Reviews are something that preys on every writer’s mind. I’m sure most of us who’ve been publishing for any length of time have at some point had a working day ruined when we’ve made the mistake of reading a one star trouncing of our precious story over on Goodreads or Amazon. We’ve also probably all read five star reviews that made us glow and want to gloat about how wonderfully talented we are. Since my own view of the usefulness of reviews has developed a huge amount over the last couple of years, I thought I’d share my thoughts on them today. Continue reading
Okay, as I predicted I haven’t found time to write an all-singing, all-dancing blog post, what with all the preparation for the UK Meet this coming weekend. However, I did want to share some thoughts about newbie writer questions, as I’ll be running a panel with my delightful colleagues Becky Black and Rebecca Cohen, titled Taking the plunge: the new author’s simple guide to getting published.
I have to admit, after two and half years of being published, my preoccupations are very different to what they were in the early days, and I’ve pretty much forgotten what all the things were I was desperate to know back then. I know I’ll be talking a bit about managing sales expectations, ITINs, author promo before you’re published, agents, and the importance of blurbs, but can the rest of you think of anything you would like to know?
If you’re not a writer yourself but have pondered it at any point, what are your burning questions? And if you’ve been writing for yonks, please try and cast your mind back to the early days. What did you really want to know?
I’ll attempt to answer any of your newbie questions in the comments below (here on the main blog if you’re reading this via Goodreads, FB or a feedreader), so please, fire away!
It’s always tough being the new kid, and taking that final step from author to published author is no less scary. There’s no definitive list out there telling you what you should or shouldn’t do, but thanks to that magical all-seeing, all-knowing entity known as the interweb, there is plenty of advice out there to help you find your way.
I’ve been published for a whole five months. I know what you’re thinking: what could you possibly have learned about the publishing world in five months? Loads. Believe me, from the moment you decide you’re going to unleash your story upon the world, you’ve already stepped foot onto that roller coaster, so buckle up.
Granted, I still have a lot to learn and will continue to do so for a very, very long time, but there are a few key points I picked up on right away which has made my journey far smoother than it could have been. Some have been learned through personal experience, some from the experiences of others. Either way, I’m here to share some with you.
1. Research. I’m not talking about book research. I’m talking about where you plan to submit that manuscript you’ve poured your heart and soul into for the last (insert sleep-deprived time frame here). It may seem like common sense to some folks, but when you’re just starting out and don’t know a great many people, it’s not easy knowing where to turn to. Unless you’re friends with an author who’s already established, chances are few authors are going to come right out and warn you away from a publisher, especially if they still have work contracted with said publisher. Of course there are exceptions. If a publisher has really pulled one over on an author or three, you’ll hear about it. The internet is littered with horror stories and cautionary tales, so be aware. There are also plenty of sites that offer warnings, such as Predators & Editors, Writer Beware, or Erotic Romance.
When you’re looking to get your first work published, you’re eager and excited, but don’t let that cloud your judgment. Here are a few things I’ve picked up from various sources.
- You should never be asked to pay in order to get your work published. Nor should you be expected to give out your work for free. Non-profit publishers and writing a charity submission is a different story and does not fall under this. We’re talking about publishers who either want money to publish your book or won’t pay you for your work whether it be under the guise of exposure or the promise of something better later on.
- Check out the publisher’s website. Is it professional? If the content on their site is practically incomprehensible from the sheer amount of typos and bad sentence structure, walk away. Especially if they say that stuff doesn’t matter. Oh, they’re out there.
- A publisher should not be unprofessional when communicating with you. There’s a big difference between a friendly, laid back conversation, and someone who’s bullying, patronizing, or disrespecting you. No one should make you feel as though you should be grateful to be breathing the same air as them.
- Look into the publishers who house your favorite authors. In my experience, where there are happy authors, there are good publishers, and authors will never be afraid to give a shout out to their publishers. This is what I did. I read a lot of MM Romance before I decided to write it, and when the time came, I looked into my favorite authors and the publishers they were with, when, and how long. Then I narrowed it down depending on how my story and I might fit in. Many authors have more than one publisher, and that’s not because they prefer one over the other. Every publisher has different submission guidelines– which you should read very carefully, and it may be that a particular story didn’t meet those guidelines or wasn’t right for that publisher.
