The Life and Tribulations of a Pantser

Hi. My name is Natalina Reis and I’m a pantser.

Most of the time this does not bother me in the least. I just ride the wave of creativity and see where it takes me. But there are moments when I wish I was more of a planner so I could avoid those instances of staring into the screen of my laptop wondering what the hell to write.

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I just started a new WIP. A while back I had written a flash fiction piece for my publisher and I immediately fell in love with the characters and knew I had to write their story. The problem is that beyond the fact that they would fall in love and have their HEA, I had nothing else. Okay, maybe I did have the sketchy beginnings of two hopefully awesome characters and their personalities, but that was it. Not unusual for me. My expertise in pantsing often repeats this pattern of starting from a big chunk of nothing and turn it into something.

I had to wait since I was still finishing my last WIP. Big mistake. A friend happened to suggest in passing that I ride the modest success I had with my last paranormal romance and write another. Cai and Sam’s story was lined up to be a contemporary m/m romance. However my freakishly hyperactive imagination immediately set those two into the background of a shifter romance.

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Fast forward to yesterday when I finally was able to start writing it. After a long stretch of time researching hawks, I was ready. Right! I sat, staring at the laptop for over an hour. My mind refused to make the jump from contemporary to paranormal, no matter how much I wanted it. After a while I gave up and went back to editing my other novel.

Later that day my brain lit up and the words came to me. I was ready to make the transition–kind of like my main character transitioning from human to hawk, I was able to begin the spin into paranormal. The words began to flow.

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This doesn’t mean that I won’t be staring at the laptop again tomorrow or the next day searching for words to push the story forward because in my mind, my story plans are still as clear as mud. I would describe my process as when you are walking or driving through a very thick fog–what’s in front of  you reveals itself one thing at a time and always when you are almost upon it. There’s a certain beauty to it, like unwrapping a unexpected gift. Like everything else in life there is a good and a bad side to being a pantser. When it’s bad, it is very bad. But when it’s good, it’s amazing.

What does your writing process look like? I’d love to hear about it.

Panel Etiquette or What Not To Do In A Panel

During my very short writing career I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of two authors’s panels. Obviously I’m not an expert and this blog is merely a reflection of my limited experience and pure observation of many other panels I attended in the past.

My first time as part of a panel was at a major book event and I was so lucky to share it with two amazing writers. It was a great experience. The questions were smart and thought provoking (and hard), everybody had an equal chance to talk, and the audience was engaged throughout the whole thing.

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At that same event I was part of the audience for another panel with four great YA writers and I was astounded by the lack of courtesy one of the members showed the others by monopolizing the conversation. The other authors were frustrated and I was equally upset because the one author I was there to hear talk never got the chance to open her mouth. I felt cheated as a fan and I’m sure she felt cheated of her chance to interact with her readers.

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My second time was at a smaller event and things didn’t quite go as smoothly for me this time. The subject of the panel was something I’m very passionate about and I prepared for hours so that the audience wouldn’t get bored. Unfortunately a couple of the other panel members seemed to be totally oblivious to time constraints or be respectful of the other members. It took them over thirty minutes to answer a question which had a time limit of five minutes. On top of it all, they read from the handout going home with the audience (which was supposed to be an extension of what was discussed during the panel). Needless to say I was frustrated, bored, and the teacher in me really wanted to explain to them the concept of sticking to the schedule.

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Here are some pointers (which I totally made up for this blog) on what NOT to do in a panel discussion.

  • Do NOT go over the time allotted to you for each discussion point or question.
  • Do NOT insult your audience by reading directly from your notes. Your audience knows how to read and can read the notes on their own and on their own time.
  • Do NOT hog the discussion. Allow the other authors in the panel to participate no matter how fascinating you believe your speech is. Others may not be as passionate about it.
  • Do NOT take the lack of hands up in the air as evidence that the audience is fascinated by your words. They may very well be taking an open-eyed nap or visiting their zen place while you speak.
  • Do NOT explain the whole plot of your book to explain something generic to the genre.

