Writer’s Police Academy Part 2: K9 Units by Sarah Madison

I confess, when I saw the K9 handler pull up on that first afternoon at WPA, during the open Q&A session with various law enforcement and emergency personnel, I was immediately drawn to watch. Having owned many high-drive German Shepherds myself, I couldn’t help but admire the power and beauty of these dogs, as well as the appreciate some of the similarities between these working dogs and my own.

But it was impressed upon us just how different these dogs are from any family pet.

I’ll try to make sense from my hastily scribbled notes.

The K9 units are subdivided by specialty training: SWAT, patrol, drug work. A typical shift is 10 hours/ day (though the officers are paid for eleven hours, to include grooming and care of the dogs), four days on, four days off.

Unlike the other units, the drug units frequently rely on sporting dogs for drug work—Labradors, Pointers, etc. It makes sense, as many of these breeds have been selected for their sense of smell as well as a willingness to retrieve. Handlers are only allowed to stay with the drug unit for 5 years before moving into another division—presumably to help prevent burnout.

Most of the ‘police’ dogs are imported from Germany. Handlers undergo six weeks of intensive training, but it can take up to a year before the handler/dog team is call ready. Handlers are expected to train daily. The length of time spent training depends on both handler ability and the capability of the dog.

The cost of a single dog plus training runs between $12-13 thousand dollars—it’s a major investment for a police department. The K9 handler spent a good deal of time discussing protecting that investment, as there had recently been a local case of a dog dying in a police car due to overheating. The cars have fixed grills in them that allow the windows to be rolled down without the dog being able to leave the car. Newer police K9 units have heat sensors that will roll down the windows automatically if the car becomes too hot. Lights and sirens also go off, and a text is sent to the dispatch, the handler, and the captain. As a system of fail-safes, it should be foolproof, and yet many departments have older vehicles well-past retirement age due to budget cuts. All three management systems failed in the case of the heat-related dog death.

There are protection vests for the police dogs, but they are seldom used because they weight between 40-50 pounds, greatly hampering the dog’s ability to do its job. No officer will send their dog in on a ‘suicide mission’, but they will put the dog in danger to protect a fellow officer. Ultimately, the police dog is a tool, much as a service weapon. The speaker stated that the dogs weren’t considered part of the ‘use of force’ continuum, but unfortunately, didn’t explain that statement further.

The average working lifespan of a police dog is eight years, after which they are retired with the handler or euthanized. These dogs are NOT socialized. Walking on a leash in the neighborhood is not an option. The handler who spoke with us estimated his kennel arrangement at the house cost about three thousand dollars to make a safe, dog-proof environment. While euthanasia, if the handler is not prepared to retire the dog at his home, may sound cruel after a lifetime of service, it is preferable to the practice of auctioning off retiring dogs to the highest bidder, which some cash-strapped communities have done in the past. The liability of doing such a thing has probably ended this practice for the most part.

The handler and dog are a team—the dog is rarely out of the handler’s sight, and is the handler’s backup in any given situation. Handlers have a remote control which can open the rear door of the police car and release the dog. The handler can direct a search, direct an attack, but in an open brawl, the dog cannot distinguish friend from foe and will attack the most animated person. This is because the dogs are selected for having a strong prey drive, which means they go after anything that moves. I have personal experience with that, as my last shepherd had a strong prey drive. The very first time he laid eyes on a black bear, he chased it up the side of a mountain!

Dogs are usually trained to ‘bark and hold’, which means they will go up to a suspect and bark but not engage unless the suspect moves. If a dog is already lit up with excitement, however, training may break and the dog might engage regardless.

Dogs are frequently used as a locating tool. The handler referred to ‘walkaways’, which are people who are either suicidal, have dementia, or walked out of an assisted living situation. Dogs are used to locate people in buildings or parks, finding them much more efficiently than a human searcher could do.

Dogs are also frequently utilized at traffic stops because an officer can only hold a driver for so long without probable cause, but if a dog alerts on a car, they have probable cause.

The thing that the handler reiterated the most was that, though he would bawl his eyes out if anything happened to his dog, he was prepared to sacrifice his dog’s life to save a human being. The bond between handler and dog is great, but ultimately, the dog is there to be used.

Tune in next time, when I’ll treat you to the highlights of body armor and how it stops certain kinds of ammunition.

In the meantime, check out the reason I wanted to go to WPA in the first place, the FBI guys from the Sixth Sense series!

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Defending Your Copyright: What You Need to Know

Recently, I found out the hard way what you can expect in a battle to defend your copyright.

First, let me put a disclaimer here: this information, to the best of my knowledge, only applies in the US. You should check into the regulations within your own country.

summer_fling-200x300I’ve posted extensively on my website about the conflict I got into with Amazon over my right to publish A Summer Fling, but I’ll share the highlights with you here: a short time ago, I updated some information in my bio on a long-standing free short story on Amazon.

The next day, I received an email from KDP saying that prior to my submission they’d received a complaint and takedown notice from a third party and they declined to re-publish the story. A story that had been available for the last three years. I was given four days to prove I was the author of the story in question or face a lifetime ban from publishing on Amazon.

I was aghast. My initial thought was I’d done something wrong with the file changes. I contacted friends, who assured me this wasn’t all that unusual, and that Amazon was getting tougher about establishing copyright due to copyright claim jumping as well as people stealing the pen names of established authors to publish their own stories. Self-published authors may be at greater risk.

This is a good time to state here that in the US, copyright is conferred at the time the work is created, and it is not necessary to register it with the copyright office to claim copyright or even defend that copyright in court. Is *is* necessary, however, if you intend to sue for damages due to copyright infringement. I have since learned that having your works registered will go a long way toward defending your copyright in many cases without going to court–something most of us would probably prefer. I also believe in this age where theft of digital products is on the rise (funny how everyone wants access to the end product but few want to pay the actual creator of these works…), it behooves us as authors to think proactively about our stories.

From the US copyright office:

1. Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship.
2. Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.
3. Registration is recommended for a number of reasons. Many choose to register their works because they wish to have the facts of their copyright on the public record and have a certificate of registration. Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney’s fees in successful litigation. Finally, if registration occurs within 5 years of publication, it is considered prima facie evidence in a court of law.
4. The United States has copyright relations with most countries throughout the world, and as a result of these agreements, we honor each other’s citizens’ copyrights. However, the United States does not have such copyright relationships with every country. For a listing of countries and the nature of their copyright relations with the United States, see Circular 38a, International Copyright Relations of the United States.

Here is the link for the US copyright office.

