Holding Myself Accountable

I’m writing this post strictly to hold myself accountable. I am going to start writing my next WIP on October 1st. It’s a date selected because it’s the first of the month and I’ve been finding every excuse (some very legitimate) for putting it off. I have to start now or it feels like I never will.

Sure, I could put it off for NaNo (which I’ve never officially done), but November is a terrible month for me to write. I can do it, but the sheer number of words I need to create would be difficult with kids and vacations and holiday prep.

I know, I know, we all have those and other things to do, and super great big kudos to you if you can do it (I am in serious awe!), but I know what I have to do that month so I’m going to make the decision not to overload myself.

So that gives me 31 days in my own personal NaNo. But I’m not aiming for 50k words, though. I’ve done 50k in 28 days before. I’m aiming to finish a rough draft in those 31 days. It could be 60k, it could be 90k. But I “win” if I finish a complete draft.

Yeah, I have no idea if I can actually do this.

I estimate that I need 2580 words/day (for 80k) to 2903 words/day (for 90k). Better to aim on the high side. Not only because I write thick 1st drafts, but even if I finish at 60k I’m inside my timeline.

So here’s the accountability. Not only because I’m declaring now that I will start on October 1st (and that’s going to be difficult in itself because we’re camping) but also that I will post daily updates (that no one will read 😄) because once I make myself start something I do it.

Just look at my weekly Letters to My Representatives that I write even though it feels like no one is listening. I’m pretty good at perseverance in the face of futility. 😏

I’ll post my daily word count, total progress, and whether I’m on track. If I have time I’ll try to talk about what slowed me down or how I got a boost each day. Research and plotting can drag you down (though most of that is done for me), but getting up early, inspiration, and free time from kiddos can boost that word count.

If anyone would like to do this with me, just let me know! You can keep yourself accountable in the comments, or write your own blog posts and I’ll link daily in mine!

Good luck to all of you whether you’re joining me, waiting for NaNo, or writing at your own pace!

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Don’t Throw Sensitivity Readers Under the Bus!

I wasn’t planning on writing a blog post today. I have character studies, a timeline, and an outline to finish by Oct. 1 so I can start writing! But I saw something on Twitter that got my dander up and I couldn’t ignore it.

A few people were talking about how they were afraid to act as sensitivity readers or at least to be named as an SR for fear of being blamed for problems in a book and/or being thrown under the bus by the authors themselves. I’m not in the least upset about the readers expressing their concerns, but by the authors that have generated these concerns in the first place.

So, as a straight, white, cis-gendered, able bodied, relatively neuro-average, raised-Christian woman, I’d like to speak to my fellow non-marginalized authors for a second. This will be not-so-brief and but also not all encompassing. If I’ve missed something, please feel free to add in the comments. This is about helping my fellow authors who will hire sensitivity readers and how to do it right!

First, let’s talk about sensitivity readers. What are they? If you aren’t familiar with the term (and I really, really hope you are) they are readers who reflect a particular identity that can advise you on whether you have gotten that representation correct. Some offer these services to friends for free. Others are for-hire editors or advisers.

Why would marginalized people be afraid to take on this kind of work? Especially when they are paid? (The going rate is around $250 per manuscript.) Because sometimes—and this is not an ‘always’ so please don’t not-all-white-people me—when a book comes out an author may use those sensitivity readers as a shield to justify what they’ve done. Or others may point to the sensitivity reader and say they got it wrong and allowed an author to write about their shared identity incorrectly. You can see why SR’s would not want to be the scapegoats in any of these situations.

So what can we do about this? Because we all want to continue to write, and hire experienced, knowledgeable people to help us get better, right? Here are a few steps that can make this situation a little bit better for all involved:

Step 1 – Is My Premise Flawed to Begin With?

Some authors jump into writing something they probably shouldn’t be writing in the first place. How do you know if your premise is flawed or it’s something you have no business writing? The best place to start would be to ask other writers or readers or even friends who represent the identity you want to write about and run your idea by them (as in multiple people, not just one). Make sure your basic premise isn’t unfixable from the beginning. Slave/master romance? Nazi/Jewish person romance? Story with a white savior protagonist? Chances are these stories not only have already been done badly, they aren’t even capable of being done well. Some ideas are just problematic no matter the execution. So ask around and get a feel before you delve too deeply into something that even a sensitivity reader can’t tell you how to fix.

Step 2 – Do Your Research

I cannot stress this one enough: IT IS NOT A SENSITIVITY READER’S JOB TO WRITE THEIR IDENTITY FOR YOU! You need to do the work to make this character as appropriate and as true to representation as you can first before the SR ever sees a word of your MS. You have to read, listen, learn, watch vlogs, watch movies, TV, and read books made by people who represent the identity they are depicting (Own Voices). And even then you will make mistakes. You will never write a marginalized character as well as a person who represents that identity. You just can’t. But you have a responsibility as an author to make it the absolute best you possibly can.

Which goes back to whether you should write this at all. There are stories no one should tell (see above) and stories that should only be told by a person who represents that identity. Black character during the Civil Rights movement? Should only be written by a black writer. LGBTQIA character in connection with equal rights and marriage equality? Should only be written by an LGBTQIA writer. Story centering the Muslim religion and Islamaphobia? Should only be written by a Muslim writer. It may be hard to discern if it’s your place to tell a story, so be sure to ask others and read a lot about the subject. You may realize it’s not your story to tell on your own.

Step 3 – Don’t Be Afraid to Pay a Sensitivity Reader

We all critique manuscripts. At least, I hope you do. In order to become better writers and to help out those coming behind us, we are going to need to be beta readers and critique partners throughout our careers. So think about the amount of time you spend on another manuscript. It’s hours upon hours. I like to read the whole MS first, to get a feel for continuity, plot, and reader satisfaction. After that I read it again, critiquing along the way for all the important things like grammar, spelling, sentence structure, word usage, plot, characters, etc., etc. And someone else is doing that for you in return. It’s a give-and-get relationship. But for a sensitivity reader, you generally can’t give back to them without monetary payment. They can beta and critique with their own writing friends, but you need their specialized skill, an experience and knowledge you do not have!

“But I’m white—or whatever your non-marginalization is—I can read their non-marginalized characters and see if they’ve got it right.” Well, you see, this doesn’t work, because where you need them for their lived experience, they live in a world where they are expected to live, know, and conform to your non-marginalization every day. They probably already know your identity as well or better than you do. It’s not an equal trade. You wouldn’t bat an eye at seeking an expert’s opinion on something like science or medicine or government, so don’t discount the value of a marginalized person’s knowledge and experience when it comes to characters reflecting their life.

Step 4 – Don’t Be Afraid to Hire Multiple Sensitivity Readers

Okay, this one is difficult, because hiring SR’s costs money, on average $250 a pop. Most beginning authors (like me) can’t really afford that. I’ll be honest, I have only hired one SR for my current MS on submission. I have spoken to people prior to ever writing and received advice as to the direction I should take, but I have not been able to put more money into a novel that might not sell. But you can be damn sure that if I’m offered a contract for this book, I’ll be hiring more SR’s even if it comes directly out of my own pocket. One opinion is not enough, especially if you’re writing about multiple marginalizations like I do.

It’s understandable if you can’t hire SR’s, or multiple SR’s, but you need to then consider: Am I sure this is an acceptable premise to begin with? Will I hire SR’s later when this MS has financial viability? And if I can’t afford to hire SR’s should I be writing this story in the first place?