- Always read your contract thoroughly. If none of it makes sense to you, get someone else to help you with it. Which leads me to…
2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I’m not saying you should interrogate folks, but asking for some friendly advice won’t hurt. Authors offer a fountain of knowledge and experience, and most of them love to help. Even if you aren’t comfortable talking directly to an author, visit their blog or website. Keep in mind that your experience won’t be the same as theirs, but you can pick up all sorts of great tips and advice from them. In the end, you’ll have to do things your way, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be aware of all the options, and pick what’s best for you.
3. Be Proud. Unfortunately there are folks out there who believe that unless you’re published by one of the ‘Big Six’ book publishers, you’re not a real author. Well, they’re wrong. Simple as that. I could come up with something more colorful, but let’s keep this post PG. You’ve worked your butt off. You’ve summoned all manner of bravery, dedication, and gumption to get your book out there. You are a published author and should be damned proud. I read somewhere that about 80% of people say they have a book in them. That’s all fine and dandy, but how many of those people actually put forth the blood, sweat, and tears to make that book happen? Aspiring to write doesn’t mean squat. I’m sorry, but it’s true. If you really want to be a writer, you have to write. Published or not, you have to write.
4. Be open to growth. There is a big difference between keeping your integrity, and shutting yourself off from personal and professional growth. If you’re not prepared to learn from your mistakes—and you will make mistakes, or from your experiences, you’re in for a hard time. As an author, it’s important to keep learning, to absorb information, and use it do develop your craft. You don’t have to do every little thing everyone says, but you should at least be open to listening.
5. Social Networking. This may not be for everyone, but some kind of online presence is necessary these days, even if it’s just a website. You don’t have to be on every social networking site available. In fact, whatever you sign up for, make sure you’re going to have time to dedicate to it. Striking the right balance is important, or you’ll find yourself either spending too much time on there, or not enough. Sign up to whatever works best for you. I have a website, Blogger account, Goodreads, Facebook, and Twitter, because I know any more would just be too much for my little brain to handle at the moment. Also, don’t use these sites to spam readers or other authors about your books. That’s a one way ticket to the naughty step. Talk to people, get to know them, and let them get to know you.
6. Having a website and a blog. These are probably the most essential, and you should get them going before you get published. Why?
- Building a blog readership takes times. You may have lots of folks you chat to, or friends who sign up to follow your blog, but for the rest, those folks want to see what you’re about before they follow you. So get posting. You don’t have to post every day—though when you’re first starting out, the more you post, the more people get to know you. After that it’s up to you and the amount of time you have. Some authors post once a week, some once a month. Whatever you do, try to be consistent. If you’re not sure which platform to use, find an author’s blog you like the look of and see what they’re using. The most common are Blogger and WordPress, but there are others out there.
- When your book is out there and folks want to know more about you and your writing, you want to have somewhere for them to go. It doesn’t have to be big or fancy, but it does have to be professional. Blogs are more personal, so you have more freedom to let the crazy out, but your website represents you. So if you’re planning to make a career out of writing, get a professional looking website. No one says it can’t be fun or creative, but keep in mind that readers may not be the only ones looking for it. Anyone from agents to organizations could be looking you up, and these folks don’t know you or how serious you are about doing what you do. There are plenty of good folks out there who won’t ask you for your first born in exchange for a nice site. Also, keep it updated. There’s nothing more frustrating for a reader, than trying to find out information about your next book and coming up with nothing. Especially if it’s a series.
- Once you’re published you’ll have plenty to keep you busy: editing, promoting, networking, writing. The last thing you want to be doing is designing or putting together your site, unless someone’s going to be doing it all for you. If you’re doing it yourself, you don’t want to have to rush it to get onto other stuff, and the more titles you have out, the more content you have to upload, so it’s best to get things started soon as.
7. Reviews. They say you have to have a thick skin to be a writer, but that’s easier said than done. No matter how prepared you think you are, when that first unpleasant review pops up, that protective armor vanishes and leaves you in your birthday suit. Why? Because you care about your work, and let’s be honest, you want people to like what you’re writing. Whether it’s from a reviewer or a reader, a bad review will hurt. What do you do? You learn from it and move on. You learn to distinguish the difference between constructive feedback that can help you improve your next manuscript, and someone’s personal opinion. You also have no control over how someone chooses to express that opinion. It may be polite, stating how your story just wasn’t for them, or it may be mean-spirited and rude. What you do have control over is how you will react to it. Do you get defensive with that person? No. Do you let it shatter your confidence in yourself? No. Do you stomp into the kitchen and break out the triple chocolate chip Haagen Dazs? You betcha! Then you sit that keister down behind that computer and you get back to writing.
