What is the Burning Reason You Must Write This Book?

Did you just stop and ask yourself that? Did the Burning Reason trip off the tip of your tongue, or did you stare blankly at the screen and think:

a.) “Oh, crap, there’s ANOTHER thing Cait wants me to think about and that I probably need to up my writing game.”

or

b.) “What the fuck is a Burning Reason?”

Both are totally valid responses, and you are not alone. When I first started writing with a goal to becoming published, I had no clue about the Burning Reason.  I just wrote because…uh…I wanted to tell a story.

The Burning Reason You Must Write This Book - Cait Reynolds

Yeah. It was a story. Beginning, middle, end. Happy ending. Tra la la and all that jazz. But, then, I wrote a story that accidentally really meant something to me (Duet of Desire, if you must know).

I was not just enjoying writing. I was passionate about it. Driven to finish. Driven to make a point. Okay, so I might have taken liberties in using Sarah Bernhardt and Worth to make my point, but at least I had a point to make.

The result was a book that is both a lovely little romp in historical erotica and a story that (hopefully) touches the reader’s heart and soul in a way that goes beyond the pat satisfaction of a Happily Ever After.

So…yes, I digressed. Back on track, then.

What IS the Burning Reason You Must Write This Book?

The Burning Reason is a thought, belief, truth, or emotion that forms the foundational bedrock of every story worth telling.

Skip thinking about the Burning Reason when you are getting ready to write, and you risk producing a story that is rote, forgettable, and does absolutely nothing for your brand or reputation.

Today, I’m going to take you through a little bit more about what a Burning Reason is, and what it does for our characters, plots, writing, and marketing…and of course, why every writer needs a Burning Reason to Write This Book.

That Itchy Feeling in Your Brain? That’s a Burning Reason.

Think about what sticks with us after we have either a very positive or very negative interaction with someone.

We replay the scene over and over again. We analyze the other person’s words, actions, motives, seeking causes, explanations, and often excuses. Then, we compare all of that to our own set of beliefs and and values, seeing how well everything lines up. When it doesn’t, that’s a moment when we either define our own position more clearly, or it challenges us to grow.

All of this usually happens unconsciously, but there’s that faint, itchy sensation in the back of our mind as we inadvertently puzzle out our personal philosophies.

We don’t even realize that the conclusions we reach are sometimes really profound statements of our core values. It’s easy to toss out, “Oh, she shouldn’t have done that because cheating on your boyfriend is wrong.” But, if we take a second look at those words, a deeper meaning emerges.

It could be wrong because we hold to religious dictates about fidelity. Or, we believe that cheating damages the fundamental trust that is crucial to a relationship. Maybe, we have been the victim of cheating, and we believe that no one should have to go through that pain.

Any one of those statements would make an excellent Burning Reason.

It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that. It can be, but it really doesn’t have to be.

The Burning Reason You Must Write This Book - Cait Reynolds

At the end of the day, the Burning Reason is simply something you believe in and want to share because it is the one way that you, as a writer, can truly use your craft to make a difference.

Seraphina and Taylor do not have a Burning Reason

You know my Mary Sue stand-in’s, Seraphina and Taylor, right? They go on adventures. They fall in love. They go to balls and parties. They save the world.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Ad nauseam.

Every utterly forgettable (and/or terrible) book tells a variation of the Seraphina and Taylor story.

It doesn’t matter if we change the color of their hair from raven to flaming, or if we decide their magical powers can make them control dragons instead of commanding fire. It doesn’t matter whether the drug lords who are after them are from Colombia or China, or if the stalker ex appears normal or comes off as plain batshit crazy.

The Burning Reason You Must Write This Book - Cait Reynolds

Without a Burning Reason, Seraphina and Taylor are just going through the motions, over and over again. The Burning Reason is why we remember Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy but not the names in that romance we borrowed on Kindle Unlimited last week.

If a character arc is made up of a past, present, and future, then the Burning Reason gives depth to their past, consequences to their present, and meaning to their future.

