Friday, November 16, 2018

A Change Of Plans

Sometimes your best laid plans just...poof. I had this whole plan to bust out a ton of sci-fi novels this year to build my pen name, Nat McKenzie. I would have so much time with my kids all in school full time!
...and then I went and had a baby.
While I *did* write a ton of novels, they weren't the sci-fi ones I planned to write. They were Fortnite novels I was being paid to write—thus they came first. Now I am so behind on my plans. Plus, my baby is the type who sleeps through the night but doesn't nap for more than 30 mins during the day. And I have to be I'm holding him, or he has to be in the carseat while I walk the track at the rec center/run errands.
I am well rested and incapable of being productive on my writing. It's an interesting combo. I have lost some baby weight from all that track walking, though!
All this to say it's become abundantly clear that my plan for a pen name is just not going to work. It makes a lot more sense to republish THE VENGEANCE CODE back under Natalie Whipple, given the speed I will be getting books out now (i.e. slower than a snail).
It's annoying. And I feel a bit silly. But it is what it is. Plans have to change, and the great thing about being indie is I can change them! I do apologize to those few people who have purchased the book, for the odd change, but at this point having all my backlist under one name is the only logical choice.
With any luck, THE EXECUTION LOOP will be out at the end of summer 2019. I sure wish it was sooner, but at the rate I'm moving...it could very well be later. I'm so sorry, but alas. Life is life. And mine is super weird like that.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

How To Not Sound Elitist (Intentional Or Not) About Publishing Methods

I've been debating talking about this because it could hurt feelings/offend, but I gotta just lay it out. While attitudes towards indie have improved a lot over the time I've been a writer, little things still sneak through. 
It's usually at conferences on panels where no indies are repped but the topic veers that way. Or online when traditionally pubbed people are giving advice they believe is universal but is insulting to indies. It can be in the way we measure "success" in the business. Or what people deem as "writer skills."
Here we go!
1. You Have To Have An Agent. 
Regardless of changing perceptions of indie, this has stuck around hard. I've had three agents. I currently do not have one. I stayed in my last agent partnership longer than I probably should have because I felt like I would be "less of a writer" if I didn't have one. (And that held me back in a lot of ways I won't go into right now.)
Just stop telling people you MUST have an agent. If you're traditional and you want to pursue the Big Five, YES, get an agent. But you don't NEED ONE to be a great and valid author.
2. Traditional Is Always A Better Path To Success
Having spent time on both sides of the fence, I really beg to differ at this point. Both are a lot of work, both can find incredible success. What really is a factor? GENRE. Some genres (like YA and MG) still see more "success" in traditional. Others (Romances, adult genre fic)? Holy crap can you do SO WELL as indie. 
3. Only Traditional Publishing Can Provide "Quality Work"
I call bull crap. I've worked in traditional with my own original work, on contracted books, AND in indie. Honestly? The editor I hire for my indie is the BEST one I have worked with. She has time for me specifically. She is efficient and thorough. She is worth more than she makes me pay. 
AND then there's the cover art and other book production factors. Is there a learning curve in indie? Oh yes. But that doesn't mean indies don't improve and find their groove. There is so much quality work out there in indie, as there is in traditional....also, there is meh stuff in both as well.
4. It's All About The Writing All The Time
The secret indie writers seem to know is this—writing to market makes you money. There's this idea in traditional publishing that "writing true to yourself" is the only way to go and eventually if you wait around long enough some publisher will pluck your brilliance from obscurity and you will be famous.
How does traditional make you famous? Marketing. Oh, and marketing. Also, some promotion and marketing. It's great if your books are "amazing" but it's better if they fill a niche market or hit a massive wide market. 
Indies have their "write to market" strategy and their "passion projects." A LOT of the most successful are incredible and savvy marketers and I admire that skill set SO MUCH. They have the control over their work to advertise it and target their audience at a level traditional authors can't—they're at the mercy of their publisher for the most part.
(Now, to the meaner more obvious ones.)
5. Indies Are Writers Who Couldn't Get Published/Didn't Try Hard Enough
So not true. Many out there are hybrid. Others found they could produce much faster than traditional could publish. Some wanted the full cut for themselves and knew they were capable of the Whole Job, from writing to editing to publication. Others enjoy that full control and don't want extra cooks in the kitchen. Stop assuming you know why an indie chose their path.
6. "Writing To Market" Is Somehow "Bad Writing"
This happens a lot. We see a successful writer, indie or traditional, and we want to write them off because "Oh, they just hit the market right but they're not actually good." Psh. That's a remark spawned from jealousy. Market fiction, genre fiction, can be both well-written and successful (though maybe not to your personal tastes)—it can also come from indies and traditional. 
7. "I've Never Read An Indie Book, But..."
There are so many writers who have lots of opinions on the state of indie publishing but have never bothered to read indie work. And then they ADMIT IT, and somehow BRAG about it, as if they are better off because they haven't tainted their eyes with such "low writing."
**
I could go on, but this is a good start. If you can remove those last three from your mouth and brain entirely, that's a decent start. The next step is removing your more subtle biases towards traditional publishing. 
There truly is more than one way to be successful in publishing. And there are so many indies who love what they do and wouldn't have it any other way. Let's keep pushing for opening our minds to all the options authors have today. It's a good thing!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The "Right Way" To Write Sci-Fi

