Turning Cliches on their head

Cliches.

We all know they’re bad. We know we shouldn’t use them. But cliches are there for a reason. They aren’t just a part of literature, they are a part of life. They are expectations. They are things we assume will happen.
I like to challenge cliches. Not just avoid them, but completely turn them on their head and then fish in their pockets for loose change.
The first novel I wrote started out that way. It went through a half dozen attempts at writing before I became a good enough writer to write it and a dozen or more major rewrites before it eventually became Children of a New Earth.
The seed, the kernel of the novel, lay in the post-apocalyptic stories of my youth in the eighties. Mad Max and it’s many spin offs had a simple cliche notion, that once society collapsed it humanity would quickly devolve into punk rock barbarians and para military organizations.
Why? Why does every writer assume this?

Every 80’s apocalypse assumed that para-military groups would take over.

I see two underlying assumptions that drive this cliche. The first is the idea that humanity is basically evil, that we restrain these impulses because of society. Without societies control people would become vicious and cruel. The second assumption is that evil is inherently stronger than good. That good people are hampered by what they won’t do. Evil may lose in the end, but only be heroic actions of a few.
These are easy assumptions to buy into. Look at any place on the globe where law and order aren’t routinely imposed and you can find the worst in humanity, on display for all to see. It’s easy to see power when it’s being wielded in weapons and dished out in cruelty.
I wanted to explore an alternative world view in my first novel. I wanted to pose the question, what if society collapsed and people said, “hey, that was pretty stupid. Let’s not do that again.”
The novel changed many times over as it was written and rewritten. The finished novel focuses more on the survivors, especially the next generation and the survivalist enclave of Freedom Ranch. But the original kernel is still there in the stories told by other survivors, in the Quiet Earth Society, the Ten Thousand Warriors for Peace and the Cult of the Iron Mother. These groups fought back against martial law and the growing power of paramilitary groups. Even though they were low tech and peaceful (though not to the point of being pacifists), they won.
They won because there are two paths to power and their opponents only understood one of them. There is destructive power and constructive power. You can invest in weapons to destroy your enemy. You can use fear to control your followers. This is the destructive path to power. Or you can have the knowledge to make things. You can reach out and build connection with your followers. This is the constructive path to power.
In the words of a former Quiet Earth Society member and minor character, “The early military dictators were a stupid lot. They fought over politics. We went straight for the food supply. Once the countryside was on our side, it was over. They just didn’t know it until winter hit.”
Did I succeed in proving my point? I will have to leave that for the reader to decide. But it is an entertaining story and it shows how turning a cliche around can lead to a new novel idea.

Children of a New Earth can be purchased here.

Children of a New Earth can be purchased here.

 

Why Give Books Away for Free?

I just wrapped up a big free giveaway of my latest novel Children of a New Earth. Why giveaway books? Some indie authors and a lot of traditional publishers, hate free giveaways. They argue that a writer works hard and shouldn’t devalue their work by giving it away free. They argue that free and bargain books are creating a glut and a race to the bottom, where the only way to succeed is to give things away.

Other indie authors were happy to use free promotions, a couple of years ago. Free is dead, they say. Amazon algorithms once favored free. A free giveaway still counted as a sale and a big free promotion could drive up your sales rank significantly. Now the algorithm has changed and that no longer works.

I am sensitive to all these arguments, but free remains an important part of my marketing strategy and here’s why.

One of the best books I’ve read on marketing is Write. Publish. Repeat. One of the most important things I learned from the books is that you have to have a marketing strategy. A marketing strategy means an overall philosophy about how to market yourself and your books.

Without a strategy all you have is a collection of techniques. Some techniques work some of the time but not others. Some work for awhile until something changes. Other techniques work, but may work against each other if not guided by one philosophy.

Free promotions are a great example. They used to work great, propelling some indie to renown. Now they work less well. Amazon will change its algorithm again and we’ll see, they might work well again or they might work against the author.

Free compliments certain techniques but works against others. Imagine that an author uses any sort of hard sell technique to create a sense of urgency about buying their book. You hand over your money. Next weekend the same book is free. I’d be pissed.

According to the Write. Publish. Repeat. guys any artist in any medium can support themselves doing their work if they have one thousand true fans. True fans will buy your book as soon as it’s released. That alone makes them a valuable resource. Imagine getting a thousand sales the day you release. Imagine if one in ten wrote a review. That would be over a hundred reviews on your book.

