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This Brain Has Gone Fishin’

That is the sign currently hanging in front of my brain. Part of it is because of all the family emergencies of the past month — one of which, unfortunately, has recurred. But a big part of it is because of the push to get Nocturnal Serenade finished then ready for publication. I have to give a big thanks to my beta readers who pushed it to the top of their pile since I was late getting it finished. While I’d love for each and every one of you to go buy the book — as well as the first book in the series, Nocturnal Origins — that’s not the purpose of this post.

I am, for the first time ever, suffering from writing overload. I can’t think of any other way to describe it. I finished Serenade about a month ago. Yes, digital publishing allows for that quick of a turn around when you have beta readers willing to put their lives on hold as they read your stuff and your editor has the foresight to have a cover ready and to put his life on hold to edit the book as soon as it comes in. Of course, I’ve also been told not to be so late again. (Hangs head).

I have a short story in the Nocturnal Lives universe playing havoc with the rest of my writing schedule. It usually doesn’t take me more than a couple of days to push out the rough draft of a short story, especially when I know the plot like I do with this one. However, this story has been playing havoc with my brain and my life. I finally talked with Sarah about it — yes, she’s the poor soul who has to listen to me whine when my characters and plots misbehave. I tell her that’s because she’s the one who made me start taking my writing seriously, so this is her reward.

Any way, we talked about the story and what’s happening, or not happening. It’s not that I don’t have the voice. It’s Mac’s voice, the one I’ve been living for the last several months. So that’s not it. It’s not that I don’t know the plot. I do. But for some reason I simply haven’t been able to get past the first fifteen hundred words. It’s not even that the short story is a novel wanting to happen. Shh, don’t repeat that aloud or it might happen. It’s not even that the other plots in my head are demanding to be written. In fact, they are being strangely quiet.

Sarah pulled on her pointy-toed boots — she tends to do this a lot with me. I think she enjoys threatening me. I don’t know. It’s not like I’m stubborn or anything — and told me to quit over-thinking everything and just relax. She reminded me that I had pushed hard over the last couple of months to finish Serenade, all the while dealing with real life. That’s enough to wear someone out mentally and emotionally.  Add to that the fact I hadn’t given myself any real down time — I guess a day of Overlord II isn’t enough. Sigh. Guess I’ll have to force myself to game another few evenings. It’s rough, but if I have to do it…Giggle — and you get the brain hanging out the Gone Fishin’ sign.

In other words, I was ignoring the advice I’ve given before in this blog. After finishing something, especially a novel, you have to give yourself time to recharge mentally and emotionally.  This is especially true if, while you’ve been on the final push to finish that novel or short story, you’ve had to deal with serious issues in your personal life. So, I’m going to do just that…Yes, Sarah, I’m taking your advice. I’m going to step away from the keyboard as a writer for the rest of the week. I’ll focus on my work for NRP and on my “real life” and give my writer’s brain a vacation. Next week, I’ll get back to it. Until then, the Gone Fishin’ sign will remain in place.  Otherwise, I’ll continue to beat myself about the head because I can’t finish a short story and that, my friends, can quickly become a vicious cycle, one I do NOT want to start.

So, do as I say and as I am now trying to do. Reward yourself when you finish a piece. And, by finish, I mean really finish — complete the writing, editing, beta readers and sending it off (or having it edited for self-publishing). A few days away from the keyboard are needed to recharge the batteries so you can move on to the next project.

Oh, and don’t forget to check out Nocturnal Serenade. You can find it at the Naked Reader webstore, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It will be available elsewhere soon.

Droit de ebook…

Back in those good old high fantasy feudal days when lords and princes had a ball, and the peasants had apple peelings every alternate Tuesday, if they had a good kindly lord, life was good and full… If you were one of the lordlings. If there was any fighting to be done, you were best armed and armored, and you’d send some serfs in blunt the enemy’s swords. You had the pick of everything and enjoyed a bit of droit de seigneur with your serfs daughters and wives.

If you happened to be a serf, you did all the work and produced all the food, and there were scant choices about survival, and that included putting up with your lord nicking everything you worked for and raping your daughter or wife if he felt like it. Or you could run away and try and live in the woods – and be hunted like a beast and occasionally manage to put an arrow in the hunter. Or you could flee to the cities, and, while it was tough there, you could make your way up, sometimes.

About the only time the lording really got into the act of looking after the peasantry (not that it did the peasantry that much good) was when some other ‘gentleman’ started raping the lordling’s peasants daughters or nicking all their grain. Then the local Lord Muck-on-toast was all for WAR – those were HIS peasant’s daughters and if any raping and looting was going to be done, it would be done by him (and of course the peasants got to do the first ration of dying. Lucky peasants).

It’s a situation which has its parallels in modern publishing. Particularly the part about getting really angry when someone else is getting the peasant’s daughters first… The serfs AKA writers don’t get much out of the Lords publishers… unless of course someone else is nicking the goodies. When it comes to other folk stealing the fruit of their authors work they get really angry. Of course the authors are expected (without the armour of a nice tax-deductable legal department or the sword of money) to go and do the first bit of dying, but the lords will go to war for this.

To hear them go on, you’d think there wasn’t an honest soul out there. Put all internet users to the sword, let God choose the innocent seems to be the attitude, which is not really an accurate reflection. I saw a shock-horror headline the other day, saying than a 1/4 of the internet users wanted free music. This was a great evil bound to bring down Western civilization. The curious part was that the 75% who logically were happy to pay… were invisible. Not deserving of consideration.

I can’t get terribly upset with people who steal for no financial gain. Oh, they irritate me, but really I am NOT going to penalize the vast majority (even if it is only 75%) to try and rein these ones in. When they start selling their theft, I get a bit more angry. When, however I get really really angry is when they target the at least 75% of honest people who are willing to pay for their entertainment, and pass themselves off as honest merchants – and sell stolen goods to them. The latest set of these shark-bait are a crowd called ebookr – who claim to be like netflix – you pay a joining fee and download as much as you like. Which seems fair to the honest buyer… Only all the stuff he is downloading is stolen property. The site does its best to look legit. It even assuers you that it will respond to DCMA requests. And it will, if you are prepared as an author to play a weekly game of Whack-a-mole listing every format they have for illegal download. They had a bunch of mine. They have some of Sarah’s – including the e-arc of Darkship thieves.

