What I'm Reading: The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women by Dr. Valerie Young

RWA always has fantastic speakers at the national conference, and I always leave inspired. This year was no exception. This past week I was lucky to hear authors Beverly Jenkins and Sherry Thomas give keynotes. Both women were amazing. But I had to miss the third keynote given by Dr. Valerie Young on "Imposter Syndrome" because I had another meeting. I'm usually a little skeptical about motivational speakers, so I didn't think much of missing it. Then, I started hearing from everyone how awesome and helpful it was. Cue me being sad I missed it.

However, lucky for me, Dr. Young has a book about Imposter Syndrome and the things she talked about. So though I'm sad that I didn't get to hear her speak, I was excited to order the book. I'm only halfway through, but already it's been worth the price. The basic premise is that a lot of successful women (and some men) suffer from "Imposter Syndrome" or always feeling like you're successful because you "got lucky" or were in the "right place at the right time" or that you "fooled everyone." In other words, for some reason, we feel like we're  frauds. That people are going to find us out. That we're not really that (insert adjective) as good/smart/capable etc. as people think we are. That resonated with me and I know it resonated with a lot of others. Writers tend to be a little neurotic anyway, lol, but I think this is more universal than that. We try to explain away success instead of owning it. This book is about fixing that kind of thinking. 

So even though I'm not done yet, I wanted to pass along the recommendation. If you think you might fall into this kind of thinking, it's worth a read: The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It.

About the book:

It’s only because they like me. I was in the right place at the right time. I just work harder than the others. I don’t deserve this. It’s just a matter of time before I am found out. Someone must have made a terrible mistake. 
 
If you are a working woman, chances are this inter­nal monologue sounds all too familiar. And you’re not alone. From the high-achieving Ph.D. candidate convinced she’s only been admitted to the program because of a clerical error to the senior executive who worries others will find out she’s in way over her head, a shocking number of accomplished women in all ca­reer paths and at every level feel as though they are faking it—impostors in their own lives and careers. 
 
While the impostor syndrome is not unique to women, women are more apt to agonize over tiny mistakes, see even constructive criticism as evi­dence of their shortcomings, and chalk up their accomplishments to luck rather than skill. They often unconsciously overcompensate with crippling perfec­tionism, overpreparation, maintaining a lower pro­file, withholding their talents and opinions, or never finishing important projects. When they do succeed, they think, Phew, I fooled ’em again. 
 
An internationally known speaker, Valerie Young has devoted her career to understanding women’s most deeply held beliefs about themselves and their success. In her decades of in-the-trenches research, she has uncovered the often surprising reasons why so many accomplished women experience this crushing self-doubt. 
 
In The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, Young gives these women the solution they have been seek­ing. Combining insightful analysis with effective ad­vice and anecdotes, she explains what the impostor syndrome is, why fraud fears are more common in women, and how you can recognize the way it mani­fests in your life. With her empowering, step-by-step plan, you will learn to take ownership of your success, overcome self-doubt, and banish the thought patterns that undermine your ability to feel—and act—as bright and capable as others already know you are.

Has anyone else read this or did you see Dr. Young speak? Anyone think "YES THAT'S ME!" when reading the book description?

Must-Read Monday: A Quick Inspiration Read for Writers and Artists

A pic of kidlet's toy at the circus this weekend

Hey, look, it's a blog! Like a real blog that's not just me giving you the latest news in between my crazed deadline state. ;) Thanks to those of you who have stuck with me over the last few crazy months. Nine releases over nine weeks straight all while trying to finish the next book before deadline proved to be quite a challenge.

I'm discovering that the writing life is a constant cycle between being insane and living in your cave (typing away frantically and neglecting all other parts of your life) and brief breaks where you blink into the light, realize life is still going on and that you'd like to be part of it again.

And part of those rare breaks for me has to be spent refilling the well. After working on a book and promotion and conferences for months, I get to the point where I feel like I've emptied all of the creativity I have onto the page and there's nothing left. So I need to take some time to fill that back up. That usually means reading a lot of books for fun, taking time to indulge in my new photography hobby, going to museums, or traveling to new places for a change of scenery. An inspiration vacation, if you will.

And so, during this process last week, I ran across a book I hadn't heard of before. It was one of the Kindle daily deals (and I'm slightly obsessed with those) and had a provocative title, so I checked it out. STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST by Austin Kleon is a very brief (took less than an hour to read & has fun illustrations) book about "10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative".

