, name it “Cocky,” and have a block-letter form of the word and they still wouldn’t be infringing on her copyright in the slightest.
The second issue is the stylized form of the word itself, which Faleena Hopkins did actually get a copyright on… Even though she doesn’t own the rights to the font that she copyrighted, which will immediately null any copyright she filed.
Someone took the time to track down the font that she used and find out where it came from. The artist’s website says specifically that no one may copyright a word with their font, since the font is already trademarked to the artist, and is only licensed to the user.
So Faleena’s entire argument for trying to steal royalties from other authors is moot. She didn’t have permission to copyright to begin with. And now, not only does she have thousands of indie authors up in arms against her, but the Romance Writers of America (RWA) is even speaking to the ones that Hopkins threatened in order to bring an IP suit against her.
So yes, #Cockygate may sound really stupid, but there’s an important lesson to learn from it:
There’s nothing wrong with trying to protect a brand that you’ve created, but trying to screw other authors out of doing the same and threatening to steal their money isn’t the way to do it.
And also, before you send out cease and desist letters, you should probably make sure that you understand copyrights and have permission to use them to begin with.
Follow #CockyGate and #ByeFaleena (my new favorite tag) on Twitter for more amazing responses to this ridiculous scandal.
Last weekend I was at JordanCon here in Atlanta, meeting with and talking to some exceptionally skilled people in the writing and publishing world. It was an amazing treat, since I got to experience being a Con author, but also because I got to pick up little things here and there from other people more experienced than I am.
One of the things that came up in conversation with many of the aspiring writers I spoke to was the fact that none of them had ever read their work out loud or had anyone read it for them.
To elaborate, I’d like to state that I (frequently) annoy my husband into letting me read something I’ve written to him. I’ll do this even if I know he won’t really be listening because it’s while he’s reading the news or playing a video game or even falling asleep.
The benefit I get isn’t just for him to listen to the story and give me feedback, though that does help. The benefit is learning where the flaws are in my own writing by hearing them as I read. This one trick has changed many a story I’ve written.
So it struck me as odd that many people don’t read their work aloud. The benefits to your writing are so tremendous it’s ridiculous.
I’m an incredibly fast reader by nature. If I’m pleasure reading, I often have to force myself to slow down so I’m not missing key elements or glossing over words. Reading out loud forces me to slow down, see what I’m actually reading, and also notice errors (like forgotten words) as I go.
If you’re not reading your writing aloud, then you should be. And here are 3 reasons you need to start doing it right now:
1. Awkward lines become super obvious.
Sometimes when you’re just reading your own writing, it sounds really eloquent in your head. You know what I’m talking about—you’re sure it’s the greatest set up ever. But reading out loud will strip that idea from you almost immediately. And trust me, that’s a good thing!
When you read out loud, you’re going to see if there are any words that you hesitate on, stumble over, or that otherwise sound weird to you. These are areas that might make other readers (who don’t know your inflection) go “Huh?” and reread it to figure out what you meant or to correct themselves. And since that takes away from their immersion in your world, that’s a BIG no-no.
2. You’ll develop a “reading voice.”
Reading in front of people is weirdly intimidating. It’s like you’re baring a piece of your soul when you read aloud. This can make it easy to screw up, whether it’s because of a dry mouth, nervous tick, or you’re speed reading and stumbling over your words.
If you practice reading out loud, when you have to do this in the future to a crowd (either big or small!), you’re going to know the pace, be familiar with the tone, and understand how it should sound, which will help lessen screw ups.
3. It will better your writing.
Yes, reading your work (or hearing someone else read it) is supremely beneficial. In your head, things might sound fine, but out loud, you’ll start to realize that certain words may need to have less complicated choices, or that dialogue sounds too formal, or you’re trying to create a scene and left out a hugely important part.
It will also force you to picture scenes and situations in a different way than just writing will do. You’ll start to notice immediately when things don’t “look” right in your head, and you’ll realize where you’re lacking to your readers, too.
So if you’re not convinced, just try reading your latest piece out loud to yourself, and I’m sure you’ll notice some problems right away. If you have someone you’re comfortable sharing your work with in the early stages, have them read segments to you, too, so you can see where you’ve still got work to do.
This is an incredibly important part of the storytelling process, so don’t neglect it!