Four Letter Words

Is it ok to swear in one’s writing?  Opinions vary but my general thought: fuck yes you can swear in your prose.  I can’t speak for all people in the world but the people around me swear.  Some swear often, others less so.  Interesting people (in my personal experience) swear.  It shows a depth of emotion and a certain set of experiences that at least in fiction, lead to interesting stories. 

Are there interesting people who don’t swear?.  Lots of people I’ve met who don’t swear refrain from religious zealotry.  I love cults and cult stories.  I can imagine writing a clean cut shiny Jesus-eque cult piece full of characters who never swear. 

Does swearing in books turn people away from that fiction?  Maybe?  Children shouldn’t read a book full of cussing.  But did writers create a book that’s child appropriate excluding those darn swears?

There are adults who are offended by foul language.  They’re a more realistic loss of an audience.  Again though, I’ve got to ask if they would read the book if only it weren’t for all the f-bombs.  I don’t know because I don’t know specifically what people find distasteful. 

A common anti-cussing in books argument is that it stifles creativity.  To me, that sounds like, “if you make that face long enough it will stay that way.”  Which we all know isn’t true, your mom our your grandma or whoever just wanted you to quit making funny faces.  Doesn’t making faces strengthen your facial muscles and help you create new expressions?  Why can’t the same be true of swearing?  I’ve heard some funny, creative, and expressive swears in my time.  Cussing well is a talent.

It’s your manuscript and you have to be happy with it.  Do whatever supports your creative vision and worry about other people’s stomach for foul language afterward.

Cover Art, Truth in Advertising?


As a reader, it’s always annoyed me when cover art doesn’t match the book description.  I believed the writer just didn’t care enough about their work.  They went to all this trouble to describe a character but didn’t care enough to make sure the artist portrayed their main character correctly!  *Outrage*

When I began researching traditional publishing, I learned how little control the author sometimes has on the cover art of their book.  And it horrified me.  The saying is “you can’t judge and a book by its cover,” is more true than one might know.  Sometimes publishing houses commission artists and give them no description including within the book, only an idea of what THEY think will sell the book (which may not be what’s in the book).  When the cover isn’t accurate to the book, you might need to blame the publishing house and not the author.  

BUT, the cover sells a book.  I may know better than to pick books based on covers (and have loved many books despite a less than amazing cover) but I’ve also put down a book based on a horrendous cover.  

AND I’ve been mad at books because the cover doesn’t match the content. As a person who tends to finish books once I’ve started, I’m more likely to be mad regarding a false cover than I am to have not read a book due to a bad cover… but I’d love stats on how most readers react.

A cover is important.  Composition, what you show, how you show it, all of it matters.  Does it have to be accurate to the book though?  

If current covers are anything to go by.  The insides don’t have to match the outside, but where is the line one can push before readers feel tricked?

Food for thought: 

  1. What’s the most important part of your book/ what do you think would compel a reader to pick up your book?
  2. Do you know what you want your cover to be of?
  3. How accurate should it be to the writer’s description?  Does accuracy matter more than visual layout or imagination?
  4. What’s the difference between an artistic rendering and deception?  
  5. Do you have a favorite cover, does it align with your favorite book?

Best of Kindle Unlimited: Annette Marie

Annette Marie’s work is predominately urban fantasy meant for young adults.  Her characters are “older” than a standard young adult character often between seventeen and twenty.  Her story lines do not happen in a school or within a typical teen framework, instead they focus on emotional beats and key road divergence style story plots that characterize young adult literature.

Marie’s urban fantasies cover two differing genres.  One where magic/gods/demons has always existed with humanity.  It changes very little in the day to day modern world because mortals can rarely experience and hold a memory of these powers and the powers themselves do not like urban development.  

In another, these powers reveal themselves when humanity threatened their safety and took over our realm to protect us from our own destructive nature.  The man vs magic struggle is strong in this series.

“Red Winter” is Marie’s best series by miles, though the first three books in “Steel & Stone” make a close second.  If there weren’t another three books in “Steel & Stone” full of a downward descent, this section would be a debate over which series is the best.  

Instead, Annette Marie’s career is a fascinating case study regarding writing priorities.  She’s an imaginative talentedwriter with a thriving fan base.  She’s made her career testing out various stories and creating more when her readers responded to her writing.  

