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The Big Damn Writer Advice Column

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It’s that time of the week when I answer your anonymous questions about writing and all that stuff connected to it. Every Thursday, I’ll be answering two questions from the Big Damn Writer Question Box.

Q: How do you handle transitioning your social media presence from fandom to professional? Is it even possible? I want to be published one day, and if I do, I’d theoretically want to share it with my tumblr followers–but I’m also wary about some of the stuff I said 3 years ago biting me in the ass. Is there any way to handle that gracefully, or do you have to choose between “burn it all to the ground” and “create a secret professional identity”?

A: In the early days of the internet, I didn’t go to a lot of trouble to not use my real name when I was doing fandom stuff. So I was on all sorts of fic lists and sites with my real name just out there. The only thing that saved me from having that stuff out there to haunt me was the end of Geocities. Otherwise, you’d be able to find a treasure trove of amateurish Labyrinth fanfic and Qui-Gon/Obi-Wan MPREG out there with my name on it.

Since those days, I’ve kept most of my fandom activity secretly tucked away under a couple of identities. Which can suck, at times; one of my fics recently won a buttload of awards in a Tumblr thing, but I couldn’t share the news with anyone. Still, it’s better than having the people who read my books go, “Hey, I really loved The Boss, but by the way, I’ll never read another book you write because I found that fic you wrote and you’re a sick freak. Burn in hell.”

Since you’re unlikely to win the Geocities purge reset lottery as so many of us old guard did, you’ve got a couple choices. One of them is to do the opposite of what I did. Make your professional name a secret identity and carry on being yourself the way you have been. Or, be prepared to take responsibility for that stuff you said three years ago if it comes up. Since I’ve always been pretty open and honest about my identity online, there is a lot of dumb, racist, misogynist, homophobic, transphobic, anti-choice shit out there that I’ve said in the past. There’s no way I could run around and hide it, and honestly, I would feel shady about doing so. That’s the person I used to be, and denying that would be super dishonest–and it’s more likely to hurt a reader who admires me if they find out I tried to cover my tracks rather than own all those terrible things I used to think.

I don’t know about handling anything gracefully, but I feel like the best thing to do is be honest that you’ve said some things in the past that you regret and no longer stand by, should the issue come up, rather than trying to hide behind an alias and constantly hope no one ever puts two and two together. And if you want to keep your fandom activitiy private, come up with a fandom identity and let pertinent people know about it and that it’s secret.

 

Q: Can you talk about titles a bit? How do you come up with titles for your books? Do you write the book first and then pick a title? Does the title come to you early on when you’re writing or outlining? Is it true that a publisher may change my title? What about titles for series? You have the boss series, but they’re not all called The Boss 1, 2, 3, etc. Does that ever cause issues? How do you feel about chapter titles?

A: This is my favorite question ever, because my most popular books are called The Boss and The Girlfriend and The Baby, etc., and yet you still trust that I have wisdom to impart. I am perhaps not the person best suited to answer this, but I’ll give it a shot.

Generally, I come up a title early on. I don’t know why, but for me it just makes writing easier. There are some authors who come up with a title based on a loose idea and then structure the plot to fit the title, because that’s what works for them. And there are others who write the whole book and come up with a title at the end. I’m usually a few chapters into a roughly outlined book when I come up with the title, and things do generally start to come together quicker once I do. But this is one of those areas where every writer is unique in their process.

The publisher might absolutely change your title. When I wrote my first book, it was called Blood Ties. When it was published, it was called, Blood Ties, Book One: The Turning. They just took the title I gave them and turned it into a series title. Which was fine, because it was a good fit. A later book, American Vampire, was originally titled Penance, Ohio, by me and changed for publication. However, when it went to Australia, it got changed to A Vampire’s Penance. Publishers have all the control with titles. You just have to kind of try to work with them but accept that it’s all out of your hands.

As for my Neil and Sophie series not having book 1, 2, 3, etc. on the covers, I don’t know if that’s really caused any issues. Retailers generally assign their own numbers to books in a series so customers can find them. The only real issue I’ve had is that because you can’t make a book a .5 in a series on Amazon, The Stranger barely sold in comparison to the other books in the series (and made me seriously rethink continuing the series, until I realized that it wasn’t lack of reader interest, but lack of reader-being-able-to-find-the-damn-thing that was the problem).

My thoughts on chapter titles: I did them in my first series and about halfway through the second book, I regretted it. Deeply. If you’re planning a long-running series, I would say to probably not do chapter titles or else you’re going to end up hating yourself. Unless you love coming up with names for things. Then it would be the most thrilling decision you could make, probably. But I found myself going, “Okay, there are twenty-six chapters in this book. I gotta come up with twenty-six titles. And they can’t be the same as the twenty-six I used in the last book, or the twenty-six I used in the book before that.” Which is a lot more difficult than one anticipates when they get the brilliant ideas to title their chapters. As a reader, I don’t mind seeing them, so I’m not sure it’s something that would turn off your audience, but as an author, I’m like, “There but for the grace of God…”

 

Bonus Question: Not a writing question, but I saw on your Twitter that you said you generally like/support MLM businesses. If you have time and interest, I’d love to see a post that addresses/clarifies that stance. At the moment I’m vehemently against them, but your thoughtful writing often helps me consider things from a totally new perspective. No pressure, just an “if this speaks to you” request. Thank you for all the entertainment you’ve provided!

