Wednesday, July 1, 2020

IWSG: When Smaller is Better


Welcome to the first Wednesday of the month. You know what that means! It's time to let our insecurities hang out. Yep, it's the Insecure Writer's Support Group blog hop. If you're a writer at any stage of career, I highly recommend this blog hop as a way to connect with other writers for support, sympathy, ideas, and networking.

If you're a reader, it's a great way to peek behind the curtain of a writing life.

July 1 question - There have been many industry changes in the last decade, so what are some changes you would like to see happen in the next decade?

The awesome co-hosts for the July 1 posting of the IWSG are Jenni Enzor, Beth Camp, Liesbet @ Roaming About, Tyrean Martinson, and Sandra Cox!
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In most of aspects of life, I'm a believer in the power of the small. I shop small businesses, live in a
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small town, and teach in a small school. I look for small beauties in daily life and take small steps toward my goals. I don't like crowds or high pressure socializing. I lack good small talk. I'm impatient with slick insincerity. 

I've come to believe that the fewer rings in the circus, the more likely it is that the performance will hold together. 

When I began seeking publication though, I looked "big" to begin with: The Big Six publishers (now the Big Five), agent representation, publicists, etc. I'd bought into the idea that you had to do it that way--that you weren't a "real writer" if you didn't. 

It didn't take long to learn that I wasn't well suited to that rarified atmosphere. 

I became impatient with the glacial pace of giant companies and agencies that can take six months to a year just to send a nonspecific rejection. I lost faith that having an agent would actually benefit my career, having watched several colleagues share their small incomes with an agent in hopes of "hitting it big" only to find that it didn't really bring them any opportunities they couldn't have garnered on their own. I learned that profit share was often not that high, even if you hit it big. 

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I still dream big, imagining my books being picked up and turned into a movie or a Netflix series: who wouldn't like to see more attention for their work and more money in their pockets? 

But, I'm not sure I have the schmooze in me to handle the glad-handing, networking, and PR machinations. I'm not sure it's worth developing those skills if I feel like I lose myself in the process. 

When it comes to publishing? I've stopped spending energy on trying to get an agent or leaving manuscripts languishing in big house slushpiles for years at a time. 

Instead, I've looked small: small publishing in particular. 

While I am working on my first independent publishing project, in hopes of getting it together by October of this year, I'm not ready to make it as an author-preneur.  I do this part time, in addition to full time teaching work and there are only 24 hours in the day. I need help. 

So, that means traditional publishing is for me! 

I want a situation where a lot of the work of bringing a book to readers is handled by someone besides me: arranging for editing, designing a cover, deciding on production details, laying out and designing the book, arranging for distribution, finding reviewers, etc. 

Sure, as an author whose writing is published by a small press, some of this work comes back around to me (and I'm grateful that my input is sought and considered), but I get the advantage of having a team behind me that can fill in the skills I don't have and teach me what I need to learn to move forward. 

My main job in my writing life is to write, not to become an expert in SEO and maximizing social media. 

So, for myself anyway, I'd like to see the industry get smaller. 

Bigger is not always better. The personal is lost. Creativity can become stunted when its forced to fit into boxes--and big business doesn't like to take risks. They like *known* quantities. 

That's why so many big Hollywood movies feel just like every other big Hollywood movie, why "bestselling" novels often bore me to tears and are entirely predictable from page one. Big gets big and stays big by making safe choices, and as a creative and as a consumer of media, I want risk, surprise, and nuance. 

If that means I stay small, so be it. At least I'll be happy. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

June Reads

I'm pretty far ahead on my yearly reading challenge now. I aim at 52 books a year: one a week. As I write this, I've finished 37 books, which Goodreads tells me is 12 books ahead of schedule. 

I read seven books in June and only two of them were novellas, so I think I may finally be past my reading slump. Maybe it's because school ended, alleviating some of my stress and anxiety, at least in the short term. 