I had mixed feelings in including Annette Marie.  While I love some of her work, I also dislike or was disappointedalmost as much of it as I enjoyed.  I came into this article expecting to discuss writers’ fatigue (a classic Stephen King fault) or discussing how writers’ shouldn’t keep stories going past their natural end point.  

BUT further research on Marie’s writing career highlights that she may have different goals than I do in creating her stories.  It seems she’s trying to create a fan base and doesn’t mind stretching what’s popular in her writing to build that base.  Her motives may extend beyond always telling the story she wants to tell to telling a story people want to read.  What obligation do writers have to respond to their audience’s desires?  Does it impede good story telling or does it create creative story narratives readers want?  

Take Aways from Annette Marie’s Success:

1.  Be responsive and interactive with your audience.  Annette Marie and all writers can only succeed if others are interested in their stories.  When you find something that speaks to your audience hold on to it.

2.  An older protagonist in young adult literature works.  The story beats that identify a work as young adult transcend the age of one’s main characters.

3.  “Magic is secret” does not have to be the default setting for urban fantasy AND readers don’t want or need large exposition drops to integrate magic into a modern world.

Looking for other great Kindle Unlimited Series? Check out our earlier write up on Amy A. BartolSara C. Roethle,  T. A. White, Charlie N. Holmberg, Meg Elison, and Susan Ee.

Wondering why Kindle Unlimited?  Check out my post: 7 Reasons I read Kindle Unlimited

For further discussion on reviews try our “Would you Rather…” post that asks writers to pick between two different kinds of negative reviews.  Or try Do Critical Reviews hurt me as a Writer?

Or consider 9 Things that Make a Book Good (For Me)7 Steps I take Before Posting a Bad Review

Feburary Submissions of Interest

Feb 10th

Grumpy Old Gods Vol. 7: 3,000-4,000 words a speculative fiction (mythic fiction preferred) on trickster gods pays royalties

Feb 14th

The One and Future King: 5,000-10,000 word on a King Arthur-ish story but don’t base it on current shows depicting his time pays royalties

Feb 15th

Eerie River Publishing: 1,000-5,000 words “it calls from the forest” speculative dark horror stories pays royalties

Feb 16th

Inverted Fairy Tales and Folklore: 1,000-8,000 words fairy tale related-stories based on non-mainstream characters pay $.04 a word

Feb 22nd

Silk & Steel: 3,000-7,000 words “Princess and swordswoman. Scholar and mecha pilot. Warrior women… and the courtly ladies who love them.” pay $.08 a word

Feb 29th

Parsec Ink: up to 5,000 words scifi, fantasy, and horror stories with the theme of extinction pay $.03 a word

A Haunted Yuletide: 1,000-10,000 words “Do you know what a Christmas story needs? More Ghost stories.” pays royalties

2019 Planning and How I Got to 2020

There was a lot I wanted to accomplish in my 2019 writing practice AND there was a lot going on in my job.  To balance work/personal/writing life, I turned to a planner.  Well, I went through several planners to get to my current system.

Why a paper planner when I’ve used Jorte for years?

2018 was very stressful for me and there was a lot I was tracking.  My Jorte calendar was too cluttered.  Looking at it created my anxiety than it alleviated. And nothing is as satisfying as checking, crossing out, or highlighting a task or series of tasks.  Paper and pen is a comfort for me in times of high anxiety.

My Organizational Journey

I started with a huge monthly desk calendar.  BUT in the first week it became clear that there was TOO much for even the largest monthly wall calendar.  I needed a monthly and weekly glance.

Next purchase was a Simplified Planner.  It had a hard cover with gold edges and bright cheery colors within.  The weekly view let me carve out the time I worked vs my “free time” and it gave me a heads up regarding what was pending.  It’s major drawback was combining the Saturday/Sunday in the weekly view.  As a retail person I need the most detail on my Saturday/Sunday either when I work or when I have it off.  Most things in my life happen on these days.

So I moved on to an Inner Guide Planner and a paper journaling system in July.   The Inner Guide gave me more than a full 7 day a week spread, it also helped me make monthly goals in different categories like the professional, creative, family, fun, etc.  This helped me figure out what I was spending time on and if it was what I wanted to spend time on.  This planner helped crystallized the need to change day jobs, and it helped refocus me on my novel publication countless times.  I think most people would find the Inner Guide Planner of immense value, especially for its price point.  It was $32 and even using it only from July-Dec, I got that value back.

