Breaking The Rules

For anybody not involved in the world of publishing, you might be surprised to know just how many rules there are when it comes to writing and publishing books.

There are rules about the length of a book:

  • Historical novels must contain around 100,000 words.
  • Fantasy novels must contain more words than the Bible.
  • A cozy mystery can be short, but a regular mystery must be long.

There are rules about plotlines:

  • Particular publishers don’t allow time machines to be used for time travel. Obviously standing stones are permitted.
  • Mysteries should not contain the supernatural – those are two different genres. Hmmm. Wouldn’t the X Files qualify as mystery and supernatural?
  • Romance novels absolutely, positively, without question, must have a HEA – or for those not in the business, a “Happily ever after.” Never mind that Casablanca and Gone With the Wind are classified as romance….

There are rules about what writers are allowed to write:

  • Romance writers can write in any subgenre—mystery, suspense, paranormal, historical, etc., but general fiction writers in any of those categories aren’t supposed to have a lot of romance.
  • Authors should not bounce between genres. I guess nobody ever told that to mega-bestselling author, James Patterson.
  • Children’s writers should write for children only, and adult writers should write for adults only. Again, James is breaking the rules.

There are even rules about the specifics of writing.

  • Fiction writing can contain phrases or even single words as whole sentences. Wow. Interesting. Got it? And fiction writers can begin sentences with conjunctions. And end them with adverbs, usually. Or with prepositions.
  • The POV (point of view) must be held by only one person at a time. You’re either reading the book from the POV of the antagonist, the protagonist, or the narrator. And switching between more than three POVs is a death knell. Sorry, Maeve Binchey – all those awards you’ve won should be taken away.
  • And never, ever, switch back and forth between POVs. Did you get that, Nora Roberts?

And the rules go on and on and on. In fact, there are so many rules that it’s nearly impossible for an author to keep track of them all. Some authors live by and insist on following all rules. Others bend the rules, and others, like the ones mentioned above, just throw the rules out the window. Which is fine with me. Just fine. Because I hate rules. I hate rules as much as I hate labels

When I sit down to write, I just write. My characters dictate the action, and the actions dictate the genre. I don’t want to follow rules. I just want to tell a story, and if that story doesn’t quite fit in with whatever the rules are, who cares? As long as the story is good, isn’t that all that matters?

Unfortunately, it’s not. Every time I publish a book, I must choose a specific genre, and for romance, a subgenre. In order to belong to many writing associations, a writer must declare that she write books only tailored to a particular audience. I recently spoke with a blogger who was shocked that men actually read my books. “Aren’t you a romance writer?” he asked. Ugh! Why the label? Why can’t I just be a writer? Why can’t I just write fiction? I get that readers have propensities toward certain types of books, but more and more I’m hearing from people who simply like to read good books, regardless of the genre.

So, I’m just going to say it. I’m going to admit something that will cause many of my colleagues to cringe. I am a writer. Period. I write the way I want to write. My stories unfold in the way they are meant to unfold. I don’t set out to write romance, or mystery, or suspense. I set out to entertain. I’ve spoken with other writers who balk at this notion. “You can’t bounce around like James Patterson unless you are James Patterson,” I’ve been told. To which I ask, why not? I’m often told that readers simply won’t continue to read my books if I don’t stick to one genre and follow all the rules. I beg to differ. Perhaps I’m wrong about that. Perhaps I am driving the nails in my own coffin, but I don’t think so. My readers seem happy with my books, no matter what genre I am forced into, so I don’t plan on changing my attitude or my style. I just wish it was easier to get my books out there without having to tow the line.

If you are a writer, I’d like to hear your thoughts. How do you feel about genres and labels?

If you are a reader, I’d love to know what you think as well. What draws you toward a particular book or author?

As for me, I must be going. I have work to do on my next novel. I’m not sure yet what the final genre will be or what rules I might break, and I really don’t care. I think I’m in pretty good company on that. James, Nora, don’t you agree?

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What I was writing about one year ago this week: Finding Joy in the Most Unlikely Places.

Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture Me and Whispering Vines, are recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top three inspirational fiction books of 2015 and 2016. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016. Amy followed up her success with, Island of Miracles, which has outsold all of her other books worldwide and ranked as high 600 on Amazon. Her next children’s book, The Greatest Gift, is now available. Amy’s novel, Summer’s Squall, is on pre-sale and will be released on December 1, 2017.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor, Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschislerand at http://amyschislerauthor.com.

Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017)

Guest Blog – Lessons from a Teenage Entrepreneur

This morning, 18-year-old Katie Schisler, would like to share what she has learned by running her own business. I’m sure you will enjoy the wit, wisdom, and advice.

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When I was 13 years old, I started working as an employee at my family’s snow cone stand in the resort town of St. Michael’s, Maryland. I am now 18, and for the last two years, I have been running the stand as my own business. I handle all of the financials and hire my own employees. I also still work at the stand myself. Here are 5 things that I have learned as a young, small business owner.

1. Conversation skills.

Tips are a huge deal. That is the only money that you make that goes straight into your pocket (I do pay myself and my employees, but tips are walk-away-with cash). So how do you maximize your tip amounts? You talk to your customers! With a smile that says, “I’m happy to help you,” it’s always nice to ask where they’re from and what brings them to the area. And if someone happens to say that they are a local, encourage them to come back, and tell them that you can’t wait to see them next time. Customers are much less likely to give a good tip to someone who is unfriendly, or acts like that is the last place they want to be. Extra tip: it also helps to wear a hat or t-shirt with the name of the college you plan to attend. It’s a real conversation starter, and you’d be amazed at how many people say they or their relatives went there.

2. The value of a dollar.

Everything costs money, and at the beginning of the season there is a good chance that you are going to be in debt. Whether you owe your grandfather money for buying you flavors and spoons, or you owe your only employee $8 an hour for a weekend where she only sold $30 worth of product, you are going to have expenses that you need to pay off. This is when you need to learn not to panic because some weekends will earn you a lot more than that. Also, everything adds up. If I were to sit here every weekend eating snow cone after snow cone, eventually I am going to run out of flavoring that no one was paying for.

3. Patience is a virtue.

As I write this, it’s already noon, and I have not made a single sale. Town had so many people in it while I was driving to work, so where is everyone and why don’t they want snow cones? I might as well close early. But then, as 1:30 rolls around, my first customer approaches me. He was eating lunch at noon and had decided to wait until after lunch to come get snow cones for dessert. By the time that customer is finished paying, I have another customer waiting in line behind them. Before I know it, the line is halfway down the sidewalk. After that, it begins to slow down a bit, but customers still trickle in until closing time. Closing early is only worth it on days when it is raining no matter how bored you are.

4. You form relationships.

I live in a tourist town, so a good amount of my customers are tourists. However, ever since we opened all those years ago, we have had a small amount of locals who have followed us from Talbot Street to the Maritime Museum to our current location on Willow Street. Whether it’s “The Chocolate Guy” or “The Egg Custard Lady,” I can always count on seeing a familiar face during my day at work. Other than occasionally seeing them at Church, I really didn’t know these people before I started this business. This kind of support is what encourages me to keep coming to work every weekend.

5. It’s really not THAT bad.

Yes, on days that I have work, it is very hard to get me out of bed. But with an occasional groan and grumble about how much I don’t want to go, I get up and go to work. In all honesty, there is nothing bad about working during the day; I actually really enjoy it. The dread, however, comes from the before and after of the job. Every morning I have to lift heavy coolers full of Ice into my car, put the full flavor bottles in my car, drive to work, drag out the stand, move the coolers and flavors onto the stand, and do the tedious job of making the counter look presentable. Then, at the end of the day, I have to put the coolers back in the car, put everything that was on the counter away, make sure everything is clean, put the flavors in the car, drag the stand back to where we keep it, go home, then then refill all of the flavor bottles. THAT is what I dread every morning when I wake up for work. Like I said, working here is actually kind of nice once everything is set up. I thoroughly enjoy interacting with the customers, and when I have no customers it’s nice to sit in the sun and read a book. I just have to push through the annoying jobs that come before and after working.

So, if you or your child is thinking of starting a serious, worth-while and sustainable business, go ahead! Encourage your kids to get out of bed and go to work. There’s nothing like being your own boss, and the responsibility they will learn from it will help them for the rest of their lives.

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What I was writing about one year ago this week: To All the Muses in My Life.

