Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Writing Wednesdays: The Turtle Method for Faster, Better, More Fun Writing

I talk a lot about writing efficiency on this blog. Writing fast is kinda my thing. I'm always looking for ways to speed up, write more, and write better because more books = more awesome.

But while I'm always tweaking my fast writing method to be better, more efficient, and more suited to my needs as I progress as an author, there's another aspect to my writing efficiency boosts that I haven't actually talked about on the blog yet. This oversight wasn't intentional. I just never really thought about it until my husband joked about how I liked to "turtle" in my chair while I wrote, snapping at anyone who came near.

Once I got over the fact that he was telling me this while I was writing (grrrrrrrrr), I thought it was pretty funny. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that what I'd been instinctively doing for years (hunkering down in my chair and disappearing into my writing) actually played a huge role in how much I wrote in a day.

It was like I'd stumbled across an entirely new variable in the fast writing problem! So, like any good min-maxer, I decided to push the idea to its limits, and the results were even better than I'd hoped.

Writing Wednesdays: The Turtle Method for Faster, Better, More Fun Writing

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Writing Wednesdays: What to Do When You Hate Your Book

Today's Writing Wednesday isn't technically a craft post, but it is something I think every writer struggles with at some point in their career. Before we dive into the heavy stuff, though, I'd like to show you this interview I did with Mihir of Fantasy Book Critic!

Mihir is one of my favorite people to do interviews with because he always asks the BEST questions, and this time was no different. He got some super big Heartstriker secrets out of me! So if you're a fan of Nice Dragons, you'll definitely want to check it out.

Now, on with the show!

Writing Wednesdays: What to Do When You Hate Your Book

Writer Circle of Woe from the amazing Ilona Andrews!! She is awesomesauce! Read everything she writes!

Ever since I published my fast writing book 2k to 10k back in 2012, I've gotten a steady stream of mail through my contact page from authors asking for help with their books. 

I really love getting these kind of emails. First, it just feels good to help my fellow writers (author power!), and second, it gives me a great insight into the kind of problems writers who aren't me are struggling with. 

Over three years and thousands of emails, though, certain patterns have begin to emerge. Every writer approaches writing differently, but get enough of us together and you start to see certain commonalities. The same questions show up in my inbox over and over, showing that, for writers who email me at least, certain elements of fiction appear to be inherently more troublesome than others.

Answering these common questions was a big part of why I started doing this Writing Wednesday feature. I figured that for every writer who was emailing me to ask this stuff, there were thousands more out there struggling with the same problems alone, and that makes me sad. Writing is a solitary art, but that doesn't mean we all have reinvent the wheel independently. 

If I've solved a problem which I later find out is something many writers struggle with, then I'm going to share my solution. Not because I think everyone should do things my way--again, everyone writes differently, and what works great for me might make no sense at all to you--but because I already did the work. The solution is already there, and if my knowledge can save someone else even a fraction of the blood, sweat, and tears that comes from an unhappy stint in the wordmines, then it's my duty as a writer and a member of the writing community to share what I know. 

Even if it wasn't, even if I felt no obligation at all, I'd still share anything I discovered, because I think writing a book is one of the best experiences a human can have. I want everyone to feel the joy of being a god in their own story, and I'd prefer if they could do so without getting dragged down by problems I've already gone through the trouble of working through. Share the knowledge, share the love!

But as glorious and joyful as I know writing can be, it isn't always so nice. Answering craft questions is easy and fun, but the number one email I get in my box isn't about plot or characters or story structure. It's a simple cry for help from authors at the end of their rope.

"I hate my book. What do I do?"  

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Let's Talk Numbers: It's official! If you write novels, the new KU is AWESOME!

Apparently it's number numbers niz-umbers week here at Pretentious Title!! Yesterday we took a look at the top of the world by going over NY bestseller John Scalzi's numbers, and today (thanks to the Amazon announcement) we're back with a report on my own numbers for Amazon's "Netflix for books" reading service, Kindle Unlimited!