Of course, if you think the peasants… authors are angry… well the publishers are incandescent about it. And squalling for harsher measures against such sites. Which at first seems sensible, until it occurs to this particular peasant that, really, the existing law, if applied, should surely be more than adequate. One has to wonder why the expensive legal departments of the various big 6 publishers can’t take a few hours off devising new fiendish contract clauses to screw a few more groats out of the p…authors, and see them nailed with conspiracy to commit a felony, fraud, misrepresentation, benefiting from the proceeds of crime… just off the back of my head.

There is however one very awkward situation for the lordlings. They’re submitting this to King’s justice, not their own. And the King does not differentiate between raping your own peasants and someone else raping them. They’re both just rape. And the law is based on precedent. The precedent of entertaining charges like these against ebookr’s CEO etc… well they could be MIGHTY awkward when it comes out that the lordlings have been doing much the same — selling copyrighted material without the owner’s consent– which they KNOW they do NOT have the rights to, or where those rights were never contracted, and where the public are being deliberately deceived that these are legal copies. And yes, that has been happening. The publishing Big 6 are reporting great profits out of digitizing their backlists. Do you REALLY think all their authors are happy with the royalty they’re paying? Do you really believe they’ve got all those consents — when getting a simple return of rights can take an author six months if they’re lucky? Trust me tracking down ONE author can take you 6 months, and that’s before you venture onto deceased estates and the like. And few of them are in a hurry to agree to not very generous blanket offers. So asking me to believe this has all happened properly is… a stretch of the credulity. I suspect they’re riding roughshod, hoping not to be called, and if they are, knowing they have legal departments and resources the author does not. This is further complicated by them often still having the power of life-or-death over an author’s career.

No wonder they’d rather have SOPA or PIPA. No need for all this tedious due process stuff. Lord’s justice!

I’d like to ebookr’s dear executives face due process and explain how they thought the newest bestsellers were legitimately on their site – as they weren’t paying royalties. I’d like to see the same applied to anyone who trades on the honesty of the public to defraud the rights-holders.

But most authors have at best a stick, and the lords and the thieves have armor and swords. So for now, the best I can ask is that readers don’t support ebookr. And, if you’re in doubt about a favorite author’s long ago book suddenly coming out in e-format — without an endorsement from them, maybe you could write to them, tell them how much you loved their work and ask if this was a legitimate copy, as you want them, not some thief, to get paid.
If they’re listed as the publisher, obviously that is fine.

In the meanwhile here is this peasant’s latest attempt to leave the estate. Private Investigator Bolg – PI Bolg has two ‘problems’ – He’s a Pict, and doesn’t seem to age (but he’s also heavily tattooed to the extent he looks blue.), and he’s a ‘dwarf’ (he has the condition called achondroplasia. It makes Bolg vertically challenging. He’s also a man with much of attitude shaped by his stature and history: He is to political correctness what Godzilla is to ballet. The stories are written first person so you can get his jaded perspective… He’s actually, despite his years, a sucker and nice guy, though he tries to avoid admitting either to himself. And although he lives in the mundane world, and would rather work in it, his color and stature make sure he gets all the paranormal cases. I’m planning a whole series of his ‘cases files’. This is first of those on kindle (sorry, only on Smashwords in 3 months time. It’s an experiment) It’s Novella length. Anyway, Dave’s satire meets Urban fantasy… PI Bolg – The Vampire Bride. If you decide to buy it… please click on the picture. I get a few extra cents that way.

The Road to Digital Publication – Part 6

by Amanda S. Green

Before we get to the actual uploading of your file to Amazon KDP, B&N PubIt or Smashwords, there are a couple of things you need to consider. The first is whether or not you need an ISBN. If you are putting your work up on either Amazon or Barnes & Noble, the simple answer is “no”. Both have their own identifiers for e-books. If you are only putting your book up on Smashwords and are not part of their premium catalog (where they distribute your e-book to other retailers), you don’t need an ISBN. However, if you want your e-book to be sold in the Apple or Sony stores, you must have an ISBN. There’s another reason as well to have an ISBN — without one, you can’t be listed in Books in Print.

So, how do you get an ISBN? The easiest way is through Smashwords. If you don’t have your own ISBNs (something I recommend, although it can be pricey), Smashwords has two ways you can obtain them. The first is the free version and the second is what they call “the premium ISBN”. Now, everyone loves free, right? Well, the problem with the free ISBN is that, according to the terms of your agreement with Smashwords, you’d have to list Smashwords as the publisher of your e-book. This may or may not be a concern for you. My concern about this is the fact that, by identifying Smashwords as the “publisher”, you have just announced to the world that your e-book is a self-published title and, at least on Amazon, there are more and more readers who are starting to stay away from self-published e-books unless it is an author they are familiar with or if that author has a track record.

The second ISBN option through Smashwords is their “premium ISBN”. For $10, you will receive an ISBN that identifies you as the publisher (which means you can list your DBA if you have one) and Smashwords is listed as the distributor. While it doesn’t completely do away with the self-published “taint” so many associate with Smashwords — although that has been changing some — it does at least put some distance between it and your work. As for how you pay for the ISBN, it comes out of your royalties. In other words, Smashwords will pay itself first and then, after you’ve repaid the ten bucks for the ISBN, your royalties will begin accruing.

Of course, you can always buy your own ISBN from Bowker through myidentifiers. Are they cheap? No, but as noted above, the more you buy, the cheaper they are. Here’s some more information.

The benefits of having an ISBN are several. The first is, as I said, being able to get into the Apple and Sony stores. The second is that it does get your e-book into Books in Print. Now, while most readers don’t look at Books in Print, libraries and retailers do. As more and more venues open for us to sell our e-books, we need to be sure information about them are in the venues where the professional booksellers, librarians, etc., will look for it.

So, it is something to consider when putting your e-book file together.

The other thing to consider is what to include on your legal page — you know what I mean. That page after the title page that lists who wrote the e-book, who published it, ISBN, Library of Congress information (if applicable), cover design and art information, copyright notices, contact information and that oh so important notice that this is a work of fiction, etc.