Things I’ve read this week that are worth sharing:  Had a Job Interview but No Callback? Here’s What to Do Next Time;  Interview: The husband of Chiara Corbella on his wife’s sacrifice and possible canonization.

Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages.  She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture Me  and Whispering Vines, are recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top three inspirational fiction books of 2015 and 2016. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016. Amy’s most recent novel, Island of Miracles, is now on sale.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor, Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and at http://amyschislerauthor.com.

Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me(2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017)

Advice From the Desk of A Writer

10371504_1493211267560036_1559440155953801216_nThis February marks fifteen months since my first novel was accepted by a publisher.  Oh my, how much I have learned between then and now!  Since A Place to Call  Home was released last August, I have been asked countless times what advice could I give to aspiring writers.  I love how so many of the bestselling authors say things like “write every day,” or “just keep typing away and submitting,” or “you can do it if you work hard.”  Sure, all of those things are great, but here’s the reality: I could write a whole new book just on my experiences over the past fifteen months and what I have learned.  And believe me, I’m still learning.  Every day I read or hear something new that I think, I should do that, or remember that, or look into that.  So here are some things that I have learned that I hope will help others.  Feel free to comment below to open a dialogue on what YOU have learned.

  •   Don’t rely on anyone else’s word that your final copy is without editing flaws, even your editor’s.  People make mistakes, and so do computers.  Read every word before you give the okay to print, or, better yet, have a professional proofreader read every word.  I really learned this the hard way.
  •   Marketing your book is up to you and you alone.  Your agent or publicist may have some good ideas or point you in a certain direction, but you will need to set aside an entire day once a week to market your book.  And marketing means everything from writing a blog to contacting booksellers to entering contests.  Some weeks, one day isn’t enough, and some weeks, that day might be spent in your car driving from one bookstore to another.
  •   Never stop looking for ways to promote your book whether it has been out for a week, a month, or six months.  Until the next book hits the shelf, that book is your livelihood.  Even when you’re at the point where you secretly hate that book because it won’t go away and you want to move on, keep promoting it.  Later in life, you may look back and realize it was the best relationship you ever had, a stepping stone to greater things to come.
  •   Learn to self-promote.  For some, including myself, that’s so very hard to do.  At first, my parents sold more of my books than I did.  And why should that surprise anyone?  Parents brag about their children their entire lives.  Writers need to learn to brag a little about themselves, too.  I’ll admit that I’m still working on that one….
  •   Choose book signings wisely.  Yes, every public appearance you make gets your name and face out there, but is every public appearance worth doing?  I’ve done signings where I am speaking to people and signing books constantly, and I’ve done ones where I’ve sat and stared into space all day without seeing a single soul.  While you can never predict what will work and what won’t, do some research, talk to other authors, figure out when and where the successful signings take place and take advantage of those.  But don’t overlook a great opportunity to network. The last signing I did was at a local library. We had a few dozen people wander in and out, and each of us sold two or three books, but I made some wonderful new contacts who have given me invaluable advice.
  •   Network, network, network.  Oh, yeah, and don’t forget to network.  There is so much to be learned from other authors and people in the industry.  Reach out to them, follow them on Twitter, talk to them at conferences (GO to conferences).  You will always come away with something useful as well as a contact you can go to when you need advice.
  •   Never dismiss anything as not being something worth writing about.  I keep notes of anything and everything that comes to mind that might be useful in a book.  Very often, while writing, something that I jotted down comes back to me and fits perfectly into whatever scenario I’m working on at that moment.
  •   And yes, write every day.  Dean Koontz says he writes 12 hours a day!  I’ve read that Sandra Brown writes at least an hour, seven days a week.  James Patterson puts in a full eight hour day every week.  Perhaps you aren’t able to do that at this point in your life (I know I’m not, but I’m getting there), but whatever time you can take to write, take it.  The biggest thing I have learned is that the more I write, the better my writing is.

What can you add?

Amy Schisler is an author of mystery and suspense novels.  Her first book, A Place to Call Home may be purchased in stores, online, and through ibooks.  Her previously published children’s book, Crabbing With Granddad may be purchased in stores and on Amazon.

https://amyschislerauthor.com/amyschislerauthor.com/Books.html You may follow Amy at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor on Twitter @AmySchislerAuth and on her web site http://amyschislerauthor.com