Category Archives: Jo Schneider

How Often Should You Send a Newsletter?

I have a friend who writes sweet romance books. She releases often and makes quite a bit of money. I asked her where she felt she gets her biggest boost from. She didn’t even hesitate when she told me that her newsletter sells more books than anything else she does. Especially new releases.

A lot of people roll their eyes when they see the “Sign up for my Newsletter” box pop up on a website, but I have to tell you, that as of right now, a newsletter is a great way to connect with people.

There are a few distinct camps when it comes to newsletters.

The first are those that feel that newsletters should be few and far between. Only put them out when you have something important going on, like a new release or a sale.

The second are those that want a little more. Perhaps updates on current projects (tantalize those readers) and other exciting announcements. This camp doesn’t mind regular emails. Maybe once a month.

The third are those that want to know everything about the author. They want to know about their kids, their cats, their frustrations, their triumphs…everything and anything. These people are good with emails once every other or even every week.

None of these is wrong.

In truth, you should pick the one that’s best for you. Do you hate putting out newsletters? Does it stress you out? Don’t feel like you have much to say? Then do the first. If you like to engage your readers a little more, go for the second. If you love people and want to connect more personally, go for the third.

One thing that I appreciate is when I sign up for a newsletter, that the author or company tells me how often I’m likely to hear from them. That sets up the expectation in my mind, and I’m totally fine when my email gets hit once a week, or once a month, or once every three months.

Personally, I’m between two and three. I don’t have any children or pets, so I can’t regale people with tales of my mothering woes, pet antics or honey-covered kitchen floors. But what I do have is a nerdy husband who thinks he’s hilarious. So he has his own little spot at the bottom of my newsletter where I usually post some stupid meme he’s sent me that he thinks is funny. Sometimes he’s right, sometimes he’s wrong. But it’s always there.

I also include an update about what I’m working on or perhaps an announcement. If we’ve been on vacation I usually share some pictures. There’s a section where I generally share a giveaway I’m involved in or someone else’s book (a book that I think my readers will like). And then I have a permanent call for people to join my review team. And that’s it.

I send my newsletter out every two weeks. Once in a while that changes, but not often.

The biggest connections I’ve made are when I ask a question of my readers. What fandom do they love and why? What are they grateful for that day? Where would they love to travel? Things like that. Sometimes I get one answer, other times I get a lot more.

I attended a class on newsletters last year, and the presenter asked, “If your favorite actor/singer/famous person sent a newsletter of what they did that week, would you read it?”

Uh, yeah. I might. I mean, what is Harrison Ford doing today?

So think of yourself not as a bother, but as an addition to people’s lives. Don’t waste their time, but give them a reason to make some time for you. Even if it’s just a few minutes.

This is Only the Beginning

What do I do once the first draft is finished?

Finishing a rough draft is no easy task, and it should be celebrated. So do something fun. Have a drink. Eat some cheesecake. Go to a movie. Go for a run. Whatever makes you happy. Give yourself the satisfaction of being finished for at least five minutes. Then you can move on to the real fun.

I’m an outliner. This does not mean that my first draft resembles the outline I made before I started. In general, things start to go off the rails at the midpoint of the story, and it often goes downhill from there. So by the time I’m finished, the last half of my book is a sometimes delightful, sometimes horrifying surprise.

If I’m not on a tight deadline, I’ll let the first draft sit for at least a week. Work on something else. Preferably something different. Some short fiction, or edit a different piece. Read a book from an author I love. Cleanse my pallet.

I don’t know about anyone else, but if I write a rough draft in a hurry (which I prefer, because creating is more difficult for me than editing so I use the rip-the-Band-Aid-off fast approach) I’ll actually forget things I wrote. So it’s kind of fun to go back a week or a month later and re-discover what happened to my poor characters that I hadn’t planned the first time around.

Once I’m ready to jump back in, I put a notebook in front of me and read through my first draft. You can also do this on the computer, but I still prefer paper and pen. I write down any number of things, including:

  • Things that pull me out of the story
  • What I think my theme is and what sticks with it and what doesn’t
  • Specifics on characters (eye color, height…because even if I have a wiki I don’t always look at it)
  • Parts that work
  • Parts that don’t work
  • Where the story slows down
  • Where the story is rushed

In the margins if the file (I use Word) I will make more specific notes. Things like:

  • How to fix a slow/rushed part
  • Where I might need humor
  • Plot ideas I have for revisions
  • Specifics on how to fix a scene
  • My most often typed note is: “Either use this or take it out.”

My first drafts are often bloated with little clues that lead nowhere, so I mark them as I go through so I can, as I said above, either use them or take them out. Because for some reason readers don’t love fruitless details.

Once I’m finished with the read through, I go back to my outline and change it to match what I have. Then I figure out what sort of hybrid I need to come up with between the original and what I have, and then I start again.

I prefer to use two monitors when possible, because I start with a blank document and then copy and paste from the original to the new one as I go.

While the process is less than perfect, it works for me. Does anyone else have a process they love that hasn’t been mentioned? Let us know!

 

Ending a Series

Years ago, I started Garth Nix’s Keys to the Kingdom series. The first book, Mister Monday, was so great. Intriguing, strange, fun and imaginative. It set up so many mysteries that I could hardly wait for book two to come out. Then book three…

But after that my attention waned. The plot become convoluted. I struggled with the fact that each book posed more questions, but did not answer them. By book five, I didn’t bother to read it until a friend had reminded me that it was out. In the end I finished the series. Monday through Sunday. Seven books. The first two or three had captured my imagination. The rest tried to soar, but didn’t get far.

By the time I got to the last book, I remember distinctly giving the great big reveal—the thing we’d been waiting for since Arthur had been dragged into this whole mess by Mister Monday—a slow blink.

Really? That’s it? All this trouble, and ruining this kid’s life, for…that?

Now I’m not here to diss on Garth Nix, because he’s pretty much brilliant. What I’m here to address, is the difficulty in keeping a series going. A multi-book character journey is not as easy to write as one might think. Because your characters need to grow and learn each book, but they still can’t be perfect. They still can’t quite get over it, because if they do, then there’s nowhere for them to go at the end.

How many of us were slightly disappointed by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows? Either because the Hallows seemingly came out of nowhere, or because the big reveal didn’t shock us? Again, I’m not putting J.K. Rowling down. She’s amazing, and somehow kept her sanity while writing seven books of one of the most successful series of all times.

Think about it. How many times have you been let down by a series finale? Either on Netflix, in a book series or a last movie?

I used to wonder why that was, but now I have a few ides.

I started my Jagged Scars series four years ago. I was vaguely familiar with this problem, so I combed through the internet to find answers. One woman had a brief synopsis of each Harry Potter book and Harry’s character arc in it. This was most helpful, and I used it as a guide to outline Wendy’s journey through Jagged Scars.

Here’s what I came up with:

  • Fractured Memories: After a bitter betrayal, Wendy learns to trust others again.
  • Severed Ties: Wendy learns to trust herself.
  • Shattered Dreams: Wendy finds love, and feels worthy of it.
  • Crippled Hope: Wendy has to face the fact that not everyone wants to fight their way through life, and that that’s okay.
  • Broken Worlds…

Well, I had a plan for book 5, the final book in the series. I thought it was brilliant, but as I started writing the book, it felt forced. The journey I thought I wanted to take Wendy on turned out to be someone else’s journey, and I literally spent nine months writing the book four times—each time finding at the end that it lacked.

People around me accused me of needing the perfect story, and that it was probably fine. After round four, I sent it to my beta readers…and as I had suspected, they hated it. Every conflict I had tried to shove in felt forced, even to them.

So I started again. Only this time I decided that the book was a finale, and I didn’t need a big character arc for Wendy. I’d write the dang book and then see where it took me. Which I did. And as I did, I realized that I’d let Wendy grow too much in the other books. She’s gotten over her fear of the Skinnies, and of the monster inside her head telling her to be horrible. She can think about her dad again and she loves people—something she couldn’t do at the beginning. She’s even started to understand others when they’re not like her.

I’m still not quite finished with the book, but I think I understand how to fix it. However, the next time I start a series, the first thing I’m going to decide is what the main character’s overall arc is going to be. Once I figure that out, I’m going to make sure I have a really good, but hard, place for the character to go in the last book.

Because the reason we read books or watch TV is to see people overcome, and the stories that stick with me are those in which the character overcomes themselves, in addition to the big bad. The moment when the character chooses teamwork over winning the big game. The moment when he/she chooses family instead of fame, or the moment when they let go of their hate, and learn to love.

 

 

 

 

Flash Fiction-It’s Not About Barry Allen

I’ve always admired people who can write short stories. Packing everything needed for a good narrative into less than 10k words is a skill that I struggle with. Besides some success I’ve had with horror short stories, short fiction is not my forte. Plus, I always want to put a silly surprise at the end, which a lot of editors don’t love.

Last year I went to a conference and heard a couple of people talk about Flash Fiction.

Flash Fiction is a story in 1,000 words or less.

Yes, you read that correctly, 1,000 words or less.

During a session at the conference, the presenter gave us some randomly generated story parts (character, setting, genre) and then gave us twenty or so minutes to write a flash fiction story about it.

Can I just say that I loved it? It was liberating staring at a blank page, typing my “parts” at the top, and then trying to put them into a cohesive story that would only last 1,000 words.

I don’t usually struggle with commitment, but I tell you what, these little things are commitment free, and highly addictive. I was hooked after one, wrote a horror flash fiction for an anthology the next day, and then decided I would adopt the platform of Flash Fiction on my website.

Now I kind of stole the randomly-ish generated theme, genre, character…idea from the presenter. I came up with my own five categories, and filled them up. I then dig into my husband’s D&D dice bag and I see what fate has in store for me this week.

Voila, Flash Fiction Friday!

The great thing about it, is things have to connect, but not everything has to be explained. You don’t have time to go into a great deal of background, so to say the character is an angry mobster bent on revenge is enough. And the narrative is so short that it almost has to be a snap shot—a moment where something changes. Or when something should change, but it doesn’t. Get in, tell the story and get out all in less than two pages, single spaced in Word.

If you’re interested in writing, try it. If you’re having trouble with writer’s block, try it. If you’re looking for something new, try it. It’s like a cookie verses an entire cake. Take a bite and walk away.