8. Patience. Once you have your first book published, you’ll feel like you’re moving at a snail’s pace compared to everyone else. Suddenly you’re surrounded by authors who are getting new contracts, announcing releases, just finished that 100k manuscript, while you’ve got 3k of your latest book with five others swimming around in your head waiting for you to give them life. Every writer goes at his or her own pace, and you have to learn to be comfortable with yours. It’s good to push yourself, but don’t let yourself fall into despair when you don’t get as much done as you want. There will be good days and not so good days. Don’t beat yourself up over it because it won’t help you get any closer to finishing that book. Which leads to…
9. Stop worrying. Aside reviews, there are plenty of things that can stifle your mojo. Comparing yourself to other authors is one of them. I love visiting author websites and blogs, chatting, seeing what their up to, celebrating their success, and offering a hand where I can if someone should need it. What I don’t do is compare myself to them or my progress to theirs. Every writer goes through ups and downs. On some days you’ll feel like an amateur, questioning everything you do, wondering why the heck you’re doing it all in the first place. Then on other days you’ll feel exhilarated and wonder why you didn’t start sooner. Your confidence will fluctuate, and that’s okay. It’s all part of being a writer. Sometimes you’ll have to find strength where there is none, and if you need to take a break, you take it. Step away from the PC, and do something else. The emails can wait, Facebook will still be there tomorrow, Twitter isn’t going anywhere, and neither are your readers. Just take some time to relax or you will burn yourself out.
10. Keep writing. That’s probably the most important thing to remember. If you don’t write, there will be no books. Even if you’re having a rough day, write something. Doesn’t matter if you think it’s all crap. No one says it has to stay in there. Write some dialogue between your characters or some random scenes. Even if you cut it all the next day, you wrote something. Many authors fall into a lull after a new release, which is why it’s so important to always be working on something. Some authors only work on one thing at a time until it’s done, while some work on two or more stories. What you do is up to you, but always write, write, write.
Well, I hope that my little list has helped in some way. Remember that you’re not alone and there are plenty of folks out there who are happy to help. As authors, we’re all in the same boat, and although we all want to succeed and move up in our careers, we also want to support each other and our genre.If anyone has any questions, my inbox is always open. I’m always around and will do my best to answer any questions you may have. In the meantime, welcome to the neighborhood!
Charlie Cochet is a passionate author of M/M Historical Romance who loves to get lost in eras long gone, specifically the Roaring Twenties and Dirty Thirties. From bootleggers to hardboiled detectives, speakeasies to swanky nightclubs, there’s bound to be plenty of mischief for her heroes to find themselves in, and plenty of romance, too!
When she isn’t writing, she can usually be found reading, drawing, or watching movies. She runs on coffee, thrives on music, and loves to hear from her readers!
I don’t know why when I’ve merrily completed a novel or two, the idea of writing a blurb always strikes fear into my heart. Perhaps it’s the sheer impossibility of condensing all of that wonderful prose down into a few lines. I expect there’s a niggling worry that I’ll get it wrong and then no one will want to read my book. It’s a different kind of skill to writing fiction: essentially, what you’re doing when producing a blurb is writing advertising copy, designed to hook in the casual browser who may never have heard of you before. Blurbs don’t just need to convey the basic premise and tone of the book – they need to entice and seduce potential readers to part with some of their precious cash.
I hate writing my own blurbs, and am heartily glad that Samhain do such an amazing job of polishing up my efforts into something much more appealing. However, since writing blurbs is an essential part of the submission process (most publishers require them in the cover letter and/or synopsis), I’ve come up with a few ways of making them less painful.
Write them early
Preferably before finishing the novel. I always come up with a very rough blurb early on to put on my WIP page here on the website. Although these might not bear much relation to the final product, I find it really helpful to get thinking about them early. It’s much easier to tweak and build on something that already exists, than to start with a blank page. And I don’t know why, but the earlier I am in the writing process, the easier that rough blurb comes. Perhaps it’s because the novel is still mainly potential, so it’s easier to see the key things that matter.