The Burning ARC

Using the Burning Reason helps us define the mistakes, false beliefs, and fears that bring our characters to that moment of Toxic Normal (phrase courtesy of Kristen Lamb) when the story begins.

For example, say my Burning Reason is I want to share my belief that we can’t always choose what happens to us, but we can always choose how we react. By keeping this in mind as I create Seraphina’s backstory, I begin to see a character who has a central fault of emotional knee-jerk reactions.

This fault has led to failed jobs, relationships, and a general sense of depression. That is where she is when the story starts.

The Burning Reason You Must Write This Book - Cait Reynolds

I know that once I begin to nail down the specifics of the plot, I am going to create obstacles, problems, and twists that require Seraphina to admit to, face down, and finally overcome this fault.

At the end, Seraphina might not have completely overcome her tendency to react slightly hysterically to situations, but at least now, she is aware of it. She is working to change her behavior, which in turn helps her achieve (or gives her hope of achieving) her happy ending.

The Burning Reason also works for the antagonist, secondary characters, etc. The more we think through how the Burning Reason applies to all the characters, the more we create deeper, more complex, more realistic, and more compelling relationships

…which in turn make for better problems in a plot.

Burning it down: plotting and the burning reason

Though I am a pretty good writer (*muscle cramp from patting self on the back), every now and then, Kristen Lamb needs to beat me over the head about not letting my plot degenerate into simply a series of bad situations.

There are a lot of techniques writers can use to prevent the slide from story to situations. The Burning Reason is one of the quickest and easiest.

When we are figuring out all the things that have to happen in the story, the Burning Reason helps identify what kinds of problems will become plot points. It also acts as a scale against which we can measure the increasing gravity of obstacles, risks, and consequences.

I harp on ‘relevance’ a lot, and, yup, you guessed it. The Burning Reason provides a way to spot-check the relevance of plot points. Let’s go back to the example of Seraphina’s knee-jerk reaction ‘fault’ and the theme of choosing how we react to things that happen.

The Burning Reason You Must Write This Book - Cait Reynolds

Every scene should be relevant in some way to Seraphina’s ‘fault,’ allowing her to deny it, face it, explore it, struggle with it, etc. In the first draft, it’s easy to accidentally slide into a scene or chapter where she is just going shopping, or having lunch, or making out with Taylor.

Once we begin editing, checking every scene against the Burning Reason that is behind Seraphina’s ‘fault’ helps us identify sloppy and/or superfluous writing.

This is also a great technique for breaking through writer’s block. Stuck on where to go or what to say? Look at the Burning Reason and think about how it could make things worse or bring out another aspect of the character’s faults and struggles.

Even the conclusion and resolution of the story is helped by keeping our eyes on the burning prize. Happily ever after is all well and good, but what does happy actually mean to our characters if we don’t know what has made them unhappy or caused them to struggle.

Cue the Burning Reason. *shifty eyes*

a reasonable brand

These days, authors have to be brand conscious and marketing savvy.  It feels like almost every week, there’s a new trick to getting newsletter subscribers, book sales, and Instagram followers.

Yet, I wonder if we aren’t overlooking something so fundamental that no amount of Facebook posting can make up for its lack.

In our rush to get to tell the stories in our head, get to market, and corner the market, we might be forgetting to think about the most important aspect of marketing: THE READER.

The readers are giving us the gift of their time and money, and we risk losing long-term fans if all we do is take advantage in the short-term without giving something back. (Producing a 20k word novella every two weeks doesn’t count as giving back unless you are the next Brontë sister or have a last name like Koontz.)

We have to respect and show our gratitude to the reader. The truest and most sincere way we can do that is to produce the best book we are capable of writing.

Part of writing a book that gives something back to the reader is offering up a Burning Reason.

The Burning Reason You Must Write This Book - Cait Reynolds

It’s something for the reader to think about, to mull over, to feel deeply moved by, to rage against, to remember often in years to come, or be pleasantly surprised by remembering it in a random moment.