A blank journal gave me freedom and space to write whatever whenever.  Lists, complaints/venting, future plans, progress reports, research, etc.  It also gave me unlimited space, and I’m long winded.

However, I wanted more.  I wanted a space to write my plans and goals and another space to record actual progress on those goals.  There wasn’t enough space in a weekly planner for that so I did some research and purchased a She Plans Daily Planner.

I love this planner.  It’s a quarterly softbound sewn book I carry with me and make notes regarding the way I spend my time.  At a glance I can see how much time I spend working, blogging, on social media, or “wasting time” gaming/watching YouTube by color blocking my day off using the half hour 6-8:30 pm marks provided in they system.  There’s an untimed space for “to do” where I make notes on ideas/shopping needs/tasks as they come to me and review them each week to prioritize what I need or should plan out.  There’s a space for inspiration I fill out with a writing quote every day.  Tracking my time helps me clarify what I want and what I’m willing to do to get it done.

And all this lead me to 2020 organizational routine.  For 2020 I have a desk full of plans to keep me on track with my writing, health, and work.  I will share the current 2020 system in my next post and talk about moving forward.  I hope this post helped offer some tools you could use to help you achieve your goals.  Are you a planner or a seat of the pants type writer?  Do you have goals and what do you do if you meet them?  What do you do when you don’t reach your goals?  Do you have a favorite tool: what is it and why?

Bells and Whistles: Habitica for Fantasy Writers

Habitica is a free online site (and phone app because everything is a phone app right now) that allows you to write goals and track your progress.  Like all progress trackers, Habitica gives users satifaction by checking off completed tasks and clearing a dashboard.  More than just checking a box, the site gives the user points that allows them to customize and build a small fantasy character.  Doing dishes or completing a writing goal isn’t just exciting in its own sake, now your little character can level up to achieve better armor or a better attack.  While “gamifying” work can appeal to anyone, I thought the fantasy character nature may appeal to fantasy or scifi writers.

 

There are three styles of habits one can write.

 

“Habits” or goals that a user strives to repeat daily or 2-3 times a week.  They are important but the user doesn’t want to be penalized if they don’t get around to completing these things every day.  Instead the habits will color coat, suggesting how good a person is at completing them but not setting anyone back if they don’t get to an item every day.

 

“Dailies” are mandatory tasks that renew each day.  If you DO NOT complete them, they will negatively impact your little avatar.  This is a more carrot/stick method of goal planning where completing the goals gives your character great bonuses but forgetting to do them too often will lead to your avatar passing out.

 

“To-Dos” are one time, one-day style tasks.  Finishing them is epic, but there’s no set timeline on getting to them and there is no need to repeat the tasks.

 

How I use Habitica as a writer

While I first used Habitica for the “Dailies” section.  Forcing myself to either “put up or shut up,” I find it’s healthier for me to use the “Habits” and “To-Do” sections.  It makes me less likely to micro manage my time or fill up my goal list with things I KNOW I will complete so I can collect the points.  Checking off boxes and making plans makes me feel good and sometimes I’ll make a ton of plans instead of working on anything.  Habitica enables this kind of behavior, so if this is you, beware.

 

I use the “Habits” section to suggest things I like “check social media X for X amount of time,” “respond to 2 people in y forum,”  or “write x amount of words this week.”  Habitica can also be a reminder system.  It helps me remember to focus on general life or well-being items outside of writing specific goals.

Sometimes Habitica is just a tracking system.  If I am trying to decide between projects I wanted to work on, I might create a habit for each book/story and see which one I checked off the most.

 

I planned to use the “To-Dos” to manage all my creative writing ideas, but it’s unnecessary.  I’m excited about all my story ideas and can just keep a running paper list.  I jump into creative projects without problem.  Instead my “To-Dos” fill with ideas for blog posts and suggestions regarding what to edit next.  This way when I schedule time to write up blog posts, I don’t waste time wondering what topics to cover.

 

Overall, Habitica has helped me stay organized and focused as a writer.  While any list could do this.  There is extra incentive to do well when there’s a cute little avatar face staring back at me asking for the next couple points to level up.  I realize this won’t work for everyone, but if you’re in a rut, it might be worth trying.

 

Talk to me!  Do you use any habit trackers in your writing?  Do you use a planner at all or does all structure repel you?  How do you feel about deadlines and goals when it comes to your writing or creative process?