Choose your keywords
This is a list of the kind of things you might want to tag your book with Amazon, for instance. I’m not talking about the obvious ones like the genre, but the things that make your book different from others. For instance, for The Hot Floor I came up with the following:
glassblowing, England, spanking, BDSM, threeway, ménage, plumber, geek, Asian hero, multicultural, neighbours, boy next door, kink, British
These were all aspects I wanted to make sure I touched on in the blurb, too.
Don’t give away too much
I stick to the first third of the book when giving detail in the blurb. Any further in than this feels like too much of a spoiler. After all, if the reader knows the story almost all the way to the end already, what’s the point in them reading it? Sometimes I need to hint at stuff later on, but I keep it pretty vague.
What’s my conflict?
Sometimes, by the time I’ve finished a novel I have a hard time remembering what my most central conflict was, because I layered on so many other smaller conflicts while writing. It’s essential for me to take some time out to think about what the most important one was, and stick to talking about this in the blurb.
Avoid the cheesy rhetorical question
You know the ones – the blurbs that end with a “but can Chad convince Brad he really loves him for his brains, not his brawn?” Well of course he bloody well can. Right. I don’t need to bother reading the book now, do I? I’m always tempted to write these kind of blurbs because they’re so easy, but I squash that urge whenever it comes up.
Write a tagline
Taglines can be an utter bitch to come up with, but they’re incredibly helpful when marketing your story. I’m really pleased with my final one for The Hot Floor: Two plus one equals scorching hot fun. It’s catchy and it captures the fun tone of the novel. Writing one early on is a must. In fact, coming up with a whole list of them is a great idea, and then…
Get some help
My beta readers know what my story means to them, so I ask them to critique my blurb and pick their favourite taglines. The blurb is the one place in your book where it’s definitely better to go with what readers want, rather than being too precious. Sometimes I even enlist the help of people who’ve never read my story, and ask them if my blurb sounds appealing enough.
And coming up next, with fortuitous timing, I’m going to be revealing the cover art and blurb for my next novel, The Hot Floor. Watch this space!
So, any other authors out there have some blurb writing tips to share? And readers – what kind of things do you find appealing or a right turn off in a blurb?
Back in March I wrote a post about how I now approach my first drafts, and a couple of people asked me about how I then shape my extremely rough first drafts into the polished gems worthy of submitting to publishers.
Here then, is a step-by-step guide to my drafting process–I might sometimes compress some of the steps if I’m in a hurry, or add an extra one if I’ve had to make substantial changes during the process, but this is my ideal and involves a grand total of four drafts. There is no right or wrong way to draft a story, and your methods may vary, but I’m presenting this here in the hope there might be something useful for someone out there
Leave it alone!
I always leave my story alone for at least a week – preferably longer – before looking at it again. This isn’t hard to do because by the end of the first draft I’m usually feeling burnt out and want a break. However, soon enough the story calls to me again…
Scribble all over it
I always print out my first drafts on paper. Yes, I know I could read through them on my Kindle and make notes there, but I find paper and pencil to be freeing. On my first read through of the first draft I am merciless. I’m looking for flab to cut out of the story. I’m looking for the bits I neglected to write properly because I was so caught up in the flow. I’m looking at the overall story arc and the pacing. I’m looking for inconsistencies and accidentally dropped sub plots. I try to keep this first read through fairly fast, so I get a sense of the pacing. I don’t have time to look at the nitty-gritty of word choice and typos – although I usually pick a few of the worst offenders up while going through.
When I open up my document again to cut, reshuffle and add those extra scenes, I go through the whole story again. This time I do try to catch the clunky sentences, clichés and typos, but I don’t run a full spell check at this stage.
Get a second opinion
Once I’ve finished going through the document I have my second draft complete. This is the one I send off to my beta readers. It isn’t perfect just yet, but what I’m looking for from them isn’t proofreading, but their reactions to the story. I want to know if there are things that confuse them, if they understand the characters’ motivations. If they even like the characters. Sometimes I give my beta readers specific questions about the story I’d like to know their opinion on, but not always.
I always try to make sure I have at least two beta readers (one of whom is American and on the alert for anything too confusing for US readers), but I prefer there to be more. I also like to have at least one male beta on the team, although this isn’t always possible. Barging In had a grand total of eight beta readers for the entire book, and several more who gave feedback on just the first few chapters.
