Sunday, October 30, 2011

Guest Post by Janice Hardy

Hello Bloggy Friends!! ^_^

I know it's been a while since I posted last.  It's been a while since I've had any extra time!  But at long last I'm here to post again.  And today is special, because today marks the P&P's first Guest Post! :)

My guest today is Janice Hardy, author of "The Healing Wars" trilogy. You can read my review of her first book, "The Shifter" here:

Janice also runs a blog that is very informative as far as the writing process goes.  I often find her posts very inspiring.

So without further delay, I give you Janice Hardy!! :D

Going Both Ways: Outlines for Plot, Pantser for Character

I realized something recently. I’m an outliner all the way when it comes to crafting the plots in my stories. But for my character arcs, I’m a total pantser. I always know where my characters are going, but rarely how they’ll get there.

To me, this is the best of both worlds, especially since I write science fiction and fantasy, which tends to be fairly plot-focused. I can devote as much time as I need prepping my story framework, then turn my characters loose and see what happens. Not only does it allow me to spend more time developing those characters as I write, it keeps the story fresh for me. I never know how things are going to unfold.

Sometimes this does get me into trouble, but that’s half the fun. In my recent teen fantasy, Darkfall, I knew my heroine Nya had to somehow become the leader of a rebellion. The problem? It just didn’t seem plausible for a 15-year-old-girl to find herself in such a position of power and authority. Being part of a rebellion, sure, but leading it? How could I make that plausible?

The plot needed this, so I took a hard look at Nya and tried to figure out what she would do in this situation. The answer was pretty easy—I told her what to do and turned her loose. She’d figure out how to get there.

For three books, Nya has always done what she felt was right to protect those she loves. She’s also quick to jump into trouble, and has one or two hot-button issues that steal all reason right out of her head. So…

Nya’s loved ones in trouble + hot-button issue = Nya acting without thinking.

If she had to end up leading a rebellion, she just had to find herself in a situation that made her act without thinking to save those she loves. I had to put the pressure on her and see how long it took her to crack and try to take over. Because she would do that eventually. That’s just who she is. She’s learned to rely on no one but herself.

Naturally, I finagled a little with the meaning of “leader” to fit the story better and still fulfill my plot vision. Nya as a general in an army didn’t work, but she could very easily be the driving force behind a rebellion, or be the inspiration for one. And considering how much Nya hates to be the center of attention, putting her in the spotlight made for a lot of writing fun for me.

If you’re an outlining panster, (or think you might be) here are some tips on crafting a story with the best of both worlds:
1. Outliner: Pick a few goals for your characters that set the direction you want the story to go in. That’ll give you a framework in which to write.
Pantser: Think about the motives or emotional states of your characters and why they might go after those goals. How a character feels about something will determine how they approach a problem or how they might go about getting what they want.

2. Outliner: Look for the big turning points in the story. Where do your characters need to be when those moments happen? Where do they need to be going forward after that?
Pantser: Look at where your character has come from, who they are at that point in the story, and who they might become in the near future? How might their past affect how they act? What past fears might be affected (or affect) what’s to come in the plot?

3. Outliner: What are the major surprises in the story? The big reveals or secrets? When are they revealed?
Pantser: How blindsided might your characters be? Do they spot the hints or do they miss them? How do they react to the surprises that surprise you? Is there anything in their past that can shake things up even further?

For the pantser half, most of these things you probably won’t know until you get there, but they’re fun things to think about as you write or after you’ve gotten that first rough draft down on paper.  And one last extra outliner/panster tip:

4. Keep asking yourself how your character feels about what’s going on. Where are they at emotionally and mental when they start a scene? Where are they during the scene? Where do they end up at the end of the scene, and how does that affect their choices moving on? You might be following the plot, but it’ll help you develop rich characters to go with that plot.

If you like a little structure to keep you on track, but relish the discovery of an unfolding story, a combo outline/pantser style might be for you.