That said, I was able to provide Amazon with ample proof that I was the copyright holder of the story. I sent in the original draft (written in 2011), as well as links to where it appeared as a free story online during a fest, and then the 2013 Smashwords creation. I also, for good measure, retroactively registered the copyright and provided Amazon with that case number. Satisfied there was no way anyone could contest I was the author of A Summer Fling, I sent the email and dismissed it from my mind.

Only the next communication changed everything. Amazon no longer disputed that I had written the story. The problem was some third party claimed I didn’t have a right to publish the story. WTH?

This was no longer a case of random copyright theft. The number of potential claimants in this case was quite small. Two as a matter of fact. The first party contacted Amazon on my behalf and received a generic email response that told her nothing.

A fourth refusal from Amazon to re-establish the story included a generous invitation to continue publishing with them in the future–and a suggestion to hire a copyright lawyer. In the meantime, I’d been on the phone with Author Central and KDP, and I’d forwarded Jeff Bezos all my communications with KDP–including a statement from a now-defunct ebook retailer (who happened to have closed doors 24 hours before this problem arose) showing they had no publishing rights to my story. Because now I’m suspicious. Highly suspicious.

And then suddenly, I receive an email from Amazon stating ‘on further review’ they’ve decided to reverse their position and put the story back up again. No explanation. I have no idea if it was my loud persistence, the intervention of one of the two possible claimants, or my contacting Jeff Bezos about the matter that resolved it.

I doubt that copyright registration would have made a difference in this case because this was about publishing rights, not copyrights. But I will definitely be registering my previous and future stories with the copyright office as an extra layer of protection.

I will also download copies of *every* agreement signed to allow distribution of my stories. I was fortunate to still have access to a copy of the ARe agreement, even though I don’t know if they were the source of the conflict.

The takehome message here is to be proactive in defending your works. I was facing hiring a copyright lawyer to determine if a free story was being blocked by accident or a malicious attempt to lay claim to all my self-published stories. You can see why I had to seriously consider hiring that lawyer.

 

Bio:

Sarah Madison is a writer with a little dog, a large dog, an even bigger horse, too many cats, and a very patient boyfriend. When she’s in the middle of a chapter, she relies on the smoke detector to tell her dinner is ready. She writes because it’s cheaper than therapy.

Sarah Madison was a finalist in the 2013, 2015, and 2016 Rainbow Awards. The Boys of Summer won Best M/M Romance in the 2013 PRG Reviewer’s Choice Awards. The Sixth Sense series was voted 2nd place in the 2014 PRG Reviewer’s Choice Awards for Best M/M Mystery series, and 3rd place in the 2105 PGR Reviewer’s Choice Awards for Best M/M Paranormal/Urban Fantasy series.

If you want to make her day, e-mail her and tell you how much you like her stories.

Website: http://www.sarahmadisonfiction.com

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Why We Need Our Storytellers Now More Than Ever by Sarah Madison

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This isn’t the post I intended to write.

I’d originally planned a lighthearted piece about the value of play in stimulating creativity, but that was before the results of the Presidential election. While this is not going to be a political post per se, it was written in reaction to the elections.

Suffice to say, I am horrified, shocked, and yes, terrified. And one of the side effects of this is that I’ve had to take a long hard look at whether I can afford to continue writing.

I know, that seems like such a trivial consideration when you look at the impact this election will have on our country, our citizens, and our planet for decades to come. But it is, I think, a valid one. Writing takes up a significant portion of my time. Yes, it’s a passion, but it is frequently a source of frustration as well. It’s time spent doing something I hope will also help pay the bills, but let’s be realistic: a second job would do that more reliably and efficiently.

Not to mention, I find it incredibly difficult to write when I’m stressed. This past year hasn’t been particularly productive for me, since I have been fretting about this election for at least that long. Now that my worst nightmares have come true, I am facing, at minimum, four years of high-level stress. That’s what I tell myself in order to make myself feel better, mind you. In reality, it will be worse for years to come. Possibly the rest of my life.

Then there is the feeling right now that writing is a frivolous waste of time. How can I occupy myself writing fluffy romances where there are so many battles needing to be fought? Wouldn’t it be a better use of my time putting that energy into other areas? At the very least, something serious and worthy?

So yes, for a period of about 48 hours, I felt as though all hope was gone. I literally did not know how I would continue in a country I no longer recognized as my own. And then I began reading messages of support and encouragement. They came from my friends at first—reminding me how much pleasure writing gives me, but also how much pleasure my stories give other people. For years now, I’ve said my main goal in telling stories was to make someone’s crappy day a bit better—to provide a few hours entertainment, to let someone lose themselves in another world for a little while—so they could forget the stressful job, or their chronic illness, or the burdens of their daily life. My dear friends reminded me of that, and I deeply thank them for their unwavering support and belief in what we do as creators. What I do as a creator. Now, more than ever, we are going to need relief we get from reading stories that make us happy.

But it’s more than that. A Finnish friend of mine, a wonderful writer, penned this statement as a means of encouragement to us all:

“We are the people who create. And I don’t just mean that we’re creative, I mean that in no matter how big or small a way, we bring something good into this world, make it better. We build instead of destroy, make things move forward instead of back. We create friendships and fandom families that stick together. We create positive thoughts and energy that will always spread farther than we think. We create better versions of ourselves, and help others grow that way too. We create stories, crafts, art, discussions, pictures, and so much more, and bring joy to others through what we do. We create love. So many times this place, the fandom, all you people, have saved my day when I have needed it the most. And every time I hear that something I did or created did the same for someone else, I feel a little surprised that I had such power, but also very happy that I could shine some light on a day that might have been anything between mildly grey and near dark.”

Her words came into my darkness like a shining beacon.

Chuck Wendig, an author who posts kick-ass blogs about being a writer, posted a list of constructive things we as creators can do, titled Mourn, Then Get Mad, Then Get Busy. I found this post heartening as well. In particular because it acknowledged my fear and despair, and then gave me practical things I could do about it.

My BF, God bless him, sent me this link, which also inspired me. It’s from the comic, Oatmeal, entitled It’s Going To Be Okay. I confess, I didn’t want to read it at first because I didn’t want someone trying to persuade me things aren’t going to be as bad as I fear, but I was very glad I did. You should read it too.

Last night, long after I should have been asleep, I came across this tweet from George Takei:

The Ministry has fallen. Death Eaters are about. But, my wizards, together we can defeat the dark tides of bigotry and intolerance. #WandsUp

It made me smile in a painful sort of way, but it also reminded me the power of the written word. The magic of stories that makes us not only see similarities between world events and books we grew up loving, but it makes us want to be better people. We want the Ring to get to Mordor. We want to see Voldemort vanquished, the Empire defeated and Palpatine destroyed. We want to believe that one day, ignorance, hatred, and intolerance will give way to the kind of society that creates Starfleet, and that people of all races, genders, nationalities, and species can serve together—as a team—on the greatest starship of all time. Because otherwise, we’ll all be living in Panem, and the Hunger Games will begin soon.

