A Taoist’s Guide to Staying Sane in the Writing Business

Feel like one more workshop on promo might send you over the edge?

Anne Lamott famously noted that while writing, as difficult as the process may be, delivers gifts publication makes people crazy. Many writers get into the business first out of love, however, love doesn’t pay the bills and it can take a while for writing to pay a living wage. The writer who has no other financial support often has no choice but to work one or more “day jobs” to keep the money coming in. The dream, of course, is quitting that day job to make a living entirely as a writer. What can happen, however, is that intense focus on bringing in money from writing – from scrutinizing the marketplace, to constantly checking Amazon rankings, to jealous obsession with other writers’ sales figures – can suck all the joy out of what was once a dream, and even reduce the art of writing into an algorithm. The Taoists believe that focusing on monetary gain instead of on their concept of virtue “maddens the mind.” Jeffe Kennedy, a comparative religious studies major who did her honors thesis on the Tao Te Ching, and a practicing Taoist for most of her life, will discuss these concepts and encourage round table discussion of people’s experiences. It’s not that money is the root of all evil, but that the love of money is. There’s nothing wrong with plying our art to gain wealth, but there are ways to refocus our attention on the core values that truly matter, such as telling a memorable story while navigating the tumultuous publishing world.

Lessons from the Spreadsheet Queen

Fondly known as “The Spreadsheet Queen,” Jeffe Kennedy has long discussed in various venues her extensive Excel spreadsheets for tracking writing progress. She tracks word count by day, week, month, and year, along with writing goals and Gantt charts for planning workload and release schedules. While she freely shares a blank template of her “Progress Count” workbooks, multiple people have requested a tutorial in using them. In this workshop, Jeffe will walk people through her worksheets, where to find the embedded formulae and conditional formatting to highlight goals reached. She’ll explain how to adapt the spreadsheets for personal use and give suggestions for building in additional features. Every attendee will receive a blank template workbook to adapt, along with an annotated reference guide to Jeffe’s version, complete with examples. The discussion will also include how to set personal writing goals, what to take into consideration and how to train the writing muscle for greater endurance, much like training the body for a marathon. In addition, the general Three-Act story structure will be introduced, as the spreadsheets calculate progress toward climaxes, which allows even far-end pantsers like Jeffe to predict beats and overall novel length.

Defying Gravity – Writing Cross-Genre and Succeeding Anyway

Genre definitions have a profound influence on writers’ careers. From the first queries where we must specify the book’s genre to long-term decisions about pursuing or giving up on a “dead” genre, dealing with what feels like a false construct is a necessary skill. However, following our hearts and inspiration often means tossing aside these considerations.

Or chopping them to pieces in a murderous rage.

But shedding conventions can be what sets a book apart—and can take a writer’s career from midlist to break-out.

So… how do you know? More—how do we find the courage to embrace a bold move?

Jeffe Kennedy will discuss how she went from being a “Crack Ho” – being told that her work fell in the cracks between genres – to receiving a nomination for Book of the Year and an RT Seal of Excellence for the one title each month that stands out from all the rest by an innovative twist on a familiar story or pushing genre boundaries. She’ll discuss genres and sub-genres, where they overlap, how romantic storylines can tip the balance one way or the other — and coloring inside the lines and stepping across them.

Why the Truth Doesn’t Hurt

The Tides of BáraFirst off, some exciting news!! For all of you who have loved Louisa Gallie’s amazing cover for THE TIDES OF BÁRA (book #3 in my Sorcerous Moons fantasy romance series), you can now get *stuff* with the image from Society 6!!! I know I’m going to be doing some shopping!!

So… I’ve been brewing a bit of a rant. But it has nothing to do with politics!

I read this book that I really hated. This was particularly disappointing because it was very well written – at least the beginning was. I had high hopes for it to be a top pick. However, the bulk of the book didn’t live up to the truly stellar beginning (which happens) nor did I think it lived up  to the considerable hype (which certainly happens a lot). None of this, however, is why I hated it.

I hated it because the author went to extremes to make the story brutally heartbreaking.

Now, I’m going to caveat that, while I am a big fan of happy endings, this is not what bothered me. I’m okay with a tragic ending. I went into this book expecting a tragic – even brutally heartbreaking – ending, because I’d been warned. Even if I hadn’t hear people talking about how it broke their hearts, I would have known at the beginning because it’s clearly telegraphed. There’s even a kind of warning quote in the frontispiece that essentially says that the story will be painful because it’s the truth.

(I’m going to some lengths here not to identify the book, because that’s not my purpose here.)

So, the logic of the story is this: the ending is over-the-top tragic, with a profound betrayal. There’s insult added to injury. And then it’s excused in a way by this warning, by saying “Oh yes, this is really painful because it’s true.”

I call complete and utter bullshit on this.

Truth has nothing to do with pain.

And that ending is painful, not because it illuminates some universal truth, but because the author WANTED it to be brutally painful. It was so contrived to be heartbreaking that it made me truly angry. In romance we often talk about the unearned happy ending – when the story fails to convince the reader that the couple have a real chance at happiness. I found this tragic ending to be unearned. In Romeo and Juliet, the ending is believably tragic because of the cascade of disasters and errors. In this book… I didn’t believe the main character would go to the lengths they did. The explanation that’s tossed about is that the person is a sociopath.