As you know, I've recently made the decision to focus my writing efforts on Science Fiction. I have always loved the genre, but for a long time have been reluctant to fully embrace it despite my long time adoration.

I mean, when I think about all the stories that stuck out for me as a kid—Dune, The Giver, Anthem, Star Wars, Gattaca, Minority Report, X-Men—they all have sci-fi as that common thread. Then as I grew older that love still remained, coming around to Star Trek, Firefly, Hunger Games, Guardians Of The Galaxy, Ready Player One, Sword Art Online, Attack On Titan, Thor: Ragnorok, and even the reboot of Ghostbusters. Science. Fiction. It's a thing I love. I have always had IDEAS to write in the genre, and yet I would shelve those ideas often before I finished them.

Really, it was fear.

Because I bought into this idea that there's One Right Way to Science Fiction. And I was definitely not "doing it right."

Honestly, being female was part of it. Science Fiction "isn't for me." Even when people don't say it out loud, you feel it in how the stories are told and how women are often tropes at best and sexist cliches at worst. You feel it when you mention you LOVE a franchise, and there's always that one guy who gives you that look like, "Yeah right, she is just pretending to be a nerd." And then that dude proceeds to grill you all night in order to prove you don't belong because you can't remember the name of every episode of the series.

The fear also came from "not being a scientist with a doctorate in every type of science in existence." Which is silly, but the way the genre has gone, the way society has grown so savvy in tech/science...holy crap have readers/viewers grown, shall we say, "discerning" in how they interpret the scientific elements of fiction. If you are Impeccably! Scientifically! Accurate! for every ounce of your story, someone is gonna let you know. Maybe lots of people. Very loudly. (And if you're a lady who stretches the science to fit the fiction?.....oh are you in for it.)

I know I'm not the only one afraid to write sci-fi for these reasons. It can be incredibly intimidating! But there was a point when I had to be honest with myself, and myself was so happy when I was writing sci-fi. I get excited to sit down and build the universe in my head. It still takes effort to block out those "I don't belong" voices, but when I do it's amazing.

I realized I'd fallen for this dumb idea that there's this One True Way to write sci-fi. I'm sure you know exactly what I mean. That same dude grilling me about every episode of my favorite show? Yeah, that guy is also the voice saying, "Only THIS type of sci-fi is good, and the rest of it is trash." And we all believe him because he says it so confidently, as if his opinion is the most important in the entire world. Because he's read all of Lovecraft, you know. And you haven't.

But why are we believing him?

This isn't to say that guy has no taste (his taste is as valid as mine, and mine is just as valid even if I can't map out every section of the Enterprise), but we have to start embracing the idea that there is SO MUCH SPACE FOR NEW STUFF in sci-fi. We are talking MULTIVERSES.

So here I am, giving you permission to write the sci-fi you wanna write. Is it too much fiction and not enough science? WRITE IT. Are you indulging in all that science you got a degree in but not sure what your plot is? WRITE IT. Is there "too much romance" in you sci-fi? WRITE IT. Is it diverse? DEFINITELY WRITE IT. Is it super classic traditional? WRITE IT. Just write the sci-fi. We need to stop listening to whatever voices are telling us to stop writing sci-fi, because this genre is rich with topics and stories and there is room for all of us.