The Post-it stage
While I’m waiting for feedback from my beta readers, I enter into what I call the “Post-it” stage. This is when I’m constantly thinking about the story and remembering things that I’d meant to add but never quite got around to. I keep pads of Post-its and pencils at strategic places around the house and make sure I jot these down whenever they occur. Then I either stick them to my printed draft in the right place, or to a separate piece of paper. I take great pleasure in peeling them off and screwing them up when they’ve been dealt with
Pulling it all together
When the comments from betas come in I read them all then, and ponder any recurring criticisms. Do I need to write any new scenes or make any major changes? Handle with Care needed some major work at this stage, but other stories have required less.
Once I’ve decided roughly what needs doing I’ll read through the whole manuscript again (possibly on my Kindle this time, although I’ll print it if the changes are substantial), and make notes on all the things that need altering. I then go through the manuscript chapter by chapter with all my betas’ feedback to hand–all open on my desktop so I can click through them one after another. When I’ve finished, I’m at the third draft stage.
What I should have now is a story that’s in pretty good shape for submission. All I need to do is proofread one last time, this time checking carefully for the more minor editing issues: typos, spelling/grammar errors, inelegant sentence structure, etc. I then make sure I’ve formatted everything as the publisher requires, and add in my cover page with the relevant details.
The bottle of bubbly stage
Hooray – I have my final draft ready for submission! Oh yes, just the minor issue of a submission cover letter and a draft blurb. Look out for more on those next month
I’ve recently discovered that my writing speed has accelerated from around 700 to about 1000 words an hour. I was trying to work out exactly why that is. Partly it’s the incentive of having a proper break after every thousand words. I get up, stretch my legs, have a cup of tea and some time away from the screen. Maybe do a bit of crochet–I’m getting a lot more crochet done this way
Mostly, though, I think it’s a change in my mindset about what a first draft should be. So here are my seven rules for writing a quick and dirty first draft:
1. When in doubt, just put anything down
I no longer spend time selecting the right words in a first draft. If I find myself mulling over word choice for any length of time, I tell myself to just pick one–any one, no matter how rubbish–and carry on writing. I can choose a better word in the second draft.
2. Dialogue doesn’t need beats
Beats are the little bits of action interspersed through the dialogue, grounding it in a particular location. Of course, the dialogue will need these eventually, but in the first draft I’m happy to just get chunks of dialogue down on the page. I might decide to move this conversation to another location in the next draft, so that will be even easier to do if I don’t have a load of beats that no longer make sense. I find it much easier to get into the back and forth flow of a conversation if I don’t have to keep writing those pesky little beats!
3. The internet is off-limits
I’m banned from using the internet to check things during the first draft. The internet is way too much of a time suck for me. If I find I need to mention something I’m not quite sure about–like the car plant my character’s dad worked at–I just insert a row of question marks to remind me. I’ve also used square brackets to enclose notes about what I need to look up – basically, any symbol you wouldn’t normally use will work, making it easy to search for using Word’s “Find” function.
4. Clichés are fine and dandy
My first drafts have plenty of clichés. This is fine as I can weed them out in the next draft using my mighty cliché hoe. Or sometimes I play with them, morphing them into something unexpected. Clichés are great fun to do this with, and I’m starting to see them as a store of potential treasures rather than the bane of my existence.
5. Turn off the spell checker
I have some truly dreadful spelling mistakes in my first drafts. I’m a touch typist, so my letters can get completely disordered when I’m typing fast and furious. This is fine, and if I disable the wiggly red line I don’t even notice them. It saves me an awful lot of time and I don’t break the flow if I just keep on going regardless of spelling.
6. Avoid the urge to polish
There is no point polishing your first draft while you’re in the middle of it. Really, no point whatsoever. In fact, I’d say it’s counterproductive because you’re far less willing to rip out scenes that aren’t working when you get to subsequent drafts. Believe me, it’s an awful lot easier to rip out chunks of rough first draft than it is to cut your painstakingly polished prose.
This rule also covers those moments when you’ve suddenly decided to change a detail that impacts on scenes earlier in the story. You don’t need to go back and rewrite those scenes now. Just carry on writing as if you already had, and sort it all out in the second draft.
7. It’s fine to write a crap first draft
You might need to write this on a post-it note and stick it to your monitor to begin with – I know I did. The key for me at first draft stage is simply getting the story down, no matter how rough it comes out. And you know what, the surprising thing is that these rough first drafts actually don’t look all that bad when I come back to them. Yes, they’ll need to be run through with a spellchecker and my mighty cliché hoe, but on the whole I’m pretty impressed with the way my writing flows when I give myself permission to write crap.