But true fans will do more than that, they’ll talk about your book. They’ll share your message. They’ll come to your events and build buzz around you. Basically they’ll do all those things that authors attempt to fake with social media buzz and “street teams.”

One of the marketing strategies they talk about a lot in that book is finding your tribe. Finding your tribe means finding those thousand fans, those people who will love what you write, talk about what you write and share your message. To say that these fans are worth their weight in gold might be an exaggeration, but they are certainly worth the cost of one book, especially in the digital age.

My marketing strategy is heavily based on the notion of finding my tribe. I will bend over backwards to give you, or anyone, a chance to read my work, no strings attached. I have a couple free stories on Wattpad. I have a couple on my website as well. If you sign up for my newsletter I will give you a free book. I also run free promotions regularly. I do this because I have confidence that at least some of you will come back and join the tribe.

Join my email list right here:

Free when you sign up for my newsletter.

Free when you sign up for my newsletter.

Marketing in this way means I also measure success a bit differently. I like sales. Everyone likes making money and I do have the dream of doing this fulltime someday. But right now sales aren’t the only or even primary means that I measure success. I measure success in many milestones, followers on various social media, reads on my wattpad site, reviews on my published books. The one I love the best is personal feedback, of course. There is no greater thrill for an author than a letter or email from a reader who was touched by something you wrote.

However I choose to measure success on any given day, the point is to build a tribe around my work. That’s why I run free promotions of my books. Maybe someday, when I have more than a thousand true fans, I will reconsider my strategy, but I doubt it. This is the author I want to be, one who is known for being generous with her work and her time. One who values her fans as much as they value her.

And by the way, it’s not just indies that think this way. I would like to end off with an interesting interview with Neil Gaiman about putting his novel American Gods out for free.

 

Yeah, Scrivener, Part One

The more I use scrivener, the more I love it. There are so many reasons for the love, I can hardly count them.

Scrivener logo

I got my final clean version of Children of a New Earth back from my editor last week. I spend the rest of my writing time that day, nearly two and a half hour, re-importing it scene by scene into Scrivener and making sure all the scene breaks and other formatting stuff was correct.

Why spend that much time on it? One reason is version control. The other is that I spent another two hours or so doing formatting, and created both the ebook and paperback in that time. For those of you who have created ebooks manually using a word processor, or fought to get Word to create a proper print ready pdf, you know how much time I am saving.

Version Control

For both prolific writers and avid rewriters, version control soon becomes a major challenge. I learned this early on in my writing career when I was writing articles for a local LGBT paper. I had the editor take me to task for numerous errors in one submission. I couldn’t see the errors on my side. I later discovered I had accidently submitted a rougher version of the same article.

My issues with version control stem from three sources and each carries its own liabilities an solutions.

Tech

Back up your computer! If you haven’t had this drilled into your head, all it takes is a couple of major data losses and it will be. I’ve been through dozens of backup methods over the years. I used to print hard copies of everything. I still have stacks of moldy paper in my basement with crappy stories I thought were gold once upon a time. Then I saved things to floppy disks (yes, I am that old) and USB drives.

The problem with all these backups is they aren’t the same. Twelve different versions of the same story might be secure, but it’s also confusing. Trying to find the one you are currently working on can drive you nuts and lead to mistakes, like submitting the wrong version of an article. If you backed up an early version of your novel, it will be there after you lose the current version but you still lose hours of editing.

The solution: I now use an automatic cloud storage. I’m on a Mac right now, so I use time machine, synced to a personal cloud device. The device cost me a hundred and fifty dollars but it was money well spent. It sits next to my router, uses the same wifi network and acts just like an external hard drive except I don’t have to worry about backing things up, it does it automatically. It also re-saves the most recent version of every document, so I don’t have to worry about old versions floating around.

Editing

As a younger more hesitant writer, I had to save a version of everything before editing. I had novel A draft one, Novel A draft two, etc. I was worried that I would regret rewriting and want the old version back. Then I started getting involved in writers group. So now I have Novel A draft eight with x person’s comments. It got so I each novel had it’s own folder and even then those folders were packed with extraneous files.

