Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Posts Categorized: Cait Reynolds

memoir, biography, autobiography, family history, oral history

Cait here. I know, I know. I mention the word ‘memoir,’ and we get nightmare visions of Snookie’s autobiography prominently positioned on a table at the front of Barnes & Noble with New York Times Bestseller emblazoned on the cover.

I could reduce you all to a mass of existential angst and tears of futility by bringing up the 1991 epic Ice by Ice from Vanilla Ice, Paris Hilton’s Confessions of an Heiress, or even Justin Bieber’s First Step 2 Forever: My Story, but, I won’t. Because I’m a nice person.

Memoir, biography, autobiography, celebrity biography
I don’t even have to caption this or meme it. It just is… (Image courtesy of Justin Bieber Wikia and Harper Collins)

These days, memoirs, oral histories, and biographies seem less like a valid genre and more like an exercise in creating cringe-worthy categories like:

      • The autobiography (not written) by some 16-year-old pop sensation who has yet to get a driver’s license or go to rehab (hint: post-rehab books sell much better);

     

      • The true, inspiring story of struggle and strength from some athlete (who later will turn out to have been pumping more pills than pounds to achieve the incredible goal of <insert homeruns/touchdowns/speed record here>);

     

        • NB: The athlete may be substituted by any combination of one-gag-wonder YouTube sensation, HGTV host who rose to fame through aggressive full-body-contact crafting, or washed-out child star/rock star/Disney sitcom teenage actor from the 1990’s (because we’ve already run through most everyone from the 80’s).

       

      • The *gasp* SHOCKING *gasp* UNAUTHORIZED *gasp* NEVER-BEFORE-REVEALED TRUE STORY OF <insert politician, Hollywood icon, serial killer, royalty here>.

     

      • Let’s not forget the deeply personal and agonizingly extensive accounts of ordinary individuals suffering through chronic hangnails. These stories read like vaguebooking and an encounter group got drunk at a bar and hooked up for a bad one night stand that neither wants to remember in the morning;

     

      • The garden path paved with good intentions to mind-numbing boredom of listening to our aged relative go on and on about a half-century’s worth of knitting projects while we record her in the hopes of capturing the essence of a bygone era, but which in reality ends up being a special kind of hell because once we’ve recorded her, we realize we have to listen to it all over again in order to transcribe everything she said;

     

      • Finally, I should also toss a bone to the self-deprecating rags-to-riches archetype whose stories are meant to uplift and change our lives (well, until we spend the $3,000 for the weekend warrior seminar, workbooks, videos, and nutritional supplements that leave us exhausted, broke, and confused as to whether we’re supposed to do the ‘good dog’ head-patting self-empowerment exercise before or after we spend three minutes dancing naked before the $249 dreamcatcher add-on product that we bought in a moment of mid-seminar ecstatic dissociative fugue).

     

Legacy…it isn’t just for software any more

Like any cult leader worth their Kool-Aid, now that I’ve completely broken you down and destroyed your will to self-actualize and write any kind of personal story or work on a family history…let me build you back up…in my glorious image. *stops and shakes self, doesn’t know where that last part came from*

Memoir, autobiography, biography, family history, oral history

Truly, though, somewhere in the middle of all this mediocre dross are two truths that are so fundamental to humanity, we often overlook them or fail to recognize their power as a driving force behind everything we do. What are these truths?

Narrative is the most primal and primary form of human communication.

We all want to leave a legacy.

When we tell our friend/spouse/partner how our day was at work, that’s narrative. When we comfort a friend who has just been dumped by sharing our own dating war stories, that’s narrative. When we explain how to do something to a new employee, that’s a form of instructional narrative.

Our histories, morals, lessons, entertainment, and culture are all passed along in various forms of narrative, from Grandma’s stories to *shudder* the faux-scripting of reality television. On the scale of what is of real value to humanity, frankly, YOUR life’s story has more to offer the world as a legacy than anything the Kardashians can come up with. Fan of the Kardashians? Fight me. *Warning: I am a mean-spirited, 5’1″ Slytherin who fights dirty. I will win.

Cue Bon Jovi

*sings* It’s my liiiiiiiife, it’s now or never….

Ready to start that family history or share your own story? Great! Let’s get started. Ready?

Ready?

And?…..

Bueller?…..

Memoir, autobiography, biography, family history, oral history

Having trouble getting started, or even just knowing WHERE to start? I totally understand. It’s a common problem, and kind of ironic considering that we know the plot really, really well and aren’t just pantsing this particular story.

Let’s take a look at the 3 most common obstacles to getting a memoir project off the ground.

1. The Naturally Outgoing, Extroverted, Boastful Nature of Writers (NOT): If there’s a downward-facing-dog adjective for derision, we will find a way to put a ‘self’ in front of it–self-deprecating, self-effacing, self-sabotaging, etc. Even if we have something of real value to say that could either entertain or help others, we hesitate to convey it through narrative of our own personal experiences. We’d rather find a way to slip it as a theme into a plot where Taylor and Seraphina must stop a drug cartel from taking over a small Texas town populated by gluten-intolerant wolf shifters. We somehow believe that our own experiences are not worth it. If there’s not a jewelry heist, an AR-15, and Michael Bay-esque explosions involved, we think no one could possibly be interested in our lives.

2. An Embarrassment of Riches…: Okay, say we’ve gotten past the self-effacement syndrome and are ready and willing to share our story (or a family story). How do we start? Where do we start? From the egg? From the accidental backseat fumble to the accompanying crooning of Buddy Holly that led to that particular egg taking off on a spectacular career that lead to you? The first time we successfully made it to the training potty in time and the glorious lollipop of victory? The first date (the parental introductions alone could be an entire chapter in instructional humiliation)? For a body of material that we are entirely in control of and know to the last detail, it’s ironic that we can be so at a loss as to how to structure a narrative.

3. Truth, Libel, and Who Has to Die Before You Can Publish?: Ready to become an unwitting (and maybe unwilling) historiographer? When we undertake any kind of nonfiction biographical project, we are forced to join the ranks of historians who study the study of history, easily identifiable by the premature grey, dark circles, and habit of walking around muttering to themselves about theoretical frameworks, revisionism, primary source authentication, and hagiography. Any project involving people and history will have certain inalienable facts, but we’re also dealing with mushy memories, opinions, changes in perception over time, evolving social contexts, and some sticky legal and family issues when it comes to bringing some things to light. (Aunt Muriel’s Thanksgiving dinner is gonna be wicked interesting this year…)

Looking at all of this, it’s no wonder we would rather volunteer for the 7:00 a.m. Saturday morning carpool for the rest of eternity than tackle writing a memoir.

When in doubt, turn to M&M’s (&M)

Yes, chocolate is always a viable answer, but I’m actually talking about three ‘M’s’ that help break down the gargantuan project of a memoir into workable rules, structures, and craft.

Memoir, autobiography, biography, family history, oral history

1. MESSAGE: The idea of the message isn’t all that dissimilar to the theme of a work of fiction. What is the main truth/moral/advice/idea we want to convey in the telling of our story? Are we telling a story about survival against the odds, the power of love over hate, creating our identity anew after a life-changing event? Just like fiction, we can’t put everything into this narrative, so whatever we choose to include should be driven by and always tie back to the message. So…out with the glorious potty-training-lollipop-of-victory and in with how our first date taught us we can not only survive rejection, but learn to thrive and grow stronger.

2. MATERIAL: Before we decide what to put in or leave out, we have to get all the material we can in one place. This is the part of the process where we leave no stone unturned, no story unrecorded, no photo (however embarrassing) in the ‘out’ pile. From birth certificates to postcards, digital recordings to that unfortunate VHS video where you fell asleep face-first in your second birthday cake, it’s essential to chase down pretty much everything. In some cases, the material refreshes our memories or corrects a mistaken impression. In other cases, the material can help shape the message, raise challenging questions, and reveal unexpected truths. Gathering, organizing, and learning to interpret our resources is the foundation from which we build the narrative to support the message.

