Rhino Skin


Today’s column is brought to you by Kit Shannon, turn-of-the-century Los Angeles lawyer. ANGELS FLIGHT, the second novel in The Trials of Kit Shannon series, is now available for Kindleand Nook.

Nothing had prepared her for the hostility of a city gripped by prejudice . . .

But you have to be prepared for the slings and arrows of the writing life. These may come in the form of rejection letters, bad reviews, angry reader e-mails,  personal jabs from a family member, or any  number of other places.
           
To survive, you need to develop Rhino skin. You need an outer armor that takes the hits but doesn’t stop you. Here’s how you get it:
1. Let rejection, or criticism, hurt for a day, no more
It’s all right to take a hit and feel its full force. Don’t try to hide from the emotional impact. Give vent. Destroy a pillow if you must. But let go after half an hour or so. Determine to go immediately to #2.

2. Write
When my son fell off his two wheeler the first time out, I didn’t let him quit. I got him back on the bike and almost burst my lungs running with him. We repeated the process till he got it.
           
He did not like falling. But when he was back on the bike and peddling, he was not thinking about the fall. He was thinking about staying up for the next few feet.
           
Writing is like that. When you are down about your writing, pound out those words. Dennis Palumbo, in his book Writing From the Inside Out,says “Every hour you spend writing is an hour spent not fretting about your writing.”
           
A daily quota is tonic for your ache.
           
What you’ll find is wonderful: when your mind reflects back on the hurt, the wound won’t be as deep as it once was. And the more you do write, the more the hurt begins to fade. You won’t forget it, but it won’t debilitate you.

3. Review your career path
And that’s what you’re on. Do not think of yourself as someone trying to sell a novel. You are a writer, and that means you never quit.
           
Do you need to start another book? What will you do differently? What can you learn from the rejection or the critic that is of actual value to you? Learn that thing then write and forget the rest.

4. Reward yourself
For a writing job finished, for a quota met, for a manuscript completed, heck, for just about anything, treat yourself to something.
           
When I finish a manuscript I like to take a full day off and go on a literary goof. There are used bookstores in L.A. I like, so I’ll start there, browse the shelves, pick up that Cornell Woolrich I’ve been missing, or add to my collection of 50’s paperback originals.
           
I might just go to a park or the beach, put out a chair and read.
           
That night, I’ll take my wife to one of our favorite places for dinner. You simply have to enjoy the journey or what’s the point of it all?

5. Remind yourself
Two reminders to put inside your head.
           
The first is to remember that the greatest writers of all time have been rejected and, once published, slammed in a review.
Thomas Bailey Aldrich, writing in the Atlantic Monthly in 1892, said of Emily Dickinson, “An eccentric, dreamy, half-educated recluse in an out-of-the-way New England village—or anywhere else—cannot with impunity set at defiance the laws of gravitation and grammar. Oblivion lingers in the immediate neighborhood.”
           
Nothing of Mr. Aldrich, to my knowledge, remains in print.
           
An unnamed editor returned Tony Hillerman’s first Navajo detective manuscript to him, with a note: “If you insist on rewriting this, get rid of all that Indian stuff.”
           
When you get a rejection or bad review, remember you’re in very good company.
           
And then remind yourself constantly that you are a writer, because you write. There are many more people who do not write yet feel perfectly at ease sniping at those who do. When such a snipe comes your way, know that you are the one putting yourself on the line, opening a vein, walking the tightrope, singing a solo under hot lights. You are part of a courageous bunch who are all about doing. Teddy Roosevelt’s famous advice applies to writers:
“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena . . . who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”
Get in the arena. Go at your writing with all the devotion and love and enthusiasm you have. When the darts of rejection or criticism come your way, keep writing. You will stop them with Rhino skin, and keep right on charging ahead.

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How Many Brands Can an Author Have?