We don’t have to be self-righteous, sententious, obvious, or pedantic about the Burning Reason. But, by writing a story that is built on that foundation, we are giving back to the reader the best possible thing we can: a connection with the beauty, tragedy, hope, and power of the human experience.

“If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it.” Anais Nin

 

Mansplaining the Romance Genre

Mansplaining

Full disclosure: after I post this blog, I’m probably going to go day drink and listen to Aretha’s “Respect” on repeat. Mansplaining romance and erotica has a way of doing that to me.

Yesterday, Robert Gottlieb wrote a round-up of romance novels in the New York Times Book Review.  Frankly, it’s more like he herds an entire genre into the slaughterhouse chute of his wit. But, just like slaughterhouses, his wit is ugly, messy, and not something that ever needed to see the light of day.

Shall we ask why they got a man who doesn’t even work in the genre to do this? Wait, never mind. You know what they say. Ask a stupid question…get a thousand witty answers…

Robert Gottlieb
Robert Gottlieb, mansplainer extraordinaire. Image courtesy of The New York Review of Books.

The whole article can be summed up in this:

This retro venture, flatly written like all Steel’s books, is just further evidence of how romance can swing any which way. Regency, psychopaths, wedding planners, ranchers, sadists, grandmas, bordellos, dukes (of course); whips, fish tacos, entails, Down syndrome, recipes, orgasms — romance can absorb them all, which suggests it’s a healthy genre, not trapped in inflexibility. Its readership is vast, its satisfactions apparently limitless, its profitability incontestable. And its effect? Harmless, I would imagine. Why shouldn’t women dream? After all, guys have their James Bonds as role models. Are fantasies of violence and danger really more respectable than fantasies of courtship and female self-empowerment? Or to put it another way, are Jonathan’s Bolognese and Cam’s cucumber salsa any sillier than “Octopussy’s” Alfa Romeo and Bond’s unstirred martinis? Robert Gottlieb, NYT Book Review, 9/26/17

This is a man who believes Barbara Cartland is about as steamy as romance should get. (Full disclosure, I love me the occasional BC, and this is not anything against sweet romance.)

No orgasm, solo or in tandem, we should note, graces the pages of the most prolific and successful romance queen of all time, Barbara Cartland, step-grandmother of Princess Diana and author of 723 novels, 160 of them unpublished at her death (just before her 99th birthday) in 2000. Her son is still doling these out, one a month, as “The Pink Collection,” and they are without benefit of sex. The formidable Barbara knew where her readers wanted the line drawn: No Cartland heroine ever came into contact with a hardened rod. Robert Gottlieb, NYT, 9/26/17

Barbara Cartland

You really have to read the rest for yourselves.

Ron Hogan is my new hero. He gives one of the most lucid, point-by-point take-downs of this kind of criticism I’ve ever seen. Read it here and give the man some love. Read the original bit of mansplaining (though, if you have high blood pressure, you may not want to – it’s rage stroke-worthy).

 I will always be the first to say that we do quite a bit of dumb shit to ourselves as writers in the romance/erotica genres, and often, we fully deserve the scorn, teasing, and other pokings through the bars of the cage that we get.

 However, there is a different between pointing out the trite and tropey in a genre and DENIGRATING THE GENRE IN ITS ENTIRETY!

Seriously.

For a guy who has edited Toni Morrison, Nora Ephron, and others, he comes as across as a seriously uninformed dick who delights in “mansplaining” everything that is wrong with a wildly successful genre (that earns enough money to pretty much keep the rest of the industry flourishing and off life support because there are only so many painfully precious lit fic books one can read before wanting to go to a poetry reading and sarcastically catcall the people at the mic) that is dominated by women who for the most part seem to know what they are doing and drive 90% of the innovation in book marketing and sub-genres.

Yes, that monstrosity of a (grammatically-correct!) sentence probably deserves your scorn. Let me try again.

Gottlieb needs to SIT DOWN.

(Strunk and White would be so proud of me for that bit of ruthless editing.)