3. METHOD: There is no one-size-fits-all general methodology for memoirs and family histories. There is however a single one-size-fits-all rule: CONSISTENCY. However we decide to deal with blanks or gaps in the ‘record,’ we need to approach it the same way every time. This also goes for if/how much/what kind of family secrets we share, because let’s face it, once we publish anything, it’s the equivalent of running the dirty family underwear up the digital flagpole. We have to examine our own subjective viewpoints on people and events to see if we need either sensitivity training or ‘roid rage. There’s also the tedious bit where we have to do a basic survey of copyright, libel, and slander laws to make sure we don’t end up getting sued because we couldn’t resist sharing the story about the time Cousin Vinny ran 10 kilos of cocaine across the border in a riding lawn mower while singing Jimmy Buffett songs at the top of his lungs.

Maybe the goal isn’t to publish our story, but to create something we can give to the next generation of our family, or it’s a series of blog posts about something in our lives that was truly meaningful, or, it’s going through and organizing the boxes of old letters and photos to learn more about ourselves, who we are, and where we come from. Maybe, it’s just about spending some quality time with the people we love and learning things we never knew about them.

They say life is stranger than fiction, and I have to agree. Otherwise, where would Investigation Discovery get all the ideas for its shows? We all have something of value to share with the world, whether it’s our own story or our family’s story. Sharing narrative is the common thread that ties together all of humanity’s experiences into one beautiful, kaleidoscopic vision called life.

Life as a Story: How to Write a Memoir 

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $65.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

Date: Friday, January 26th, 2018. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

We all have a story to tell, something worth preserving or even sharing. This might be the tale of our own life, or the life of someone dear to us.  Maybe we long to capture oral histories of relatives before the living past disappears forever.

Regardless, the memoir is a genre that requires an approach, voice, and technique vastly different from fiction.

Topics we cover in this class include:

  • Developing the thematic frame of the memoir;
  • Creating a compelling narrative structure out of facts and timelines;
  • The art of the follow-up question: going beyond the generic questionnaires to dig deep and mine memories to get the extraordinary details and important information;
  • Developing and refining your memoirist voice;
  • Knowing when extra research is needed, what is needed, and how to find it;
  • Filling in the gaps when no information exists;
  • Understanding legal constraints (i.e. libel) and how to maneuver around them yet maintain story integrity;
  • Recreating dialogue and excerpting from original documents (letters, journals, etc.);
  • Positioning your memoir for multiple markets.

A recording is included with class purchase.

Business of the Writing Business: Ready to ROAR!

Instructor: Kristen Lamb

Price: $55.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Thursday, February 15, 2018, 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

Being a professional author entails much more than simply writing books. Many emerging authors believe all we need is a completed novel and an agent/readers will come.

There’s a lot more that goes into the writing business…but not nearly as much as some might want us to believe. There’s a fine balance between being educated about business and killing ourselves with so much we do everything but WRITE MORE BOOKS.

This class is to prepare you for the reality of Digital Age Publishing and help you build a foundation that can withstand major upheavals. Beyond the ‘final draft’ what then? What should we be doing while writing the novel?

We are in the Wilderness of Publishing and predators abound. Knowledge is power. We don’t get what we work for, we get what we negotiate. This is to prepare you for success, to help you understand a gamble from a grift a deal from a dud. We will discuss:

  • The Product
  • Agents/Editors
  • Types of Publishing
  • Platform and Brand
  • Marketing and Promotion
  • Making Money
  • Where Writers REALLY Need to Focus

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

Self-Publishing for Professionals: Amateur Hour is OVER

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $99.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Friday, February 16, 2018, 7:00-10:00 p.m. EST

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Are you going to go KDP Select or wide distribution with Smashwords as a distributor? Are you going to use the KDP/CreateSpace ISBN’s or purchase your own package? What BISAC codes have you chosen? What keywords are you going to use to get into your target categories? Who’s your competition, and how are you positioned against them?

Okay, hold on. Breathe. Slow down. I didn’t mean to induce a panic attack. I’m actually here to help.

Beyond just uploading a book to Amazon, there are a lot of tricks of the trade that can help us build our brand, keep our books on the algorithmic radar, and find the readers who will go the distance with us. If getting our books up on Amazon and CreateSpace is ‘Self-Publishing 101,’ then this class is the ‘Self-Publishing senior seminar’ that will help you turn your books into a business and your writing into a long-term career.

Topics include:

  • Competitive research (because publishing is about as friendly as the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones)
  • Distribution decisions (because there’s actually a choice!)
  • Copyright, ISBN’s, intellectual property, and what it actually all means for writers
  • Algorithm magic: keywords, BISAC codes, and meta descriptions made easy
  • Finding the reader (beyond trusting Amazon to deliver them)
  • Demystifying the USA Today and NYT bestselling author titles
  • How to run yourself like a business even when you hate business and can’t math (I can’t math either, so it’s cool)

Yes, this is going to be a 3-hour class because there is SO much to cover…but, like L’Oréal says, you’re worth it! Also, a recording of this class is also included with purchase.

The class includes a workbook that will guide you through everything we talk about from how to do competitive research to tracking ISBNs and distribution, and much, much more!

Time is MONEY, and your time is valuable so this will help you make every moment count…so you can go back to writing GREAT BOOKS.

DOUBLE-TROUBLE BUSINESS BUNDLE

BOTH classes for $129 (Save $55). This bundle is FIVE hours of professional training, plus the recordings, plus Cait’s workbook to guide you through everything from how to do competitive research to tracking ISBNs and distribution and more.

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction

Today, it’s me, Cait! Join me as we venture into a common craft mistake committed by virtually every emerging writer—something I like to call ‘dismemberment.’ Because nothing says love like body parts strewn about.

Sarcasm aside, dismemberment is a bad habit that can impact the flow of the story, collapse the fictive dream, and confuse or even insult the reader.

Dismemberment is literary filler that demonstrates we (as the writer) don’t trust the readers’ intellect, thus we are “brain holding” as Kristen likes to say.

Offering fair warning: I’m in a stabby mood today. Really stabby.

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction

Dismemberment is one of the most common craft mistakes, but it’s also one of the most insidious. It’s one of the most prevalent reasons readers lose interest in a story, or fail to get interested in the first place.

We (readers) get tired of stopping and trying to figure out what the hell is going on. We keep pausing because our brains keep pondering tangents unrelated to the actual story.

If Taylor’s eyes just flew across the room at a dinner party, how does he discreetly get them back if he can’t see? Was any partygoer hit by a flying eyeball? Oh hell! Is one of his eyeballs stuck in some debutante’s expensive up-do?

Aaand this is when the whole story goes off the rails *explosion noises* *screams of pain*

So, what is dismemberment?

Dismemberment is when body parts move around independent of the character.

When we (as editors) see a sentence like, “Seraphina’s violet orbs roved around the room,” our first instinct is to stab. Uh, I mean pick on the obvious issues like…’orbs’ and ‘violet.’

For readers, their first instinct is usually…HUH? What the hell just happened? Do her eyes get dust bunnies on them?

The core issue has nothing to do with Seraphina gazing around the room. Rather, it’s her eyeballs going for a stroll *cue image of eyeballs rolling across the floor like marbles*

Now that you can’t un-see that in your head, let’s dig a little deeper into what dismemberment looks like, why it’s a writing no-no, and how to avoid, fix, and occasionally even use it (properly).

Dismemberment Makes Things Awkward

Remember The Addams Family and Thing?

Dismemberment - Cait Reynolds

The show was brilliant, and took the idea of dismemberment and ran with it. The show turned a disembodied hand into a character with attitude, opinions, relationships, and interaction with the other characters. It was hilarious…because it was so weird.

The problem is that what’s funny weird for a television show becomes disjointedly bizarre in a novel. Once we start being able to identify dismemberment, we can’t help seeing it everywhere. We also can’t help seeing the unfortunate imagery of random body parts moving around.

Eyes, hands, and feet are the usual body parts featured in dismemberment, though I’ve definitely seen a fair share of shoulders, legs, arms, and heads.