Last week I wrote about the re-launch of my first series, co-authored with Tracie Peterson. City of Angels, Book 1 in the Trials of Kit Shannon series, is now available for the intro price of $2.99 on both Kindle and Nook.
Which raises (not begs!) the question: can an author today have several brands?
Back in the “old days” (like, before August, 2010) branding was a key concept in the traditional publishing world. Still is, actually. That’s because a publisher trying to make money with an author has to build a repeat readership, and that’s done over time, book by book. 
Take a hypothetical author. Let’s call him Gil Johnstrap. He comes out with a terrific first novel, a thriller about a boy on the run from the law. A fan base starts to form and they eagerly await his next book. If that book were to be about a horticulture competition in Surrey, England, circa 1849, they would tend to be confused and frustrated. They might decide to skip the next Johnstrap because they’re not sure what it contains.
So Gil and his publisher come out with another thriller, this one about a family on the run from the FBI. Fans buy it and are happy. They start spreading the word to other thriller fans about this Johnstrap fellow. The growing base looks forward to the next thriller. And so it goes.
Now, if an author becomes overwhelmingly popular, like a King, Grisham or Patterson, they earn the right to try, on occasion, something “off brand.” King might write about a girl lost in the woods. Grisham about a painted house. Patterson about whatever the heck he wants—I have a feeling his parking tickets would sell a million copies.
But the publishers will insist on getting “back on brand” with the next book, because that is the bread and butter for them, the guaranteed sales.  
Cut to: today. And e-publishing. What is the state of branding now? Let me start with my own experience.
I have been writing contemporary suspense, like the Ty Buchanan series for Hachette and Deceived for Zondervan. I’ve now augmented those books with novella/short story collections I’ve self-published. These all fall into the suspense category, so they are complementary. They make new readers for the traditional work. Everybody wins. 
I’ve self-published a couple of boxing stories, because I like writing them. These make me new readers for the rest of my work, too. They do absolutely no harm to the print brands. Plus they bring in nice-dinner-with-my-wife money each month.
I write zombie legal thrillers under the pen name K. Bennett for Kensington. I plan to augment these with short, paranormal stories. These stories will make new readers for the novels. Once again, both publisher and author win.
As mentioned up top, I’m re-launching the historical romance series featuring Kit Shannon, six books in all. I daresay the readers of the Kit Shannon books may find the Mallory Caine, Zombie-at-Law books a tad “off brand.” But that’s okay. Two different audiences, but with potential cross-over. And no harm, no foul to either brand.
I do non-fiction for Writer’s Digest Books. I support those books with articles for Writer’s Digest magazine, my regular Sunday column here at TKZ and on Twitter (where I’ve also developed a strategic brand). Again, everything working together.
So: Can an author today juggle several brands?
My answer: Not only can, but should.
Branding in the days of print-only was partially determined by physical shelf space and seasonal purchases. An author could not come out with several different titles at roughly the same time. Bookstores wouldn’t buy. And they’d be a bit confused. If Gil Johnstrap did write that horticulture novel, A Garden in My Heart,would it be placed on the thriller shelf next to his other titles, where fans would look? Or on the romance shelf? Or in “Gardening”?
But there are no such limitations in the digital world. All books are “shelved” cover out. Digitized books are given, via algorithm, space next to similar books. A reader can find new authors in a genre this way. Quite easily.
An author can distinguish between his brands via cover art, book description, tagging, and even a pseudonym.
John Locke, poster boy for self-publishing success, writes contemporary thrillers and Westerns. Just like Robert B. Parker did after he became a household name with Spenser.
As I said a couple of years ago, this new e-publishing era is a lot like the old pulp fiction days. I look back at a Depression-era writer like Robert E. Howard. He wrote stories in the fantasy, horror, detective, western and boxing genres. All of ‘em. And made a living. That can be done again, now, in today’s e-world. It’s a great time to be a writer who loves to write.
There is only one fly in this ointment: a traditional publishing contract with a boilerplate non-compete clause the publisher is determined to enforce. I know some writers in this predicament. And while I understand that publishers are undergoing paradigm shock right now, this is not the best reaction. Publishers should be willing to re-negotiate these clauses so their writers can earn extra income and make new readers without harming the brand they are creating together.


Publishers who make an investment in an author do deserve consideration and protection. They deserve the author’s best work (non-diluted by overwriting). And they are entitled not to wake up one morning to find their author selling a novel in the same genre for 99¢. Authors need to appreciate the harsh business reality of traditional publishing. 
All that said, I see no reason why writers cannot be strategically developing different brands for their digital platform, and have fun doing it. Nor do I see a reason for publishers to resist sitting down with author and agent and hammering out contractual language that is fair to both sides on this matter.


Now I’m going to run a warm bath, put on some Yanni and relax with A Garden in My Heart.

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How to Develop an Enduring Series Character

James Scott Bell
Twitter.com/jamesscottbell


Today, through the wonder of digital publishing, I am announcing the re-birth of my first series character. City of Angels, Book 1 in the Trials of Kit Shannon series, is now available for an introductory price of $2.99 on both Kindle and Nook.


Let me give you the background.