I won’t kid you. I’m terrified for the future of my planet, for society as a whole, for my personal health and safety. And I’ve been wondering what one exhausted, frightened, middle-aged woman can do. The answer is, I can continue to write. My stories might not change the world. I probably won’t create the next Harry Potter series, or write something that catches fire like the Hunger Games. I write romances, and heck, I probably won’t even write the next 50 Shades of Gray. But what I can do, in my own quiet way, is tell stories where diversity and acceptance aren’t dirty words, and where love wins in the end.

If I make someone fall in love with a character who is not like them—if I humanize that person for them and make that reader want what is best for them—then I’ve taken steps that might make them stop viewing ‘different’ as ‘other’. And if the only thing I achieve is that I make one other exhausted, frightened person feel a little bit better, a little bit calmer, even for a few hours, then I’ve done a good thing. If I can make one person say, “Whoa, that isn’t right, and we need to change that,” then I have done a great thing.

Let’s all go out there and do great things.

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The Power of Saying No in Order to Say Yes by Sarah Madison

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stop: freeimage.com

I’m late getting here today. I’ve been out of town and, while I had the best of intentions as to writing this post in advance, I got caught up in all the post-vacation work stuff that occurs and barely managed to write this at all. But it’s just as well because my trip influenced my choice of topics here today.

I just got back from an annual vacation that my friends and I refer to as ‘Squee Weekend.’ It started seven years ago as a 3 day weekend among fandom friends and has evolved into a writers/crafting weeklong workshop with participants from all over the world. We still talk about our fandoms, but we also brainstorm over stories, share our love for other hobbies, such as journaling, or jewelry-making, and in general stay up half the night watching movies, talking, drinking wine, and eating too much. I look forward to going every year. It’s a place where I can let down my hair among friends—among tribe mates—and be myself for a few days. Every year the group gets bigger—and the lovely thing is we can all meet together for mass discussions or break down into smaller gatherings depending on what we might be interested in at that moment.

I always learn something new when I’m there: how to creatively decorate my bookmarks for con swag, for example, or the basics of podficcing. I’ll find out what fandoms my friends are in now and what stories I should be reading. One year I might learn how to put on winged eyeliner without looking like Bucky from The Winter Soldier. Another I might learn how to make charm bracelets or create a bullet journal or organize notebooks for my story ideas. I never fail to come home with more ideas for stories, either—the meeting of like minds is a fertile feeding ground for plot bunnies—so if I’d been feeling stale in my writing, I return to the keyboard refreshed and raring to go.

This time, however, my take-home lesson was something entirely different.

It came out of a random conversation. I don’t even remember what the original topic was, but I happened to mention I had a high school reunion coming up and I didn’t want to go.

“So don’t,” said one of my friends.

I grimaced. “I’ve already paid for the tickets and they were too pricey not to use.”

“That money is already spent,” said another friend. “Don’t compound the problem by investing in it further.”

“Yeah,” said the first person. “You’ve wasted that money. But don’t spend it AND be miserable to boot. Call it a loss and do something you’d rather do that evening.”

I confess, it was a bit of a new concept to me. The notion I could cut my losses without having to ‘get my money’s worth’ out of the price of the tickets already spent, that is. Granted, I’m bad about over-committing anyway. I have lots of Big Ideas and I want to implement them, and I frequently agree to things that sound good on paper but I wind up not having the time for it—or worse, I’m stressed by the number of things I promised I would do. This is especially true when it comes to my writing. I’ll agree to submit a story to this project, or sign up for that event, or participate in something I think will get my name out there and hopefully help me find more readers.

Over the years, I’ve gotten better about saying no to things I don’t want to do in the first place—and to not allow myself to be guilted into doing something I have no desire to do. But I’m still bad about over-committing to things that sound fun, or that I think would benefit me in some way.

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One of the things I had to do this time at Squee Weekend was pick and choose which discussions and activities I wanted to participate in. It was hard because I wanted to do them all! But Squee has become so large we can’t do everything we’d like. As it was, the days flew by and it felt as though we’d barely scratched the surface of our activities. I came home with a better feeling of what was important to me (yes, spending a couple of hours posing action figures in ridiculous shots and taking pictures of them was something I wanted to do with my friends). As a matter of fact, I ended up going miles out of my way on the return trip because I missed an exit. I wound up in the WRONG STATE and added more than an hour to my driving time. Normally this would have stressed me to no end, but instead, I found myself pulling over at a scenic overlook to—yes, take pictures of actions figures against the backdrop.

I’m going to do more saying no to say yes. No to the reunion, but yes to a nice dinner with the BF. No to all the anthologies so I can work on the stories I really want to write. No to so much marketing and yes to finishing that next novel. No to writing half a dozen blog posts and hosting more people on my website and yes to walking the dogs in this lovely autumn weather.

Saying no because I don’t want to do a particular thing is sometimes hard for me to do. I was raised to be helpful and accommodating at all times. But saying no to doing something because there is something else I would rather do—that I can get behind.

Lou Hoffman is doing a Rafflecopter here, so check it out while you’re at it!

Comparison will Kill Your Craft by Sarah Madison

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An author friend of mine has been facing a crisis of confidence lately. Because of some of the conversations I’ve had with her, I’d already decided to make my monthly post here about the evils of comparing yourself to others, when I came across this post earlier today. My initial reaction was, ‘Darn it! Someone beat me to this.’ I thought the post very well done, and seriously considered changing my topic as a result.

Ironic, right? I was going to let an article on not comparing yourself to others prevent me from writing an article on not comparing yourself to others. What’s the first thing we say when we find out someone is writing a story with a similar plot to ours? We tell ourselves no one else can tell a story in the same way we can–that no two authors are going to tell the same tale, despite similarities in plots. And we go ahead and write our story anyway.

So that’s what I decided to do here, because while I think the author of the linked post makes some very good points, I think some were overlooked. The post talks about taking pride in your accomplishments (how many people successfully publish a book?) and concentrating on the things you can control rather on those you cannot. But when the little green monster of envy raises its head–take comfort in knowing you’re not alone. Most of us feel that way too. We wonder why one person’s novel takes off and becomes a bestseller, while ours languishes unnoticed. Or we get a review that makes us think our writing is crap or a rejection letter that has us considering bagging the whole idea of writing.