As you might remember, two months ago Amazon announced that, to try and stop the rampant abuse going on in the KU system, it was changing the way it paid authors whose books were borrowed as part of the Kindle Unlimited program. I actually did an entire post on the changes, Amazon's reasoning, and what it could all mean for us authors back when it was first announced in June.

But while it was clear Amazon would now be paying per page read instead of a flat rate per borrow for KU titles, due to Kindle Unlimited's "you don't know what you're getting paid until we pay you" system, no one actually knew what the payment per page would be until Amazon announced it on August 15, which is today!!

So how's the money in the new KU?

Pretty damn good.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Let's Talk (John Scalzi's) Numbers! The State of the Genre Title 2015

Travis here with another business post! (Warning, tables and spreadsheets ahoy!)

The other day, best selling SF author John Scalzi posted an article called "The State of the Genre Title in 2015" in which he revealed some fascinating sales data for his latest release, Lock In.

The fact that this got posted at all is extraordinary. You almost never see traditionally published authors posting real sales numbers of any sort, especially not a big bestseller like Scalzi. He's giving us a rare glimpse of what the top of the trad/NY world looks like here, and for that reason alone you should definitely check the post out.

But fascinating as all the numbers are, Scalzi uses them to draw some conclusions about modern book selling that we, with all respect to John Scalzi, don't think are correct for the majority of authors. Specifically, when he's talking about the percent of his sales that came from hardcover and audio, he says:
"This continues to be my major concern with digital-only self-publishing, incidentally: there’s money being left on the table if you can’t address all these sales channels. Most self-publishers (or micro publishers) don’t have access to bookstores, nearly all of which continue to operate on a “returns” basis. This is not about the ability to create a physical copy of a book; at this point that can easily be done with print-on-demand options. It’s about having the book already on the shelves, attractively packaged and ready to buy, when the customer walks into the store. If you don’t have that, you’ve largely lost out in that sales avenue. Likewise audio if you’re not there."  
(emphasis mine)
What Scalzi is essentially saying here is that, by not having their book in bookstores, the self-published author is leaving money on the table. But I professionally think that he has left a lot more money on the table by signing with a NY publishing house, and that's what I'd like to talk about today.

Let's Talk (John Scalzi's) Numbers: Which Table is More Money Being Left On?

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Writing Wednesdays: How To Plot A Series Without Driving Yourself Insane (Part 3)

First up, thank you all for your patience with my impromptu vacation last week (it's not my fault! My husband kidnapped me and dragged me to the mountains!).

Also, thank you everyone for making the launch of One Good Dragon Deserves Another such a huge success!! It's already got 67 reviews on Amazon with a 4.7 star rating and 329 ratings on Goodreads with a 4.46 in twelve days. That is insane, and I owe it all to you wonderful people!! Thank you all so so soooooo much for reading and reviewing!! (And if you haven't read my dragon books, why not? Go try them now!)

On to business. Today we're finishing up our craft series on How to Plot a Series Without Driving Yourself Insane (see Part 1 about actual plotting steps here and Part 2 on how to craft a great and effective meta plot here) with probably the most important part of any sequential writing: internal consistency!

Writing Wednesdays: How To Plot A Series Without Driving Yourself Insane (Part 3) - Harnessing Internal Consistency to Create Flexible, Tightly-Woven Stories

When authors talk about "internal consistency," they're usually talking about details--keeping the characters' eye color and height consistent across multiple books, or not saying a plant is poisonous in book one only to have the characters eat a salad made out of it in book five. This kind of internal consistency is very important, but it's not actually what I'm talking about here. When I talk about using internal consistency in plotting, I'm talking about creating an internally consistent and persistent world.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Knife Test (or, What ONE PIECE Taught Me About Writing)

Years and years ago (five to be exact), I did a two part blog series on the sadly defunct author group blog The Magic District called "The Author Toolbox." These two posts contain some of my most fundamental writing beliefs, and while one, The Three Hooks got its own repost on this blog and a mention in 2k to 10k, the Knife Test got sadly left behind.