Well… okay. But if the only explanation to justify that result is to describe the person as not being a normal human being, then this is hardly a truth. It’s a monstrous characterization. And the pain is nothing inherent or true – it’s simply plastered on to elicit this emotional reaction.

In brewing this rant, I planned to address the relevance of the idea that the truth hurts – so I looked up the origin of the quote. I fully expected it to be from the Bible or Shakespeare. 

Not so much!


At first I couldn’t believe it, so I got a couple of research-fiend friends (Thank you Kelly Robson and Erin Hartshorn!) to look, too, and they couldn’t find it either. Erin found a French version (il n’y a que la vérité qui blesse –  it’s only the truth that wounds) that’s attributed as a proverb, but it’s not from the biblical Proverbs. We couldn’t find “The truth hurts” anywhere except in internet memes. 

Which – do I have to say this? – don’t count as citable quotations or as universal truths.

So, let’s all get over this idea that the truth is painful, okay? You want to explore pain and betrayal, sociopathic behavior, power and the way it corrupts – sure, do that! I’m interested in those themes, too, which is in part why I wanted to read this book. But I take offense at the idea of presenting a painful story and justifying doing so as “true” to something.

Pain is no more true than pleasure. Sorrow no more true than joy.

And a tragic ending isn’t more valuable than a happy one.

Enough with this already

Identifying and Breaking Bad Writing Habits

Learn to identify your bad habits as a writer to improve the quantity and quality of your work. Jeffe will share some of her approaches, such as Own Your Process, Kick Excuses to the Curb, Listen to Your Editors – and Learn, Study Successful Authors and Keep a List of Recurring Tics. She’ll also help participants discover their own process and what might be getting in the way of more and better writing.

Selling Shovels to Miners

file-sep-16-9-43-03-amThe carrier pigeons delivered my ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) of THE EDGE OF THE BLADE yesterday!! Email my assistant, Carien at Carien at home dot nl (suck up spaces, replace words with punctuation symbols – you know the drill), if you’d like to get on the list. We just need you to review it somewhere, please and thank you, or my publisher yells at me. (Okay, they don’t yell at me, but they sigh at me and make these little squinchy faces.) You can also find preorder links HERE, if you want to skip the (implicit) obligation and go straight for the gold. 

Either way… EEEEE!! Can’t wait for you all to read Jepp’s book!

The other day someone on one of my author loops asked about a workshop she saw advertised that promised to teach participants how to increase their numbers of newsletter subscribers. It was being taught by a guy who also teaches workshops (and sells books) on how to maximize Facebook ads. This author mentioned that the workshop cost $600 and she wondered if it was worth it.

She noted a few things about this guy, which I’m going to list for you here:

  1. He’s an author, selling this marketing technique on that authority, yet hasn’t seemed to have written much in years.
  2. But he promised that participants would make that money back in profits.
  3. She feels a lot of pressure to improve her newsletter subscribership because “everybody” says that’s key.

Here are some things to think about:

  1. For any person selling writing advice – be it ‘how to write a bestseller’ to ‘how to make tons of book profits via Facebook ads’ to whatever – look at how THEY are making their money. This guy is clearly making his money off of writers, not off of books. If his marketing technique worked so amazingly well, wouldn’t he be doing that? Same for people who purport to teach how to write a bestseller. If they know, they’d be writing them, or all of their clients would be. Just saying.
  2. OF COURSE every one of these guys promises this! It’s one of those “guarantees” that sounds great and means NOTHING. If you don’t make back that money, whose fault is it? Why yours, naturally! It’s not their fault if you didn’t implement the information correctly. Meanwhile they have your $600 and you have no recourse.
  3. When the “everybody” who’s telling you something is key are the people who are selling the information on how to do it, take a step back and examine their motivation.

All of this comes down to that there a lot of people out there selling shovels to miners.

This is what happens in a gold rush. Yes, there is gold out there, and a lot of miners are finding gold in them thar hills. There is nothing wrong with being a miner and going for the gold. Nor is there anything wrong with the shovel salesmen. Miners need shovels. 

But the head of my agency (Fuse Literary), Laurie McLean, said something very smart. She said, “There’s a reason the streets of San Francisco are named after the shovel salesmen, not the miners.”

By this she’s referring to the fact that San Francisco grew up as a supply camp for the gold rush miners. Much like Denver, the city was first a supply camp, then grew up as more and more people made their livings around the ones digging the gold out of the ground. 

The metaphor here should be clear: writers are the primary sources, digging words out of the mines to make stories. The people who sell us the shovels to do this – from software, to agents, to editors, to Amazon, to marketers, and so forth – they all depend on us for their living. We need them, sure – but they need us more. Without us, they have no one to sell their shovels to, no primary source of income.

History, however, remembers who?

The streets of San Francisco are named after the shovel salesmen, not the miners.

That tells you who makes most of the money, keeps it, and uses it to become wealthy.

All this is by way of saying, be aware that these people are out there. I’m not saying don’t buy shovels – we need shovels! – but I am saying, be wary of the person wanting to sell you the Super Duper Extra-Durable Supramatic Shovel. Especially if that person is telling you that the Super Duper Extra-Durable Supramatic Shovel is key and all miners agree you have to have one.

Especially if that person used to be a miner and is now making their living selling Super Duper Extra-Durable Supramatic Shovels.