Here’s my take on it. Comparison to others is one of the most crippling actions we make as creative people. We all do it–we can’t help it. It’s probably programmed into our genetic code–a flip-side to the part of us that categorizes people into groups of ‘us’ versus ‘not us.’ That’s not the healthiest behavior either, but we all seek our tribes. However, this same instinct to check out those around us and lump them into tribes, also has us assessing those within our tribes to determine their rankings. That’s really all it boils down to–but we often take this too far. Not only do we determine where others fall on the totem pole, but we want to know how everyone stacks up to us too.

Therein lies the problem.

I’ve written before that I think Facebook can make us depressed. We writers are taught we need to spend time on various social media outlets engaging with our audience. But in doing so, we also spend a lot of time on those same sites with our fellow authors, and I have to tell you, some days it’s tough seeing everyone else’s successes. As I said in my previous post, most days we haven’t lost 50 pounds, won the lottery, hit the top of the bestseller list, vacationed in Bali, or swum with a pod of dolphins while receiving an award for the best novel ever written. At the same time.

What we tend to forget is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the like are frequently where we put forward our best face. None of us know what may or may not be going on in the lives of those we think have it so much better than we do. We might want to remember that when we are sure everyone else is more successful or a better writer than we are. What I think we also forget is in today’s world, we are constantly being bombarded with images of other’s success. We stack up these successes against our own and often decide we come up short.

I’d encourage you to remember this, however: when you are feeling down because everyone seems to be going to the latest convention when you can’t–when you are bummed because someone has released a new story to accolades–today that news belongs to your friends. But last week, or last month, it was you in the catbird seat. Remember? You just got back from a cool convention. And it wasn’t all that long ago that you launched your own book. Yes, it was a few weeks ago, but unless you’re a writing fiend who writes 24/7, you have no new book out. And you shouldn’t expect yourself to have one!

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But I think that’s what social media does to us. Funny, isn’t it? Writers tend to be introverts. Social media gives us a chance to interact with fellow authors–our tribe mates–all over the world. But the same sites that bring us support and friendship place us in the position of making comparisons to others. That rush that comes from launching a new book, sharing new cover art, squeeing over reviews, taking pride in awards bestowed is addictive too. Like any addiction, it takes more and more for us to get our fix. It’s not enough to publish a book–now we need to break the bestseller lists. It’s not enough to be nominated, or get an honorable mention, we want to win awards. Anything less than a five-star review feels like a failure. Likewise, if it takes us a year to write a story when we know others who write several books in the same time, we’re sure we’re never going to keep an audience.

Well, believe me, it happens to me all the time. This is what I do to rein in those feelings of inadequacy.

  1. Spend less time on social media. Maybe it means taking a break for a while. Maybe it means limiting your time per day–make a post, share a post, congratulate a friend on their most recent success but then leave. Don’t get sucked into comparing your life, work, and perceived lack of success with anyone else.
  2. Give yourself credit for the success that you have. So you haven’t written 57 books in the last three years. If you’ve published a story at all, know that you’ve done more than most people who dream of being a writer. Celebrate all your successes–not just the big ones. (This applies to life in general too, you know)
  3. Read your best reviews. We all know we should avoid the bad ones, the ones that sting. But collect your best ones and put them in a folder so you can take them out on bad days and remember that at least once, you touched someone’s heart with your story. Likewise emails from fans. Someone took the time to tell you how much they liked your work. That counts for more than you realize. It’s everything.
  4. Read the bad reviews of your favorite books. Realize everyone gets slammed from time to time, and know that if someone can hate a book you think is sublime, there is no accounting for taste. You’re not going to please everyone all of the time.
  5. Write the next story. Put your heart and soul into it and write the best damn story you know how. Know that there will always be better and worse stories out there. Write the best story you can write at this moment in time with your current life experiences at hand. It doesn’t matter if you do it in a week or six years–write the best story you know how. The comparison you should be making is to the last story YOU wrote.

 

Let it Go: Perfection is Killing Your Craft by Sarah Madison

Hello! Sarah Madison here. I apologize for recycling another blog post. I wrote this a while back for a book tour. I think a maybe handful of people read it then, but I think it’s worth sharing again. 🙂 At the moment, I’m at Writer’s Police Academy! I hope to have some interesting things to share on my return.

For now, I’d like to talk about one of the most destructive things possible to the writing process.

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Most people who follow me on Facebook or on my website know I’m a huge Frozen fan. I’ve written several blog posts on the subject, most particularly why a Disney movie could speak so strongly to a middle-aged woman. I suspect it has a lot to do with the fact that many of us live lives like Elsa, hiding our inner powers because we’ve been taught to conform, to fit it, to ‘be the good girl you always have to be.’ That we followed the rules, worked hard, did what we were told, and frequently got bupkis for our efforts. In that post, I listed a number of things I needed to let go of in order to stop binding myself to the same narrative in my life.

But I forgot one important thing.

I forgot to let go of the notion of perfection.

I think perfectionism goes hand in hand with the mindset I’ve described above, of always trying to be the Good Girl, the Perfect Girl, the one our parents urged us to be. I could make this blog post all about the pros and cons of trying to instill certain traits in our children, but that’s not what this is about. No, what I’m talking about now is how perfectionism is the deadly enemy of creativity.

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In any other era, I’d probably still be an unpublished author, but the digital age has been kind to me. I’d been writing fanfiction for years when a friend encouraged me to write and submit original fiction for publication. To my surprise, my stories were accepted! I dashed off three or four more stories that were all accepted as well before it suddenly hit me. Oh crap. I was a published author. Did I even know what I was doing?

A lot of well-meaning friends gifted me with books on writing, and I adore them for encouraging me in my dream, but the more I read, the more I discovered I was doing it all wrong. Mortified, I took online courses, read more books, and found a great critique group. I continued to write, but I was no longer pumping out a novella a month. I began to doubt my ability, and I cringed when I re-read older works. Worse, I developed a Critical Voice in my head that made it nearly impossible to read anything without automatically correcting it, even beloved stories I’d re-read time and time again.

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I wanted each story to be better than the last, which is a laudable goal, but it can stymie you when you are trying to write a scene for the first time. I thought I was producing better stories, only to have them shredded by editors who found fault with things I’d accepted as appropriate styles my entire life. For the last eight months, I’ve been re-writing the same five chapters in a new-for-me genre because it is so very important to me to get the main character right. And yet all I’m doing is smudging the paper with my erasures and re-writing of words until I have nothing but a grubby, pedantic mess on my hands. I need to either finish it or kill it. Either way, I need to move on.

The main problem is I forgot some of the basic tenants of writing.