This must be remedied. For 12 novels now, the Knife Test has been a fundamental part of every character I've written. It's the first and last test for every character arc I create, and it's also a ton of fun to do. So, without further ado, I give you the (freshly updated!) Knife Test, my ultimate trial for any character who wants a place in my books.

The Knife Test

The Knife Test is something I put to all my characters. Nerd that I am, the idea comes from an anime called One Piece, which is just about the greatest show ever. If you can get past its cartoony nature and corny humor, there is an amazing story there. (And if you read my Eli Monpress books, you'll probably recognize a lot of themes. What can I say? Steal from the best!!)

In the show, there’s a character named Zoro whose dream is to be the greatest swordsman in the world. Around the end of season one, he comes across the actual greatest swordsman in the world, a man named Mihawk. Now, Zoro KNOWS he is too short for this ride, but he also knows that he might never get this chance again, so he challenges Mihawk to a duel. (Because, of course, the only way to be the greatest swordsman in the world is to beat the guy who’s already at the top.)

Mihawk refuses. He knows Zoro is way below him in skill. Dueling him would be a waste of everyone's time and most likely Zoro's life. When he sees how determined Zoro is, though, he agrees to fight him, but only with a small dagger.

Zoro is insulted. He has three swords, how you fight that with just a tiny dagger? Mihawk counters that the dagger is all he needs. Seeing that he's not going to get his duel any other way, Zoro reluctantly agrees and the fight begins. Zoro (who has been undefeated in the series up to this point) goes all out, but is still defeated in one stroke. The fight ends with Mihawk holding his tiny dagger lodged in Zoro’s chest. 

But even with a dagger in his chest, Zoro doesn't retreat. He just stands there, staring at his opponent. Confused, Mihawk says, “This dagger is an inch from your heart. Why don’t you step back? Do you want to die?”

Zoro looks him straight in the eye and says, “If I were to take even one step back, I’d never be able to stand before you again.”

“Yes," Mihawk says. "It’s called losing.”

And Zoro answers, “That’s why I can’t step back.”

Still probably my favorite fight of all time.

And that, that right there, is the knife test. When the knife is scraping your heart, what do you do? Do you play it safe, step back, and live? Or do you refuse to give up on your goals? Do you keep moving forward, even knowing you'll probably die? 

This is the ultimate test of conviction. All of my main characters have to pass it, and I have to understand (and more importantly, make the reader understand) why. I put my characters through this test in the initial world building stages, and then again over and over throughout the novel. It's the epitome of show versus tell. It’s not enough for Miranda to say she is dutiful. She has to prove over and over again in a dozen different ways that she will put herself on the line for her duty. She has to face that dagger every time, over and over, and never turn away.

I admire conviction in all people (who doesn't?), but I think it's especially important for characters, both the ones I write and the ones I look for in my pleasure reading. The Knife Test gives me a vehicle to show off that conviction. I don’t just say “Character X cares about Y more than his life”,  I make her prove it again and again. (Though, of course, I try not to actually kill the character, because then the story would be over!) 

Really, though, the mortality aspect of the test is immaterial. We all know the hero most likely isn’t going to actually die, but we love seeing how close he or she cuts it, and, even better, how on earth they’re ever going to get out of this mess. The Knife Test is just a tool for creating circumstances that test a character's mettle, a mental construct to help me wrap my brain around the tension and conflict needed for great character development. It's my way of asking "What does this character really stand for? What would they die for?" Because once you know what circumstance or person your character would walk into a knife for without regret, then you know that person inside and out. Once I've got that, all I have to do is put that character into my story and get out of their way.

Every writer has their own tricks, and this is one of my favorites. I hope you find it useful, or at least interesting. Thank you as always for reading, and I'll be back tomorrow with a brand new Writing Wednesday!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Writing Wednesday: VACATION!


awww yeaaaaaaaah
The launch of One Good Dragon Deserves Another is officially the best I've ever had! I actually got all the way to #112 in the Kindle Store, but I don't have a screen shot of that one :(. Still, this is higher than I've ever gotten on a launch day, and I owe it all to YOU! Thank you SO MUCH to everyone who bought the book!! You guys make all of this possible, and I really can't thank you enough!