Blurb (from Amazon):

You don’t need to be a genius, you just need to be yourself. That’s the message from Austin Kleon, a young writer and artist who knows that creativity is everywhere, creativity is for everyone. A manifesto for the digital age, Steal Like an Artist is a guide whose positive message, graphic look and illustrations, exercises, and examples will put readers directly in touch with their artistic side.

When Mr. Kleon was asked to address college students in upstate New York, he shaped his speech around the ten things he wished someone had told him when he was starting out. The talk went viral, and its author dug deeper into his own ideas to create Steal Like an Artist, the book. The result is inspiring, hip, original, practical, and entertaining. And filled with new truths about creativity: Nothing is original, so embrace influence, col- lect ideas, and remix and re-imagine to discover your own path. Follow your interests wherever they take you. Stay smart, stay out of debt, and risk being boring—the creative you will need to make room to be wild and daring in your imagination.

I don't know if it will contain anything you haven't heard before, but something about how it was said resonated with me. It made me even more jazzed to fill that creativity well again because the point of the book is that we (and our work) are a result of all the things we fill our lives with--our experiences, our likes and dislikes, what we spend our time doing, etc. Here's one of the quotes I highlighted:

"You don't get to pick your family, but you can pick your teachers and you can pick your friends and you can pick the music you listen to...and the books you read...the movies you see. You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life. You are the sum of your influences."

--Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist, Location 71 in Kindle version

So that's what he means when he says "steal" like an artist. Not plagiarize or copy. But study and absorb all those things that get you excited, that wake you up, that make you want to aspire to something more. Take those favorite authors of yours and study what they are doing right, what is it that resonates with you? Then mix that in with all your other influences from your life, music, the TV and movies you watch, whatever make you and your writing you, and then transform it into your own unique style.

This concept also reminds you not to get too incestuous in your influences, meaning if you never read outside your genre or see movies of a different kind or push your boundaries outside of your comfort zone, you may end up looking like a poor imitation of something else. So read widely, learn from all different mediums, experience life around you, be observant, and then mash that together and find your own style.

For instance, I write erotic romance. I read a lot of erotic romance because I love it. However, I grew up on horror and suspense books. And I love John Hughes movies. And I used to be a social worker. So if you read my books, you'll see all of that. I write erotic romance that often has dark themes, particularly in characters' backstories, which is probably from both my social work experience and my love of gothic/horror novels. But there's also levity in my books because humor is important to me in a story. Like in CAUGHT UP IN YOU, Kelsey has had a rough life--drug addiction, former stripper, rape victim--but then there are scenes where she and Wyatt are quoting The Terminator to each other or she's teasing him about owning the movie, Dirty Dancing. That is my style and a way readers would be able to recognize my books from someone else's. It's the mashup of my influences. So this book reminded me that I need to keep adding to the pot on those influences and not get too narrow in my book/movie/activity choices. Otherwise, my style will get stale.

So anyway, that's a long way to say that I liked this book and recommend it, lol. And not just for writers but for anyone who engages in a creative pursuit. I bought the ebook version because it was on sale. But be warned, it has illustrations, so unless you have a tablet or a Kindle Fire, I'd go with the paperback. Plus, the ebook, unfortunately, is no longer on sale so the paperback is probably a better deal anyway.

Has anyone else read this? What influences do you see in your own writing/art/creative pursuit? Do you read outside of your genre?

The Faster I Write, the Better the Book?

Sign at the New York Public Library (my pic)So a while back I talked about being a Slow Writer Reformed. After being a slow writer for years, I had a deadline that ended up being crazy tight because my editor and I changed the concept of the book at the last minute (a few times). Well, it resulted in me writing 97k in 55 working days and revising in 5 days. So basically, 60 days from start to finish (minus weekends since I don't work on weekends.) It was definitely a revelation to me that I could write that fast. But there was one LOOMING question. Was it any good? 

When you write that quickly under that intense of a deadline, you can't stop and think or analyze. You lose perspective and can't really tell if something rocks or sucks. You're too close. (And it's not like I had time to send it to beta readers to get feedback before I sent it to my editor.) So I was happy that I'd accomplished the goal of writing faster. But I was scared that the whole thing was a pile of crap and that my editor would hate it or require a total rewrite.

Well, this past week I went to NYC to meet with my editor and guess what? She loved CAUGHT UP IN YOU and said it was her favorite thing I've ever written. AND, get this, no big edits--she didn't even send it back to me, just sent it straight to copyedits (which for those of you who don't know, the copy editor is the person who doesn't change content but checks for grammar, spelling, and logic mistakes.) SO, the fastest book I've ever written and the one I was most insecure about turns out to be her favorite. (!!!)