So, if you find yourself getting too precious about your first drafts and want to up your writing speed, give these rules a try. They might not work for you–we all need to find the strategies that suit us best–but they’ve definitely worked for me!
Yes, Writerly Ramblings this month is hosted at the fantastic review blog, Romance Around the Corner. Head on over there to meet my muse – but be warned, there’s a NSFW picture in there!
There’s also a giveaway contest to commenters on the post, and the winner can choose between Tailor Made or the First Impressions series.
There’s also a giveaway contest for First Impressions in its shiny second edition over on Chris’ wonderful blog, Stumbling Over Chaos. Comment to enter!
This isn’t a “how to” post this month, but rather a few thoughts on one of the stereotypes of creative people I’ve found incredibly unhelpful and downright obstructive at times. The annals of history are full of those who have been tortured creative geniuses, and they often seem to end up in an early grave, perhaps by their own hand. Think of Vincent Van Gogh, Sylvia Plath, Rimbaud, Kurt Cobain, Tennessee Williams, Hemingway… I could go on and on.
Many of these tortured souls were diagnosed with mental health conditions like bipolar disorder, sometimes many years after their deaths as psychologists have slowly gained a greater understanding of the way our minds work. But does this enduring and Romantic idea of artists as tragic, tortured souls help anyone? (That’s Romantic in the classical sense of the word, by the way – I wouldn’t describe mental health problems as romantic, although I don’t see any reason why romantic fiction shouldn’t have characters with them as romantic heroes/heroines)
From my own perspective, I’ve found this all-pervasive stereotype a real hindrance. I used to believe that I just wasn’t messed up enough in the head to be a “proper” artist. I don’t struggle with my inner demons, as I don’t seem to have any and am remarkably even-tempered. Does this then mean I can’t make worthwhile creations?
Of course it bloody well doesn’t. While the myth tells us that those who are destined to be creators have to live and breathe their art at a great personal cost, for the vast majority of us it has to fit in around other aspects of our life. And it’s not something that only ever descends from above as divine inspiration: every “creative genius” I can think of has worked long and hard to master their craft.
Yes, I said craft. As far as I’m concerned, all creative endeavours are a mix of inspiration (which comes from our soul, or whatever you want to call that part of yourself that exists beyond the purely material world) and hard graft (that’s the craft part). Those who find great success in creative endeavours all have two things in common: they’ve put in long hours of practice to master their craft, and they’ve learnt to listen to the promptings of the souls. The good news is, we can all do this. Every single last human being on this planet has it in them to create wonderful art – unique and brilliant because it’s an expression of their own souls. What’s more, this creativity can be fun and playful – it doesn’t have to be painful. Yes, it might be for some, but it isn’t an essential part of the process and it doesn’t automatically make art more worthwhile, when it’s born out of tragedy.
So that’s my take on the myth of the tortured genius in art. Anyone else care to share their thoughts?
When I started out in publishing I went through author biographies like pairs of socks, trying on different ones and discarding them for something else within a matter of weeks, sometimes (simile meltdown: I do change my socks more often than that, you’ll be relieved to know)
I’ve now come up with an improved author bio strategy, and I wanted to share my thoughts about how you can make them work for you.
What’s it for?
Author bios are there to give readers information about the author, and hopefully pique their interest to find out more. They might mention other published or soon to be published works, and will certainly contain some kind of way of finding out more.
Some writers stick steadfastly to one bio through the years and it doesn’t seem to do them any harm, but if you’re writing for a variety of different publications and doing promo for different titles and events, the chances are you’ll want to have a few different bios you can choose from. Stick them all in one document where you can easily find them, and you’ll have them available next time you need one. It’s also worth keeping a handy list of all the places you’ve been published, perhaps grouped by topic so you can tweak your publishing credits according to where you will be using your bio.
Here are some of the different types of bio, and the sorts of occasions you might want to trot them out. It’s worth having them available in different lengths, as although many publications ask for 50 words maximum, some will let you go up to 200 words or more. You might even want to create a more comprehensive one for your website, which could ramble on for much longer. Unless otherwise specified, all author bios should be in third person.
The professional bio
This is the kind that emphasises your publishing credentials, listing some of the more prestigious places your stories have appeared and any prizes you might have won (that’s literary ones, not reader popularity contests). Obviously these kinds of bios aren’t possible until you’ve had a few things published, but even then, try not to overuse them. They don’t give you much of a reader connection, and can come across as rather dry.