  1. Let it Go Part 1: Write for yourself first. Write the story you want to tell. Write the story you’d want to read. Have fun with it. Stop expecting each new story to be THE story, the breakout novel that will rocket you to the bestseller list and solve your financial woes. If you’re not having fun with the story, no one else will either. This is not to say writing isn’t hard work; just that the end product should be something you enjoy.
  2. Let it Go Part 2: You want to throw every ridiculous trope into the story? Rainbow-colored Ninja Kittens with hearts of gold shooting fireballs with their eyes as they save the day? Go for it. Chances are, you won’t keep that first incarnation, but it might just morph into a less-impossible character that everyone will love. Most of my stories begin as hopelessly Harlequinesque sappy stories that I gradually mold into something less improbable. Why? Because we love tropes for a reason. Don’t be afraid to put the things you love into a story. Chances are, someone else will love it too.
  3. Let it Go Part 3: Ignore the Critical Voice that tells you this sentence isn’t perfect and tries to hold you in place before letting you move on. Words are like Doritos—you can make more! You aren’t limited to a set number and you’re allowed to cut, paste, delete, alter, and add on in the next draft. First drafts ARE rubbish. No one expects them to be otherwise. If you think typing The End on a first draft means you can breathe a sigh of relief and mark your job as done, you are wrong. You’ve just reached a stopping point where you can camp for a while and catch your breath.
  4. Let it Go Part 4: After you’ve sent your draft to beta readers, after you’ve cleaned it up to the best of your ability, stop polishing that gem and send it off to your editor. I don’t care if you’re self-published or not, you need a good editor. I personally do not think anyone should edit their own work. I don’t think you can be objective enough. One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made as an author was thinking that my best story was good enough as it stood. It wasn’t. You need someone who is going to make you ruthlessly trim and prune until your story is the best it can possibly be. The hard truth is that’s NOT you, or your BBFs, or your beta readers. Let the editor do his or her job. Don’t try to anticipate the editing process while you’re writing the story. That’s not the time to do it. The truth is, the more you do this, the better you’ll get. But it’s a little like the Force. You have to let it flow through you.
  5. Let it Go Part 5: Stop comparing yourself to others. On any given day, someone among my Facebook acquaintances appears to be receiving outstanding recognition for their efforts. They’re winning awards, or topping the charts, or they’ve been mentioned in glowing terms by some prestigious reviewer. It makes you feel small, doesn’t it? Like nothing you do matters. The truth of the matter is that whether you know it or not, someone is looking at YOUR achievements and wishing they had your luck, your talent, your ability. Be happy for the successes of others and remember it doesn’t affect your odds of the same. Self-doubt and self-sabotage are our biggest enemies. And perfectionism masks itself as something to strive for while in reality, it kills your story from within.

Give yourself permission not to be perfect. You’ll be astonished at how freeing this can be, not just in your writing, but in life as well.

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My latest release, Fool’s Gold, is now available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited. If you love horses and the thrill of the Olympic Games, you’ll love this story of second chances and lost loves!

 

Sitting on the KU Fence

No dice

To KU or not KU–it’s a question I’ve been pondering for months now. I wrote a post about my ongoing waffling debate about whether or not to list with Kindle Unlimited, at the end of which I’d almost convinced myself not to do it. My reasons were varied–Amazon is paying authors based on a model of number of pages read: but they can’t accurately determine this number, nor can they keep scammers from playing the system to their advantage. The changing TOS is worrisome, as well as the feeling that even for those who say KU is working well for them, this is just a bubble that will collapse once Amazon owns the entire reading market.

Only, there’s that promise of a payout now… the notion that this story, if enrolled, might be the one that catches fire. That, because of Amazon’s aggressive promoting of KU stories over others, this story will be the one that helps pay the bills, brings new readers to your backlist, cures cancer, and will make everything better. Even though intellectually, I know I have a better chance of winning the lottery, it’s a very seductive idea.

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So here’s the background: in 2012, I wrote a novella that was part of an anthology. I’d always wanted to go back and expand on the story, and finally in 2016, I got the chance. Because of its previous incarnation as a novella, I can’t submit the revised story to my usual publisher, which means self-publishing. Fine. No big deal. I’ve self-pubbed before, and while I don’t think it fits my current situation as well as working with a publisher, I recognize there might be a time when that changes, so I like the idea of keeping my hand in. Things change so rapidly in this business. What worked in 2013 is déclassé today.

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One of the big things that has changed is the notion that a stint on Kindle Unlimited is necessary to the success of a story these days. So as I am coming down to the wire with the release of Fool’s Gold (I only have the formatting left to do, and then I can upload the file), I’m looking at this decision once again.

A couple of new cautionary tales have come to my attention since I last toyed with this idea. This post is about an author who got notified by Amazon she’d been banned for life from publishing because the Zon believed she was guilty of manipulating page-clicks. Read the fine print on the post because according to Amazon, the company will hold you responsible for something a book promoting service you hire might do. Also, getting paid $1.50 for a 300 page book in KU is a bit disheartening, don’t you think? The only way KU can make up for undervaluing stories is to sell them to LOTS of people. But I digress…

This post is by an author who got the same warning letter from Amazon–only she also had someone steal her identity–and she can’t help but wonder if the two things were related: that in fact, someone deliberately ran up her KU numbers because they gained access to her bank account. Her advice was to keep close tabs on your sales through KU and alert Amazon to any unusual spikes before they came looking for you. The Digital Reader posted about similar cases, and concluded that until Amazon could distinguish innocent authors from scammers, the only way to be safe was for authors to pull their books from KU.

Whew. Not very encouraging, is it? I find myself having to weigh the risks of being permanently banned from Amazon as an author because my life is too hectic for me to watch my accounts like a hawk versus the whispers of that promised land of author recognition and financial success. The reality is neither scenario is likely to happen. And I can’t adequately say ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ to something I haven’t tried for myself. I don’t have high expectations for this story–I doubt seriously the average romance reader is going to fall hard for a story set in the world of competitive sport horses! So perhaps Fool’s Gold is the perfect guinea pig.

I’ll let you know.

Oh! I almost forgot–we’re running a Rafflecopter of prizes for signing up to follow the blog via email! Check out all the details here!

 

Sarah Madison is a writer with a little dog, a big dog, an even bigger horse, too many cats, and an extremely patient boyfriend. You can find her on the web at:

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Shelly Davidson – Happy Independence Day

Happy Independence Day!

I have been pondering what independence means, truly means and I suppose it’s different for everyone. For some, it’s being able to stand on their own two feet (or one if the case may be) and to be able to gain what they desire in their hearts. It’s being able to make choices and to live with those choices. Independence is about surviving.