In summary, and to put it quite simply, respect the other members’s right to discuss the content matter and try to make it interesting enough for the audience to feel they haven’t wasted their time.

Note: the panels pictured in this article are not in any way related to the ones I attended. In fact, judging by the smiles, I would say these particular panels were probably quite awesome 🙂

Monster – A Poem

I don’t do poetry. I’m not good at it, simple as that. But once in a while there are feelings that seem better expressed with a few words.  I wrote this during one of those moments when your heart is bleeding and you don’t know what to do to stop it. I’ve said it often, writing is my therapy and somehow just writing it down makes it feel a little better.

The Monster

Loneliness is a monster

That chews on your heart

Sucks up your brain

And swallows your soul.

Nothing worse than this fear

Of being alone in a crowd

Succeeding but no one to share it

Passionate and nobody caring

Talking but no one listening

Crying and nobody seeing it

Hurting and no one noticing.

Loneliness is a monster

I want to slay but can’t fight

A monster who’s winning

My joy for life as the prize.

 

P.S.- If you feel like this, know you’re not alone and that even though that’s no consolation, there is a strange comfort in knowing someone else somewhere understands how you feel. Never hesitate to reach out to a friend, a therapist, maybe even a stranger…and when everything else fails, write it down. There is magic in the written word.

 

Great Expectations-Not the Dickens Kind

When you give birth to a new book you have certain expectations. One of them is that everyone should be as excited about it as yourself. But alas! You’re not J. K. Rowlings or Diana Gabaldon with thousands of fans anxiously waiting for the local Barnes & Noble doors to open so they can rush in and buy your new book. So you wait and check your Amazon page every five minutes waiting for a review or sales, getting overly excited when your book ranking goes up a few points and crashing into despair when the little arrow dips down.

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I woke up this morning with an upset stomach. Nerves made me ache all over and feel like I should crawl back in bed and sleep. I dragged myself downstairs, drank a coffee and checked my messages. No reviews yet. In fact, being Saturday, cyber space was pretty quiet. Bummer!

After the least restful yoga session ever–couldn’t get my head of my release–I came home to find out I had a review. An awesome review. I could breathe easier now.

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But it was not over. With the ebb and flow of reviews and promotions across blogs, Facebook, and Twitter my stomach had a hard time keeping stable. It was so bad, I gave a stomachache to my MC in the novel I’m writing. Why should I suffer alone, right?

I gave birth to little humans and now to books (this is my fourth one) and I’m here to tell you with each new birth there is this surge of hope, possibility that this is the one who will make you an established name in the book world–maybe even the one who may cause a slight surge of one-clicks when your next book comes out. It’s bliss. It’s agony.

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Writers out there, how do your releases make you feel? What things make you anxious and/or happy? Do you wait around checking your rankings like I do or pretend they don’t exist?

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Heavensent-Behind the Character

My fourth book will be released to the world next Saturday (July 15). If you follow me, you know I’m a sub-genre hopper–like a rabbit or a frog, I hop from one sub-genre to another for no rhyme or reason other than to write the story in my brain. Possibly not the best thing for me as I build up my platform but on the other hand, that’s who I am as a writer. Why not share it with my readers?

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Lavender Fields is a M/M Paranormal Romance and had strange beginnings. Not unlike most of my books, this story started as a flash fiction piece written from a picture prompt, but took a whole unexpected life of its own.

Sky Heavensent was to be a girl alien at first (don’t laugh), but–pantser that I am–as I wrote the story she turned into a he, and the alien became an angel. By the time I was finished, the angel in my story grew to mean something much larger than just a character in a book. Thus the decision to turn a few pages of writing into a full-length novel.

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Sky was born of some very deep beliefs I carry about humans and the way we relate to each other. It also embodies a lot of my hopes, fears, and emotional baggage.