And to give you an idea of what a crazed, fugue state I wrote it in, when my editor told me her favorite scene of the book, I couldn't even remember what scene that was, lol. I had to look it up later and was like--oh yeah, I DID write a scene with a such and such. o.0  Seriously.

And this isn't a one time occurence. Previous to this, I talked about losing perspective because with FALL INTO YOU (the book that's out now), a couple of major revisions had to be made on that book in a very short amount of time. It made me super insecure about the book because I had to just fix it ASAP and didn't have time to think over the changes. But then it came out and got the highest rating you can get in Romantic Times magazine (higher than my previous two books) AND it's by far, gotten the strongest response/reviews from readers--many declaring it their favorite of the series.

So what I'm coming to realize about my process is that my internal editor is a dangerous bitch. When I write slower, I over analyze, I overthink, and I suck out some of the magic of the creativity. When I don't have a choice but to keep writing, writing, writing, and not look back, then something wonderful happens and my right brain truly takes over. (And for the record, at the time, it doesn't *feel* like that. Even when I'm writing fast, it's always hard work. Rarely do words just fly from my fingertips with abandon. It's a very deliberate process of "must hit xxxx word count today" but it cuts out my inclination to go back and rework previous stuff to death. I have to keep moving forward to hit that daily number.)

Now, this doesn't mean that I'm going to wait until a deadline is close to start working (let's not talk crazy), but I am going to give myself my own self-imposed tighter deadline so that I work faster. And I'm going to stop worrying about if I don't feel super-confident about a book before sending it to my editor. I almost never feel confident about a book, and that's okay. I'm going to embrace that writer insecurity. It seems to mean that I've pushed myself and the story to a good (and maybe out of my comfort zone) place. It means I've taken risks. They might not always work--and that's what editors are for--but it's easier to dial back after the fact than it is to add.

So does this mean that writing faster is BETTER? For me, maybe. However, everyone's writing process is different. Some people write super fast but then have a mess on their hands and edits are overwhelming. Let's face it, most NaNoWriMo novels are not ready for primetime for a long while, if ever. Some people write slower and need that time to get the story the way they want it. If it's your first or second novel you've ever written, I can almost guarantee that a quickly written book is not ready. I know I needed my time with Crash Into You to get it right. But as you write more, you learn more and get better at craft. (Caught Up In You is the 8th book I've written.)

And most of all, realize that your current process isn't sacred or set in stone. Be open to trying new schedules or methods. If you had asked me two years ago, I would've said I was a slow writer who needed a minimum of 6 months to write a book (and that'd be pushing it.) I'd tell you that I was a pantser who could never do any pre-planning. I'd tell you I couldn't write a synopsis before writing a book. Now I'm writing 3-4 books a year, and though I'm still a pantser, I now pre-plan using the Save the Cat Beat Sheet and the Michael Hauge character profiles, which has been a tremendous help. And I write synopses to sell my books before they books are written (and kind of like writing them now).

Always, always be open to trying things a new way. If you write slowly and want to see if you can write faster, give yourself a do-or-die deadline, no cheating, and hold yourself to a daily word count. Train up like I talked about in the previous post. And don't let writer insecurity or that relentless internal editor stop you from writing. Just keep going. If you have a mess at the end, so be it--you can fix it in revisions. But maybe pushing yourself past your normal limits will inspire that one, shining scene that never would've come to you if you'd been painstakingly looking back at previous chapters deciding if her dress should be red or purple.

Anyone else discover interesting things about their own process? Do you feel like you're stuck being a "slow writer"? 

Must-Read Monday: A Book I Think Every Woman Should Read

First, a quick apology that I wasn't around for most of last week. I'm right up against my deadline and was in the inspiration zone. Banner week--21,000 words in 5 days. o.0  That is definitely a record for me. But needless to say, I had no juice left for blogging. I'll probably be like this until Feb. 1 since I'm still finishing the e-serial, but I did want to pop in today.

My pick for today is non-fiction and is a book that's been around for a long time: The Gift of Fear by Gavin DeBecker. I first heard about this book years ago when the author was on Oprah. It was one of those times where I watched something and certain things stuck with me long after the show. For instance, if you are attacked, "Never let someone take you to a second location." It was a chilling show and chock full of information, but I never picked up the book until a few months ago. 

I believe it was on sale on Kindle or something and I decided to get it. And man, am I glad I did. The book was compelling and really has information everyone should hear, particularly women since we tend to get victimized more. It's all about learning to trust your instincts and how to spot the signs that may indicate danger. Seriously, do yourself a favor and read it. After finishing it, I wanted to give a copy to every female relative and friend I have.