What’s your style? Why does that style appeal to you? Is there anything about it you’d like to change?

Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy THE HEALING WARS, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her books include THE SHIFTER, BLUE FIRE, and DARKFALL from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins.  You can visit her online at or chat with her about writing on her blog, The Other Side of the Story.

About Darkfall

War has come.

Nya’s the one who brought it. And the people love her for it.

With Baseer in shambles and Geveg now an impenetrable military stronghold, Nya and the Underground have fled to a safer location—without Tali. Nya is guilt-ridden over leaving her sister behind and vows to find her, but with the rebellion in full swing and refugees flooding the Three Territories, she fears she never will.

The Duke, desperate to reclaim the throne as his own, has rallied his powerful army. And they are on the move, destroying anyone who gets in the way.

To save her sister, her family, and her people, Nya needs to stay ahead of the Duke’s army and find a way to build one of her own. Past hurts must be healed, past wrongs must be righted, and Nya must decide: Is she merely a pawn in the rebellion, a symbol of hope—or is she ready to be a hero?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Importance of Branding

Hello blogging friends.

In my last post I mentioned that I was reading some interesting articles and that I hoped to be able to post on a few of them soon.  Well, it would seem that I’ve come to a point of inspiration.  Not that it’s a point that hasn’t been covered well before by other writers, but I want to write about this particular point now because of the fact that for independent companies as well as aspiring authors and artists by themselves, this is a most important subject.

It is the subject of branding.

Look around you.  Check out your favorite websites or blogs online.  Look into your most well-known local businesses.  Everywhere you turn you will see an example of branding.  Every entrepreneurial spirit, every college kid out trying to make a name for themselves, and every person looking for a job in this economy is actually trying to sell themselves off of some type of brand… their own.
Their names.  Their records.  Their accomplishments.

They put these into a bundle of information that they present to the public.  And it would seem that the more the public sees the good in that information and the more people look into that person’s or company’s accomplishments and decide to buy from them or follow them, the better known their “branding” becomes.

Think of it this way: consider your favorite brand of clothing, or your favorite type of cereal, or even your favorite publishing company.  Now ask yourselves the question, why is it your favorite?  Chances are that for the reason you buy that particular product from that particular company, other people are buying the same product for the same reasons from the same company.

Branding.  The company is making its mark.  People notice them because of their products.  They are getting seen, they are getting attention, and they are growing a reputation as they sell their products.

That’s why I think that one of the hardest parts of starting a new company is creating and marketing a brand for your company.  Whether you are starting out as an independent author, as many people have (consider Joe Konrath or Rachael Starr Thompson) or you are creating a brand spankin’ new company (Like Marcher Lord Press, Flaming Pen Press, and the Spearhead Guild), good branding becomes the life blood of your establishment.  Good branding comes with/from a good reputation, which means people looking at your product, which means people buying your product.  On the other hand branding that comes with/from a bad reputation means people passing over a product and the company ultimately drowning.

You’ll notice I mention reputation a lot.  It’s true that reputation and branding walk hand in hand in this world of business. People trust brands because of good reputations, and likewise, they shun brands because of bad ones.  If you wanted to get technical, you could say that reputation is everything… it’s even more important than branding is, which is true to a degree.  However, one has to think of how they present their reputation to the public, and that’s where branding comes in. 

Let’s look up the definition of branding, shall we?  The very definition of branding is:

1) commerce product or manufacturer: a name, usually a trademark, of a product or manufacturer, or the product identified by this name

2.  recognizable type of something: a distinctive type of something.

So there you go.  A lot is said within the definition of a word.  A brand is ultimately a product or company that is identified (for good or ill) by its name.

Now, as far as building a brand that people trust… that’s the hard part.  That’s the trouble that most companies have when they first get started.  And that’s where most companies either succeed at the beginning of their journey and thrive, or fail, struggle, and possibly drown in the end.