And speaking of launch, the run up to this one has been crazy! Now, though, everything is finished and my kiddo is with his grandparents this week, so the powers that be here at Casa de Aaron/Bach have decreed that I need to take some time off. (AKA: Husband prying my fingers off my laptop and carting me away for fresh air and sunshine in the mountains).

Alas, this means there will be no new Writing Wednesday post this week, but that doesn't mean there's nothing to read! I've been doing this writing thing for a long time now, and I have years of content saved up just for your reading pleasure. I also sometimes write posts for other people that might have slipped under the radar.

So, to help tide you over until next week, here's a list of Rachel writing/authorship/ruminations on the genre posts that you won't find my blog:

5 Rachel Guest Posts You Won't Find on Pretentious Title

Guest Post for Magical Words - Loving Your Novel: a post about falling in love with your book again, even when you're mad at it.

IndieReCon Post - Words are Cheap: My original follow-up post from 2k to 10k about how writing faster completely changed my outlook on the creative process.

Guest Post for The Book Smugglers' SFF in Conversation Series - Upsetting the Default: I don my Rachel Bach SF hat and talk about writing a badass lady in a genre where "badass" is usually male.

Orbit Books Post - Elizabeth Moon interviews Rachel Aaron: Probably the coolest thing I have ever done! My publisher, Orbit Books, arranged for me to do an interview swap with my hero and SFF legend, Elizabeth Moon! (My half where I interview her is here. I am still squeeing!)

Guest Post for Kalayna Price - The New Golden Age: My awesome friend (and awesome writer) Kalayna Price invited me to talk on her blog. I respond with a post about how we're living in a golden age of genre!

Hopefully there's something you haven't read in that list! Thank you all again for stopping by, and I'll be back next week rested and refreshed and ready to talk the final parts of plotting a series!

Until then, keep writing (and reading!)


Saturday, August 1, 2015

It's official!! ONE GOOD DRAGON DESERVES ANOTHER is out today!

The wait is over!

One Good Dragon Deserves Another, the sequel to Nice Dragons Finish Last is now out! You can buy the ebook from, read it for free as a member of Kindle Unlimited, or try out a sample on my website.
You can also preorder the Audible audiobook edition, which comes out in October! A HUGE thank you to everyone who preordered the book, You guys are amazing!! I hope you're loving it!

We're also going to be adding a print edition and a poster of the OGDDA cover for the swag shop in the months to come. The third book in the series, tentatively titles A Dragon of a Different Color, should be out in early 2016.

Still on the fence? Here's a round up of what reviewers are saying:

"This second story in the Heartstriker's series takes all of the promise of its predecessor and fulfills it...One Good Dragon Deserves Another is a tightly plotted, wonderfully characterized, minimally (but adorably) romantic, futuristic tale of dragons and magic, and you should want to get your hands on it immediately." - The Midnight Garden 

"A first rate sequel that completely outshines its predecessor in every department. It reads like a thriller, is a urban fantasy, Sci-fi mashup in its plot and is a fantastic read overall. When it comes to books from author that we love, I don't think we can ask more than that." - Fantasy Book Critic 

"Witty, fresh, and fun. A sequel that expands on world building, characters, and the series plot makes this one a winner." - Fine Print 

"I really like the story in this book. There are twists and turns, but Julius stays true to himself." - Notes from a Readerholic

Whether they come from pro-reviewers or normal readers, reviews are hugely important for an author's career (plus, they make me stupidly happy!!!). If you've read any of my books, I hope you'll consider writing one for me on Amazon, Goodreads, or wherever you feel like it. It would really mean the world to me.

Thank you all so so SO much again for your support, and I really hope you enjoy One Good Dragon Deserves Another!

Yours always,

Friday, July 31, 2015

7 Posts to Help You Use Hooks Better

Hi everyone, this is Travis. I realized that we have a lot of new readers lately. If you want to be a better writer, there's years of materials here on Pretentious Title to dig through!