Step 5 – Listen to the Advice of Your Sensitivity Reader

When you work with a beta reader or critique partner you need to make a decision based on their critique and your own belief about the story whether their advice is really the best for you. But when you work with a sensitivity reader, ignoring their advice can be fatal for your book. You’re stating then and there that the vision you have for your book is far more important to you than the representation you offer the world and the feelings of your readers. That your view of the situation supersedes the knowledge and experience of a person who has actually lives your character’s identity.

I don’t like to be unequivocal. There’s no hard and fast rule for “you must do everything your sensitivity reader tells you to”. There are exceptions, but they better be damn good. You need multiple other sensitivity readers’ opinions that counteract the one that tells you to change it, and not your one (insert marginalization here) friend who says it’s okay. And even then YOU WILL HURT READERS! Someone somewhere is going to have the same opinion as the sensitivity reader who disagreed with you, and they will be hurt by your words. Which brings us to Step 6.

Step 6 – Understand That No Identity is a Monolith

This should really go with out saying, and if this is news to you, you probably shouldn’t be writing that marginalized character. What harms and offends one gay man, is another’s lived experience. What seems inaccurate to one Latina could be the way another grew up. You will never get an absolute consensus on a person’s life. For that matter, no white person, no straight person, no anybody has a tried-and-true-always-happens identity. And if you’re thinking that all lesbians or all people with Cerebral Palsy or all Muslims are the same as the next, that’s called a stereotype and you should really re-think whether you’re the right person to write this story.

Step 7 – Determine with Your SR’s if They Want to Remain Anonymous

Every SR should be thanked in the acknowledgements of your book, but the question is whether they should receive a general “I thank all of my SR’s for their hard work and all inaccuracies and mistakes are mine and mine alone” or if they would like to be named as you often do with critique partners. This is primarily up to the SR. They may be proud of and happy with your work and what they have done to perfect it. Or they might not want to be blamed in case you didn’t take their advice or their advice differs from another’s lived experience.

Everyone has different feelings on this and you need to take theirs into consideration. You do not want to create a problem for them. Whether you took their advice is your fault, not theirs. And if they advised you based on their experience, then they have done their job to the best of their abilities and should not receive flack for it. It’s okay for others to disagree in reviews, but that doesn’t mean an SR should take personal attacks for the differences.

Step 8 – Be Prepared to Take Criticism Graciously and Apologize if Necessary

You should probably accept right now that someone somewhere is not going to like the representation you present in the book. As we discussed before, no identity is a monolith and everyone is going to have unique experiences to draw from. In fact, even marginalized writers receive criticism for their own experiences because they are not the same as another’s experience and can be considered incorrect or problematic. So a person who does not represent that identity is going to almost certainly have concerns brought up in reviews.

You should be prepared to apologize. And more importantly, learn. Listen closely to what reviewers are saying. If it’s too difficult for you to read criticism like that, ask a friend to read them and summarize the concerns in a non-confrontational way. And listen to it! If a reviewer is telling the world they have been hurt by your words, that’s on you. That’s not someone being too sensitive or trying to be mean and hurt your feelings. They are not bullies, even if we feel that they are. We threw the first punch by writing something that hurts. Don’t expect people to be gentle with your feelings, even if you didn’t know you were throwing a punch in the first place. Time to own up and apologize.

Step 9 – Do Not Throw Your SR’s Under the Bus

And no matter what, never blame your sensitivity readers. Remember, no identity is a monolith. Everyone has unique experiences. An apology that in any way says, “But my SR said it was okay . . . ” even indirectly or implied, is not an apology. It’s trying to get the heat off you.

It’s not only unprofessional to push the blame on a business partner (because that’s what an SR is) it is also peak trash human. Don’t do it. Sensitivity readers put their emotional well-being on the line to read your work. Yes, they are getting  paid for it, but $250 is not really all that much when you consider the amount of time it takes to critique a manuscript, adding on the fact that they are opening themselves up to reading potentially harmful words. Reading stories with bigoted or problematic content is emotionally harmful to the reader. And we should be falling on our knees thanking our SR’s who are taking on that job so that readers in the future—teen readers—don’t have to endure that pain.

Letters to My Representatives 9-27-2017

Here are today’s letters. Mostly the same as last week, but added in a request for aid to be sent to Puerto Rico and for suspending the Jones Act.

Dear Senator Stabenow,

Thank you for your hard work to keep the Graham-Cassidy bill from becoming a reality. Please continue to fight for Michigan families and their healthcare.

Thank you for publicly speaking out against Trump rescinding the DACA. It is morally reprehensible that he is punishing people who came here through no fault of their own and have made America their home. Please support Senator Graham’s and Senator Durbin’s Dream Act. Though I understand the rhetoric of pointing out how much Dreamers have contributed to this society, I do not feel that one’s humanity rests on the shoulders of their contributions or economic value. They are human. They are Americans despite what papers might say. They deserve the acknowledgement of their humanity and their deservedness to stay in this country based on the fact that it is morally the right thing to do.

I ask that you support the Office of the Inspector General (OIG)’s investigation of Secretary Tom Price’s use of chartered planes when conducting official government business. Not only do Secretary Price’s actions violate federal law when it comes to travel by executive branch officials, it is also a questionable use of tax dollars particularly due to the cuts he wants to implement. Please publicly state that you support the investigation.

I ask that you push for a new bill authorizing a second round of federal disaster relief funding to help Puerto Rico. We cannot wait until October for a new round of funding. I am also ask that you push for the Trump Administration to temporarily suspend the Jones Act, while also authorizing the Navy to send further assistance to Puerto Rico for recovery efforts. I am happy to see that the USNS Comfort has been deployed. The Trump WH should also appoint a specific point and/or czar to handle Puerto Rico coordination as well.

I want to voice my objections over the latest incarnation of the Trump travel ban. Even with the latest addition of North Korea and Venezuela, this bill is clearly targeted at Muslims nations and should be construed as a Muslim ban. There is no documentation or justification for this ban; there is no research to prove that our country is safer. Speak out against this absurd ban.

Thank you for speaking out against Trump’s ban of transgender people in the military. There is no justification to revert back to the pre-2016 policy. There is academic research to counter the claims listed in Trump’s memo, including conclusive reporting that transgender officers do not impact unit cohesion. I understand the memo does not go into effect until March 23, 2018, but please take a strong stance against this now, especially in light of upcoming budget talks. Also, I understand Senators are debating the act this week; please support SA 869.

Please reject the nomination of Sam Clovis to be the top scientist at the USDA. He is unqualified for the position, without any form of science background. We need someone who understands the needs of the farming industry, but will also help develop sound food-related policy for our nation. Mr. Clovis has a track record of divisive and racist rhetoric, which is not appropriate for a position at the highest levels. I expect you to do the right thing and vote against his nomination.

I ask that you reject the nomination of Jim Bridenstein to NASA. While Bridenstein obviously has an interest in space, he doesn’t have the scientific background previous administrators have. Additionally, Bridenstein has a proven track record as a climate change denier, which is counter to aspects of NASA’s mission. Please push for the administration to nominate someone who is qualified for the position.

I ask that you issue a statement condemning the pardon of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio and to call for an investigation into the Arpaio pardoning. Standard practice for anyone seeking pardons is to wait five years after conviction and to demonstrate remorse/regret for their actions. The lack of either a sentence or demonstration of remorse was a contributing factor to the House 2001 investigation of the Marc Rich pardon: the same standard should be applied to the Joe Arpaio pardon. Please demonstrate that you will not go along with this blatantly political pardon. Do the right thing: challenge this decision.

