Indie author Melissa L. Colon, one of my critique partners and longtime best friends, talks with me about writing, self-publishing, and being an indie author.
Julia: You’ve been a writer for more than 25 years and recently published your first novel, Colder Weather. How has becoming an indie author changed your view of yourself as a writer, and has it changed your approach to writing at all?
Melissa: I think in the beginning, imagining anything I’d written ending up in book form, was kind of like this unattainable dream. I always liked to write, but the majority of my stories were never book length, and the only thing that came close was a fan-fiction piece I wrote in the mid-90s. Colder Weather was really my first attempt at writing something that wasn’t more than a few pages long. Even after it was finished, I wasn’t really sure what to do with it. A friend was self-publishing, but at that time, most of my writing was just for a smaller audience, and I don’t think I was really prepared to push myself into the next stage, whatever that might be. After completing Colder Weather, I gained a lot of confidence in my abilities to create novel-length fiction, as well as creating compelling characters that others would be interested in investing their time in.
I tried to change my approach to writing, but in the end, I went back to what works for me. I’ve always been kind of a Panster in regards to fleshing out a story. Sometimes I have the basic idea of the story, and sometimes, it’s even less than that, and I just start fleshing out the details in this kind of haphazard way. A lot of my planning really is just chapter to chapter. Or, it could be, getting from one story related goal to the next. After Colder Weather, I wanted to be a Planner. I wanted to outline and detail and do all those wonderful activities that others do, and I started down that road with a piece that I’ll call Project SK. I did a character analysis for my main character. I created the world she’ll live in, down to building a bit of a “brochure” to give the place more life. But, as I was doing that, another piece of fiction really started taking form in my head. The more I tried to plan Project SK, a new project was begging to be written, old-school, fly by the seat of your pants style. So, I resigned myself to the fact that Project SK needed to go on the back-burner and my next novel, code name TBH, is moving along nicely.
Julia: Self-publishing is something a lot of writers want to do but are afraid to try. What inspired you to take the leap, and what advice do you have for writers who want to self-publish but are nervous about it?
Melissa: My inspiration came from two friends, both published Indie Authors. I was nervous about putting Colder Weather out there for the world to see, but they were both patient and willing to share their experiences, and that made it less daunting for me.
My advice would be that nervous is normal. I was a wreck off and on while editing Colder Weather, but in the end, I’m pleased with the end result. I highly recommend a writing buddy or someone that you can rely on to give you honest feedback about your work. You may not always take every suggestion that your writing buddy makes, but it helps to have an outside view of your story from someone you trust.
Julia: In what ways has your writing evolved over the years, and what would you say has been the most instrumental thing in helping you develop your craft?
Melissa: My writing has evolved in so many different ways over the years. My first attempts at writing fiction were awful. Lots of dialogue. Very little description. Clunky and full of holes. But, it was a start. From there, my writing started to improve, and I figured out that fiction needs more description to set the scene. More emotion to convey feelings. Etc. The other thing that I’ve evolved into is going from third person/past tense to first person/present tense. While I understand that there is some controversy with first person/present tense, I like the idea of feeling like you’re along for the ride. With third person, you get the benefit of knowing what multiple characters are feeling/thinking, but I’ve really started enjoying looking at the world I’m building from only one character’s POV.
Julia: One of your many writing talents is weaving the threads of the story through the lives of all your characters. Do you have a natural feel for how each character relates to and processes the events of the story, or is it something you have to plan out?
Melissa: I guess I’d have to say it’s a natural feel. I really know very little about each character as I start each new piece of fiction. I always like to think that the characters are telling me the story, vs. I’m pre-determining their actions/reactions. In my newest novel, TBH, I set up the main character, his family, and the event that shapes the start of the book, but the characters really took on their own lives and their own reactions all by themselves.
Julia: Do you have any writing-related goals for the coming year?
Melissa: I do. I’m in the process of writing TBH. I currently have 9 chapters completed, and it’s about 15,000 words so far. My goal is to finish it and start the editing process. I also need to find a new cover designer because the one I used last year is taking a hiatus, so if anyone has any recommendations, please send them my way. ♦
Do you like me? Check yes or no. When sixteen-year-old Emma Jordan unexpectedly runs into her childhood crush, Jace Brown, old feelings come surging back to life with new intensity. As the snow falls and winter closes in, Emma’s world opens up as she navigates first love, changing friendships, and family tension. But young love rarely lasts forever. As Jace deals with changes in his own life and follows his dreams, will their relationship stand the test of time? Or will Jace keep drifting in and out of Emma’s life just like the colder weather?
To put it nicely, 2018 was not my favorite year.
It wasn’t a horrible year, but it wasn’t great. It could have been much, much better. 2018 was a year with a lot of wheel spinning, a lot of goals that went unconquered, and way too much worry expended on unnecessary things. It was a year of limited adventure, too many days at home feeling like I couldn’t make a dent in my list of things to do. Lots of days where I felt unhappy, overwhelmed, and really just wanted to cry (and did.)
But it wasn’t all meh… there were some good things. Ashes Swept continued to get great reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Reviews of Ashes Swept were featured in some digital magazines and book review blogs. I even entered Ashes Swept into a book award contest, and though it didn’t win, it was such a huge step for me–so far out of my comfort zone–I count it as a win anyway.
In the final months of the year, I started to really think about the things that were causing me unnecessary stress and keeping me from accomplishing my goals. I changed some habits, started working on my mindset, began to fix and change some of the things that were no longer working for me. And now, for maybe the first time ever, I’m going into a new year feeling a little bit invigorated. Cautiously optimistic, perhaps, but ready to tackle another trip around the sun.
I don’t put a lot of stock in New Year’s resolutions, but if I had to choose a few, they would be:
Book: All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater
TV Show: Timeless (Honorable Mention: The Expanse)
Binge Show: Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Movie: Black Panther (Honorable Mention: Isle of Dogs)
Game: Covet Fashion
Social Media: Instagram
My debut novel, Ashes Swept, was released one year ago today. It’s hard to believe so much time has passed since then, but I definitely think I’ve learned a a few things in my first year as a published author. Here’s what I’m taking with me into year two:
Okay, well, duh, probably–but honestly, I wasn’t prepared for just how amazing it would be. So many more people have read and enjoyed my book than I ever expected, and it’s pretty freakin’ cool to know so many people have inhabited a place and known people that were all created in my head. That makes it even more exciting (and scary) to do it again!
In the beginning, it was hard not to focus on numbers, reviews, who liked it and who didn’t. Now that my “book baby” was out in the world, I wanted it to do well, which also meant really caring about that. But you can also drive yourself crazy by caring too much and watching too closely.
Writing, publishing, and everything that happens in between can be frustrating and draining at times, so it’s unbelievably important to have friends in the writing community. Not only can they be valuable resources for advice and feedback, but it also makes a huge difference to know you’re not alone in the things you’re feeling and experiencing.
I dove right in with facebook ads and Instagram ads, and I probably won’t do that again until I have a few more books in my backlog. Some debut authors may have more luck with it, but I really didn’t feel that advertising made a noticeable difference in my sales. Luckily I didn’t spend too much on it, but that money could have been put to better use.
I wrote my current WIP (which will be published book #2) during NaNoWriMo last year, and was sending chapters for beta before it was even done. Then my productivity took a nosedive for three months and getting into the swing of things again was difficult. For a while there I was only writing a chapter a month, so I fell way behind on my goal to publish another book before the end of the year. So, while it’s tempting to take a nice long vacation after your book comes out, a week or two is probably enough. More than that and you might lose your momentum.
I’ve been plugging away on book #2 much more steadily these last few months, and I’m getting pretty close to finishing another draft. Then it will go to my other critique partner for review, back for more edits, and then back for critique. Sometimes I get a little antsy because I’m ready to get this book out and move onto the next one, and other times I get a bit disappointed with myself for falling so far behind. But, I’ve also learned it’s important to be patient–not just with myself but with the process. Life happens. Things get in the way and sometimes you can’t write through them. But as long as you get back in the saddle, that’s all that matters.
I’m looking forward to year two and all the adventures it will bring!
I’m so pleased to welcome author Jade Young to my blog!
A lot of the writing I do is very character driven. Therefore my goal is for my readers to connect with my protagonist. I want my protagonist to come alive for them and for his or her thoughts and actions to jump off the page and draw the reader in. Ultimately, I want my readers to feel like they are the protagonist.
That’s essentially what Deep Point-Of-View or Deep POV is. The reader forgets they’re reading a book because it’s written in such a way that they feel like they are living the character’s life. Basically, you the author, do everything you can to remove dialogue tags, filter words, and passive voice. This establishes a deep and emotional connection with readers.
Now, this isn’t the easiest technique to master. It’s so easy to slip back into your regular writing style. However, practice makes perfect and if this is something that interests you, read on for my four tips.
Tip One: Get Inside Your Protagonist’s Head. In order to help readers get lost in my protagonist’s head, it’s essential that I get inside my protagonist’s head first. This means I need to know my character inside and out. I need to understand their goals, motivations, relationships, and other facets of their lives. This will add a level of realism to your protagonist and make them relatable to your audience. To check out my personal five-step process for creating relatable and well-rounded characters click here
Tip Two: Watch out for Filter Words. Filter words are words like saw, heard, thought, felt, watched, etc. If writing in Deep POV, they are unnecessary because they take readers out of the character’s head. The goal of Deep POV is for you to experience the story through the protagonist’s eyes so you need to write the action as it happens. Think about your own life. You don’t go around using filter words so why should your protagonist? Let readers experience story events as a character does. Confused? Here’s two examples:
Not Deep POV: Mary heard a gunshot and saw Eric fall to the ground.
Deep POV: A shot ring out! Mary stifled a cry as Eric’s body fell to the ground in front of her.
Not Deep POV: Eric thought the baby smelled bad. Time for a diaper change!
Deep POV: The baby smelled bad. Time for a diaper change!
Tip Three: Show Don’t Tell. Many of us are familiar with this rule, and it’s interesting to note that in some cases, telling can be effective. However, the goal is for our readers to feel like they are the protagonist and become immersed in their world. Therefore, we want to create dynamic scenes and use our protagonist’s five senses to tell the story. When conveying emotions, describing the setting, or during conversation be sure to stay inside your character’s head and avoid lengthy info-dumps or descriptions. For more information on show vs tell, and how you can master both, click here.
Tip Four: Write in Active, not Passive, Voice. Writing in passive voice can pull your reader out of your character’s head. Why? Because passive voice indicates that something has already been done or is being done somewhere the protagonist isn’t. For example,
Active Voice: The dog bit Katie.
Passive Voice: Katie was bitten by the dog.
Active Voice: Joel hit Nick.
Passive Voice: Nick was hit by Joel.
Note: An easy way to help you identify passive vs active voice is to add “by zombies” after the verb in the sentence. If the sentence makes sense then it’s passive. For example, if we were to use the examples above:
Passive: Katie was bitten by zombies.
Passive: Nick was hit by zombies.
Still confused? Check out this blog post by Kaitlin Hillerich for more examples and tips.
Tip Five: Remove Dialogue Tags. Dialogue tags are common in most novels. For example, “she said,” “he yelled,” “Mary screamed,” “Jack whispered,” etc. Though small, using dialogue tags can jar your reader out of your protagonist’s head and remind them that they’re reading a book. They can also kill the tension. I found an amazing blog post by Laura Drake that explains dialogue rules and can help you effectively delete dialogue tags in your novels. You can read it here.
I hope this blog post was helpful in helping you master Deep POV. If you have any other suggestions, or additional questions, please leave them in the comments down below.
Jade Young is a blogger, and writing coach, currently working on her debut novel. You can find helpful tips, writing advice, and more information about her services on her website at www.theeducatedwriter.com.