I still don't know what teaching will look like come fall, and I'm still worried about my students--especially the ones I didn't hear from often enough during our weird quarantine school-from-home situation--but I *usually* don't hear from them in June, so that doesn't constantly bump against my consciousness like it did in March, April and May. 

Or maybe I've adjusted to the low-level anxiety all the time now, enough to be able to read through it. 

I read quite a variety this month: 


We've got comedy, cyberpunk science fiction, magical fantasy, nonfiction supernatural study, and my own superhero novels. (I'm re-reading my own books because it's been two years since I wrote new material in this series and I'm refreshing my feel for the world before I dive back into writing book four). 

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey is a book I'd heard a bit of buzz about and when a friend proposed we discuss it as part of a book club he was starting, I jumped in. If you're a fan of distinct narrative voice, then you'll love this one, about a non-magical woman working to solve a crime in a magical school, where her magical twin sister teaches. So much relationship healing and moving forward through pain, along with romance and a fabulous setting. 

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Someone once describe the Shingles series to me as "if Goosebumps had been written for adults." That seems spot on to me. Slow Ride was written by my publisher, John Hartness, and others in the series are written by his friends from Authors and Dragons. This is the first of these comedy-horror novellas I've read, but I have a feeling it won't be the last. I giggle-snorted my way through it.  

Altered Carbon has been on my list for a while. I watched the first season of the TV show with my husband, which spoiled the book for me a little (much of the plot is similar), but I still really enjoyed the world. I loved the intermixing of cyberpunk and noir tropes, even if I was also annoyed by the adolescent casual misogyny. 

Like Mulder of X-Files fame, I want to believe. Though in my case, it's ghosts more than aliens I want
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to believe in. For that reason, I found Alex Matsuo's book about her paranormal investigation of a purportedly haunted theater intriguing. Really interesting for learning how such investigations are done without the sheen of hysteria and exaggeration that often surrounds "ghosthunter" books and programming. 

I won't comment here on my own books other than to say that I am happy to report that these works by past-Samantha do not embarrass me. I still think they're solid--entertaining, thought-provoking, and fun all in one package. Can't wait to see where the next book in the Menopausal Superhero series takes me!

How did your reading month go? What kinds of books are you seeking out during these strange times? I'd love to hear you thoughts in the comments!

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Reading my Own Work

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I'm settling in to write novel #4 in the Menopausal Superheroes series. I've been on a hiatus from writing in that series for two years, not because I was done telling the stories but for business reasons (short version: old publisher fell apart, got rights back, republished with a new company. Details in this blog post). 

Throughout 2020, I've worked with Falstaff books to bring out two novellas and a collection of short stories (due out in August!) in the series, but these are all things that I wrote in 2015-2018. So, editing put me back in this universe again, but not in the same immersive way as actively writing with these characters. 

To get into the right head-space, I decided I had best re-read my own series, making notes about seeds I had planted or threads I had begun that might be developed for books 4 and 5. 

The good news:  I still LOVE these characters and this world. My menopausal heroes still amaze me with their bravery, honesty, and caring. I can hardly wait to spend the next few months fighting, living, and learning alongside such fabulous imaginary friends. 

And re-reading my old work is not making me cringe. I worried it might. Sometimes, it's like that--you learn so much across a writing career, and reading work by "past me" can make me want to snatch it back and do it over. I do think I'm a better writer now than I was in 2015 when the first novel came out, but I still think 2015 Samantha was a damned decent storyteller with a creative premise and good emotional engagement. 

I love the energy I'm catching from the characters: 


Wish me luck guys! I'll be working to recapture the magic and energy and form it into something new. Something you can read in 2021! 





Monday, June 22, 2020

Marketing from Home: Calling into the Void?

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Many of my writer-friends and publisher-friends are struggling this year. Convention after convention has been cancelled, and those in-person opportunities to talk about the work make up the bulk of sales for some of us. 

Attracting attention for small press and independently produced books is an uphill climb to begin with and a major tool in the kit was lost to COVID. Several have resorted to holding a Go Fund Me just to stay afloat/in business. 