Writers understand independence in ways that many others do not. As a writer, much of our craft is born within our minds, takes life in our thoughts, and is born through the keystrokes of our fingers. Being a writer is a very lonely place, existing solely in the mind until one brings it forward and dares to put to words what has been festering in the dark depths. Writers take the ideas that are a very private part of themselves and weave them into characters and stories and can take readers on a journey through their words.

I have recently become a published author for the first time (plug: Resurrection, a M/M Military Romance available through Amazon Click here) and I have had some very good reviews. Many have expressed amazement to the fact that this is my first book. What people tend to look over is that this is by far NOT my first book. I’m over 50 years old and I have been a writer my entire life! I have written short stories, poetry, plays, online role play, and countless stories and books over the years. Yes, this IS my first published novel and honestly, I am very proud of it.

But I am no different from so many authors out there. I read many posting on Facebook about the struggles, with feelings of giving up, and the frustrations with not being able to make ends meet. I get that. Being a writer is something that can be so emotionally draining and take so much out of a person yet pays so little and rarely gets the writer the kudos they deserve. If you’re lucky, you write that best seller that is seen by millions, but most of us, 99.999% of writers will never feel that sort of success. It does not mean we are not as good of a writer as that person is. It does not mean we do not have as good of ideas as that person. I mean, have you ever read Stephan King? That guy has some seriously messed up ideas! It just means it wasn’t meant to be.

I have never wanted to make a living with my writing. Maybe that’s why I never tried to become published before now. I have always figured that if I have to rely on what I love to do in order to pay my rent, then I will be forced to do it and writing does not always work that way. I write for myself first, for my own enjoyment and yes, to calm the characters that pop up in my head, make me lose sleep, and demand their story be written down. Now, that fact that others are also enjoying something I wrote not only boggles my mind but makes me very happy. To have a physical book with MY name on the spine is pretty damn mind-blowing.

Now, that is not to say that you shouldn’t love your job or be passionate about what you do for a living. Many people are able to combine the two and live quite happily. I am just not one of those people and I am sure there are plenty of creative individuals out there, writing until the wee hours of the morning or painting and drawing over and over until they feel it’s right who also believe that art and the creation is a very personal thing. Some people have amazing talent but the thought of showing that talent to the world is terrifying because it’s part of them in some way. The words, the strokes, the colors – it’s all a part of the creator in some way.

I suppose the aim of this posting and the focus I wanted to take today was that it is Independence Day. Celebrate it however you feel you should. In my family, it is a day of mourning because we lost a loved but troubled family member on this day so we all avoid festivities.

However, this year, I am able to celebrate something new. I am a writer and I have been successful in completing a full novel (not as easy of a task as you’d think! You should see all the story starters I have over the years!) and been lucky enough to not only get it published but have others enjoy it as well. So, for me, this Independence Day has taken on a bigger meaning. This Independence Day, I can celebrate my success in being able to wrangle those thoughts in my head, put them to paper, seek out a publisher, have them accept me, and see my dream available to others and have it received well. So, as you can see by that lengthy sentence, that this day means so much more to me this year. This is MY Independence Day because I made a dream come true. No one else but me. And that sounds like a reason to celebrate.

Happy Independence Day!

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Sarah Madison: Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me as a Newbie Author

Hello there! I’m Sarah Madison, and this is my first guest blog here on Authors Speak at Rainbow Gate. Thank, Lou, for inviting me to come and share some of my thinky-thoughts. Naturally, I left things until rather late, so I am revising an older post to share with you. It’s not only still relevant but I have new bits of wisdom to add.

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Last summer, I stumbled across a great Facebook thread in which a new author asked for advice: she wanted to know what kinds of newbie mistakes to avoid as a first-time author.

True to form, the writing community, including myself, chimed in with a number of excellent points. Afterward, it dawned on me this would make an awesome blog post, and here we are.

I’m going to give you my bits of ‘I wish someone had told me’ advice, mixed in with some of the best snippets I gleaned from my Facebook friends when asked the same.

In no particular order:

  1. Google your pen name before you start using it. Yeah, I wish I’d done this. Because there’s Sarah Madison the actress, Sarah Madison the cardiovascular surgeon, Sarah Madison the published historian, and if you are looking for any of them and you get me instead, yikes! On the other hand, I like to think of someone enjoying one of my stories while recovering from cardiovascular surgery… Seriously, though. Google your pen name. You really don’t want the same pen name as a serial killer. Also, be careful of having a ‘unique’ spelling. If people can’t remember how to spell your name, they aren’t likely to find you on a web search. It’s easy. It takes less than thirty seconds, for Pete’s sake. Just do it. You won’t regret it.

Anna Butler reminded me after I wrote this post the first time that she’d received some very valuable advice from me when she was starting out. I’d completely forgotten about it until she mentioned it, but I think it’s very smart to have separate browsers for your author persona and the rest of your life. It is possible to link all your gmail accounts to one primary account–but not only will Gmail frequently add the words, ‘sent on behalf of’, attaching your real name to the email, but it is incredibly easy to click on the wrong address and send something to the wrong party. If keeping your pen name and real name separate is important to you, use separate browsers.

Whether or not you need a pen name is another discussion altogether. I personally think if you write in wildly divergent genres, such as ‘sweet’ Christian romances and dinosaur porn, you’d better have two pen names. But that’s just me.

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  1. Platform and promotion. Yes, you have to have it. No, no one likes promoting themselves, but it is a necessary evil. As author K-lee Klein points out, “Writing is the good part, but be prepared to WORK for the book when it’s done.”

If you want to get the most out of your promotion, you already have to have a platform and internet presence in place. A website (more on that later), Facebook page, and Twitter account are probably considered the bare minimums, but most writers have pages on Pinterest, Tumblr, Goodreads, Amazon, Instagram, G+… well, you name it. Many writers have pages on sites geared toward their genre, too. It’s a lot to keep up with. My rules for platform and social media: pick the two or three sites where you are the most comfortable and spend time there. If a site makes you unhappy, you won’t be your best there. Learn how to cross post from your main sites to other sites. I rarely spend time on Goodreads or Tumblr–they just aren’t my kind of places, but other people hang out there, so when I post a blog entry like this, I make sure it automatically cross posts to those other media platforms.

Worry less about your ‘brand’ when starting out. Be friendly. Share other people’s announcements. Interact with people in a manner that does not always center around your books or writing. For heaven’s sake DO NOT auto-post tweets or private message people with BUY MY BOOK spiels within seconds of them friending or following you.