Now I am more confident. If I change something, its because the change will improve the novel. I don’t care so much about keeping older versions. In fact I’ve gone to the other extreme. I hate having older versions of my writing around. It fill up your hard drive. And it’s drivel. I hate to be blunt, but it’s true. Do you really want an early draft of your novel with seven thousand typos floating around? And no, ten pages of run on sentences isn’t “your voice.” It’s bad writing. Clean it up and get rid of the old version.

The solution: Scrivener. I keep all of my writing projects in scrivener these days. I use the snapshots feature to save anything I am going to do a deep rewrite on. If I am moving or getting rid of whole scenes, I drag them out of the manuscript folder but leave them in the project in case I need them later. If I am workshopping something, I either import people’s comments directly into a separate scrivener file or make the suggested changes directly on the scrivener document. The Scrivener manuscript always remains the most recent, cleanest version of that project. And that is a thing of beauty.

Indie

The third source of too many versions is simply being an indie writer, though traditional writers may have their own version of this same problem. You get your clean edited manuscript back from your editor and you start formatting. Print formatting and ebook formatting are different beasts, so the first step is to create two new versions of the clean document, one for print and one for ebooks.

Every author, whether indie or trad, knows the horror of seeing your book in print for the first time and spotting a typo. Argh! If you are trad, you complain to your publisher and then grumble in your writers group until they finally get around to fixing it. (And if it’s not POD, don’t expect them to be able to do anything.) If you are indie, you go back and change it yourself. Oh, but did you also change it in the mobi file? the epub? The original document? Personally, I am way too ADHD to get to them all. It’s a struggle.

Traditional authors aren’t immune to this problem. Every publisher/editor/agent has their own set of submission guidelines. By the time you have spent a year and half trying to sell a manuscript, submitting it to dozens of agents, you will have a pile of version, each formatted to this or that person’s taste.

Multiply each of these three issues by several novels and you will see what I am dealing with.

Solution: Become a scrivener power user. This brings us full circle to the original intent of this post, formatting and compiling in scrivener. This post has grown to the point where it might be best broke into two. For now, learning to use Scrivener’s compile feature means that you can create multiple versions, all based off the same document. A year from now when you need to update something, you do it in Scrivener. When you resubmit, you do it from Scrivener. You never have to wonder which version of your novel is the most current, and did you correct those pesky little mistakes in all versions or not? It’s all in one place.

Coming next: Becoming a Scrivener compile power user

My Latest Book is Almost Here!

My next novel, Children of a New Earth, is almost here. It’s on the final pass edit. After that I start formatting, which I am doing myself this time, so it shouldn’t take long. Hopefully the ebook can be out before the month is over. Print takes a little longer, maybe a week or two later.

For a quick reminder, it’s a post apocalyptic science fiction novel, set thirty years after the collapse of society.

Children of a new earth, front

The blurb:

For nearly thirty years, since the collapse of society, Freedom Ranch has been self sufficient, hidden deep in the Rocky Mountains. Amy Beland has grown up hating the small valley settlement and the survivalist that run it. Now it will be up to her to save them all.

Journeying out of the mountains and into what is left of civilization, they discover that much of what they’ve been taught about the collapse is wrong. They don’t find the enemy they expect on the plains beneath their home, which is good because Amy suspects they may have brought a couple with them.

 

The novel has a lot of fun inside stuff for long term members of the fannish community. The SCA has taken over most of the world and pagan tribes abound.

Anyone interested in a pre-release copy, hit me up at Racheleliason at gmail dot com, in the comments or on social media. All I ask in return is an honest review when you’re done.

 

Help me with this Blurb, Please

My next release, Children of a New Earth, is with my editor as I write this. Meanwhile I am working on the blurb and cover. I hope to have a cover ready to show soon. For the moment I could use some honest opinions about this blurb:

For nearly thirty years, since the collapse of society, Freedom Ranch has been self sufficient, hidden deep in the Rocky Mountains. Amy Beland has grown up hating the small valley settlement and the survivalist that run it. Now it will be up to her to save them all.

Journeying out of the mountains and into what is left of civilization, they discover that much of what they’ve been taught about the collapse is wrong. They don’t find the enemy they expect on the plains beneath their home, which is good because Amy suspects they may have brought a couple with them.

I know it’s not quite ready for print, but I am not sure what to do with it. Any comments or suggestions would be welcomed. Please and thank you.