As a character he’s not perfect. In fact, among his kind he’s an outcast ( know, I know. Another one), a very clumsy angel who seems to be an expert at making his boss, Gabriel, irate beyond what should be possible for an angelic creature.

But he is perfect in so many other ways. He’s color-blind, gender-blind, difference-blind. Like all angels he’s made of pure love but unlike the others he actually practices what he preaches. Sky is willing to do just about anything for what’s right even if that places him in all kinds of danger.

He has a big heart and he’s not afraid to use it.

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Writing Lavender Fields was an amazing experience because it came from the depths of me, those corners of myself that remain under wraps most of the time. I’m a terrible introvert who is incapable of participating in a conversation involving more than two people. So, a lot of what I think, of what I feel, of what I believe stay buried deep inside. Writing this story was in so many ways a release because the characters (all of them but Sky in particular) spoke for me.They all have a little bit of myself in them (including Caleb’s foul-mouthed younger sister) but I dare anyone who knows me to figure out what.

In fact, I believe that Sky was indeed heaven-sent. Have you ever written a character who meant a lot more to you than all the others?

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Successful Scripts For Ads. Or how to make those few words work for you.

Successful scripts for ads.

Or how to make those few words work for you.

During my very short visit to RT in Atlanta I had the opportunity to sit in a BookBub panel that aimed at demystifying a good, successful script for an ad — or what should be included in a book ad that will assure sales.

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It was a good panel even though both young reps seemed to have had way too much coffee for breakfast. They spoke a million miles an hour and were super bubbly. That said, the information they imparted was interesting and hopefully useful once I decide to try my hand on an ad.

Here are some pointers deriving from their own A/B Tests:

Accolades sell. But some more than others. Author’s quotes sell more than a publication quote (i.e. An adventure to remember-J.K. Rowlings vs. An adventure to remember-The New Yorker)

Editorial reviews and ratings help.

Using comparable titles and/or authors are sellers (i.e. This book is a delight for fans of–  or Perfect for fans of –)

Ending with a positive statement seems to be highly effective (i.e. a sexy, uplifting read or a powerful, captivating tale)

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Identifying the hooks and the tropes also seem to be of major importance (i.e. best friend’s sibling or cowboys)

Absolutely NO violence in the blurb (yes, even if there is some in the actual book)

The use of adjectives also make a difference but only if it refers to a character trait, not a physical (i.e. the devilish duke vs. the handsome duke)

Location, location, location. Even in the world of book advertising the setting of the book is a seller, so do mention that the book is set in Maine or the moon in the script.

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And that’s all folks for today’s blog. Feel free to share any tried and proven trick to successfully advertise books.

Here is the BookBub link with the RT presentation and a couple more helpful and interesting resources.

New Markets

New Markets or How to Reach Readers Who Feel Left Out

We all know that the market is fickle and fluctuates all the time. For example, dystopian was huge just a couple of years ago but now agents will not touch it with a ten-foot pole. In the romance genre we are lucky because romance has been a steady market for as long as the genre has been around (don’t believe me? Shakespeare wrote romance and so did Austen and the Bronte sisters).

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It’s the sub-genres that fluctuate a lot. Right now it appears there is a huge market demand for cowboy romance (don’t look at me. The only thing I know about cowboys is that they herd cows, wear boots to bed, and you can never see their faces because of those damn Stetson hats), M/M romance (hot right now), and in the paranormal sub-genre, shifter romance (I’m not even sure I know what a shifter is. Will have to read on that).

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So what’s the real new markets out there? Something that has never before been explored because the publishers and agents were not interested? I was surprised and pleased all at once to find out that some of the big romance publishers are currently interested in later-life romance.

I sat through a panel hosted by Entangled, a small-going-big romance publisher, and was floored when they told us that the publishing house is opening a new imprint called August which will target romances for women who are anywhere between 30-50 years old.