Thank you for taking a stand against any attempts to unwind Title IX that would harm the current protections that are in place for sexual assault victims. I understand that there is significant discussion over the Dear Colleague letter; I want to be sure that no victims will be impacted as that discussion/public comment commences.

I ask that you continue to pressure the Trump administration to seek diplomatic solutions with North Korea. What we need right now are strategic talks to help influence what steps North Korea might choose to take next. Inflamed rhetoric will only escalate the situation. I ask that you push the Trump administration to not undertake moves that will upset key allies in the region. The Trump administration has indicated that they will withdraw from the South Korean trade deal; to do so is shortsighted and will cause tensions with a key ally needed to address Kim Jung Un’s regime. Please consider long term strategy as opposed to short term moves.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Sincerely,

Jennifer Austin

 

Dear Representative Moolenaar,

I ask that you push for a new bill authorizing a second round of federal disaster relief funding to help Puerto Rico. We cannot wait until October for a new round of funding. I am also ask that you push for the Trump Administration to temporarily suspend the Jones Act, while also authorizing the Navy to send further assistance to Puerto Rico for recovery efforts. I am happy to see that the USNS Comfort has been deployed. The Trump WH should also appoint a specific point and/or czar to handle Puerto Rico coordination as well.

I ask that you publicly speak out against Trump rescinding the DACA. It is morally reprehensible that he is punishing people who came here through no fault of their own and have made America their home. Please support Congressman Mike Coffman’s BRIDGE Act. Though I understand the rhetoric of pointing out how much Dreamers have contributed to this society, I do not feel that one’s humanity rests on the shoulders of their contributions or economic value. They are human. They are Americans despite what papers might say. They deserve the acknowledgement of their humanity and their deservedness to stay in this country based on the fact that it is morally the right thing to do.

I ask that you speak out against Trump’s ban of transgender people in the military. There is no justification to revert back to the pre-2016 policy. There is academic research to counter the claims listed in Trump’s memo, including conclusive reporting that transgender officers do not impact unit cohesion. I understand the memo does not go into effect until March 23, 2018, but please take a strong stance against this now, especially in light of upcoming budget talks.

I ask that you issue a statement condemning the pardon of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio and to call for an investigation into the Arpaio pardoning. Standard practice for anyone seeking pardons is to wait five years after conviction and to demonstrate remorse/regret for their actions. The lack of either a sentence or demonstration of remorse was a contributing factor to the House 2001 investigation of the Marc Rich pardon: the same standard should be applied to the Joe Arpaio pardon. Please demonstrate that you will not go along with this blatantly political pardon. Do the right thing: challenge this decision.

I ask that you continue to pressure the Trump administration to seek diplomatic solutions with North Korea. What we need right now are strategic talks to help influence what steps North Korea might choose to take next. Inflamed rhetoric will only escalate the situation. I ask that you push the Trump administration to not undertake moves that will upset key allies in the region. The Trump administration has indicated that they will withdraw from the South Korean trade deal; to do so is shortsighted and will cause tensions with a key ally needed to address Kim Jung Un’s regime. Please consider long term strategy as opposed to short term moves.

I ask that you publicly condemn Trump’s comments on August 15th concerning the Charlottesville protests. The remarks were divisive, disgusting and full of hate rhetoric and tacit acknowledgment of the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville. What Trump said are not the words of an elected official who claims to serve all Americans. I would like for you to go on record acknowledging that fact and call for a censure. I demand that you question the capacity of Trump to effectively serve.

I expect you to take a stand against any attempts to unwind Title IX that would harm the current protections that are in place for sexual assault victims. I understand that there is significant discussion over the Dear Colleague letter; I want to be sure that no victims will be impacted as that discussion/public comment commences.

Thank you for your time, your consideration.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Austin

Don’t forget to visit It’s Time to Fight for scripts and info. Most of the words above came from scripts found on the site! Keep Resisting!

Problematic YA Tropes: Damsels in Distress and Toxic Masculinity

Megara

Author’s Note: I started writing a post about YA Tropes that I found problematic, but the list grew so long I decided to dedicate a short post to each topic. Also, I am a YA author and I love reading and writing this age group. But because I love it so much, I think we writers can do better by our readers. Hence why I’m calling out a few of these problematic tropes. Here goes:

Tropes in YA novels are commonplace, and calling them a trope doesn’t necessarily mean they are inherently bad. Sometimes they serve a purpose and are accompanied by nuanced and in-depth writing that nullifies potential harm. But when you read as many YA books as I do (120+ last year) you really begin to see those repeated tropes as an endless parade of boring. Even worse, there are many that do actual harm to readers.

Damsels in Distress and Toxic Masculinity

Examples of this are a little harder to put in bullet-form, but here’s a few:

  • Guy defending girl against heckling and/or sexual advances
  • Guy’s excessive aggression (in order to ‘save’ girl) not called out as problematic
  • Guy that directs a girl’s body in a manner she does not want to go
    • Forces her to turn around to face him
    • Grabs her hand/arm so she can’t leave
  • ‘Playful’ tickling or horsing around that the girl says she doesn’t want and he doesn’t stop
  • Stalking, scaring, hurting, smothering, grabbing roughly
  • Poor Girl/Rich Guy Trope

To me, this trope is about putting women in a place of weakness in which they need a man to protect or save them, and also celebrating toxic masculinity. ‘But the guy is defending the girl against toxic masculinity!’ you say. Yeah, but he’s participating in toxic masculinity too. It’s chivalrous and all, but being a Damsel in Distress is still part of the toxic nature of misogyny.

We’re writers. We get to imagine absolutely anything we want. Toxic masculinity, rape, and sexual predators are a part of life and I’m not saying we shouldn’t write about those things. We should, but we need to do it in a responsible manner. Don’t use saving the girl from threat of rape as a way to make the guy ‘not like other guys’. Don’t use the guy defending the girl against sexual heckling as a way to make the guy a feminist. It’s not that those things don’t exist, and if it is an integaral and important part of your novel, then by all means include it.

But think for a second why you’re using it. Sexual predators are part of every world, but is it absolutely essential that it is part of your literary world, or is this just authorial wish-fulfillment? I’m sure we’ve all had fantasies about being saved by a well-built hero, and books are a way for us to experience that just a little bit. But when your MC is part of an everyday contemporary middle American world and the book is not about sexual abuse in any way and the MC can brush the incident off as if it never happened, then you’re using this trope in a problematic way.

Here’s an example I recently read, and I’ll try to be as vague as possible because I don’t like calling out other authors: MC is walking down the street and is heckled by a random man. LI comes out of nowhere (of course he does), chokes the man, is calmed down by MC, and then he whisks MC away to safety. In another part, MC and Bestie get into a confrontation with some guys at a party and the guys make lewd suggestions that they are going to rape/abuse MC and Bestie. Until of course LI swoops in and rescues them, throwing Lewd Guys out of the party. LI is also always swooping in with his car and saving MC from being stranded, too.