Once I stopped worrying about the "right way" to sci-fi and started focusing on my own way, I realized this genre has too long been strapped down in expectations. It's high time for a sci-fi renaissance. I think it's already starting to happen. So get on this bandwagon and have some fun! Find those people who are ready for new, different sci-fi. Find the ones who are intimidated like you are, and help them dip their toes into this awesome storytelling tradition. Let's start bringing more people IN, instead of scaring people off.

And remember: It's fiction. Plus science. As long as you have the two in some combo, you have Science Fiction. Be proud of it, wherever it lands on the spectrum between the two words.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Find Other Joys That Don't Include Words

One of the many berries that grow in my yard.
Yesterday, instead of heading out in my garden like I usually do, I sat down with a sweet young writer to give her some tips about the publishing industry and all the different paths out there. It was a great talk, but I found myself restless and cranky the rest of the day.

I couldn't put my finger on why—and then I went out in the warm evening to weed one of my many garden boxes. It was the peas' turn to get cleaned out from all the little grass and weed buds growing in their territory.

As I picked away, the tension I'd been holding all day dissolved. So that was the answer: I hadn't been out in the garden.

It's becoming a habit, a much-needed balm, for me to send my kids off to school and then march myself out to my yard to work. I prune and weed and plant. I tend to my chickens. Listen to music. Absorb that inexplicable peace a person gains from being outside in nature.

None of it is easy (especially being now 6ish months pregnant), but there's something about this work that orients my soul each day. It gives me time to think away from a computer screen. It makes me feel ridiculously accomplished. I get a great workout. And at the end of the work comes delicious things to eat!

This is all to say: It never hurts to have other things in your life that aren't writing. While I love making stories, that work is dependent on having something to write about. Some of the best things I've done for my writing don't have to do with writing at all—they have to do with long breaks, learning news things, and living a life that is more than the words I put on the page each day.

So if you find yourself struggling to write, don't be afraid to...stop for a little. Don't be afraid to invest in other aspects of your life. They will all come back to helping with the books. I promise.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

You Don't Have To Want Everything

When I was a little baby writer, I began going to conferences and soaking in the advice of others. So much of it was valuable and helped me grow as a writer and find my own process of writing. But there were other tidbits, the off sentiment, that embedded deep into the destructive, self-doubting side of my psyche. Standards that I somehow determined made me a Real Author versus not a real author.

For some it's the "You have to write everyday to be a real author" that gets them. For others it's the "Only writers of 'serious literary fiction' are real authors." But for me, little did I know that it was this one that got me in the end:

"You have to be ambitious, profitable, and recognized by others to be a real author."

You have heard this, as I have, in many forms. Perhaps you went to a class that drove home the importance of having an agent, and it made you feel like less of a writer for not having one. Perhaps you are indie, and you go to conferences only to hear over and over that you can't be truly successful if you aren't traditional...even though you are selling well you suddenly don't feel you are taken seriously. 

Or maybe you love writing as a hobby, and moving towards a professional writing career feels like you'll lose more of the magic than you want. So you drag your feet towards a professional career because it feels like that's what you're *supposed* to do to be a Real Writer. Or maybe you have published quietly and you feel pressure to be bigger, more important, more...whatever. 

There was once a time in my life when all I wanted was one book on one shelf that I could see. That was the goal I had and wanted. Somewhere along the way, I got convinced I should want more. My tiny realistic dream was caught up into the riptide of You! Can! Be! Famous! I bought into it. Because I wanted to be a Real Author and Real Authors were ambitious bestsellers who took their careers seriously and put every waking moment into them. I don't know why my brain latched on this particular "How To Be A Real Author" lie, but I ran with it.

And I was miserable. 

Because I could not make myself successful. I had no control over being a bestseller or getting all that recognition I thought I needed. Just like some authors kill themselves over not writing everyday or not being the "serious literary writer who wins awards" they believe they should be, I put myself in a misery spiral. If I couldn't make myself into the Real Author I thought I had to be...then what was I doing? Why was I still writing? Last year I was convinced I should quit and spent a lot of time trying. Then attempting to give the Real Author Of My Delusions one more good effort. Then giving up again...but this time with the intent of trying to understand this horrible cycle I kept putting myself through. 

I see it now. 

This whole time, I never wanted the things I thought made me a Real Author. 

I've spent years. YEARS. So many years chasing what I thought would make me into a Real Author, without realizing there's no one way to do that. And it's only now that I've struck out on my own path that I see I don't have to WANT what the industry has told me to want all this time. 

It's okay to want less. You don't have to want big awards or bestseller status. You don't have to want a giant line at every signing you do. None of that is what makes you a Real Author. Writing—that's all that gets you that status. Never forget that, wherever your personal journey takes you.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Sara Says Nice Things About THE VENGEANCE CODE

Guysssssss. I am so lucky to have great friends who have cheered me on through all the struggles, and one of them happens to be Sara Raasch, author of the bestselling series SNOW LIKE ASHES. (She also has another series out this year with pirates!!! Check out THESE REBEL WAVES, coming August 7.)

Sara was kind enough to offer a blurb for THE VENGEANCE CODE, and here it is in its full glory:

McKenzie balances epic esports and fast-paced arena matches with the all-too-familiar brutality of class segregation and violent prejudice. Anyone who’s ever wanted to escape reality will find THE VENGEANCE CODE perilously alluring.  

—Sara Raasch, NYTimes Bestselling Author of the Snow Like Ashes Trilogy

I have all the warm fuzzies. The poor woman had to read the non-line-edited version, so she really is a trooper and I appreciate her seeing the ultimate vision of the novel. Sorry you had to read those extra 7k words my editor cut!

I'm still wading my way through edits on this beast (which is taking much longer than projected due to some delays), but I believe I can stick on my projected release of April 3rd. Fingers crossed!

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Transition From Hobbyist To Aspiring To Professional

This is my fifth year as a published author. Five years! I've been a bit reflecty on all the years I've spent in the pursuit of my stories and sharing them with the world. All the little and big mistakes I've made. All the little and big achievements I worked for. It's never been an easy road for me—it's not easy for anyone, really—but it has been ultimately educational and rewarding. 

And today I wanted to perhaps give some perspective for the others coming up behind me on this lovely little road. 

The very first book signing I attended. Hearing Bree's story
gave me hope for myself.
"A hobbyist writes for fun. An aspiring author writes for serious."
There will be a point along your road where you will want to take things to the next level with your writing. It's part of the process when you're seeking the concept of "authorhood." And in that desire, you will start to do all the things you think proper authors should do. 

Like writing more. And writing more "serious stuff." You may envision that Great American Novel cliche and you being read in English Lit classes for centuries, torturing the next generation with your superior allegories and junk. 

You will start to look at stories not as fun—but instead with a mind to judge them. To learn from them so you can get better, BE better than them. And then you will inevitably reach the phase of:

"I can write better than that. All of these books are flawed and dumb."
It doesn't matter how great the book is. IN FACT, the more the book is praised, the higher the chances you're going to read it and be all, "Psh, I can do better." And for some reason you're going to go out there and TELL people how dumb these books are, as if you are so much more superior than the books and genres you aspire to be part of. 

I still don't know why this is the case. But I did it. I've seen a bunch of other newly aspiring authors do the same thing. So I've concluded it's part of the process, it's a strange way that they convince themselves to keep going and not lose confidence. I wish we didn't have to tear down others to get there, but it's where a lot of us start, in the I can do better than so-and-so camp.

But what the new aspiring doesn't really realize is:

"Oh, shoot, those people I'm dumping on are my future 'co-workers.'"
And the internet is public. And people DO see your crap. And if they don't see it, they will hear about it at conferences and tours and signings. So you have a decision to make and some growing to do. Some writers continue to publicly review and trash on books, others realize that maybe they should keep those opinions to themselves and be more supportive of their co-workers. Because there's a little secret truth in that...people will remember if you didn't like their stuff or you insulted them personally. And you may not get invited to things because of it. Not a pleasant reality, but it's the truth. 

Eventually, you grow out of the "all these books are crap" and into a new phase of: 

These ladies got me through everything.
"Hmm, so writing and publishing a book is harder than I thought."
At some point in your aspiring career, you will drop the ego you didn't know you had and start accepting that you don't actually know what you're doing. You will think about all those sharp jabs you took at other books and authors and realize the next generation of writers behind you will have their guns aimed right at your words, waiting to rip them apart no matter how hard you have worked to improve. 

The closer you get to that Publishable Book, the closer you get to the Dream Agent and the Book Deal and the Debut Author Status, the less confidence you'll have that you deserve anything. You realize this has nothing to do with "deserving" or "being better than so-and-so." It has everything to do with the READER. And the MARKET. But at the same time, envy and comparison will take over...

"They got the agent. My friend just got a book deal. When is it MY TURN?"
By the time you've gotten close to crossing over from aspiring to debut, you've probably met a lovely group of writer friends who've been cheering you on while you've also been supporting them. And as you all begin to cross the bridge, it can be difficult to be "left behind." It makes you want to push harder. It makes you feel so close but so far away. You don't want to be jealous, but you are. They have what you want—it's natural. But it also doesn't have to be ugly and it often isn't. Writer friends are happy for each other, and they hurt for each other's struggles as well because we have all been in that dark places. 

Signing my first book contract, back when I had time
to be thin;)
"IT IS FINALLY HAPPENING OMG IT IS FOR REAL."
Then one day it's happening to you. It feels unreal, and you don't forget it. It was summertime when my first agent called to offer representation. The day my second agent called about an offer for a book deal, I was driving to the dentist on a nice spring April day. It will feel amazing, a culmination of hard work and luck and not giving up. 

"But so-and-so sold for more and got hardcovers and series and and and..."
After the elation comes utter dread. And reality. For me, I quickly realized my book I dreamed of being a "lead title" or a "bestseller" would never be so successful. I wasn't even getting the pretty hardcover I envisioned, but instead would be a paperback debut. Part of being a debut is facing the harsh reality that the publishing industry has a ranking system. All you wanted was to be that published author, and suddenly it doesn't seem like enough. And you feel guilty about that, wanting more when you've already gotten so much. 

The lead up to the debut is filled with so many emotions, so many firsts. I leaned heavily on other debuts as we all navigated the rocky path. Everything felt so important. There's a pressure to market and social media and you fully believe you can have a massive impact on how well your books sells. But post debut, a new reality sets in:

Debut day! Seeing that book on a shelf was
unreal at the time. Still is.
"I don't actually have any control over sales. Or anything really, except the writing."
Debut hits. The books starts selling...either well or not well. If well, relief sets in but also a new sort of pressure to continue delivering. Because you know how easily is can all vanish. If you don't sell well, it hurts and new barriers to more sales can crop up. 

Fear of being forgotten sets in. You see how your advertising doesn't really give a lot of return in actual sales. Even if you end up "lucky" with good sales and more book deals, you will watch friends struggle and that will hurt you, too. You start to become jaded as you become part of the brutal machine that is publishing, which will soldier on with or without you.

The first five years of being published...haven't been easy. As an aspiring author I pictured this part of the journey as "smooth sailing," but it is anything but that. The fight never ends, and that is the reality newly published authors have to face. 

"Where did everyone go?"
The support of a debut...changes, to put it nicely. The friends and family that came out for your first book may not be there for your second. And by the time you're on the third or fourth? Well, it'll wane even more. The hope is fans will be there, but that "cheering section" goes quiet once you finally hit the status of "published author." Your writer friends get busy with their own demanding schedules. You non-writer friends are like, "What? Another book? You're still doing that? I thought you had like nine of those already why have more?"

Some people stick with you through everything,
and these two babies are still cheering each other on.
It's gets a bit lonely. And, at least for me, I felt like no one was still listening. No one cared anymore, and it was hard to keep going. In a lot of ways, it's like going back to the very beginning when it is just you and the words. You have to rediscover the love of writing in a way, and realize that was why you got into this whole mess to begin with. 

"I don't know anything but I will keep going because I enjoy this."
At some point, you'll realize all the advice you thought you were wise enough to give is...not worth much. Writing is so personal that everything tidbit working for you may not work for the next author. And you're not wrong. And they're not wrong. The envy and the judging fall to the background as you finally embrace the idea that there are many ways to write and there are readers all over who can embrace lots of different styles. They matter more than anything else.

"Do you."
It will never be easy, but as some point the craziness will die down a bit, you will find a place that works for you. It probably won't be what you expected when you dreamed of it long ago, but it'll be good nonetheless. And then you'll be the old vet watching all the youngins, trying to have patience with them as they navigate the journey. You'll give them advice. They won't listen. And the cycle will continue on.