Jeffe’s Top Trick for Fantasy Writing

This week at the SFF Seven, we’re talking about the top tricks in our given writing programs.

I don’t use a fancy “writing program.” I use Word, which I begrudgingly moved to when WordPerfect was murdered. It works great for me. No bells and whistles. I write linearly from beginning to end and don’t need extra functions to annotate or move scenes around. Cut and paste works great for this simple gal. I do modify Word to show me the ongoing word count in the lower left corner, but otherwise, I don’t have a lot of tricks.

EXCEPT…

This is my top #protip for using Word. It’s been the best discovery ever and has saved me loads of time and headaches. Ready?

Use the in-program dictionary to autocorrect your weird fantasy words.

Seriously, smartest thing I ever did.

For example, in my Twelve Kingdoms world, there is the sailing ship named the Hákyrling. I can never remember how I spelled it (major fantasy-writer peril), nor where I put the stupid accent mark. (WHY DID I USE AN ACCENT MARK??? It’s not necessary. It just makes everything more difficult. Anyway…) So, I added Hákyrling to the dictionary – which is easy, right click on the word and choose “Add to Dictionary” – and then I went into the autocorrect options and added that if I type “kyr” Word autocorrects it to Hákyrling. With italicized formatting. Boom. Done. That easy.

I have done this for many of my more complex/obscure fantasy names and words. The trick is to pick a shortcut that 1) you can easily remember, and 2) you don’t otherwise type.

Go forth and use this trick, young fantasy writers!

Calculating ROI – and Accounting for the Intangible

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is our worst ROI ever. So many to choose from!

ROI is industry shorthand for Return on Investment. It’s basically a calculation for financial health of a business. I looked up the origin and found out that Donaldson Brown created the term.

As the Assistant Treasurer [of DuPont] in 1914, Brown developed a formula for monitoring business performance that combined earnings, working capital, and investments in plants and property into a single measure that he termed “return on investment.” It later became known in academic and financial circles as the DuPont Method (or Model) for Return on Investment. The measure was widely taught in business schools and adopted by many companies as a means of benchmarking the financial health of their products and businesses.

That’s interesting, because I wondered if it was an old model. Turns out it’s over a century old!

Also, the term comprises much more than I think most writers mean when they use it. When I hear writers talk about ROI, it’s always whether a particular effort – a conference, buying an ad, buying into an anthology – will be more expensive than the sales it generates. Many reduced it to the simplest math: “If I spend this much attending a con, will I earn more than that on sales of my books?” Often husbands are cited as putting forth this equation, usually as justification for wives not attending cons.

When asked for my opinion there (and sometimes even when NOT asked), I have always said that conferences of all types provide an intangible ROI. Networking and getting your books in front of people give long-term results that aren’t always quantifiable. Since I was doing a bit of research, I looked up if anyone thinks the DuPont Model for ROI is antiquated. Turns out there’s this:

We demonstrate that firms ‘assets are becoming increasing more intangible, and the traditional DuPont Analysis omits this crucial piece of a firm’s ability to generate profit.

Those folks are talking market equity, but it occurs to me that many authors looking at simple math and short-term sales are failing to account for the intangible value of building recognition for their work over the long term.

But I digress.

The topic today asks about my personal worst return on investment. Since I don’t really do the calculations – see above – I don’t know a precise metric. I can, however, share an investment regret. When my very first book came out, the essay collection Wyoming Trucks, True Love, and the Weather Channel, a friend of mine, Chuck, told me one of HIS great regrets was not buying a case of his first book. The first edition was worth a great deal and he was sorry not to have done that. So, I bought a case of my books!

Reader: I still have most of them.

See, my first book didn’t sell tons of copies and I have not become an NYT bestseller with a TV miniseries based on my books, unlike Chuck. He meant well, and I adore him for thinking that I would have the same trajectory, but I’m not C.J. Box, alas!

I suppose the key takeaway here is that there is no one size fits all advice.

Also, that the ROI on cats is always solid.

 

New Covers for Sorcerous Moons!

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is “Tick-Tock trends—have you tried any reading or writing trends?”

I’m leaving in the misspelling, just so you get how clueless we are. ~ Shakes cane at kids on lawn ~

Regarding TikTok – lol! – a social media property that originated in China, no, I don’t follow or attempt the trends. I sometimes feel like I should. I do have a TikTok account – https://www.tiktok.com/@jeffe_kennedy – and I even have over a thousand followers there, even though I almost never post anything. The followers are due to very kind and generous fellow authors who do the Tiks and Toks better than I do. (Shout out to Vela Roth and Lisette Marshall!)

So, I know that I really should post to TikTok, and I sometimes think about it, and even occasionally do it. But I also remind myself of advice I’ve been giving since the beginning of social media, which is that you “should” do only the kind you enjoy doing. Social media is social and if you’re hating it and faking being social and happy and fun, it shows.

Therefore, instead of discussing reader trends or writing trends or TikTok dances, I’m going to share these beautiful new covers for my complete, six-book Sorcerous Moons series!!! The spine design with all six together is so gorgeous even Taylor is gasping in admiration! The print editions can be ordered via my website store or the usual retailers.