So what’s wrong with all of this? Well, for one, why are we reading about a girl who can’t save herself. To me, that’s a little boring. Also, why in this bubble-gum pink world are there so many sexual predators around when the author needs to show the LI in a feminist light? All of these are uses of tropes I talked about in earlier posts: Stereotypes, Perfect LI, Lazy Foils. We’re getting stereotypical and one dimensional descritpions of side characters to act as foils for our illustrious hero. Aren’t there ways to show a man is a feminist without involving sexual predators? Is that all feminsit men are good for is to save us from rape? And why couldn’t precious MC have a can of mace in her purse. And use it!

Not all heroines need to be the strong and angry types. I get the need to write about all kinds of females. But I think it’s even more important to show the ‘weaker’ ones being strong when they need to be. We get that Katniss is always going to fight, but we don’t all see ourselves in Katniss. If we see ourselves in a more feminine and less aggressive character, the need to see that character defend herself against an attacker—whether it’s verbal or physical—is extremely important.

Then there’s the toxic masculinity of physically attacking a person for using words. We all have our own ways of dealing with hecklers, and I’m not saying I wouldn’t want a guy to step in now and then. It’s nice to have an ally. But I do not need him to try to choke the guy. That’s not chivalry, that’s a need for some anger management courses. And it’s okay for your characters to do something ‘wrong’ as long as you call it out in the text. Make sure the reader knows that this person has some issues they need to deal with. Don’t just give reasons either. Like his past trauma ‘made him do it’. Everybody has reasons for what they do, but that doesn’t determine whether the actions are right or wrong.

Another example of toxic masculinity in novels is the guy physically directing the girl’s body in a way she does not want. She tries to walk away, but he grabs her and turns her around, holds her arm in a vice-like grip so she can’t leave, and she knows she’ll have bruises tomorrow. (Swoon! How romantic!)

Um, no.

I’m not a particularly violent person but I’m pretty sure my reaction to any guy laying hands on me when I’m trying to get away because I’m hurt or angry would be a solid right hook. Let me say it loud so everyone can hear me in the back row: THERE IS NOTHING ROMANTIC ABOUT A GUY FORCING A WOMAN TO DO ANYTHING!

Which also goes for the idea of a guy tickling, wrestling, or horsing around with a girl when she has said no (I’m looking at you Handbook). Yeah, I called someone out there. My bad. But I really, really hate this when I see it in books. I realize it’s not triggering or a problem for everyone, and there are instances when a consensual tickle fight is appropriate in a YA novel. It can be done well. But for some victims (in real life), this is how their rape started.

I’m not a rape victim, but I have serious problems with people touching me. Reading scenes like that takes me back to the helplessness and revulsion I felt as a child when adults would do this to me, no matter how many times I said stop. They didn’t understand how upsetting it was because they were ‘just playing’. But it wasn’t just playing to me. It was an egregious violation of my space. It still haunts me.

No means no, people! Let’s make sure our readers know that.

Lastly, I want to talk about the Poor Girl/Rich Guy Trope. This is another one that sets up the guy to ‘save’ the girl. Or even if he isn’t providing her with monetary rescue (with teens, it’s not like they’re getting married and moving into together) she still gets to ride in his expensive car, go on expensive dates, receive expensive gifts, be the envy of every girl because she got him. It’s kind of gross. It’s not fun to feel like a guy has an advantage over you or maybe you owe him because he contributes monetarily more than you do. I’m speaking from experience. And though my husband has never seen our relationship in that kind of light, as an independent woman it was one of the hardest things for me to adjust to. Especially when I stopped working to take care of the kids. I don’t think we want to set-up the narrative that we need a man to ‘save’ us from financial obscurity. I’d much rather show them how to do it themselves.

I think what we need to do as authors is ask ourselves some questions when we write these scenes: Why does my character need to be ‘saved’ right now? Why in this way? Why can’t she save herself? Is this fantasy and wish-fulfillment for me, or am I developing this character in an organic way that makes sense for the story? What am I teaching teens about life and how to react to it in this scene?

You would be astounded by the number of times Chris Evans has saved me in my imagination, but that’s not what I want to write. I want to write about a guy and a girl (or a girl/girl, guy/guy, any combination with enby, etc.) saving each other. I want to portray complex relationships with good and bad moments and not perfect reactions from everybody involved. I want strong girls who cry and weak girls who fight. I want quiet girls who get loud when they need to and loud girls who learn to listen. But most of all I want to show my readers that they don’t have to be perfect, but they can take care of themselves.

Author’s Note: Most of this applies to a female in the position of weakness and the male in a position of power, but it can very easily be applied to other situations switching the roles of the male, the female, or enby person. Though I wrote it strictly as female/weak, male/power, please keep in mind with your writing how changing the roles affects your characters and the narratives you are developing.

Other posts in this series:

Problematic YA Tropes: Stereotypes

Problematic YA Tropes: ‘Not Like Other Girls’ and Perfect LI’s

Problematic YA Tropes: Lazy Foils

Letters to My Representatives 9-20-2017

Here are this weeks letters. They are pretty much the same as last week’s with more emphasis on Healthcare as the Republicans want to pass another terrible bill before September 30th. CALL YOU REPS!! I can’t stress this enough. If you can’t call, then write or fax or call after hours so you can leave a message. Even if your representatives have already stated how they will vote, call. We need opposition on record.

Dear Senator Stabenow,

Thank you for your continued stance in saving the ACA and for opposing the Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson Healthcare Bill. I would like to voice my strong opposition to the GCHJ bill. I am opposed to block granting to states; it would cut deeply into federal funding for the health law programs, likely resulting in millions losing coverage. It would also impact the Medicaid Expansion, potentially resulting in coverage loss for those who were previously covered by the expansions. I am also against the elimination of premium and cost sharing reduction subsidies, and the fact that block grants would provide $239 billion less than projected federal spending for the existing Medicaid expansion and subsidies. Please continue to respect the efforts of the HELP committee, and focus on stabilizing the market place instead and pressure your undecided GOP colleagues to vote NO on this bill.

Thank you for publicly speaking out against Trump rescinding the DACA. It is morally reprehensible that he is punishing people who came here through no fault of their own and have made America their home. Please support Senator Graham’s and Senator Durbin’s Dream Act. Though I understand the rhetoric of pointing out how much Dreamers have contributed to this society, I do not feel that one’s humanity rests on the shoulders of their contributions or economic value. They are human. They are Americans despite what papers might say. They deserve the acknowledgement of their humanity and their deservedness to stay in this country based on the fact that it is morally the right thing to do.

Thank you for speaking out against Trump’s ban of transgender people in the military. There is no justification to revert back to the pre-2016 policy. There is academic research to counter the claims listed in Trump’s memo, including conclusive reporting that transgender officers do not impact unit cohesion. I understand the memo does not go into effect until March 23, 2018, but please take a strong stance against this now, especially in light of upcoming budget talks. Also, I understand Senators are debating the act this week; please support SA 869.

Please reject the nomination of Sam Clovis to be the top scientist at the USDA. He is unqualified for the position, without any form of science background. We need someone who understands the needs of the farming industry, but will also help develop sound food-related policy for our nation. Mr. Clovis has a track record of divisive and racist rhetoric, which is not appropriate for a position at the highest levels. I expect you to do the right thing and vote against his nomination.

I ask that you reject the nomination of Jim Bridenstein to NASA. While Bridenstein obviously has an interest in space, he doesn’t have the scientific background previous administrators have. Additionally, Bridenstein has a proven track record as a climate change denier, which is counter to aspects of NASA’s mission. Please push for the administration to nominate someone who is qualified for the position.