Sit down!
SIT DOWN, GOTTLIEB!

I also can’t figure out why Gottlieb feels the need to write something this stupid and incendiary. There are a couple of possible reasons:

  1. Early onset dementia;
  2. He’s angling to be Paolo Coehlo’s next editor and needs to edge out the competition;
  3. He really, really wants to retire, but can’t bring himself to quit, so he’s hoping to get fired;
  4. I have no fucking clue…it’s just such a stupid move on his part.

It’s not even tied to the principle of all publicity is good publicity. As an editor and a reviewer, he can indulge in constructive criticism and gentle ribbing all he wants with authors. But to piss them off en bloc? *shrugs* just dumb.

I can’t even go near the whole thing about characters not sounding…well, let me just quote Ron Hogan here, because, like I said…I can’t even…

But then there’s this gem: “Zoe and Carver are African-Americans, though except for some scattered references to racial matters, you’d never know it.” Now that’s an interesting comment to make—and, sure, as Toni Morrison’s former editor, Gottlieb isn’t exactly a complete noob when it comes to African-American culture. But declaring that Hodge’s characters don’t seem very African-American raises a question: How should African-American characters behave to sufficiently convey their African-Americanness to readers? And that, readers, is a question that leads to few if any good answers, especially not from 86-year-old white men. Now, the New York Times may not be the only place an 86-year-old white man get away with saying a black woman’s characters don’t seem very black to him without anybody in the editorial chain chiming in about whether this literally gratuitous swipe is really necessary to the overarching theme of the essay. But it’s a place where this sort of thing is not uncommon. (Those of us with particularly long memories may think back to the time Ward Just, reviewing Stephen L. Carter’s debut novel, seemed genuinely amazed at how the black bourgeoisie comported itself.)

Ron Hogan, “All the Dumb Things You Can Say About Romance Novels in One Convenient Place,” Medium.com, 9/27/17

I’m pretty sure that he will read all the protesting comments and blog posts about this and chuckle to himself at the way all the little ladies out there are overtaxing our tiny, organ-obsessed brains to try and outwit him.

Therefore, I am issuing a challenge to Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr: TAKE DOWN GOTTLIEB. With humor. With memes. Topple him from his throne.

Don’t forget to tag me so I can see your brilliance!

Twitter: https://twitter.com/caitreynolds

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/caitreynolds

Tumblr: https://caitreylove.tumblr.com/

Why I Canceled Kindle Unlimited

It’s the start of a new blog – sort of. File it under “The Sort of Thing That Only Happens to Cait.” It began with going to my blog and seeing that all my images had disappeared…and ended up learning more about Bollywood porn spammers than I ever wanted to.

Long story short (because I’d have to include all the language I used when learning how to ftp into my site, clean virus and spam files, rebuild the site, etc., and that would mean putting an Adult Content Warning label on this blog), it ended up being a bit of a mixed blessing.

I lost some of my funny manuscript marginalia posts, but I gained clarity about what I actually want to blog about. And, what I want to blog about goes against the advice of almost all the author social media experts: writing.

Yup. I want to blog about writing and editing. (I know, you’re wondering when I get to the canceling Kindle Unlimited part, but it’s coming.) Apparently, I have a lot to say about it because my friends and family all cautiously edge away when anyone asks me my opinions about writing and editing.

Okay, now we’re getting to the Kindle Unlimited thing

I canceled it.

Oh, you got that already.

WHY did I cancel a service that for $9.99/month would let me read ALL the books I wanted to…so long as they were participating in the Kindle Unlimited program?

Because I couldn’t stand it any longer. The typos, the sloppy craft, the puerile plotting, the two-dimensional characters, and the utterly, utterly predictable endings all drove me into a wild rage. Admittedly, I’m a picky b*tch when it comes to reading fiction, but frankly, out of the hundreds, if not thousands of KU books I read or tried, only a handful barely come up to the quality standards that most traditionally-published books meet.

Wait! Wait, before you flame me for being one of those dream-crushing, anti-self-publishing haters, just hear me out a little more?

I have been self-published. I have worked with small publishers. I have worked with hybrid publishers. I’m pretty sure there are probably still typos in my books, and while what I have published is solid, I suffer from the writer’s dilemma of looking back at cringing at writing from two or three years ago. I feel your pain. I hear your cries of “Why, KDP, why won’t you update this file?” I know what it’s like to dwell in the purgatory of the 200,000 rankings and get that whopping $0.26 royalty payout.

But, here’s the thing. I have also seen the rise of competitive review trolling (seriously, it’s like an Olympic sport now), buying reviews, gift-ranking manipulation scandals, and Amazon’s own delightful habit of deleting reviews from people we care connected to on social media (because ‘Build relationships,’ they said…’It’ll be fun,’ they said…). I have seen the rise of ‘authorpreneurs’ where we writers are desperately hawking our other talents in editing, proofreading, ghost-writing, cover design, and layout to other authors in hopes of paying the bills for our own publishing costs, thereby creating a damnable feeder loop of dependency in the space-time continuum.

What really drove me over the edge, however, is waking up one morning and finally seeing how writing and publishing are truly in peril from Amazon KDP.

The Sword of KENP

With Kindle Unlimited, we authors are paid by the page. More pages. More money.

Except, remember that whole PageFlip thing from last year? Yeah. How many people woke up to find NO pages read? Fun times.  Oh, and let’s not forget the slowly dwindling payout-per-page rate. $0.0049 per page. On a 200-page book (with pages determined by Kindle), that is a whopping $0.98 payout.

Considering that we pay $150 on average just for a decent cover, not to mention the $300-500 for editing and proofreading, and up to another $100 for layout…

Better start cranking out those pages, because now, we’re on a hamster wheel of endlessly trying to play catch-up with our expenses. Let’s not even talk about the cost of websites, advertising, swag, etc.

When we are paid according to KENP (stands for something about number of pages read whatever), we are trapped. Yes, there are authors out there making decent money from self-publishing. But how many aren’t? How many are getting lured into the authorpreneurship-hamster-wheel loop of the space-time continuum?

What is the price of all of this…because there is always a price.

The price is quality.

The price is being able to make a livable wage.

The price is having no gatekeepers to push us to improve our writing and tell us when a story is not ready for prime time.

That is why I canceled my Kindle Unlimited account. If I want to see things change in the publishing industry, I have to put my money where my mouth is.

If I want to read a book, I will buy it.

But, in return for my money (and more importantly, my TIME), that book had better be damn good. I don’t want typos. I don’t want sloppy writing. I don’t want predictable plots and boring characters. I don’t want a glaring lack of research, logic, and pacing.

If we want to keep claiming that self-publishing is where it’s at, then we need to up our game. I just came back from Book Expo America, and I have to tell you, the saddest area of the show floor was where the self-published authors all had their little tables. For all the noise about the Big 5 failing, they seemed pretty unconcerned as they watched the lines for their ARCs and autograph sessions wind three times around the booth.

Don’t get me wrong. The rise of KDP did some great things for publishing, waking up the establishment and giving access to voices that couldn’t find purchase in the mainstream. However, just like the housing boom and every other boom we’ve ever seen, there is going to be a bust.

I guarantee it.

The number of authors and books is growing at a rate that is outstripping KU subscribers. The pressure on Amazon’s profit margin for KU is increasing. Why do you think they started PageFlip? Why do you think they have been dipping their toe into various submission/gate-keeping programs?

Winter is coming. And, by winter, I mean quality control.

Which…brings us full circle back to the fact that I am going to be writing about writing and editing and publishing from now on. Okay, maybe I’ll throw in some cat marginalia from time-to-time, but for the most part, I’m here to man the barricades and lead the revolution.

Denny Basenji is joining the revolution.

So, buckle up. It’s a new day, and a new era of demanding better from ourselves in order to demand more from the publishing industry.