Once again, if you use Smashwords, they have specific language they want you to put at the beginning of the e-book after the title page. Also, on the title page, you are instructed to put in the words “Smashwords edition” or “Published by YOU at Smashwords”. While there is nothing wrong with either, it is a red flag that your e-book is either self-published or micro-press published. So keep that in mind. It also means that, for other outlets, you will need a separate file using non-Smashwords language.

Now, to uploading your files. It really is the easiest part of the process. First you need to create accounts where you want your books to be distributed: Amazon KDP, Barnes & Noble PubIt and Smashwords. Let’s start with KDP.

When you open your account with them, you will need to give over your tax identification information, whether it is your social security number, your DBA’s tax ID, etc. You will also need to input your bank account information for direct deposit payments. You can get payment by check, but you have to earn much more before payments are made that way. So I recommend direct deposit. Then, of course, you give them contact information, etc. Once the account has been activated, you can start uploading your e-books.

While you’re waiting for your account to be activated, go ahead and set up your Author Central account as well. Add your bio, link your blog and Twitter account, etc. It is one more way to get some free promotion because, as you add books and link them to your Author Central page, readers can click on your name and see a list of your titles.

Now that your KDP account is active, you simply go to the homepage and sign in. You will automatically be taken to your “bookshelf”. If you look at the top of the page, you will see tabs for your reports, the KDP community and KDP Select. The latter will tell you everything you need to know about the new Select program. The community tab takes you to the discussion fora where you can promote, ask questions, and get help. The report tab is where you can see your up to date sales, previous months’ sales, etc.

Your bookshelf is just that. Your bookshelf. As you add titles, they will be listed here, along with “contributors”, price, date submitted, status and whether it is enrolled in the Select program or not. This is your starting place.

Click the yellow “add title” button on the left side of the page and then it is basically fill in the blanks. The first thing you have to do is decide if you are going to put your title into the KDP Select program. If you want to, click the check box. However, remember that membership in the program means you can’t sell your e-book anywhere else for 90 days. This is an exclusive program.

The next thing you need to think about is the description. Too little and you won’t grab the reader’s interest. Too much and, well, you’ll lose them. This is when you think about that elevator pitch you practiced as well as the TV Guide description and find the happy medium. A few lines for a short story is fine. A couple of paragraphs for a novel will work. But do not do what I saw yesterday where the author started the description by saying they think this is the best thing they’ve ever written. Note, too, that there is a limit on how much can be put up.

A bit further down is “Target Your Audience”. This is where you can choose a couple of areas or genres that your e-book falls into. Think about this very carefully before making your choices. Then, once you’ve done this, you can add up to seven keywords that will bring your title up if someone uses one or more of those words as a search term on Amazon. Don’t put your name or publisher name here. Those are already search terms.

Now you get to upload your cover. I’m not going to talk about that here because we have someone who will be talking about covers next weekend.

The next step is uploading your e-book. First, you tell Amazon if you want DRM attached to your title or not. Don’t use DRM. Please. Don’t make me come beat you with a wet noodle. It’s an insult to your readers, imo, and a red flag to the haters to break it.

Now you can upload your e-book. You can upload it in various formats, including DOC, HTMLz, and MOBI. I recommend doing it as a MOBI file because that is what the native format is for the Kindle, although they tweak it a little and add their own extension to it. But it is the format I’ve had the least problems going through the conversion process.

Once your upload has finished, you can preview it. Do. This is your chance to make sure there are no problems before the e-book goes live and you have readers telling you about the problems.

When you are satisfied, click the save and continue button at the bottom of the page and you will be taken to the rights and pricing page. This is where you choose where you will sell your e-book, how much you will sell it for, royalty rates and whether you are basing overseas sales on the US sales price or not. Once you’ve done all that, and once you’re satisfied you’ve included everything you need to, click the box near the bottom of the page saying you’ve read and are accepting the terms and conditions, etc., and then click “save and publish”. Now you wait.

It generally takes less than 24 hours for new titles to show up on Amazon. However, expect that to be a little longer if you’ve never put anything up before. Once your title has gone live, go back to your Author Central page, link your e-book there, and then go tweet and facebook and blog that you have something for sale.

Now, before you run screaming into the hills because of how long it has taken to get to this point, reading this blog had taken longer than posting your title for sale. Nor am I going to repeat this process for PubIt because it is basically the same process, although a bit streamlined. It does take longer, generally, for titles to go live on PubIt than it does on Amazon through KDP, at least that’s been my experience.

Smashwords is just a bit different. First, Smashwords will pay to Paypal or your bank account. Smashwords also takes longer to go through their approval process, especially if you are wanting to be included in the premium catalog.

So, what is my recommendation? Use all three. At least until you have at least five or six titles, one of them a novel, and you have another title related to the novel  about to come out. Then I recommend considering using the KDP Select program for the 90 days.

Questions or comments?

 

Some promo and then the floor is yours

Since one of the purposes of our Saturday posts is to promote our work, I thought I’d take a few minutes today to do just that. In case you missed the notice elsewhere, Dave has two new short stories and I have a novel that came out earlier this week.

Boys

When she was “convinced” to buy the new Mark 7583 robo kitchen diner-bar and barbeque unit module, she had no idea it would rouse the jealousy of her antique Harry’s Bar unit. How could she? Robotics weren’t supposed to have emotions, no matter how realistic and devoted they seemed. Now she has to figure out how to escape the perfect prison her Harry’s Bar has created for her, all in the name of love.

You can find Boys at Naked Reader Press, Amazon or Barnes & Noble. It will soon be available in other outlets as well.

The Poet Gnawreate and the Taxman

There are some things even more terrifying than a visit from the taxman. When the taxman runs afoul of a witch who really wants to be a successful poet – and who is willing to do anything to attain success – the taxman finds himself in serious need of a dentist. Of course, finding a dentist willing to do an extraction from the pages of a possessed book might prove more than a bit difficult.

On a personal note, this is one of my favorite short stories by Dave. I highly recommend it.

You can find it at Naked Reader Press, Amazon or Barnes & Noble and, just like Boys, it will be available in other outlets soon.

Nocturnal Serenade

In this sequel to Nocturnal Origins, Lt. Mackenzie Santos of the Dallas Police Department learns there are worst things than finding out you come from a long line of shapeshifters. At least that’s what she keeps telling herself. It’s not that she resents suddenly discovering she can turn into a jaguar. Nor is it really the fact that no one warned her what might happen to her one day. Although, come to think of it, her mother does have a lot of explaining to do when – and if – Mac ever talks to her again. No, the real problem is how to keep the existence of shapeshifters hidden from the normals, especially when just one piece of forensic evidence in the hands of the wrong technician could lead to their discovery.

Add in blackmail, a long overdue talk with her grandmother about their heritage and an attack on her mother and Mac’s life is about to get a lot more complicated. What she wouldn’t give for a run-of-the-mill murder to investigate. THAT would be a nice change of pace.

You can find Nocturnal Serenade at Naked Reader Press, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It will be available through other outlets soon.

I know I speak for Dave when I say we hope you’ll give these new titles a try.

Now that that’s out of the way, the floor is yours. Do you have any questions for the mad ones?

 

Writing Diet

by Chris McMahon

Thinking over the last few things I’ve read lately, these have included a contemporary thriller, an autobiography, and I am half-way through a SF anthology. Before that I was re-reading a favourite fantasy series.

I’ve always been jealous of people who have had time to read all the literary classics – the books I feel like I ‘should’ have read. Although I have read the ones that appeared on the bookshelves at home when I was a younger, time since has left me too little time to play catch up. And my university days studying Chemical Engineering did not give me too much scope either.

But what ‘should’ a writer in the speculative fiction field be reading? There are those who strongly advocate reading extensively within the genre, and I would have to agree that every writer should delve deeply there at least once or twice to get a good feel what has been done and where the leading edge is.  Beyond that I’m not sure.

A long while back I read Zen in the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury. It was a good read. One of the things I remember from it is that he himself believed in not reading within the genre he wrote in. He would read all sorts of other non-fiction or other literary works, but nothing in the SFF field. Reading Ray Bradbury this probably all makes sense:)

Along the same lines, some people stay away from genre material fearing that it will ‘contaminate’ their own ideas or storylines.

I’ve always tended toward the idea that on some deep level we are guided by an instinct on what is right for us at any given time – a kind of ‘healthy eating’ instinct, but this time focussed on the written word. 

Either way we are probably all suffering from not having enough time to read as much as we would like. I know for myself it often comes down to choice between either writing or reading.

Do you read only within the SFF fields or do you wander where you will? What do you think of the ‘don’t read in the genre’ theory?

The Pantser Body of Knowledge: A Good Climax

Now we’ve reached the part of the book that governs whether readers will be saying “wow”, “meh”, or “ho-hum”. Obviously, “wow” is the reaction you want. This section, whether five pages or fifty (five hundred is rather overdoing it, and exhausts your readers) must be intense, impossible to put down, and it must seem to rise naturally from everything to this point.

Extreme pantsers often need to go back over their draft to prune anything that weakens the climax, strengthen the areas that make that particular set of events inevitable, and hide anything that suggests another outcome or explicitly eliminate any potential alternatives. The do or die (whether literal or metaphorical) climax has to be the point that everything moves to, and it has to be impossible to escape.

This, of course, is where the deific powers of the Author come into play. In order to eliminate everything else, we have to make sure beforehand that there is no intelligent alternative, and no dumb alternative either. We get to use anything and everything to push our leads to the climax: the weather (that snowstorm at the beginning which delayed your hero for three frustrating days turns out to be critical to making sure he doesn’t get his army to the pass before the enemy has their forces in place), the landscape and recent history (what do you mean, the river’s flooded? It hasn’t rained here for weeks – but it’s been raining non-stop in the mountains and that water has to go somewhere), circumstances that keep your lead from refueling his spaceship, leading to it running out of fuel at the worst possible moment (and coming out of hyperspace in the debris field of an uncharted black hole – no-one ever said you have to be nice to your leads. It’s better if you’re not. It makes their victory so much more satisfying when they’ve had to deal with seven kinds of hell along the way), you name it.

What extreme pantsers often find is that after enough study and practice (don’t ask me to define ‘enough’ – I don’t know what it is), they’ll be doing these things without realizing why. Sometimes doing them in previous books in the series. I did this in ConVent as a throwaway line which turned out to be central to the plot of ConSensual. Terry Pratchett, of course, is the master of this, with his running gag about the Battle of Koom Valley turning into epic tragedy and epic heroism in Thud! He’s also utterly brilliant when it comes to eliminating options for his central character. I won’t spoiler, but the climactic sequence of Snuff is another magnificent example of how to do it right.

Now to the mechanics of the climax sequence itself. It may be one scene, several scenes, or several chapters. Regardless, the basic feel of it should be a wild breathless ride that, once started, can’t be stopped. At the start of the sequence, tension should be at or near the highest point of the book, while the pace should start picking up from whatever it was at the end of the buildup until it’s at the fastest for the book. L. K. Hamilton’s first three books are perfect examples of this (although it’s worth mentioning that these are guidelines rather than rules. Sometimes you need to ignore them – my basic rule is to work this way unless I can boost the emotional impact of what I’m doing by doing something else).

Once again, I’m using Impaler for an example, although the climax sequence is actually somewhat atypical. It’s one of those cases of what I remember well enough to discuss without having to go back and check and isn’t going to spoiler the piece for too many people.

So, the buildup ends with the fight for Constantinople about to start. I have chapter break there, starting the climactic sequence with a new chapter. Vlad’s use of black powder bombs under the walls of the city work, bringing a section of wall down. The tension heightens while he and his men haul cannons and lead horses through the rubble into the bailey of the partly completed Castle of Seven Towers, and start bombarding one of the walls from the inside.

Tension and pace increase with the collapse of the castle wall. The rest of Vlad’s army is bombarding the city, sending incendiaries and bombs over the walls and using cannon and battering rams to bring down the repaired section. At the same time, his naval allies are using cannon mounted on ships to bombard the harbor walls. Vlad is following the messages from all these fronts of his attack, while watching for defenders in his section.

He doesn’t find them in time – they’re too close for his forces to do more than organize a hasty defense, and his small entry force is seriously outnumbered. The battle ramps the pace up while Vlad and his men fight to survive, until Vlad is injured. Here, the pace drops but the tension rises: Vlad can’t fight, but he refuses to leave the field. He endures some crude battlefield first aid, is helped onto a spare horse, and surrounded by his bodyguards.

Now the pace settles to something a little less frantic, but remains tense. Vlad is observing the battle, coordinating as best he can. His forces breach the city walls in multiple locations and open the remaining gates, then work their way through towards the palace on the very edge of the peninsula.

Now the tension ramps up to its highest: the palace walls are intact, all the gates are closed, and there’s an army inside that’s large enough to cause a lot of trouble to Vlad’s tired and injured soldiers, possibly enough to defeat them. The main palace gate opens.

Here the climactic sequence shifts from the struggle to sorting out the results. The major issues haven’t been resolved yet, but it’s become inevitable that they will be resolved, mostly in favor of the main character (unless a tragic ending is part of the book).

The army inside the palace is led by Mihnea, Vlad’s missing and wounded son. He’s escaped, killed the governor of the city, and offers his father the head of the governor in a symbolic gesture that acknowledges Vlad’s status. This ends the military/action aspect of the climactic sequence, dropping the tension levels and the action levels a lot, but leaving the relationship between the two very much unresolved.

In most cases the climactic sequence ends when the action stops: for Impaler I tend to see the climactic sequence running a little longer, past the next day when, after being treated and spending the day resting, they attend the Easter service at the newly rededicated Hagia Sophia, and at which Vlad is the bemused observer of what everyone around him believes to be a miracle in which he is blessed by an angel, and the angel points to a section of earth which is later dug up and reveals a pre-Byzantine crown (Vlad sees nothing).

For me, the end of the climactic sequence is the execution of Mihnea’s betrayers, because that scene marks the reconciliation of father and son, as well as cementing Vlad’s rule in Constantinople. Honestly, everything from the end of the battle for Constantinople could be considered part of the wrap-up: Impaler is unusual in not having a clear distinction between the climax and the wrap-up.

If you liken the climactic sequence of a book to a sled ride down a mountain, Impaler includes the part when the sled is slowing down on the lower slopes, but hasn’t stopped yet. It’s more common for the sled to stop suddenly: either way, it’s made it to the bottom with the main character more or less intact but changed by the experience.

 

Professional Killing

Lately I’ve come to see the need for professional killing.

No, put the phone down.  There are no corpses in my back yard (would be difficult since I don’t have a backyard) or in my crawl space (the cats run there periodically and it would be so unhygienic) and I haven’t been dumping them into construction sites.

I’m, however, perfectly willing to admit that this realization might owe a lot to the fact that I’m a woman nearing fifty.  I mean, hormones are destiny.  And it could get dangerous, if I didn’t have this professional sideline.

A professional sideline as a writer, of course.  Because you see, the people I kill mostly live in my head.  (Mostly because some lived, long ago in other lands.  And I bring them to life on the page, for the purpose of killing them.)

Joking aside, when I started writing, I was in mortal fear of hurting my characters.  When I hurt them, it not only hurt me, but it made me wonder if people would think I’m cruel.  Nearing fifty, I wonder why I cared what people thought.  (This is probably a bad sign.)

The needed killing – there was always some needed killing, even if just the villain – was handled behind the curtain and often reported at two removes.  “He killed himself.  His second cousin told my friend who told–”

In my last book I killed hundreds of people, two major characters and a continuing one (who had never been seen, only referred to, but who came on stage to die a horrible death.)

What makes the difference, other than hormones?  (I am mostly joking about that, though I’ll note, not as hormonal changes, but as an effect of aging that I DO seem to be becoming more myself and less afraid of “what will people think?”)

Two things changed: First, I realized reading fiction was not an intellectual exercise but an emotional experience.  What?  How could I not have known?  Don’t ask.  Perhaps it was the fact that my early fiction reading were stories set in other lands.  I was learning, as well as feeling, and I thought the learning was more important.  Perhaps it was the fact that I was taught not to display emotion, so as I writer I tended to emphasize thought over feeling.
Second: I realized death is part of life.  As much as we hate it, as much as we dread the idea, as much as losing others hurts us, life would be very odd if you eliminated life.  Books feel more real if people die.  (Okay, your fluffy romance is excused, and your fluffy mystery and fantasy, other than for the needed murder in mystery.)  If you track consciously, you’ll realize that not a week goes by without your hearing of a death, either close or far, important or not.  And I think that heightens our interest in life.  (Or I could be insane.)

So, once I realized that some people simply needed to die – in my books – how did I go about killing them?
There are many, many ways to kill people, but below is a brief and incomplete list of ways to make their deaths professional.  (And not just leave them to bleed out, unnoticed, on the hearth rug.)

1- Make it count.
We can’t all kill our main character.  In fact, most of us can’t kill our main character.  Given my penchant for writing first person, it would be odd.  I grant you it can be done.  Connie Willis killed the POV character in Passage – well, the main POV character – halfway through, and the book still works.  BUT not all of us want to go that far.  Many of us, who write series, can’t even kill all important secondary characters with abandon.  Oh, sure, the occasional one fine, but if you make it an habit, you’re going to run out.
So, how do you make the death count?
Have the character matter to your main character or your secondary character.  Have it be someone near and dear.  Or have it be someone the character just met but who matters.
Clifford Simak spends half a page describing a doggy, happy with the world, crossing the street to lie in a patch of sun.  Then he kills him horribly.  I cried.  And I don’t think it was just because I’m an animal lover.

2 – Make the death interesting.
By this I don’t mean you should go to my friend Kate Paulk and ask how to kill people interestingly.  (No, trust me, you don’t want to do that.  She writes Dracula, people!)  While that’s appropriate sometimes for historicals, I don’t mean elaborate or outre means of death are needed.  Most of my people die at blade’s end or shot through the heart (sometimes with lasers.) A few linger on only to die (though I just realized I’m reluctant to do that in future societies.  If you survive the initial hit, you’re likely to live.
No, what I mean is that your death shouldn’t take place in a line and never be referred to again.  Sometimes a line is important, for the “death knell” effect, but your character should feel something, as a reaction.

3 – Kill The Best
This is a variation on #1.  And while it’s always good to remember “Only the good die young” or early in the page count, it also helps to remember “good” can just be a way of saying “important to the main character.”  Kill the person, whether the main character loves them or not, who will twist the main character’s emotions into a pretzel, make them feel guilty, make them get in more trouble.  Remember, the name of the game is to make your main character’s life difficult.

4 – Kill the influential.
Make it matter for the plot.  “If only Georgiana had been here, we wouldn’t have lost that battle, but the dang author killed her on page one,” type of mattering.  That allows you to get the most bang for the death.

5 – This one I’m passing on for the price I’ve got it.  I’ve never tried it.  I think my youngest victim was fourteen.  However, I’m told that you should never, ever, ever, kill a baby or an animal, and that for the US market animals are even worse than babies.  I don’t know.  The only time I minded an animal dying was Pixel in The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, and that’s because Heinlein kills him at the end, and that’s not good.

6 – Numbers count – for a sense of realism, kill more than one character and in differing circumstances.

7 – Don’t overdo it
Like anything you learn to do well, killing can be addictive.  Remember if you kill too much, it dulls the impact of each death.  And if you kill everyone in the end, as many seventies novels did, I shall come to your house and beat you to death with a sock full of butter.  You have been warned.

8- Remember some people just need to die.  It is our job to kill them right.  We’re not murderers, not even virtually.  We’re just easers out of life, or literary mortality facilitators.

Now, happy killing.

The Road to Digital Publication – Part 5

by Amanda S. Green

Before we go into the actual upload process, including choosing where to sell your e-books and how to choose the best meta tags and description, let’s take a step back to talk about the steps leading up to conversion. I know it goes without saying, but back up your work to multiple locations throughout the creation process. You never know when a hard drive or thumb drive or external hard drive will fail. But there’s another reason why as well, one I was forcibly reminded of yesterday as I was working on converting a title.

Let’s start with a question. How many of you pay attention to the file size of your short story or novel? We are a peoples that have been trained to think of length in terms of pages, not bytes. But as writers, especially as writers who are thinking about self-publishing our own e-books, we need to train ourselves to think in terms of bytes. For one thing, most outlets do have a maximum upload size. For another, unless you are doing your own html coding from a text editor and your work has never seen  the inside of a word processing program, you need to know what the “norm” is for those times when nasty code fragments attack.

No matter what word processing program you use, there is going to be background code written into it. Unlike with pure html coding where you set the style at the very beginning of the document with just a few lines of code, most word processing programs set it for every paragraph, including every detail and a lot that’s not needed. That can lead to hundreds, even thousands of lines of code that can and often do go wrong if you aren’t careful.

Compounding the problem is what happens when you write in one program, open and edit in another, then go back to the original. This is what happens sometimes when you send your manuscript out to beta readers or someone who is helping edit before you send your manuscript out or before you publish it yourself. What can happen at this point is that the different programs have now put conflicting or even duplicate coding into the background of your document, bloating its size.

I’d known that moving between Word and Word Perfect and Open Office can screw with the visible formatting of a document. Sarah has been on the receiving end of my rants about what happens when you mix Word and Word Perfect and Kate and I have commiserated about the Word and Open Office issues since we work in both Windows and Linux. But I hadn’t really thought about what was going on in the background.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday, I was working with a file that had come back from one of our editors. On the surface, everything looked great. I made a couple of small changes, made sure all the legal stuff was there and pulled up the cover to insert into the process. Saved the working file as both a final version DOC file and as a filtered HTML file (more on this later) and tried importing into Sigil, tried being the operative word.

For the first time ever, Sigil choked. It sputtered. It stopped working. So I did a forced shutdown of the program and tried again. Same result. I scratched my head. Checked to make sure I was importing the right file. Tried again. After all, third time’s the charm, right?

Wrong.

So I started looking at the file data. And almost dropped my teeth. The filtered HTML file was over 10 mb. WHAT?!? No way should it have been anywhere near that large. This was a novel, for Pete’s sake.  Less than 150,000 words. No interior illustrations. That meant something was not right.

Still stunned by the size of the HTML file, I checked the size of the DOC file I’d been using. Yep, you guessed it. It was too large as well. It came in weighing more than 3.5 mb. Time to check the original files. The author’s file came in at 787 kb. The file I’d sent out was 789kb. Something was very wrong.

I looked at the code and quickly decided there was no way I was going to have time to go through every line of word processing code from different programs to find out what had slipped in. That left me with two options:

  • take the editor’s file, save as a TXT file, import into a text editor and then hand code it completely. This is, honestly, my preference. However, time constraints too often keep me from doing it any longer, or
  • take the editor’s file, save as a TXT file, import into a text editor and save again — getting rid of the last of the junk code — and then open it again in a word processing program to do a quicker, if dirtier, formatting for conversion.

As I said, I prefer working with pure html/css code and style. However, after having been out of the office for the better part of two weeks, and that after having been out earlier for another emergency, I didn’t have time to hand code a novel and still get to everything else I need to do this week. So I opted for the second choice – and it confirmed my suspicions. Even though it didn’t show on a visual check of either the word processing file or the underlying html code, additional “stuff” had been coded in.

How did I know? Very simple. When I saved out as a TXT file, all formatting should have been lost. Oh, returns were still there, but indents, italics, bolds, page breaks, header styles, all that should have been gone. So imagine my surprise when I opened the TXT file back up in Word and there were 3 to 5 spaces at the beginning of every paragraph. Or 1 space at the beginning of every chapter title. None of which were present in any of the previous files. There were other anomalies as well. EEK. That meant I had to go to every paragraph, remove the spaces, set the first line indents and then search and set header styles, font styles, etc. Tedious work.

And it is done. I’ll take another look at the file this morning to make sure my cat didn’t add anything interesting to it last night. You never know what a cat will do when your back is turned. Was it worth all the work? Absolutely. The file size now is where it should be. Including cover image, small images at every scene break, front and end material, the file weighs in at 1.15 mb for the HTML, one-tenth of the previous HTML file size. The DOC size is basically the same. Good so far. Even better, no problem importing the HTML into Sigil.

If I had the time to hand code, the file would be even smaller, but not by much.

The lesson, watch your file size. If it starts jumping dramatically without you having added anything to it, you have a problem. If you’ve been working between different programs, or if you’ve sent it out to someone and they are using a different program, that’s often the cause.  It is also why you want to make sure you have at least one backup of your work at each phase of the process. That way you can check size and formatting, you can work from one while checking it against what you received back from someone.

Most of all, don’t be afraid to roll your sleeves up and dig into the underlying code when you see a problem.  If you don’t see the answer there and the problem still exists, step away for a bit and then come back. If you still don’t see the answer and there’s no one you can grab to ask, follow these steps:

  • Save as a TXT file
  • Open the TXT file in your text editor
  • hand code your HTML here and save
  • preview in your browser to make sure your coding is right
  • save again as HTML or HTML filtered,

or

  • Save as a TXT file
  • Open the TXT file in your text editor
  • save the file again as a TXT file
  • open in your word processing program
  • set first line indents
  • set font — type and size
  • set your heading styles for chapter headers
  • insert page breaks at the end of each chapter
  • go back and put in all italics and bolds you used in the original file
  • save as a DOC file
  • save as an HTML filtered file

Once you are satisfied with your HTML file, import it into Sigil (or your preferred conversion program. You can also upload to most outlets now. However, I recommend waiting until you’ve converted to whatever program that outlet sells. This lets you see what your product will look like in their e-reader program. It is also another chance to check for issues with your conversion process.) Save as an EPUB in Sigil (or the appropriate format in the program you are using). Then go in and set your meta tags, etc.

The moral of the story is that if you write in one word processing program and your betas or editors work in another, don’t work with the file that has been through the different programs. Most times, you’ll have no problems. But there is always that one time where it will blow up in your face. There is a reason why most legacy publishers and agents who do in-file editing and comments request you use Word. It does cut down on the conflicts between programs. But it also cuts down on the potential for coding conflicts.

Next time, I’ll go into the upload process, meta tagging, blurbs and descriptions and one last quality check of your work.

Edited to add:

One more word of caution. Whether you are writing, editing or acting as beta reader, be sure you turn off smart quotes in your preferences. I’d also add turning off all auto-correct options because they can cause issues. But smart quotes are a big problem and you’ll save yourself a lot of grief if you turn them off and never, ever turn them back on.

On paying the PIPA and the bad apple in the barrel…

I was reading with some interest a prescription for Australia’s slowly growing unemployment problem… To paraphrase: We should have more small to medium size businesses. The law needs to favor them, rather than big corporates, because they generate jobs at a far higher scale than big corporates… who use their size to achieve ‘synergies’ (which I think means sin-energy? The dark delight of having a gold-plated toilet for the CEO to use after he’s made more profits by getting rid of staff?) Yes, I know this has been said so often eyes glaze over at the mention but I wonder how this relates to the unemployment situation in the US… and PIPA and SOPA. In case you hadn’t figured out, the legislative burdens here are near impossible for small companies or individuals, expensive and hard for medium size companies… and a joke for massive media companies, who as we’ve seen, ignore them anyway (publishing books to which they do not have the rights), as if they have a problem they have a tax-deductible team of lawyers to deal with. And they’re so useful for putting up-and-coming smaller rivals out of the running — as the site is shut down on accusation… not on proof.

Pretty soon if we have these ‘protections’, authors will need a ‘PIPA-approval seal’, which the rent collectors in the guise of ‘Publishers’ will provide (with no other tangible benefit) and have to part with not merely 85% of the net (the current offer – and net- having learned their lessons well from Hollywood) but even more for less. As everyone knows by now, the bigger the company the more effective they are at tax avoidance, so you’d really have to wonder why governments and politicians continue to try so hard to smooth their paths for them? Must be to achieve those synergies…

When the law starts to favor (or at least not penalize) creators and small enterprises… you’ll know they finally stopped campaign donations and cushy retirement ‘jobs’ for pollies. It’s a pity, because we could all benefit from this… except the for the manufacturers of gold-plated toilets and their users.

Apples aren’t like eggs. Thus unlike the curate’s egg, this little trap in the Apple EULA is probably not a good thing in itself (it means, de facto that Apple is putting themselves in the same position as the publishers under US Copyright Law, claiming they own the format, you just own the content. The difference is, of course, that publishers provide the formatting on your raw text, adding that value. In this case YOU add the work and they impose de facto monopoly conditions on you.), maybe the whole apple isn’t rotten yet, if you just cut this bit out.

My view is this is they’re sneaking very large chance-take that you really don’t want to let them get away with, in case it is infectious, for their products and for other corporates. They’re setting conditions of contract which you do not have to assent consent to – and which I suspect has all the legal validity of a liability waiver form (you cannot sign permission for someone to break the law in their treatment of you. If you sign a document that says they can keep you in a kennel, feed you dog-turds and beat you with a whip studded with broken glass… the cops are still going to haul them off and put them in jail. And probably you into a mental asylum, or at least author re-hab.). Even less can you not sign away your rights, but have in fine print (which you are not required to show assent to) that usage means it’s fine for them to put in the dog-kennel. However, corporate lawyers are sadly tax-deductible, and therefore they will continue to dream up these rent-seeking schemes.

I know there are lots of pomumophiles out there but it is worth noting that they’re not angels either.

In the meanwhile Smashwords offers a better deal.

The endless gender war bubbles on. I’ll leave you to reach your own conclusions here, but it is worth noting the point both the male and female authors gloss over: If 80% of book buying is being done by females… 1)Commercially speaking you’re missing a chunk of market which could boost your turnover and profits by a lot. It simply isn’t logical that 80% of the market you’ve got is going to go away if you had more products that attracted the rest. Let’s say you are selling 10 million books now… 8 million being bought by women — that means you’re missing another 6 million sales — or in other words a turnover increase of 60%. Gee, who would want that? 2)I’ve always been very iffy about social engineering (not something you can say about our publishing industry, who believe fervently in it, it seems), but there is no doubt that a reading population only occurs in an educated population. If you can’t read for fun, reading for other reasons loses ground. And all the evidence seems to point to literate populations being more tolerant and inclusive… so why anyone who wants to live anywhere that isn’t an 11th century style theocracy would not want as many people as possible (regardless of gender, color, orientation or pink tentacles) reading is beyond me. If you’re happy with a situation where 80% of 50% of your population isn’t reading, you’re a bit sick in the head. If you’re happy with that being the gender that is physical stronger, just as mentally able, and far more aggressive, you have to be REALLY dim-witted too.

The Road to Digital Publishing – Part 4

by Amanda S. Green

You have your short story or novel written. You have it formatted for conversion. Now you’re ready to look at the different outlets where you can put it up for sale. The only problem is, they all have their own contracts or “agreements” and so much boilerplate it’s hard to tell up from down. Don’t worry. We all feel that way and I’ll give you a couple of general guidelines to follow shortly. However, before I do, I have to put in the disclaimer that none of this constitutes legal advice. I repeat, this is not legal advice. It never has been and never will be. Please, read the agreements yourself and make your own decisions.

The basic rule of thumb is that you can’t sell your work on any platform for less than you are selling it on any other platform. In other words, if you have your work for sell through Amazon’s KDP, Barnes & Noble’s PubIt and through Smashwords, you have to price your work at the same price. Otherwise, you are in violation of your contract.

In the past, that meant that if you wanted to take a title for free, you could do so on Smashwords (the only platform for ages that allowed you to do so), and then you had to report the lower prices to the other outlets so they could match it. Whether they did or didn’t was then up to them. The problem is that by initially taking your product free, you were in violation of your agreements with Amazon and B&N. It was a sore spot with a lot of authors who wanted to be able to take titles for free for a limited period of time for promotional purposes.

Smashwords is no longer the only site that allows authors to offer their work for free. Amazon has introduced its KDP Select program. Basically, this means an author who places a title into the Select program can offer that title for free for a total of 5 days every 90 day period the title is in the program. Titles in the program are also available for free “loan” to Amazon Prime members. Titles earn a percentage of the “pot” for every time it is “borrowed”. This month the “pot” is $700,000. Last month, the pot was $500,000 and the average payout, iirc, was over a dollar per time a title was borrowed. Confused yet?

The downside, if you want to call it that, is that you can not offer your title anywhere else for as long as it is in the KDP Select program. I can hear the cries of “foul” now as well as the gnashing of teeth about the loss of potential sales through other outlets. However, if your titles are like mine, the vast majority of sales come from Amazon. So, the possibility of being able to increase those sales is something to consider.

Now, I’m not advocating taking every title into the program. For one thing, I’m not sure how effective the program will be in the long run. For another, you need to find out where your sales come from. I know of folks who sell more through B&N than anywhere else or through Smashwords — and I’m talking Smashwords itself and not their premium catalog that distributes to BN, Diesel, Kobo, Sony and Apple.

There’s also a possible trend I’m following. It seems, at least so far, that the program of taking titles free for a few days works best for novels when it comes to increasing sales afterwards.  Not only am I seeing the increase in sales, in one occasion a triple digit percentage increase in sales, for the title that had been free, but also in sales of short stories. The other title has seen increased sales, but in more modest numbers. Part of that is because of the different genres involved. Part may be because of the days the titles were offered for free as well as the number of days they were offered.  Both are just part of what I’m tracking to see if I can spot trends.

As I said, I’m not advocating taking everything into this new program. But for promotional purposes, it does seem to be working, at least in the short term.

I’ll talk more about contracts later. I know I promised to do a comprehensive post on them today but I am still going through the updates at Amazon not only to their contract language, but also to their style guide. Let me finish that and then I’ll do a more complete compare and contrast.

Pricing: Generally, what you need to remember is you can’t charge less than 99 cents nor more than $99.99.

Barnes & Noble: You will receive a 40% royalty for all sales where the price is $0.99 – $2.98. You will receive a 65% royalty for sales where the price is $2.99 or higher.

Amazon: You will receive a 35% royalty for all sales where the price is $0.99 – $2.98. You will receive a 70% royalty for sales where the price is $2.99 or higher. There is a minimal transmittal fee for the 70% rate based on the size of the file but it is usually no more than a few cents per transaction.

Smashwords: I’m just going to quote from their FAQ. ” For sales at the Smashwords.com retail store,  (Sales price minus transaction fee) multiplied by .85 =proceeds to author/publisher. The earnings-share rate for sales originated by affiliate marketers is 70.5% net. For most retail distribution partners, Smashwords pays the author/publisher 60% of the suggested list price you set for your book. These rates vary by retailer for sales outside the US.   Apple, Barnes & Noble and Diesel are 60% of retail price, though for Apple’s UK, France, Germany and Australian bookstores, Apple deducts a Value Added Tax (VAT) from your sales price, so your actual earnings share = 60% of (Retail price – VAT). Kobo is also 60% for books priced between $.99 and $12.99 for US and Canadian dollar-denominated sales. Sales in other currencies at Kobo are at 38% list.” Basic translation — you may get more for short stories but may not for longer works. It just depends on the fees that are taken out when and where in the process.

So, how much to you price your work for? There is no correct answer and if you ask three people, you will get four different answers. All I can tell you is that my thoughts on the matter are changing. For new authors, or authors who haven’t built a following yet, I recommend short stories going up at 99 cents. By this, I mean stories of no more than 7,000 words. anything from 7,000 to 12,500 words, $1.99.  If you have something that is 25,000 words or less, price it at $2.99. You might want to even price your first novel at $2.99 and then increase the price with subsequent novels.

The reason I say this for authors who haven’t been out there making a name for themselves is that there is a huge backlash going on right now when it comes to “indies” or self-published authors. This is especially true on Amazon because of the new Select program. What’s happened is that hundreds of titles a day being offered for free. These are titles most folks would never have bought but, because they are free, readers are picking them up, seeing all the errors and posting about it. So, when it comes to buying new e-titles, they are then looking at the price and they won’t pay a lot for a new author. The converse side is they are also not willing to pay 99 cents for a novel because it screams “self-published”. So avoid that by pricing it at $2.99 and give yourself the higher royalty payment at the same time.

The best advice I can tell you is to follow the best seller lists on Amazon and BN. See what the prices are. See what the genres are. See if you can spot a trend.

I’ll be back Tuesday with more on this and more, especially on the agreements with the different outlets. Apologies for not having it all done today, but family obligations have cut dramatically into my time the last week and a half. Fortunately, things are looking better…fingers crossed.