Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? – Confessions of an Indie Author

The response to my first book was overwhelmingly good. It seems most of you who read it—other than the science fiction fans who were conned into trying a romance—enjoyed it and said you would recommend it to others. You were Once in Love with Lily, but will you be Always in Love with Lily? That remains to be seen. I hope you will be. I think you will be. I know I am. But that’s the thing about putting out the second book. While I’m incredibly excited to share the next part of the story with the world, I also feel a tremendous amount of pressure. Pressure to perform. Pressure to please. Pressure to live up to the hype of the first book.

As many of my readers know, I’m a middle school Spanish teacher by day. I have no degree in journalism. I didn’t dream of being a writer as a child. I let my vivid imagination play out with play-acting and elaborate Barbie doll dramas. I only start writing several years ago on a dare. Because of my lack of formal training, some doubt my writing ability. One of my best friends recently admitted that she only read my first book because she felt obligated and was completely surprised to find out that the story was actually good. So, I had a lot to prove from day one, to everyone, including myself. The thing is, I’m just as concerned at proving myself with the second book as I was with the first. I love the story. My editors loved the story. But what about the public? I still find myself thinking, “I’m no Nora Roberts. What if the first book was a fluke?”

To add to my anxiety, I’m a people-pleaser by nature. I worry about disappointing my readers. So many people out there have said they loved Lily’s and Tony’s story. They’ve been waiting three long years for the sequel. What happens if the story falls flat? I mean, I laughed. I cried. I lived and loved right along with those characters. I can’t wait to see what happens next. But what if the readers don’t feel the same? Whether it’s my books or my fan fiction, they have come to expect a certain caliber of writing. They want the emotional, romantic, exciting story with loveable, compelling characters. What if I didn’t deliver?

Once in Love with Lily has sold hundreds of copies, four to five times that of the typical independently published novel. It has over fifty reviews on Amazon with 4.9 stars. The reviewers at The BookLife Prize in Fiction had this to say:


Lily cover“A big-hearted romantic melodrama with cinematic movements and charming storytelling makes a familiar trope soar.  In this well-paced storyline, Lillian (Lily) George, knowing her disquieting past, recognizes the value of her current affluent lifestyle until she unexpectedly reconnects with her first love. Zany secondary characters leap off the pages, while the tension created as Lily decides her future keeps readers holding their breath until the very end and hoping for a sequel.”

Alwaysinlovewithlily_Kindle-300ppiWill the sequel Always in Love with Lily live up to the hype? Well, there’s no point in worrying now. There’s only one way to find out. Put it out there and let the public decide. So far reviews are good. But the ball is in your court, romance readers. Go for it! Read it and let me know what you think. You can comment, you can tweet me @catkthompson, or find me on Facebook. Or, even better, leave a review on Amazon, GoodReads, or Barnes & Noble. No need to be prolific. Just click the stars and write a sentence or two. Reviews are what help authors and books get noticed and promoted by the big site algorithms. Every one helps, as does clicking on reviews by others that you find helpful.

In closing, I would like to offer my sincere thanks to my family, my beta readers, and my editors for their support you are the ones who have helped make my writing dreams possible. To my readers, your engagement and enthusiasm help  keep the dream alive. Thank you for being a part of my story.

 

 

 

 

 

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This Is Not a Setback

NaNoWriMo Week Two

My goal for week two was to work on closing some of the gaps in the story and make some strides toward completing my draft of the sequel to Once in Love with Lily. The good news: I did just that. I worked my way through the first several chapters and added new material to help form a more cohesive story as well as add some tension where needed. The bad news: I had to murder a few of my darlings. Some of my favorite scenes had to be cut to tighten things up and I ended up with three thousand fewer words this week than I had at the end of last week. Now, I know what you’re thinking. “You’re going the wrong way!” It may seem that way, but I assure you, this is not a setback. It’s all part of the process. At least that’s what I’m telling myself!

