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

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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 naiveté 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

Letters to My Representatives: 9-13-17

Letters today are mostly the same as last week, excepting an inclusion for my senators to support SA 869, an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that supports transgender troops, voicing opposition to Graham/Cassidy healthcare bill, and voicing opposition to DeVos’s dismantling Title IX. That last one was for my congressperson too.

Dear Senator Stabenow,

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.

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.

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 voice opposition to the Graham/Cassidy healthcare bill. I understand that there is no specific language yet, but several of the points that have been outlined/described by either Senator, are already items that I do not want you to support. I understand that the Senators have until 09/30 to do this. Please continue to emulate the efforts of the HELP committee, and  focus on stabilizing the marketplaces, instead.

Thank you for publicly condemning 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.

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.

Thank you for your time, your consideration and your service to the people of Michigan.

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

As always, feel free to use my words for your own letters. Much of this comes directly from ItsTimeToFight.weebly.com and be sure to visit for more scripts and information.

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

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.

‘Not Like Other Girls’ and Perfect LI’s

There are a list of tropes that can be encompassed in or are related to the heading above. Examples:

  • Hot Mary Sue’s who do no wrong
  • She doesn’t know she’s gorgeous but she is; also One Good Makeover Will Change Your Life
  • Never saw a guy/girl so beautiful
  • Sweet Special Snowflake attracts the player who gives up their loose ways for SSS
  • Guy dumps his catty/slutty/bitchy girlfriend for SSS
  • Girl dumps her jerk/sexual predator/Neanderthal boyfriend for SSS
  • ‘Strong and powerful’ LI’s who always tell the girl she’s gorgeous
  • ‘Not Like Other Girls’

Let’s start with the ‘Not Like Other Girls’: Why is this so problematic? It’s a way to describe a character as not having traditional feminine characteristics (especially when those characteristics are possessive, mean and catty). But it also implies not so subtly that in order to be deemed worthy a female must reject traditionally feminine characteristics and be more like a man. It’s sexist. And it’s damaging to females (and males) in many ways.

The idea that to in order be more worthy, a female must be more like a man, is a concept that’s been around for a while. A long while. Even though woman throughout history have been placed in a delicate box of femininity (especially that delicate flower of white femininity) there has always been that insidious idea that to be worthy you must be more like a man (intelligent, rough, methodical, less emotional) yet women were also thought to be less if they exhibited those characteristics. It was an endless cycle that you couldn’t be worthy if you weren’t like a man, but if you were a woman who acted like a man you weren’t worthy either. There was no winning.

The NLOG narrative pits females against each other. It’s usually accompanied by catty/slutty/bitchy antagonists or ex-girlfriends (see Problematic YA Tropes: Stereotypes). It teaches females to want to deviate from traditional female roles (which is okay) but not under the auspice that they need to change in order to be accepted, that only girls who don’t like to shop, hate pink, and play sports are worthy of respect. But it also implies that ‘other girls’, as in girls who do like traditional female pursuits, are catty/slutty/bitchy. So don’t like make-up or you might be like ‘those girls’.

And as far as beautiful people and Sweet Special Snowflakes, let’s be real. Some of this is wish-fulfillment on the part of the author. No love interest is without flaws. In fact, no main character should be without flaws. Make things messy, make things real, make the conflict feel like it could happen to your reader. Wish-fulfillment and fantasy are great, especially since reading is an escape, but I personally could do with a little less of LI’s who always, every date, remember to tell you how pretty you are, take your hand, tuck the hair behind your ear. Every experience is different of course, but I can say for certain that I never dated a guy like this in high school.

I guess what I’m saying here is that while many of these tropes aren’t inherently harmful, especially if we see them once in awhile, they can become boring and potentially harmful if seen too much. Plus, it’s more of that lazy writing I talked about in my Stereotypes post. Make your characters less stereotypical, hold back on that authorial wish-fulfillment just a tad, and think about what message you’re sending to your readers.

More reading because I know you want it:

Not Like Other Girls on tvtropes.org

The “Not Like Other Girls” Trope on Women’s Comedy (I think her post was better than mine, so be sure to read it!)