A: Rather than a whole post, I’m just going to do it here, because I can sum it up quick. I do like and support MLM businesses because I’ve seen them work well for people who are stay-at-home parents or between jobs or trying to make extra cash to buy a boat or something. I know a few people who’ve spent years building up their MLM businesses so it’s their fulltime career they can live off of, but that’s not something I would ever have the stamina or will to do, so that won’t be me. You really have to be willing to become a full-time salesperson and self-promoter to get to that level, but it is possible. I’ve met a Mary Kay millionaire before, hand-to-god.

I’ve done a few MLMs. My favorite so far (and the ones I’ve made the most money off of) were Mary Kay, Visalus, and Pure Romance (I’m currently still a Pure Romance consultant; if you’re 18+ and looking to buy some really great lube, here’s the link to my page). They all fit my requirements for a good, as opposed to predatory, MLM experience:

  • The initial buy-in isn’t astronomical or above what you can reasonably expect to recoup. I think when I started Mary Kay, the initial kit buy in was like $75.00. If I hadn’t made that money back, losing it wouldn’t have financially ruined me. So, you have to analyze your own situation. If you can’t afford to lose the cost of the initial buy-in, you can’t afford to do it.
  • You are not required to buy inventoryEvery single MLM will tell you that you should have product on hand, but in most cases, you can start up and run without inventory. If you’re required to keep product on hand (rather than buy product after the customer orders), that’s a red flag.
  • You don’t end up stuck with a bunch of stuff you can’t use or don’t want. If I were to quit Pure Romance right this very instant, I would be able to use or sell everything I have left. One, because I don’t keep a big inventory, and two, because it’s stuff I like and would want to have, anyway. I don’t think anyone has ever gone, “Oh no, now I have far too many vibrators and flavors of lube!” You gotta pick an MLM that sells stuff you’d personally use or be able to repurpose in some way. If you don’t wear makeup, Mary Kay probably isn’t for you. If you don’t wear jewelry, you probably don’t want to sell Lia Sophia.
  • The company backs their product and you won’t be responsible for returns. This might be the most important one. If you sell someone the product and there’s a manufacturing defect, are you going to be able to get their money back, or will it come out of your pocket? If it’s the latter, don’t do it.

There are definitely some predatory MLMs out there. Right now, the one on the top of my Oh Hell No Never list is Lularoe. Which makes me the worst romance writer ever, apparently, because we’re all supposed to be just bonkers over Lularoe for some reason. But the buy-in is astronomical (an acquaintance recently purchased a starter kit for like $7,000), you can’t run the business without inventory on hand, and if you get out, you’ll be stuck with clothes in sizes you can’t wear. On top of that, the product is notoriously flimsy, and many consultants have been getting burned by the company return policy.

Basically, go into an MLM with your eyes open and don’t spend more than you could afford to lose. At best, you make a bunch of money. At worst, you bought a bunch of cool stuff at wholesale prices.

Wanna see your questions get answered (or just wanna air a grievance?) Put it in the box!

5 Comments

  1. Torrin
    Torrin

    Thank you for this column. I don’t even write (I may one day, but today is not that day) but I just REALLY love this column. Just reading about all of the practicality and sense that goes into a creative art form is strangely comforting to me. I realize that may sound strange, but feelings are strange, right? Just wanted to let you know that I appreciate you taking the time to do these. Thanks, Jenny.

    June 8, 2017
    |Reply
  2. Cat
    Cat

    With regards to MLM, I would also suggest learning about the company that you’re selling for. My partner worked in quality control for Silpada and they treat their employees TERRIBLY, with very restrictive leave policies and keeping people on as “temps” so they don’t have to pay benefits and then firing the staff right before the holidays to avoid having to give Christmas bonuses. A large amount of their jewelry is made in Israel, some in occupied territories, which may be a moral issue for some sellers/buyers. So long story short, I echo what you said about business requirements and just wanted to bring it a step further. Make sure the company you’re representing is a company that has practices that you support with regards to the people behind the scenes.

    June 8, 2017
    |Reply
  3. Megan M.
    Megan M.

    Oh my glob! I had no idea Lularoe was like that. MLMs aren’t for me, so I was never planning on doing it, but I’ve seen people selling it and wowww is that shitty.

    June 8, 2017
    |Reply
    • Sunshine
      Sunshine

      There are some really good articles/blog posts about people who have been burned by Lularoe and the shitty business practices described may make your head explode.

      June 9, 2017
      |Reply
  4. Amber Rose
    Amber Rose

    For the other side of the story though, I STRONGLY encourage anyone looking into Mary Kay (or other MLMs) to read The Pink Truth at pinktruth.com

    If you’re able to strongly set a plan and follow it, sure. It is possible to just make some money. But Mary Kay can be predatory in an extremely abusive way if you aren’t careful. They do not treat people well.

    June 10, 2017
    |Reply

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