There are some great books on social media out there. I happen to like Kristen Lamb’s We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media. I might not agree with everything Ms. Lamb says (she is very much against pen names, for example) but she has some good points to make. One of which is that your name should be easy to find–it should be part of your website, your Twitter name, etc. Having a cute Twitter handle might be fun, but what if no one remembers that @AwesomeWombat is really Sarah Madison? Don’t make it hard for your readers to find you.

  1. Websites: Your website is your home base. It is going to be the main way readers find you. Make it easy for them! You have roughly two seconds to make a good first impression when people land on your page. If your site is too hard to navigate, too difficult to read, has too many moving gifs or images that roll by too rapidly to read, you’ve lost a perspective reader right there. They will move on to the next site, to look for some other author whose home page doesn’t make their eyes bleed. Whether you have a static home page or not is up to you. But the most important thing is that your site is crisp, clear, and easy to navigate. Your social media links should all be in one place. Your backlist and buy links should be easy to find. You should update your blog on a regular basis. If you have a newsletter or a way for readers to follow your blog, it should be easy to find and sign up. Two seconds. Otherwise, your viewer will click away.
  1. Reviews: if I had put these in any kind of order, reviews probably should have gone at the top. EVERYONE had a lot to say about reviews. For the most part, I tend not to read my reviews unless I’ve been sent the link from a trusted review site or a friend has discovered a glowing review and they want to share it with me. Everyone gets bad reviews. Don’t believe me? Look up your all-time favorite book. I guarantee that you will find someone who utterly loathed it and flamed it royally in their review. Any time I stumble upon a review I wish I hadn’t seen, I perform this very task and it is amazing how therapeutic it is. Because if someone can hate the book you adore, then it puts things in perspective for you. Over and over again, people gave DON’T ENGAGE A NEGATIVE REVIEW as their number one advice. Just. Don’t. The author *always* comes out looking like the bad guy here, and nothing will alienate fans faster. Jay Northcote puts it this way, “Never respond to bad reviews. EVER. And don’t bitch about them in a public forum or it’s likely to bite you on the arse. If you need to vent (and if you look at your negative reviews, you will), do it in a safe/private place to someone you trust.” Sue Holston says don’t even read your reviews, and I can understand that viewpoint as well.

There are some people who’d suggest not responding to any review on Goodreads, as it is a site primarily for readers, not authors. I know many authors who interact with their fans quite happily on Goodreads, but I confess, it feels like an abandoned mine field to me. One false step and BOOM. But that’s just me.

The point is, don’t let one bad review negate the twenty good ones you’ve received. Don’t let a ‘meh’ review derail you from your planned story arc, or shut down your writing mojo. Cooper West quotes Churchill, saying, “When you’re going through hell, keep on going”, which is a pretty good life lesson in general. Margarita Gakis advises the same, but urges even more to simply write. She says, “My advice is keep writing. Keep writing when it sucks and when you get a bad review and when you’re not sure if this is for you. Because as long as you’re writing you’re getting better. It’s like learning any skill and the more you do it the better you’ll be.”

The bottom line is not everyone is going to like your stories. It’s up to you to decide if you’re going to let someone’s raw opinion affect your ability to write more stories. Yes, bad reviews can hurt your sales, but sometimes what someone hates about a story is what others love—so not all reviews are damaging to sales. Once I decided that I was going to keep writing no matter what, reviews lost the power to hurt me as much.

  1. Beta readers versus Editors (and what they bring to the table): first of all, these people are invaluable to you as a writer. As Kaje Harper said, “Beta readers and editors are in partnership with you to make the story the best it can be. Every error they catch, every change they suggest, is not an insult to your talents or story, or a sign of failure, but one more thing that will be better when actual readers buy your book. Welcome the red ink, don’t fear it or be insulted by it. At the same time, remember it is YOUR story. You can tell an editor they are wrong, if you truly believe that. They are human and fallible and sometimes your vision has to be the one that carries the day.”

I think this is very important on many levels. As authors, particularly new authors, we have to be willing to accept the input of others, especially if we keep getting similar feedback from multiple sources: that’s your biggest indication something is wrong with your story or your writing style and it needs fixing. At the same time, it can be difficult not to let a strong-minded person take on more credit for the shaping of your story than they really deserve–or should have. Beta readers are not editors, either. Yes, they will catch typos, but their primary function is to tell you if the story is working or not. Different people catch different things, so I think it is very important to have more than one beta reader. But my main reason for having multiple readers is two-fold: not only do you not want to overwhelm a single person if you are a prolific writer, but it is much harder for someone to claim a larger share of the credit when there is more than one person involved. A beta reader who claims to ‘make or break’ you is like someone who helped you set the table expecting credit for cooking the banquet as well. A good beta reader is worth their weight in gold. They will help you produce the cleanest copy possible for submission to a publisher. They are cheerleaders and problem-spotters. But once the story moves on to editing, their role is usually done. Beta-readers are often friends, which can make it very painful to sever the relationship if it is no longer working for you. But if your beta-reader is acting like a gatekeeper between you and publishing, it is definitely time to end the relationship.

Editors will clean up and tighten your prose, point out that you have used the same phrase thirty-seven times, correct your somewhat loose interpretation of the Chicago Manual of Style, and identify where things need to be explained in greater detail or a weak plot point that needs fixing. But they should not be altering your style to match their own. It is your story. They are polishing the finish on the sports car, not re-building the engine. That is, not unless some major plot hole got past your beta readers. Then you want to listen to your editor and make the necessary changes. Believe me, you don’t want your audience catching bloopers and then pointing them out to everyone else. Get them fixed before you publish.

Which brings me to another point: you need editors. Oh, I know, when you start shopping around for a freelance editor to polish your indie story until it shines, that feels like the one place where you can cut corners. You know when publishers pay you a percentage of your selling price? Part of that goes to distribution, but part of it goes to pay cover artists, editors, formatters, and the like. If you’re going indie, YOU have to pay these people. Don’t skimp on editing. You’ll regret it. I self-published a book that I thought was my best work to date. It won all kinds of awards and got a lot of notice, but the editing was frequently mentioned, even apologetically by the reviewers that loved the book. I regret not spending the money to have it professionally edited the first time. By the time I fixed the problems, it was too late to make a good first impression again.

Kaje Harper and Becky Black also wanted me to point out the difference between rejection and ‘revise and re-submit’. Getting a revise and re-submit request is a good thing. It means the publisher sees promise in your story, but that it is still a bit rough around the edges. Don’t let an R&R crush you! It’s actually quite hopeful.