 

Trope-tastic – Love ‘Em and Loathe ‘Em


This week at the SFF Seven. we’re asking each other which tropes you love to write and which do you loathe?

The tropes I love are pretty easy to identify for anyone who’s read more than one of my books. My favorites are:

  • Enemies to Lovers
  • Marriage of Convenience/Political Marriage/Marriage of State
  • Forced Proximity
  • He Falls First
  • Learning to Use magic/special abilities/wrestling own power

 

As for the tropes I loathe? Loathe is a strong word. I’m not sure I loathe any tropes. Ones I’m less fond of are:

  • Second chance (I just don’t believe that whatever broke them up the first time won’t break them up again)
  • Bully Romance (no no no – toxicity and abuse isn’t romantic to me)
  • Fated Mates (hard to make this one work)
  • Faux Medieval Fantasy Worlds (Enough already – and besides medieval times were never like that)
  • Chosen One (yawn)

 

The ones I truly dislike are the damaging ones, like:

  • Woman in the Refrigerator (women are people, not plot devices)
  • Clumsy Heroine (it’s not endearing to me)
  • Racist Cliches (enough said)
  • Bury Your Gays (see Woman in the Refrigerator)
  • Having Kids as the Solution to Happiness (Spoiler: having kids is *hard* – they don’t solve your problems or give your life the meaning it lacked)

Overthinking Your Writing? Be Like Jackson

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is: How do you stop overthinking your writing? The accompanying photo is of Jackson, who makes a practice of overthinking absolutely nothing. I’m tempted to say “Be like Jackson” and end the blog post here.

But, seriously, the key to not overthinking your writing is … stop overthinking.

I know that’s not helpful, but it is an important skill to acquire. Conversely, it’s important to purge yourself of the idea that thinking is necessary for writing. As an intuitive writer, I do everything I can to maximize intuition and minimize conscious thought. The more I think, the slower I write. I know this about myself, but there’s a pervasive idea out there that writing comes from thinking.

This gem was going around Twitter/X the last couple of days:

We won’t dive into how much of a dipshit this guy is, including a misguided impression that writers are somehow not into opportunities that allow us to pay the bills. What’s key here is that he believes you have to have an outline before writing, that you have to THINK it out. Spoiler: you do not. I am living proof of it and a total advocate for being that opportunist. Let the story come to you.

Something to keep in mind is that overthinking is a form of perfectionism, which can be paralyzing. Therefore, any techniques for killing perfectionist tendencies will help here. Basically let go of expectations and the need to make the story perfect as you’re writing.

Relax. Let it flow.

Be like Jackson.

Writing Believable Scenes

We had big fun at Beastly Books yesterday celebrating FaRoFeb! The delightful Vela Roth came up from El Paso, and A.K. Mulford and A.J. Lancaster joined us online from down under. The panel was also broadcast on Instagram Live and you can find a recording of it on the FaRoFeb Instagram account.

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is “How do you make your love scenes believable?”

By “love,” I assume the asker means sex – though how to make the confessional of heartfelt love feel earned and not pasted on or saccharine is an interesting question. But, in truth, the answer to both, or even really ALL scenes – love, sex, fight, daily conversation – believable is to ground them in character.

This is true whether you are a plot-driven or character-driven writer. Stories are about the emotions of the people in them – what they want, what they can’t have, what drives them to chase what they want anyway. So, a fight scene is never just about the choreography and who wins or loses. It’s about what that win or loss MEANS to the characters, what impact their injuries might have on them beyond the physical.

Likewise, a sex scene is never just about tabs and slots fitting together. It’s about emotional intimacy, what the sexual interlude means to the characters. It has nothing to do with whether or not multiple orgasms are believable or making first-time encounters awkward or including realistic body noises and accidental passing of fluids and gases. Those things might factor in if they relate to the characters’ emotional lives, but by themselves, they don’t change anything, one way or the other.

Because believability comes from emotional truth, regardless of everything else.

 

In Our Romantasy Era

Join me next Saturday, Feb 10th, 4:00 – 5:30 PM ET/2:00 – 3:30 PM MT for a super fun panel: “In Our Romantasy Era” – how and why romantasy stories are resonating with readers and authors today. The event will take place in person at Beastly Books in Santa Fe, NM and online on Instagram live @farofeb and @beastlybooks418. Should be a great conversation!

 

Beyond Book Sales: Other Ways to Earn Income as an Author


This week at the SFF Seven, we’re asking about book-related income that is specifically not from book sales.

There was an asterisk to that, specifying that the question was in relation to the Authors Guild 2023 Income Survey, which I didn’t read. (I have Opinions about that survey, which I won’t go into.) But I assume the question comes from the survey dividing author income into book-related and not, and the person asking is wondering what the “not” might be. It’s a good question because I’m a firm believer that long-term success in this fickle business relies on diversifying income streams.

I actually have a line on my income spreadsheets that says “Other Writing Income,” as opposed to the “Book Sales” line. What kind of income is that?

  1. My Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/JeffesCloset. This is how I offer mentoring and coaching to other writers. Plus, it’s a great little community that’s truly supportive and positive in a non-toxic way.
  2. Other kinds of coaching. I also offer various kinds of one-on-one mentoring and coaching.
  3. Workshops, presentations, and master classes. I love giving talks and I especially love it when they pay me!
  4. Articles and similar nonfiction writing. Love getting paid for those, too!
  5. YouTube. I have a podcast, First Cup of Coffee with Jeffe Kennedy, with enough subscribers that I earn income from the views.

Leveling Up Your Craft as a Writer


This week at the SFF Seven, we’re asking each other if our writing changed – and, if so, how?

It might seem disingenuous to say this, but yes my writing has changed: I’ve gotten better.

I mean, one would hope so!

And I realize that “better” is a nebulous descriptor, so I’ll attempt to define it. One thing about writing skill that it seems I end up telling newbies over and over is that I absolutely have gotten faster at every stage of the process. It’s like when you learn to drive a car. (And I learned on a stick shift, so there was an extra layer of learning curve there.) At first you consciously think about a hundred different aspects of the task: the brake, the accelerator, (maybe the balance between the clutch, the brake, and the accelerator, which was a real treat), steering, watching the front, the side, the rear view, reading street signs and traffic signals, and thinking several cars ahead, and remembering where you’re going… It’s a LOT to think about and overwhelming at first. But later, after you’ve been driving for years, you don’t think about all of that anymore, right? Mostly I think about where I’m going and how to best get there – and sometimes I zone out and forget even that, defaulting to familiar routes – but otherwise the rest is subconscious.

Writing is the same way! (I include revising in this.) After time and practice, you don’t have to think about the zillion details of craft, liberating your mind to focus on storytelling.

I think this is something that more experienced writers forget – how much we’ve internalized the mechanics of the process, allowing us to allocate more resources to our creative selves. This freedom allows us to try new things, write more difficult and complex stories, to test our writing chops. Maybe it’s like, to extend the analogy, learning to drive a race car or fly a plane. Going for the fancier skills is predated by learning the basics.

The thing is, I think a lot of us who grow up reading the works that inspire us (which should be all of us, really) have this idea that we can leap directly to doing THAT. Everybody loves the concept of the wunderkind, the prodigy, the creative who makes a list like “30 under 30,” as if that’s meaningful in any way. Spoiler: it’s not meaningful; it’s just unusual, which is why we’re fascinated.

So, do what I advise the writers in my mentoring Discord: take your time, learn the basics. It *will* get easier. And THEN you can deliberately choose to make it harder!

The Secret of Hobbies in Keeping Us Sane

 

This week at the SFF Seven we’re talking about those hobbies that take the pressure off writing.

This is relevant for more than curiosity because hobbies are key for creatives to fend off burnout. It’s interesting, because it seems like when we talk about “hobbies,” we’re already assigning whatever project it is a lesser status. A hobby is something you do on the side, for pleasure and no other reason. I’m going to add that a hobby usually doesn’t generate income (until it does). You might not even be that good at it, because if you were good at it, people would pay you, right?

We talk about hobbies in a slightly indulgent, somewhat disparaging way:

“Oh, my spouse’s hobby is woodworking, but mostly they just putter in the garage.”

or

“My spouse reads countless books. It’s a cute hobby, but an expensive one!”

See what I mean?

The thing about hobbies, though, is that they are critical to our wellbeing. They keep us sane. For creatives, hobbies refill the well, which is what we need to avoid burnout.

What happens for a lot of us making a living from our creative work – I’ll stick with writing as my example – is that what started as a hobby becomes a job. The thing we did for fun, for pressure release, simply out of love, becomes the thing we must do to pay the mortgage and keep the lights on. We lost our hobby and frequently don’t replace it. Because we’re doing what we love for work! That should be enough, right?

Spoiler: it’s not enough.

One of the most important things any creative can do is have a non-monetized creative outlet or two. AKA, hobbies. The non-monetized aspect is important, because it allows us to be creative without that feeling of needing to pay the bills or track sales or make business decisions. I met a US Poet Laureate who also painted – and very well – but had a solid rule never to sell his work. He only gave his paintings as gifts. I’ve remembered that lesson ever since.

What do I do? I confess that, in the eight years since I became a full-time, career author – as in supporting my family with my writing – I have not been super great at keeping up hobbies. I’ve burned out once, too, and come close to it a couple of other times. I’m trying to do better. What do I do?

  1. Gardening
  2. Reading
  3. Interior Decorating
  4. Hiking
  5. Yoga

 

It was instructive to make this list coming at it from the lens of a “hobby” rather than “non-monetized creativity.” I’ve been trying to implement creative things I can do, but I’m just now realizing that these other activities – even something as prosaic painting my living room (I decided to include an in-process photo), as I’m doing this weekend – also count as leisure-time, restorative activities. Theoretically, everything on my list could be monetized.

(Maybe not. Can you be paid to hike? And I will never, ever be that good at yoga! Trust me: a yoga teacher I will never be.)

Anyway, celebrate those hobbies! They aren’t silly or pointless. They’re what feeds us as human beings.