Authors, let's talk about expectations. As a writer, when you decide to self publish, the first thing you do is go research people who are already doing it. When you do, you are going to see: a ton of stories regarding self-published authors that bring in millions, then you're going to read about mid-listers who bring in a substantial amount of sales, (enough to have a comfortable life) and then you'll hear about those that sell enough to quit their day jobs. Story after story, blog after blog, and sooner than later, your eyes are bulging. You review their books and think, I can write that well! (or better!) Suddenly, in your future you see yourself at the computer, banging away in between cashing your checks.
The reality is, the majority of authors (traditional and otherwise) are not among those stories. Once you start digging you come across many articles like this one: Most Writers Earn Less. It makes more sense, and can seem a bit dismal. But don't be discouraged by reality. Instead, capitalize on it with a strategic business plan.
If you look at WHO and WHAT is making all those millions, it's easy to recognize there is absolutely no way to predict what will work with readers and what won't. The moment you think you have the formula you become that bitter author making scathing remarks on the latest Fifty Shades phenomenon about how poor the writing is (because, why didn't it happen to you?).
When I took my book into the office to show my co-workers, they all clapped me on the back and remarked, 'remember us when you're famous!' Of course, it's a common joke and we all laugh. However, I am fully aware that the likelihood of that happening is slim. Most likely, I will have a hard time making back what I invested to get them out there (editing, formatting, cover art is not cheap).
But I didn't do this for money. I did this for me. Just to have the opportunity to share my novels with a small circle of readers that loved them is enough. I've been writing all my life and although I've never penned a query letter or tried to go the 'submit and wait' route of traditional publishing, self publishing has given me the opportunity to not only release my art, but control it in every conceivable way (something that is important to me).
So what are my goals? This is what I feel is realistic for a brand new writer in a world that houses over 5 million kindle books:
Those don't seem very exciting, but I think there is a difference between GOALS and HOPES. Every writer hopes to be a bestseller, just like every musician hopes to be a breakout star. My hopes are much more in line with my dreams: BIG. But the failure of goals can be detrimental, so I made sure to separate them.
I think having realistic goals that include a one year, three year and five year stretch is motivating and essential. It's important we don't allow all those grand stories to bend our expectations into something that is going to hinder our confidence and work ethic. In other words, have your goals AND your dreams, but make sure they don't get mixed up.
If I don't meet my goals, I won't quit writing. I've been writing since the first grade because I love to do it. I will continue to do it until I can't. My goals strive the business side of writing (something I have less experience at), my dreams are all based on my heart and my love for my own characters and the world they live in.
What are your writing goals?
I've been writing short stories since first grade. Beginning in college, I wrote four full-length novels, coming-of-age, literary fiction and a police procedural among them, yet none of my writing had explicit sex. Then in 2014, I began writing four books, featuring male escorts for women. Being that each book features a different male escort and his experiences, it's fair to say they all have explicit sex, a lot in fact. Just how did I start writing about male escorts for women?
It first began with a challenge to myself, I wanted to write a book with no holds barred. I've written about relationships, of course. My police procedural focused around a married couple, but I never felt the need to get too detailed about the sex. I thought, I should explore sexual fantasies! It would be a lark! And then, I happened upon a show called, Gigolo's on Showtime.It is a reality show that follows the adventures of Cowboys For Angels , an actual male escort service for women.The guys on the show and their banter was a turn off, but it definitely raised my eyebrows.
Men are known to use escorts, but would women do that?I had no idea that there were escorts for women. We all know men use them, the old Bunny Ranch, but women? Would we do that? Why the hell not? A hot guy for the night that knows exactly how to touch a woman? Yes, please.
I furthered my research and found countless articles about women that have used these type of services. In some countries outside of the U.S., this activity doesn't have to be 'hidden'. Some hired them to be a date for the evening, deciding in the end not to 'go all the way' and some took it as far as it was intended. It has picked up a little momentum too.
After several months, I had quite a bit of information, not only on what kind of women were using these services, but why and how. I even found out that I could hire a cowboy right here in Kentucky. I thought, I could always say it was for research! Now while I didn't take it that far (yet), it was interesting to know that I could.
The research I did also helped me understand how the legality of such an activity in the United States might be circumvented. After all, the owner of Desert Pleasures, Alicia Porter, has several businesses. She wouldn't do anything that might put herself, her clients or her escorts in legal trouble.
So, I had my 'Madam' and I began my series with, Losing Grip, which focused on Kristine Platt—the 'customer' of escort Nic Adair. It also gave me the opportunity to introduce Alicia Porter and demonstrate how she might find her 'exclusive' clients. I was off and running.
It turns out that writing about explicit sex is a lot of fun.When I wrote, Good At It, about the very popular escort, James Day, I got to write sex scenes with several different women. It was fun writing about different body types, sexual preferences and motivations. I have to admit, I had so much fun, I just kept going. I decided to write about Alicia's youngest escort, Mannie Romero, Jr., in Imperfect. Then I decided to write about a dominant, after all some women have those Fifty Shades fantasies going on! Hollywood Giant opened up a totally new world to me, something that was different and running the gamut of emotion.I got to write about many different sexual encounters, not just the same couple on repeat. I dove in, I assure you.
I got to write about many different sexual encounters, not just the same couple on repeat.My next book will feature Alicia Porter's story. Just how did an intelligent, beautiful, hard-working business woman end up with her own escort service? The possibilities of the series are endless. I can create as many or as few escorts as I want. My customers can be just about anyone, motivated by anything.
At first, I didn't know where these naughty books would fall into place with my other works, so I created the pen name, Zoe Blackwood. I'm glad I did, and I'm continuing to write about my escorts. When you are having so much fun writing that you can't bear the thought of stopping, you know you're onto something. After all, we are selfish, we writers. We expect to have a damn good time!
Have you written anything you never imagined you would? What inspires your stories?
Well written characters sell books. Great characters are truly immortal, some even become definitive: Scrooge, Dickens hard, bent miser, is often used as a noun to describe such a person. Ordinary, relatable characters like, Harry Potter, can draw fans back again and again. Villains like Hannibal Lecter can surpass the page and become iconic. Think of: Huck Finn, Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, Lisbeth Salander, Atticus Finch, Frodo Baggins. The greatest and most memorable books are filled with characters you never forget.
What makes a great character? Hannibal Lecter and Frodo Baggins couldn't be more different. But what do they have in common? They are both so intricately portrayed that when they appear on the page, we are immediately drawn into their world. Imagine an evening spent with either of them. A Saturday night with Frodo might consist of a slice of bread and stew, smoking a bit of pipe-weed and having some ale over conversation and song. On the opposite spectrum, is Hannibal Lecter. If you're lucky enough not to offend him and become a victim, you might find yourself at an extravagant dinner featuring the best wine, music and cerebral conversation.
So how does an author inject that 'special quality' into a character?
Understand Your Character
The basics of characterization: physical appearance, job experience, hobbies and religious affiliation are things you should decide for every main and secondary character in your book. That's the easy stuff. But what brings a character out of a portrait and into the world is understanding them, knowing their motivations.
In my novel, Losing Grip, the protagonist, Kristine Platt, is adverse and reluctant to becoming involved in a serious romantic relationship. It's part of the plot, and I can simply state this to the reader, but it's far more impactful to know why and to demonstrate it, if you have the opportunity. For Kristine, her childhood created the fear of loving another person so much, that it becomes a detriment. Her parents were deeply in love, and when her mother became stricken with cancer and died, her father experienced deep depression, alcohol abuse and despair that he couldn't seem to come out of. She became his caretaker. I was able to demonstrate that with her weekly trips to his apartment, which she paid for, delivering groceries and taking care of him. The death of her mother was also instrumental in making Kristine a workaholic, a civil litigation lawyer who spent more time at work than anywhere else. It became a coping mechanism.
I had to develop Kristine's past before I began writing. Once you understand your characters experiences, their voice becomes clear to you. It not only adds to believability for the reader, but helps you as an author move the story forward.
What if you're writing about a character you cannot possibly understand, atleast not personally? It's still possible. It's required of every writer in this instance to do research. My book, Hollywood Giant, required this in immense detail. The book is written from two points of view, Alex, my Master, dominant and his submissive, Nadia Petra. Writing in Alex's point of view was a challenge. I read many non-fiction books written by men who had been living the lifestyle for decades. I read blogs and diaries (online). There were so many parts of Alex that I admired. The immense patience he had to practice and his ability to put aside his own emotion for the betterment of his submissive was something I cannot relate to, but I understood it. It was so far removed from me, that each time I wrote in his POV, I had to revisit those non-fiction books, just to get myself in that 'headspace'.
Know their experiences, childhood occurrences, goals, fears, favorite music, desires, flaws (both actual and perceived) as well as their physical attributes.
Describe Your Character Through Action
You've heard the term, show don't tell, as a writer more times than you could count no doubt. It's the best advice you'll ever receive. Lee Child, Stephen King and Joe Hill are all brilliant at defining characters through their actions. It's not just what a character does, but how they do it and how they speak. Think of Jack Reacher, his actions and his thoughts define him purely. You don't really need to know about his upbringing. You can glean much of the kind of person he is just by his interactions with situations and other characters. Never underestimate what you can show a reader through an action sequence or interaction with another character. Don't tell me your character is a loner and nervous. Show me how awkward he is around others and how he has certain ticks that demonstrate his discomfort and lack of confidence. It's much more memorable.
Characters Are Not Infallible
In an interview, Stephen King, said something along the lines of: you have to understand that the most vile human being can still love his grandmother. In other words, people are not one dimensional in life. Your characters should never be. The worst sort of person can indeed still love their grandmother. The best sort of people can have moments of misbehavior. Mother Teresa has noted moments of cruelty and even doubted her own faith. Make your characters real. They can't be ALL good, or ALL bad. Villains like Hannibal Lecter are memorable because, to spite the horrific things he does, his intellect, his refined tastes and philosophy is utterly interesting. Dare I say, enviable? How do you even get there? You get there through precise, thoughtful good writing.
Give Dialogue Its Due
Bad dialogue is an absolute killer. You can have an amazingly descriptive character that flops like a dead fish once he or she opens his mouth if you aren't careful with dialogue. Your characters dialogue is specific and should sound specific. Stephen King is an absolute master at this. If you study one writer, study him. Elmore Leonard is another writer who writes a slew of dialogue that is brilliantly crafted and believable. The most common mistake I see among new writers in this area is writing dialogue that has no place. When you go into your sister's house, someone you visit every week, do you open the door and say, Hello Sally. How are you today? No, you don't. Depending on your mood or the day you've had, you might just burst in and start talking right away, mid-sentence. Read your dialogue out loud, act it out as if it were a film. A more entertaining way to study dialogue is by watching great television and movies.
If you aren't currently skilled at the task, don't despair. Practice. You know the old saying, it makes things perfect, well, it definitely makes them better. Look at a dynamic picture of someone and write about them. Describe their personality, their past, their dreams, their fears, their grudges, their mistakes, the secrets they don't want anyone to know. Write it all down and look at it. Many writers will immediately begin scribbling down a story. I begin with my characters. Anne Rice said time and again, she begins with characters, the story comes later.
For a bit of practice inspiration, I offer this photo:
I write about: love, fantasy, hate, vampires, jealousy, lust, supernatural, murder, deceit, attraction. And sex.
I write what I like.