But no one likes digging through years of old posts. So, to help you all out, I've put together a quick link round up of some of Rachel's most popular How To writing posts. Today's topic is: the Hook. What it is, how to use it, and some great examples of the hook in action.

I hope you find these links handy! If you'd like more of these roundups, let us know what topics you'd like to see covered in the comments below. And remember, One Good Dragon Deserves Another comes out tomorrow!

(Rachel takeover: REVIEWS! In addition to the absolutely wonderful FBC review I mentioned Weds, OGDDA has already racked up great reviews from The Midnight Garden and Notes from a Readerholic as well! SO HAPPY YOU GUYS! Thank you!!!)

And now, the links!

Rachel's Top Posts About Hooks

Anatomy of a Hook - Using 6 Word Stories to examine the hook in its purest form.

The Art of Story Velcro - Using every aspect of your story to hook readers so hard, they never let go.

How to Write a Great Blurb - Who says writing great blurbs has to be torture?

Where to Start Your Story - It's not always where you think.

Tension - Why hooks work in the first place. The alpha and omega of successful writing.

How to Write a Prologue People Won't Skip - For all my fellow prologue junkies out there!

How I Manage Large Casts of Characters - Using character hooks to keep readers invested.

Thank you again for reading, and happy Almost OGDDA Release Day!
- R & T

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Writing Wednesdays: How To Plot A Series Without Driving Yourself Insane (Part 2)

Eeeeee!!! We're at T minus 3 days from the launch of One Good Dragon Deserves Another! I can not wait for you guys to read this book! The ever-awesome Mihir already reviewed it for Fantasy Book Critic and he loved it, so I'm now 100% confident you guys will, too! SO EXCITED!!

Also, Audible has started recording for the audio edition, and it should be out in October. They got the same narrator as book 1, too. Things are coming up all aces around here!

*deep calming breath*

Okay, now that I'm temporarily done flailing my arms in happiness, let's talk plotting a series!

Writing Wednesdays: How To Plot A Series Without Driving Yourself Insane (Part 2) - Handling Your Metaplot

In part one, I talked about the 5 basic steps I use to plot the course a series. If you're familiar with my blog, you probably noticed these steps looked very similar to the ones in my How I Plot a Novel in 5 Steps post. That's not coincidence. 

The overarching story of a series and the self-contained story of a book share the same structure. Ideally, both have a beginning, middle, and an end, both have development and growth, and both have a dramatic narrative that builds to a climax. The only real differences between the two story types are scale, speed, and focus.

Because it is largely self-contained, the plot of a single book can be as big and move as fast as you need it to. Your narrative can focus on whatever part of the narrative is most vital to the story you want to tell. A book, in short, doesn't have to answer to anyone else. It can be whatever it needs to be--fast, slow, epic, intimate, first person, third person, giant cast, epistolary--to best tell the story. 

But when you sit down to plan out the overarching plot of your series, also known as the metaplot, your freedoms and tools are much more limited. Because a series is made up of individual books, each of which have to be good in their own right, you don't always have the freedom to tell your larger metaplot exactly as you want to. 

The needs of the individual books always have to come first, because those are what your readers are reading. No one sits down and reads a meta plot by itself. It always exists in abstract, the bigger picture you see when you step back and look at the series as a whole. 

This degree of separation puts a lot of pressure on metaplot structure. Your reader catches the big-picture meta plot only in glimpses through your other books, sometimes years apart if your series is still coming out. These are huge handicaps writers must overcome if we want our readers to keep our larger story clear in their heads. 

The easiest way to compensate for this is to just keep the metaplot simple, but not every writer wants to do that. I personally love a complex metaplot both as a reader and a writer. So how do you tell a complex, series-level story? How can you structure your metaplot to make sure readers can keep up without sacrificing the intricacy and depth that made you want to write that metaplot in the first place?

Like any problem in writing, there are a million good answers to this one. My personal favorite, though, is to always make sure that my metaplot isn't so much the story of my world as it is the story of my characters.

The Character Driven Metaplot