  1. Don’t game the system: I mean, seriously. There’s a big difference between recognizing and taking advantage of market trends (something I’m not very good at, but I know people who are) and writing simply to make a buck. Face it, if you want to make money, there are far easier ways of doing so. By gaming the system, I mean deciding you’re going to write serials, or short cliffhangers, or dinosaur porn, filling Kindle Unlimited with them because hey, you can churn those babies out to match the current best deal Amazon offers, and the instant the algorithm changes, so does your storytelling. Look, I have nothing against dino porn, but if you want to write it, do so because you enjoy it, okay? And no sockpuppets singing your praises or slinging mud at the competition. No buying reviews. I really shouldn’t have to say this, right? Pricing your story so that it sells well, or making the first book in a series free? That’s not gaming the system. Buying your way onto the bestseller lists is.

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The best way to make writing pay for you? Write. Write a lot. Be working on your next story while you are launching your previous one and be thinking about the next one, too. Readers are like stray cats. If you feed them, they will come.

Most of us go through a post-story blues, where it is hard to move on to the next project. Get over yourself. I once sat down and figured out that it took me nearly a year from the time I conceived of a story idea, to writing it, to submitting it, to having it published before I saw royalties trickle in. Which means that for writing to pay the bills, I have to have a new story coming out at minimum every quarter. Which brings me to the next point…

  1. Don’t quit your day job. Seriously. Writing a runaway bestseller like 50 Shades of Grey is like winning the lottery. It rarely happens, and certainly not to you and me. The rest of us have to slog out a minimum of something on the order of 60-80K words every 2-3 months in order to even hope of quitting the day job. I don’t know about you, but putting that kind of pressure on myself really puts a damper on my writing mojo. Writing is something I do that makes me happy in order to make other people happy. But I don’t ever want to look back on my life twenty years from now and wish I’d spent more time walking the dog or hanging out with my boyfriend. And I don’t want to take something I love and turn it into something I hate because I can’t turn out a completed product I can take pride in.

But hey, maybe you can be incredibly prolific while still working a full-time job. Or maybe you’re currently jobless, and now is the sink or swim moment. It is possible to make a living as a writer. Just expect to work hard, write a lot, make a lot of personal sacrifices regarding how you spend your time, and don’t expect Hollywood to come knocking at your door with a movie deal in hand. It means writing when you don’t feel like it. It means there is no such thing as ‘your muse’, only the need to put words to paper because that’s your job.

Though this doesn’t quite fit in here, Felice Stevens had a nice bit to share about the “Rules” of writing: “Don’t listen when someone tells you the “Rules” on how to write. Don’t listen when people tell you if you write fast, it’s junk, if you write slow you’ll lose your base. Find your voice and don’t try to be someone else.”

Which is just plain, good common sense. You’re going to hear a lot about how to be successful as an author. But by trying to please everyone, you’ll wind up pleasing no one. You don’t really need a ton of fans, anyway. You need a thousand die-hard fans that will buy everything you write and tell all their friends about you too.

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8.Piracy: it happens. There are people who will steal your manuscript, slap another cover on it, and offer it for sale. There are plagiarists who will take a story from another genre, change the names or the genders of the characters, and publish it in the hopes no crossover readers will spot the similarities. There are outright pirate sites who sell your book at a lower price or are phishing schemes to get personal information. That doesn’t begin to cover torrents, where people upload your stories for twenty thousand of their BFFs to snag an illegal download. If you try counting up the money in lost revenue, it will only make you cry. Recently someone on Facebook posted a request for pirate sites on her wall, triggering a wave of reaction as some people took her to task and others defended her. I suspect screenshots of her post might not have been shared so many times expect the reaction of the illegal downloaders showed such a misplaced sense of entitlement that a good deal of outrage occurred. I posted about this on my website, and to my surprise, the post went viral. Apparently it struck a chord with a LOT of people.

Some people don’t fight piracy and copyright violations. Personally, I do. Piracy means the difference between my paying the mortgage some months, or whether I have to wait another year to replace the glasses with the $400 lenses. Piracy is the difference between having to choose between dental work or going to a writer’s convention. Every couple of weeks, do a search of your name and book titles (I find that Google Alerts tends not to pick up many illegal downloads–it’s better for notifying you of reviews). If you have a publisher, report it to them–they are losing money as well. Draft DMCA and takedown notices to send to pirate sites. Make sure that people know that many of these sites are just phishing to steal credit card information. In my case, my stories frequently show up on torrents (someone seems to keep uploading a bundle of four of my stories–it’s infuriating to see the same bundle appear again and again…). Appealing to the torrent is usually futile, but you can report the link to Google, which will block it in a title search on their browser. Given that almost everyone uses Google, having them block the illegal site in a search is a good thing. Searching the internet and preparing takedown notices is time-consuming and frustrating, but I do it. I keep hearing people say the vast majority of people downloading illegal copies would never buy from me in the first place. Maybe, maybe not. That doesn’t mean I have to make it easy for them to pick my pocket. I still maintain if those downloads weren’t available and someone wanted to read my story in particular, a percentage of torrent users might consider forking out the equivalent of a breakfast at Hardees to buy it.

  1. Don’t ever diss another author. That’s just plain stupid. Unless you are among unimpeachable friends that you trust with your whole heart, giving a frank opinion of someone’s work or personality is fraught with the potential to have your words come back and bite you in the ass. Keep it to yourself, even if you feel completely justified, or if someone approaches you, encouraging you to vent. Be a professional and keep your mouth shut and your fingers off the keyboard. That applies in general to most internet kerfuffles and dramas. Remember the great proverb: Not my circus, not my monkeys. This is a corollary to not responding to negative reviews. People talk. And if you malign someone’s writing or themselves as a person, the chances are it will get back to them.

On the other hand, sometimes it is impossible not to have someone get angry with you through no fault of your own. Apologize for inadvertently upsetting them, try to correct or prevent the circumstances that led to the misunderstanding, but if they won’t grow up and get over it, let it go. Don’t talk about it, however. Be the bigger person here. Apologize, move on, and never refer to it again. If they keep bringing it up in the face of your silence, they wind up looking petty and small for holding grudges.

  1. And last but not least: write what makes you happy. Don’t write to market pressures. If you have no interest in the latest fad, your lack of enthusiasm will show. If you want to write about chefs, or the horse-racing industry, or US Marines, or WW2 flying aces, or dragons, you can. Just make sure you’ve done your homework, or in the case of fantasy, you’ve created a world with believable rules that make sense. Don’t worry about finding an audience. Chances are if you love what you’re writing, others will too. And they are the readers that count the most.

Sarah Madison is a writer with a little dog, a big dog, an even bigger horse, too many cats, and a very patient boyfriend. She writes because it’s cheaper than therapy. You can find her around the internet:

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