I ask that you issue a statement condemning the pardon of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio and to call for an investigation into the Arpaio pardoning. Standard practice for anyone seeking pardons is to wait five years after conviction and to demonstrate remorse/regret for their actions. The lack of either a sentence or demonstration of remorse was a contributing factor to the House 2001 investigation of the Marc Rich pardon: the same standard should be applied to the Joe Arpaio pardon. Please demonstrate that you will not go along with this blatantly political pardon. Do the right thing: challenge this decision.

Thank you for taking a stand against any attempts to unwind Title IX that would harm the current protections that are in place for sexual assault victims. I understand that there is significant discussion over the Dear Colleague letter; I want to be sure that no victims will be impacted as that discussion/public comment commences.

I ask that you continue to pressure the Trump administration to seek diplomatic solutions with North Korea. What we need right now are strategic talks to help influence what steps North Korea might choose to take next. Inflamed rhetoric will only escalate the situation. I ask that you push the Trump administration to not undertake moves that will upset key allies in the region. The Trump administration has indicated that they will withdraw from the South Korean trade deal; to do so is shortsighted and will cause tensions with a key ally needed to address Kim Jung Un’s regime. Please consider long term strategy as opposed to short term moves.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Austin

 

Dear Representative Moolenaar,

I ask that you publicly speak out against Trump rescinding the DACA. It is morally reprehensible that he is punishing people who came here through no fault of their own and have made America their home. Please support Congressman Mike Coffman’s BRIDGE Act. Though I understand the rhetoric of pointing out how much Dreamers have contributed to this society, I do not feel that one’s humanity rests on the shoulders of their contributions or economic value. They are human. They are Americans despite what papers might say. They deserve the acknowledgement of their humanity and their deservedness to stay in this country based on the fact that it is morally the right thing to do.

I ask that you speak out against Trump’s ban of transgender people in the military. There is no justification to revert back to the pre-2016 policy. There is academic research to counter the claims listed in Trump’s memo, including conclusive reporting that transgender officers do not impact unit cohesion. I understand the memo does not go into effect until March 23, 2018, but please take a strong stance against this now, especially in light of upcoming budget talks.

I ask that you issue a statement condemning the pardon of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio and to call for an investigation into the Arpaio pardoning. Standard practice for anyone seeking pardons is to wait five years after conviction and to demonstrate remorse/regret for their actions. The lack of either a sentence or demonstration of remorse was a contributing factor to the House 2001 investigation of the Marc Rich pardon: the same standard should be applied to the Joe Arpaio pardon. Please demonstrate that you will not go along with this blatantly political pardon. Do the right thing: challenge this decision.

I ask that you continue to pressure the Trump administration to seek diplomatic solutions with North Korea. What we need right now are strategic talks to help influence what steps North Korea might choose to take next. Inflamed rhetoric will only escalate the situation. I ask that you push the Trump administration to not undertake moves that will upset key allies in the region. The Trump administration has indicated that they will withdraw from the South Korean trade deal; to do so is shortsighted and will cause tensions with a key ally needed to address Kim Jung Un’s regime. Please consider long term strategy as opposed to short term moves.

I ask that you publicly condemn Trump’s comments on August 15th concerning the Charlottesville protests. The remarks were divisive, disgusting and full of hate rhetoric and tacit acknowledgment of the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville. What Trump said are not the words of an elected official who claims to serve all Americans. I would like for you to go on record acknowledging that fact and call for a censure. I demand that you question the capacity of Trump to effectively serve.

I expect you to take a stand against any attempts to unwind Title IX that would harm the current protections that are in place for sexual assault victims. I understand that there is significant discussion over the Dear Colleague letter; I want to be sure that no victims will be impacted as that discussion/public comment commences.

Thank you for your time, your consideration.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Austin

Please feel free to use my words, though most of them came straight from It’s Time to Fight. Be sure to visit that website for scripts and more info!

Decision Time: Traditional, Self, or Independent Publication

decision

Author’s Note: I am not an expert. I did my research and also interviewed indie, Self-Pub, and Traditional authors. Do your own research before you make a decision. Also, keep in mind that every article I read on the subject contained clear bias toward their own particular publishing method. This post is no different. I am pursuing the Traditional Publishing route, and though I tried to be neutral, it’s likely my writing will be colored by my preference as well.

 

2nd Author’s Note: This is a loooong post, so buckle up! I wanted to cover all my bases on this one. Also, I capitalized Traditional, Indie, and Self-Publication to highlight the terms I am talking about. In most cases these would not be capitalized.

There are as many paths to publications as there are authors. Everyone has an opinion about what is the best way to go, and that is usually reflective of which path worked for them. But it takes a fair amount of research, experimentation, and assessing goals to find the path that works for you.

Before you start your research—and this blog post should only be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to learning about publishing—you need to understand some basic terms. Most of these are well-known in the industry, and many of you reading may already know them, but in case you don’t these will give you tools to start your search.

Remember though, terms are fluid. And we select for ourselves what fits our style in the industry. Sometimes Indie and Self-Publication are used interchangeably. Sometimes going with a small press can be done without the literary agent usually required with Traditional Publication, but it’s still not Self-Publication and might be considered Indie or Traditional. These are just starting points to help you understand some basic jargon.

Traditional Publication – Publication through a publishing house that involves leasing the rights to your work. This is usually—but not always—done through the “traditional” path of writing the manuscript, querying and securing an agent, then seeking publication through that agent to a publishing house. The author is not responsible for any money up front, but receives an advance, or a pre-payment against what their book will earn. When the book begins to sell and if they earn out that advance, they will then begin to receive royalties of 8-25%. Don’t forget the agent gets a cut of 10-20% depending on the agent and what rights are being sold. (Examples of Traditional Publishing houses: Harper Collins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House)

Self-Publication – Publication through a publishing house in which the author is financially responsible for everything and pays up front. Editing, cover art, format, printing, marketing, distribution may or may not be provided, but it all comes at a cost and this can be in the thousands of dollars. Authors then earn royalties on their sold books. I read so many disparaging assessments on those royalty percentage rates that I hesitate to give a solid figure, but it appears to be a higher percentage rate than Traditional Publishing. (Examples of Self-Publishing houses: AuthorHouse, Frieman Press, Trafford)

Independent Publication – While very similar to Self-Publication, the definitions I’m finding for Indie Publication deal with the amount of control an Indie author has over their book. Indie Publication seems to retain a much larger amount of involvement for the author. They select everything from editing, formatting, marketing, distribution, etc. The author chooses whether they want to pay for these services and who they want to pay. Some work within the barter system, trading manuscripts for editing, trading cover art and illustration services for help with marketing. It’s all up to the individual author, and as far as I can tell, there is no upfront money required beyond what you choose to do. You can pay an editor or a cover artist or a marketer, but to upload your manuscript doesn’t cost the author. The Independent Publisher makes its money as the book sells, and the author receives a higher royalty percentage, some examples claiming as much as 70%. (Examples of Indie Publishing houses: CreateSpace, Smashwords, IngramSpark)

Small Press – A publishing house that operates much like a major publisher, but is smaller in size. They don’t always have the clout or reach of a major publisher, but they will often take submissions without an agent (major publishers rarely do) and though small, many have excellent reputations with some spectacular books. (Example of small presses: Book Fish Books, Entangled, Melville House)

POD – (Print on Demand) This is a service offered by some Indie and Self-Pub houses that allows physical books to be printed when they are ordered. In this way, authors can print the number of books they want to sell, or a reader can order them, and the author isn’t stuck with large quantities of stock they can’t sell. I have heard mixed reviews on this system, so do your research.