I don't know yet how it's affecting my sales--there's lag when you work with a publisher. My last royalty check covered the first quarter, January-March, which still included conventions. It was higher than average. So, I'll see how the August statement compares when it gets here. 

I had two new releases in this span: Friend or Foe (novella, book 1.5 in the series) dropped right at the end of March and The Good Will Tour (novella, book 2.5 in the series) dropped in early May. So, that means I've got more revenue streams with that publisher right now. My first book in the series was on 99¢ sale on Kindle for most of the quarantine. I'm hoping all that helped. 



I've been taking advantage of online opportunities, participating in filmed Zoom panels, online convention content, podcasts, and readings. I've set a summer goal of producing one video a week for my YouTube page, which I definitely don't produce content for often enough. Some of these online opportunities take less time than my in person events would have--a couple of hours shut away in my office, but no road trip, networking meal before or after, or hotel stay. Others take longer because I have to learn new things to be able to participate. But it's much harder to gauge the reach. Who's watching? 


There's so much digital content out there, and the amount has only grown with everyone isolating at home and finding they have the time. Who's going to watch me read when they could listen to Patrick Stewart or Yo-Yo Ma? Even if I recolor my hair and buy new curtains. 

So maybe I'm wasting my time, but I try to look on the positive side. It's my nature to remain hopeful. All this digital footprint I'm building will linger and even if no one listens the week it's released, that great talk I had with Michael G. Williams on Public Domain Radio will there indefinitely. Someone could stumble across it at any time and discover an enthusiasm for the Menopausal Superheroes. 

That makes it worth it. 

And even if I don't find an audience this way, at least I still get to talk books and writing with bookish writing friends. The experiences themselves lift and enrich me. That's always worth it! 

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Switching Gears

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I've been working on a novel for about a year (a gothic romance, working title The Architect and the Heir). It's going well and I want to keep plugging away on it. I gave myself "until school ends" to finish a draft…and I failed to do so. 

I made great progress, especially considering that I do this part time and you know…COVID, police violence, terrifying fascism rearing its ugly head everywhere. If 2020 is the year of seeing clearly, I sometimes wish I could back to being blind. 

And now, I have to shelve A&H and switch gears, hard turn to starboard. 

The reasons are positive. I have a contract! That's a lucky position for an author to be in: knowing I have a publisher ready and waiting for my book, willing to help bring it out there into the world. 

But contracts come with deadlines--external deadlines, imposed because of schedules for editing, proofreading, cover art, etc. My next deadline is January, which means it's time to set down Devon and Victor and pick up the Menopausal Superheroes again or I won't make it. 

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I'm also coming back to this series after a nearly two year break during which I worked primarily on other fiction: short stories, editing for work that already been submitted, and another shelved novel before this one. So, I'm feeling a little daunted. 

This is the first time in my writing career (all five years of it) that this has happened to me. I've heard other writers talk about juggling different projects and now I finally understand how wrenching it can be to slam on the brakes and screech to a halt, leaving good rubber on the road, so I can keep my promises. It's not that I don't love the other projects, too--I totally do! It's just the moment of switching gears that hurts a bit. 

I'm hopeful though, that Devon and Victor will be there waiting for me when I come back to them. I've made good notes about where the story is going. I have already managed to set it aside three times in the past few months to complete edits on novellas for the Menopausal Superhero stories, and each time I fell back in within a few days. 



Any advice for me on switching gears and finding my groove on the new thing quickly? The clock is running guys, so I need to get this booty moving! I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments!

Monday, June 8, 2020

Women's Fiction Day: Focus on Speculative Women's Fiction

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Today is Women's Fiction Day, which might have some of you saying, so what's "women's fiction"?

Like most definitions and categories, you might get a slightly different answer depending on who you ask. But I like this one from the Women's Fiction Writer's Association (a fabulous and supportive organization I am a proud long time member of):

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Women's fiction books can cross-categorize and also be thrillers, or historical fiction, or adventure stories or any number of other things. 