“His head flew across the room…”

“Her shoulders slumped down…”

“His hand reached out to her…”

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction

Why do we fall into the trap of dismemberment? One possible answer is that we are struggling with how to describe the action in a scene. This is the fault of what I like to call the Inner Pushy Stage Director. Similar to the Inner Editor, the Inner Pushy Stage Director has a lot to say about gestures, blocking, and interpretive dance. #JazzHands

The Inner Pushy Stage Director doesn’t trust the reader to instinctively know the series of movements involved in the simple actions of picking something up or a character moving through rooms.

Her hand reached out to open the door.

Oh-kay.

To be blunt, we (readers) are not stupid and we “get” one would have to reach out a hand to open a door unless telekinetic powers are involved. If telekinetic powers NOT involved, then we as readers assume the character can simply open a door without explaining how this “opening a door” process happens. We’ll keep up just fine. Promise.

By believing we need to give the reader every single detail of an action, we use twenty words to explicate what maybe two or three words could do far better. Inexperienced writers often resort to giving agency to a body part as a way to vary the prose away from constantly using the ‘he’ or ‘she’ as the driver of action.

And, that’s how we end up with Seraphina’s violet orbs roving around the room…maybe stopping to get a canape… See? Creepy, right?

Happy Feet

Body parts do not have emotions. Period. Ever.

There is no situation in which the following sentence is correct: “His hands clenched into angry fists.”

No. Nope. Zipit!

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction

Another reason we fall into the trap of dismemberment is that we use it to portray a character’s emotion, whether it’s Seraphina’s POV or her noticing that Taylor is angry.

What has really happened is that we have flubbed the technique of drawing attention to a physical ‘tell’ for a character’s emotion.

Instead of:

His hands clenched into angry fists.

As opposed to clenching hands into joyous fists? #Weirdness

What we really mean to say is:

He clenched his hands into fists.

If we have the correct dialogue/action/inner thoughts leading up to that moment, we shouldn’t have to use the word ‘angry’ at all. We should also be able to avoid turning Taylor’s hands into their own POV characters. We also can just say that he clenched his hands since the word “fists” is implied.

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction
You do not want to end up like Cartman and Jennifer Lopez.

Why is Dismemberment So Bad?

Isn’t variety the spice of life? Aren’t we supposed to try and find new and creative ways of describing our characters and conveying actions? Couldn’t you say that it’s ‘artistic’?

No. No, and no. (See, totally stabby this morning.)

Dismemberment violates one of the fundamental rules of writing: Always maintain connection between reader and the story. Always.

You know what breaking the connection does? It creates…bookmark moments. Every instance of dismemberment lets the reader drift a little further away from the engrossing empathy that keeps them immersed and turning pages. It’s a subtle loss of connection that, given enough time, may even relegate our books in the DNF (Did Not Finish) pile.

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction

I will sacrifice everything for a book hangover because I *have* to find out what happens to Seraphina. Or Taylor. I identify with the choices and emotions of Seraphina and Taylor, but if those choices and emotions are assigned to body parts, I’m just not as invested in the outcome of the characters.

If there is too much, Seraphina’s head flew across the room when Taylor unexpectedly arrived to the party, then I’m more concerned why the partygoers aren’t trampling each other in terror to flee the room and the flying head.

Dismemberment takes the edge off of tension and blunts the poignancy of the ‘either-or’ that drives plotting and character arcs.

There’s one other reason that dismemberment is so very, very bad.

Welcome to Amateur Hour

Dismemberment is one of the clearest symptoms of amateur hour. Editors can spot a sloppy writer in any number of painful ways, but dismemberment in a FINISHED, EDITED, AND PUBLISHED BOOK is the equivalent of the author holding a neon sign over his/her head flashing ‘AMATEUR HOUR – 24/7.’ 

Even worse? The fact that whoever was paid to edit and proofread did not catch the dismemberment…just maybe see about a refund.

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction

In my opinion, amateur hour editors sin worse than amateur hour authors. There is more to being an editor than running a manuscript through Grammarly and finding typos, which is why writers need to use prudence and maybe referrals when choosing an editor (not just price).

If you think I’m being harsh, I’m a small fry compared to agents and NY editors. They’re inundated with more manuscripts than they could read in a lifetime, meaning they are actively looking for reasons to stop reading. The moment these folks see dismemberment? Their head doesn’t fly across the room, our novel does.

#SlushPile #NoTimeForN00bs

Putting Humpty Dumpty Back Together

So, now, we have to pick up all the scattered body parts and emotions, and order the 40-pack of super glue from Amazon.

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction

The first part of recovery is to train ourselves to recognize dismemberment so we can get out of using it improperly. While it might take some time to break the dismemberment habit, this is one case where we do need to stop and listen to our Inner Editor as we draft.

Instead of noting the dismemberment and promising to deal with it in revisions, we should take the time to correct it then and there. It’s simple to fix. Just delete a few words and reassign the emotions to the character instead of the body part.

Do this over the course of 50,000 words, and you’d be surprised how quickly a new and better habit forms…

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction
When you start to hear Cait’s voice as your Inner Editor…

Of course, no one is perfect (except for me, duh). That is why there is the editing phase of writing, when we catch those sneaky little instances of dismemberment that slipped a body part in our path without us noticing.

In terms of actually fixing dismemberment, think of a movie. Really think and try to recall how often the director has the camera zoom in on a JUST a body part (okay ASIDE from porn).

Funny how it’s a little tougher than you thought to come up with examples. Why is that?

Well…wait for it…because the moviegoer identifies with the character, not the body part.

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction

There’s one other thing to watch out for when we are correcting a scene with dismemberment, and that is the dreaded ‘SHOW DON’T TELL’ problem. In this case, it manifests in the far-too-frequent and indiscriminate use of the word felt.

Seraphina felt her ears heat up from embarrassment.

There’s no dismemberment in this sentence, but it’s kinda blah. I mean, the whole point of the sentence is to inform the reader that her ears are getting hot. Meh.

Like I said earlier, if we are guiding the scene the right way, we won’t need to point out that she’s getting embarrassed. The reader will already be getting the sense that Seraphina’s experiencing humiliation/shame/whatever.

We could make the sentence more interesting and ENGAGING with just a couple tweaks.

Seraphina fought to keep her expression neutral, even if her burning ears were bright pink giveaways.

In this example, I changed up the passive ‘felt’ for a more active purpose to the sentence. We still understand that she’s feeling embarrassed, but now, she doing something other than just passively experiencing a sensation. Also, I’ve given the other characters in the scene something to notice and/or react to with Seraphina’s obvious struggle to keep a straight face.

Dismemberment - Cait Reynolds

When correcting dismemberment, just remember: put the emotion back in the character’s head, and have him/her/it DO something to express it.

Disciplined Dismemberment

Like every rule, there *are* exceptions to the ban on dismemberment.

Once we are on auto-pilot in terms of avoiding dismemberment, we can finally use it as the tool it was really meant to be. (Hey, you can’t go through medical school without gross anatomy – dissecting body parts has its place!)

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction

We can use body parts when we are trying to heighten tension.

For example, let’s say Seraphina and Taylor have been gagged and tied up, but there’s a knife nearby to cut their bonds. Just riffing here:

Seraphina held her breath as Taylor tried for the knife. His fingers flexed and stretched as long as possible, desperate for the blade. Tendons popped out on his hands, hands that reached farther and farther until they shook from strain, only to finally slacken in defeat.

In this moment, Taylor’s ability to reach the knife is critical. By zooming in on his hands and their actions, my goal is to build tension and create a vivid, visceral visual. It’s worth nothing that in this situation, Taylor’s hands are the only part of him that can have any action.

If he wasn’t tied up or his arms were free, then I’d describe the moment differently and put Taylor himself back in the driver’s seat.

Dismemberment, Cait Reynolds, craft, writing tips, stage direction in writing, how to write fiction

Another way of using body parts is by having the POV character notice a particular action or emotion on the part of someone else in the scene.

Taylor did a double-take when Seraphina’s eyes widened a mere a fraction. He wasn’t sure if she was surprised or angry, but it was enough to put him on his guard.