My goals for this week:

1. To continue editing and adding, but actually make my word count go in the right direction.

2. Research and Development. I can’t give you too many details just yet, or this post would need a spoiler alert. But, I can tell you that Lily is going on location. She’s headed somewhere I’ve never been. So, it looks like I’m going to need some inspiration. YouTube and Pinterest, here I come… Again!

Reporting In

NaNoWriMo Week One 

 During NaNoWriMo, the traditional goal is to write fifty thousand words in thirty days. It’s supposed to be a novel that you start from scratch on day one. I accepted that challenge in 2011 and finished the first draft of my first novel Once in Love with Lily. This year, I began on November 1st with a unique goal. Instead of writing fifty thousand words of a completely new novel, my goal was to complete a workable, readable draft of the sequel to Once in Love with Lilly. I had already written several drafts and I was still waffling on content. So, I had decided to start from scratch one more time and knock it out in thirty days. I kept up with my daily word count and for the first three days, and I was feeling quite pleased with myself until…. I committed the number one NaNoWriMo sin. I re-read what I had written!

Every one knows that if you’re trying to knock out a novel in a month, you don’t have time to read and edit, but in this case, I’m very glad I did. As I looked at my “fresh start” with fresh eyes, I came to a huge realization. My hero was distinctly unlikable. I had become so concerned with creating the hook that agents keep talking about, that I had destroyed one of the beloved characters that had hooked my readers in the first place.

Somewhere along the way, I forgot who I was. I tried to become a plotter who focused on structure and eight point story arcs, when I’m anything but. I have always claimed to write from the heart first and the head second, to be more concerned with meaningful relationships, quality drama, and realistic dialog. I’ve generally found that if you tell a good story, proper structure will naturally evolve.  Ever a victim of self-doubt, I had allowed my own insecurities about my lack of formal training in the craft to cloud my judgment.

Once I had that aha moment, I went back to my original plan for the story and began cut, copy, and paste together all the usable pieces from the subsequent drafts. What I now have is about forty thousand words of a story that still needs a lot of detail, a ton of editing, and a fair amount of restructuring before it’s ready for public consumption. Still, I’m comforted by the fact that it is a much truer version of Lily’s and Tony’s story.

This week I hope to complete several new chapters that will begin to fill in some of the holes in the original plot and find ways to weave some subtle humor into the somewhat serious plot. I’ll keep you posted!

If you are interested in reading the original, Once in Love with Lily is on sale for.99 cents at the Amazon Kindle Store now through November 15th. Click here to view the book trailer.

Lily cover

 

 

The Novelist’s Approach to Writing Soaps

Soap : a serial drama, on television or radio, that features related story lines dealing with the lives of multiple characters. The stories in these series typically focus heavily on emotional relationships to the point of melodrama. (Wikipedia)

There has been much speculation about the cause of decline in soap ratings. Some say that it’s due to women working outside the home. Others blame the presence of internet, or the rise in popularity of reality TV. But this raises a few questions for me. I ran home from school every day and watched with the help of a VCR. Working women can still watch with the aid of DVR. Why aren’t they? And if young people are watching reality TV for the melodrama it delivers, then why are soaps, which by definition deliver melodrama, unable to cash in on this? My theory: a decline in quality of writing. Some may assume that you can only attract younger viewers with fast-paced, non-stop action. I respectfully disagree. Action alone does not good drama make. Viewers, young or old, are not stupid. They have high standards for entertainment and recognize a good story when they see it. If you pick up a novel and the author doesn’t deliver, you put it down. If you turn on a show and the writer doesn’t deliver, you turn it off. Good writing is good writing, no matter what form comes in. Here are three key elements to good writing that apply to novels and TV serial dramas alike.

Characterization

In addition to a good story line, you need believable, consistent characters. They need to be people we can relate to on some level and identify with. Sometimes, we love them and sometimes we love to hate them, but we need care about them. We want to root for them. And perhaps most importantly, we want to know what to expect from them. That doesn’t mean that the story has to be predictable. In fact, in most cases, we don’t want that. But, each character has a history and a personality that should dictate their words and actions in any given scene. Yes, we expect them to change and grow over-time, but if they behave in a manner that is uncharacteristic, then there should be a reason for it and that reason should be made clear to the audience.