I was writing stand alone legal thrillers for the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) market, and was trying to think of a series idea. I noticed (it’s not hard to notice!) that the majority of readers in this market are women (even more than in the ABA market), and that the most popular genre of the time was “prairie romance.” This genre was set in the 1800s (think Little House on the Prairie). The usual lead character was a young woman of marriageable age, pluckily using her faith and grit to overcome challenges and find true love.
As I pondered that, it seemed to me that genre could move forward, historically speaking. One slice of history that has not been given its due is the story of my own home town, Los Angeles. It’s a great, rich tapestry, fascinating and colorful. Especially when it comes to courtrooms and the law.
So I came up with this concept: a young woman comes to turn-of-the-century Los Angeles with a determination to practice law. It was a perfect historical moment, rife with conflict, because at that time women were barely getting into the legal profession. There was a lot of male resistance to the idea. And Los Angeles in 1903 had all sorts of fascinating cross currents. It was moving from western boomlet toward urban adolescence. There was high society and low criminality. It was then (and still is) a city for dreamers and charlatans alike.
My idea, then, was to follow this young woman from her arrival in L.A. through the growing pains of the city. This would mirror her own growth and quest to practice law. I would include real, historical figures in the plots (e.g., William Randolph Hearst, Earl Rogers, Teddy Roosevelt, Houdini, John Barrymore).


Those are two key components for an enduring series character: setting and vocation. You need to know the nooks and crannies of your setting so it can take on the feeling of being another character in the story. And readers love to see authentic details about a character’s work life.


Research, friends.  
I began to picture this woman in my mind. I wanted her to be of Irish descent, so she had some fire in her. I wanted her to have auburn hair and green eyes. And I wanted to name her Kit Shannon.
When I could see and hear Kit, that’s when I really started getting juiced about the project. Which is another secret of an enduring series character: you, the author, have to be truly and deeply excited about her. You ought to be thinking about her even when you’re not writing. She must be someone you  have to write about. If she’s not, that lack of zest will be evident in your pages.
So I created a proposal and pitched it to an editor I knew who worked at the leading publisher of prairie romances, Bethany House.
Well, they liked the concept. But they saw a challenge. I was a male author entering a primarily female genre. So they asked me if I would consider co-writing the series with one of their popular female authors. She could, they explained, help me develop a voice for the genre and also introduce me to a good-sized readership.
I was a bit skeptical, but they offered to fly me and the other author to their home offices for a meet-and-see.
Which is how I met the wonderful, marvelous, humorous, generous Tracie Peterson. We hit it off immediately, and I mean right from the get-go. We signed a three book contract and off we went.
Tracie and I worked exceedingly well together. We brainstormed plot ideas, then I wrote a “lean” first draft. Tracie added her “layers,” a lot of which were descriptions of the era’s dress and etiquette, and more generally a woman’s point of view and voice. I then did a final going over the manuscript, cleared up any questions, and submitted to our editor. (What was nice was, by the time the third book came out, I’d gotten the hang of the voice myself. So when it came time to contract for another three books, Tracie handed the series over to me to do on my own).
When Bethany House showed me the cover art for City of Angels I was absolutely gobsmacked. Because the model looked exactly the way I’d pictured her.

And when City of Angels came out, it hit the CBA bestseller list. Women readers told me they loved this updating of the prairie romance heroine. Which is another secret of an enduring series character: make them fresh. Give them some nuance or trait or drive that is original, not just a repeat of what we’ve seen before. 
I did make new readers from City of Angels, including among the younger set. In fact, Tracie and I got several letters from high school age girls who said Kit Shannon was inspiring to them. One wrote that the book helped her “not to be afraid of what others think if I’m sure of my calling.” Another wrote that Kit inspired her to pursue a dream of going to law school. 
Which is why it is now my pleasure to re-introduce Kit Shannon to a new generation of readers. I hope to have the entire series out by the end of the year:

The courtrooms of 1903 Los Angeles are a man’s world––until Kit Shannon arrives
With shoulders squared and dreams set high, Kit Shannon arrives in Los Angeles feeling a special calling to the law. Yet under the care of her socialite aunt, Kit quickly comes to realize that few understand her burning desire to seek justice and practice a profession known only to men. When her aunt adamantly refuses to support her unconventional career aspirations, Kit questions whether she is truly following God’s will. And when her growing love for a man pledged to another threatens scandal, Kit knows her days might be numbered in Los Angeles.
A chance meeting with Earl Rogers, the city’s most prominent criminal lawyer, garners Kit an apprentice position. And work on a notorious murder case. Someone has been killing prostitutes in Los Angeles, but Kit is certain it is not Rogers’ client. Determined to find the truth, Kit runs full on into forces that want to stop her, forces that stretch all the way to the citadels of power in the City of Angels.
“…a great story, historical fiction plus legal thriller in the style of John Grisham.” – WorldHistoricalFiction.com
City of Angels is a full length (90,000 word) novel at the launch price of $2.99.
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