Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Lead Love Interest Inspiration

Mr. Sierra and I have been watching the entire True Blood series from Netflix and loving it. I especially have been loving Alexander Skarsgard, or Eric Northman on the show. It's gotten to the point where I'm despairing, because we only have two more episodes to watch of Series 3 and must wait for series 4 to be released on DVD.

"What will I do without my Eric fix?" I asked my friend/colleague Mike Chen, who is a primary source of my knowledge.

"Um, earth to Sierra," he said. "You'll have to rent Zoolander." (Link is to deleted scene in Zoolander with Meekus, still with his Swedish accent before he got it Americanized.)

No problem because ASkars, as Roni Loren and I like to refer to him, is HOT in that movie too. And if I'm really desperate, there's always the Lady Gaga Papparazzi video in which he's smoking yummo as well. AND kisses Gaga all up and down exactly the way you would like to be....mmm, this blog is getting a bit steamy.

ASkars and his hotness is very inspiring when it comes to writing a lead male love interest character. And watching him do his hot thing as Eric is really, really nice. He's got these gorgeous, muscular man hands and a really nice broad chest that you would beg to wrapped up in. He's sensual as Eric, too, so he provides lots of ways to describe a good love scene. My only problem is making sure that my male leads don't all resemble Nordic Vikings now.

The tinternets are full of great links and pictures for male character inspiration. One particular resources is Roni Loren's Boyfriend of the Week series on her author blog. (Incidentally, she's "done" ASkars here) If you need inspiration as to your male lead, her BOTW series is a treasure trove. She's has 31 guys listed. Go check them out.

And here's a link to the Melancholia trailer, in which ASkars plays Kirsten Dunst's husband. Oh, Kirsten. You lucky little minx.

Monday, November 28, 2011

That Important All is Lost Plot Point

Today I'm guest blogging over at Roni Loren's blog, Fiction Groupie on that important All Is Lost plot moment-- you know the one right after the midpoint of your story, when your character is kicked down low and you keep kicking her? Yes! Go read it if you're unclear.

How Low Can You Go? The Important All is Lost Moment

Friday, November 25, 2011

Google Reader Roundup

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving. I didn't, because I have shingles. Yeah, the older person's disease. As a result, I had to sit home alone while Mr. Sierra took the whippersnapper to the big family Thanksgiving do. (Rainbow Puppy went to bed early.) So I sat on the couch and wrote.

And my God, I was thankful for it!

Even if I did starve a bit and find myself forced (forced) to eat a few Trader Joe's Halloween Jo-Jos.

  • Jessica Faust at Bookends fields a question about long book it too long? how to cut down? You decide.
  • Bloggy friend Tahereh Mafi's highly anticipated novel, Shatter Me, is out and Tahareh was interviewed by Entertainment Weekly (she's big time, folks). I am including the link to the article because of the last line in it--Tahereh knows exactly how to hook a reader and her last line is the one that made me want to read the book more than anything. Check it out. See how she uses that tease so subtly, so well, and so engagingly.
  • What not to blog about and what crosses the line when it comes to social media, from Kill Zone's Clare Langley-Hawthorne.
  • Kristan Hoffman on what really matters for this Thanksgiving week (via Meghan Ward). Or, in other words, Kristan helps remind us about connecting with other authors and books.
  • And finally, I really love this list of things Tawna Fenske is thankful she was wrong about--with a wonderful last item on the list, which almost made her whole post as satisfying as a good romance novel.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Success as an Anonymous Blogger

So on Monday I posted about how Klout scores matter to publishers and agents, to the dismay of writers who just want to concentrate on producing a great novel. Everyone in the comments (thank you for commenting and discussing!) seemed to agree that a) Klout doesn't matter and b) social media is about being social rather than numbers. I was heartened!

And yet, numbers do matter--and it turns out, they matter even when you're anonymous.

Also on Monday, The Intern's identity and bookdeal was announced on PW and her blog. (HUGE congrats, Intern!) The Intern has been blogging a long time, and always made it clear she was writing and publishing a book(s). I'm sure I'm not alone when I wondered how having an anonymous blog that had a huge following, hit count, and comment rate helped your book sales when you didn't say who you were.