Consider Marcher Lord Press, now a company whose list is large and still growing, and whose books have won awards in the past.  By the time Jeff Gerke decided to take on his project, he already had some experience in the market.  His brand was there as his name and his reputation as an editor was already solid.  All he had to do was get the word out and his company thrived.  Now, I’m sure that’s not exactly what he felt would happen at the time of opening.  I’m sure he had his doubts, and I’m sure MLP might have struggled right up front.  But main point to consider is the fact that MLP is no longer struggling like they might have been at the beginning.  They’ve gone from being an idea, to being a small company, to growing into the premier Indie Christian Speculative Fiction company out there.  

Why?  How has this happened?

It all came about through persistence, growing a good reputation, and marketing a solid and trust worthy brand.

Now we have Spearhead coming out: a collaborative project put together by Christian Authors whom many Christian readers already know, trust, and love.  Spearhead plans to bring its own brand into the mix by combining author brands that have been made and have thrived over the years.  The Guild will draw in readers through the four separate brands of their founders’ names, and in return, readers will be introduced to Spearhead as its own brand or publisher.

Branding is everything.

But, you say, these are all examples taken from people who have already been in the publishing business for several years at the very least.  How does this apply to authors who have not been published, or who have not worked in the publishing industry before?  How does this apply to those High-schoolers and college students just starting into their careers who want to make a name for themselves?  How does it all come together? 

Well, first of all, I’m not going to say that giving Magpie Publications a good reputation and brand won’t take work.  It will.  Whether you want to be published traditionally, self publish, start your own company, or be hired on by an established company as an intern or editor, it’s always going to take work and lots of it.  It will take research.  It will take time.  It will take persistence when the going gets tough, because I can assure you, the going WILL get tough… there will be times when you think that your dream will never find wings and will sit in a desk drawer and gather dust for the rest of your life.  I guarantee there will be moments when you want to quit… but you can’t.  Not if you want to see your dream actually fly.  It’s going to take studying and interviews and passion.  Oh, but it will be well worth it in the end!!!  If you are determined not to see your dream fall and fail, then you will find ways to make it thrive.

You want an example?

The first one that comes to mind is Flaming Pen Press.  As I understand it, Scott Appleton had been a writer for several years and had some of his short stories published in online magazines.  He’d been working on the Song of the Dragon series for several years as well, and had tried to sub it to several different publishers, all of which answered his query with rejections.  He kept seeking advice, he kept working to improve, and he kept trying.  At long last he decided that it was time to take his book public, and he created Flaming Pen Press… a small company on which to establish a big dream.  With persistence and drive, he managed to sell over 3,000 copies of his book in one year, and the first book in his series, “Swords of the Six”, was picked up and published through AMG publishers.  Now AMG has contracted him for the rest of his series.  And as far as Flaming Pen Press goes, it went on to sell over 3,000 copies of 19 year old Jacob Parker’s award winning book, “Kestrel’s Midnight Song” since its release date in September of 2010.  Now it’s taking on another young author’s project, “Out of Darkness Rising” by Gillian Adams, and I have no doubt that it will continue to succeed with this book as well as with others.

Other examples of note within the Christian Fiction field are Port Yonder Press and Splashdown Books.  As this post is getting rather long, I won’t go into a whole lot of detail about them here and now, but those presses and brands have similar stories… starting out small and unknown, slowly growing into a brand recognized by a few, and their recognition is spreading.  Hopefully in future days I will be able to do blog posts on these as well as other small companies as my research progresses.

Why am I talking about brands today?

Well, with the work and research I’m doing for Magpie Publications, I started to realize the influence that branding has on people and how it affects the market.  Good branding could make the company into a success, while bad branding could plunge the company to its death.  However, because I am a relative “unknown”, and because my foundation is not based on past work records in the industry but instead is based on a dream, ambitions, some passion, and the college degree and career choice that I’m currently still working towards, what Magpie really needs at its starting point is a solid (if small) foundation to launch from.  With God’s help, I plan to give this company everything I have.  I absolutely plan to pour myself into it, and I know that, with help, it will be a success.  And if it’s going to succeed, it’s going to need a good brand name and a good preceding reputation that moves it forward.