 

Looking for more productivity and planning goodness?  Check out my 2019 Goals Review. I’ve got a post on my 2020 writer’s goals, how I’m tracking those goals, and I have some advise on how to plan a rough draft for aspiring writers.

Goal Planning Advice: Getting Through a Rough Draft

It’s easy to say “I want to write a novel” or “I want to be a blogger” or even “I want to grow my following” and it’s much harder achieve these goals.  Today, I want to talk about how to set and achieve goals. 

  1. Have a clear image of what a successful end would look like.  Today’s end goal will be “I want to complete my first draft.”
  2. Create a deadline.  For example: “I want a rough draft at the end of the year.”  My “big goals” are always end of the year goals.  Thinking ahead more than a year makes me sad and anxious.  It’s too big and there are too many places where the plan could go awry.  You have to find your own large goal sweet spot.  Maybe you’ve got what it takes for the five-year plan or maybe you only want 30-90 days.
  3. Create goals and timelines for each chunk.  You might use your story arc to create these goals.  Like if you have a three act story, you want to spend 3 months writing the intro 4 months writing the middle and 5 months writing the back third.  Or you might break the book by chapters and decide to write 2-3 chapters a month.  Personally, I use straight word counts, but everyone will have their own organization.
  4. Identify any stumbling blocks in achieving your goal.  I can type about 1,000 words an hour once I get into a groove.    What holds me up is research. 
  5. Create a way to move around the “hard parts.” To succeed in my plans, I need to limit my research or mark-up areas where I’ll need to verify or detail out in a second draft (if I even keep whatever scene it is).  Besides that, I need to set a timer when I start researching.  No more than 45 minutes of impromptu studying.  Any more time needs to be scheduled and accounted for.
  6. Schedule time to meet your goals.  I can’t write my rough draft every day.  Instead, I’ve scheduled time each week to write and I stick with a weekly word count goal.  My goal is 3,200 words a week.  To reach my goal I’d only need to write about 2,700 words a week, but I’m setting up a safety net with a larger goal.  This way if my story is longer than I thought or if I fall short some weeks, I could still finish my project.
  7. Actually block out the time you plan to use each day/week/month and keep a reminder near you.  Trying something new? I recommend that at first you give yourself double whatever the amount of time you think you need.  If that’s too much time awesome! 
  8. If double the time doesn’t complete your task, relax.  Your experience is normal, don’t be discouraged.  I recommend backing off your yearly goal and just spending a month recording your process.  How far do you get in each writing session?  How long are the sessions, are shorter or longer spurts better for you?  Are there times of day that make writing easier?  Use this self-knowledge to create a more realistic plan and goal for you.  Remember if at first you don’t succeed; you just need a different plan! 

Can you trust my advise, see for yourself. Here’s my 2019 goals and my 2019 results.

Looking for more content like this? Check out my 2020 writer’s goals, my 2020 planner system and Habitica, a goal system that may help you track your own progress.

7 January Calls for Submission: Jess Edition

January 7th

Fiend and Furrows II: 4,000-8,0000 looking for folk horror words pays $.04 a word

January 15th

Cat Ladies of the Apocalypse: 4,000-8,000 words just a person who identifies as female and her cat(s) at the end of the world pays royalties

AE Micro: 200 words theme “stars” pays $.10 word with minimum $20 for very short stories

Atthis Arts: 3,000 word maximum “magical pen” uplifting not horror or gore. $.08 a word

January 30th

Kyanite Press: 2,500-15,000 words with a dystopian post apocalypse themed “shattered worlds” pays royalties

January 31st

Dragon Soul Press: 5,000-15,000 words “reign of queens” pays royalties

Best of Kindle Unlimited: Susan Ee

While most Kindle Unlimited authors are independent authors, there are a lot of wonderful traditionally published writers too. Susan Ee is another example of an author publishing through one of Amazon’s publishers and working with the Kindle Unlimited system to create a maximum audience.

Susan Ee’s work is marketed to young adults but the horror elements combined with griping story beats entertain all ages.  The story told in the Angelfall series isn’t unique.  I’ve read variations.  The beats didn’t surprise me as they may have surprised the younger audience.  But Ee creates full fledged characters readers can invest in.  Even if we know the story, we don’t know how these characters will handle it, and that’s what will keep adult readers engaged.