One of the most dangerous things we do is train ourselves out of trusting our intuition. We want to be "nice" to everyone and not look rude. Well, this books gives you permission to keep yourself safe first even if that means you may come off like a bitch at times. I found the whole thing insightful and empowering. I also found it vindicated me because I can be a bit paranoid about things. For instance, if I'm home alone and someone knocks on my door, I don't answer it. If I'm not expecting someone and I don't recognize the person, it can't be that important. My husband always thought that was a little silly, but why risk it? When I was in graduate school at LSU, there was a serial killer on the loose who got into women's houses by getting them to open the door (they think he posed as a service man or something.) Anyway, that cured me of ever opening the door to strangers. It may be silly or inconvenient or rude, but it's my instinct and I trust it. And this book backs me up on that. : )

About the book (via Amazon):

A stranger in a deserted parking lot offers to help carry a woman's groceries. Is he a good Samaritan or is he after something else? A fired employee says "You'll be sorry." Will he return with a gun? After their first date, a man tells a woman it is their "destiny" to be married. What will he do when she won't see him again? A mother has an uneasy feeling about the nice babysitter she's just hired. Should she not go to work today?

These days, no one in America feels immune to violence. But now, in this extraordinary groundbreaking book, the nation's leading expert on predicting violent behavior unlocks the puzzle of human violence and shows that, like every creature on earth, we have within us the ability to predict the harm others might do us and get out of its way. Contrary to popular myth, human violence almost always has a discernible motive and is preceded by clear warning signs.

Through dozens of compelling examples from his own career, Gavin de Becker teaches us how to read the signs, using our most basic but often most discounted survival skill - our intuition. The Gift of Fear is a remarkable, unique combination of practical guidance on leading a safer life and profound insight into human behavior.

It's an easy read that you'll fly through. And I promise, you won't forget it. 

Now, go and buy it. I heart you all and want you to be safe. : )  Has anyone else read this one?

 

From Debut to Multi-Published: What I've Learned In My 1st Year as a Published Author

Signing books at the B&NIn a few weeks, my third print book, FALL INTO YOU, will hit shelves (also CRASH INTO YOU and MELT INTO YOU will debut in print in the UK.) This will all be happening almost a year to the day from when CRASH INTO YOU first released. Last year at this time, I was frantically preparing for my debut, unsure but totally excited by what the year would bring. What exactly would it feel like for a dream to come true?

Well, I can tell you, it's been fantastic. A weird journey of super exciting jump-up-and-down kinds of days, days where I questioned it all (like, yanno, my ability to put words together and make any kind of sense), and every kind of emotion in between. It's a cliche, but the whole roller-coaster analogy really is apropos here.

So I thought I'd look back over the year and share what I've learned along the way. (And btw, this is coming from a traditional publishing perspective since that is my experience, so not all of it may apply if you're on a different publishing path.)

What I've Learned Year One:

1. Working under a deadline is intense and a completely different writing experience.

Doesn't matter if you've used self-imposed deadlines in the past like NaNo. That's good practice, but having people counting on you and a legal contract make things totally different stress wise. And sometimes every month is Nano. I wrote 95k in two months this year and have to write another 50k in the next 6 weeks. I've learned to write faster and have "trained up" because of it. But I won't lie, earlier this year, the first deadline book locked up my creativity because I was panicking. I had to learn to work through it. No putting things to the side until inspiration strikes. You have to go hunting for the muse with a stick.

2. Some reviews will tear you open and spit on your self-esteem if you let them.

Learned this the hard way. When CRASH came out, I got probably 97% positive reviews. But it was that one or two that were particularly biting and/or personal that crushed me. Yes, I'd been shredded by crit partners before. Yes, I'd gone through tough revisions with my agent and editor. I thought I had tough skin. Nope. Reviews can eff with you if you let them. I don't know if there's a way to prepare for this. It may be one of those things you just have to go through (because who is going to resist reading reviews on their very first book.) But it took me a while to figure out how to deal with these. My skin *is* tougher now. Doesn't mean a bad review won't sting, but they no longer make me question my ability to write or make me so angry that it ruins my whole day. If you have a book coming out, I talked about The 5 Emotional Stages of a Book Launch and I think those stages hold true for most of us.