My good friend and writing buddy, Adele Treskillard and I were talking about how this might be accomplished in a community sort of fashion.  Since nothing is set in stone as of yet, I won’t go into detail about our ideas at this moment.  When things become more clear and solid, then I might write an informative post on the matter.  For right now, continue to keep this idea in your prayers.  It won’t drown, by God’s grace.  He doesn’t just put an idea or thought on someone’s heart to have it fall apart entirely.  I’m just so grateful to Him that He has given me the opportunity to meet and get to know so many young writers out there whose ambitions and dreams parallel my own.  Honestly, it’s a pleasure and an honor to know you all, even it’s only online.  Without your support in this idea, it might never have gone beyond the dream stage to the stage of ambition.  It might never have become a goal.  I thank you all!  Thank you so much! ^_^

(Stay tuned for a Guest Post by Janice Hardy to be up within the next week. :D)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Dual Aspects of an Euntrepreneurial Spirit... God Help Me!!!

Hello my dear bloggy friends. I’m sorry that it’s taken me so very long to post anything new.

Many of you dropped in for the post I did in August that highlighted the idea I’ve been harboring over several years of launching a new independent Christian Press for Speculative Fiction. (If you haven’t read it yet, you can read it here: ) In that article I gave my reasons and passions for taking on such a project and how I would strive to make it grow.

Since then, I’ve started researching the process of starting a company, and looking into possible avenues of printing. I’ve been looking for and comparing marketing strategies and the ins and outs of print distribution vs. digital distribution. I’ve been narrowing down my options for a mission statement and have been considering values and principles on which to build this company’s morals. I’ve been considering the cost and preparation time involved with publishing a quality product, marketing it, and actually selling it. I’ve also been talking to friends of mine who are or have studied certain aspects of the publishing world, who are in the publishing world already, and who are working towards careers that could parallel with book publication. And in between all of that, I’m planning out how I will take a business class (hopefully next semester) to help me better understand the business and financial needs of such a company.

This is a dream, yes… but it’s one dream that (along with eventually having SOTD and Eldrei published) I plan to see into its reality (by God’s grace).

The scariest part of all? I have NEVER done anything like this before. :P My experience level in this area is basically zilch, and besides that I’m still pretty young. Twenty-three is not that impressive a number when it comes to age, and it seems that the older you are, the more experience you have. All I have right now is my dream, my research, a bit of passion, and a dash of drive/motivation. Is that enough? I have no idea.

Truthfully, people, I’m terrified. What does this mean, to take on such a large responsibility and see it into fruitarian? I’m only one person… one small dreamer in a vast sea of dreamers. I try desperately not to look at the impossible, but it seems to be staring me right in the face. How can I do this? How can I even try? It seems almost unattainable, yet I feel completely, utterly drawn and bound to the idea; I can’t fight it and I can’t shake it. Eventually something will need to be done.

I guess I’m writing this blog post as a sort of therapy. In truth, I feel like I’m trying to boost my own courage… trying to tell myself that “hey, it’s ok; you know you can do this with God’s help,” when half the time my mind is telling my mouth that those words are bold-faced lies. How can I really do this? It’s so BIG! I’m so small. Can I really pull it off?

Well, not right now and not by myself. “As iron sharpens iron(…)” so the Bible says, and the story of David and Goliath comes to mind. The publishing world is often times cruel and harsh… like a gigantic evil Philistine that wants to rip the heads off of unsuspecting writers. :P I haven’t been around too awful long, but I’ve seen a few small publishers come and go, many dashed to pieces by financial troubles. I don’t plan for Magpie Publications to be one of those… this venture must last and must grow; it’s not just a onetime thing that some upstart girl decides to tackle on her own just because she can. However, the publishing world is now changing: expanding. It’s not as cruel as it used to be, but it’s still a tough little nut to crack. It’s still a rock that stands in the doorway and breaks many young, noble writers who deserve better. I don’t know how one company can make that much of a difference, but there’s no hurt in trying. The more opportunities there are out there for writer’s who deserve them, the better chances those writers’ stories will have of finding a home.