3 Signs Your Story’s Characters Are Too Perfect by Suzannah Windsor Freeman on Write It Sideways

Should the “Special Snowflake” Trope be Retired and Left 20,000 Leagues Underground or Is It Still Fun? by Cait on Paper Fury (Read this one for sure! If only for the laughs and good times!)

Other Posts in this Series:

Problematic YA Tropes: Stereotypes

Problematic Tropes: Lazy Foils

Problematic YA Tropes: Stereotypes

images

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.

Stereotypes

You might recognize a stereotype when it looks like this:

  • Mean cheerleader/jock/rich person who has it all
  • Sassy Black or Latina friend
  • Flamboyant & effeminate gay male
  • Butch & masculine lesbian
  • All females besides MC or LI are catty, slutty, & bitchy
  • All males except MC or LI are jerks, sexual predators, or Neanderthals
  • “Not like other girls”
  • Dark-skinned aggressor
  • White savior
  • Greedy Jewish person
  • Muslim terrorist
  • The long suffering but always sweet and thankful person with a disability (i.e. Inspiration Porn)

I could go on and on about stereotypes. This list is just a taster. There’s everything from blonde stereotypes to redheads, Jewish to Muslim, jock to geek, city to country, and on and on. My personal pet peeve is the mean cheerleader. This is probably because I was a cheerleader, and I was neither bitchy, catty, nor slutty. Yes, I know people like this do exist, but I see it so often in Contemporary YA the minute that bitchy blonde rears her oh-so-perfect head I roll my eyes and let out an audible sigh.

I think what annoys me most is that it’s lazy writing. The author wants to convey a character in as few words as possible with pre-built connotations (i.e. stereotypes). Because we all understand stereotypes. An author doesn’t have to show us a character if they can select from a predetermined set of options that we’re all programmed to get. Voila! One or two words and we know everything we ever need to know about this villain or side character. They aren’t important enough for the author to develop them beyond the stereotype, so they aren’t important enough for the reader to care. They can be humiliated, rejected, hurt, abandoned and they’re just a stereotype, so who cares?

Maybe when this is just the “mean cheerleader” trope it does little harm (besides irritating me) but when we’re talking about people with marginalized identities, then things get a little nastier. I was judged by complete strangers because I was a cheerleader, so these written stereotypes only reinforce those opinions before they know me. No problem, I only had to deal with that while in uniform (we’re talking 25 years ago btw). But what about a marginalized person who can’t take off their identity? How does that affect them now?

I’d like to think that as writers we already understand that racial, gender, religious, disability, and sexual orientation stereotypes (among others) are offensive and problematic. I’m not going to go over all of that in this post. Partly because as a white, straight, cis-gendered, able-bodied person it’s not my place to discuss. If you don’t understand what I’m talking about, I suggest you do more research. I’ll leave some links at the bottom. And don’t write characters unlike yourself until you’ve done so.

I think we can do better, though. I’m kind of over the cookie-cutter, two dimensional villains and side characters I see in some novels. Dig deeper. Not because cheerleaders will feel hurt that you’re giving them a bad name (I think we can take it), but because as writers it’s our job to work as hard as we can to do no harm and to give all our characters nuance and depth.

9 Ways YA Authors Can Stand Up to Stereotypes About Young Women by Meredith Turits on Bustle

Why Stereotypes are Bad Even When They’re ‘Good’ by Oliver Burkeman on The Guardian

Stereotypes & Tropes Navigation on Writing with Color: This is a veritable treasure trove of information on writing (or trying not to write) stereotypes relating to ethnicity and other factors

Other posts in this series:

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

Problematic YA Tropes: Lazy Foils

Letters to My Representatives: 9-6-2017

I have failed to write my representatives for three weeks in a row and I am not happy about it! But I’m back. Sometimes life gets in the way and that’s okay. But we have to keep Resisting the best we can! Here are today’s letters. The first is to Senator Stabenow. Senator Peters got a copy of it as his stance is the same as hers. Representative John Moolenaar’s is the second letter.