Turns out it didn't matter. Here's the PW announcement:

In a six-figure, two-book pre-empt, Molly O’Neill at HarperCollins’s Katherine Tegen Books bought North American rights to Hilary Smith’s YA debut, Midnight at the Radio Temple. Laura Rennert at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency handled the auction for O’Neill and said the novel, which is scheduled for summer 2013, is a coming-of-age story about a teenage musician who uncovers shocking family secrets during “an unforgettable summer of love and chaos, music and madness.” Smith was behind the now-defunct anonymous publishing blog, The Intern (, in which she chronicled toiling away as an unpaid laborer in the editorial department at a nameless publishing house; the blog became something of an industry phenomenon in 2009, drawing, at its height, 10,000 visits per month.
Congrats to The Intern/Hilary Smith! And congrats to her for using her blog popularity after all to her advantage. Maybe it is as simple as unmasking yourself to your legion of followers--in fact, how cool was that? We all wondered who she was and what her book was, and now we know. And we all paid attention when she revealed herself because we wondered.

What do you think? A depressing sign that matters number, a clever and successful marketing ploy, or....?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Why querying isn't a popularity contest

A few weeks ago, Meghan Ward posted about the whole Klout thing, and how it became an unhealthy tool, and she stopped using it. Her post was partly inspired by a post from agent Rachelle Gardener, who suggested that agents care about your Klout score--and that you should include it in your query. (To be fair, Rachelle also said Twitter numbers and Facebook fans in the same sentence. She wasn't necessarily referring to unpublished writers, although that wasn't clear.)

But the notion of including social media following numbers in our queries annoyed me. Because most of those stats are a popularity game. You can fix those numbers if you pay people or trick them into following you (not to mention the overriding fact that having huge numbers of followers does not indicate a great social media presence, because you aren't able to actually keep up with 60,000 different people). The idea that what can essentially be tricking or paying for your popularity might make a difference in representation seemed unfair.

Then last week, John Scalzi has a great post on "de-Koutifying," or the process of ditching the morally questionable Klout.

Scalzi said,

In other words Klout exists to turn the entire Internet into a high school cafeteria, in which everyone is defined by the table at which they sit. And there you are, standing in the middle of the room with your lunch tray, looking for a seat, hoping to ingratiate yourself with the cool kids, trying desperately not to get funneled to the table in the corner where the kids with scoliosis braces and D&D manuals sit.

I clicked over to Klout’s “perks” section not long ago — “perks” being the freebie things the service wants you to market for them — and rather than being presented with a selection of perks available to me, I was presented a list of perks I wasn’t qualified for, because apparently I wasn’t smart and pretty and popular enough for them, although Klout seemed to suggest that maybe if I did my hair a little differently, or wore some nicer shoes (or dragged more people into their service, making myself more influential in the process) maybe one day I could get the cool perks.
No, no, no! Klout, No! If I had a virtual rolled up newspaper, I'd bap you on your nose! This is shameless and gross marketing, and as Scalzi says, "At which point I decided that Klout was actually being run by dicks..."

But let's get back to the whole popularity thing in queries. I understand where agents are coming from when they say they look at such numbers like Klout scores and blog vistors, I do. They're saying they want a marketable client, one that is attractive to readers. I get that! And of course agents want that!

But when it's a fixable score, we have problems. And as Scalzi says, Klout's scoring criteria is highly suspect.

In my opinion (and you can take this from my 15 years of experience in marketing and not as a writer who uses social media), here are the reasonable parts of social media for an unpublished, querying writer:

Twitter. If you have huge amounts of Twitter followers and you're an unpublished writer, then you should be a celerity or a successful business person. Otherwise, you should interact with as many other tweeters as possible, but not be focused on gathering followers. Followers come when you interact genuinely with others.

Facebook. I don't make my personal Facebook page public and I've stopped using a "public" one because it's against Facebook's rules. I could set up a fan page, but this might be just me---asking people to be my fan at this point is kind of crunchy. I'll save it for when I have news that needs following. Bottom line: have a Facebook page for more intimate connections (by "intimate" I mean photos rather than having affairs, gutter mind!), but don't do it unless you're comfortable with sharing your private info. Have a fan page instead if you feel ready to do so.