Relationship Building

The audience will not be invested in what happens to your characters if they’re not invested in the relationship between the characters. If you want your audience to feel for a man who lost his wife, they need some explanation of the relationship. They need some kind of evidence that he actually cared for her. This could come in the form of a flashback that shows them a piece of the couple’s history. It could be by way of a discussion the man has with his potential love interest about his past. You need to evoke those emotions from the audience by showing them what he felt for her, not just telling them he loved her. They need to see it to believe it.

An audience will feel the gut-wrenching pain of a mother who has lost her daughter when they’ve watched her act as a mother to that child and seen the relationship develop over time. They will cry with her when they remember the good and bad times that they celebrated or survived together. They are less likely to weep for an aunt who loses the niece she’s been raising if said aunt and niece only appeared in one scene together throughout the entire story line. If you want the audience to buy into the emotion, the relationship building cannot take place completely off of the canvas. It takes away from the drama. (Face it. Nothing that takes place off camera is emotionally satisfying. You can’t tell me that Julie Chen’s recap of the HOH competition is as exciting as watching it live!)

Proper Use of Flashbacks

I am a fan of a good flashback. I use them in my writing. I enjoy a good flashback on television. But the operative word here is good. Flashback should serve a very specific purpose. That purpose is to provide the audience with information that they did not have before without taking away from the original story or disrupting the flow of the action. Flashbacks should not be used to recap information that the audience has already seen. Nor should they be used to explain a part of the mystery that the audience is capable of figuring out on their own. If you’ve done your job well, the audience will be involved and interested enough to follow along. Taking the time to explain what they already know is a waste of time and assumes something about their intelligence.

I’m not naïve. I do understand that writing for a show that runs five days a week fifty-two weeks a year is different than writing a single manuscript in that same amount of time. The fast pace of soap production must present its own problems that a novelist can’t even begin to understand. But I have always seen soaps as the world’s longest series of romance/mystery/action-adventure novels all rolled into one exquisite, dramatic presentation. (For those of us who watched the alien and demon possession story lines of the 90’s, you can throw sci-fi into that mix too.) A serial drama, in print or on screen, has to grab and keep the audience’s attention. You have to deliver not only on the action, but with the characters, and avoid over-explaining or playing down to your audience. A very wise editor once told me, if the writing isn’t up to snuff, a reader may not know what is wrong, but they will know that something is wrong. That something will turn them off. Soap writers, if your viewers know something is wrong, they are likely to turn your show off.

These are just my two cents, though I have a feeling, based on my twitter feed, some other fans might agree. If you do, or you don’t, please feel free to comment. I’d like to hear your thoughts. This brings me to one final piece of advice for the soap scribes out there. When reviews come in, some are good. Some are bad. Authors have to choose which pieces of criticism to ignore and which ones to learn from. Writers, you are under scrutiny. Everyone has opinion and a voice in today’s social media circus. That doesn’t mean that you have to pay attention to all of them, nor are you obligated to respond or defend yourself. Sometimes you just have to brush off the negative stuff. (You’ll never make everyone happy when it comes to who should be sleeping with whom.) But, if you find that there is a common thread to the critiques, you may want to take some time to reflect. We all have room to grow. It’s a necessary part of life and professional development.

 

Bitterman, Party of One!

Recently, a fellow I was following on Twitter (who shall remain nameless) posted a comment that went something like this: “To all of you Grammar Nazis out there…if you are going to bash an indie novel for typos you might as well criticize the big ones too.” He then included a link to his blog that detailed all of the errors that could be found in the Harry Potter Series. For example, in one chapter, the snake blinks, and that’s impossible because snakes don’t have eyelids. I instantly took issue with his concept and was forced to unfollow him. Why? If you haven’t already taken issue with it yourself, allow me to explain.