The reason this example works is because I’m showing, not telling, and the dismemberment provides something for the POV character to react to – in this case, a confusing signal from Seraphina. When used in this way, dismemberment can be an excellent tool for revealing or concealing clues, creating misunderstandings, and varying communication between characters between verbal and non-verbal forms.

THESE EXAMPLES DO NOT GIVE US PERMISSION TO GO BACK TO HACKING UP BODY PARTS AND HAVING THEM RUN AROUND DOING THINGS ON THEIR OWN!

Just like truffle oil…a little goes a very long way.

Class with Cait this Friday!

I’m offering a really cool class tomorrow night! It’s my blurb-writing class. In it, I will show you all my secret tips and tricks (even beyond what I wrote in this blog post) to painlessly writing those crucial 150 words that will SELL YOUR BOOK!

What’s extra cool about this class is that I will take TWO blurbs from attendees and rework them LIVE AND ON-THE-FLY IN CLASS to demonstrate just how simple and effective my techniques are.

Yeah, I know. Super cool.

Anyway, here are the details–hope to see you tomorrow night!

BLURB BOSS: WRITING BLURBS THAT SELL BOOKS

Blurb - Cait ReynoldsInstructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $45.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Friday, November 10, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

If the cover is an invitation to the party in your book, then the blurb (the back cover description, the summary, your entire book in 3 short paragrahs) is the RSVP card readers check off as attending-with-the-chicken-option when they buy your book.

The trouble is that for so many books, while the cover is invites you to a rave, the blurb reveals it’s really polka night at the VFW.

So, if the blurb is so important, why is it so hard to write? Raise your hand if you hate writing blurbs. Raise your other hand if you agonize over writing a blurb, and it still feels like it’s awful when it’s done.

The heart’s cry goes up from every single writer ever: “THIS IS HARDER TO WRITE THAN THE 90,000 WORDS OF MY BOOK!”

And yet, it shouldn’t be. Approached from a different angle, a blurb should be one of the easiest and most fun things to write. Yes. I went there. I said it. Hopefully, after taking this class, you will be saying it, too. No more blubbering over blurbs. Ever.

This class will cover:

  • Understanding the purpose of a blurb in attracting readers;
  • The top secret formula to structuring a blurb;
  • How to plug-and-play every blurb, every time;
  • Why everything you think is important in your story really isn’t (in terms of the blurb);
  • The secret to keywords, blurbs, and algorithms.

As a bonus, bring a copy of your blurb to the class for group workshopping! I will pick two and edit them LIVE IN CLASS to show you just how easy it is!

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

Register today!

For subscribers, click to my site to view gallery of upcoming classes (gallery doesn’t show up for you). But here are the two biggies coming up from ME (Kristen LAMB)…

BRAND BOSS! When Your NAME ALONE Can SELL! November 14th, 7-9 EST and comes with FREE RECORDING. $45 for General Admission, GOLD Option Available!

PLOT BOSS! Writing Novels Readers WANT TO BUY! November 16th, 7-9 EST and comes with FREE RECORDING. $40 for General Admission, GOLD Option Available!

Blurb - Cait Reynolds
BLURB BOSS: Writing Blurbs that SELL BOOKS. $45.00 USD. Friday, November 10, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
BRAND BOSS! When Your Name Alone Can Sell. $45 USD. Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017, 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
PLOT BOSS: Writing novels readers want to buy! $40 USD. Thurs., Nov. 16, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Bad Boys. $45.00 USD. Friday, November 17, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!

Stories That Make Us Stabby: Mary Sue & Why Readers Hate Her - Cait Reynolds

It’s me, Cait Reynolds, and I’m going to be brutal here. You’ve been warned. But, honestly, I get a little stabby when I encounter a Mary Sue in a book. Mary Sues are death to fiction, yet they’re more common than head lice in Kindergarten (and about as desirable). For the sake of time today, we will focus on the most common Mary Sue peeve…the Mary Sue Shopping Spree.

What is a Mary Sue Shopping Spree?

It’s wish fulfillment at its worst.

First of all, for anyone who is unfamiliar with the term “Mary Sue,” the best definition is here at Urban Dictionary. But, for our shorthand use, a Mary Sue is an impossibly perfect character.

She’s beautiful (flaming red hair and emerald eyes, for example) and smart (better grades than Hermione Granger but never seems to be in the library). A Mary Sue falls in love with the hero/hero falls in love with her early, often and easily.

What IS a “Mary Sue”?

Stories That Make Us Stabby: Mary Sue & Why Readers Hate Her - Cait Reynolds

There are all kinds of Mary Sue’s–no genre is safe. Here’s just a sample:

  • Victim Sue! with an impossible streak of bad luck/tragedy/knack for getting kidnapped and/or stalked.
  • Warrior Sue! who has a mouth like a sailor, throws a mean punch, fights like Lara Croft and Bruce Lee’s love child (and probably has a lineage about as weird), and still looks amazing in a ball gown (but doesn’t want to be taken for a sissy girl!).
  • Magic Sue! with similarities to Warrior Sue in that she has unheard of powers that usually get her into trouble (see Victim Sue) until she learns to control them, and then with a wave of her (slender, delicate) hand, saves the day without chipping a nail.
  • Misfit Sue who is the proverbial ugly duckling, except all she needs really is some good conditioner, a fairy godmother, and a gift certificate to Forever21 in order to turn into the hottie that suddenly attracts all the guys.

There are so many issues with Mary Sues, but the single largest Mary Sue staple is—GROANS—the shopping spree.

Stories That Make Us Stabby: Mary Sue & Why Readers Hate Her - Cait Reynolds

This is the point in a story where everything grinds to a halt so the heroine can get ready for the ball/date/wedding/party/sacred mage ceremony, etc.

You know the kind of scene I’m talking about…but in case you don’t, let’s look at an example.

Mary Sue Goes to the Ball

Stories That Make Us Stabby: Mary Sue & Why Readers Hate Her - Cait Reynolds

Let’s use my favorite Mary Sue stand-in Seraphina to illustrate. Seraphina has had a hard life as a disinherited princess living in hiding in a faux medieval village and secretly training to use her immense magical powers to take back the throne and rid the land of evil.

She finds a way to infiltrate the castle by sneaking into a fancy ball that the king is giving. But, in order to blend in with the crowd, she will need…a ballgown.

What comes next is any combination of the following descriptions:

  • Shopping or gathering all the necessary clothing
  • Hairstyles
  • Dresses
  • Jewelry, and other accessories
  • Makeup (!)

But…it’s not just descriptions. We, the readers, are subjected to descriptions in excruciating detail.

Stories That Make Us Stabby: Mary Sue & Why Readers Hate Her - Cait Reynolds

Also, every character involved in the scene is kind, excited, happy to help with the preparations, and relentlessly cheery. Apparently, there can be no conflict in the dressing room (unless it’s Seraphina objecting to the ‘girly pink’ or ‘frilly’ dress, thereby making a statement of profound strength of character and independence).

We read about sweetheart necklines, bias cuts, skirts that gently flare out, lace gloves, sleeves that come to just above the wrist, silver embroidery patterns of magical runes (or flowers, whatever).

Gritting our teeth, we skim over the part about hair that is piled high with loose curls falling softly around her face, or braids intricately woven with pearls and jeweled flower pins with just a few errant and untamable curls falling softly around her face.

The author beats us over the head with the fact that she only wears a little bit of eyeshadow and lip gloss (WTH? Do they even have lip gloss in faux medieval realms?) because she doesn’t really need any makeup to enhance her natural beauty.

That strangling noise?

It’s us. The readers. Being garroted….

With the heroine’s delicate chain complete with cheesy symbolic pendant (dragon, rose, snake, rune, whatever) because that’s not a dead giveaway to the bad guy(s).

Hey, doesn’t that girl with the opal-eyed dragon pendant that looks like the one that belonged to Queen Margitte look a lot like dead Queen Margitte?.

Also, a general rule of style is to match the formality of jewelry to the formality of the outfit. One doesn’t wear parure with buckskin breeches, and conversely, charm necklaces are not to be worn with ballgowns. (Yes, I just channeled my inner Tim Gunn.)