But you see, that’s one of the reasons why I can’t start Magpie Publications right now, and why I can’t handle it alone. Strong businesses last; strong strategies endure; strong missions bring aid. The idea needs time to mature, to grow legs and learn to stand… It’s sort of like giving birth, only in a backwards sort of fashion (in the metaphorical sense, of course). Instead of the baby being born and then learning to stand, I sort of want to make sure that my baby will be able to stand before I give birth to it. Make sense?

The biggest part of the whole idea is that I know that this is not just my dream. I don’t even want it to be ‘just my dream’. Magpie Publications is not an endeavor I’m willing to undergo only for myself; if it were, I’m sure it would never get off the ground. There are so many people out there who have similar ambitions, who strive for parallel goals. I even know some people like this, but I also know that there is strength in numbers. I don’t want to be a single parent!!! I will need help… I will need support and I will need a team. Only then, when there is a group of us working together, can Magpie Publications actually be made into a success. Only then can one dream see the birth of its reality.

So, in keeping with this post’s title, what exactly are the duel aspects of an entrepreneurial spirit? Quite easily enough, “dread” and “drive”. I know lots of people who think I’m crazy for wanting to do this. (Come on writers, how many people do you know who think the same thing about your status as an aspiring author? It’s not such a new thing. ;D) There are plenty who think that I’m way too young to even attempt handling something this big, and I don’t doubt them. Right now I know that I am too young… too young to do everything I want to do, and too young to make this company a reality. I’m scared stiff (there’s your ‘dread’, people) but I’m absolutely determined (and there’s your ‘drive’. :P) In a couple of years, I will hopefully be better prepared. By 2013 or 2014 I will have much more research under my belt than I do now along with the tools I need to see this dream take flight. And hopefully I will have the right people alongside me willing to help.

Though nothing is set in stone just yet, I’m thinking to set the company launch date sometime in late 2013 to early 2014. That gives me around two years to prepare. I can’t explain the feeling very well, but there is an urge in me warning that I shouldn’t delay too long or the opportune moment will be missed and the door closed. At the moment, I believe that two years is a good amount of time to wait. I would be almost 25 by then… still rather young, but hopefully old enough that it matters. And I would have more education and experience under my belt while (hopefully) shopping around a few manuscripts as well.

In the meantime, I will try to keep everything updated around here while I’m working to gather a team and learning all I can about the business. I want to do more author interviews, and hopefully start some publisher interviews as well, both of which will be posted on the P&P, of course (starting with a guest post from Janice Hardy, author of “The Healing War” trilogy, which will be posted within the next couple of weeks, followed by an interview with Port Yonder Press.)

And book reviews!!! Lots of book reviews. After all, one must study the industry in order to join it… right? Right?

Ok, I admit, that may just be my way of saying, “I love to read”. *shrugs* The new CSFF blog tour is on Stephan Lawhead’s “The Bone House”, and I’m also reading through several other good books including Ross Lawhead’s “The Realms Thereunder,” Rick Riordine’s “The Son of Neptune”, and Jill Williamson’s “To Darkness Fled”. That’s not even touching the books I’ve read but have yet to report on. ;)

The main point being, this is no longer just an idea that I’m playing around with… now it’s turning into a goal, which is much more tangible and less fleeting. As I learn things, I will post about them. I’m currently reading several interesting articles and surfing through publishing interviews as well. As always, thoughts and advice from readers are welcomed. Never ever think that what you have to say is not valuable; sometimes its comments on blog posts that I learn the most from. I’m always curious about what readers think of the mad ramblings I sometimes post here. I’m sure that half of the time I must sound like a lunatic. Lol!

God Bless,