Author archive

The quest to become a unicorn

By: Joelle Charbonneau

When I started the first page of my first book, I knew nothing about the craft of writing or about the publishing industry.  I wanted to tell a story.  I wanted to see how the story would end.  The funny thing is that by hitting THE END of that story, a whole new story began.  The story of a unicorn.

I started writing in 2003.  And as I am fond of pointing out, I never took an English class in college.  There was nothing that made me qualified to write a book other than the fact that I sat down at the computer and decided to try.  And wow did I try.  And try.  And try.

Each book racked up dozens of rejections.  During that time, e-publishing through Amazon, B&N and other sources had begun to grow at an amazing rate.  Lots of writers I knew ditched the idea of traditional publishing in order to independently publish their work.  I cheered them on.  Meanwhile, I kept writing.


That question comes up a lot when I talk to writers groups.  Do I think those books were bad?  The first one is.  Trust me on this.  It is BAD!  But the others – I don’t think so.  None of them were bad.  Readers might have enjoyed them, but I’ll never find out if that is true.   I put them to the side because deep in my heart I wasn’t sure I was good enough to be an author. 

I grew up reading any book I could get my hands on.  I loved stories and books and thought authors were different from the people I knew because they had the power to make worlds and characters come alive on the page.  They made me gasp and my heart pound.  They made me sigh and cry.  They were like unicorns.  They weren’t quite of this earth.  They were magic.  

So, perhaps it isn’t strange that I was skeptical that I, who while growing up had never considered being a writer or who had never taken a single creative writing class, could ever write a book that was good enough to be read.  I doubted that I could ever be a unicorn.

Each manuscript taught me something new.  Every day I wrote made me better.  But still I doubted.  Until finally, I found a literary agent who said that she believed in my book.   She believed in me.  

Those words were a kind of magic.  A validation that I might some day be good enough to be an author.  And when that manuscript (my fifth completed novel) sold to St. Martin’s Minotaur, I waited for the magic spell that would make believe I was a unicorn.

The spell never came. 

The first book came out.  It got positive reviews from the trades and found a home with readers who embraced Elwood the Camel and Rebecca Robbins.  And still I waited for the magic.  That moment where I believed I had the right to call myself an author.

I’ve published 9 books since the Fall of 2010.  The 10th will come out on June 17thof this year.  I’ve been nominated for some awards (how did that happen?), have seen my work on the New York Times list (HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?) and have signed thousands of copies of title pages that bear my name.  I always thought those would be the things that made me feel like a real author.  And while I’m grateful for all of them, they were not the magic spell that made me believe I had the right to claim the title as my own.

A little over four years ago, a group of writers asked me if I’d be willing to blog with them.  Many of them were multi-published novelists.  Others had a slew of short fiction or film scripts to their names.  They were all talented and smart and writers I admired.

And they wanted me.  They believed in me.  They still believe in me.

Looking back, I realize that the journey to becoming an author was filled with important milestones and moments.  Some like my first call with my agent or hitting the New York Times list are big, huge, noisy moments.  Others are quiet, like finding the perfect hook to a chapter while sitting in the living room while everyone else in the house is asleep.  And then there are moments like the day that I was asked to join Do Some Damage.  The day where my fellow writers by their request made me realize that even if I didn’t feel like one – I really was a unicorn. 

Or I guess I should say I am a unicorn.  How strange is that?

I am honored and lucky and so thrilled to have this job and to have shared this blog with so many incredibly talented writers for the last 4 years.   And I am humbled by every reader who has given me the most precious gifts you can give – your time and attention.  You have made these past four years on this blog an incredible experience.  And now it is my turn to share that experience with someone else.

It is time for me to step aside.  Although, you won’t get rid of me.  I plan on guest posting whenever I can swing it and I will always consider myself a member of Do Some Damage.  But after four years on Do Some Damage, surrounded by the most amazing and supportive group ever, the time has come for me to give another author a chance to shine. 

And trust me – she is going to shine bright. 

Kristi Belcamino is an incredible unicorn.  Her debut novel, Blessed Are The Dead, will be published on June 10th from Harper Collins.  It’s going to be one heck of a ride. 

The ride on Do Some Damage will start next Sunday with Kristi’s first post.  I hope she enjoys her time with you as much as I have. 

So, I guess I will sign off this last post saying Thank you.  Thank you to the Do Some Damage gang for believing in me.  I hope I have done you proud.  And thank you to each and every reader who has taken time out of your day in order to spend it with me.  You make me believe in magic.  You are the ones who have made me a unicorn.

One size doesn’t fit all

By: Joelle Charbonneau

Because of advances in technology, the way we read, buy books and market books has changed.  Writers have more choices when it comes to publishing their books.  You can choose to work with the established brick and mortar system that has been in place for decades or become your own publisher or go with something in between. 

With so many options open to writers, it should come as no surprise that there are even more opinions about how a writer should proceed when it comes to publishing, marketing and just about everything else in the industry.  The effort of reading all of those opinions would be enough to send someone into information overload. 

The crazy thing is – almost everyone has an opinion about how to do it.  Or maybe I should say they have an opinion about how they have chosen to explore publishing.  And just because someone else has had success or failure with a certain avenue doesn’t mean the same will happen for you.  This isn’t like buying a towel or a pair of socks where most sizes fit all.  Publishing is personal.  Which makes sense because your work is personal.  And it would be foolish to believe that all books are the same or that all publishing journeys should follow the same path.

So – with that in mind, here are some of the issues every writer (traditionally published or self published) encounters and the reasons why one size doesn’t fit all.

1)  Yes – agent!  No – agent!   You’ll see arguments for an against the need for a literary agent in this age of the Internet.  And wow – the arguments (especially against) can be very forceful.  Some say having an agent limits your career.  Others say it expands it.  Which is right?  Well, I can only tell you that neither is wrong.  An agent is someone who represents your work to publishers.  So, if you are choosing to self-publish you probably don’t need one.  However if you want to go through the more traditional publishing model – agents are necessary.  They also work hard to sell translation, film and audio rights.  For that effort, they make a percentage of all that you earn. 

2)  Editors are not all created equal.  Do you need an editor – yes!  No matter who you are it is necessary to have another pair of eyes look and help you revise your work.  Why?  Because you know what you intended to say.  A fresh reader will help you understand what you really said and where passages or story points that seem clear to you are confusing to others.  A good editor is worth his or her weight in gold.  However, just because someone calls themselves an editor doesn’t meant that they are the right editor for your project.  If you are hiring an editor to help with your project, ask lots of questions and have a conversation about what you are looking for in an editor.  Ask for samples of the editor’s work and referrals.  Don’t just trust that the right editor for your friend is the correct editor for you.  Also, as a traditionally published author – you often have little say in which editor loves and chooses to offer you a contract on your work.  However, you can ask around about the editor’s style.  If you know the editor is more strongly regarded because of their eye for strong writing voices and not for their editorial input, you can always ask your agent or a trusted reader for opinions on the story before it is put into production.   Editors are important pieces of the publishing puzzle, but it is the author’s name that goes on the cover of the book.  That is the name the reader will remember.  Don’t let them associate that name with poor editing.

3)  Bookmarks and swag – Often the first thing an author does after seeing the cover art for their book is order bookmarks and other swag.  Why?  Is it genuinely effective in helping sell your book to readers?  Does swag effect purchase intent?  Some will say YES!  I know agents that insist their authors have swag or some sort of paper product with their cover on it whenever they go to events or to conferences.  Other agents shrug at that kind of marketing collateral.  No one knows exactly what swag or marketing materials help sell books.  If you love handing out bookmarks – get them!  If you have some extra cash and want to spend it on cool trinkets – have at it.  But remember that NO ONE knows exactly what influences book purchases.  So, if you don’t have the cash or the inclination to get bookmarks or postcards printed – that’s okay, too. 

4)  Blog tours – Here is a tricky one.  Blog tours were the new, fabulous, exciting public relations tools about a decade ago.  Back then, a blog tour appeared to generate sales.  Now?  Again, no one knows.  There are a lot more blogs now.  The audience for those blogs is thinned out amongst them.  And because blog tours are still hugely popular (because – hey – you don’t have to pay for food or hotel or transportation with this kind of tour) not a day passes without dozens and dozens of authors posting about their books on the world wide web.  With so much content out there, and so many books touring the Internet, it’s hard to stand out from the crowd.  If you like blog tours – hooray!  Have at it.  If you hate creating Internet content and don’t want to play – that’s good, too.  Your publisher will certainly have ideas about what they would like you to do, but they aren’t going to make you do a 40 stop tour with original content required for each stop.  Strategic blog tours can still help get the word out, but they are not the end all be all of PR.  Don’t let anyone tell you different.

5) Reviews – Do reviews matter?  Well, they provide validation for some authors and many bookstores or libraries use them to help gauge which books should be ordered for their patrons.  But I know books that get great reviews that never sell well and books that are panned which sell zillions of copies.  Go fig!  Clip the good ones.  Throw away the bad ones.  Or create a bonfire and put both versions on the fire.  Up to you.

6) Social Media -  Twitter.  Facebook.  Tumbler. Instagram. (what is this?  I mean, really!!!!  Someone tell me why it is different than just posting a photo to Twitter.  I’m baffled)  Google Plus (does anyone use it?).  Pinterest.  And more!  There are so many platforms.  Everyone will tell you what the platform is that they have found the most useful.  I know some who love Tumbler.  Others adore Facebook or Pinterest.  Twitter is either hated or beloved.  There is no right or wrong answer here.  Try them out.  See what you like.  Ditch the rest.  Your career doesn’t hinge on being fabulous at all aspects of social media or even any of them. 

7) The Amazon sales ranking – Some would argue it means everything!  Others will say it means nothing.  The truth?  Only the great and powerful wizard behind the curtain knows and he ain’t talking.  Everyone agrees that more goes into the sales number than just…well…sales.  And that’s the only thing everyone agrees on.  The facts and figures aren’t available to tell us what those numbers really mean.  If they are important to you – okay.  If not, no worries.  You’re not alone.

The list of things people will insist an author needs to know or do is almost endless.  Certainly, these are only the tip of the iceberg.  Do this. Do that.  Spend money.  Don’t.  I’ve listened to lots of advice.  I’ve tried lots of it.  You know what I’ve learned?  There is only one thing an author must do to help their career. 

Write the next book.  Because really – that is the only thing you can control.

Happy writing!

Jealousy – the easy answer

By: Joelle Charbonneau

Last week, I wrote a post about personal attack reviews against authors.  The post got some wide attention and as a result I was interviewed on the subject by The Guardian as part of an article they did about a petition currently circulating which asks Amazon to disallow anonymous reviews and comments on the site’s forums.   My interview was not on the petition – which I was in not familiar with– but on attack reviews in general and my experience with them.  During the course of the interview, I was asked if the attack reviews were caused by “an odd sort of jealousy”.  I think the reviewer expected me to say yes.  My answer was no.

When the topic of negativity or personal attacks comes up in discussion, I often hear people automatically say, “Oh they’re just jealous.”  It’s possible this is the case some of the time, but I would argue that ascribing all negative behavior to jealousy diminishes the conversation and negates the possibility of coming up with constructive solutions. 

To be honest, until the question was posed to me in such a direct way, I’m not sure I had truly thought deeply about the answer. Reviews that personally attack the author instead of criticizing the work are wrong.  Plain and simple.  There is no excuse for a review of the work that calls the authors names or threatens physical harm.  But do the people who write those reviews know they are wrong?  They should – or most of them should – but do they really?

My knee-jerk reaction to that question is YES!  Hell yes!  They know.  Or at least most of them should know.

And yet, the more I think about it, the more I realize that answer is flawed.  In fact, I believe that most of the people who post personal attack reviews believe they are not only acceptable, but that those reviews are rewarded.  And for that, we are all to blame.

Let me explain. 

When I was in my final college years, the Internet was just beginning.  (Yes, this sounds like the age of mammoths and saber tooth tigers, but in actuality was the 90s.  Go figure!) But it wasn’t until after ringing in the 21st century that the Internet became the social hub that it is now.  Blogs, social media and websites suddenly became a new an exciting tool for marketing.  Because of this, publishers and authors leapt onto the bandwagon of all things Internet to get the word out about their books.  And those with blogs and websites and social media outlets that got the most hits, retweets and likes were considered successful in spreading news about books.  That success was rewarded with…stuff.  Books!  Advanced reader copies!  Swag!  Party invitations at BEA, ALA or other conferences.  The more hits you get, the more the rewards. 

Score!  Right?  Okay, maybe not. 

But think about it.  What draws the most hits to a blog or gets the most retweets or shares?  (And I’m not talking about cat photos here.  Those are in a category all their own.)  What gets you clicking on a link that someone shares?  Do you click on the thoughtful article or the one that promises controversy?  In my experience, sensational headlines and a promise of snark gets people clicking every time. 

Because the old traditional marketing methods were so expensive, publishers both self and traditional embraced the growth of the Internet as a marketing tool.  I would argue that the growth of that tool became more important to many than the level of conversation it led to.  Hits and likes and shares and retweets have become measurable benchmarks for success online.  So is it any wonder that those who see those numbers rewarded embrace the methods they observe that achieve them?

Many people say that numbers don’t lie.  In this case, I believe they do.  The numbers are wrong an the culture of rewarding those numbers needs to end before any true change can be seen.

So, I ask the question now to you that I was asked.  Is jealousy to blame for the personal attack reviews on authors or the way many defend the belief that those reviews are perfectly acceptable?

What do you say? 

I say no.

And while I would argue that jealousy isn’t the answer, neither is the phrase “Trolls will be trolls” that I have seen so often posted.  To dismiss the problem as a result of jealousy or to label those actively participating in the behavior as trolls lowers the level of conversation and leads nowhere.

Last week, I was nervous to post on the subject of personal attack reviews because I feared the pushback I have seen others receive online.  I’m still worried, but I am continuing to talk on this subject because I believe a line needs to be drawn and that if I don’t draw it I am offering my tacit agreement that the behavior of personally attacking authors alongside their work is correct.  And I don’t agree.

And I don’t believe you do either.

Regardless of what is to blame for this problem, I have a firm conviction that we can create change.  I believe in the book community and the love of the written word that binds us.  I believe that we can turn back the tide if all of us who love books – authors, publishers, booksellers, bloggers, Internet retailers and the rest of the amazing reading community – draw a line in the sand together.  A line that is about respect for our mutual passion and a true discourse about the works we connect with or dislike.  By raising the level of conversation and not adding to the numbers of those who tear the conversation down, we can make a difference. 

So----who’s with me?

This author should die

by: Joelle Charbonneau

I’m an author.  Which means this is perhaps a dangerous subject for me to write about, but it is also one I believe I need to speak to.  So…here goes.

The Internet is a wonderful thing.   It gives us access to information (although not always accurate information) at lightning fast speeds.  It allows us to quickly communicate and send documents with a click of a button.  Social media gives us the ability to with very little effort keep in touch with those we might have otherwise not taken the time to connect with.  What’s not to love?

And yet, the Internet is also a terrible place.  Because it is a world that is explored from the seemingly anonymous and safe place behind the computer screen, many people say things on the Internet that they would never say in real life.  You see evidence every day of this on Facebook, Twitter, and in the comments of every political news article.   Words that would never come out of someone’s mouth if they were having a discussion face to face rear their ugly heads. 


Well, I can only guess.  However, it seems to me that many people feel words typed on a screen and posted on the Internet have less meaning than those said aloud.  And you know what, if that is the case those who believe that are wrong. 

Words have power. 

I believed that long before I became an author.  Words have the power to lift people up, cause great joy, instill fear or inflict injury far greater than many weapons.  And unlike a misplaced comment said at a cocktail party or on the phone, the words on the Internet live on and on and on, which gives them even greater power.  Which is why I wish people would treat them with more care.  The lack of care when attacking other people’s political, religious or social beliefs makes me want to scream.  Especially when I know the people posting and know they would never choose the words they typed if they were speaking face to face. 

The Internet and the screen we sit behind desensitizes people to the power of their words.  And because of that those words do damage.

As an author, I see signs of this desensitization in the reviews that are posted online.  (Yes…this is where the author in me treads dangerous ground.  I know it.  I’m walking it anyway because I believe in what I say.)  Now…don’t get me wrong.  I don’t believe book reviews should be universally wonderful.  What would be the point?  Not all people love all books.  That is as it should be.  Books that I love will be disliked by others.  Good.  We are all different.  We should have different opinions.  Reviews should state what the reader liked and disliked.  Reviews should be critical of the storytelling moments that didn’t click for them and praise the writing that made them read into the early hours of the morning.  That is what reviews are for.  Critical reviews are just as important as wonderful reviews.  Without one, we cannot have the other…at least not in any meaningful way.

But, over the years I’ve seen critical reviews turn personal.  Reviewers not only stating that they hate the book, but make personal attacks on the author.  I have more than one review of THE TESTING that not only hates the story, but goes on to say that they hate me and that they think I should die.  I’ve seen reviews that attack me as a person.  They tell me I was trying to rip off other books.  They suggest I should be hurt or worse because of their beliefs. 

Those reviews are scary.  I stumbled across them in the days before THE TESTING came out.  I haven’t read any reviews on Goodreads or searched out reviews on blogs since.  So there could be worse out there.

Do I believe they really want me dead?  No.  Do I believe they would use those words to my face if they met me at a bookstore or on the street somewhere?  Heck no.  Yet, for whatever reason, they chose to type those words.  They chose to share them with the world and sign their name (or online pseudonym) to them. 


I wish I knew.  Do they get more hits on their blog by publishing implied death threats?  Do they want me to see those words? 

Not long ago, ALLEGIANT by Veronica Roth was published to an enormous print run and great fanfare.  Fans who disliked where the story went in that final installment of the trilogy took to the Internet and blasted the story.  That is fair.  If you don’t like the story, you can criticize the story.  But it went so much farther than that.  Lots of death threats.  Lots of words of hate and feelings of betrayal were spewed directly at the author on social media.  She was told she should drop dead more than once.  Because she wrote a book and they chose to read it.


I’m sorry, but under no circumstances does an author deserve to be told they should die.  Not me.  Not Veronica Roth.  Not anyone.  I don’t care how invested you are in the story or how much you value your time and hate that you feel it was wasted.  Telling an author they deserve to die or making personal attacks on them is just plain wrong.   I don’t care how you justify the words…those words are wrong.

Can you criticize the story?  Yes!  Do it!  Jump up and down on it.  Throw the book against the wall if you’d like.  Heck, I’ve done it.  We all love different things. Different stories speak to different people.   Criticize the story. 

Now, I’ve seen lots of people say that they can’t leave the author out of the review because the author is active on social media or because the author wrote the book and therefore has put themselves out there to be reviewed right alongside their story.   No.  Just no.  I’m sorry, but telling the author that writing a book has invited personal attack is akin to telling a girl that wearing a tight dress to a frat party is asking to be raped. 

Both are wrong.

I am an author.  I hope readers will like my stories, but I respect when they don’t and appreciate opinions that applaud my books just as much as I respect those who tear my books down.

But, I am a person.  And I have a child who will someday search the Internet for posts on his mother and reviews of her work.  And that child will see people’s posts that make threats on my life for writing a book. 

Which is why I am asking - how can that possibly be okay?

Meet Robin Spano and her fabulous character – Clare Vengel

One of the best things about the INDEPENDENT STUDY launch and book tour is that I've been able to wrangle some of my favorite authors to spend some time on Do Some Damage while I am otherwise occupied.  Today, I am beyond excited to introduce you to Robin Spano.  If you don't know her and her writing - what's wrong with you???  (Kidding...sort of...maybe...)  Not only is Robin an amazing friend and awesome person, she is a kick-butt author.  I love Clare Vengel and I hope after reading this post you'll check out the books and  spend a whole lot more time with Clare.  You'll be glad you did!

Warm thanks to Joelle Charbonneau for inviting me to guest post on Do Some Damage while she's off on a glamorous book tour for her kickass YA series.

Joelle suggested a post that introduces readers to Clare Vengel (the undercover cop who stars in my mystery series), so I've taken the Proust Questionairre (which supposedly reveals someone's true nature) and asked Clare to answer it. Here's what she says:

1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?

A bottle of Bud, a few more in the fridge, and an evening on the couch with my man of the hour. In a perfect world, this is date six or seven. We've done the whole getting-to-know-you bit, but haven't dated long enough for baggage. We're just here, together, chilling and enjoying whatever's on TV.

2. What is your greatest fear?
Ending up alone and single, with not even a cat for company. I guess the honest truth is that I fear that I'm unloveable once someone gets to know the real me.

3. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
I wish I wasn't afraid of commitment.

4. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Falseness. I hate people who pretend to be something they're not. Which is most people.

5. Which living person do you most admire?
Queen Latifah. She's kind and warm and she doesn't pretend.

6. What is your greatest extravagance?
My motorcycle jacket. I almost never spend money on myself, but when I saw this in the bike shop window, I was in love. Then I felt the leather—soft, smooth, supple—and I pulled out my debit card on the spot.

7. What is your current state of mind?
Relaxed. I'm halfway through my first beer of the night. I have a fresh pack of cigarettes so I won't have to go out.

8. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

9. On what occasion do you lie?
When I'm undercover.

10. What do you most dislike about your appearance?
I'm too skinny, but no amount of beer and pizza seems to change that. I wish I had bigger breasts, and a more curvy, feminine figure.

11. Which living person do you most despise?
Shauna Bartlett. It's not really her fault; she's just engaged to the man I wish I had.

12. What is the quality you most like in a man?
I like him to be laid back enough that he can laugh at himself.

13. What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Same thing. Laid back and can laugh at herself.

14. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Fuck. I swear too much. I should temper that.

15. What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Lance McGraw. My high school boyfriend. He cheated on me with half of Orillia but I would take him back in a heartbeat.

16. When and where were you happiest?
I'm happiest on the back of my bike. On the highway, because there I can just ride and ride, without stoplights and yuppies in BMWs who cut me off because they think every lane is their lane.

17. Which talent would you most like to have?
I wish I could sing. I would kill to show up at karaoke night and put emotion into a song I love so the audience could feel it, too.

18. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I would quit smoking.

19. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Landing my job as an undercover cop. I know I'm not good enough at it yet. But I want to be. I will be.

20. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
A dolphin or a whale. They live a long time and they're smart, but they don't have all the angst we humans do. Plus, it would be cool to live in the ocean, to experience the underworld, literally.

21. Where would you most like to live?
New York City.

22. What is your most treasured possession?
My Triumph motorcycle.

23. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Visiting my family. Actually, I think the lowest depth of misery would be inside my parents' lives. No one does unhappy like they do.

24. What is your favorite occupation?
I love to work on cars. To troubleshoot a mechanical issue is my favorite puzzle in the world. Like sudokus, but with real life objects.

25. Who are your favorite writers?
Pink. I know she's a singer, not a book writer, but her lyrics really speak to me so I consider her a modern day poet.

26. Who is your hero of fiction?
Sabrina from Charlie's Angels.

27. Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Winston Churchill. He drank too much and put his foot in his mouth, but he always got the job done.

28. Who are your heroes in real life?
My old boss, Roberta. She's a mechanic, she has her own shop, and I admire the way she pulled her life together after her husband left her a single mother with no education.

29. What do you most dislike?
Materialistic people who care more about collecting wealth and nice things than they do about experiencing real life.

30. What is your greatest regret?
I didn't treat Kevin well. I gave him all the shit I wanted to give Lance, except he was a different guy, kinder and more honorable. If I could go back and relive that relationship, I'd be way nicer to him.

31. How would you like to die?
On the back of my bike, on a lonely mountain highway, when I'm in my 90s or older and I've done everything I came for.

32. What is your motto?
“I can't change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.” (Jimmy Dean.)

To read Clare's rookie case for free, join me on Wattpad, where with the encouragement and editorial help of ECW Press, I'm re-releasing Dead Politician Society free as an e-serial.

Or catch Clare's latest (and greatest) adventure, Death's Last Run, in bookstores now.