Tag: guest post

Guest Post: Loren Rhoads – Is Your Character a Mary Sue?

Unleaded: Fuel for Writers is pleased to host Loren Rhoads as our Guest Blogger for Friday, October 30th, 2015. Loren’s first book in a space opera trilogy, The Dangerous Type, was published by Night Shade Books in July. The series will be completed by Kill By Numbers (September 1) and No More Heroes (November 3) before the end of 2015. Loren’s blog post for us is about the eponymous “Mary Sue.” Authors are accused of using “Mary Sue” protagonists as proxies for a form of “wish-fulfillment” – beautiful, smart, skilled. In short, too perfect to be “real” for the purposes of the reality of the book. Loren gives us her view. Take a read and then let us know what you think.

Is Your Character a Mary Sue?

One of the sharpest criticisms leveled against female characters written by women is that the heroines are Mary Sues: unbelievably perfect women who are beautiful, smart, competent, and can do no wrong. Because men apparently never write about genius billionaire playboy philanthropists (Tony Stark) or Star Fleet captains who woo all the girls (James T. Kirk) or ageless madmen traveling the universe in Police Boxes who are too cool to use an actual name (the Doctor).

The term Mary Sue dates back to Paula Smith’s parody “A Trekkie’s Tale,” published in 1973 in her fanzine Menagerie #2. Only 15 and a half, Lt. Mary Sue is one of the youngest officers ever to serve aboard the Enterprise. In fact, she wins the Nobel Peace Prize and the Vulcan Order of Gallantry, among other awards, for taking command of the ship when the chief officers are stricken after an away mission. They all gather at her deathbed to cry over her passing.

Now, there is a “helpful” online quiz to check if your character is a Mary Sue. Some of the issues it attacks are double-edged swords. In real life, everyone has noticed that when they enter a relationship with someone, the object of affection is perceived as more attractive than he or she may actually be. If a POV character describes the protagonist of your story as beautiful – or pretty or striking or anything other than plain or average – is that a case of the author inflating the appearance of her self-identified character or is it actually good characterization of the POV personality?

Mary-Sue-buttonIf the author gives the main character a name that shares a starting letter with her own name, is that because names tend to have a limited number of starting letters? If a character has an exotic name, is that wish fulfillment on the part of the author or simply admiration of the Chrysanthemums, Jadas, and Saorises of the world?

If the character seems to have exotic skills or to be extremely competent, does that mean that the author is projecting – or that, as in the case of Raena Zacari and her lethal killing skills, it’s all the character knows? One of the criticisms aimed at my space opera trilogy is that the crew of the Veracity are skilled at their jobs: which they obviously would be, since they were chosen for that exact reason. It seems weird to me that competence would be viewed as a negative feature in an action story.

Then again, almost every female character has been charged with being a Mary Sue, from Bella Swan to Rose Tyler to Buffy Summers to Katniss Everdeen. It almost seems as if critics would prefer to only read about masculine heroes who are strong, competent, romantically irresistible…say, someone like James Bond?

To be honest, all the characters in my novel Kill By Numbers have a little piece of me in them: Gavin reflects my struggles with addiction; Coni depicts my fascination with legal personhood; Raena shares my insomnia.

The Mary Sue is not the skinny, muscular assassin depicted on the cover of the first book with silver hair like mine. (Because, of course, I didn’t have any say over the cover image and Raena’s hair, throughout the series, remains black.) The Mary Sue of the series is Mykah Chen, the African Chinese pirate journalist. I don’t imagine any of the trilogy’s reviewers will ever guess that.

Of all the people in my trilogy, the one closest to me in reality is Mykah, who got elected captain of the Veracity because no one else wanted the job. He’s a journalism graduate whose ideals were too high to accept an entry-level job in his field of study (like your humble narrator). He worked in food service (ditto) before he ran away to become a pirate. (Well, I haven’t become a pirate yet, but I am trying to raise my daughter to be one.) Mykah aspires to use storytelling to change the galaxy. That’s me in a nutshell.

I think it’s important – probably even obligatory – that your characters embody parts of your personality. It falls under the command to “write what you know.” I think it’s equally important for you to stretch what you know about people, borrowing both from people you know and those you’d like to, as you create your characters.

Don’t let anyone tell you they are Mary Sues.


Loren Rhoads photoLoren Rhoads is the author of The Dangerous Type, Kill By Numbers, and No More Heroes — the In the Wake of the Templars trilogy — all published by Night Shade Books in 2015. You can find out more at www.lorenrhoads.com.