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They want to see no stereotypes (divorcees looking for a husband) but strong women who have put off love in favor of careers, or for whatever other reasons, and stumble upon love late in life. They are asking for 45-60K word manuscripts and, according to the spokesperson, they are rather anxious to test the waters. Their reps at RT told us their market analysis shows there is a huge demand for these stories. So there you go. What are you waiting for? Get busy writing that story you’ve always wanted to write and prove that older women can still cut it in romantic pursuits.

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Marketing Vs. Selling-The Non-Identical Twins

Marketing Vs. Selling-The Non-Identical Twins

One of the best panels I attended was led by Tara Lain and Poppy Dennison, “You Only Think You’re Marketing”. These two bestselling romance writers and marketing experts led an over-flowing room (several people were asked to leave by the fire marshal) in an eye-opening session where they debunked some very prevalent myths about marketing. I cannot possible do it credit (even though I took notes) but I would like to highlight some of the most important things I learned in this session.

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  • Even though marketing and selling go hand in hand, they are NOT identical twins. In fact they are pretty different.  In the words of these two amazing ladies, marketing is all the steps to get a product to the market. Marketing is the bow and selling is the arrow. Marketing is an overtime process while selling is immediate.
  • An author MUST determine her/his market before considering how to market herself/himself. For romance writers like me the audience is a very wide range of people: mostly (but not exclusively) female, aged between eighteen and sixty-five, voracious readers who will read at an average of three to four books a week.

Things to consider in marketing yourself to such an audience: pricing (if a reader goes through that many books weekly she/he won’t be able to afford to pay too much for the books), availability of e-books (cheaper both for writer and reader), speed to the market (how fast can you get your book in the hands of your readers?) and (this is a huge plus) there is no competition. Romance readers go through books so fast there is room enough for every author.

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  •   In such a fast market a writer must consider the product design. What will the book look like because, let’s face it, how many of us have bought books because you like the title or the cover? Guilty as charged 🙂 But it goes beyond that. The choices a writer (if you do have a choice) makes in the design of her books can help (or destroy) her branding and ultimately sales.

Titles are very important. You must be careful not to start with a “The” or an “A” because those will make it harder for a reader to search and find your book. Also avoid “funny” characters.

Cover design must reflect the content of the book. One of my books has been criticized for having an amazing cover that unfortunately (for me in terms of sales) that doesn’t hint at romance at all (I still love it, lol).

The type font you use for your name on each cover should be uniform across all books so that readers will recognize it immediately.

I also learned (after this panel) that a good blurb can make or kill a sale.

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  • Build your platform (how many times have you heard this one?) by interacting, not only with potential readers but also with authors that write similar romances (especially with those authors who are doing well in the charts).
  • Build a newsletter email list. This one is a tough one for me because not only I lose subscribers weekly but because the large majority of the ones I have haven’t even read my books. So why stick with the newsletter? Because even if there is only a handful of readers that follow you, that is worth its weight in gold. Those readers will talk about your books to their friends or help promote your books online (this is true. I have a couple of very faithful, amazing followers). So nurture that list no matter how useless it seems to be.

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  • Branding yourself. Tough one. If you like high heels, apparently is a big thing in romance writing. Just kidding. Sort of. I’m always jealous of writers who seem to have it all together. I’ve been trying to brand myself but I’m too over the place, I think.  I will come back to this one in a future blog since Lain and Dennison suggested a few interesting things on how to find your thing, the one thing readers will identify you with (other than your books).
  • Finally–and apparently a big surprise to some writers–you have to read. Writers are readers. I heard a young writer claim he didn’t read at all because he always took on the tone or the style of writing of the author he was reading. Come on! Really? I wish I could do that actually. Who wouldn’t want to write like Jane Austen or J.K. Rowlings? I don’t have much time to read due to a full time day job and writing afterwards, but I make a conscious effort to do it at least a few times a week, even if it’s only a few pages at a time. I love reading just as I love writing. The two are like two peas in a pod. Besides when you write those reviews for other authors, you’re making friends and gaining allies in the field of publishing.