3. The BIG BAD publisher is not your enemy. Surprise, they really want you to do well, too. Duh.

I get so tired of seeing people bash the big publishers as if they're enemies to writers. This hasn't been my experience. My editor has been lovely, supportive, open-minded, and accessible. She wants my books to do well. She's excited about my series. Yes, publishers--all publishers--are a business, and I know that if my sales don't hold up, they won't keep buying my books. But that's just business.

4. Everything is REALLY slow until it's breakneck fast.

Patience is the name of the game. Hurry up and wait, hurry up and wait. You won't hear anything for months, then you'll have a pile of copyedits to do in a week, back cover copy to rewrite, and a new book due. It's one of those things where you have to learn to go with the flow.

5. You don't know your sales numbers...no really, you don't. 

People are prone to asking how the books are selling. Frankly, I don't have a specific answer. I only get an impression. Bookscan numbers only capture 50-70% of print sales, so it's a guess at best. And ebooks aren't captured at all, so all you can do is watch your rankings on Amazon and B&N for that. Yes, you get royalty statements about 8, yes, 8, months after your book comes out. But they are not so easy to read since there are things like returns and such factored in. And I won't lie, it's hard not to know specific numbers for so long. It drives my obsessive brain a little crazy.

6. You are now Professional Author first, and you can't speak as freely as you're sometimes tempted to.

For those of us in the blogosphere before we're published, we're used to chatting pretty freely. But once you're published (and really even before) you have to be aware that you are now a public figure (even if only ten people have read your book so far, lol.) You are a brand. How do you want that to be perceived? 

Another aspect of this is that you are now Author first, Reader second. This has been a tough one for me because, of course, I was a reader before I was ever a writer. But being published changes this. You are seen as something different in reader/reviewer forums (i.e. you're not to be trusted because you're now kind of like the principal listening in on student conversations). And now when you review books publicly, you're kind of walking through a minefield. Review them positively, and people assume you're doing a favor for an author friend. Review them negatively and you might burn a bridge with another author. I've chosen to only publicly review books that I loved (and FTR, I would never give something a good review if I didn't like the book, even if I knew the author.) If I don't love a book, I keep my opinion to myself. And that is HARD because I like discussing books with others. But it's not worth the drama.

7. Be careful complaining publicly even when the job gets tough.

Complain about how hard deadlines are, you'll get a slew of aspiring writers with "I wish I had deadlines like that" comments. When you're published, you're seen as living the dream to those who have the same goal. And you are. That doesn't mean the dream isn't a JOB that has some really tough and stressful moments. But complaining about them makes you look ungrateful for what you have. Vent to your friends who are in the same boat as you and who understand.

8. Here there be green-eyed monsters.

Jealousy. It's ugly. It's inevitable. At some point in your journey, you'll find yourself looking to other authors who maybe are similar to you and see that they're getting (insert thing to be jealous of)--more attention, more sales, bigger advances, more buzz, more swag, whatever. Get over it. Every writer's journey is different, and sometimes all those things that look so bright and shiny aren't all they're cracked up to be. For instance, that writer who got the giant advance, now has a giant advance to earn out. If they don't, they won't get another contract. But maybe you had less sales and a lower advance, but you earned out. Now you have more book deals and time to grow a readership. Be thankful for what you have. Strive to get what you want.

9. Marketing is a mysterious, ever-changing challenge. 

I nearly killed myself with that first blog tour. Did all those guest posts, interviews, contests make a difference? No one really knows. My gut says--meh, not that much. And all that touring shut down my creativity and left me late on my next book deadline. Now I've trimmed down my launches. I do review-only tours where I send out the books for reviews but it doesn't require me to do a post. I do think reviews sell books--even if it's on a small scale. I also do one-off guest spots and interviews on reader-targeted sites. 

Does blogging/social media sell my books? Yes. On a big scale? Probably not. But I know anecdotally that many people who have tried my books have tried them because they got to know me online first. I've built relationships and friendships and I think that beats traditional marketing any day.

10. Nothing is guaranteed. Getting a 2nd book deal is sometimes harder than the first. 

I've been lucky. Since my first two-book deal, I've sold four more books, a novella, and an e-serial. I'm eternally grateful that readers are buying my books and are allowing me to continue my series. But I know more than a few author friends of mine who had fantastic books but didn't get that next deal for sales reasons. And those decisions are made early. Writers often don't get much time to prove their sales.

11. For most of us, money doesn't roll in anytime soon.

Money is sloooooooow. Payments are few and far between during that first year. Don't quit your day job when you get a publishing deal. Well, unless you get E.L. James kind of money or something.