Blogging. Huge numbers of followers don't always result in tons of comments, but I would say that in general, the more followers you have, the more successful your blog. And yet, I also think longevity and content and frequency of posting are also equally important metrics. (Maybe I'm just saying that in my defense since I don't have a million followers, but I don't think my blog is a complete failure, either.) Bottom line: work hard on your blog. Interact with followers. Build your content. I think it matters.

Here's the sad fact of all this, though. Rachelle Gardener was right when she said publishers care about numbers. Of course they do! Numbers are what they deal with! But I also think that if you work at the outlets that do matter, you'll get there. Klout is not one of those outlets, not with questionable score metrics and "opportunities" to increase the score.

Thoughts? Do you have a Klout account? How do you use it? What social media outlets do you think are important for querying writers?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Google Reader Roundup

  • Janice Hardy's plot points Friday addresses character goals.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

4 Things to Do with Comments

On Monday I talked about the launch of my new website design + build business, Atmosphere Websites, and I said I would talk about why I think migrating to an all Wordpress web site ultimatley strated making sense for me--and I think the reasons for it are good for writers--but I'm totally not going to talk about that today.

Monday I was bummed to have to uninstall Intense Debates, my comment system, which meant losing over a year's worth of great discussion and making all my back posts look really pitifully silent. :( But Intense Debates had stopped working for a lot of people. I don't know what it was and I felt like there was little I could do, so it had to be emptied. The nice thing about Intense Debates was that it had threaded comments, so you could reply to a specific comment and thus actually generate a discussion--which is what social media is all about. I also liked that you were emailed when I replied to a comment, which meant that you would know for sure that I saw, read, and replied on a comment.

Comments on blogs are funny things. Bloggers covet them; they're the holy grail of blogging success in my opinion. Sure, 100 comments on a post could mean you have a lot of spam or people just going "great, yeah" so that their voice is logged, but 100 comments typically means you have great content that moved people enough to stop what they are doing and comment. And that is not a small thing.

The subject of getting comments is mysterious and I don't understand it at all. I suspect that commenting on lots of people's blogs means they'll come comment on yours. And, of course, have good content and you'll get comments. I mean, I don't know. I've never really known the answer to that. (If you know, please comment and tell me.)

But here's what I do know: how to act properly as a blogger when it comes to comments:

1. Read all your comments. Both Blogger and Wordpress have settings that allow you to be notified by email if someone leaves a comment. For goodness' sake, check that setting! Getting emails when you get a comment ensures you'll read them.

2. Reply when possible. You may not have time to reply immediately, and maybe the commenter will never check for a reply, but do it anyway. It's gracious. And it's nice. And it's social.

3. When you get a dissenting comment, rise above it. It's a great pity that I lost Intense Debates because one a post a few weeks ago I got a super flamey comment left by someone who apparently had not actually read the post and who accused me and all my readers and other commenters of not understanding grammar or marketing, which was funny because he used poor grammar throughout the comment. A thousand pithy and rather sassy retorts went through my mind, but in the end I left it and let its stupidity speak for itself. And besides, I didn't want to get into a public argument with someone who didn't get it.

In another example, someone (a reader who may recognize herself) once left a comment about a post that was critical. Not bad critical, but critical. I could have been a bitch about it but that wouldn't have served any purposes. I thanked her for the comment and said I'd think about her points. (Which I did.) And I think that resonated with her. (She said it did.)

4. Don't expect. Treat all your comments like what they are--people, taking time out of their day to interact with you and leave their thoughts. They're gifts. Don't get complacent. Love the one or two you get. :) I do.

Do you have any to add?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Author Websites: Not Just for Pubbed Authors

Happy Monday! Today I'm super excited to announce the official launch of my because my Wordpress website design and build business, Atmosphere Websites with business colleague (and trusted critique partner) Mike Chen. I design and Mike builds, and together we offer packages for small businesses, babies, artists, musicians, weddings, and authors.