Stories That Make Us Stabby: Mary Sue & Why Readers Hate Her - Cait Reynolds

Let’s not forget how Seraphina chooses sensible low-heeled slippers as opposed to the…um…lucite platform heels offered by the empty-headed ninnies who only care about boys and clothes.

Because taking time out from pace, tension, plot, and relevance to talk about dressing a character totally doesn’t paint the author as having the emotional range of a fifteen-year-old. 

All joking aside, let’s look a little closer at WHY the Mary Sue Shopping Spree is so problematic.

Go Ahead. Sue Me!

Stories That Make Us Stabby: Mary Sue & Why Readers Hate Her - Cait Reynolds

It’s not really Seraphina’s fault that the author wants to play out a Cinderella fantasy. Unfortunately, this violates one of KLamb’s most basic rules: NEVER MAKE IT EASY FOR THE CHARACTERS!

Nobody wants to read about everybody being happy, getting along, and things going their way. Can you say, “Snooze-Fest?”

Can you imagine Harry Potter if he’d grown up with his parents alive, been BFFs with Draco Malfoy, and figured out how to vanquish Voldemort without leaving the comfort of Hogwarts?

No, you can’t because no reader would have made it past page TEN. Harry Potter would have been another forgettable character in yet another bad book.

But he isn’t. Why? Harry Potter is legendary because of CONFLICT and seemingly insurmountable odds. Not everything slipping in place as if his life is coated in Teflon.

The same goes for the Cinderella moment. Let’s look at why.

Slumber Party or Plot Point? 

Stories That Make Us Stabby: Mary Sue & Why Readers Hate Her - Cait Reynolds

Getting-ready-for-the-party scenes must obey the rules of fiction just like all the other scenes. Where is the conflict that drives the story? What is the relevance of the getting-ready-for-the-ball scene? Is there any character growth? Are there any obstacles?

If the answer is no, then we need to think twice about putting in a scene like this.

Hemming and Hawing 

Stories That Make Us Stabby: Mary Sue & Why Readers Hate Her - Cait Reynolds

Set aside the sins of over-descriptiveness for a moment. Instead, look at the science of how we read and process the written word. In general, we read at about 200-400 words per minute (cool, non? Read this for more!).

That means that careful description is critical to the FLOW of a reader’s understanding and visualization. If we STALL the flow by making a reader stop and try to visualize EXACTLY what a character is wearing (I’m looking at you, hem lengths and embroidered bodices!), we risk losing the reader’s immersion in our world.

Anachronism Alert!

The Mary Sue Shopping Spree also showcases when an author hasn’t bothered to do his or her homework with either historical research or fantasy world-building (LIP GLOSS???). With historical, this is easily solved with just a modicum of research–and luckily for you, I’m obsessed with historical fashion.

Check me out on Pinterest for a decade-by-decade breakdown of fashion across the centuries (and a WHOLE lot more!).

With fantasy, there’s still no excuse for not considering things like climate, culture, how easy it is to get your hands on expensive clothing, etc. Thinking it through isn’t hard. We just have to do it.

Get Seraphina a Personal Shopper and Move on

All of this isn’t to say that we can’t have a makeover scene now and then. There’s just a better way to do it. Here’s how.

Relevance

Makeover scenes must be relevant to the plot and/or character. For example in my book Downcast, I use a literal shopping spree to reveal Stephanie’s growth as a character, in beginning to make her own choices and tap into her own confidence.

More than that, though, Stephanie’s shopping spree sets up a MAJOR conflict.

In fact, it’s one of the biggest pivot points in the whole plot. Could I have used another ploy to get me there? Sure. But, a teenage girl going to the mall for her 18th birthday is both plausible and appropriate for the context (and the YA genre).

If we’re going to use the shopping spree–be it contemporary, ye olde, or beware hippogriffs! style–always ask three things:

  • Is it relevant? Does it move the plot forward?
  • Will it offer any new clues/information or set the characters up for conflict?
  • Does it reveal and/or conceal anything important about the characters (from each other, the reader, etc.)?

If we can answer yes to all three, then we move to the next step, which is…

Bippity-Boppity BORING!

Stories That Make Us Stabby: Mary Sue & Why Readers Hate Her - Cait Reynolds

Fairy godmothers way overrated. Why not have the wicked step-sister be the one to have to help get Cinderella ready for the ball? Will the Wal-Mart generic brand wand be up to the challenge of whipping up a ballgown?

Is there a crack in one of the glass slippers? Does the color blue make her look jaundiced? Is anyone willing to tell her that?

What if she really, really wants to wear blue, but the only color the Wal-Mart wand can produce is pink? She has to wear the pink dress. If you transform a pumpkin into a carriage, does it smell like pumpkin on the inside? Is that a good thing? Are the mice unionized?

You get the idea.

The point is the getting-ready-for-the-ball scene should be FULL of delicious difficulties and confectionary conflict. Remember KLamb’s rule: MAKE IT WORSE UNTIL YOU MAKE IT WEIRD. NOTHING COMES EASILY…EVER!

If everyone is happy and excited to help Seraphina get ready for the ball…meh.

What’s the point?

What makes me (reader) want to turn the page? But, if Lady Jordan slips itching powder down Seraphina’s chemise, or the fairy godmother makes an unthinking remark about how to fix the way Seraphina looks a bit puffy…well, NOW we have something to work with!

Give Up Control

Stories That Make Us Stabby: Mary Sue & Why Readers Hate Her - Cait Reynolds

The reader will never, ever, ever be able to picture a gown exactly the way we see it in our mind’s eye. Ever. You can tell me all you want about length and fabric and cut and jewelry. However, it’ll either be too much detail, and I’ll lose track of all of the bits I’m supposed to remember, OR, I will just skim and skip until the plot resumes.

Seriously, we need to give up the idea that our descriptions will ever create an exact picture for the reader. Descriptions are meant to be evocative. They also…yeah, you know what I’m going to say here…wait for it…have to be RELEVANT.

And, yes, here’s another handy checklist to work through to determine if a description is relevant:

  • Is there something unique, interesting, or important about the dress, jewelry, etc.?
  • What is truly different about these clothes for the character and her life experience?
  • Are there smells, textures, or sounds (like bracelets clinking) that are unusually pleasurable or uncomfortable?

For example, for a fantasy genre scene, I might describe Seraphina’s reaction to her ball gown like this:

Her first instinct was to decline the gown. The fine silk and rare lapis-dyed color screamed the kind of wealth she had barely ever encountered, let alone would feel comfortable impersonating. She didn’t dare touch it, afraid that the calluses on her fingers would catch and snag the delicate fabric.

Still, she drew closer, fascinated by the  pattern of dragons in mid-flight picked out in silver thread around the hem. When Lady Jordan gave the skirts an expert–if impatient–flick to smooth the creases, the embroidered dragons looked as if they were truly in flight.

A brisk ‘tsk’ from Lady Jordan jolted Seraphina from the daze of admiration, and she shrank from the disapproving moue on the older woman’s lips.

I would probably also make the dragons mean something or be symbolic in some way, though I might not have Lady Jordan inform Seraphina of that because…well, she doesn’t really like the girl or want to help her, and if she must dress a sow’s ear in a silk purse, then at least she will get some entertainment out of it later when the girl stumbles over the etiquette of the significance of the embroidery.

Because being mean to my characters is what makes it fun for my readers.

And, it has nothing to do with being a sociopath. AT ALL.

Next up…Getting Stabby About the Taylors and Shifters

If you’ve read any of my blog posts here, you know that Taylor is Seraphina’s male counterpart. And, Taylor can often be found in romance novels–especially shifter romances. If you think I’m prickly (and hilarious–admit it, you giggled at this post!) about Mary Sue shopping sprees, just watch me rip into shifters…and how to make them better.

You can even watch me do it LIVE this Friday!

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $45.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

Date: Friday, November 3, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

Shifter romance is one of the hottest genres in publishing right now. It’s easy, right? You just take a hot guy and have him morph into a wolf…or bear…or…panther…or…

Well, you and the thousands of other shifter romance writers. So, how are readers going to tell your lusty wolf boys apart from another author’s lusty wolf boys? Sure, you can invent clan/pack rules and give your shifters certain features or restrictions.

But, if you want to create unforgettable shifters that will have readers coming back for more, you need to shift your world-building into high gear. (See what I did there with the play on words with ‘shift’? Ha! I’m so funny.)

This class will help you create richer shifter ‘cultures’ by showing you how to:

  • Construct the history of your shifters, and by history, I mean real history
  • Use science (even if you’re not a science person) to add delicious bits of plausibility to your shifters
  • Catch world-building details that create giant gaps in logic that can distract the reader from your story
  • Develop stronger characters by giving them a richer, fuller historical, scientific, and world-building context
  • Drive action and plot twists in unexpected ways using expanded shifter world-building
  • Amp up the romantic and sexual tension using the history and science of your shifters

We are now offering ADVANCED LEVELS for this class. Extra help from an EXPERT.

In a world of a gazillion forgettable shifters, let Cait help you take your shifter to a WHOLE NEW LEVEL.

Shifter GOLD

You get the class (recording included in price) with Cait plus one hour of personalized one-on-one consulting regarding YOUR story. 

Shifter PLATINUM

You get the class (recording included in price) with Cait plus two hours of personalized one-on-one consulting regarding YOUR story and bonus worksheets. These worksheets will efficiently guide you through in-depth world-building and research, providing you with consistency for your writing and an excellent reference/style sheet for your editor and proofreader.

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER!

Other upcoming WANA classes!

Blurb - Cait Reynolds
BLURB BOSS: Writing Blurbs that SELL BOOKS. $45.00 USD. Friday, November 10, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
BRAND BOSS! When Your Name Alone Can Sell. $45 USD. Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017, 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
PLOT BOSS: Writing novels readers want to buy! $40 USD. Thurs., Nov. 16, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Bad Boys. $45.00 USD. Friday, November 17, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!

When Amazon’s publishing program, Kindle Direct Publishing launched, many authors had high hopes. KDP promised writers a seemingly fair shot at visibility, competitiveness and better compensation. KDP and it’s Kindle Unlimited (KU) program—in theory—presented what appeared to be a more “meritocratic” chance at fame and fortune. Paid per page read. Good books would make more money!

Btw, it’s me. Cait Reynolds. Taking over, yet again. I’m here to continue Kristen’s dismantling of the most common grifts impacting writers. She asked me to talk about a subject that, sadly, I know all too well. The Kindle Direct Publishing—KU Grift.

This is an updated and CORRECTED post…I forgot I was writing and using my own mental shortcut of just calling everything KDP. I’m only human…well…mostly human. Part hamster. 

*has flashback* *everything spinning*

Where was I? Oh, yes..

As I said, at first KU looked like a sweet deal. Meritocracy! FINALLY!

Yay US!

Initially, it sounded like a great idea and KDP did have some notable accomplishments, like shaking up legacy publishing and allowing fresh and diverse voices a chance to be heard.

Many writers were super excited. So much to celebrate! We were so tired of being used by those “other publishers” who didn’t SUPPORT OUR DREAM. We were thrilled KDP and KU was different.

Success was OURS! If we just worked hard enough, put out enough content, and promoted until we dropped dead from karoshi (Japanese for ‘death by overwork’)….

*screeching noise*

Wait, what?

Does all this sound familiar?

If you haven’t noticed, KLamb and I are tackling the multitude of ways writers are being exploited, used, abused, and often shamed for wanting to be paid in actual money.

Which brings us to KU, or as I like to call it…

The KU Hamster Wheel of Death

Kindle Unlimited? Yeah, We Tumbled. I Know…Things…

My name is Cait Reynolds, and I’m a KU Survivor.

KU and me? We go back a ways. I was once young and foolish with more dreams than sense. KU reduced me to the animal state. More hamster than writer.

Oh, but the price I paid for wisdom.

I was one of the lucky ones. I escaped, bloodied and battered, but thankful to be alive with all four paws. Others were not so fortunate. May Squeaky rest in peace… *moment of silence*

We all start out the same. We want action, adventure…RICHES. Alas. Truth in war and KU is much the same. More gory than glory.

Vintage photo of Cait Reynolds during her tenure with various defunct publishers…

I’m the tough, battle-scarred old hamster sitting in my corner of the darkened rodent cage far from where the young ones socialize at the Nutri-Log. They’re still fit enough to enjoy the habitrail.

I sit alone in my corner, a bottle of gut-rot clipped nearby. With my good eye, I watch all the brash young hamsters eager to see some real action at last. A thoughtful youngster notices me and, on a dare from the others, approaches slowly.

I’ve been known to bite, so his caution shows he has at least some smarts.

The kid’s fearless and bold. He tells me he’s got a book and just signed up for his first tour of duty with KU. Amazon has given him orders to deploy. He’s off to Kindle Unlimited where The Wheel awaits.

“Is it glorious like in the stories?” he asks, voice quaking with forced cheer.

“Son,” I say, sipping my bathtub gin from the spout. “Walk away.”

“I can’t,” he says, stammering. “All my friends. They say it’s the best way to go BIG! One member of our group made ten thousand dollars in a week using KU!”

“Really? Who? Name.” My whiskers twitch.

“Um…um….” He backs up.

“NAME!” I shout, slamming my paw hard into the cage making it rattle.

Everyone is silent. All eyes are on us.

The kid shuffles his paws through the urine-soaked sawdust. “I uh, well it was actually a guy from a group who had a friend of a friend who knew this writer…”

“The Wheel will kill you. The Wheel is pain and death.” Lowering my voice, I say, “You wanna live? Walk away.”

I raise my voice for the others. “Do not tangle with THE WHEEL. The KU WHEEL cannot be reasoned with. It cannot be bargained with. And it will not stop ever…until you are dead.”

Come with me if you want to live…

Kindle Unlimited—To Beat the KU Wheel, KNOW The Wheel!

KDP, KDP Publishing, Pay the Writer, Cait Reynolds
Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Daniel Davis

I told my metaphoric hamster story to (hopefully) make an impression. This is a matter of life and death. Writers are fighting for survival while the rich play games at our expense.

Amazon promises authors—via KDP—that we can be that successful author who quits the day job in a haze of confetti, middle fingers, and glory.

Exposing the KU WHEEL…

Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing promises if we (writers) just work hard enough, we can become that mythical creature known as The Kindle Millionaire.

Oooooohhhhh…. Ahhhhhh…..

If we can suffer through the grind and suck, it will pay off and our biggest worry will be how to choose between offers from HBO or Showtime. Coin toss maybe?

If we just work hard enough, we will find a way to:

Single-handedly manage the workflow for a producing a book from start-to-finish every two-to-four weeks while…

Keeping up with daily meaningful interaction with ALL our followers on InstaFaceTwitChat while…

Driving massive traffic to our Rafflecopter giveaways while…

Hosting fun, unforgettable Facebook events, setting up blog tours, adding to our list of newsletter subscribers while…

Also doing all the freelance work of cover design/editing/proofreading/marketing support that we pick up in order to make ends meet while….

Working a day job and maybe bathing.

Okay, forget bathing *sprays on Axe for Women*.

We do ALL OF THIS…until our Kindle Millionaire status kicks in!

KU Dream? It Was Never Gonna Happen

The point is that the KU model drives authors to get continually faster and louder just to hold onto their place in the rankings, let alone go up.

Faster and louder also means continually having to spend more money up front on marketing and book production.

There’s no delayed reaction windfall coming from KU.

There never will be.

There simply cannot be because we will never be able to catch up or even truly get ahead. Even when it looks like we have finally got the hang of a successful book production and release strategy, Amazon changes the rules and algorithms on us.

Why? Because they can.

Because they have to. Because they’re not in the business of making anybody other than Amazon shareholders truly rich.

Remember that.

In order to generate income in this model, we have to create volume of pages to be read and market the crap out of those pages. We are also competing against all the other authors who are doing the same thing. Therefore, we must create more volume and do more marketing.

And NOW you understand the KDP Hamster Wheel of Death.

No it isn’t fair. Fair is a weather condition.

And, like Kristen says, “Amazon is gonna Amazon.”

Show Us the Money Kindle Unlimited! Oh, You Can’t!

Why are we writers in such a hurry to churn out the pages? WHY are we in that much of a rush to earn that whopping $0.00419 per page read (August 2017 KDP Global Fund Payout)?

Let’s take a moment to examine the KU payout structure more closely.

The KDP Global Fund is the pool of money from Kindle Unlimited subscribers. It’s what funds the royalty payouts to authors. The KDP Global Fund has grown steadily since its inception.

Payouts from the fund, however, have stalled, stagnated, and even declined.

KDP Payout Rates
Image from Written Word Media (writtenwordmedia.com), 4/13/17. It’s an excellent article with insight into the inner workings of KDP.

Case in Point

If a reader outright buys a 100-page ebook at $2.99, the author makes $2.09 in royalties. If a reader borrows the book via Kindle Unlimited and only reads 30 pages, the author makes $0.12. The payout is capped at $0.75 via Kindle Unlimited.

The reader is also under no time constraints to read the book. They could read those 30 pages the same day, or six months from now.

Or never.

The author has no control over when and how many pages are read. That’s like trying to run a business without knowing when your customers are going to pay you, how much they will pay you…or if they EVER WILL pay you.

On what planet is this a successful business model?

Let’s open a bakery where a customer takes her choice of our cakes and only pays us if and when she eats the cake, and pays per bite. But if the consumer never eats the cake or decides to return the cake for another cake after taking two bites…then too bad.

WTH?

Oh, so this business model dumb for a baker but AWESOME for writers? No. It isn’t.

The KU Grift

KDP, Cait Reynolds, Amazon, Kindle Direct Publishing

Amazon is pulling a grift with Kindle Unlimited and counting on the naivete of most readers and writers. Remember Kristen’s earlier post? The best hustles are completely legal.

Most people want to believe in a world where business is conducted in good faith, because to think differently is terrifying. We must have a certain amount of faith and trust or everything crumbles.

Amazon offers the Kindle Unlimited service to avid readers who–in good faith–assume Amazon is working for the benefit of the authors participating in the program.

Those enjoying the benefits of KU assume writers are being compensated and treated justly (much like most readers of HuffPo blogs have no idea most writers are unpaid workers).

Writers, simultaneously, are relying on urban legends and empty promises while killing themselves for fractions of pennies….and it looks a lot like this.

Are We a Human or a Hamster? A Writer or a Rat?

Kristen has talked a lot about blogging and exposure. MEGAs can be predator or benefactor depending on how well we are educated (because MEGAs can spot a sucker and always need more to power the grift).

Same applies to Amazon. Amazon is not our friend…but also not necessarily our enemy. KDP and KU can be useful. It has a purpose and can offer benefits which we will talk about another time. But, like all MEGAs, Amazon must be handled with CARE.

Approach is everything and education and strategy is key. Be willing to walk away and trust in something better.

***

Thank you, Cait! I actually asked her to do this post since the young hamster in the story…was me. And she stabbed me. But we made up and became besties 😀 .

What are your thoughts? Have you been caught on the KU wheel? Survived? Lived to tell the tale?

I have some new classes below to help you out and show you HOW to play to WIN, so make sure to sign up.

I LOVE HEARING FROM YOU! And I am NOT above BRIBERY!

What do you WIN? For the month of OCTOBER, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

DON’T MISS KRISTEN’S NEXT CLASS!

HARNESSING OUR WRITING POWER–THE BLOG!

Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: $50.00 USD Standard
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: THURSDAY OCTOBER 26th, 7:00 PM E.S.T. to 9:00 P.M. EST

Whenever I mention the word “blog” writers go pale and likely envision some mindless alien life form that rolls over crowds of screaming people, then melts and absorbs them.

For clarification that is the BLOB and NOT the Blog. Though the way blogging is so frequently taught? Totally understand the confusion.

Blogging is THE most powerful form of social media, and ALSO the most misused and misunderstood (hence why writers avoid it and throw holy water on it).

Twitter could flitter and Facebook could fold but the blog will remain so long as we have an Internet. The blog has been going strong since the 90s and it’s one of the best ways to establish a brand and then harness the power of that brand to drive book sales.

The best part is, done properly, a blog plays to a writer’s strengths. Writers write.

Oh it is also the easiest of all forms of social media to monetize and the more love you give it, the more it will give back.

This class is going to cover:

  • How author blogs work. What’s the difference in a regular blog and an author blog?
  • What do we blog about? What is going to draw readers and get them excited?
  • How do we understand the magical sorcery of Google and harness it to work our WILL? *evil laugh*
  • How can we monetize a blog? Oh no! Asking for money! Scary stuff indeed.
  • How can you cultivate a fan base of people who are uniquely YOUR fans?
  • How does a blog sell books? Because they do…seriously.

Blogging is only hard if we make it that way. This class will help you simplify your blog and make it one of the most enjoyable aspects of your writing career.

NOW OFFERING BLOGGING GOLD!

Includes the class (recording included free in purchase price) PLUS one hour with me one-on-one discussing your brand and your blog. How can you connect to and cultivate YOUR readers?

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Hey Guys, Cait Reynolds, my co-author/partner in crime/therapist/evil half is here to talk about the birds and the bees and maybe bees tying up other bees. The “How To” of writing superior sex scenes is vital, just uncomfortable for me. Sorry. I blame my upbringing.

I’m a Texan with a Lutheran mom and Baptist father. I grew up in the buckle of the Bible Belt, and have had far too much vacation bible camp to be much help. In fact, legally, I cannot write a sex scene until every member of my family dies…and likely not even then.

If you need help with plotting a fight scene or murder? I’m your gal.

All this said, roughly 80% of publishing is powered by the romance genre. This is a FACT.

I read a LOT of romance, myself. Sadly, however, there are “romances” so over-processed and crammed with filler they need a foil tray instead of a book cover.

TV Dinner sex scenes.

Tired, overdone, dry, uncreative and no one looks forward to consuming this stuff (unless starving and desperate).

Now, the great romances? Those suckers should come with warning labels. Those stories set us ON FIRE and do not relent until we are ash.

Though I know these books when I see them, not my skill set to teach, so Cait, A.K.A. Bad Teacher taking over….

When to Have Sex? (Besides the, uh, obvious)

I need to clarify here that when I use the word ‘sex,’ it’s a kind of shorthand for a wide range of heat and scenes, from the breathless near-kiss to the no-holds-barred prolonged BDSM menage a trois.

With bees *giggles*….

Kristen, go away or I will stab you. Where was I?

Basically, when I use ‘sex,’ it means that physical arousal has become part of the scene and may influence emotions, insights, and decisions (good and bad but always “complicated”).

Whether we write it sweet or scaldingly hot, there always has to be a reason behind sex for our characters. Sex scenes are not exempt from the rules of plotting. Let me say that again.

SUPERIOR SEX SCENES SUBMIT TO THE RULES OF PLOTTING

And yes, I am all CAPS LOCK on you on the super important stuff and no talking back *adjusts leather yoga pants*.

As I was saying..

This is not to say that a character’s decision to give in to temptation has to be rational (in fact, it’s often better for the plot if it isn’t). However, sex must always fit coherently within the logical structure of the story.

We can’t just throw in a sex scene because it has been a chapter-and-a-half since our characters got it on.

Another cardinal sin is timing a sex scene when the emotions of the characters don’t match up to where they happen to be in their arc.

Let’s use Seraphina and Taylor (my favorite stand-in’s). If Seraphina is having trouble accepting that what Taylor did was for her own good, she is going to struggle emotionally and intellectually with the pull of intimacy with him. Too often, we flip a switch on Seraphina and have her go from manic to melting in the space of one kiss.

While she can certainly give in to the physical sensations, emotionally, she’s not going to be in the same place as her physiological responses. She’s going to be conflicted going into the moment, and who knows where she’ll be by the end of it?

THIS IS A GOOD THING.

Conflict is the living, beating heart of any story, and to excuse sex scenes from this rule is to water down both the meaningfulness and the sizzle of sex.

Suspension of disbelief is a fragile thing, and we run the risk of smashing it to pieces when we interrupt the logical flow of a story–something the reader is attuned to, even if they don’t know it.

In short, when it comes to a sex scene, we can’t just stick it in any ol’ place any ol’ time we feel like it (Sorry not sorry–I had to go there). When the moment is right (um, I have been reading too much of Kristen’s Cialis blog post), a good sex scene is just what the characters and the plot need.

How to Have Sex (Besides the, uh, obvious)…

Let’s say we’re reading a mystery. We pick it up with the expectation of suspense, the pleasant anticipation of trying to figure out the whodunnit for ourselves before the detective, and a thrilling game of literary cat and mouse.

The author announces in chapter three that it was the butler in the library with the candelabra, and the rest of the book is spent finding more clues that confirm…yup, it was the butler in the library with the candelabra.

I don’t know about you, but I would be throwing that book across the room…unless I got off on reading the same conclusion over and over again. (Surprise! It was the butler in the library with the candelabra! *facepalm*)

So, why do we yet again exempt sex scenes from this basic rule of fiction?

SUPERIOR SEX SCENES ADHERE TO THE RULES OF PACING

If Seraphina and Taylor jump into the sack in chapter three (with or without the butler & candelabra optional), then what is left for them? Misunderstandings and emotional conflict?

Sure.

But…the snap, crackle, and pop when we break through the Latent Unresolved Sexual Tension (L.U.S.T.) is utterly and irrevocably gone.

There’s only ever one first time. One moment of true surrender. ONE.

After that, it’s just indulging in a habit with more or less consequences.

If we are writing high-heat romance or erotica, there is definitely an expectation of having lots of fairly explicit sex scenes. But there’s nothing that says we have to go all the way on the first date with the reader.

There’s a certain irony in the idea that we as writers are supposed to be endlessly creative, yet, when it comes to sex scenes, we too often tend to go for the obvious, low-hanging fruit (insert innuendo here).

Anticipation is the most powerful aphrodisiac. Highly intoxicating and addictive.

Temptation and then DENIAL of the NEED as long as possible. The longer the chase, bigger the payoff.

When we (readers) binge read a book, our hearts are pounding, and we simply cannot stop because we want…we need what has been denied over and over. The final act is called a CLIMAX for a reason. Remember that. Jot some notes if you need to.

We writers must understand that what arouses readers to a state of almost painful excitement is always the tease (yup, more innuendo). The author leads a merry chase–hinting, confusing, tantalizing, showing a bit of ankle, running in the opposite direction.

We loves her. We haves her. We needs the Precious!

LITERARY FOREPLAY IS CRITICAL!

Yep, more CAP LOCK there *cracks whip* *adjusts black-framed glasses* I’m being tough. #BadTeacher

Wanna get all sexy with no lead up? No work? No game?

What is it that our characters fear about intimacy?

What is something that pushes their emotional and physical boundaries?

What have they never done before?

What is dangerous to them?

Where would they never engage in physical intimacy?

The more we know our characters, the more we can create moments and scenarios that begin to build the pressure of L.U.S.T. until a single spark makes all their clothes explode.

Done properly, we can build enough ridiculous tension and prolong the anticipation so that the first full sex scene can happen halfway or even two-thirds of the way through the book, and the reader won’t even notice because they’ve been hot and bothered since chapter two’s encounter in the coatroom of the restaurant.

Where to Have Sex (Besides the, uh, obvious)…

A good editor will come down on us like a ton of bricks if we get too mechanical or bogged down with unimportant details. Every scene has its own particular balance of dialogue, inner thoughts, action, and description.

The exact proportions of each element may differ for different POVs, genres, scenes, level of heat, etc., but they are always present.

Why then, for the love of all things Taylor and Seraphina, do we forget this rule when it comes to sex scenes? Why do we subject the reader to the (sometimes literal) blow-by-blow description of what Seraphina is doing to Taylor and vice versa?

It’s painfully easy to let a sex scene slip into “Insert Tab A into Slot B” territory when all we focus on is what body parts are touching other body parts.

SUPERIOR SEX SCENES HARNESS THE RULES OF DESCRIPTION

There’s so much we can put into a sex scene to enhance it, make it vibrant, touch a chord of reality with the reader, and create a truly unique moment for our characters. Let’s just look at the mechanics.

We wouldn’t describe every single action a character takes to prepare a lasagna. Why are we doing this with a sex scene? If we truly know our characters and what they long for, fear, desire, and dislike, then we can draw the reader’s attention to what is daring, unusual, and dangerous for the character.

For example, I could describe in agonizing minutiae how Taylor undresses Seraphina. It would probably end up sounding like every other undressing scene in every other book.

Taylor hurriedly undid the buttons on her blouse, getting impatient and yanking it over her head. She gasped as he hooked his hands into the waist of her skirt and deftly turned it around so he could unzip it and slide it down her legs. (I can’t go much further here without getting both more mechanical and explicit and in trouble with Kristen, but you get the idea.)

Eh. Meh. Blah.

But…what if we spun the moment this way?

As Taylor tore at her clothes, Seraphina wondered at herself, at her impulsive decision to leave work in the middle of the afternoon to meet him at the hotel. The constant patter of rain against the windows reminded her of the stream of emails she was willfully ignoring.

She looked at the man responsible for her temptation, the agent of her transformation. Every piece of clothing he ripped away peeled away the shell of the cold corporate woman, and every hot breath against her skin baptized her in the fire of a primal desire.

In your mind’s eye, you saw Taylor taking off her clothing. I didn’t have to beat you over the head with the buttons or smack you with her skirt. I didn’t give you guidance on how to take off Seraphina’s clothes. I put you in her head, and I bet that for a split-second, you heard the patter of rain against a window ;).

Getting Some…

All of this is just the tip…of the iceberg. (YES! I HAD TO!)

I talk about this and so much more in my class, “How to Dominate Your Sex Scenes–No Safe Words Here!”

The thing is, this Friday is the last time I’m offering it this year (and probably well into next year). So, if you want to have an awesome time and learn a ton about writing SUPERIOR SEX SCENES, sign up for MY CLASS THIS FRIDAY, OCTOBER 20, 2017, FROM 7:00-9:00 P.M. EST!

CLASS DESCRIPTION

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $45.00  USD Standard
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Friday, October 20, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

Boy meets Girl. Boy and Girl have sex several times, though the scenes all kind of blur together at some point. Girl (or Boy) ends up in trouble at the hands of criminals/jealous ex/drug lord and needs Boy’s (or Girl’s) rescue.

Boy and Girl have celebratory sex and live happily ever after.

Sound all too familiar?

Maybe like the tens of thousands of schlocky “Schlongs of Shanghai” titles all competing for KENP (Kindle pages read) and the top 1,000 ranking on Amazon?

But, there’s no denying that erotica is one of the hottest genres around and has a very real place in literature. Yet, to write a work of erotica that provides both the escapist fantasy that readers want while creating a fast-paced story with memorable characters and riveting, unique sex scenes is probably harder than trying to find that billionaire cowboy with six-pack abs who’s into ménage-a-trois.

This class will not be for the faint of heart or those who blush easily!

We are going to tackle the nitty gritty of the erotica genre as a whole and sex scenes in particular…and use ALL the words in our discussions!

Topics covered include:

  • When to introduce sex into the story and the sex v. plot ratio –
  • Creating chemistry in one easy step
  • Decisions, decisions: Purple prose v. crass cusswords –
  • How to avoid the cookie-cutter Alpha male (and corresponding Mary Sue female) –
  • Keeping the sex fresh, interesting, and unique in every single scene – How realistic to make sex in any given scene v. how much detail is TMI, even for your readers?
  • What really makes a scene sexy?
  • What makes a story sexy?
  • BONUS: How to talk about erotica as literature and fun facts about the history of erotica!

A recording of this class is also included with purchase. REGISTER NOW!

GOLD PACKAGE

Get one hour of phone consultation with Cait and workshopping of a sex scene of up to 2,500 words! This is personalized instruction and guidance on making your writing sizzle!

About the Instructor:

Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in Boston area with her husband and four-legged fur child. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. When she isn’t cooking, running, rock climbing, or enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes.