Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Your Book Boyfriend Is An Asshole (or Why Bad Boys Are Honest To God Not THAT Sexy)

Once upon a time, yesterday, I was on the subway on the way home from work. The train was moderately empty for rush hour, and I had a decent view of most of the car. Further down the car sat a couple- late teens, from what I could tell. So obviously I started people watching because of research. They seemed like a cute little couple- until the girl accidentally got off the train a stop too early.

It was one of those misunderstandings about what stop was what- something that happens fairly frequently. Things like this happen, there's usually an unspoken agreement about who should wait for who, which differs based on where people are going, etc. It's annoying, especially when one stop is in one borough and the other stop is in a different borough.
This was not the case here. The difference between Stop One and Stop Two are literally (literally) five short blocks. Of all the stops to screw up, this is one of the least major deals.
And yet.

Good Lord, when I say he lost his shit... I am not exaggerating at all. Screaming, banging on the subway doors like they closed on him to spite him. And if it wouldn't have been a medium full car, we'd all have been able to hear him.
"FUCK! FUCK! FUCK! FUUUUUUCKKK!!! FUCKING TRAIN!! WHAT THE FUCK?!?!?!" From the second the doors closed until they opened again at the next station. Kicking the door like he'd actually be able to do something about it.

It terrified me. 

Now, this could be because I am the biggest wimp when it comes to confrontation. Entirely possible. People start yelling in front of me and I want to curl up and die. On the other hand, I am a native New Yorker, having taken the subway my whole life and having a pretty accurate CrazyRadar. Which means I have a pretty good idea when people are just weird, and when they may actually be dangerous.

But this wasn't garden variety yelling. This was a complete and utter loss of control. What was he thinking, banging on the door of the subway car WHILE IT WAS IN MOTION? That it would hear him yelling and turn around and drive back to the previous station? That it would screech to a halt and let him off there? Was he even thinking at all?
I don't know.
But when the train stopped, he got off like nothing happened. I was still shaking. If anything, I was shaking more. You do something like that and then you walk off like nothing happens? That is some scary anger management shit right there.
You want to yell? Okay. I don't have to like it, but okay. Sometimes we all need to raise our voices.
Screaming and potentially harming others because you're pissed at something small?
Yeah, no. Never.

There are a million and one ways I could try to explain his behavior. I could be sympathetic and try to think if all the terrible things that may have been the reason he tried to beat the crap out of a door.
But the casual way he walked off the subway, like this was something that was routine for him? I don't know. I can't do it that easily.

And I was fine until I realized something that made me want to throw up.
That scene? With the guy getting frustrated and hitting something after something didn't go his way? A wall, a table, a door, anything? I cannot count how many times I've read scenes like that. Love Interest is frustrated, and takes it out violently on inanimate objects (or other people). And the weirdest part is, after something like that happens in the book, leaving a big honking clue to our lovely heroine that possibly this dude has some anger issues, especially when the Love Interest continues on like nothing happened, THE GIRL DOES NOT RUN. In fact, she sometimes finds this 'display of emotion' sexy, because many a time, said reaction occurs after someone else tries to flirt with the heroine or, I don't know, some other individual with a penis notices that the girl is pretty and it turns into a pissing contest. And obviously this shows how much he caaaares about her, right?

Y'all.
Y'all.
That is not okay.

There's a piece of advice for authors to help with dialogue- read it out loud to see if it sounds okay. And it works wonderfully- any time I have a line that just doesn't feel right, it's because in real life, nobody would talk like that.
Why haven't we started doing that with our characters and their relationship? If we want to portray a healthy romantic relationship, and most people writing love stories will say they do- then why are we okay reading about things that you would never ever be okay with in reality?

Why do we think stalking is romantic? In real life, if there was a guy who was basically following you everywhere, would you think that was romantic or would you get a restraining order?
If someone coerced you into doing something you didn't want to do, would you find that romantic or would that sound a bit like a big freaking red flag?
When a guy claims that he's respecting your wishes to nor have sex/whatever, and then spends a ridiculously large amount of time telling you how hard it is for him in an attempt to get you to change your mind? When a guy continuously ignores your wishes in favor of his own and then tries to make things all better by having sex with you? That is not sexy. That's not romantic. That is a problem.

I read a lot of romance novels. A LOT. Because I am a sucker for a good love story, and Happy Ever Afters make me happy. I understand the concept of escapism when it comes to romance, or to any story at all. Its really nice to be able to transport yourself from your current situation to a different one.
But no matter what the book is, I can not in good conscience, forget about reality. About what healthy relationships are supposed to look like.

I took a mandatory Domestic Abuse workshop in high school, where we had professionals come and talk to us about what were signs of healthy relationships and what warning signals to look for early on. About what to do if you found yourself in a relationship you shouldn't be in.

I remember it well- we were all sitting in an uncomfortable circle of chairs, and the woman there looked all of us in the eye and told us if the person we were in a relationship with tried to guilt us into changing who we were for them, we needed to leave. If said person would be unnecessarily rude or obnoxious to others, chances were they were one day going to treat us the same way. That you can't walk into a relationship expecting to be able to change people.

And yet.
Why do so many romantic relationships in literature have these components? Why do we as writers and readers insist on perpetuating the myth of the wonder of Bad Boys (and girls)?
"But I KNOW that this stuff isn't healthy!" You may say. "I know that if a guy is an asshole to others he's not gonna totally change his spots for me!"
And yet the bestseller lists are stating otherwise.

I talked about the concept of selling to the market when I got on my soapbox about WP(A)K on covers. The same applies here. If the market is showing a clear trend that assholes make good book boyfriends, then guess what's going to keep happening?

People are going to keep on writing assholes. 

And when people write assholes, guess what happens? People start thinking that maybe this is normative behavior.

"Okay, KK, don't you think you're going a bit too far with this?" You may ask. "It's FICTION, for God's sake. It's not real life. Everyone KNOWS that books aren't real life."

Yeah, except for there's this little part that you forgot to mention in your imaginary argument with me- that fiction is very often (and usually) based on reality. And that the more we are exposed to ideas, the more 'normal' they become. Now, I know correlation does not imply causation, and I have not tried to do research of domestic abuse and readers of romance novels, because, no. Just no.

But is it crazy to say that our expectations of relationships do change a LITTLE bit based on the books we read and the movies we watch and the people we know? Absolutely not. 

As a writer, I know that we writers don't set out to write role models. That our characters can be as messed up and terrible as we want them to be, and we don't owe the world good and nice characters. I have a lot of fun writing flawed characters. But the buck needs to stop somewhere.

And as the person who is in charge of the art that they make, the buck stops at you. You want to write an asshole as the love interest? Go right ahead. You want to write the most miserable, terrible, unhealthy relationship known to mankind? I'm not stopping you.

But never acknowledging that the relationships you write may be problematic? Calling said guy a "Book Boyfriend", thereby declaring that a relationship with said guy is one you wish you had?

Absolutely not.

Bad boys aren't that sexy. You know who IS sexy? A guy that won't emotionally abuse you. Our sexually harass you. Or physically abuse you or others. Who is empathetic and actually cares about more than you than your body. A guy who isn't batshit crazy around others but is 'different' with you. A guy who can be your anchor when you need one, and who can access his emotions instead of doing a poor imitation of a mute caveman. A guy who- wait for it- RESPECTS YOUR OPINIONS. Who will be okay when you say no. 

I know that people say it's really hard to find a good guy out there- but do we have to make it near impossible in fiction, too?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Happy Release Day, OTGDY!

HOLY COW IS THIS REAL LIFE????

I think it is.
O.o

ONLY THE GOOD DIE YOUNG is finally out in the wild, and I could not be more excited and terrified! This book and I have been through quite a lot together, from that first moment that Milcah barged into my head, pissed off and wearing glittered Doc Martens. I always said I wouldn't write 'a cancer book', but when a character moves into your brain, it doesn't really matter what you said- you no longer have much control of the story. Or maybe that's just me :)

The official blog tour for OTGDY will be starting next Tuesday, March 18th, and when I have all the links to that, I'll be posting it.

One of the reasons I pushed myself to finish OTGDY and to hit publish was because I wanted to start a conversation. There are a few reasons people write- and one of them is to begin a conversation. Cancer is a loaded topic- and there have been many people far smarter than I am who have discussed it eloquently and beautifully. But the process of writing, revising and revising OTGDY has given me time to think about the different aspects of having cancer young, and the possibility of dying young. So this week, I'm going to be posting a blog post every day, discussing a different topic that came up while writing OTGDY.

I hope they help start a conversation about how we treat people with cancer, how we view death, and a few other topics, as well.

Just a reminder: the Goodreads pledge is still going on- for every person who adds OTGDY to their TBR, I will be donating money to breast cancer research. I'll be making the official announcement of who I'm donating the money to on April 1st.

LINKS! Right! That part! The part where OH YEAH! You buy OTGDY!

AMAZON:: AMAZON UK::  B&N


Hooray! Happy book birthday, OTGDY! I hope y'all love it as much as I do.

To all my darling friends who've kept me sane and continue to do so: I love you all to the ends of the universe. I'm so lucky to have you in my life.

All my love,
KK

Monday, March 10, 2014

One More Daaaaaayy....One Day Moooooore!!!

Sorry.
I had to.
(Fun Fact: I did a lot of sprinting while g-chatting with the lovely Alex Brown. And there were a lot of Les Mis sing-alongs that happened then.)

So, YAYYYY!!! ONLY THE GOOD DIE YOUNG comes out tomorrow! I am both super duper excited and completely and utterly freaking out, as is to be expected before a book release. This week is going to be super fun here on my blog, and I will actually be updating it frequently! But more info on that tomorrow.

For now, because why not? I've decided to post the first chapter of OTGDY in it's entirety. So, tell your kids, tell your wife and tell your husband, and make sure to come back tomorrow for ALL THE FUN THINGS. (wheeeee!)

xoxoxox

CHAPTER ONE
I swear to God, if I see one more stupid motivational poster, I’m going to rip my face off and throw it at someone.
I flop back in my chair and scowl at the stupid therapist sitting across from me, with the same dumb expression that every other therapist I’ve sat across from has. That mix of pity and morbid curiosity.
She’s a mess, honestly. God knows how anyone let her leave her house—she looks like she had someone colorblind dress her this morning. A suit that never, ever, ever is going to fit her, and frankly, should be burned. Her hair is a disaster, and I doubt she’s wearing any makeup.
And good Lord, there are orthopedic shoes on her feet.
She may be making me more nauseous than chemo did.
Gross.
Hello, weird therapy lady? The nursing home from the eighties called—they want their clothing back.
“So, Milcah. How are you feeling today?”
I roll my eyes. Why do I have to go through with this shit?
“Fine.”
She asks annoying questions, she’ll get one-word answers.
“That’s great!”
So glad you think so, weird therapy lady. Can I just leave?
“How’s your stay at the clinic been so far?”
I tilt my head to look at her again.
Did she seriously just ask that? Like the stupid clinic is some sort of five-star hotel? Like I actually live here, or something? Seriously?
I crane to look at the diplomas she has hanging on the wall behind her. I wouldn’t be surprised if she just made one on Photoshop and printed it herself.
Don’t they teach you not to ask dumb questions like that to people? How the hell did she even get a job here in the first place?
“Oh, it’s just fabulous,” I tell her, my voice dripping with sarcasm. “I’m so glad I was upgraded to a better suite of rooms, and the Jacuzzi in the bathroom is such a lovely treat. And the doorman was so nice to carry my things up for me.”
She titters, like I’m the funniest person ever.
Ha, stupid therapy lady. I’m sure you find this hilarious.
Scribbling something onto her pad of paper, she looks back up at me. “And how are the other people in your room?”
You mean in the curtained area where I get pumped full of drugs every week? That room?
“The imaginary ones?”
She laughs again, this time, at a higher pitch. Apparently, I’m either funnier now, or she’s getting scared of me.
I’d prefer the second option.
“The imaginary ones?” she asks.
“I don’t share a room with anyone.” Which you would know if you actually read the stupid file through before asking me ridiculous questions. Or knew anything about the clinic where you work. “So there’s nobody to ask about.” I glare at her and wish I could go back to my room.
Why they think having me drag myself through the stupid clinic to see this quack is a good plan I have no idea at all. It’s not.
She starts asking me another question, but I tune out. I don’t want to talk about my feelings. I don’t want her to ask me all the stupid-ass questions that everyone has already asked me, over and over and over again.
I don’t want to talk about it.
And if some small, insane part of me does want to talk about it, then like hell is it going to be with her.
“Milcah? Milcah?”
I ignore her, because I am done with this fucking appointment. If I have to sit in her office until the designated time is up, I will, but I don’t have to cooperate anymore.
I don’t care how immature and infantile that makes me.
I’m dying.
I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to be doing.
-
“So, I heard you were a real bitch to Dr. G before,” Holly says as she bustles in.
I shrug. “Not any more than I normally am.”
She takes my blood pressure and puts her hands on her hips. “Seriously, Milcah, she’s new. You have to be nice to her.”
“She shouldn’t be asking me dumb-ass questions,” I reply.
“Dumb-ass meaning regular therapy questions?”
“She asked me how I was enjoying my stay here. Like it was a hotel. Like I actually stay here.” I roll my eyes. “Seriously? Did they teach her nothing in therapy school, or wherever the hell she went?”
Holly bursts out laughing. “What did you answer her?”
“What do you think?”
“Something appropriately smart-ass, I’m sure.” She pinches my cheek lightly, like I’m decades younger than her. Which I’m not. “How you feeling today?”
“Like shit.”
“Same shit you were feeling last week?” she asks, scribbling something at the chart at the end of my bed.
“Same shit as last week,” I confirm.
“That sucks.”
And that’s why I like Holly.
Because she treats me like a person, and not like an illness. Because she calls me out when I’m being a bitch, and because she does her job well.
If everyone in the clinic did their job as well as Holly does hers, I probably wouldn’t hate it here so much.
But on the other hand, I am here dying, so there’s that.
“How was last night?” I ask her, eager to change the subject so we don’t have to talk about my failing body for that much longer.
She shrugs. “It was okay, I guess.”
“Did you see what’s-his-name?”
“No, I didn’t see Nick. He was at work late.”
“You guys both work too hard,” I tell her. “You need a vacation.”
She laughs. “You know, if I took a vacation, I wouldn’t be here to piss you off.”
“See? Another reason!”
“You know you love me,” she teases. “You would be so lonely without me.”
I would.
But I can’t tell her that.
“You have an appointment with Dr. Bertraam soon,” she says, checking my chart again. “Try not to bite his head off this time, okay?”
“Depends on what he’s going to tell me this time,” I tell her.
“Do you have something to keep yourself busy with until then?” she asks.
“Yes, Mom, I do,” I answer. My laptop, my crocheting—shut up—and my Kindle are enough of a distraction for now.
She leans over and kisses me on the forehead. “I’ll see you later, sunshine,” she says as she leaves the room.
Total breach of nursing rules, but neither Holly or I give much of a shit about nursing rules.
I flop back in the chair and pick up my bag of crocheting. It looks like a nice day outside, but I’m trapped in a big bubble of vacuum-packed air.
My laptop is lying on the little table next to the chair, charging. I only need to wait another hour or so before my next probably unpleasant meeting. The one where I find out if I get to keep my boobs or not.
Pulling out my crocheting, I pick up the yarns and begin where I left off last time.
At the rate I’m going, I’m going to have enough crocheted to cover my entire apartment.
-
“So, Milcah.” Dr. Bertraam looks down at me over his glasses.
I stare back at him and hope that I’m brave enough to hear whatever he’s going to tell me this time.
“The first round of chemo has worked, but not as well as we’d like it to. I’ve spent a lot of time with the results from your CT and PET scans and labs, and we’re going to have to go through with the mastectomy.”
“Go through with the mastectomy?” I repeat, trying to process what the hell he just told me. I knew it was coming—I mean, I must have, right? I did discuss treatment plans back when I was first diagnosed, but having the discussion back when everything was still a blur of panic and unknown and now actually having it being discussed in a way that has finally hit me that it’s actually going to happen?
I don’t think I can do this.
He nods, like this is totally normal.
The man’s an oncologist, so I guess it is for him.
“Why?”
“If all you had was one tumor, it may not have been necessary. But since the cancer’s spread to other lymph nodes and the chemo didn’t get rid of all of it, we need to try a different method of removal.”
At least he’s pretty honest.
“Just a review, okay?” I glare at him, getting angrier. “So first, I went through the hell that was chemo. Over and over and over again. And now you’re telling me that it’s not enough that all my hair is in the process of falling out, and for my esophagus to basically be permanently damaged from all the puking I’ve done, but now you want to cut off my tits. You going to take out my uterus next, just to make sure I’ll never feel like a girl again?”
“I wouldn’t have mentioned it if there was another option,” he says, looking a little sorry. Well, it’s not his tits that are going to be cut off.
“So the only option right now is cut off my tits,” I repeat, just trying to be clear.
He nods. “The chances of the cancer spreading further will be lessened with the complete removal of your breasts.”
“Say tits, Dr. B. Stop being such a prude.”
His eyebrows take their usual route up through to his hairline, which he surprisingly still has.
“That wouldn’t be the medical terminology, Milcah.”
I roll my eyes. “Dr. B, you’ve got to get the stick out of your ass. It’s not attractive.”
His eyebrows go up further. I don’t think there’s anything I can say to him that will shock him.
“You aren’t the first one to tell me that,” he says, which makes my eyebrows shoot up. “But thanks for the advice, non-medical as it may be.”
Dr. B apparently has more of a sense of humor than I thought. “So.” I take a deep breath. “When do I say goodbye to my tits?”
“Surgery will be scheduled for next Tuesday.”
It’s Thursday today.
I have twelve more days of tits.
“That it for now?” I ask, getting up wearily.
He nods. “We can discuss options for post-surgery next week.”
“I’d rather not,” I say, trying to keep it together. “How ‘bout we cut them off first and worry about what happens next after you cut them off.”
Maybe if I keep saying it, it will make it easier to deal with.
“Okay.” He nods.
I look out his window. The sun is shining, and it’s another gorgeous spring day.
And I’m stuck in this stupid hospital complex thing for God only knows how long.
“I’m never gonna get out of here, am I?” I ask, leaning against the door for support.
“Of course you will,” Dr. B says.
“Then why aren’t you looking at me when you say that?”
He looks up at me, and I can see the pity in his eyes, which hurts me more than then the surgery news did. I don’t need anyone’s fucking pity. “Hopefully you’ll be out of here. It’s just going to take a while.”
Damn fucking stage three breast cancer.
“This was so not how I wanted to be spending the year I’m eighteen,” I say. “It sucks, okay?”
“I know,” he says. “It does indeed suck.”
I burst out laughing, because Dr. B, the Ivy League hooty-snooty oncologist just said something sucked. “I’m a terrible influence on you, aren’t I?”
“Just a bit.” If I tilt my head a bit, it looks like he’s smiling. “I’ll see you later, Milcah.”
“Yeah, yeah.”
The attending nurse is here to take me back to the clinic. Like I can’t walk by myself or something. “Dr. B?”
“Yes?”
“Still pissed at you for deciding to cut my boobs off.” I glare at him. His mouth twitches a little, and then it’s back to his regular doctor poker face.
I hear the attending nurse stifle a laugh.
“Shut up.” I slump in the wheelchair. “This would be so much better if there were four of you and you carried me on a chariot thing.”
“Next time,” the nurse says as he pushes me to the elevator to escort me back.
The clinic is filled with the usual sounds of hospital and dying people and families coming for “moral support.” They’ve tried to make it look cheerful and happy, but it’s basically a lost cause. Hanging up cheerful pictures will not disguise the fact that this place is basically the step before the morgue.
“Thanks for the ride,” I say as the nurse helps me back to the waiting room where I get to sit and wait for all the information I don’t want to hear. “Your car is super hot.”
He laughs. “Thanks.”
I wait until he closes the door behind him before I sneak into the bathroom, lock the door, collapse on the floor, and promptly burst into tears.
-
The apartment building is basically abandoned, as usual, and I make my way into my nearly empty apartment. I try not to think about the rest of the afternoon, where I had to sit in the waiting room with a tear-stained face and pretend that everything was okay. It wasn’t like I was the only one in the clinic who had been crying, but I had promised myself before I started treatment that I was never going to let them see me cry.
Seeing me with a tear-stained face, no matter how much I tried to fix up my makeup and pretend it didn’t happen, was breaking that promise to myself. And that’s one of the reasons I hate cancer with every drop of my being. It makes me break my promises, and it’s turned me into someone I’m not.
Stripping down to panties, I crawl into bed, hoping I’ll fall asleep soon. But when a doctor gives your chest an expiration date, it’s kind of hard to fall asleep. It’s late, but I’ve passed the stage of tired where I can actually sleep and now am firmly in the so tired I’m wide awake stage of things. Ugh.
I look down at my chest and try to memorize the way it looks right now. One breast is already a little smaller than the other one, with a small scar on the side from when they removed the tumor.
“Well, boobies, you’re living on borrowed time now,” I say, patting them softly. “Sucks to be you now.”
My face twists as I remember the many admirers of the girls. Sam loved them so much, sometimes I wondered if he was dating my boobs and not me.
I push the memory away and stare up at the ceiling.
Slowly and surely, cancer was stealing any part of me that I had.
It had stolen my life.
It had stolen my friends.
It had stolen what was left of my family.
It was going to steal my hair, and now it was stealing my boobs.
I reach for my stuffed rabbit. Clutching Riley to me, I stroke his fuzzy ears and try to calm down.
But even Riley, the worn old rabbit that had gotten me through so much of this miserable hell, wasn’t enough to comfort me tonight.
I roll over and wish I could get drunk enough to forget where I was. What I was. What was going to happen to me.
Grabbing my Kindle, I turn it on and tried to distract myself with a book. I wasn’t going to be sleeping tonight—I may as well do something besides mope.
-
I’m back at the clinic a few days later, here for yet another round of check-ups. As if I haven’t spent enough time in this clinic at all- sometimes, I think that it would make more sense for me to just move in here. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about shit like paying rent and having to interact with other people.
Okay, the interacting with other people thing is a problem in the clinic, too.
“Milcah, there’s going to be an activity in the rec room in twenty minutes. Do you want to go?” A nurse pokes her head in, way too blonde and perky.
“No.”
“You sure? It’s going to be so much fun!”
I scowl at her. She definitely had been a stupid cheerleader in high school. They never grow out of that over-perkiness. “This isn’t summer camp. I don’t want to do any activities.”
“Well, if you change your mind, let me know!” she chirps, like I’m some stubborn five-year old.
I’m maybe six years younger than her. Not twenty years younger.
“Sure,” I say, just so she’ll leave.
She does, and there I am again—alone in the stupid little room, probably where I’ll die.
There’s another knock on the door and I groan. Why can’t they just freakin’ leave me alone?
“Milcah?”
Mile-sah.
If you can’t even pronounce my name normally, why would I want to talk to you?
The door opens and a lady walks in. She kind of looks like a middle-aged Barbie gone wrong. Frumpy, bad makeup job and wearing all pink. If she hadn’t just barged into my room for no fucking reason, it would be funny. So far, I’m just pissed.
“Mile-sah! I’m here to visit!”
Who the hell is this lady, and why is she here? It’s not like there are really any visiting hours here, considering it’s an outpatient clinic for the most part. Which means that there aren’t visitors or random strangers just showing up, except for apparently this lady, who’s decided she doesn’t count and doesn’t need to follow any clinic rules.
“Who are you?” I cross my arms over my chest and try to ignore the little voice in my head.
The one that says, “enjoy the sensation of having a chest while you can, it’ll be gone in four days.”
“I’m here with The Runbard Animal Therapy Group,” she says, like I won the lottery.
“Yeah…”
“We’ve recently teamed up with the hospital, and are going to start animal therapy sessions!” she says, clapping like an overexcited seal.
“Yeah…”
“And we wanted to know if you’d like someone to stop by with an animal buddy one day this week!”
An animal buddy?
No, thank you.
I have nothing against animals. I happen to like them a lot. The thought of Snotface, my cat, literally makes my heart hurt. I miss her. It nearly killed me to leave her behind. But like hell am I having some weirdo like this one come to my room with an “animal buddy.”
“No.”
“You sure?” she asks.
“Positive. Please leave.”
I turn completely in my chair to face the wall and ignore her.
“Well, let someone know if you change your mind!” she sings.
I pretend not to hear her, and wish she’d just leave already.
She finally does, and I turn back and glare at the ceiling. You know what would make this clinic suck less? If I didn’t have to get harassed for random strangers while I waited to get poked and prodded.
Reaching over, I grab my big-ass headphones, jam them on, and hope that nobody else decides to come visit me today.


(And now, because Les Mis, here's the finale from the 10th anniversary of Les Mis, sung by seventeen different Valjeans. You're welcome.) 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Why White People Need To Stop Making Out On Book Covers

(NOTE: This post is not meant as a criticism of anyone in specific, or anyone at all. It was written with the intention of starting a conversation.)

This is getting ridiculous, y'all.
(Disclaimer: I am white.)
(Other disclaimer: I am not a cover designer, nor do I even pretend to be.)

So, I was asked/I volunteered as a tribute to help the lovely Christina over at Reader of Fictions by picking my favorite cover from last week's Cover Snark. While scrolling through the covers, I was overwhelmed with white people almost kissing. Or kissing. Or smiling sexily at the camera. Or abs, because obviously all we need from a guy is neck down. No need to bother with things like faces and brains when there are abs and other things we can gawk at. I picked a favorite cover (Brutal Youth), and emailed back Christina with a little rant about all the PDA.

An the more I thought about it, the more prevalent the trend seemed to be- the amount of WP(A)K (as I'm shortening it to now) that I've been seeing recently is just short of overwhelming. But  a lot of times, we think things are SUPER HUGE deals, and are all over the place and yada yada yada, and in reality, it's all just in our head. So I decided to do a little research- was I actually just overreacting? Were there really not that many, and I just thought there were? Was I blowing this whole thing entirely out of proportion?

Well, in general, the WP(A)K cover issue occurs in books shelved as romance. Which makes sense, because if your book is about the evolution of magma, having people making out on the cover is going to be false advertising. So off I headed to Amazon to check some bestseller lists. I find that bestseller lists help you get a good idea of what is available in the current market. Now, granted, these were the numbers for when I did research, and they could have changed.

The top 100 bestselling romance novels had 44 covers that either featured shirtless men or white people who were kissing or almost kissing. That's a little less than half, which is a LOT, but not nearly as big of a thing as it seemed to me. And so I decided to take a little visit to the New Adult & College section, and see what was going on over there.

Y'all. I could not make up these numbers if I tried. Out of the top 100 best selling books in the New Adult & College section (which is an entirely different conversation), EIGHTY SEVEN had shirtless men or WP(A)K. Eighty. Freaking. Seven. That means that there were 13 that didn't feature abs or people making out.

Honestly, I don't even know what to do about this. It bothers me on so many different levels, and nothing I can think of makes any of this better.

Okay, I know that not all New Adult books written are romance novels. But that seems to be predominantly the genre that they are written in. And yes, they don't ALL have lots and lots of sex, but that seems to be what is selling the most, as seen by bestselling lists.

So, if we're taking bestselling lists into account, here's what seems to be the formula for a NA bestseller:

Troubled Girl + Troubled Bad Boy + Lots of Sex (that seems to solve said troubled pasts) + Sexy WP(A)K/White Boy Abs Cover.

(Y'all. I've ranted about this before, and I'm kind of frustrated that I have to do it again. For a lot of people in the "New Adult" age category, that is not real life. It's not. Do a lot of us have stuff we have to deal with left over from childhood? Yup. Is there sex/romantic involvement with someone else involved? Not always. Does having sex with someone SOLVE YOUR CHILDHOOD TRAUMAS?
Nope. Nononononononononoooooooo.
But that's not even the point here. Sorry. It was just a little side rant.)

As we were saying. Book covers.
If we're going to go with the research that I've done (and no, it is not as extensive as it could be), it seems to be that the way to get readers to pick up your New Adult book is if there are White People (Almost) Kissing, or A Sexy Shirtless White Man (or his abs) on the cover. Even if your book is not a book that has lots of white people kissing or a sexy white man who walks around shirtless a lot.

I didn't really understand what was going on- was this trying to get regular romance readers to read NA books? I meandered my way over to the Top Romance Novels Of All Time list on Goodreads, figuring that would be a good snapshot of romance novel covers. There are a lot less WP(A)K covers than I expected to see, which now makes sense. (As opposed to the New Adult lists, which all feature significantly more WP(A)K on the covers.) Like lots of other things, romance novel covers go through fads. While the grand tradition of romance novels is to have a nice couple making out (or if historical fiction, to have some bodice ripping action), many covers have moved past that and a lot of them feature landscapes now. So where is the  current WP(A)K/Shirtless Ab thing coming from?

I headed back to Amazon, and found the bestselling list for erotica.
Boom.
Seventy nine out of the top 100 bestselling erotica books featured WP(A)K and/or Shirtless Abs.

Can we discuss this for a minute? There are more WP(A)K/Shirtless Ab covers on the New Adult bestselling list than there are on the Erotica bestseller list. 

I can not even begin to tell you how frustrated and upset this bit of information made me. As a New Adult writer who hears the whole "New Adult is just Young Adult with more sex" a LOT, having that bit of information backed up by covers that look like they're right off the Erotica bestseller list is not helping anything.

One of the issues New Adult is having as a category is breaking out of the rut of contemporary college romance that it's fallen into. Now, I can't blame anyone in specific for that- firstly, there are a lot of people from the ages of 18 to 26 that are enrolled in some institution for higher education. Secondly, lots of them have romantic relationships during these years. But with the vast majority of NA currently published follows the same basic story line, it's becoming harder and harder for people outside the NA community to take it seriously. At some point, the market will reach saturation, and then we're all going to be in a lot of trouble.

I do understand that one of the reasons that a lot of NA covers are the way they are is because a lot of the original New Adult covers were bought from cover artists who worked with erotic novels. I understand that it's easier to make a cover with a picture of two people kissing because it's less work for the rest of the cover. I also understand that since there's this misconception that Fifty Shades Of Gray is NA, there's going to be a crossover of readers who tend to read erotica.

The issue is that the readers of New Adult are not only people who read a lot of erotic novels, and while they are a vocal group, and quite enthusiastic readers, they are not the only ones reading NA. Granted, there are people who read across all genres and categories who read both erotic novels and New Adult.

There are a heck of a lot of people who are between the ages of 18 and 26. And one of the reasons the category of New Adult began was to give these people voices. To give their experiences voices, and to validate the fact that there is an in-between stage that's not teenager and not adult. They are not all white. They are not all in college. They are not all actively having lots of sex. They are not all white, for the love of God. They are not all straight.

And they deserve to be depicted as such, both on the inside and outside of books.

It's not like that information is shocking to most of us. The question is, though so many people want nothing more for the NA category to grow beyond contemporary romance, and to have covers that accurately portray the stories written within, why are there still abs and white people making out all over the place?

Money.

Listen, y'all. If writers just wrote and published for funsies, this would all be a different story. If money didn't play a role in the publishing of books, every part of books would be entirely selfish. An author wanted a WP(A)K cover? Sure! An author wanted to make the cover out of construction paper and glitter? Pfft. Go ahead. Don't let me stop you, yo.

But the bottom line is, people who write books, for the most part, expect to make some amount of money on their work. And in order to do so, they need to sell copies of their books.

As we've seen, books with sexy covers sell. And the only way to really prove that we want diversity on the outside of our NA books and on the inside of NA books is to say something.
To put our money where our mouths are, and buy the kinds of books we want to read. To promote the things we love. To have covers that (dare I say it?) don't have WP(A)K. That may have different people (almost) kissing. Two boys. Two girls. Guys that are fully clothed, or maybe even covers without anyone on them. There are infinite possibilities when it comes to book covers, and we shouldn't limit ourselves to what has been done before. 

I love New Adult fiction. New Adult non-fiction, and memoirs and mysteries and thrillers and romance and comedy and science fiction and everything. I am saying this all out of the immense love and respect I have for the authors and readers of New Adult.

There is more to being 18 to 26 than making out with someone else. There is more to being 18-26 than the abs of a gym monkey. There is more to being 18-26 than sex. There are people who are 18 to 26 who are not white straight cisgendered folk. There are people who are 18 to 26 who are waiting to see themselves represented accurately in literature, both inside the book and on the covers. And as an emerging category, New Adult has the potential of finally being the place that diversity is accepted and encouraged. 

There is more that we can put on covers than White People (Almost) Kissing. There is more we can put inside our books than just White People (Almost) Kissing. The world is a wonderful and diverse place, and our stories should reflect that.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Price Of Piracy

Okay, y'all. It's time for a little circle time with Miss K.K.
I need everyone sitting criss-cross applesauce, and if you have a pen and paper, that would be great, too.
It has come to my attention that there are some people who think that it's okay to steal other people's books.
Without paying for them.

Now, I KNOW that it wasn't you, because y'all know how VERY VERY BAD stealing from other people is. But we need to review this, because there is absolutely no reason whatsoever that ANYONE should think that stealing books is okay.

There is absolutely no circumstances ever ever ever ever ever that stealing books is okay. Never.

And because I am so incredibly DONE with this, I decided to pull out my calculator and soapbox, because this was something I couldn't ignore anymore.

This isn't about me. This isn't about my books. This about my friends, this about their books, and this about doing the right thing.

I did math. A lot of math.

Now, let's start with the basics, okay? How many hours on average does an indie author take to write, revise, edit, publicize, etc. etc. etc. their book?

(NOTE: These are not exact numbers. Not everyone takes the same amount of time to do the same things. This is probably A LOT less than it actually takes. That being said...)

An average book is around 70,000 words. On a good hour, I can write around 2500 words. But that doesn't usually happen. For math's sake, let's pretend for every hour of working, an author writes 2,000 words an hour. (HAHAHHAA. But still.)

MATH TIME: So, 70,000 words divided by 2,000 words an hour is 35 hours to write a first draft.

Now, nobody actually publishes a first draft of a book. (PLEASE GOD I DON'T WANT TO HEAR ABOUT IF THIS IS THE CASE. DO NOT EVER DO THIS EVER EVER EVER.) So, now you need to revise your manuscript.
More than once.

Now, let's say each round of revisions takes 15 hours. And let's say you go through THREE rounds of edits and revisions with CPs and betas.

15 hours of revision multiplied by 3 rounds is 45 hours of revision.

So far, the average author has worked around 80 hours of work on their book. Now, it's time to send it to the copy editor for final edits. (This is assuming that said author hasn't used a developmental editor, because their CPs were thorough enough. This is not always the case.) Between reviewing edits from the copy editor and rereading it before sending it to the formatter? Add another 5 ish hours.

TOTAL HOURS so far: 85 hours.

Now, publicity? I've heard a lot of different numbers for the average amount of hours spent on publicizing a book- anywhere from 10 hours to 40 hours to more than that. That involves social media, organizing blog tours (or just writing the guest posts for a blog tour), sending out ARCs, cover reveals, packaging swag to send to people... lots of stuff. And for every author, it's going to be different.

So let's go with a fairly conservative number- around 20 hours.

TOTAL HOURS: 105 hours. 

That's a little over two and a half weeks of 8 hour days.


Now. Let's say said author is selling their book for $2.99 on Amazon, with a 70% royalty, thereby making $2.09 per book sold.

Divide $2.09 into the 105 hours that they've worked so far and the HOURLY WAGE of an author per books sold comes out to $0.02 (rounded up to the nearest cent).

That means for every book an author sells under these circumstances, they are making TWO CENTS for every hour they have worked on their book.

Are we done with math?
NOT YET, CHILDREN.

Okay. So, so far we know that an author makes two cents an hour per book they've sold. Two cents per hour is not livable. At all. Uh-uh, no way. But hopefully, an author sells more than one book, right? Right. The question is, how many books does an author have to sell in order to have made minimum wage for those 105 hours they spent on their book?

Minimum wage differs between states, but the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. (There are many states that have a higher minimum wage, but for this, we'll use the federal.)

More math!

105 hours multiplied by $7.25 an hour is $761.25.
Now, divide $761.25 by $2.09, the amount of money per book received, and you get around 364 books that need to be sold in order for an author to have made minimum wage for those 105 hours.

Are we done yet?
NOPE.

Because we haven't added in the PRICE of publishing a book. Now, we can debate about this from here to next week, but for argument's sake and for this blog post, let's pretend that an author needs to lay out $1500 for the book. (This is an underestimate, for the most part. But whatever.)

Now, to make back the $1500 spent to publish the book, an author needs to sell around 718 books. This means for an author to make minimum wage for ONLY the 105 hours mentioned before, they need to first sell 718 books before they can even make a penny.

Which means for an author to have made (BEFORE TAXES) minimum wage for the hours they spent working on said book, they need to sell 1082 books.

Let's recap, shall we? To make minimum wage as an indie author for one book for only the hours you spent actively working on the book, you need to sell 1,082 books. But if you want to have a roof over your head 0and some food on your table, $761.25 is not really practical in the United States to have made for one year. If you're working 40 hour weeks, 12 months a year at minimum wage, you'll be earning a little less than $14,000 before taxes.

As an author? You need to sell 6,698 books for that to happen.

Do you hate math? Did you skip down here for when the numbers finally stop? Well, here we are.
Here's the little lesson we've just learned from all that math.
Ready?

Every. Single. Sale. Counts.

You may think that stealing two cents an hour per book from an author isn't a big deal. You may think, PFFT! There are plenty of other people who are buying that author's book, that my measly $2.09 or however much they're making isn't really going to make much of a difference.

You would be completely and utterly incorrect.
First of all, you have no idea how many people are purchasing that book. You don't know how many people WOULD HAVE purchased the book had it not been pirated. Granted, not everyone who pirates books would have actually purchased the book if stealing it was not an option. But some of them would have.

To be honest, though, all the numbers we just went through? Don't matter. There is not a price I can put on the emotional and mental stress an author goes through when their books get pirated. Because after all those hours and hours of work you've put in, and the amount of your heart and soul that is invested in that book, having someone steal it is basically giving you and everything you've worked so hard for the middle finger. Now, multiply that by every illegal download. Every website that uploaded a book without permission of the author.

We're not even getting into the legal ramifications of piracy, because Lord knows that I did not go to law school, and copyright law is something I am not as familiar about as I could or should be. But the fact of the matter is, legalities aside here:

Stealing from other people is despicable, and there should never ever be a reason you should be doing so. How much money someone already has is not the point. How much money you're stealing from them is not the point. "I wouldn't have bought it in the first place!" Not the point.

Would you walk into a store and just walk out with things you didn't pay for? Not even hiding the things while you walked out? Would you go to the manager after and say, "Hey! You know that really nice thing you have that I stole from you? I really like it a lot! You should get more of those so I can steal more of them!"

You wouldn't.

I know it's the internet, and we like to think we're all invincible here behind our computer screens, and that we can do things like steal from people because it's only online and it doesn't count, and write nasty comments and bully people because it's not REAL, but guess what, y'all?

Just because it's on the internet doesn't make it any less of a crime than if it was in real life.

Stealing is stealing.

And you should not do it.

(and now for some entirely appropriate Weird Al: