Category Archives: Writer Q&A

Writer Q&A Thursday

Connecting Authors and Readers: Writer Q&A

This month, our Writer Q&A is focused on how writers can or do connect with their readers. I personally believe this is very relevant to Christian Fantasy writers. And I thought it would be fun to ask both pre-published and published writers to share their thoughts on the matter. My guests today are Evan Atwood, Traci Bonney, Tony Breeden, and R.M. Strong.

What venues do you use to get your book/s out to the audience (e-book, print, other)? Do you have a preference?

Atwood: I am planning on using CreateSpace, an economic option for a first self-published book. Of the different options available for first time publishers, I have found CreateSpace to be comprehensive, helpful with FAQs and breakdowns of the way that different aspects of the publishing process works, and very affordable. It puts the process in the hands of the author/self-publisher, while guiding one in the areas that will matter when it comes to selling the book. They also offer an e-book version of the published book for an added but reasonable price.

Bonney: My books are available as e-books through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords, and as paperbacks through Amazon, CreateSpace, and directly from me. I prefer direct sales of the paperbacks because I can sign them and meet the readers.

Breeden: Right now, my books are available in ebook and paperback at Amazon.com. My preferred venues are sci-fi conventions. Cons are a great way to connect with readers of the genre. It also gives me the opportunity to get my geek on. ;]

Strong: I utilize both print and electronic methods to get my story out to the audience. By far, however, most of my sales are eBooks.

How do you connect with your readers? Author Q&As, personal website, Facebook, twitter, etc.?

Atwood: I am working to connect with potential readers through Twitter, offering interesting tidbits related to the main subject of my book. My story is about a superhero in the real world, where faith in God, physics, and psychological drama all have an effect on the very mortal super. With these different pieces of the story in mind, I tweet about real-life (or nearly believable) feats of strength or athletic ability, words of wisdom on how to strengthen one’s faith in the living God, etc. It’s very exciting to be able to relate to readers over topics of mutual interest, and to introduce my story in an authentic way.

This way, I can see that they are interested in the story, I can see why that is (via their topic of interest), and they can feel out my interests before jumping into the bigger adventure that I want to take them on. I am especially excited to start connecting with readers by blogging, which I hope to start doing on a website after completing my first manuscript/publishing my first book.

Bonney: I have a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/TraciLBonneyWriter), Twitter account (@TraciBonney), and blog (Tracings, http://tracibonney.com). My best connections with readers have come from in-person encounters at book signings and speaking engagements (only one so far, but I’m optimistic there will be more).

Breeden: Facebook, twitter and my blog[s] are my mainstays for connecting with my readers. Most of it is just me getting my geek on and talking about the writing craft, but my readers appear to be kindred spirits. I’ve tried email lists like MailChimp; they simply don’t reach and impact people the way they used to. I mean, do you read all of the stuff that dumps into your Inbox? I don’t think anyone does. I’ve also tried Pinterest; my Casting Wishlist seemed to generate a lot of interest. Yet by and large, it is things like Reviews, Author Interviews and Character Interest that help me to best connect with new readers.

Strong: I have a website, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, author interviews, and I try to participate in at least one or two blog hops a year.

What is the most exciting part of being able to interact with your readers?

Atwood: When a reader tells me that they “loved it,” or it was “awesome,” I don’t know exactly what they mean, exactly how it affected them, but just knowing that they were emotionally struck by the story is very satisfying as an author. Knowing that readers are impressed is nice, but knowing that they were inspired or impacted in some way is very reassuring and fulfilling.

Bonney: I enjoy being able to talk to the readers about the aspects of the stories they like and the things that captured their attention the most. That kind of feedback is wonderful for helping me refine my writing.

Breeden: The most exciting part of being able to interact with readers is hearing their thoughts and opinions on the books. I remember getting a PM out of the blue where a reader told me she loved my book and got her husband hooked on them too. Another let me know that she enjoyed Johnny Came Home so much that she was re-reading it. I set out to write the sort of books I’d like to read myself; it’s always great to find kindred spirits.