And there you have it in a nutshell. I hope this can help you a little. I know it helped me. If nothing else it made some things a lot clearer, less of a mystery. After all, unless you’re one of the lucky ones who have a mentor, writing and publishing are pretty much a learn-as-you-go experience.

Good luck to you all and comment with suggestions and/or questions you may have. Until next time.

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Finding balance (Or How Not To Go Bonkers)

Finding balance

(Or how not to go bonkers trying to make it as a writer.)

I was reading a friend’s post recently where she mentioned having dreamed all her life of becoming a writer because as an introvert it seemed to be her dream job–on her own, quietly writing away, never having to interact with others.  Like her, I found out how fanciful that dream was. Being a writer may have been at one point an introvert dream job but today is nothing but.

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If I was still wondering whether the madness that has become my life since my first book was published was a normal occurrence in this profession, every panel I attended at RT-Atlanta confirmed it certainly was.  Ever since RT I have attended another workshop for authors and the refrain is always the same: market, promote, interact, do, do, do…

Being a writer, it turns out, is not that different from being a parent–nobody ever tells you that after that baby’s born you’ll never have another moment’s peace.

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Don’t like to interact with others? You’re in the wrong business.

Don’t like to toot your own horn? Wrong business. No one will do it for you (unless you pay them handsomely)

Never been much of a salesperson? Well, honey get ready to become a salesman extraordinaire.

There are promos to post, reviewers to chase down and win over. Adverts, teasers, banners to design, set up and post. Giveaways to organize, swag to either buy or make, signings, symposiums, workshops, and conferences to attend… are you tired yet?

Oh yeah, and there’s the small matter of actually writing–editing, revising, blurb and synopsis drafting, submitting it to publishers or, if you’re self-published, formatting, finding a cover designer… holy crap, it never ends.

There are online takeovers, interviews, blog tours, newsletters… it’s truly insane.

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So how do you keep from going totally bonkers? Several writers at RT mentioned a schedule. “A schedule? What’s that? I thought us authors were supposed to be a wild bunch that go with the flow, allowing the muse to determine our path, no deadlines, no commitments.” Right!

So a schedule, as simple an idea as it is, it’s the perfect little tool that may stand between sanity and total madness. I haven’t quite mastered it yet but I fully intend to. Here are some resources that may help you–and me–find that much needed balance in your life as a writer. In the meantime, don’t be shy and share your wisdom in the comments. What does your schedule look like? What things do you do to keep sane among the chaos?

Advice on how to plan your writing day

Useful forms and templates 

Inspiration from famous writers 

An RT Memoir of Sorts

It’s been crazy since I came back from RT Atlanta. I haven’t quite got my bearings back and I have sat a million times–forgive the literary liberty–to write this blog without much success. But I am here now and this post WILL be written.

In case you don’t know RT stands for Romantic Times Book Lovers Convention, a huge affair for both writers and their readers–not to mention the oh-so-lovely male models.

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This was my first time at the convention and, even though I was only able to attend for one day, I loved it. I was there Wednesday only, so I missed most of the fun, but I did manage to attend a few panels that day and meet my Hot Tree clan (awesome bunch).

I focused on panels dedicated to marketing, branding, and advertising because–well, I would like to sell my books. So far, and after three published novels, my author’s income wouldn’t feed my feral cat much less my family.

Some of the panels were very good and helpful, others not so much. I will be writing a series of blogs to share the information I gathered from the ones that were indeed great and useful. As you know I’m a pantser so the following might not pan out quite as I planned 🙂

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  1. Finding balance. Or how not to go bonkers trying to make it as a writer.
  2. The next best thing. Or is being a hybrid author better than it sounds?
  3. Marketing versus selling. The very non-identical twins.
  4. New markets. Or how to reach readers who feel left out.
  5. Successful scripts for ads. Or how to make those few words work for you.

Well, that’s the plan. I can’t promise I’ll stick to it. Come back for the next few weeks to find out if I do (wink, wink) and to get some useful information about the business of writing (romance edition). It’s going to be epic(ish).

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