12. I have more control over the details than I imagined.

I'd heard the horror stories of having no control once you sign a publishing contract. That has not been my experience. Any edits I don't agree with, I can discuss with my editor. If I don't like the back cover copy, I can rewrite it completely. If the copy editor does something that changes my voice, I change it back. The only thing I don't get much control over is the cover. I can give input for that, and some things have been changed, but usually it's just tweaks.

13. Having a few good writer friends who you can say anything to (privately) is priceless and sanity-saving. 

Make sure you have these, seriously. And it's good to get to know a few other published authors or reach out to people who are debuting with you so you can vent about specific publishing things. *waves to Julie Cross*

14. Write one book a year? Two books a year? Yeah, try 3-4.

Depending on your genre, the expectations for how much you write in a year are changing. Will your publisher MAKE you write more books than you want to? No. But the writers who can be more prolific are going to build an audience faster, get the opportunity at special things like anthologies or new formats first, and get more deals.

15. Realizing I can't do it all.

For those of you who have followed me for a while, you know I was a blogging machine. Five times a week for years, then three times a week. Responding to all the comments. Visiting others' blogs.  And I love to blog and continued my schedule throughout most of this year. BUT when I got to the deadline crunch in August of this year, balls started dropping. And I realized that blogging DID take up some of my creative energy, and I did write less on my WIP on those days. So I had to accept that I couldn't hold myself to that schedule if I wanted to take on all the writing projects coming up. So I've relaxed my schedule with blogging. I blog when I can. Sometimes that's still three times a week, sometimes it's just one.

And now the super fantastic stuff... 

16. Walking into a bookstore and seeing my book on the shelf makes me giddy every time.

I want to stop everyone in that aisle and be like--"Psst, hey, I wrote that. Yeah, the one with the half-naked cover." : )

17. Seeing how much readers love your books is THE BEST.

Hands down, totally as awesome as you imagined it would be. Never. Gets. Old. *group hug with everyone who's read one of my books*

18. Writing for a living IS a dream come true for me.

 I freaking love my job--even on the hard days. There are times when I'm out doing fun things and am dying to get back to work. How crazy is that? I never, ever take this for granted.

19. It is all worth it.

Promise.

 

Damn, all those things and I couldn't get to a nice round number like 20? I'll try not to throw in a fluff one just to make it twenty.

So if you're published, what have you learned? If you're not at that point yet, does any of this surprise you? And if you have any questions I didn't cover, feel free to ask them in the comments.

 

The Writer's Life: Expecting the Unexpected

Photo by David FrielSo normally Friday's are reserved for my Fill-Me-In Friday links round up, but this week a few unexpected things have come up. One, Delicious, the site I use to curate and organize all my links through the week changed their set up. I used to be able to keep each week's links in their own stacks. But they took that away and I've lost my stacks. :sadface: So I need to find a new way to organize my weekly links that is as streamlined as Delicious used to be. If you have a system that you use and like let me know in the comments. 

The other thing that came up this week was that my publisher started to have concerns about the storyline of my current WIP, worrying that it wasn't going to be as widely appealing as we'd want it to be. I knew the storyline was a bit of a risk, but hearing that got me a little worried. My editor was willing to let me go with it if I felt passionate about that direction, but I was at the point in drafting where I could still change the story. And I'm still so early in my career that I don't want to do anything that's going to put an extra hurdle in front of my books. So even though this book is due in less than 3 months, I'm going to scrap and start again. >.< 

So writer lesson of the day is the tagline from the Big Brother show: Expect the unexpected.

This isn't a job where everything is neat and planned and the same steps happen every time. Things are going to get thrown at you and you may not have a lot of time to absorb the blow. You just put your head down and get back to work.

In the end, I think this change is going to be a good thing. I love these characters and I hope readers will too. But if you run across me in the next few weeks and I look like this picture, you'll know why.

So what unexpected thing has hit you lately? And if any of you have suggestion for how to organize my links each week, let me know.

Bloggers Beware: You CAN Get Sued For Using Pics on Your Blog - My Story

Photo is my ownSo today I'm forgoing the usual Fill-Me-In Friday post to talk about something that I've been wanting to blog about for a while but couldn't until the situation was wrapped up.

For those of you who are super observant, you may have noticed some changes on my blog over the last few months. Tumblr posts went away. Fiction Groupie disappeared. I deleted most of my Pinterest boards. The Boyfriend of the Week has changed format. And all my previous posts from the past three years--all 700 of them--now have new photos on them.

Why is that? What happened?