Dear Senator Stabenow,

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 and have been a positive contribution, 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.

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.

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.

Thank you for publicly condemning 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.

Thank you for your time, your consideration and your service to the people of Michigan.

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 and have been a positive contribution, 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.

Thank you for your time, your consideration.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Austin

As always, you are welcome to use my letters to send letters to your own representatives. Many of my words came from ItsTimeToFight.Weebly.com so head over there for more information and scripts. We have to stay loud and not give up hope. Keep calling and writing!

Letters to My Representatives 8-2-2017

Here are today’s letters. Senator Stabenow & Senator Peters received the same letter, and Rep. Moolenaar’s letter was similar, but instead of thanking him for fighting for the ACA, I reminded him that I will do all in my power to remind his constituents come 2018 election that he stood against the ACA and what that means for their insurance, and I omitted the paragraph about the Dream Act of 2017 because that is in the Senate, not the House.

Dear Senator Stabenow,

Thank you again for standing with the ACA and the American people in the fight to ensure healthcare for all its citizens.

I would like to express my concerns about the White House’s threats to cut off CSR payments for the month of August. These threats are destabilizing the markets and contributing to market uncertainty. I am asking that you make sure that CSR payments are fully funded. I recognize that this is a contentious issue given House vs Price but we cannot accept anymore market instability. I’ll be monitoring the office to see how they choose to handle this issue.

I would like to voice my strong objection, nay, my unmitigated disgust and anger, to Trump’s announcement barring transgender individuals from serving in the Armed Forces. This is bigotry and discrimination. Though Trump claims it is based on monetary issues and “strengthening” our military, he obviously has little understanding of the military budget, and of the strength and professionalism of our military. It is an insult to our people serving, to transgender people in particular, and to the American people. It is a bid to pacify certain segments of Trump’s supporters and not based on any factual evidence that Trump purports. I ask that you speak out against Trump’s decision and affirm to any of your LGBTQIA+ constituents that you respect their courage and their willingness to serve. And I ask that you do whatever you can to fight this decision.

I would like to voice my support for Senator Durbin and Graham’s Dream Act of 2017. I believe that we should help all under 18 young adults who were brought to the US and have fulfilled all the legal requirements instituted by the government, be put on the pathway to legal citizenship. Many of these young adults were brought to the US at a young age and have contributed academically and professionally to our country. I believe helping them achieve permanent and legal status as a citizen can only benefit our country. Please support this bill.

I ask you to speak out against the ongoing changes at the State Department, including the closure of the War Crimes office and the folding of the cyber office into another department. I ask that you go on record in addressing how these changes will impact our diplomatic capabilities globally. Your constituents need to hear you speak out against these measures.

I ask you to take a continued stand against the rollback of Net Neutrality. A change in rules would take away our freedom on the internet and negatively impact individuals and small businesses alike. Please stand against the FCC’s efforts to change Net Neutrality.

I ask that you pressure the White House to use all diplomatic measures possible to resolve issues with the DPRK.

I would also like to ask for the continued investigations into Trump, his son Don, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, and well quite frankly the whole crooked lot of them. Don Jr. admitted to collusion, Kushner has omitted important financial ties to Russian influence on his security clearance forms, and others have had meetings and ties to Russia, many of which originally lied about it. Please support the continued investigations, protest Trump’s every move to thwart them, and demand answers to the questions of Trump’s, his surrogates’, and his campaign’s ties to Russia and any collusion in the election.

Please speak out against Trump’s second secretive meeting with Putin at the G20 summit. We need total transparency from this suspect administration and this meeting is highly suspicious as there are no other American witnesses to confirm Trump’s statement on the meeting. It is also highly unusual and concerning considering the suspicion of collusion in the election.

I am livid over the White House’s continued blocking of reporters from recording or broadcasting the daily White House press briefings. Denying the American public the right to hear what is being discussed by our government is anti-transparency and not what a democratic government is supposed to do. Please speak out against and challenge the White House on this practice.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Austin

Remember to visit It’s Time to Fight for scripts and information. And feel free to copy and paste my letter for your own letters to your reps! Keep Resisting!