So naturally I thought I'd talk a bit about author web sites. There has been much said on the subject of having a web site--by me in these posts, and also Roni Loren covers this topic really well. Last year I did a post about why I think unpublished writers should have web sites. Now seems like a good time to repeat those reasons:

  • A website shows you're serious and professional about what you're doing. Going to the trouble and expense of a web site means you're putting stock in the long term. Designing, publishing, and maintaining web sites is not easy and requires work and/or funds to put into it.
  • A website offers a window into who you are and what you write.Your blog can do this, too, but with the day to day ramblings, it's sometimes hard to keep that introductory information topmost. Your web site serves as your virtual business card.
  • A website can be static until you score that book deal. Then, you'll need it. And you might not have time to launch a whole branding effort, so having one in place sets you up for when your site needs to kick into gear and work for you.
At the very least, reserve your domain name now.

Looking long term, I've become convinced that it's better to have a web site that hosts your blog in addition to your web content. Roni Loren and I have had this discussion many times--it's best to host your blog on your own server space, but what if you started out with a Blogger or free Wordpress blog? How do you migrate all that stuff (not to mention readers) to your website? How do you integrate a blog on it?

On Wednesday, I'll be answering these questions and telling you why after many years with Blogger, I have become convinced that it's time to migrate my blog over to my website. It isn't an easy decision, and Blogger has been good to me. But even so, it's time. Come back Wednesay and I'll tell you why.

In the meantime, questions or thoughts on unpublished writer websites? Wordpress? The awesomeness that is Atmosphere Websites?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Google Reader Roundup

Kristen Lippert-Martin tells us why it's so important to create likeable characters, with a great story that will make you hide your laser pointers when she comes near.

Roni Loren hosts a great guest post called A Polishing It Till It Shines Checklist from Mia Marlowe.

BookEnds outlines the stages of an edit.

Read why agent Scott Eagan is against NaNo.

Jody Hedlund tells how to market our books without feeling icky (a great post).

Really interesting post on the whole Klout situation and how it affects your standing as a writer (or not)--an update of sorts from Meghan Ward.

At Writer Unboxed, Jane Friedman wonders if her advice about self publishing has caused writers to eschew responsibility for their work. (A question I have wondered frequently myself)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Romantic Elements: Humor

The other morning, someone tried to call collect to me on my cell. It was very odd. The message said, "This call has been prepaid by credit or debit card. From..." and the a robotic voice came on that said "jhsbdfiuhdfhv facility."

I refused the call, of course. I mean, I couldn't hear where it was from-- except that it was from a mysterious facility!

I struck me immediately after that it was probably Mr. Sierra, calling from jail. I called his cell phone, but worryingly, it went directly to voice mail. So obviously he was calling me on his one phone call via the pay phone. I don't know the rules of jail calls, so I figured they would probably let him try again in an hour or so. He should have called the house phone first anyway. Silly!

I figured that it was probably best for him to stay the night and learn his lesson. No schmancy bail bonds for him. I sent him a text asking if he was in jail calling me collect on the off chance he'd be able to see it. About an hour later, he replied with, "I'm not in jail. My girlfriend bailed me out."

And that right there is why we have a great marriage. No, not because he has a girlfriend (he doesn't, that I know of), but because he never missed a beat of my neurosis or the opportunity for humor.

This is the kind of thing I try to capture when I write two romantic characters. Inside jokes and genuinely funny exchanges of the intimate variety make me curl my toes with awww. You know it does you, too.

What kinds of things do you write into your romantic pairs? What makes you go "mmmm" with satisfaction?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Neighbors as future characters comment system, Intense Debate, has taken another dump on my blog. Several of you have reported you can't leave comments. I'm sorry, not the least of why because I love comments and also it must be hugely frustrating not to be able to leave one, and if it doesn't get fixed soon I'm going to uninstall again. Grrr. Please let me know if you're still having trouble -- tweet to me or drop me a line (sierra [at]

We have some really great neighbors on our street. It's a nice mix of long time residents and newer families who've moved in. My next-door neighbors have been in their house 40 years and they're dears. They refer to e-mail as “the stuff that comes through the Internet.” But they're dears, even their two massive, Cujo-lookalike pitbulls that they keep in their backyard. The pitbulls aren't dears, but their barking helps ward of burglars, and we benefit from the close-proximity barking in that respect. Silver lining.

Anyway, in our area there has been a spate of earthquakes lately (and all over the country). Like, two 4.0s in a single day, and then lots of other smaller but still uncomfortable aftershocks. We live near the Hayward Fault and they say (whoever “they” is; I like to think it’s city officials, but this somehow rarely seems to be the case) that it blows every 140 years. Okay, blows is a bit…explosive. What I mean, is, 6.0 or higher earthquake. And we’re like five years overdue or something. So many of us are rightly turning our attention to earthquake preparedness. (In fact my friend Meghan Ward is going to have an AWESOME earthquake preparedness post for you very soon if not today!--will update with link when she posts it) And none more so than my neighbors.

The other day one of their fugly pit bulls was barking repeatedly. I opened the door all set to give the dog a piece of my mind* . But the dog was only barking because my neighbor was out there doing weird things to his trashcan.

“What are you doing?” I asked over the fence. “What’s all that noise about?”

My neighbor gave me a weird smile, kind a cross between the Joker and a Jack-O-Lantern.

“Preparing for an earthquake!”

I looked pointedly at the barking dog.

“He gets excited when I clean,” my neighbor said. “I’m cleaning out our trash cans.”

“For an earthquake?” I asked.

“Yes. Shoring up our earthquake kits,” he said. “How’s the baby doing?”

“He’s trying to take his nap,” I said, hoping my point was made.

“Great, great! Okay, I’m nearly done here. Two big earthquakes in one day, you know.”

“I know,” I said. “Do you guys have lots of water stored?”

“Oh yes,” he said. “Tons.”

I wasn’t sure whether he stored the water in garbage bins or not. But I decided he would be a good source in the event of a disaster, so I nodded and thanked him and filed his weirdness away for my future gain.

My neighbor is clearly one of those quirky characters that I love putting in stories. And the incident, complete with the maniacal grin and strange use of garbage cans as the earthquake kit (I don't know where they're going to put their garbage now) made the whole exchange one of those crazy ones that you kind of just have to put in a story.

*Last summer and fall when I was pregnant with Rainbow Puppy, those bastard dogs would bark their heads off at 4 a.m. My neighbors were very sorry about it, especially after I played the pregnant-insomnia guilt card, but explained they didn't hear it because their bedroom is on other other side of the house. I had to resort to screaming obscenities out the window at the dogs in the middle of the night, and it worked. I called them by name, that might have helped. So telling them to shut up when they bark is something that generally works for me.

Also, there is a high fence between our yards, which quite frankly makes me bold.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Google Reader Roundup- Not

So yesterday we took our first trip to the emergency room for my 5 year old whippersnapper. His finger got caught in the bedroom door and took the entire nail off. There was blood and screaming and shock, and he spent a very tough three hours in the emergency room with wonderful and patient doctors who were kind and innovative. It was awful. He's doing great now--he's a strong, brave boy. I am also doing well, or at least better.

But I definitely don't have a Google Reader Roundup for you today. I do have a story from the ER though. While we were waiting to be seen, a guy walks in talking loudly on his cell phone to a friend. (I know it was a friend because he called him "dog" a lot. Either his friend or he was having a little convo with his super-intelligent and dexterous golden retriever.) He also had the most massive iPad I've ever seen. Like, easily the size of a flat screen TV.

He said, "I have to go dog cause I'm at the hospital. I got shot."

Then I noticed his bicep was streaming blood. The security guards rounded on him then, and the registration clerk asked him what happened. He said "Oh yeah, I got shot in my arm and in my leg." Then a police officer materialized magically and asked him what happened.

"I don't know," he said, although I'm certain he did. "I was walking down the street and someone started shooting at me. I was on the freeway and someone was shooting."


They ushered him in and then the security did a lock down on the ER which really didn't do much for my already rattled state of mind.

That guy, though. I'm almost certain he'll be making an appearance in a story sometime soon :)

Happy Friday!