Traditional Publication

Now that that’s clear as mud, let’s talk about pros and cons.

Traditional Publishing Pros:

  • No money needed up front
  • More exposure through marketing/networking
  • Physical placement in bookstores
  • Potential to sell larger number of books
  • Advances belong to the author; not required to pay back if the book does not earn out
  • Offers perceived legitimacy within the industry
  • Traditionally published books may be considered for literary awards
  • Team of professionals (agent, editor, artist, marketer, etc.) to assist you in making your book the best it can be
  • YA, MG, and picture books have better success through Traditional

Traditional Publishing Cons:

  • Almost always requires the assistance of a professional agent (this is also a pro, because agents are awesome, but if you don’t want/can’t secure an agent it is almost impossible to get a contract with a large publisher)
  • Royalty rates are a lower percentage
  • Agent’s cut (10-20%) reduces profit further
  • Less control over final product, marketing, and book placement in stores
  • Marketing is not always included and even Traditionally Published authors will sometimes have to create and pay for their own marketing
  • Time frame from writing the book to publication is slower: two years from idea to publication is the supposed rule of thumb, but I’ve seen much, much longer
  • Harder to attract an agent and a publishing contract when you are a marginalized individual, especially when writing stories about marginalized characters
  • Mental and emotional stress of rejections, wait times, and disappointment can be difficult

Working with a Traditional Publisher offers many advantages. As Martha Brockenbrough, (author of Alexander Hamilton:Revolutionary) said:

“I like being surrounded by a team of people who are really good at their jobs: editing, marketing and publicity, design, and more. This means I don’t have to find people with these skills, and it means that my work will be as good as it can possibly be.”

It also means exposure that Self-Pub and Indie generally don’t have: physical placement in stores, national marketing campaigns, connections with authors on the same imprint. This can make a huge difference in how the book sells. Though you are getting a smaller percentage of the profits, if you sell a greater number of books you have the potential to make a larger profit than if you sold your books in other ways with less exposure. And you didn’t risk any of your own money up front.

Of course this is not a hard and fast truth. Your book has to sell, you can’t always rely on a publisher to provide marketing, or even if they do, the budget and scope might be small. You may want to invest your own money into promoting your book, which is what  Self-Pub and Indie authors have to do anyway. And there’s no way to know as you query agents whether you will end up with a contract that offers these services. For that matter, there’s no way to know if you’ll ever receive a contract at all. Authors (in all forms of publication) are banking on themselves and their talent. It’s a risk, but as an author you are going to have to take risks. It’s up to you to decided which ones are appropriate for you.

One of the drawbacks of Traditional Publishing is the lack of control. An author who wished to remain anonymous but has experienced both Traditional and Self-Publication told me her least favorite things about Traditional Publication:

“Being forced into covers and back-cover copy I don’t love. No control over pricing and sales. Losing a huge percentage of my royalties.”

And Kaelan Rhywiol (author of Ilavani: Volume 1) stated:

“The number of times I’ve talked newbie authors out of a tree because they hate their covers and have no recourse is astounding. So, knowing what they are willing to give up and letting it go the second you sign a contract has to be important.”

Conceivably, working with a Traditional Publisher should offer a higher level of quality. There are experts at every point in the process: agents decide which books they want to represent, editors select the manuscripts they want to pursue for publication, copyeditor, designer, marketing manager, sales reps, and publicists all create a long list of eyes and minds to make the book better and better with every pass, develop the best marketing strategy, find the right market, etc. But I still see Traditionally Published books with typos. I still find books I wish I hadn’t wasted my money on because they are poorly written or trite or sometimes even harmful. Traditional Publication can act as a filter through which a reader can generally be assured they aren’t buying garbage, but they are not infallible!

Another benefit of Traditional Publication is the perceived legitimacy and the potential to be nominated for awards. I say perceived because of the paragraph above, and also because they are being compared to Self-Pub and Indie books which are often give an unfair taint of being vanity published because they didn’t go through the Traditional route. If a Traditional Publisher selects your book to publish, you won’t have to fight to convince people of your legitimacy because you’re a “chosen one” more or less. After your book is published your status may change according to how your book is received, but that’s a trial and tribulation of all writers in the end.

Though I listed securing an agent as a Con, I personally don’t see it that way. Yes, it is a long and arduous process. And even after all the hard work of querying you may still not find an agent who is interested in representing you. But if you do, they are an invaluable resource (and hopefully a friend!) who is looking out for your career at every stage. Ave Jae (author of Beyond the Red series) told me this when speaking of her agent:

“Knowing I always have someone to turn to who understands the business side of things, who wants to help me grow my career, and who can facilitate making all my career goals a reality is so incredibly motivating and relieving. I know my agent has my back as I try to navigate this unpredictable writing career, and that really means a lot to me.”

I also want to talk about wait times and emotional stress. Just to give you an idea I began to write They Chose the Stars in February of 2015. I secured an agent with that manuscript in May of 2016. It is currently on submission. If you count research time which I started in December of 2014, it has been almost three years that I’ve worked on that book. And the wait isn’t over. Traditional Publishing can be very, very slow.

And the emotional stress is not for everyone. You have to get thick skin in this business. Rejections will come, over and over again: from your beta readers, from your sensitivity readers, from agents, from editors, and eventually from readers. It’s part of the process and you can’t escape that in publishing, no matter how you decide to publish. But Traditional—having more gate keepers (agents, editors, etc.)—will offer many more times to be told your work isn’t good enough. It’s always polite (in my experience) and not intentionally soul-crushing (though somehow achieves it anyway), but it’s rejection all the same. And the personal nature of the job means that though they are rejecting this particular material you have offered them, it feels more like a rejection of you. You put your heart and soul into this, and they don’t want it. They don’t want your heart and soul. It can be devastating and takes work to create the mental space to deal with that in a constructive way. It can be done, but it is another part of the job.

The last thing I want to mention in this section—and this applies no matter which publication path you choose—few writers make a living wage at writing. Most of the writers I know have day jobs. Sometimes they keep the day job because they love it, but most keep it also because they need it. Whether it’s the money or insurance and benefits, most writers find it a necessity.

Indie/Self Publication

Since the pros and cons of Indie and Self-Pub are almost identical, I’m going to talk about both in this section, but will highlight when there is a difference between the two. And I won’t reiterate information included above. For example, I talked about royalties above, so I won’t go over it again in this section.

Indie/Self-Pub Pros

  • Higher royalty percentages
  • Some control (Self-Pub)/complete control (Indie)
    • Editing
    • Cover Art
    • Release Date
    • Sale Price
    • Marketing
  • Faster timeline that is under the author’s control
  • Romance and Romance-centric SFF stories have higher success rate in Indie/Self-Pub compared to YA, MG in Indie/Self-Pub

Indie/Self-Pub Cons

  • Investing the author’s own money
  • Less exposure than Traditionally Published books with marketing plans
  • Difficult to get physical copies placed in stores
  • Often fewer books sold than Trad Pub
  • Investing time: Author responsible for most (Self-Pub) or everything (Indie)
    • Editing
    • Cover Art
    • Marketing
  • Learning curve because author is responsible for most (Self-Pub) or everything (Indie)
    • Editing
    • Cover Art
    • Marketing
  • Mostly e-book sales as hardcovers and paperbacks can be expensive to produce
  • Stigma of illegitimacy
  • Not eligible for most literary awards

I knew a lot less about Indie/Self-Pub when I started writing this post, so everything I’ve listed here is through research and talking to other authors. It is by no means comprehensive, so as I said before DO YOUR RESEARCH! Do not rely on this one article (or any one article) to make such an important decision.

The biggest thing I keep hearing from Indie/Self-Pub authors is that they relish the control they get with this path. An anonymous author of both Trad and Self-Pub said this about her favorite part of Indie/Self-Pub:

“Control. I dictate my cover, my blurb, my final edits. I can put my book on sale and choose my release date. The final book reflects my vision for the project.”

Kaelan Rhywiol, who has had experience with both Trad and Indie/Self-Pub shared this:

“I’ve always loved [Self-Pub] because it relies on me, and me alone to decide everything from cover art to price point to when/if I will have a sale, I have trust issues, so it’s hard for me to entrust my brain baby (any of my books) to someone else. On the flip side of that, it IS on me to get it all done well. If the cover is shite, it’s on me, if I goof up the editing, also on me. So there’s a feeling of relief to signing a contract and giving up control of those things to the publisher. It’s all about knowing what you want to do.”

Imani Josey (author of The Blazing Star) had this to say:

“My favorite part about the Indie route is having the freedom to produce my book exactly how I wanted. The Blazing Star took two years to write, one year to edit, one to query agents Traditionally, and then one year of production with Wise Ink to go Independently. The decision to go Indie wasn’t a quick or easy decision to make, but I went with my gut and stepped out on faith. I had a lot of agent interest in the book that didn’t materialize, but I still believed in the story. It wasn’t (and still isn’t!) easy, but I’m proud of what we’ve created (my family, team, and myself). I love being involved in every step. Going Indie is amazing because it allows a direct-to-consumer advantage, providing an avenue for unique stories to find their audience.”

Imani chose to try Traditional Publication first, which is often a good way to approach the issue. If Trad Pub doesn’t work out, Indie/Self-Pub is always available. But starting with Trad Pub will increase the timeline to publication. If you remove the year she spent seeking Trad Publication, it took Imani essentially 3 years from idea to publication. Everyone’s timeline will be different of course. Some people can have a finished book to publish in a matter of months and then move through the Indie/Self-Pub process in a few months as well, especially once you’ve learned the process. It all depends on your personal schedule, the book you’re writing, and what method you choose to pursue.

Marketing is a challenge in all forms of publishing. If you are lucky enough to get a Traditional contract with marketing included, you are ten steps ahead. But for many Trad Pub—and all Indie/Self-Pub—marketing is a huge consideration. Swag materials, spreading the word through advertising, book signings and travel, cons, vlog and blog tours are all effective parts of a good marketing campaign, but they take time, money, and planning. Some authors are exceptional at this sort of thing, but some loathe it. So consider what you’ll need to do to promote your book—and what you’re willing to do and pay for—when you decide on your publication method.

You can also rely on friends to help spread the word about your book, but be careful. Most authors have a wide network of friends, whether on-line or in the real world, and through this network we share information, learn, critique, and laugh a lot too. We are friends and colleagues first, marketing fodder last. If an author follows me on Twitter and I can see from their profile that they only tweet advertisements for their books, that’s an easy no for me. At the same time, I gush over and share news about the books of my friends I have made along the way. Social media is a marketing tool, yes, but for me it’s a way to connect with other writers, not a way to sell them my book.

Determining what method you would like to pursue also depends on the type of book you are producing. I have been told by a number of people that Children’s Literature generally does better through Trad Publication, while Romance and Romance-Centric SFF has a better chance than Children’s through Indie/Self-Pub. I don’t have any statistics to share on that, it’s just a word of mouth opinion from people in the industry. It doesn’t mean you can’t publish Children’s Lit through Indie/Self-Pub or Romance through Trad. Both have had successes through each method.

Another consideration for Indie/Self-Publication is the subject matter of your book. Agents and publishers will be looking at the marketability of your story. If they determine it can’t reach a wider market (though this assumption is being challenged by the success of books like T.H.U.G. and other Own Voices stories) they will pass on it for something they believe will sell better. Indie/Self-Pub creates a way for authors with unique or unconventional stories to still get their work before an audience that needs their books.

One of the biggest obstacles for Indie/Self-Pub is money. In Self-Pub you’re going to have to have capital upfront to pay the publisher to produce your book. This may include money for editing, marketing, and cover design, though if it’s an optional system you may just front the cash to publish the book while figuring out the rest on your own. In Indie Publication, there is no money up front to publish the book (you upload it for e-book sales through the Indie Publication house), but you are still responsible for all the rest. Cover art, marketing, editing and more. This can be done through a barter system as I talked about before, or you may pay professionals to do the work for you. Either way, it’s all up to you. And no matter what publishing method you choose, it’s going to cost you in time, tears, stress, and dollar signs. As Imani Josey told me:

“I sold my car to help finance The Blazing Star.”

Another obstacle for Indie/Self-Pub authors is book distribution. Books from Trad Publishers are placed on a list from which booksellers can choose to stock in their stores. Often times Indie/Self-Pub are not placed on those lists. And even if they are, booksellers are going to stock that which they have more confidence in selling: Trad Pub books, especially those with buzz around them. Imani Josey on choosing Indie Publication:

“My least favorite part of the Indie route is that I don’t have access to large scale distribution of my book. Reviewers request ARCs, but outside of Netgalley, I don’t have them. Every physical copy of The Blazing Star that winds up in reader’s hands, I’ve purchased. It puts extra pressure on me and my bank account, but I’m still so proud of this project. I’ve also felt like being taken seriously by outlets that tend to only support Traditional authors has been a challenge. There’s a stigma attached to producing a book independently that I’m challenging.”

We talked about that stigma before: Trad Pubbed authors have an aura of “legitimacy” around them, while Indie/Self-Pubbed authors are sometimes derided as having published for vanity’s sake. Of course, there are people out there who publish a book before it is ready to be published through Indie/Self-Pub, either because they don’t want to do the work, don’t know how to do the work, don’t recognize that it needs work, and/or just want to see their name in print. This gives the legitimately hardworking Indie/Self-Pub authors a bad name.

It is on the author to go through the process to create the best book they can. Traditionally Published authors will have some of this ‘built-in’ to the system of publication, while Indie/Self-Pub must ensure that they do it themselves. Beta readers, sensitivity readers, critique partners, professional editing are all part of a process that ensures a book is good enough to be put on the shelf. And most Indie/Self-Pub authors do this. Unfortunately they still receive the scorn of some for not being Trad Published.

I’d like to leave you with the advice my interviewed authors gave for authors contemplating Traditional Publication or Indie/Self-Publication:

“For a new author I think attempting Traditional Publishing is smart—unless you have a huge platform. Otherwise, you are taking on a whole lot of additional work, and this will impede your ability to become a better writer. But it really depends on what your goals are. If you love writing books and love publishing quickly, and love finding readers and thrive on quick turnaround, then by all means—publish Independently. This is a great choice.” —Martha Brockenbrough

 

“You do gain a lot by signing with an agent/publisher, but we are no longer in the same place we were even ten years ago when it comes to publishing. The first time I tried the query trenches was before the advent of Createspace and Ingram Spark, so the ONLY way you got published was through Traditional paths. I’m so grateful, for myself and others who write ‘different stories’ that Self-Pub exists. We’re no longer bound by the dictates of Trad.” —Kaelan Rhywiol

 

“Research. Know yourself. Indie is a lot of work. Also understand that Traditional Publishing will need to evolve to keep up with the market where artists can directly connect with consumers, and many editors and graphic designers that would once be in-house can freelance at very cost-effective pricing. Wide-scale distribution and printing costs are still two of the largest challenges that Indie authors face.” —Imani Josey

 

I always tell writers to figure out what they want out of publication. Do they want a lot of control over the process and to work independently? Do they just want their work to be read, regardless of the medium? Then Self-Publishing may be a good choice for them. Do they want a team to work on their book with them? Do they want career guidance? Do they want their book on the shelves of brick-and-mortar bookstores? Then Traditional Publishing may be the way to go. It really just comes down to being honest with yourself about what exactly you want to get out of publishing.” —Ava Jae

For further reading, check out my Pinterest board Traditional vs Indie Publication.

Check out books by my interviewed authors!

Martha Brokenbrough on Amazon and on Squarespace

Hamilton

Ava Jae on Amazon and on Blogspot

Into the black

Imani Josey on Amazon and on ImaniJosey.com

Blazing Star

Kaelan Rhywiol on Amazon and on KaelanRhywiol.com

Ilavani

Problematic YA Tropes: Lazy Foils

yin yang 2

Author’s Note: I started writing a post about YA Tropes that I found problematic, but the list grew so long I decided to dedicate a short post to each topic. Also, I am a YA author and I love reading and writing this age group. But because I love it so much, I think we writers can do better by our readers. Hence why I’m calling out a few of these problematic tropes. Here goes:

Tropes in YA novels are commonplace, and calling them a trope doesn’t necessarily mean they are inherently bad. Sometimes they serve a purpose and are accompanied by nuanced and in-depth writing that nullifies potential harm. But when you read as many YA books as I do (120+ last year) you really begin to see those repeated tropes as an endless parade of boring. Even worse, there are many that do actual harm to readers.

Lazy Foils

From Merriam-Webster.com:

foil: (noun) someone or something that serves as a contrast to another

Technically, foils aren’t a trope; they’re a writing tool. One that I think too many authors use poorly. This is the trope (yup, I’m still going to call it a trope) that Stereotypes and Not Like Other Girls and Perfect LI’s were leading into. It’s using the stereotypical characteristics of Character X to create the characteristics of Character Y (and/or make Character Y look better in contrast), but not actually doing anything in your writing to build Character Y. (Or relying too heavily on Character X to define Character Y.) This is going to be repetitious from my other posts, but bear with me. Here are a few examples:

  • Ex is catty/mean/shallow to make MC/LI look sweeter (Sweet Special Snowflake and Not Like Other Girls)
  • Ex is possessive/abusive/jerk to make MC/LI look nicer (Perfect LI)
  • All females besides MC or LI are catty, slutty, & bitchy (Stereotypes)
  • All males except MC or LI are jerks, sexual predators, or Neanderthals (Stereotypes)
  • Super cruel one-dimensional villain who serves to make our hero look better
  • Spunky best friend to make MC look like an introvert
  • Sexy, experienced best friend to highlight MC’s naivetĂ© and innocence

There are arguments in favor of these characters, so lets get them out of the way now. Yes, those types of people do exist in real life. Yes, opposites attract and introverts become friends with extroverts. Yes, people are prone to think their love interests’ ex’s are catty/slutty/bitchy/abusive/possessive/jerks because we are human and we want to believe that we are superior in every way to that ex. And yes, the bad guy is usually cruel and awful, because that’s what makes them the bad guy. But if we use them over and over and over again in very stereotypical ways, does that make for good writing?

Many times when I see the characterizations listed above they are a shallow, under-developed stereotype written to help define the MC or LI. And it’s not a bad thing to create characters meant to develop your main characters: that’s what foils are for. But if the foil is a shadow of an actual character with wants and needs of their own, then you’ve left out some important story development.

‘But this is a writing tool’, you say. Well, yes, it is. And it’s been used by countless writers before you. And it can be done well. Nothing in writing is unequivocal. There is always a use of a trope or tool or unconventional method that works well and becomes profound writing. But there are also many ways to use them poorly and make the writing fall flat.

Let’s talk about the super cruel one-dimensional villain: of course they are awful! Who wants to read about a hero stopping a ‘villain’ from delivering free ice cream? But think about the villains who made you keep turning the page. Were they one-dimensional? Was everything about them ever completely and totally evil and they had no reason for being evil other than to just be evil? J.K. Rowling humanized Voldemort, inspiring us to give him sympathy, yet in the end I still wanted Harry to end him. I didn’t even feel bad about it. And Victoria Schwab made me love Holland in the Shades of Magic series so much that I really, really needed him to get a happy ending despite all the horrible things he had done. (But I also wanted him defeated.) Voldie and Holland were far from one-dimensional. And the reader didn’t need their bad deeds to make Harry and Kell look better. Harry and Kell showed the reader through their own actions, often unrelated to Voldemort or Holland, that they were worth rooting for.

The catty ex is a huge trope in YA, and though it has its place it’s kind of (as in super, super) over done. In A.G. Howard’s Splintered series she does use the ‘Not Like Other Girls’ trope and the Catty Ex trope, which is not my favorite, but she mixed it up. Taelor (the catty ex) fits all the stereotypes, but Howard broaden that definition by showing the reader through small glimpses that Taelor’s Oh-So-Perfect-Life was maybe not so perfect after all. Could Howard have done more? Definitely yes. She still used some stereotypes and tropes, but she gave us something more than the basic every day and she definitely developed Alyssa’s character without needing Taelor to constantly define her.

Probably the worst use of this (to me) is making all (or most of) your female characters catty/slutty/bitchy, or making all (or most of) your male characters jerks/sexual predators/Neanderthals in order to make your MC or LI look better. For one, it’s such a narrow world view if your characters reside in a story where the MC and LI are so pristine (Sweet Special Snowflake) that everyone else is demonized in comparison. And it’s lazy to surround your characters with stereotypes to create their personality. If you want your guy to be a feminist, show that he’s a feminist in some way that doesn’t involve him fending off a sexual predator from your girl. If you want your girl to be nice and down-to-earth show that in some way instead of having the catty girls act as a foil. If she’s only sweet and special when other girls are bitchy, then she’s probably not that sweet and special to begin with.

I guess the moral of this story is do more character development of all your characters. Even though this story may be about your Sweet Special Snowflake, the villain and the side characters are stars of their own show. Maybe they don’t feature prominently, but give them a life off the page. And at least some glimpses of that life on the page. And develop your MC and LI fully without always relying on another character.

And of course there’s more reading!

Literary Foils: Definition and Examples by Liz Bureman on thewritepractice.com (A good basic explanation of foils, keeping in mind that they are a tool of literature and not bad unless they’re lazy and stereotypical)

5 Steps to Writing Good Foil Characters by Joseph Blake Parker on Deviant Art (I like this one because it talks about giving foils a part of the story beyond just being the foil.)

Creating the Perfect Foil by Julie on Pub(lishing) Crawl (“An effective foil is often a strong and fascinating character in his or her own right.”)

Other Posts in this Series:

Problematic YA Tropes: Stereotypes

Problematic YA Tropes: ‘Not Like Other Girls’ and Perfect LI’s

Problematic YA Tropes: Damsels in Distress and Toxic Masculinity