Strong: The most exciting thing about being able to interact with readers is meeting new people. It’s one thing to interact with people you know who have read the books—friends, family, old acquaintances, etc. It’s an entirely different thing to get an email or Facebook post out of the blue from somewhere across the country saying they loved what you have written.

Do you keep the readers involved when you’re writing the next book? How?

Atwood: In my case, I will have a series of books to release one by one, and I plan to utilize the idea of the series in inspiring interest for readers. I plan to release a teaser chapter from the second book at the end of the first book, whether the hard copy or the e-book, so that readers will get a taste of what the second story in the series will be like. I also look forward to writing posts about the second and third books, as I am still writing them, because I will be able to share the ideas behind my books without going into details that will give away the plot. I can share my ideas about life that are represented in the book, while surrounding the context of the topic in mystery over how this subject (i.e. the ethical debate over euthanasia and why I believe that there is absolute truth concerning that topic) relates to the story that they will soon get to read. If I get to hire an illustrator for future books, I would have fun sharing an illustration or two ahead of time.

Bonney: I must admit I haven’t been as diligent with that as I could be, but I do take into account the feedback I’ve been given on the previous novels as I’m writing the current one. I’m still fairly new to all of this, so I’m learning as I go.

Breeden: I try to keep readers involved by giving the occasional update, giving them a sneak peek at the cover art…that sort of thing. I also throw in the occasional short story or character interview. Character interviews are a lot of fun. You can never quite be sure what will come out of your character’s mouth, but their personalities sort of flow if you’ve bothered to develop them at all. I’ve even had them influence the plot of my next book!

Strong: For my My Life as a Superhero series (the final book is being released on November 15), I am posting short “chapters” of the backstories for my heroes and villains (about 1000 words a piece) to round out the characters a little.

What is one thing you recommend to writers who are starting out and wondering if they should try to connect with readers beyond “Here’s my book, buy it, and review?”

Atwood: For first time authors, and I am one, I would highly recommend telling your story to as many people as you can. Don’t make it a sales pitch—make it something that’s important to you that you want to share with this person. It doesn’t have to be only for people that you know really well either (I know there are some shy personalities out there in the writing business, and I am one). I’ve started to share the premise of my story and the gist of the plot with anyone and everyone who I meet. It’s easy now, because when social media comes up, I bring up my social media efforts for my book. When people ask me about my hobbies outside of the norm (job, church, family), the book is the coolest thing to talk about. And when people ask me about myself, I like to talk about movies that I really like to describe my personality—talking about the book that I’m writing is an even more fun way to tell people what I’m like!

Bonney: Definitely make the effort to connect, even if it’s uncomfortable at first. Many writers (including me) are innately introverted, so it’s sometimes a challenge to interact with people about your work. But I have found that most people, especially readers, are encouraging, supportive, and interested in what you’re doing. By connecting with the readers, not only are you engaging them emotionally and intellectually, you’re receiving the validation that we writers need to help us battle the doubts that inevitably surface.

Breeden: You’re truly missing out if you see readers as simply someone to market to. Of course, I want folks to buy my books and we all know that reviews drive new sales, but no one wants to hear you chant, “Buy my book & Review” all the time. Let your readers get to know the man [or woman] behind the curtain. Tell them why you crafted a certain scene or a character the way you did. Tell them what inspires or worries you. You’ll be surprised at the connections you make if you just take the time to do a bit more than spam them.

Strong: On social media, post things on your fan page or tweet things that are not even marketing related. On Facebook, utilize the trending stories. If there is something that interests you, then post it. Your social media walls should not be one long series of posts that all end in “Buy my book!”

Finally, as a fantasy writer, do you think it is more or less important for fellow fantasy writers to connect with their readers than say the writers who stick to Christian Romance?

Atwood: I think there is a significant disconnect in the church between imagination and faith. It may be lessening with the younger generations, but that just goes to show how important it is for the future of communicating the Gospel in new ways, to those who believe Christianity to be a failed attempt from the past. With fantasy, there is a need for an author to have surety about what she or he is writing, looking to the examples of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, as well as modern-day examples like Ted Dekker. Boldness, built on solid faith in God, through prayer over our writing, and with experience as well as with humility, can help us to reach out to the church in ways that can inspire faith and build others up in following Jesus. So I think it is very important for writers of fantasy to connect with their readers.

Bonney: My fantasy novels haven’t been released to the public yet, so my readers don’t really know me as a fantasy writer at this point.  However, I do have two books in a four-novel contemporary series in print. The books that are out have strong romantic subplots and are very clearly Christian in their worldview, so I suppose that qualifies me to speak as a Christian romance writer. In my opinion, it’s vital for the author to connect with the readers regardless of genre, although I think I understand the reasoning behind the question. Christian romance has been accepted as a genre for far longer than Christian-based fantasy has, so perhaps fantasy writers do feel the need to connect to, and perhaps even educate, potential readers more than writers in other genres might. Still, in today’s highly competitive marketplace, connecting with the readers is a must-do for any writer hoping to sell to folks other than family, friends, and church members.

Breeden: There is a built-in community of sci-fi and fantasy readers out there, but the moment someone hears the term Christian sci-fi or Christian fantasy, they start getting skeptical. We have to really earn our place in that overall speculative fiction marketplace, so connecting with readers isn’t just important – it’s essential to your survival!

Strong: Personally, I believe it’s much more important. Christian Romance is well-known and somewhat predictable. Girl and Boy meet, they have some kind of adventure, they have a fight, they seek forgiveness from each other, they live happily ever after with Jesus at the center of their “cord of three strands.” Christian fantasy, however, is hardly predictable. It’s also, sometimes, depending on the author, hard to find the “Jesus” in the story. Being proactive about interacting with fans can also help bring the religious aspects of your book into greater focus. If your work is an allegory, for example, you can state it clearly on your site to help the readers understand the meaning behind the story.

I’d like to once again thank the writers for taking time out of their busy weeks to answer these questions. I think it’s clear that writers must step up and interact with readers in some way, shape, or form (although I don’t personally recommend responding to Amazon or Goodreads reviews given the bad rap several high-profile and very public writer meltdowns have given that venue of interaction). I also agree with the writers that Christian Fantasy in general requires more effort on part of the writer due to having a smaller audience than the more well-known offerings of Christian Romance, Christian Historical, etc. Our audience can’t grow if we don’t help plant the seeds and spread the word.

Note: Writer Q&A Thursday is currently experimental and will occur once a month. If you have specific questions you’d like to see answered, please submit them in the comments below or via my contact page. Fantasy authors, if you would like to have your name added to the list for future contributors to Writer Q&A, please let me know via my contact page or in the comments below.

 

Evan Atwood is a storyteller, who likes to use cameras and computers to tell interesting and compelling, true-to-life stories. He loves to focus the lens of the camera on someone to illuminate their great worth. Evan is the author of The Chosen Series, a story about a young veteran who returns from war in Afghanistan to find that he has been given a super power, one that he has been called to use for good, and not for evil, to save his city from an incurable disease that has crippled its infrastructure and its people’s souls. www.TheChosenStory.com

Traci Bonney is a writer, blogger, hoop dancer, jewelry maker, amateur photographer, yard sale stalker, fledgling entrepreneur and single Christian gal living in the hot and humid South. Her comedic fantasy series, The Portals Trilogy, explores what happens when a hula hoop and a wish shake up one Mississippi girl’s quiet college world. The first book, Step-Through, is tentatively scheduled for release in the spring of 2015.

Tony Breeden – I’m from West Virginia, home of the Mothman, the Flatwoods Monster and Gray Barker, who likely invented the Men in Black. I’ve been an avid sci-fi/fantasy/steampunk/monster/comic book fan all my life and I have a wonderful wife and four adventurous boys who share my geek fandom. My latest book is called Luckbane. Basically, it’s about what happens when a corporation offers players a chance to play their favorite sword, steam and sorcery game live and in-person on a terraformed alien world. I basically write the movies that play out in my head, so it’s an action-packed, genre-bending ride.

R.M. Strong has been writing for fun and profit (but mostly just for fun) since fifth grade. She has four books currently out, and a baby book due on November 15. Currently, she is working on an historical fiction of the biblical story of Exodus. She lives in Oregon with her husband, son, cat, dog, and 4-H guinea pigs. You can find out more on her website, http://rmstrongbooks.weebly.com

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Writer Q&A Thursday

Writing Adult Fantasy vs. YA Fantasy: Writer Q&A

In the wake of my last post on YA Fantasy and the original internet backlash prompted by one blogger’s scorn for YA, I thought it would be interesting to have some writers (two of whom currently have their books on the market) weigh in on several questions regarding writing Adult or YA Fantasy. My guests today are W. M. Beck Jr., Sophronia Belle Lyon, and A. D. Poole.

Why do you write Adult/YA Fantasy?

Beck: There is something in us that longs for the fantastic, the epic, the transcendent; we inherently feel that there is more to life than just what our five senses tell us. Writing fantasy allows me the artistic luxury of blurring the lines between the world I cannot see and the one I can. It is a space where I can make concrete that which is abstract.

In 2 Corinthians 10:5 Paul wrote: “We take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ.” For many years I thought of that scripture within the context of my own thoughts. Then one day, God showed me the larger context of what Paul was writing about there; he was talking about the thoughts of others. I asked the Lord to show me how I could possibly take other people’s thoughts captive, especially since I had such a difficult time taking my own captive. He took me to Matthew 13, where Jesus tells the parable of the sower. When the disciples asked Jesus why he was always telling stories, he answered by quoting a passage from Isaiah, saying, “For the hearts of these people are hardened, and their ears cannot hear, and they have closed their eyes–so their eyes cannot see, and their ears cannot hear, and their hearts cannot understand, and they cannot turn to me and let me heal them.”

When I put all of that together I came away with: “People’s hearts are hard, they cannot receive the truth outright. But if you capture their imagination you can soften their hearts and, in that moment, you can sow seed.”

That is why I write YA Fantasy. To sow seeds of truth.

Lyon: I write fantasy because I like to speculate on what might happen if things are a little different from reality. I write for adults because I deal with issues such as sexual slavery, human trafficking, and the upset of the moral order in society, which are not always suitable for younger readers.

Poole: I’ve been writing since I was a teenager but I had decided to write for adults by the time I was in college. Back then I hoped that mature kids could read my books, too (I read harder fiction such as classics as a teen), but more recent story concepts I’ve had I would recommend only for adult readers. I believe this goal of writing for adults is related to my goal to write for the secular market. As a kid and an adult, I’ve been frustrated at how hard it is to find adult fiction that isn’t filled with sex and profanity. I decided that as a writer, I would write that secular adult story that wasn’t full of sex and profanity to show that good action/adventure stories don’t require a roll in the mud. I wanted to be a light in a very dark market.

What appeals to you most about writing fantasy for your audience?

Beck: The YA age group has a much broader appetite for potential, I find. One of the basics of storytelling is to have relatable characters, and while older adults have many, and varied, experiences to draw upon, young adults view their lives much more through the lens of what might be, of who they wish to become. I like trading in potential. I like to dream.

The other side of that coin, however, is also the need for guidance in the lives of young adults as they walk that journey. In a society so saturated with media content, I think it is important to have an active presence in the ongoing cultural dialogue of our times. There needs to be a voice that shows a better way, that points to God, that presents choices and consequences in a way that is consistent with biblical truth. Inasmuch as I enjoy flights of fancy and wild imagination, the opportunity to impact the next generation is even more appealing.

When an adult tells me they liked the message of my books, despite the setting being a little “further out there” than they usually care for, that’s just gravy on top.

Lyon: I like a medieval type of setting because it minimizes the problems of more complex technology, the use of brand names, colloquial language, and other changeable things that might go out of date.

Poole: My love of writing fantasy used to have a lot to do with a love of creating my own civilizations, like playing Age of Empires only with far greater customization, hah! My interest in writing fantasy has shifted, though, as I most often write fantasy stories within historical real-world settings. One of the fascinating things about the main era I write, the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, people all over the world believed in a wide variety of fantastical creatures—they still retained sense of wonder and mystery in their Cosmos, even amidst the dawning of the Scientific Revolution and the beginnings of the modern nation-state system. Historical fantasy lets me explore what the world might have been like back then if such creatures really did exist.

What do you think the main difference is between writing Adult Fantasy vs YA Fantasy?

Beck: The main differences are the characters and the themes. I didn’t set out to write YA; I set out to write books that I would want to read. Somewhere along the way, however, I realized that the themes and characters I was working with were most applicable to the YA age group. That isn’t to say that adults don’t enjoy my work as well, but themes such as discovering your identity, or learning the value of relationships are life challenges more relevant to a young adult audience.

From a character standpoint, there are a few identifying traits that make characters relatable. Two of the most obvious are age and gender. Young Adults can generally relate to a character older than they are, since they can view the character as who they would like to become, but there should still be at least one main character that is the same relative age as they are. This enables them to experience the story from that character’s perspective, and thus have a more immersive experience.

Ultimately, a message is only as good as the people it reaches. While there is the part of me that dislikes over-categorizing and qualifying art, I also recognize the pragmatism of targeting a specific group with a specific message. Better to reach a few through being focused, than none through being indiscriminate.

Lyon: As I said in the first question, writing for adults allows more leeway in subject matter. It’s not the freedom to write porn or lurid violence or to use lots of bad language, but to explore topics that are best not presented to younger readers.

Poole: Ruth Graham’s recent article for Slate, “Against YA,” has triggered a heated debate in the blogosphere on the literary merits of YA and even groping to define what, exactly, YA is. Graham and those of her persuasion miss a timeless truth: good storytelling has no age limit. C.S. Lewis was an Oxford professor of Medieval literature but rather than donning the academic elitism currently in vogue, he stated in simple language that “a children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” Just what YA is has become a matter for debate, but it boils down to who the author’s target audience is. YA is naturally going to be about things that matter to young people, and young people are going to be drawn to characters their age. Yet many adults read YA unabashedly—once again, good storytelling has no age limit. Certain content may not be appropriate for younger readers, but the majority of adult fiction includes content that is not appropriate even for adults. Interestingly, while there’s both good and bad YA and adult fiction, it seems that the most creative fantasy ideas are found in YA while adult fantasy recycles safe archetypes.

Agents usually limit the fantasy submissions they are willing to represent to YA only. Would you explain, briefly, why you think this is so?

Beck: The publishing industry, like any other industry, is a commercial enterprise. Agents are in the business of selling stories and generating continued revenue off of them. Authors like Rowling and Myers have proven that what was once only marketed to a YA audience can also be voraciously consumed by an older one. Presenting a work in several markets is just good business as it gives the greatest exposure and thus greatest potential for sales.

While this may seem shallow, even offensive, to our artistic sensibilities, I feel it is actually a good thing. Commerce establishes the societal value of a thing, i.e. the value at which a thing is exchanged among a people group establishes its relative worth among them. By creating a high value for fiction, and thus art in general, we are thus creating the financial potential needed for artists to sustain themselves and continue to work on their art.

Lyon: Fantasy is more popular among younger readers. They often have more free time and more disposable income. Adults sometimes look at fantasy as childish or assume what is written will be too unrealistic to tempt them.  Some fantasy writers have very low standards for writing and are unappealing to grownups.

Poole: I haven’t yet had any experience with agents, but the fact that YA books tend to be fantasy (and is thus a crowded market for competition) and that the literary police look down on YA as inherently inferior reading material may be contributing factors. This is only my speculation, however.

What is one thing you hope your readers will take away from your writing?

Beck: I want readers to know that our God is so much bigger and greater than our ability to perceive. There is a quote by H. P. Lovecraft that I am fond of where he talks about how we become “dull and prosaic from the poison of life.” He’s right in that our accumulated experiences, with all of the hurt and damage that come along with them, have a way of shaping us into a mode of banal self-preservation. When we only focus on what is directly around us we eventually stop dreaming; we begin to believe that this world we see really is the sum total of life.

But that is not the truth.

The truth is that we have a Father who created all things and sent his son to die for us so that we might live. The truth is that through a saving relationship with Jesus we are reconciled to the source of all things, an infinite God of infinite power and glory who fellowships with us and sends his spirit to abide in us. The truth is that for those of us who are his children, the best is yet to come and will remain eternally.

Lyon: The world is overwhelmed by secularism. God is not in all their thoughts. Satan has inroads everywhere. It’s past time to try to restore godly moral order and reverence for the Word.

Poole: When my readers reach those final words, “The End,” it is my wish that they had been taken on an adventure while having something to think about after the book is put back on the shelf. I hope, too, that God will use my stories to draw others to Christ.

I’d like to once again thank the writers for taking time out of their busy weeks to answer these questions. I think it’s clear that content has a very large role in what makes a fantasy YA or Adult, even more so than the age of the protagonists. As Christians, we have to hold our work up to a high standard – Does it honor God and does it point my readers in some way or form toward God? This shouldn’t vary whether our targeted audience is the adults (secular and Christian) or the pre-teens and teens.

Note: Writer Q&A Thursday is currently experimental and will occur once a month. If you have specific questions you’d like to see answered, please submit them in the comments below or via my contact page. Fantasy authors, if you would like to have your name added to the list for future contributors to Writer Q&A, please let me know via my contact page or in the comments below.

W. M. Beck, Jr. is a pastor, author, husband, father and nerd. He lives in Spring City, PA with his wife, six children, four cats and a dog. When he’s not tending to any of those things, he spends most of his time inside his imagination. He writes the Marlebonne Tales series, which chronicles the lives of Animals living in the post-apocalyptic, steampunk Kingdom of Marlebonne—a place where colorful characters abound, the fantastic is frequent, and anything is possible. Visit him at www.wmbeckjr.com

The first book in the series, A Light in the Dark, is available on Amazon.

As Sophronia Belle Lyon, I drink tea, create mechanicals, shoot when I can, travel widely, and write Steampunk Literary Tributes. My husband is the genius who inspires my never say die heroes and inventors. A Dodge, a Twist, and a Tobacconist is the first book in the Alexander Legacy series. Characters from classic 1800s novels band together to fight human trafficking and the rise of an empire of slaves and masters determined to turn the social order into a web of deceit, domination, and debauchery. They combine steam and gear technology with families, friendship, faith, and fortitude.

A. D. Poole – Scholar, swordsman, and scribe for the King of Kings. I write historical fantasy tales of courageous cavaliers and redeemed rogues. In the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), I study Italian rapier combat and portray a Renaissance German mercenary officer under the name Melchior von Wolfsburg. If you’re looking for an editor for your manuscript I’d be glad to help! Check out my editing page at http://www.illuminatedmarginalia.weebly.com for more details. You can also follow me on Twitter @writeradpoole or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/writeradpoole or contact me via email at IlluminatedMarginalia@yahoo.com