Places a professional bio might be appropriate are in query letters to publishers, and on the publicity for events you’re giving a talk at. I’ve added a paragraph of publishing credentials to my bio for the Eroticon site, as I wanted to let attendees who’ve never heard of me know that I’ve had my work published in many different places.
The domestic bio
This is the cosy kind of bio many writers give, detailing where they live, what their hobbies are, and how many cats they own (dog owners don’t seem to write domestic bios so often). This sort of bio emphasises that you’re a regular kind of person just like your readers, and can make them feel like they know you.
On the other hand, these sorts of bios can get rather dull and rarely stand out from the crowd, especially if there’s a whole list of similar sounding ones at the end of an anthology. Perhaps the best place for them is at the end of a single author work, or on your website.
The TMI bio
Erotica writers are often prone to giving intimate details of their personal lives in their bios. This can pique reader’s interest, but it might turn some of them off as well, so be careful where you use them. While letting readers know you’re a BDSM practitioner, a swinger or have an unusual kink might be useful when writing a piece of fiction (or non-fiction) based around that aspect of your life, make sure you’re not revealing anything you might want to hide again later.
TMI bios are probably best used by those who are using this particular aspect of their lives as inspiration for their fictional work.
The gender neutral bio
There are plenty of perfectly legitimate reasons you might wish to avoid gender binaries, such as being genderqueer, trans, or intersex, but gender neutral bios present their own set of problems for readers and reviewers. Many readers of gay romance and erotica will just assume anyone using a gender neutral bio is female, and some find them really irritating, wishing authors would be upfront about their gender. They also make it awkward for reviewers as they don’t know which pronouns to use when referring to the author.
If you’re a woman writing gay erotica, or a man writing lesbian erotica, then a gender neutral bio might be a way of avoiding criticism from those who would say you have no right to write a sexuality and gender you have no experience of. Use with caution, and be aware that many readers will make assumptions about your gender anyway.
The fictional bio
A controversial topic, I grant you, but writers have been fictionalising their bios for as long as they’ve been writing them – it’s just a matter of degree. We all exaggerate a little and decide which aspects of our character we want to emphasise or play down, but some take things much further. It could be that you want to assume a totally different identity online, and give yourself a bio to match. This can work if you limit your online interaction with others, but these things have a way of coming back to bite you on the bum.
Proceed with caution. These types of bios can cause untold problems in the future.
The quirky bio
These are my favourites, as they give a flavour of the author’s style and way with words, as well as letting me know they’re likely to be amusing. They can be a set of details about interesting aspects of your life and beliefs, or put across your attitude to writing.
My current default bio is my favourite of all the quirky ones I’ve come up with over the last couple of years, and I’ve found it useful for all kinds of different situations as it gives a couple of salient details: my Englishness and the genre I’m writing in; along with a few things to let you know what sort of person I am (tea addict, eccentric, chases muse with a big stick). I’m not saying it’s perfect, and I expect I’ll revise it again in the future, but it’s working well for now.
The story specific bio
These are the ones that appear at the end of your story, and highlight what connections you might have to the things you’ve written about. The Petit Morts series has a great set of story specific bios, and you feel an extra sense of connection to both writer and story when reading them. Be careful about including anything that might be seen as a spoiler, though, as the bio could end up being copied-and-pasted elsewhere by enthusiastic bloggers and reviewers.
Essentials for all bios
Do make sure you get someone to proofread your bio! Erastes very kindly pointed out a spelling mistake in one of mine and I was mortified – served me right for trying to use clever words! Thankfully it was only a moment’s work to correct it, as it had only appeared on the website at that point.
All bios should include a link to your blog or website, so readers can find out more. If you’re new to publishing, make sure you set one of these up as a matter of priority. There are various different ways of formatting hyperlinks, but I’d recommend using a shortened form of the web address so that anyone who is reading the information on paper can still access the link, e.g., I used to put Jo’s website, but now I write josephinemyles.com.
To my mind, the very best bios give a flavour of the author’s character and what style of writing I might be letting myself in for. Perhaps that’s the most important thing to bear in mind: does your bio sound like it’s written in your voice? And does it suit the style of your writing?