Guest Post: Gail Z. Martin – Writing an Epic #Fantasy Series

Gail Z MartinUnleaded: Fuel for Writers is pleased to host Gail Z. Martin as our Guest Blogger for Friday, October 31st, 2014, as part of her Day of the Dead Series.  And my apologies for being late in getting this up on the website!.  Gail was kind enough to give us a truly “epic” post on writing epic fantasy (pun intended). Obviously, from the tone of the piece you can tell Gail really enjoys writing epic fantasy.  There are some great tidbits of in here about what it takes to make fantastic epic world-spanning story and a little reminder of why so many of us love this specific genre.

Writing an Epic Fantasy Series

Big fat fantasy. Chihuahua killers. Bricks. Whatever you call them, epic fantasies are sprawling, complicated, richly detailed and, well, thick.

What does it take to create an epic fantasy world? How is the world building different from other types of fantasy. And how the heck do you keep a huge cast of characters and a plot that might span continents or generations straight?

Welcome to the world of epic fantasy. I fell in love with epic fantasy when I read Lord of the Rings, and then the Mary Stuart books about Merlin and Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni series. The size of the books were one of the drawing points. I liked the fact that the world in the books felt big enough to move around in, filled with surprises, with plenty to explore. Or, as I often explain on panels at conventions, urban fantasy lets you move in with a rollerbag suitcase. Epic fantasy lets you move in with a steamer trunk and stay a while.

Creating an epic fantasy world means that you, the author, get to move in before anyone else and find your way around. You decide the time period, the level of technology, the type of trade and commerce, the system of government—plenty of details that will ultimately affect your plot and characters. The world building in epic fantasy is more demanding because you’re usually creating the world from scratch. Sure, you may loosely base your story on a real-world war or dynasty, but by virtue of being epic fantasy and not alternative history, you get to make up how your world works.

World building for epic fantasy usually also involves magic. You get to set the rules for how your magical system works, who has magic and who doesn’t, and what the cost is for using magic. You might get to invent religions, gods and goddesses as well, and figure out what role these play for your characters and in how your world is set up. If there are supernatural creatures like elves, ghosts, vampires, shapeshifters, witches, or mages, it’s up to you to figure out where they live, what relationship they have with your characters, and what connection they have to your plot.

Epic books are “epic” because of their scope. These aren’t drawing room dramas. To be a true epic fantasy, the story usually involves a threat to one or more kingdoms, requires big magic and big battles, and has larger-than-life characters as its heroes and villains. Not only is this a challenge with the amount and detail of world building, but it also requires a lot of people to fill up that world. Epic fantasy tends to focus on an ensemble cast, where there is a main character and an inner circle of prominent secondary characters (think about The Fellowship of the Ring), and then there are the servants, inn keepers, soldiers, guards, and others who fill out the world and make it feel real and inhabited.

Most epic fantasy authors have some kind of system that works for them to keep it all straight. Some people compile huge binders full of history, character sheets and descriptions. Others develop lists to make sure names get spelled right and physical characteristics like hair and eye color don’t switch back and forth. There’s no wrong way to develop your system, so long as it works for you.

As for the plot, if you’re planning from the start for the story to span multiple books, start out by creating an outline for the major story arc, the one that will require several books to resolve. For example, in Lord of the Rings, destroying the One Ring was the major story arc. But each of the books had their own arc as well. The Fellowship of the Ring was about identifying the threat and deciding to destroy the ring, and then creating the small group charged with that task. The Two Towers focused on the dangers along the way, the breaking of the Fellowship and Frodo’s choice to head for Mordor with Sam, and the gathering of allies and enemies. The Return of the King was the story of the multiple fronts of the war against Sauron as well as Frodo’s journey into Mount Doom and the aftermath.

You have to know where your grand tale ultimately needs to end up in order to properly plan out the journey. Having a clear idea of the end result will help you find the natural segments to split the big story into several smaller portions, each with their own arc yet part of the whole. Unlike in urban fantasy, where a main character may have a series of stand-alone adventures that are often loosely linked together, multi-book epic fantasy series tend to tell a single main story that carries over from book to book. That’s why it’s so important to have the end of your story in mind before you start, so that you can lay the foundation, create foreshadowing and build toward a big denouement.

For me, writing epic fantasy is fun because it gives you the chance to mentally settle into a story and live there for a while. A big thick book will provide company for several night’s reading, while a shorter book might be finished in an evening. In a sense, epic fantasy is the reading equivalent of binge-watching a favorite series, because once you get into the story, you don’t have to leave for a long time!

My Days of the Dead blog tour runs through October 31 with never-before-seen cover art, brand new excerpts from upcoming books and recent short stories, interviews, guest blog posts, giveaways and more! Plus, I’ll be including extra excerpt links for stories and books by author friends of mine. And, a special 50% off discount from Double-Dragon ebooks! You’ve got to visit the participating sites to get the goodies, just like Trick or Treat! Details here: www. AscendantKingdoms.com

Trick or Treat: Enjoy an excerpt from The Summoner, Book One in my Chronicles of the Necromancer series here: http://www.ascendantkingdoms.com/books/chronicles-of-the-necromancer/the-summoner/the-summoner-chapter-one-2/

And a bonus excerpt from Bounty Hunter, one of my Jonmarc Vahanian Adventure short stories here: http://www.ascendantkingdoms.com/short-stories-and-more/the-jonmarc-vahanian-adventures/bounty-hunter/excerpt-from-bounty-hunter/

And a second bonus excerpt from The Cauldron by my friend Jean Rabe here: http://www.wattpad.com/story/21546241-the-cauldron-by-jean-rabe


Guest Post: Denny Upkins – Are We Having Fun Yet? #writing

West of Sunset by Denny UpkinsUnleaded: Fuel for Writers is pleased to host Denny Upkins as our Guest Blogger for Monday, April 28th, 2014.  (And my apologies for being late in getting this up and on the website!) Denny’s sophomore title, West of Sunset, will be released April 30, 2014 by Parker Publishing!  That’s in TWO DAYS!!!!

Denny was kind enough to give us a fun post about staying motivated about one’s writing. Obviously, from the tone of the piece you can tell Denny loves it!  He’s given us a detailed list of the things he does to keep going, but more importantly, to keep enjoying what we’ve chosen to spend time on.  Writing is often a solo affair.  It is lonely and for many folks requires sacrificing family time, time with friends, television, video games, even sleep (I particularly like sleep).

About the book itself, West of Sunset can best be summed up as young gay wizard detectives, witchy heroines, vampire biker gangs, all colliding during a vacation in Los Angeles. And that’s just one half of the book!

From Denny:

Full disclosure time.

When I learned about this page and began brainstorming on guest post ideas, I geeked out with excitement. I love the idea behind this website as staying motivated about writing is an issue I’m all too familiar with. So trust me when I say that having the opportunity to discuss and share my experiences and techniques with fellow bards is a real treat for me. Hopefully this post will be entertaining and beneficial for each of you. As is the standard with any advice I offer, take whatever you can utilize and disregard the rest.

Are We Having Fun Yet?

Early in my writing career, I made the mistake of forsaking fun for my prose. I wasn’t invested in the short stories I wrote. Don’t get me wrong, they were well structured and  well-written but because these characters were one-offs and not players in the universes I intended on investing in and developing a series around……the stories lacked my enthusiasm/passion/soul or what you.

In my defense, I was a fledgling writer at the time and I was testing the waters of the submissions and publishing process. But before I knew it, writing was becoming as unpleasant as my day job and worse, I wasn’t being paid for it.

That’s when I made a solemn rule. I will not write a story unless I’m having the most fun possible. If the concept of the plot or the characters don’t have my muse and my inner geek excited to a fever pitch, I’m not wasting my time. That concept can range from misadventures in babysitting that led to my audio short, Stranger Than Fiction; a retelling/homage of the Great Gatsby which was one of the key themes of my debut YA paranormal mystery, Hollowstone; a re-imagining and exploration of Richard Corey as a young gay black wizard such as my hero Brecken Everett in my upcoming novel West of Sunset.

An original story I’m developing now begs the question as to what would happen if Regina Mills/The Evil Queen from TV’s Once Upon A Time crossed paths with DC Comic’s Cassandra Cain. By no means am I exaggerating when I say I’m having a party.

Allowing myself to be a kid is not an easy feat for me. A precocious old soul, my parents used to constantly tell me that I was 16 going on 50 and I needed to learn to loosen up. I have it on good authority, those conversations never happen with teenagers. However in the process of discovering my inner kid, said fun and magic translated over into my work and by extension, to my readers.

The Soundtrack of Our Lives

Not only is The Soundtrack of Our Lives a  punned title and segue  into the next topic I’m going to discuss, but they’re also a great band. If you aren’t familiar with their music, I highly recommend you check them out.

One of my rituals before starting a story or while writing one is composing a soundtrack from my iTunes library. Despite the fact that I can’t play an instrument to save my life, I love music.

From Johnny Cash to Michael and Janet to Kasabian, to Ladytron, to Beethoven, to 2Cellos, to Janelle Monae, to the Prodigy, to Sloan to the New Pornographers to the Dandy Warhols and countless other acts, their art fuels mine.

Music can often convey ideas, emotional content, and stories when even words fail. In West of Sunset, there’s a very intimate scene where Brecken and his buddy Owen have an intense dance. That scene was inspired by the Smithereens’ classic track, The Last Good Time.

Feel free to Google it. I’ll wait. Go ahead. It’s totally worth it.

When Hollowstone was released, I repeatedly mentioned that Moon by the Kaiser Chiefs was the perfect theme song for the novel.

When I released the trailer for the novel, NIN’s A Warm Place fit the bill for the teaser.

But since seeing and hearing is believing, have a gander at the book trailer.

The Inspiration That Is Life

With West of Sunset I definitely pulled from real life. For instance in the first half of the story, there’s a “gentleman’s wager” that’s based on a pool my college roommates had going in regards to which one of them I would come out of the closet to, first.

When my best friend Will and I get together, either he’s usually getting me into trouble or I’m getting him into trouble. And in those very rare instances where we’re both being very well behaved Christian Southern gents, trouble finds us both. Suffice it to say, the two of us vacationing in Los Angeles without any adult supervision was an epic for the ages that provided a lot of inspirational source material that I used in West of Sunset. However, some of our hijinks were too far fetched even for an urban fantasy novella so I thought it best to keep with the more realistic stuff, wizard detectives, vampire biker gangs, angelic demon hunters and witchy heroines.

Yes, much more realistic, you read that correctly. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Don’t you judge me.  😉

Cross The Streams

Okay, show of hands, how many of you have are in the process of developing your own universe where a series of your stories take place? Come on. Don’t be shy. Raise em up and represent. How many of you have two or more universes/series created or in the works. Very awesome.

By crossing the streams, I’m not just making a Ghostbuster’s reference but I’m also referring to crossovers.

Worlds collide in West of Sunset when Brecken teams up the Phoenix twins and later with Violet, all of whom are key protagonists in three separate series and universes I’m developing.  For me, the writer, it was a treat for the same reason someone enjoys Angel making a cameo on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Spider-Man and Storm teaming up for an adventure in a comic book, or seeing two of the Avengers appear on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

And speaking of all things Marvel, I feel the need to say something very important here.



One of my favorite exercises, dreamcasting is where I share who would be my ideal picks to portray the players of my novel in the hypothetical live-action adaptation. This often gets very interesting for me because how I envision the characters in my mind while writing the characters and the actors portraying them can sometimes be vastly different and it sort of creates a sister universe of my own source material.

If that was surreal for you to read, imagine how it is for me typing this out.

Another added benefit of dreamcasting is that it helps the readers to envision the characters and when you’re promoting your latest project, it gets them uber stoked.

An example:  http://dennisupkins.wordpress.com/2014/03/22/west-of-sunset-dramatis-personae/


The idea of defining your brand or pitching your story can seem like a daunting task but I’ve found that when you get creative and have fun with the process, not only does it make you even more excited about your work but it can boost your confidence about your craft and your career overall.

As a gay writer of color who analyzes diversity in media and is an equal rights advocate, I’m well aware that my identity and my brand makes me marketable to a huge potential audience that the  mainstream (read: white) industry continues to ignore and denigrate. Because I’m serving a cause that is bigger than me (diversity and progressiveness), I’m motivated to give my 100 percent in all of my work and to promote and fight for it. Why? Because I understand what it means to read a book that has a sympathetic protagonist that looks like you and shares your identity, be you a woman of color, a trans person, an individual with disabilities, or any other minority.

The greatest motivator for me is when a PoC tells me they couldn’t put the book down and want to buy my other work or when a gay person thanks me for giving them a champion. Upon hearing that, I can’t  grab the pen and the pad and return to the lab fast enough.

Picture This

Much in the same way that dreamcasting aids readers in visualizing the characters for your saga, I’ve found that creating a digital photo album, be it one on iCloud or a Pinterest board, aids me in visualizing the world, the protagonists, and the ideas and emotions I want to communicate with the audience. The photo can be of any person, place, thing, or even an abstract expression. The only requisite is that it encapsulates a theme, emotion,or idea that aids me in visualizing my story in its proper tone and context.

Doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else, as long as it makes sense to me, that’s all that matters. Not only does that keep me jazzed about working and writing but when loyal and inquisitive fans follow you on Pinterest and see your process, they often encourage you even more with their questions and comments.

The End of The Race Is Only The Beginning

The biggest confidence booster and motivator for me is finishing a story. Doesn’t matter how bad it is or how many revisions I may have to do. I set out to accomplish a task and I did that very thing. That is a fact that cannot be undone.

By completing this journey, I know the highs, the lows and  intricacies of my writing process and possess a better insight in achieving maximum efficiency when I embark on my next project.

And embark I shall.

That’s the thing about journeys once I finish one, I’m left with a hunger to embark on another one, pen a more epic fantastical tale, with the goal of this work one being superior to my last.

The end? Far from it. I’m only getting started. 😉

Author Bio (from his website):

Denny UpkinsDennis R. Upkins was born and raised in Nashville, TN. A voracious reader, a lifelong geek and a hopeless comic book addict, he knew at an early age that storytelling was his calling.

Receiving an academic scholarship, Upkins graduated from the University of TN at Chattanooga with a BA in English. After working as a reporter for a local newspaper for a few years, he moved from Tennessee and relocated to Atlanta, GA where he procured a BFA in media arts & animation from the Art Institute of Atlanta.

In 2011, his debut novel, Hollowstone, was released by Parker Publishing. His upcoming title, West of Sunset is also scheduled to be released by Parker Publishing.

In addition to writing, Upkins has worked as a freelance artist and a digital photographer. His artwork and short stories have appeared in a number of publications, most notably Drops of Crimson. And his audio short, Stranger Than Fiction, can be found at Sniplits.

Upkins regularly critiques and analyzes the representation and portrayal of minorities in comics and media and has served as a contributor for Ars Marginal, Black Girl Dangerous,  Prism Comics and Nashville Geek Life.

In an effort to help enlighten society about the cultures of the African diaspora and promote a more accurate and positive image ,  Upkins launched the Black Folks Being Awesome initiative in 2013.

When he’s not out saving the world and/or taking it over in his spare time, Upkins’s hobbies include drawing, modeling, acting, photography, rollerblading, martial arts and of course writing.

Dennis R. Upkins books are available at:

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Dennis-R.-Upkins-Jr./e/B0054TVMN6/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1399820988&sr=8-1

Parker Publishing: http://www.parker-publishing.com/


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Guest Post: Tee Morris – Your Great Book Tour: It’s Gonna Cost You

DEL-coverUnleaded: Fuel for Writers is pleased to host Tee Morris as our Guest Blogger for Monday, March 24th, 2014.  Dawn’s Early Light: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel will be released tomorrow!  Tee was kind enough to give us some great insight from his own painful lessons. Book tours always sound so glamorous and who doesn’t love attending conventions? Fun, camaraderie, and hey, this is my job!  Right? Tee has some pretty sober commentary on what it is really like, and some tips on other, less pricey, means of connecting. Stay tuned and check out the giveaways at the end. And because we couldn’t resist, we had to give you a taste of the book before his guest post.

Working for the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, one sees innumerable technological wonders. But even veteran agents Braun and Books are unprepared for what the electrifying future holds…

After being ignominiously shipped out of England following their participation in the Janus affair, Braun and Books are ready to prove their worth as agents. But what starts as a simple mission in the States—intended to keep them out of trouble—suddenly turns into a scandalous and convoluted case that has connections reaching as far as Her Majesty the Queen.

Even with the help of two American agents from the Office of the Supernatural and the Metaphysical, Braun and Books have their work cut out for them as their chief suspect in a rash of nautical and aerial disasters is none other than Thomas Edison. Between the fantastic electric machines of Edison, the eccentricities of MoPO consultant Nikola Tesla, and the mysterious machinations of a new threat known only as the Maestro, they may find themselves in far worse danger than they ever have been in before…

Your Great Book Tour: It’s Gonna Cost You

We’re only in the third month of 2014 and I’m struggling to get back into a routine. This year is a not only a year of change, but of new books, new possibilities, and leaps of faith. Everyone around me is telling me to cut myself a break but the reality is, just like staying in shape, I have to keep at this.

Just in this month alone, my wife of infinite awesome and I release Dawn’s Early Light: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel. Me. The Kiwi. Steampunk. The covers Ace created for the print and the audio are nothing short of beautiful. Then there is our appearance on James River Writers’ The Writing Show where we talk about being hybrid authors and how we get more estimated mileage out of our writing careers than some others. (See what I did there?) Then two days after that, Pip and I host a Master Class of Social Media for Writers.

All this is happening the week of Dawn’s Early Light’s release.

And did I mention that Pip and I launched a new business venture this month?

I need a nap.

2014 is a big step for me as a writer because I am dedicated to make this lifestyle a full-time one so I’m trying to take everything I have learned since 2002 when Morevi first rolled off the presses. One of the hardest lessons I learned over this decade-and-change of writing professionally is just how easy it is to find yourself in the red. Deep in the red. I’m not speaking of the red ink found in an editor’s pen, mind you, but the financial red of your bank account when it tells you in so many words that you—the professional author—are flat broke.

Between 2002 and 2004, I accrued over $30,000 of debt, and it took me just over five years to get myself out of that hole. An overwhelming majority of the debt was what I now look back on as a crazy gamble: book tours. I was, in those two years, averaging a convention appearance a month. This does not count the occasional bookstore and coffee shop signing. Some months, I stayed at home. Others, I had two cons back-to-back with one-night speaking events at libraries and colleges.

I am often reminded of just how tough it is to “give the people what they want” as tweets ask us when we would bring Eliza and Wellington to their neck of the woods. These tweets coming from the west (Washington), from the south (the Carolinas), and from points south AND west (Texas). We even have interest from across the Atlantic with WorldCon: London and EuroCon: Ireland.

But here’s the truth of it: Can we afford these trips? Right now, LonCon and Shamrokon are both uncertain.

With the hard financial lessons I’ve garnered over the years, I want to give new-and-upcoming authors and authors-to-be a realistic look at what taking Science Fiction and Fantasy on the road could cost you. The bills may vary based on who buys you lunch, how many visits you make to the bar (which for me is often), and how many rounds you feel like picking up at said bar. The costs for a book tour can quickly add up if you’re not paying attention.

The convention I’m using as the boilerplate is Philcon, Philadelphia’s premier Science Fiction and Fantasy convention, within driving distance of my home. Here is the breakdown of how much a weekend at Philcon costs:

    ▪       Gas: $38.00

    ▪       Tolls: $18.00

    ▪       Hotel: $273.70

    ▪       Food: $283.54

    ▪       Petty Cash: $60.00

    ▪       Grand Total: $673.24

Considering that Pip was with me, we ate in the hotel (with limited trips to the bar), and the hotel itself was reasonable. I’m sure we could have shaved off a few dollars here and there, but $600-700 for a con weekend within driving distance sounds about right. Factor in larger events (Balticon and Dragon*Con, for example) and you can easily tack on another $400-600 on that tab. Add in airfare ($225-500 per person) and now we’re doubling (or tripling) the amount.

Yes, I know—it’s a tax deduction, but that thinking contributed to serious financial trouble. While a book promotion is a deduction, I’m not getting all of it back. Only a piece of it.

I still believe that face time is extremely important to the author, especially those new to the market. However, it is more important to pay the bills, have a safety net in the bank, and make certain the roof you’re keeping over your head can be fixed at a moment’s notice.

Oh yeah, and writing. Writing is very important to the writer, last time I checked. And these appearances all have one thing in common: You’re not writing when you’re at a book signing.

With pop culture’s depiction of authors (see Murder She Wrote, any author character in a Stephen King adaptation), there is a common perception that this sort of marketing is the only option for promotion of your works. Since the advent of social media, authors have a variety of cost-effective ways and means to tour, all from the comforts of home.

Blogging. A blog tour, either organized by a third party or yourself, is when a series of blogs are networked and bloggers take turns providing content for one another’s sites. The topics can range from a casual topic that tickles the fancy to specific topics pertaining to a writer’s career. Blog tours can cover areas across your hometown, across the country, or even around the world, and in the end you find yourself with a healthy collection of evergreen content that can be used for your own blog.

Podcasting. Similar to a blog tour, a podcast tour can be arranged across different podcasts before and after a writer’s release. Your topics can range from a casual to specific with some discussion steering in or around your book. Podcasts can also be easily syndicated on your own blog and shared in your feed, introducing a new audience to your host podcasts after they have introduced yours to them.

Another promotional avenue that can be pursued through both blogging and podcasting is producing short stories set in your works’ universe. The content can be either created by yourself or other authors you invite into your world. Free short stories in either digital or audio formats are a fantastic way to introduce new readers to your worlds.

Social Media. Whether it is Facebook ads from your Page or running quality content from your Twitter, Instagram, a Google+ accounts, social media provides authors with a variety of channels not only with the ability to reach different audiences but to cast a wide net across the country and around the world. Promotions on these channels should not launch too early but can run throughout the month surrounding a major event or book release, ramping up the budget for dynamic social media ad space the closer a release or special event draws near. The content you push will not only be news pertinent to your own works but also other relevant links to your expertise. Aim for roughly three to five posts a week per platform, with that number doubling once we are two weeks out of the release date.

When it comes to promotion, whether it is a personal appearance or a podcast, authors must be economical. I look back on my schedule of 2002-2004 and understand why people described it as “aggressive” because a con a month was a gusty, rigorous, and risky move for a new author. I also shake my head because I could have — and should have — managed my finances with more scrutiny so I would have realized sooner rather than later the dangerous gamble I was taking…and losing. It was an education for me, a school of hard knocks that I would prefer not to attend again. Today, I pinch pennies, weigh the benefits, and make sound decisions. I have to use terms like ROI and USP. I have to stop being the artist and become a businessman. That is what this is, after all. The business of being a writer.

That doesn’t mean Pip and I won’t be at a con near you. You never know. A convention chair may be a huge fan of podcasting, or have a slight crush on Eliza Braun; and the numbers for Dawn’s Early Light might be enough for a committee to say “How about Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris? Do you think they are available?” And while we might not be able to come out to your part of the country (or the world), you could always brave the airports and come out to an event where we will be in attendance. Something I have noticed about the events we attend is an abundance of good times. So keep checking with us on my blog or Pip’s; and if fortune (or fandom) favors the steampunks, we might very well find ourselves announcing an update in our travel plans.

See you in the future? Anything’s possible.

Author Bio:Pip_Tee_byJRB

Tee Morris has been writing adventures in far-off lands and far-off worlds since elementary school. Inspired by numerous Choose Your Own Adventure titles and Terry Brooks’ Shannara series, he wrote not-so-short short stories of his own, unaware that working on a typewriter when sick-from-school and, later, on a computer (which was a lot quieter…that meant more time to write at night…) would pave a way for his writings.

Tee has now returned to writing fiction with The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series, written with his wife, Pip Ballantine. Their first title in the series, Phoenix Rising, won the 2011 Airship Award for Best in Steampunk Literature, while both Phoenix Rising and The Janus Affair were finalists in Goodreads Best in Science Fiction of 2011 and 2012. In 2013 Tee and Pip released Ministry Protocol, an original anthology of short stories set in the Ministry universe. Now in 2014, following a Parsec win for their companion podcast, Tales from the Archives, Tee and Pip celebrate the arrival of their third book, Dawn’s Early Light. When Tee is not creating something on his Macintosh, he enjoys a good run, a good swim, and putting together new playlists to write by. His other hobbies include cigars and scotch, which he regards the same way as anime and graphic novels: “I don’t know everything about them, but I know what I like.” (And he likes Avo and Arturo Fuente for his smoke, Highland Park for his scotch!) He enjoys life in Virginia alongside Pip, his daughter, and three cats.

Dawn’s Early Light will be available at:

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17572901-dawn-s-early-light

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Dawns-Early-Ministry-Peculiar-Occurrences/dp/0425267318/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1394038040&sr=8-1&keywords=dawn%27s+early+light+pip+ballantine

B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/dawns-early-light-pip-ballantine/1114829772?ean=9780425267318

AND if you’ve stuck with us this long there is a GIVEAWAY:

These giveaways are open to both U.S. and Canadian readers. At the end of the tour, there will be three winners chosen from this one Rafflecopter.


Three paperback set (signed) of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences
Signed Abney Park Poster
Signed Abney Park CD Ancient World
Signed coverflats of Phoenix Rising and the Janus Affair


Three paperback set (signed) of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences
The Extraordinary Contraptions CD
Signed cover flat of Phoenix Rising


Three paperback set (signed) of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences


Just link to the code: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/share-code/MDdhZGFkMTc1NzdiY2U0NzAwNTdmNTEyMmRhZGUwOjI0/


Photo by J.R. Blackwell

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Guest Post: Tracy S. Morris – Managing the Rocky Reefs of Social Media

Tranquility Book CoverUnleaded: Fuel for Writers is pleased to host Tracy S. Morris as our Guest Blogger for Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013.  Tracy’s first novel Tranquility was just released in Kindle format.  In addition, her second book, Bride of Tranquility, is also recently available.  Yay!  Yes, we do love our digital reading machines here at Unleaded.  Of course, both books are also available in paperback.

Tracy was kind enough to give us a bit of insight into how to better manage our social media.  Over and over authors are told “Social Media is what you HAVE TO DO” but what does that actually mean?  And how do we handle it?  Tracy has some tips. And because we couldn’t resist, we had to give you a taste of Tranquility before her guest post.  Stay tuned and check out her tips below the snippet of the first book in her series:

Maybe it’s a curse left by the ancient Indians who called it their home, or maybe it’s just talk to scare off the gold-hunters looking for treasure left behind by the Spanish/Confederates/Outlaws/D.B. Cooper. No one seems to even notice that Tranquility is different.

Not Jake Coltrane, the town’s ridiculously lucky policeman, not Rachel Thorne, a vet who can talk to animals, and not Average Jones, the waitress/cellist who knows what everyone feels, and how to fix it. Only David Nye, the town’s new doctor seems to notice. But even Tranquility has its problems. 

Something out there is mutilating livestock. The only clue is bloody big bird tracks around the carcasses. Jake thinks it’s just a prank, but Rachel isn’t so sure. And when the glowing red eyes and strange noises at night start, she knows that it’s only a matter of time before the “Big Bird” starts working its way up to people.


Managing the Rocky Reefs of Social Media, or Smooth Social Media Sailing

(Yes, we made up the title.  Don’t blame Tracy for that – Unleaded Editors)  🙂

Imagine if you dropped a fleet of sailboats into the middle of the Pacific without a captain or crew.  Chances are slim that those ships would make it to the Golden Gate Bridge by going where the wind and currents took them.

Yet when many writers promote their work using social media, just drifting along is exactly what they do.  Once, authors could get by without spending time on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. But now these outlets are an indispensable way to engage fans.  However, social media sites can be huge time sinks as well as shark infested waters.

With that in mind, here are a few tips that I have found useful for managing the rocky reefs of social media.

Limit Your Time
Neil Gaiman recently announced that he was taking a hiatus from social media to finish his next novel.  That’s not a bad idea.  Between Farmville, cute cat pictures and political debates, there are so many time wasters on social media sites that the hours can evaporate before you know it.  One way to ensure that you make the most of your writing time, is to limit your time on social media sites.  Perhaps set a timer to ensure that you stay on track.

Follow the Grandma Rule
One of the appeals of social media is that it allows fans a glimpse into your life beyond your writing. But one of the horrifying things about social media is that some posters feel the need to share everything. Information posted on the internet is like toothpaste in a tube: Once it’s out there, there is no getting it back in. Before you post drunken frat pictures, or TMI about your trip to the OBGYN, think about this: would you like your grandma (or pastor, or boss) to see this information?  If not, don’t post it.

Schedule Posts
Several apps allow you to schedule posts in advance. If you have a smart phone, you can often post pictures without having to launch your social media apps. This allows you to stay active, without cutting into productive time.

Chain your Social Media Together
When I post an update to my blog, it sends a notice to Twitter. My Twitter feed then posts an update to my Facebook account. That way I’m able to stay current across three platforms without going into each one to post.

Depending on who you ask, social media can either be a boon to the working writer, or a necessary evil. There are also plenty of articles that can help you to get the most out of whichever social networking platform you are using.  These are just a few tips to ensure that you aren’t so busy with social networking that you aren’t able to write.

Author Tracy MorrisAuthor Bio:

When Tracy S. Morris was four years old, she wrote her first “novel” in crayon on the back of a newspaper and gave it to the post man along with an antique silver dollar so that someone could turn it into a novel. She is still waiting to hear back from her publisher.

On a good day, Tracy has photographed two of the Presidents of the United States, taken a hot air balloon ride and met two of her favorite sports legends from separate sports. On a bad day, she’s been dragged behind a speedboat on an icy lake in freezing rain. She’s been a photographer, reporter, writer, fencer, historian, costumer and gardener. She is a black belt in taekwondo, and a self-confessed kamikaze speller. In 2012 she assumed her most challenging and rewarding role: Mommy.

Tracy’s first novel, Tranquility was published in 2005 by Yard Dog Press. It was the runner up for a Darrell Award for Best Midsouth Science Fiction in 2006. Her second novel, Bride of Tranquility was published in 2009. It was a finalist for the Darell Award in 2010. Both books were picked up in eBook format in 2010 by Baen Books.

When she’s not writing, Tracy goes by the name Tracy Godsey.  She lives with her husband Ryan, daughter Issa Belle and two shiba inu dogs. Ryan is a computer programmer for Tyson foods and administers her blog. The dogs do their best to avoid Issa.

Tracy’s books are available at:

Kindle versions: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00E7FRD9U (Tranquility – Book 1), and http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00E7G3W30 (Bride of Tranquility – Book 2)
Trade paperback versions: http://www.yarddogpress.com
In addition to her website, you can also catch Tracy on her two podcasts: Lunch on Fridays and the Yard Dog Press Audio Roadshow.


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