My Menopausal Superhero series is women's fiction. It's also science fiction or fantasy (depending on who is shelving the books today: superhero falls under both of these genre umbrellas). It's action and adventure, too. But at the heart of the story, we have a group of women struggling to come to terms with life-changing events and we follow them through that journey. So, it's women's fiction. 


GIVEAWAY! One digital copy of the volume of your choice from the series to a randomly selected commenter on this post. Please leave me an email address or another way to contact you in your comment and I'll choose a random winner on 15 June 2020. If you wish to enter without leaving contact information publicly, leave a comment and email me separately at contact@samanthabryant.com  I won't add you to my newsletter unless you ask me to (or you can do that yourself here). 

Of course, I'm only one of many women out there writing speculative women's fiction and this seems like the day to highlight some of the innovative work by my colleagues. There can't be too many stories that give us the chance to follow a woman's journey AND enjoy the pleasures of speculative fiction at the same time! Here are some books to check out to celebrate the day: 

 
 Stephanie Alexander's Cracked Slipper series mixes women's fiction with fairy tale enchantment. She also penned Charleston Green, a work of Southern women's fiction featuring a ghostly murder mystery.
 
 Virginia King writes the Secrets of Selkie Moon series, modern psychological thrillers with a mythical twist, peppered with a cast of quirky characters. 
 
Laurel Anne Hill’s novel, THE ENGINE WOMAN’S LIGHT, is a spirits-meet-steampunk, coming-of-age heroic journey of Juanita Elise Jame-Navarro in an alternate 19th Century California. 
 
 Diane Byington's newest release If She Had Stayed, is a blend of women's fiction, thriller, and time travel.
 
 Rachel Dacus's work explores ghosts and time travel alongside friendship, romance, and sisterhood. 
 
A L Kaplan writes character-driven science fiction, dystopian, and fantasy. In Star Touched, 18 year old Tatiana is running from her past and her star-touched powers 8 years after a meteor devastated earth's population.











Wednesday, June 3, 2020

IWSG: Shhh! It's a Secret


Welcome to the first Wednesday of the month. You know what that means! It's time to let our insecurities hang out. Yep, it's the Insecure Writer's Support Group blog hop. If you're a writer at any stage of career, I highly recommend this blog hop as a way to connect with other writers for support, sympathy, ideas, and networking.

If you're a reader, it's a great way to peek behind the curtain of a writing life.

June 3 question - Writers have secrets! What are one or two of yours, something readers would never know from your work? 

The awesome co-hosts for the June 3 posting of the IWSG are Pat Garcia, J.Q. Rose, and Natalie Aguirre! Be sure to check out their posts after you read mine. 
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I can tell you, right? This is a safe space? 

Okay. Here's goes: 

The truth is: I don't know what I'm doing. 

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I really thought I would by now. 

I'm almost 50 years old. I've read a lot of books about writing and biographies of writers. 

I've been working as a (part time) professional writer for five years, and I've been writing in one way or another since I could hold a pen. 

I've had three novels, two novellas, and a dozen or so short stories accepted for publication. 

One year, I made enough money on my writing that it impacted my taxes. 

That's a measure of success I dreamed about all my life. 

But still, every time I sit down to the page, every time I consider a marketing strategy, every time I take part in an event, there's this little moment of panic when I realize that I'm making this up, that there isn't a clear and correct path to follow because there are thousands of ways to do this and all of them are good and bad. 

Choosing a path, within a career or even within a story used to give me serious analysis paralysis. I wanted to choose the *right* way. So I would research, consider, and dither for years on end. It's why I was forty-two before I committed to regular, disciplined writing and actually finished something substantial. 

It took me that long to realize that the only way forward is to choose a path and commit to it. You can backtrack if turns out to be a dead end (I certainly have!), and try another fork in the road (that too!), but if you don't try something, you'll just stand there all your life and never get any nearer to your goals. 

So, yeah, five years into making this a career, I still don't know what I'm doing, but that doesn't scare me anymore. In fact, it's kind of exciting, realizing how much there is still to learn, how much further I can grow. 

That's my secret cap, I'm always learning. 

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