Take Aways from Susan Ee’s Success:

1.  Dark horror and the grotesque is for young adults too.  Ee’s books do not hold back in exploring the darkness in humanity.  She pushes body horror and explores all the ways people can be used.  Neither the “good guys” nor the “bad guys” flinch from acting in inhuman ways.  If “Angelfall” was a show or a movie series, I don’t know how it could get around an R rating.

2.  Creating relatable personalities and rounded characters is more than good writing, it will broadens a novel’s appeal.  Don’t shy away from differently abled characters either.  Much of the story’s conflicts come from the characters’ physical and mental disabilities and how that impacts them.  

3.  This a great example of a book series with a strong first book but better follow-ups.  Ee never faltered in her vision for “Angelfall” (or is she did, it doesn’t show in the final products).  Writer’s fatigue or a series decline in quality is not a constant fact of life!  The direction, pacing, and sense of stakes remains strong in each of Ee’s books.  

Looking for other great Kindle Unlimited Series? Check out our earlier write up on Amy A. BartolSara C. Roethle,  T. A. White, Charlie N. Holmberg, and Meg Elison.

Wondering why Kindle Unlimited?  Check out my post: 7 Reasons I read Kindle Unlimited

For further discussion on reviews try our “Would you Rather…” post that asks writers to pick between two different kinds of negative reviews.  Or try Do Critical Reviews hurt me as a Writer?

Or consider 9 Things that Make a Book Good (For Me)7 Steps I take Before Posting a Bad Review

Best of Kindle Unlimited: Meg Elison

While most Kindle Unlimited authors are independent authors, there are a lot of wonderful traditionally published writers too. Meg Elison is one author offering her work through Kindle Unlimited and winning the game.  

Elison is an essayist whose debut novel The Book of the Unnamed Midwife is a Philip K. Dick award winner.  In terms of quality, it’s hard to aspire for more within the science fiction genre.  Her stories are griping, emotional, and intellectual.  I love the questions her works pose and the journey her stories take me on.  Her presence on Kindle Unlimited helps to elevate the whole platform.  

Take Aways from Meg Elison’s Success:

1.  The female perspective and discussion of traditionally female centered issues have an audience.  While I’d argue “women’s’ issues” ARE human issues and everyone should listen and discuss them as they affect every man and woman, Elison does a beautiful job portraying that point within her fictional world.  She posits what would happen if women and children were rare commodities.  She explores several manners of extremism and different responses.

2.  LGTQ+ or GRSM (gender, romantic, and sexual minorities) as I prefer to group (it’s more inclusive and less letters to get there) and other controversial issues can be highly palatable and enjoyable in fiction.  Elison uses a fictional vehicle to explore core issues of identity and expression.  Self expression isn’t a minority issue, it’s a human one and this kind of exploration is compelling to a larger reading audience than a writer may assume.

3.  Don’t flinch from controversial subjects period.  Elison’s politics are all over her books and the view point creates a more interesting compelling narrative (even when one doesn’t agree with her take).  Perhaps the controversy even helps selling books?  I don’t know if Elison succeeds in spite of or because of the controversy in her books, but I know writers can take her success as a sign they don’t have to self censor to find a market.  We should write fearlessly and explore any theme we find compelling without angst.

4.  Play with different lengths and styles of writing.  Elison has a background as an essayist, if she’d stuck to that format she wouldn’t have an award-winning novel and a widely read series.  And who knows how much her essayist background helped form her style/craft to where she could pull together a thoughtful, griping, and lean manuscript.

5. Whatever you write and whatever your goals are, pursue them with a single minded passion.  When reading Elison’s book, it’s clear she cares about all the subjects she introduces to her manuscripts.  She’s invested in her writing and making her point and readers can see that level of commitment and will respond  

Looking for other great Kindle Unlimited Series? Check out our earlier write up on Amy A. BartolSara C. Roethle,  T. A. White, or Charlie N. Holmberg.

Wondering why Kindle Unlimited?  Check out my post: 7 Reasons I read Kindle Unlimited

For further discussion on reviews try our “Would you Rather…” post that asks writers to pick between two different kinds of negative reviews.  Or try Do Critical Reviews hurt me as a Writer?

Or consider 9 Things that Make a Book Good (For Me)7 Steps I take Before Posting a Bad Review