First of all, I will admit, that I am a bit of a grammar “Nazi” myself. I’m rather proud of that fact, though I do find the term “Nazi” to be offensive. Not only does it refer to a group of truly evil individuals, but the term, when applied to grammar, implies that anyone who actually cares about the proper usage is somehow evil or inappropriate.

In addition to being a stickler for proper grammar, I am a lover of words who tends to choose them carefully, so as to paint the most vivid and accurate picture possible. When you claim grammar, typos, and content errors are all the same, I think it paints a very clear picture of the type of writer you are. I’m just not sure it’s the picture I’d want everyone to see.

For the benefit of Mr. X, the following sentence contains a grammar error:

If I was you, I would not cast stones.

(The word “was” should be replaced by the word “were” as this is technically the subjunctive mood, even though pop artists don’t believe in such a thing. Just ask Clay Aiken who sang “If I Was Invisible.)

The following is an example of a typo:

If I wer you, I would not cast stones.

(I obviously mistyped the word “were”. It is a typographical error and is therefore called a typo.)

The fact that Harry Potter’s list of school supplies listed a wand as both the first and last items is neither of the above. It is a content error just like the blinking snake. And for that matter, how do we know Harry didn’t need a spare in case of a magic wand malfunction? And what if the mythical snakes created in a land of wizardry actually do have eyelids?

I’ll stop there before I even get started on the fact that none of info on Mr. X’s blog post was actually original except for the note at the beginning, unless of course Mr. X also wrote the entire Wiki page on Harry Potter errors himself. I imagine I may have made a few enemies with this post already and by now some of you are wondering what exactly my point was in the first place.

Here it is:

Like it or not, indie authors are held (and should be held, in my opinion) to same standards as any other by consumers. They do not get a free pass just because they chose to do the many jobs of the publishing house all by themselves. We still expect readers to pay for indie published novels the same as they do any other. As paying customers, they are entitled to their opinions on content and quality of writing. If you’re going to be bitter because you were given a one or two star review based on grammar and/or typos, you may wish to invest in a better editor prior to publishing. What’s more, if you don’t even know that there is a difference between a grammar error and a typo, my guess is you may have other issues with your writing that could also be cause for such a review.

Having said all of that, I want to make something very clear. I am an indie author. My novel is not perfect. I found a “typo” in it myself last weekend. I’m sure there are other errors that I have not found. I can only hope that after years of work and multiple editors they are not glaring or numerous. Still, if a reader doesn’t like what I’ve written, I must weigh their comments and decide if their negative opinions are due to something I can fix or prevent, or if they are just that: opinions. Literature is about creating a story that will take readers on a journey. A good story will evoke emotions, good or bad. If my readers are moved to tears, I want it to be because of the drama and not due to the egregious misuse of the English language.

books

Yes, I am!

Author. Writer. Novelist. Three terms I never dreamed would describe me. But this December, it became official when I published my first novel. Even then, I still had difficulty believing it. But Friday afternoon, surrounded by dozens of friends and co-workers, I made my debut as Novelist Cat K. Thompson at my first book signing event.

It was an amazing event planned and executed with great care by some of my closest friends, each food and beverage chosen to pay tribute to some setting or special moment in Once in Love with Lily. Guests enjoyed quiche, Brie En Croute, and Reuben and New York Style Pizza dips. Plenty of champagne was on hand for toasting and we topped it all off with cheesecake, éclairs and Starbucks coffee.

I will never forget the intense feelings of joy and the swell of pride I experienced. And knowing that I have the love and support of so many made my accomplishment just that much more meaningful. Not only that, but now, after signing my name on over forty dedicated copies, I feel confident saying… Yes, I am… an AUTHOR!

Copies of Once in Love with Lily ready to be signed
Copies of Once in Love with Lily ready to be signed.
photo 1
Champagne for toasting… The good stuff!
photo 2
Cheesecake course! Not Fluffy’s, but still delish!
French and New York Style Hors d'oeuvres - Yum!
French and New York Themed Hors d’oeuvres