Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Plotting and the creative process

I've been told that there are three types of authors: Plotters, Pantsers, and Plotansers (Plotter + Pantser, so a combination of both).

I think most authors are Plotansers (some combination of both), but the level/detail to which a person plots or flies by the seat of her/his pants varies greatly.

What I do:
1. Character driven: All my books (so far) are character driven. Therefore I define the characters (hopes, dreams, faults, etc.) and I decide how they're going to change over the course of the book. What will he/she learn? What is the point?
2. Before I write I also create: a character sheet for each main character (physical traits, quirks, fears, relationships, education, history, etc.), a master list of places (fictional places), and a master character list/spreadsheet of all characters. This way I can keep track of who is who and how tall they are, etc.
3. I plot the entire book before writing, every chapter, every scene. If the book I'm writing is part of a series and I want the books to connect, I plot every book in the series before writing the first (this is what I did with the Winston Brothers). When I realized that The Knitting in the City series was going to continue, I plotted book 2-7 all at once.
4. As I write *things* will happen... i.e. the characters will disagree with some of my plans or they'll do something completely unexpected, or they'll want more scenes/time/care/attention given to a particular issue. I usually go with the flow, let the characters drive the bus. They usually surprise me, at which point I go back and update the plot/character sheet, then look at the other plot/character sheets to determine if anything else needs to change.

Some other points of note:
1. I've never taken a class in writing fiction. I know what a protagonist and an antagonist are. Other than that, I have no concept of established theories on how to write fiction... I should probably research this topic at some point...
2. Everything I do, I do because it makes sense to me. All my templates, spreadsheets, flow diagrams, etc. are resources I've created from my brain (because I needed them, so I made them). Isn't that what fiction writers do? They make stuff up? ;-)
3. I frequently have "writer's block". I ignore it. I just write anyway. This seems to work for me.
4. I have come to the conclusion that there is no "right" way to write. No magic formula. Nothing that will work for all or most people. But most people's creative process follows something resembling these (or a combination of these):

Templates I have templates for:
1. Plotting
2. Character sheet
3. BETA reader form
I am sure there are much better forms/templates/resources for these kinds of tools. But I'm a big fan of simplicity. Personally, I don't need anything more than these basic tools, therefore why would I use something over-engineered, made to meet more than my needs? I wouldn't.
Basic Plot Sheet
Character Sheet

BETA reader form

I hope this helps... someone.
Best, Penny

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

UPDATE Post for Authors: Newsletters-- 14 Months Later

--Indie Author Resource Post--
Back in February 2014 I wrote an indie author resource post about Newsletters; you can find that post here:

I have some updates, new information to add (if anyone is interested...) as follows:

For my Newsletters, I use mailchimp:
Updated stats (using mailchimp):
List growth over time

"opens" are top line; "link clicks" are bottom line
Outlier (A)-- As you can see, the second to last newsletter sent (March 2015) was a duplicate of the one prior (also March 2015), but sent only to those subscribers who did not open the original March 2015 newsletter. Before I culled my subscriber list, I wanted to re-send the last newsletter to inactive users (giving them one more chance to open before I deleted them from the list). That is why the open rate is so low for that particular email campaign. Of the 1058 subscribers, less than 300 opened the email. Therefore, I removed 700+ subscribers from my mailing list (trimming users who don't interact).

General Impressions:
1) The newsletter is wonderful, worth the investment, and it works.
2) I have more sign-ups the month of new releases than other months.
3) The newsletter is time-consuming (takes 6-8 hours per month).
4) I send newsletters once a month and my readers like receiving them...

How do people sign up? 
1) I put a signup link in the back of all my electronic and print books. Therefore, when a person finishes one of my books they can immediately sign up for the newsletter.
2) I have a link here (on my blog). Mailchimp will create an html form for you; you just need to paste the code into the html view.
3) Since October 2013, I do about 3 blog posts/FB post/twitter announcements a month letting people know about the newsletter and that they can sign up.
4) I bring a mailing list sign-up book to all my signings so I can grab people as they walk by my author table.

Do you delete subscribers?
I've been in the habit of culling my list every 6 months by removing/deleting inactive users (i.e. those users who have not opened a newsletter in the last 10 months). This cuts down on the number of unsubscribers and-- until recently-- kept my list under the paid threshold for mailchimp (after 2000 subscribers, you have to pay to use mailchimp). However, April was a huge month for subscriptions (over 500); therefore I now pay $35 a month to use mailchimp.

What do you put in the newsletter?
I have two kinds of newsletters:
1) The Book is Live!
Used sparingly and only for new book releases. This email is very short and contains 1 or 2 graphics and links to purchase the book.

2) Newsy Newsletter
I communicate release news and share excerpts. My last newsy newsletter 'table of contents' was as follows:
  1. It's April... That's not even an April Fool's joke.. How did this happen? Are you all still out there?
  2. Elements of Chemistry: ATTRACTION is LIVE! 
  3. More Elements of Chemistry newsy news... woot.
  4. Prepare yourself for those loveable Winston Brothers... an excerpt of Truth or Beard. :-)
  5. The Hooker and the Hermit is going to Kindle Unlimited!
  6. Personal News/canceled signings
  7. Scenes from the City is AVAILABLE AGAIN?!
  8. Neanderthal Seeks Human is still FREE! Find out why...
  9. Listen to the awesome via Audiobooks!
  10. Happenings/updates with the Sharks of Awesome
  11. Updated Writing Schedule for 2015
  12. Where you can find my books
  13. 2015 signing updates
  14. And, as always, lowering your expectations
Why do you send newsletters?
I, personally, send newsletters so that my readers-- who have expressed interest-- can receive updates and news. I do NOT use my newsletters to push my readers to do things. It's not a call to arms, it's a method of information transfer. ---- UPDATE: this methodology has served me well for the last *almost* 2-years...

Do you have any tips?
Yes. Same as before, as follows:
  1. Use mailchimp. Take 3 hours and learn how to use it. It's free as long as you're sending to less than 2000 people a month
  2. Put links in your newsletter. Links to goodreads pages for your books, purchase links for your books, links to events and signings, links to your facebook page, amazon author page, goodreads author pages, etc.
  3. Announce the fact that you're about to sent out a newsletter on Facebook/twitter/blog/etc. and include a link so that people can sign up. Then, the day of, post another reminder (tell people to check their spam and promotions folders). 
  4. Send a newsletter once a month. You should have something to share at least once a month!! This way people will get used to getting email from you and will look for it.
  5. Your newsletter is for your readers. If they don't enjoy reading it, they're not going to want to receive it. Exclusive excerpts will keep people interested. Always include an exclusive excerpt of something!!
  6. Brand yourself, get a logo, include pictures, make it look nice. :-)
  7. Give love to others (i.e. other authors and bloggers that have supported you). Karma is a real thing.
Feel free to ask me questions! I'll try my best to answer them this week. Best, Penny

Friday, May 8, 2015

Help needed

Before I make this post, please note that I'm using the labels for race/ethnicity as described by the NIH in their "race/ethnicity data reporting standards" requirements. Those labels are: American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, White, More than one race.
From NIH PHS 398 form

Dear Readers,
(Particularly readers who self-identify as a non-white race/ethnicity in the USA).
One (or more...) of my upcoming books in the Winston Brothers series features a heroine who is not white (as well, there will be several other characters in these books who are not white). This heroine will be in all/most of the books and I'm writing a scene with her now.
I stumbled across this blog/blog post ( and would like to have a discussion (with all of you) regarding trigger issues/phrases/concerns prior to starting her book for non-white persons.

**Some more background information**
So, in case I hadn't mentioned it, if I were to enter into an NIH funded research protocol, my race/ethnicity would be classified as "white". Recently I was speaking with an African-American reader, lamenting the fact that my books are not as diverse as I would like them to be. She asked me why my books aren't diverse. I told her it was for 2 main reasons:
1) I am worried about inadvertently (i.e. with good intentions) offending people.
2) I only feel comfortable writing about characters I feel I *know*. (This likely stems from me being a researcher, and therefore extremely preoccupied with the concepts of accuracy and validity).

I've decided/committed to *knowing* (as much as is feasible/possible through research and open dialogue) what it's like to grow up as a non-white individual in the United States in an effort to write real people, with real/multifarious motivations, experiences, and dialogue (obviously, each person is an individual and no two experiences/childhoods are the same... but I wonder how different my experience as a white woman has been in comparison to an African American woman-- as an example).

That's where I'm going to need my readers' help...

If any of you (who self-identify as not white) have any stories to share, experiences to relate, or just general impressions of growing up/living in the United States, PLEASE EMAIL ME YOUR STORIES/IMPRESSIONS! It can be something related to your race/ethnicity, or something not at all related to your race/ethnicity (or some combination).

I want to do justice to all my characters, and make them real people.

<3 Penny

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A few factors for indie authors considering a traditional-publishing deal...

Has everyone been following this?
The short story: The take home message for this quarterly report (in my opinion) = indie authors contemplating a trad publishing deal: "It might also be a good time for agents to begin including price ceilings in their negotiations with publishers. Their revenue goes down as author earnings go down."

My list so far of factors to consider when contemplating a trad-pub deal (some obvious, some not so obvious):
1) How much control will I have creatively over my books (cover design, marketing, book content)? If I'm going to put my name on a book, then I want my readers to know it will deliver a certain level of quality. If I have no control over content, then how can I ask my readers to buy a book that isn't truly mine?
2) Is the deal for eBook only? Or also for mass market paperback/audio as well? Foreign rights? If English-market eBook only, what are the publishers going to do that I can't do for myself? ... seriously. I want to know. Tell me.
3) Does the deal come with a "non-compete" window around the date of the trad published book? (meaning, how close to the date of the trad-pubbed book can I self-publish a book?) I would argue the window be no broader than one month on either side (before or after the release of the trad-pub book).
4) How much is the advance? If it's low (i.e. less than 20k per book) then I know the publisher will do very little to ensure my book succeeds (because... why would they? They've invested nothing / very little).
5) Deadlines: Who decides when the book is due? How long do I have to write each book?
6) *NEW* Does the publisher employ agency pricing restrictions? If so, an eBook price ceiling is needed/should be spelled out in the contract (for my books, I feel like asking more than $7 per book would be untoward).

Background story: Last fall I was approached by a big 5 publisher about my books (3rd time in 18 months). Like the other 2 instances, I found no compelling reason to sign with a publisher (other than perhaps the opportunity to learn about publishing from a new perspective; still, 75% of my roylaties and no creative control over my books is a high price to pay for what I might gain just as well during a seminar... but I digress).

I still haven't unmasked the benefits (for me, for my genre, for my situation) of signing with a publisher as I've yet to meet a person who can articulate the benefits... again, I digress. ANYWAY, I'm always looking out for pieces of information that I can tuck away for future reference. Therefore, I keep a list of factors to consider when contemplating a trad-pub deal.

Other take home messages from the report: 
1) The return to agency pricing of ebooks is hurting the revenue of the big-5 publishers (and their authors), but they've made a conscious choice to force Amazon into agency (higher) pricing in an effort to curtail amazon's superiority/dominance of the eBook market.
2) Increased prices of big 5 publisher books means that Indie Authors are taking more of the market (on Amazon and elsewhere).
3) As usual, indie authors make significantly more money than trad-published authors per book, but also are making more money (combined) than the big-5 published authors (combined).
4) If you're negotiating with a big-5 pub, you might want to include a price ceiling ($7) for your book.

How about you?
What do you consider when evaluating a trad-pub deal? Have I missed anything glaring?

Thursday, April 30, 2015

HEAT is officially LIVE!

Elements of Chemistry: HEAT officially releases today!!
Amazon US:
B&N Nook:
Contains spoilers if you haven’t read Elements of Chemistry: ATTRACTION **
Four days left.
Private beach (…and boat).
Not so invisible girl.
And maybe less of a jerk-faced bully than originally thought.
What’s the worst (or the best) that could happen?
Kaitlyn is finding life outside of the science cabinet of obscurity to be quite illuminating …and so are her pants.
When things heat up between Kaitlyn Parker and Martin—previously known as the jerk-faced bully—Sandeke, she places her trust in the one person she never thought capable of earning it, let alone keeping it safe. Fortunately or unfortunately for Kaitlyn, where she gives her trust she can’t help but also give her heart.
But how will the world beyond the sanctuary of their newfound connection react to their relationship? Soon senators, chinless billionaires, and elements beyond Martin and Kaitlyn’s control want to weigh in on the young couple’s future.
Navigating the chaotic inferno of new love might be more than Kaitlyn bargained for, and much, much more than her trust—or her heart—can handle.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Penny Reid going into hiding... it's happening, people

I will be going into hiding starting Friday, April 24th and will not emerge until after CAPTURE is released... because I'm a coward. <3

I've received many messages about the cliffhanger in EOC 1 as well as the fact that ATTRACTION ends at "81%".
So... you should know:
1) The cliffhanger for HEAT is one million times worse.
2) HEAT will end at 99% (meaning, I will not be including any sneak peeks in the back of EOC 2)
3) This means you will be dropped off a very high cliff at 99% with no sneak peek parachute to save you... #SorryNotSorry

Because of items #1-3 above, I will be unavailable for angst and venting, because I have a feeling both the venting and the angst are going to be quite epic.

I'll see you in May!
<3 Penny

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Elements of Chemistry News and Reminders...

Elements of Chemistry: News and Reminders
1) AS I'VE SAID FOR MONTHS: The trilogy (parts 1-3) will be bundled and published for $5.99 no later than June 1, 2015. So if you're waiting to read all three parts together (which I don't recommend, because I wrote them to be read separately... but I'm not the boss of you) you can save $.99 by buying the bundle instead of each part of the trilogy separately.
2) Of note, the trilogy bundled together is ~700 pages. 
3) The official release day for HEAT is April 30. The "soft release" date looks like April 24th. This means HEAT may or may not be up everywhere by April 24th, but it will definitely be up everywhere (amazon, B&N, Kobo, iTunes, etc.) by April 30th.

1) Look for a deleted scene from Martin's POV, and a bigfunfantastic EOC giveaway on June 1st over at Vilma's Book Blog​... more details on this later :-)
2) Fiona is pulling together an EOC party (not really a release party... more like a book party just for fun) to take place on June 1. More details and a link to the event will follow soon.
3) If you're looking for print copies of Elements of Chemistry: ATTRACTION, HEAT, & CAPTURE - those will be available on amazon, B&N, and Kobo on May 16 (to coincide with the release of CAPTURE).
4) The trilogy bundle print copy will be available June 1 (amazon, B&N, and Kobo).
5) If you're looking for signed copies of EOC (any of its parts) - those will be available in the store on June 1.

So... lots happening on June 1. <3