One of the pieces of advice often given to writers is to contemplate all five senses when writing, and try to give attention to them all to help immerse the reader fully in the scene. I’ve always tried to heed this advice when writing (especially for the sex scenes), but it strikes me that it is incomplete. After all, we don’t just have five senses – and I’m not talking about any kind of mystical sixth sense either. Scientists identify up to twenty human senses in total.
Beyond the big five
We all know about sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch, but what about all those other ways our bodies detect and process sensory input about the outside world and our own interior workings? Our skin has all kinds of different nerve endings that can’t all be bundled under the heading “touch”, and we also have specialised receptors in our inner ears, muscles and other parts of our bodies. Perhaps the reason these other senses aren’t so well known is because they are controlled by the input from a range of different sensory organs, so we don’t tend to think of them as distinct like our vision and hearing, which are clearly linked with our eyes and ears. Here are some of the most important of our extra senses:
Balance (or equilibrioception, if you want to get technical):
This one is detected by your inner ear, working in conjunction with input from vision and the central nervous system, and enables us to keep our balance by sensing our body’s movement through space – both direction and speed. It’s linked to our awareness of gravity. A disturbance in any of the sensory input can result in dizziness.
Our sense of heat (and declining heat, or cold) as detected by receptors on the skin. But don’t just think of the external skin – what about the sensation of cold air up your nostrils on a winter’s day? Or vending machine hot chocolate on the roof of your mouth? There is also a different set of sensors monitoring our internal temperature. Erotica writers usually pay particularly close attention to this sense!
This is how we sense what the different parts of our body are doing, and where our limbs are in relation to the rest of us.
A much maligned sense, but one that is vitally important to alert us of potential dangers to our bodies. Pain is picked up by a variety of different receptors, in the skin, the internal organs, the joints and bones. Pain is often woven in with other sensory input, for instance, pressure or heat. We even have specialised itch sensitive sensors in our skin, the little bastards!
Internal senses (interoception):
These are really useful to use if we want to give our readers the sense of inhabiting a character’s body. We have sensors in our skin that respond to the internally generated heat of a blush. Our body is full of stretch receptors, vital for controlling internal functions, such as those in the lungs that regulate our breathing (think of what a deep breath feels like inside), and in our blood vessels and digestive system.
We can also include thirst and hunger as senses, along with all those wonderful sensations in the throat, giving us feedback about things like swallowing and vomiting. Then there’s the gag reflex, controlled by sensory receptors in the pharynx. We have sensory receptors that give us a feeling of fullness in our bladder and rectum as well. I don’t think I need to spell out to you how I use all these internal senses… well, okay, I have yet to have someone vomit in the middle of a sex scene, although a surprising number of other writers have their characters vomit when they cry.
Using the extra senses
It isn’t just erotica writers who can make use of all these extra senses. While we might not notice them most of the time, think of how much more real a scene becomes if a character is feeling uncomfortable in their own body in some way. Perhaps an unfamiliar laundry detergent is making their skin itch, or maybe they have grit trapped in their shoe but haven’t had a chance to take it off yet. What about them having a full bladder? Apparently we make much better decisions when we’re busting for a piss, probably because we stop faffing around and actually say what we mean…
It’s worth thinking about how these senses might be affected by the character’s emotional state as well. Anger certainly decreases our awareness of pain, as does euphoria. Alcohol, drugs, illness and fatigue can all affect these other senses in a variety of ways, and considering that will help bring scenes to startling, visceral life.
Even stranger senses
And no, I’m not going anywhere near the paranormal here. Up to one in a thousand people experience something called synesthesia, which is when one sense is experienced in the terms of another. For instance, I once knew a girl who swore she could taste colours, and the artist Kandinsky painted sounds as colours. Even us regular types can occasionally experience moments of sensory synesthesia. Hallucinogenic drugs are a prime cause, but as is any other moment of heightened awareness or ecstasy – yes, I’m thinking orgasms here.
Even if we don’t want to write a synesthetic character, good writers often use synesthesia to make startling imagery. They might describe pain as “dazzling”, or sound as “blinding”. An apt metaphor can add freshness and vigour to your writing, so break free of those rigid sensory divisions and embrace your inner synesthetic!
Of course, for those of you writing paranormal and shifter fiction, you have a range of senses beyond those us mere mortals experience. Play with them, reasearch what senses animals really have and ponder how to describe them for us humans. We’ve been given the wonderful gift of language – now go and have fun with it!