Well, you've probably figured it out from the title, but it's because I've been involved in a case regarding a photo I used on my blog. Like most of you, I'm a casual blogger and learned my way into blogging by watching others. And one of the things I learned early on was that a post with a photo always looked nicer than one with just text. So I looked at what other people were doing for pictures. And mostly it seemed that everyone was grabbing pics from Google Images and pasting them on their sites. Sometimes with attribution, most of the time without. And when I asked others (or looked at disclaimers on websites and Tumblrs), it seemed that everyone agreed using pics that way was okay under Fair Use standards. 

Here is an example of a disclaimer I found on a bigger site (name of blog removed):

THIS BLOG claims no credit for any images posted on this site unless otherwise noted. Images on this blog are copyright to its respectful owners. If there is an image appearing on this blog that belongs to you and do not wish for it appear on this site, please E-mail with a link to said image and it will be promptly removed.

And site after site had the same kind of thing. Just look on Tumblr, that same type of disclaimer is on a ton of them. And I'm thinking--well, that must mean it's okay because if that weren't true, sites like Tumblr and Pinterest couldn't even exist because reposting pics is the whole POINT of those sites. So off I went doing what everyone else does--using pics from Google Images, putting a disclaimer on my site, etc. 

Well on one random post, I grabbed one random picture off of google and then a few weeks later I got contacted by the photographer who owned that photo. He sent me a takedown notice, which I responded to immediately because I felt awful that I had unknowingly used a copyrighted pic. The pic was down within minutes. But that wasn't going to cut it. He wanted compensation for the pic. A significant chunk of money that I couldn't afford. I'm not going to go into the details but know that it was a lot of stress, lawyers had to get involved, and I had to pay money that I didn't have for a use of a photo I didn't need.

It wasn't fun. But the fact of the matter is, I was in the wrong. Unknowingly. But that doesn't matter. And my guess is that many, many of you are doing the same thing I was doing without realizing it's a copyright violation. So I wanted to share my experience so that you can learn from my mistake.

Here's what I learned about Fair Use:

It DOESN'T MATTER...

  • if you link back to the source and list the photographer's name
  • if the picture is not full-sized (only thumbnail size is okay)
  • if you did it innocently
  • if your site is non-commercial and you made no money from the use of the photo
  • if you didn't claim the photo was yours
  • if you've added commentary in addition to having the pic in the post
  • if the picture is embedded and not saved on your server
  • if you have a disclaimer on your site.
  • if you immediately take down a pic if someone sends you a DMCA notice (you do have to take it down, but it doesn't absolve you.)

NONE OF THAT releases you from liability. You are violating copyright if you have not gotten express PERMISSION from the copyright holder OR are using pics that are public domain, creative commons, etc. (more on that below.)

I didn't know better and I had to learn the hard way. So I want to let you all know now so that you don't have to be a cautionary tale as well.

Plus, beyond not wanting to be sued, most of you who are reading this are writers. Our livelihood depends on the rights to our work. I've already had to send my own DMCAs to sites that have pirated my books. So I definitely don't want to be someone who infringes on someone else's copyright. A photo is someone else's art and unless they tell me it's okay, I don't have the right to use it.

So what can you do?

1.If you've been using images without approval from the internet on your blogs, know that you are probably violating copyright and could be sued for it.

Is the chance high? Probably not. Is it possible? I'm proof that it is. So you may want to consider going through your posts and delete pics that aren't yours.

2. Search for photos that are approved for use.

3. Take your own photos and share the love.

Almost all of us have camera phones these days. Instead of just taking photos of our family, think of images you could use on posts. See a stop sign. Snap a picture and save it. Whatever. And if you want to give back and not just take--open up a Flickr account (here's mine) and list your own images as creative commons so that you can share the love. (You can set it up to where whatever pic you load from you camera is under that license.)

4. Use sites like Pinterest and Tumblr with caution.

I have read way too many terms of service over the last two months. And I'm not a lawyer, so the legalspeak can be confusing and I am NOT giving legal advice. BUT both Pinterest and Tumblr (and most other social sites) say that if you load something into their site (i.e. Pin It or Tumble it) YOU are claiming that YOU have a legal right to that picture. And if the owner of that photo comes after the company, you will be the responsible party. And Pinterest goes so far as to say if you REpin something, you're saying you have the right to that photo. Yes, if that's enforced, it would mean that 99% of people on Pinterest are doing something illegal. Will that ever come up? Maybe. Maybe not. But I'm leaning on the paranoid side now. I don't want to be the test case. And I don't want to pin something the owner of the photo wouldn't want pinned. 

So pin your own photos, pin things from sites that have a Pin It button (though the Pin It button is not always a safe bet either because if the site owner doesn't own the pic but has the Pin It option automatically pop up, it's still not okay .) I pin book covers and movie posters because I figure that it's advertisement for said movies or books. But other stuff? All those pretty photos? I'm going to look but not touch.

ADDED: Also see discussion in comments about posting and sharing pics on Facebook. Same rules apply. (*comments were lost in site transfer)

5. Assume that something is copyrighted until proven otherwise.

That's your safest bet. If you're not 100% sure it's okay to use, don't. This includes things like celebrity photos. Someone owns those. There are enough free pics out there that you don't need to risk violating someone's copyright.

6. Spread the word to your fellow bloggers.

It was KILLING me not to be able to go tell everyone about all of this because I didn't want anyone else to get into this kind of mess. So if you know someone who is using photos in the wrong way, let them know. I wish someone had told me.

So I know many of you are probably thinking--she's being paranoid or that the likelihood of this ever happening to you is slim. Well, maybe. But it happened to me. And now that I know better, I'm going to do better (from the Maya Angelou quote Oprah always used.) And yes, it does kill me a little bit that I can't go on posting boyfriends of the week and mancandy, but instead I'll just post links to it so you can see it elsewhere. :)

So lesson learned: protect yourself and respect the rights of other artists. 

*This post is not intended as legal advice. God knows I have no background in law. This is just my experience and what I learned working these past few weeks with people who are experts at copyright.

 

Why I Walk Away From Bad Reviews... #atozchallenge

Photo by Chriscom (click pic for link)First, just a quick heads up. I'm blogging over at Peanut Butter on the Keyboard today on: Enough with the “Mommy Porn” Label – Moms Are Still Women. I hope you'll stop by. :)

Okay now to today's topic...

There are many things that I can handle. I have had critiques that had so much red you couldn't see black print anymore. I have had my agent tell me to remove an entire subplot and replace it with something completely different and I had two weeks to do it (she was right.) I'm even the girl who wanted the teacher to hand out test grades on Friday instead of waiting until after the weekend. In a lot of arenas, you could call me masochistic.

But, I have found this tough-skinned thing does not translate to reading reviews. And that's okay. Sometimes you have to know your limits. (And sometimes being tough-skinned isn't the be all end all.)

 Bad reviews...

Ruin my day when I read them.

Make me question my current WIP and my ability to write.

Make me worry about sales.

Get me grumpy.

Inspire writer's block.

Cause me to wonder if all those months I spend buried, sometimes ignoring my family and everything else, to write books for hardly any income are for naught.

Are part of the deal.

Are necessary.

Are totally the reader's right.

Are for other readers, not me.

 

So when I feel the urge to read what that person who gave me 1-3 stars said, I sing the choruses of these two songs in my head and click on something else.

 

Walk Away - Kelly Clarkson

 

Not For You - Pearl Jam

 

What have you learned you have to walk away from because it's just not good for you? Fellow writers, how do you handle tough reviews? Do you read anything anyone says about you? 

Life Lessons From Poltergeist

I'm true believer that every good story,whether it be a book, a movie, or a TV show, has a lesson--some nugget of knowledge that can help us get through life better. So I figured I'd start occasionally picking out a story here on the blog and sharing the most important things I learned from it.

And in honor of Halloween approaching, I figured I'd pick one of the formative horror movies of my young years--Poltergeist.

Now pay attention. If you don't heed these life lessons, you could end up sucked into the television. I'm doing you a public service. 

 

1. Never leave your TV on a white noise/snow channel. This is where the evil lurks.

 

2. Never trust a clown or have one in your house. (see the movie IT for further confirmation on this lesson.)

 

3. If your orthodontist tells you to get braces, ask for those invisalign things instead. The metal kind can attack you.

 

4. No large oaks should be within ten feet of your house because, well, they eat children.

(We actually had one of these trees in our yard when I first saw this movie. It would tap against our windows at night. I think it ate a few neighbors.)

 

5. If chairs do THIS in your house...Move. The. F*ck. Out. Okay? Let's not negotiate on this one.

 

6. And for the love of God, DO NOT go into the light. 

 

Here's the trailer for the movie, which contains one more lesson--if you have to ask the neighbors if they've experienced any disturbances lately, you should have already left town and be staying at a Holiday Inn. 

 

See, now aren't you glad you read this? You may have been walking down the street today and stumbled into a people-eating oak tree. Your welcome.

So were you a fan of this movie? Did it scare the bejeezus out of you like it did me at the time? What's your favorite 80s horror movie? And did I miss any life lessons from this one?