Category Archives: AMANDA

Amanda.

Formatting for Print (Pt. 2)

When formatting your book for print, there is no one right way to do it. The goal is to make your book look not only as good as possible but to make it look “professional” or, in other words, to make it look as close to a traditionally published book as possible. Why? Because that is what the readers expect.

It isn’t difficult to do. Some methods take longer, or cost more, than others. How you get to your end product is up to you. Before we get to some of the options available, let’s go over some basics.

As authors, many of us have been programmed to write in Times New Roman or Courier or a similar font. Usually using 12 pt for type size. Standard manuscript format for submissions has usually included 1 inch margins and double-spaced lines. First line indents can be up to half an inch. We often default back to this without even thinking.

Don’t. At least not when it comes to converting your work for either e-books or print. For print you have to think about thinks like page bleeds, page size, interior margins vs exterior margins, section breaks vs. page breaks, alternating headers and footers and so much more.

Depending on which service you use as your print-on-demand source, you can choose to release your book as a mass market paperback, a trade paperback or even a hard cover. Most of those sources have basic templates you can use — and adapt — which will help you decide your margins and how to place your headers and footers, etc. If you haven’t ever put together a print file before, or if you aren’t comfortable doing so, I recommend you download one of the templates and use it. After you have your manuscript in the basic format offered by the template, you can go back and add what flourishes and changes you want. But it is a good way to start getting used to setting up a print file.

This is especially helpful if you are setting your print file up using Word or a similar word processing program.

This first shot shows basic margin information. (Click on the images and they will open in a new window in a larger format) You can see from the tabs at the top of the screenshot that I found this information in the layout tab (using Word). For a manuscript using 6 x 9 pages and coming in at approximately 270 pages total, the margins are set as shown in the image. Note also that the document has been set to mirror the margins.

The one caveat I will put here when it comes to margins, especially the inside margins is to never trust templates or what anyone tells you. You need to see what it looks like for yourself. The more pages a book has, the wider that interior margin needs to be. This is why I always recommend using a POD supplier that lets you have a physical copy of the proof before you send it to “press”. What looks good as a PDF file on your screen or even off your printer might not look the same once it has been bound. So do yourself a favor, at least until you’ve done enough print books to trust your instincts, and order a physical proof before hitting the print button.

In the same dialog box open to set the margins, click the “paper” tab. This is where you choose the size of your page. You’ll note that in Word, the 6 x 9 size is a “custom” size. This might vary depending on what word processing program you’re using.

The rest of the information in this dialog box seems like it doesn’t have much to do with what you are setting up but go ahead and make sure you have paper selection set to your default tray. This will come in handy later if you decide to print out your mss to check it yourself.

Using the “layout” tab in the same dialog box, you should get something that looks like this. I’ll be honest, this is one of the most important things you can do in setting up your print file in a word processing program. This controls the way your headers and footers will look as well as where your section breaks begin.

This is important because, if you look at traditionally published books, you may see a couple of things. First, there usually are no headers or footers on the first page of a new chapter. Second, the author’s name usually appears at the top of the even numbered pages and the book title appears at the top of odd numbered pages. (To make sure you’re setting this up right, you need to do one other thing. At the end of a chapter in an e-book file, you would have a page break. That gives the digital file the appearance of a page ending and the new chapter beginning on a different “page”. In you print file, you will replace the page break with a section break. In Word, “breaks” are found under the Layout tab. If you click on “Breaks”, a dialog box will open up. At the bottom of the box, you’ll find the alternatives for the different types of section breaks you can insert. Choose “odd page” if you want your chapters to all start on the next odd numbered page. The value of doing it this way, you chapters will all begin on the right hand side of the book and feel more traditional to your reader. However, there is a downside to this in that it can add physical pages to your book and, as the author, the amount of money you get per sale of your POD book depends on how many pages it has. The higher the number of pages, the higher the print cost. I tend to go with the more traditional approach because it is what readers expect and the pricing differential of 20 or so pages isn’t enough to worry about.)

This screenshot shows what you get when you click in either the header or footer areas of your manuscript. I wanted to show this because you can see how I’ve made sure “different first page” as well as “different odd and even pages” have been clicked. Since I’d already set them in the dialog box above, there shouldn’t have been a problem but no computer program is perfect and sometimes Word does weird things — as does any other word processing program. So it is always good to check elsewhere when possible to make sure the coding is in place.

But there is another reason I wanted you to see this screenshot. If you look at the column of options immediately to the left of the “different first page” bit, you should see as the last option “link to previous”. You want to make sure this is NOT clicked prior to your first chapter, or where you want your first page numbers and headers to appear. Otherwise, you will wind up up page numbers on your cover page, etc. If you aren’t sure where to start your headers and footers, look at print books in your genre. See what they have done.

Now, once you’ve done all this and you’ve made sure you have all the flourishes, etc., you want in place, it’s time to save your file. You’re going to do this in two steps. One, as your DOC or DOCX file. Always do this. The second will be as your PDF file. Most, if not all, POD places want a print ready PDF file for both your interior and exterior files. If you want to print your book to read through it one last time before submitting it to your POD provider, print the PDF file because it will keep not only your page size, even if you are printing on standard paper, but it will print the blank pages added in between chapters if you have your new sections always beginning on either the even or odd page.

From there, it is simply a matter of deciding if you are ready to upload the file and move on to your cover file.

Now, a couple of quick notes. If you use Word or a word processing program to create your PDF file, you need to set your margins to justify. (Of course, you can choose not to. As I mentioned above, check to see what the traditional publishers do in your genre and copy it.) If you do this, you may wind up with some odd sentence breaks. You can adjust the character spacing by highlighting the line in question, opening your font dialog box, clicking the advanced tab and then adjusting the character spacing.

One other thing you need to do is make sure you have turned off widow and orphan control. Doing this will insure your pages all end at the same place unless, of course, we’re talking the last page of a chapter where you have only a few lines or paragraphs. It’s a little thing but it makes the book look more professional.

I’ll admit there are easier ways of doing this. There are programs out there that make this a snap. Some have a very small learning curve and others have a much larger learning curve. The industry standard for years has been InDesign by Adobe. I love InDesign. I also love Quarkxpress. Both are anything but cheap and have learning curves most of us don’t want or have time for. Neither are great, at least in my experience, for designing e-books. If I’m going to put in a lot of time — and money — into a publishing program, I want it to do both. For Mac users, I’ve found one that does just that. Unfortunately, it isn’t cheap but it seems to be well worth it. The program I’m talking about is Vellum. I’m going to be buying it later this week. I’ll have a review of it next week for you guys. We’ll also talk about some of the other programs available to help streamline the process. Some of those programs include InDesign, Jutoh and Scrivener.

And now, for a bit of promo.

It’s here!

Nocturnal Rebellion is live on Amazon.

All she wanted was a simple murder case, one uncomplicated by shapeshifters or interfering IAB investigators. What she got instead was much, much more.

Now three cops are dead and Mac’s world will never be the same again. It is up to her to find the culprits and bring them to justice. But what justice? That of cops and attorneys and criminal courts or that of the shapeshifters where there would be no record and a quick execution of punishment, whatever that might be?

As she walks that fine line, Mac walks another tightrope as well. Shapeshifter politics are new to her and, as she has learned, more complicated than anything she ever encountered as a cop. One misstep can lead to not only her death but the deaths of those she cares for. Like it or not, she has no choice because she has learned there are other things just as inevitable as death and taxes. Sooner or later, the world will learn that shapeshifters aren’t just things of legend and bad Hollywood movies. If that happens before they are ready, Mac and those like her will learn the hard way what happens when humanity learns monsters are real and living next door.

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Filed under AMANDA, WRITING: PUBLISHING

Formatting for Print Revisited

Formatting. The bane of every author’s existence. Whether we’re talking about formatting for print or for e-books, we’re all looking for the one click version, something that will work each and every time. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Why? It goes far beyond the fact we use different operating systems and word processing programs. The answer really rests in what readers expect and how do we, as indie authors or small press authors, make sure our work looks as “professional” as that of the Big 5.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of formatting for print, I want you to do something. Look at print books in your genre, preferably newer ones, and see how they are put together. Look at the order of front matter. What sort of flourishes are used to set off the chapter headings and section breaks. Does the first paragraph of each chapter begin with a special character or is it in some other way different from the other first lines in the section or chapter? Check more than one book and see if you can spot a trend. If you can, you need to seriously consider doing your best to imitate what is being done. NOTE: many times, those special characters used as flourishes at chapter titles and section breaks are specially licensed fonts. So make sure you have the rights to use anything similar.

Now, there’s one more thing you need to decide before we get to the actual formatting conversation. No, it’s not do you need to do a print book. The answer is yes. It isn’t because you are going to make money off of them. In fact, it is best if you look at the print version of your work as a loss leader. But what it does is make your author page and product pages look more “professional”. Readers will subconsciously take you more seriously as a writer if you have both print and digital versions of your work available. And, yes, I know I am not following my own advice right now. The reason is because I am updating my print versions and have taken a number of them off-sale until I do.

So, what is the question you need to ask yourself? It is what service to use for your POD (print-on-demand) needs. There are a number of different versions out there. Lulu, Lightning Source, Createspace, KDP are just some of the more familiar ones. They all have costs involved and some cost substantially more than others.

I’m not going to tell you which service to use. I will, however, tell you what I have used and why. Right now, all my print books are through Createspace. I chose them not only because they are easy to use but because they are cheap when it comes to buying author copies. They also allow you to order a physical copy of the proof and I’ve learned that’s important. What looks good as a PDF file can suddenly look very differently in print. So I want to hold a copy of the proof and be able to check every page before sending the book out into the wilds.

The downside to using either Createspace or KDP for your print needs is their association with Amazon. That means a number of bookstores won’t stock your book. Now, before you gasp and say how much you want your book on the shelves, it’s time for a heavy dose of reality. The chances of you getting into a bookstore are slim, very slim. First of all, most of our bookstores are still chain stores. That means they have their own purchasing agents and those agents are going to stock major publishers over the local indie author. Fewer and fewer chain stores have local buying power. As for the locally owned bookstores, if you have a really good relationship with the store owner or purchasing agent, you might be able to get your book in if you use Lightning Source but that is still a long shot. So you have to ask yourself if it is worth the price difference of setting up your book and getting it printed. Ask yourself if you sell more copies via online sales, sales from physical stores or from hand sales at cons. Then choose which printer, for lack of a better word, gives you the best product for the dollar.

CAVEAT: Do not use a printer that requires you to buy a certain amount of books in order to qualify for their program. That smacks of the old vanity presses that would “publish” you but you then had to buy scores of the book and sell them yourself. There are still authors with boxes and boxes of their books sitting in the garages because of that scam.

The next thing you have to consider is what program you are going to use to format your book for print. You can use Word, or alternatives like LibraOffice. You can use InDesign by Adobe. Then there’s Scrivener. If you are a Mac user, Vellum is also an alternative. There are others programs as well. Some let you write directly into the program. Others assume you will be working in a program like Office or Pages and will then import into the conversion program. Each have strengths and weaknesses.

So, here’s the thing. I could go on and write another 1000 words or so on formatting but this post is already over 900 words. In the comments below, tell me what programs you intend to use to format your work. Ask your questions about where you can go to have your book printed (Createspace, etc). In fact, ask any questions you have about formatting for print and next week I will answer them.

In the meantime, Nocturnal Rebellion is available for pre-order. Publication date is 8/15.

All she wanted was a simple murder case, one uncomplicated by shapeshifters or interfering IAB investigators. What she got instead was much, much more.

Now three cops are dead and Mac’s world will never be the same again. It is up to her to find the culprits and bring them to justice. But what justice? That of cops and attorneys and criminal courts or that of the shapeshifters where there would be no record and a quick execution of punishment, whatever that might be?

As she walks that fine line, Mac walks another tightrope as well. Shapeshifter politics are new to her and, as she has learned, more complicated than anything she ever encountered as a cop. One misstep can lead to not only her death but the deaths of those she cares for. Like it or not, she has no choice because she has learned there are other things just as inevitable as death and taxes. Sooner or later, the world will learn that shapeshifters aren’t just things of legend and bad Hollywood movies. If that happens before they are ready, Mac and those like her will learn the hard way what happens when humanity learns monsters are real and living next door.

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Filed under AMANDA, WRITING: PUBLISHING

Formatting revisited

Before I get started, I want to thank everyone for answering my questions last week. I’ll be pulling your responses together and posting the results in the next few weeks (assuming real life settles down. It has been “interesting” of late).

Recently, formatting has been a topic of discussion with some of my writer friends. I knew I’d written about it before but was surprised to realize it’s been more than 2 years. So I thought I’d revisit the topic. Much of what I wrote before still holds but, as with anything, there are a few tweaks to the articles I’d like to make.

I’ll start out by saying I’m lazy. When I start a new project, I set up the document so that I have to make minimal formatting changes when it comes to converting it for either print or digital formats. The only real change I have to make is in line spacing. When I write, I have line spacing set at 1.5 o 2 lines. When I convert to digital that gets changed to 1.15 line and print depends on several factors but it, too, is usually around 1.15. But more on that later.

I also write in Word. No, I’m not going to get into a debate about what word processor program is best. I use Word for several reasons. First, it is the one I’m most familiar with. Second, it’s review function is, in my opinion, the best one of the major word processing programs available. Third, old Word Perfect (which rocked) does not convert well into e-books. Yes, there are issues with Word but the advantages outweigh them. But that doesn’t mean you have to use it. My only caveat is that you need to do two things with regard to any program you use. First, you have to make sure you understand the licensing you are agreeing to. Some licenses do not allow you to use the program for commercial purposes. Others restrict where you can use that file for commercial purposes (Apple). You also have to know what sort of licensing you are getting when it comes to the fonts included with the program. So read the boilerplate, even if your eyes start to glaze over.

The second issue is you have to understand that each of these programs have junk code written into them. That code can cause problems when your files are being converted into e-books. There are ways around it, ways that don’t require going old school and hand-coding the html. More on that later.

I’m not going to completely recreate my original post on formatting your document at the writing level. You can find it here. When you are getting started, here are a couple of things to remember. Don’t ever, EVER use “tab” when you start a new paragraph. Set first line indent in your paragraph formatting box. Don’t use two spaces at the end of a sentence. (It is no longer taught in keyboarding classes, so it is an indication you are not “young”. Yes, it can matter.)

Now, another general comment. Most of the online outlets require a table of contents for e-books. Don’t panic. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to manually create one. In fact, I haven’t included a ToC page in a work of fiction in the last five years. Instead, I use what’s called an “Active Table of Contents”. If you use the Headings options in your word processing program, the Active Table of Contents will be automatically generated. That will satisfy Amazon and the other major players. More importantly, it means you don’t have to worry about whether you have put the ToC in the proper place in your book. (Remember, Amazon has now forbidden placement of the ToC at the back of a book because less than ethical authors were doing so to work the system of page turns in Kindle Unlimited.)

Now, for the nitty gritty of formatting. This is all general information and can be tweaked to fit what you like the best. Remember, this is initially for writing the manuscript and for digital conversion.  (Note: I tend to increase the font size on Heading 1. I haven’t done so here because some sites like Smashwords have a font size limit and I can’t remember it off the top of my head.) One other thing to consider. You want your e-book or print book to look as “professional” or “traditional” as what readers are used to. That means you have to do your homework and discover what is standard for your genre. The information below is a starting point and can — and should — be tweaked to make it look the best for your genre and length.

Heading 1 (for section titles or chapter titles)

  • Font — Georgia
  • Size — 14 (you can go to 16 if you want but I wouldn’t recommend going any larger. Remember that a lot of folks read on their phones and a larger font will do odd things on their screen)
  • Special characteristics — Bold Italic
  • Alignment — Centered (Check to make sure first line indent has not be applied.)
  • Spacing — will correspond with what I use for the rest of the book.

Heading 2 (used only if I am using Heading 1 for anything other than chapter headings)

  • Font — Georgia
  • Size — 14
  • Special characteristics — Bold
  • Alignment — Centered (Check to make sure first line indent has not been applied.)
  • Spacing — will correspond with what I use for the rest of the book.

Normal (used for the body of the text)

  • Font — Georgia (This is my personal preference, but you can use Times New Roman, Garamond or others. My recommendation is to check to see what other books in your genre use.)
  • Size — 12
  • Special characteristics — None
  • Alignment — left
    • First line indent of 0.3 to 0.33
  • Spacing — 1.15

Here are a couple of things to remember:

  • No tabs.
  • No spacing before or after paragraphs.
  • When you have section breaks within a paragraph, use something to denote the break. I use *   *   * to do so. It is centered and, using the paragraph options dialog box, I remove the first line indent. You can use other indicators but, if you use special characters, make sure you have the license to do so.
  • Also in the paragraph dialog box, be sure you turn off the widows and orphan option.
  • Have a “page break” at the end of each chapter. This will make your reader have to “turn the page” to begin the next chapter, thereby making your e-book more like a “real” book. To insert a page break, you can either go to “Insert” at the top of your page and then click on page break or your can simply hit CTRL and Enter at the same time.
  • When showing internal thoughts, most authors use italics. That is what the reader is used to, at least here in the States.
  • I keep my margins and paper size — at this point — at 1 inch all the way around and at 8 1/2 by 11.

Something else I have been doing for some time now is not indenting the first paragraph of each new chapter. That first line is left justified. I then capitalize and italicize the first word to three words. I don’t tend to do more than that because of the varied font sized readers can select on their own. The last thing I want is to cap a long phrase or the entire line and then have it looking weird to my reader because they have increased the font size and the flow of what looked find on my screen now takes up several lines.

They key is that our e-books needs to look as professional and “traditional” as anything our readers might buy. The second key we have to keep in mind is that not everyone reads our e-books on their phones or tablets. Some read on dedicated e-book readers. Despite what some of the so-called studies say, dedicated e-book readers are still popular and will continue to be as the population ages. Why? Because an e-ink screen is better for the eye. There is less reflection off the screen than there is from a tablet screen or even the printed page.

But that means we have to keep in mind that some of the fancy font work we can do for print or for files read on a tablet can’t be done for an e-ink reader. So, if you want that fancy first letter in a chapter, you need to consider doing it as an image instead of font. Why? Because it won’t translate properly to e-ink and your reader can be left with something that looks not only odd but might not even appear. Of course, the downside to using an image is that Amazon charges a transmission fee and the more images you have in a file, the larger the file size and the more that transmission fee will be. So, you find other ways to make the first line to “special”. That’s why I cap and italicize the first few words. I can get fancier with the print version.

If you do all this while writing, you have set yourself up for a very easy road to conversion for your e-book. Better yet, you have very little you will have to change for your print version. Most of those changes will be global search and replace, a few minutes at best.

I know I haven’t gotten into the nitty gritty of the conversion process yet. I’ll save that for next week. In the meantime, if you want to jump ahead, here’s a link to the earlier post about it. Yes, things have changed. But it is a good place to start. Otherwise, I’ll be back next week with an updated version.

Until then, ask any questions you might have, either about today’s post or about what you’d like me to cover next week.

Later!

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Filed under AMANDA, WRITING: CRAFT, WRITING: PUBLISHING

Questions for Readers

This morning, between phone calls and the latest in a line of repairmen, I sat down to blog.The moment I did, the bane of so many writers’ existence hit — no, not writer’s block but the cat. Actually, in my case, the cats. Both decided they wanted to be in my lap. It didn’t matter the laptop was in my lap. No, they wanted there and they were willing to fight — one another and me — for the privilege. As a wise two-legged who has been owned by cats most of my life, I did the only smart thing possible. I carefully removed them and, promising them treats, made my escape to the kitchen where I opened a can of stinky food. Now, with them happily nomming in the other room, the dog asleep, let’s see if I can get this post finished before something else decides to interrupt me.

First up, book covers. I’ve been thinking about this a great deal of late. Partly because I am working on the expanded edition of Vengeance from Ashes and that will require a new cover, one the differentiates it from the original version. Another reason I’ve been thinking about it is because Sarah posted a cover in a discussion group the other day that in no way, shape or form signaled genre. Then I came across this post, via The Passive Voice.

So here’s my question for you. Do you care what sort of paper a book cover is printed on or are you more interested in the visuals of the cover itself? When shopping for an e-book, especially if it is not a book you are particularly looking for, how much impact does the cover have on you stopping to read the blurb?

Here are a couple of other questions to consider: do you get upset if the cover art doesn’t accurately depict the main character (assuming the MC is depicted on the cover)? How likely are you to stop and read the blurb if you are looking for particular genre but the cover signals something else?

Yes, there is a reason I’m asking these questions (well, one other than the fact the repairman is making so much noise I can barely think and the cats are back from their stinky food, looking as if they are about to restart the fight over who gets to sit in my lap).

Moving on. I saw a post on FB the other day where it seems GRRM has said he might — MIGHT — have the next book out next year. Sometime. Maybe.

So here’s my question. As a reader, do you lose interest in a series if an author takes too long between books? How long is too long? For myself, I can give an established author a year or two between books, especially if I can see they have other titles coming out. But an author who doesn’t put anything out, or very little, but who enjoys the life of being famous will lose my interest pretty quickly.

I worry when I go a year or a bit longer between books in a series. Yes, I have several different series going and tend to have a new book out every 3 to 4 months. Still, I worry that my readers will move on to other books if I don’t get new books out on a fairly regular basis. I have a hard time understanding those authors, especially the ones with more than enough money to live well and not worry about where the next rent check is coming from, who don’t write. Okay, if you’re blocked, move on to another project. If you’re tired of the series, say so and do a quick story that ties it all up. Or just say you won’t be writing anything else in the series. Sure, you’ll piss off some readers but at least it is better than stringing them along.

And no, GRRM isn’t the only one to do this. He is just the most recognizable for most of us.

Speaking of waiting for the next book in the series to come out, what are your thoughts about books that end in cliffhangers? What about those authors who end book after book with Charlie hanging off the edge of the cliff? Will the other characters arrive in time when the next book is published to save him? What if the series is cancelled? Will poor Charlie be left on that cliff for the rest of literary history?

Yes, there is a purpose for all the questions. Let me know what you think. thanks!

Oh, and don’t forget Nocturnal Rebellion is available for pre-order.

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Filed under AMANDA, cover design, WRITING: ART, WRITING: CRAFT

Taking Responsibility – A Blast from the Past

(I am up to my eyebrows with editing but, worse, I am also up to my elbows with wet carpet and possible sprinkler repairs. So I have no brain. However, a conversation I had over the weekend got me thinking about how we, as parents or simply as adults, need to set the example for our kids when it comes to reading, especially books they are assigned in school. That, in turn, made me think about the following post. I original published it May 2016. Enjoy.)

MGC is usually a blog by writers about, well, writing. Or at least about the publishing industry, be it traditional or indie. Today, however, I’m going to step outside of the writer persona and into the reader and, more importantly, parent persona. You see, I saw an article linked on Facebook this morning that had me alternating between shaking my head and wanting to shake someone else. The article itself isn’t all that important. What is, is the mindset behind it and the pointing of fingers without taking a moment to take a bit of personal responsibility.

In this case, yet another person has raised their head to complain about Harry Potter. Believe it or not, but according to the post, Harry Potter promotes a rape culture.

Yes, you read that right. Harry Potter promotes a rape culture.

How? I know you are each asking that and the answer is simple. It does so because — gasp — love potions are used.

Now, on the surface of it, if I squint really tightly and turn my brain off, I can almost see the point. After all, love potions do take the “choice” away from the person it is being given to, much like rohypnol or any of the other date rape drugs.

However, let’s not squint and twist our brains around and actually look at the allegation in the light of day and as adults with more than two working brain cells. Are we going to condemn every story — every fairy tale — that has been told over the years and centuries that has mention of love potions in them? Think about it. Most of those stories revolve around young women, teenagers often, who use the potion to win over the man of their dreams. Will we condemn those stories as promoting rape culture or give them a pass because the one using the potion is female?

Now, before I go any further and some of those who might read this think I have no problem with using an artificial means to take someone’s free will or ability to knowingly consent away from them, I don’t. In fact, you won’t find many folks with a lower opinion of anyone — male or female — who do so. I have worked with victims of sexual assault, male and female. I have friends and family who have been such victims. No one has the right to force himself or herself on another when that person either refuses to give consent or who has been so compromised that consent cannot be freely and willingly given.

With that said, when looking at Harry Potter, you have to remember it is fiction, fantasy. Love potions don’t exist. However, as a parent, when you are reading the book with your kids — or when you see your child reading it — talk about the book with them. Use the book as a teaching moment without taking away the joy of reading. In other words, take responsibility to read the books your kids are reading and then take responsibility to spend some time talking with them about it.

Maybe I’m strange that way but ,when my son was growing up, I made a point of knowing what he was reading, what movies he wanted to see, what video games he wanted to play. I didn’t wait for him to come to me and ask about something in a book. Well, not usually. One book on his summer reading list I read half of and made an assumption about the book. That assumption came back to bite me. More on that in a minute.

I didn’t do that sort of supervision because I wanted to keep my son from reading anything that might “harm” him. I didn’t do it to keep him from reading something I didn’t agree with. I did it so we could discuss the book — or the game or the movie. If there were themes I thought he might not understand, I wanted to be prepared to discuss them with him. What I usually found was that he was already three steps ahead of me. However, on occasion, he did have questions or he wanted to talk about what he had read.

The one time not reading the entire book came back to bite me was, as I said, with a summer reading list book. My son was about to go into the fifth grade. We were on vacation out-of-state and this was the last book he had to read. I’d read about half of it and nothing set off any of my warning bells that there might be a theme or scene or anything we might need to talk about. It was a nice little gothic mystery.

Until you got to the last two chapters. Then, out of the blue, came a very graphic attempted rape scene that culminated in an almost as graphic murder of the attempted rapist by the ghost that had been haunting the house. Imagine my surprise and then frustration when my son started asking me questions about the scene. We had a long talk about the scene and how it fit in with the rest of the book, the realities of rape (age appropriate discussion) and how no one, male or female, had the right to force someone else to have sex. If I had read the entire book, I would have been prepared.

What I learned when we got back home — and when the English teacher who had assigned the book as part of the summer reading list finally agreed to meet with me — was that the list for these newly minted fifth graders had been compiled by so-called experts: librarians, business professionals and education administrators. Oh, and the list was actually for students going into the 10th grade but because my son and his classmates were in the gifted and talented program, the teacher had deemed the books appropriate. It didn’t matter that there was a five year difference in age between the students the books had been recommended for and those she had assigned them to.

Responsibility. Or, in her case, a lack thereof.

Her response was to try to pass the responsibility buck back to me, telling me that I could have requested another reading list, or at least an alternate to the book I found objectionable. The problem with that was we weren’t given the list until after school was out for the summer and teachers unavailable. Then there was the little fact that nowhere in any of the information we were given with the list was there made mention of being able to substitute books.

I dropped the ball by not reading all the book but the teacher and the administration dropped it first and farther by not taking into account the age of the students being told to read a book recommended for kids much older than they were.

So how does this relate back to the Harry Potter books? Simple. From the time the first book in the series came out, parents and educators and critics have condemned the books for a number of different reasons. There were the calls to ban the books in schools and libraries because they promoted devil worship and witchcraft. Of course, many of those making the claims had never read the books. They weren’t about to risk being contaminated by Satan’s work.

Responsibility.

To read and think before condemning.

There were complaints because the books didn’t follow the hallowed “Zero Tolerance” edict that has been put into play in our schools. Harry and friends never, ever should have done anything to protect themselves from the bullying and attacks from those who weren’t good and pure.

Responsibility.

To read and think and discuss bullying and standing up for yourself and others.

Responsibility.

To make sure your kids understand the difference between fantasy and reality.

Now, about those love potions. What a great opportunity to talk about what I just mentioned, the difference between fantasy and reality. Or how about how it is never acceptable to take away someone’s free will? There are so many things you could discuss, all without taking away your child’s joy in reading the book. Discuss, not lecture.

It’s simple really. By talking about the book — or the movie or TV show or video game — you are spending time with your kids. You are bonding. You are showing them you care about things they think are important or that they care about. That is what’s important and will set the example for how they can be good parents when the time comes.

With regard to the allegation that the use of love potions in Harry Potter promote rape culture, gimme a break. It’s a fantasy, first and foremost. For another, as far as I remember from the books (and it has been some years since I read them) it was generally made clear that there were negative consequences eventually from using them. But none of that fits the social construct right now. That means it is up to each of us as parents or aunts and uncles or extended family or big brothers and sisters to make sure we know what our kids are reading and to take the time to discuss it with them.

In other words, we have to adult and take responsibility.

Who knows, in doing so, we might just find a few new authors and books we like in the process.

***

Now for a bit of promo. Nocturnal Rebellion, the fifth book in the Nocturnal Lives series, is available for pre-order.

All she wanted was a simple murder case, one uncomplicated by shapeshifters or interfering IAB investigators. What she got instead was much, much more.

Now three cops are dead and Mac’s world will never be the same again. It is up to her to find the culprits and bring them to justice. But what justice? That of cops and attorneys and criminal courts or that of the shapeshifters where there would be no record and a quick execution of punishment, whatever that might be?

As she walks that fine line, Mac walks another tightrope as well. Shapeshifter politics are new to her and, as she has learned, more complicated than anything she ever encountered as a cop. One misstep can lead to not only her death but the deaths of those she cares for. Like it or not, she has no choice because she has learned there are other things just as inevitable as death and taxes. Sooner or later, the world will learn that shapeshifters aren’t just things of legend and bad Hollywood movies. If that happens before they are ready, Mac and those like her will learn the hard way what happens when humanity learns monsters are real and living next door.

You can find a snippet from Nocturnal Rebellion here.

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Oops, it’s Tuesday

You’ll pardon me if I’m a bit scattered this morning. The past week has been interesting — yes, that’s the word. Nothing serious has happened but nothing has happened on schedule either. The writing and editing have been suffering as a result. Between company — which I loved but, damn, I don’t love the prep for having people over — my neighbor doing something in his back yard that has required 3 days of jackhammering, any attempt to concentrate has been futile. Add to that the fact the installers arrived at 1830 last night to put in my storm doors — and couldn’t finish because they’d never installed a door like one of mine — and I’m tired and frustrated. Again, not conducive to writing.

Yet, I have to write. I also have to figure out why I’m having issues converting a book to put up for pre-order. Oh, the life of a writer. If it isn’t one thing, it’s another.

While trying to figure out what I wanted to write about today, I came across this post from Bookbaby Blog. It asks the age-old question, when should I publish my book? It’s something many indie authors angst about. There is so much information out there, much of it contradictory, about when a book should come out. Sure, a lot of us follow the simple rule of “publish it once it’s done.” But there really is more to it than that.

I agree with a lot of what Bookbaby has to say in the post. Now is the time to publish your work. Don’t let it sit there gathering virtual dust. The only caveat Bookbaby gives, and it is one I agree with, is that the holiday season isn’t the best time for a new indie author to release a book. Yes, it is a time when many of us are buying books, either for ourselves or as gifts. For the latter, most of us don’t want to risk giving a book we aren’t sure the recipient will enjoy. So we tend to go for authors we know they read or who we know write in much the same way as those authors our friend or family member likes. Newbies aren’t even on the radar.

But that leaves the rest of the year.

Now, I know a lot of us suffer what we call the summer doldrums when it comes to sales. Reading the linked post had me thinking about that and then nodding. Summer is when a lot of readers are looking for what can be euphemistically called beach reads. That doesn’t necessarily mean they have to be fluffy romances, even though that is often what we see the traditional publishers pushing at this time of year. But escape seems to be the theme most wanted. For the summer months, Bookbaby suggests we follow what the trads do and publish books focusing on adventure, fantasy and travel.

It makes sense, especially if you are marketing your books properly. Why? Because these are the months readers in the U.S. traditionally “escape”. School is out. Families schedule vacations to get away from the pressures of daily life. They don’t want to be reminded of everything they left behind. They want to escape. It’s why movie makers release their blockbuster films during the summer. Escapism is the name of the game.

As indies, that means we are competing with the trads for those precious readers. But we can and often do win. The challenge is making sure we are doing everything the trads are doing when it comes to insuring our books looks as professional as theirs. We also have to make sure our metadata is set up properly so readers can find our books using whatever their favorite search engine is. Sure, we also have to promote (gag, ick). But we can and do grab our share of the market — we just have to work at it.

Something else we have to look at is the timing of our books if they have a certain theme. A book where your main character runs away for the summer can come out any time. However, a Christmas themed book probably needs to come out close to the holiday season. That’s not a hard and fast rule. After all, the first rule of indie publishing is not to sit on your work. However, there are a number of readers who, as we get close to the holiday season, want holiday themed books. They will risk buying an indie author they’ve never heard of if the book conforms to the holiday theme and if the blurb and sample look interesting. That said, they don’t search those books out at other times of the year. So, weight that along with all the other factors when writing a holiday themed book.

A couple of other thoughts — and yes, I know I’m all over the place today. Sorry — about when to bring out your books. Whether you are writing a series or stand-alone books, you need to have a publishing schedule. Sure, you can alter it because life happens. But you need to stick as close to it as possible. Why? Because your readers need to know they can count on you to continue to produce in a regular fashion. Going hand-in-hand with this is something I am seeing with my own work. If you can put out a new title (and it doesn’t have to be a novel. It can be a short story.) every three months, you may be able to keep your sales from taking that dramatic drop they seem to do all too often a few months after a new novel comes out.

As for what day of the week you should bring your books out on, you can do what some of the better selling indies and trads do and publish on the first and third Tuesday of each month. I don’t always do it on those particular Tuesdays but I do try to come out on Tuesday. Why? Because most folks are too busy getting back in the swing of the workweek on Monday to worry about buying a new book. Tuesday lets you grab them and you have the rest of the week to remind them you have a new title out and come get it for the weekend. You also avoid the end of the week “all I want is for the weekend it get here” attitude so many of us have. Will it work for everyone? I don’t know but it has seemed to help my sales.

And, joy of joys — not, it looks like they are about to start the jackhammering again. So, before that happens, let me close this out. As an indie, you are in command of your professional life. Do your research and don’t be afraid of releasing your book when it’s ready. Push the baby out and start working on the next one.

Until next week!

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Filed under AMANDA, MARKETING, WRITING: PUBLISHING

Rex, Donna, and Excentrifugal Engineering

When I wandered into Baen’s Bar years ago, one of the first posts I came across was one by this fellow by the name of Jim Snover. Jim shared stories about Rex Mason, his wife Donna and his adventures with Excentrifugal Engineering. If something went fast, Rex wanted to make it go faster. Of course, with Rex, things never quite went the way he intended. It took time, but Jim has finally admitted he’s a writer and had started publishing some of his short stories. And now, here’s Jim talking about Rex and company.

Rex, Donna, and Excentrifugal Engineering

by Jim Snover

“It’s a big universe, out there. We’re going to have to move fast if we want to see the whole thing.”

Rex Mason
Excentrifugal Engineering
See the distance. Go the distance. Be the distance.


I’ve been asked a few times, “How did I think up all of this? This whole Rex, Donna and Excentrifugal Engineering thing?” I would always say, “It’s really kind of boring, not that interesting at all.” But they would persist. So, here it is:

Donna and Rex, and E.E. were all inspirations born of Baen’s Bar, circa 2001. Back then, before social media took off, it was bulletin boards and web sites, and Jim Baen was the first figure of any merit in the hurly-burly word of publishing to take any of this internet stuff and run with it. Utilizing first the bulletin boards, then the web site, he created a virtual space, where, wonder of wonders, readers could talk to authors, fans could talk to each other, and folks who expressed any interest in becoming authors were actively encouraged by authors to give it a shot. By 2001, when I discovered it and joined, it was off and running and had dozens of author and topic sub-conferences. Authors were each given their own, but everyone was free to roam about the place to their heart’s content, and the one people migrated to for general fannish zaniness was, appropriately, Baen’s Bar.

Among the threads in Baen’s Bar was a sort of running round-robin called the “skippy chase.” skippy (NEVER capitalize his name, he’s trying to avoid the capital gains tax!) is an agent of chaos. Written yourself into a corner? Have skippy come along, boom, you’re out of the corner. skippy’s agent was one Green Bear, and between the two of them they kept us all laughing our hearts out. Every now and then, skippy’s antics resulted in either him getting chased all over the world, OR, in a massive virtual food fight. Sometimes both. These were true round-robins, in that any and all were welcome to participate, in fact, were encouraged to do so. One line, ten or twenty sentences, or however many paragraphs you wanted to crank out, hit the keys, hit send, watch how it influenced the whole thing. Sometimes individual contributions died, sometimes they propelled it into whole new directions. We would often write ourselves into these using either an avatar name, or our own, if we weren’t creative enough to come up with an avatar identity. For ages, I used my own name. These would run for a few days, then die out or be ended definitively. It was GREAT practice for anyone who wanted to learn to write, to teach yourself in a running environment how to make your meaning clear, and just fun as all get out.

That’s the background of the environment in which Rex, Donna and E.E. was born, and believe me, it’s just the merest scraping of the surface, this little mention I have given it here in no way does it justice. I only mention it because without Baen’s Bar, there would never have been an Excentrifugal Engineering.

“If a guy’s going to go around talking in metaphor, getting himself thrown off a Mayan pyramid is just exactly the sort of thing he can expect to happen to him!” Rex Mason

For my part, in 2001 I had a job fixing copiers. It was heaven for a gear-head like me: gears, chains, electromechanical clutches, endless cam actuated switches, bleeding-edge electronics, gripper-bars … it was awesome. Except for a couple of things: technology made copiers more reliable, but FAR less fun to work on. The new ones, after 1998, were … boring. Eventually, though, by 2001 that wasn’t a problem because the job went away all together. Just as well, because the other drawback to working on copiers is, at the end of the day, it was just … copiers. I got a severance package and hit the want ads looking for a new job at the age of 40. I fell, bass-ackwards, into the world of medical x-ray film processor repair. It was easy, it was just black and white photochemistry, which I had learned backwards and forwards in high school. Easy work, but the job, and the company, left a lot to be desired! I was hemmed in on all sides by regulations from the local, state and federal level that made the simplest things utterly impossible. There was a lot of overtime, and lots of it was, effectively, third-shift work. It paid well, but it was going nowhere, I hated it, and I was even thinking of going back to construction (the family biz, Mom and Dad had their own Masonry company).

“All right, all right! So we blew up the wrong dam. Look, you’ve got this other one over here, and it’s nearly as good as that one was, what’s the big deal?” Excentrifugal Engineering And The Case Of The Demolition Job At The Three Gorges Dam

One morning at 2:30AM, I’m lamenting my fate when it hit me: what if you had a guy who completely disregarded any and all regulations as he saw fit? He’d probably get thrown in jail. Maybe, perhaps. But what if he was just good enough at solving problems that the authorities always made excuses for him, let him go, that sort of thing? They would have to be some pretty serious problems, then. That thought, at 2:30AM, made me laugh, and it was the first time in months it seemed I had anything to laugh at. I started writing stories and initiating round-robins on Baen’s Bar. They started to spread. At first, I was using my name for the main character, but that started to seem weird. I needed a name for a fictional character. I was explaining this to my wife, the ever lovely and gracious Donna, and she asked,

“What does this guy do?”

“Well, he wants to build cars and airplanes and boats that go fast. But he never considers reliability, safety, efficiency, as being important. Just the speed.”

“Sounds like someone who wrecks a lot.”

BOOM! HIS NAME IS REX!

“He needs a last name. They say you should give a character a name like, where you grew up, or what your first job was.”

“You used to be a brick layer, right? A Mason?”

BOOM! HIS NAME IS REX MASON!!!

Then Donna asked, “Is he married?”

“Why, yes, of course. His wife is the one who largely keeps him from getting into too much trouble.”

“What’s her name?”

“Why, Donna, of course!” What can I say? Sometimes, every now and then, I seem to say the right thing. But from that moment on I now have two Donna’s with which to contend: The Real Donna and The Fictitious Donna. Life. What can you do about it?

“Excentrifugal Engineering: You know that place where angels and demons fear to tread? That’s where you’ll find us, hanging out, drinking beer, pizza on the way!”

The company name came shortly afterwards, from one of my all-time favorite rock artists, Frank Zappa. He’s got a song called “Excentrifugal Forz.” Thus was born “Excentrifugal Engineering.” It was patterned after Baen’s Bar. There are no employees, everyone is a partner. Their pay depends on how well the company does. The place is full of secrets, but very little security. It doesn’t need it, it’s so dangerous, if you can get in and out with information, they might well want to bring you on board.

Somewhere along the way, I don’t remember exactly when, Sarah Hoyt showed up as a Baen author and got her own conference. For reasons still not entirely understood, all of the craziest of the Baen’s Bar crazies gravitated towards her conference. One day I’m typing up an E.E. adventure, and it occurs to me: maybe I should ask her if she minds if I do this? She might not like it. I can be very, very dense about such things. So, I asked her and she let me know in no uncertain terms how much she LOVES Rex! Well, OK, then! What I missed was where she said she loves Rex. I mean, I saw it, it was written in plain English, but I just assumed she meant she liked the stories. It took a while longer for me to realize that people really do love Rex, and that was a stunner, to me.

That realization occurred when I would get emails from fellow Bar Flies and Dinerzens, saying things like, “We were on vacation and we saw an SR-71 Blackbird, and we all thought, “What would Rex do with that?”” Some of them asked for their kids to be put in the stories. Some of them (MANY of them!) asked for themselves to be worked into the stories! All of this was just freaking me out to no end because this was just me unwinding on an average evening, messing around, having a little fun.

The first of Sarah’s workshops I attended in Dallas, Texas, Sarah looks at me and says, “Now I know what Rex looks like.” Well, he’s still got his hair, and his belly and his chest have not swapped places, like mine have … but there is some resemblance, yes.

The second of Sarah’s workshops I attended in Dallas, Texas, Sandra Medlock was there. I didn’t recognize her, but she knew who I was because I had had a custom shirt with “Excentrifugal Engineering” embroidered on it.

This was 2011, about when I discovered Facebook. Quickly most of the Bar Flies wound up there. Many of them became regulars in the ongoing adventures. Eudyptes Diabolicus, aka Evil Penguin, chief test pilot (Rex can fly. But he’s not a pilot, and the FAA and the press always freak out like you would not imagine when he gets in the left seat of an aircraft.) Jose Clavell, Chief Legal Counsel, leader of the Free Range Legal Dept. President of the United States, Chris French (he and Rex were childhood pals. CF always knew, even as kids, he was going to have to throw Rex in prison, eventually). That was like a last-minute thing I thought of, one day. CF and I were arguing, he had won the argument, we both knew it, and I thought, “what’s the worst thing that could happen to him? I’ll make him POTUS!) Many new partners have been brought into the E.E. fold; basically, shoot me a message, and you’re in. Sarah, Amanda, Paul Howard as himself and at least two dragon avatars, Green Bear, Mamma Bear (she let it be known she could solder. NEVER let Rex know you can solder!) and more than I can possibly remember!

In the meantime, things at work had gotten a lot better. I had moved on from film processors (analog film is all but dead in medical imaging, having been replaced almost overnight by digital imaging, and thank God! (And I mean that sincerely, because digital imaging is the best thing for the patient that has ever happened in the world of medical imaging!) to x-ray machines. Then added ultrasound, bone densitometry, CT, MRI, and cath labs to my resume as well. This all started in 2004, and since then things have gotten better and better for me at work, now I’m at a point I thought I might never reach, my dream job, working for one of the big manufacturers. It’s been a crazy 13 years of wonderful preceded by that very dark period in 2001. It all seemed to break when I thought up Rex and E.E., though. Maybe, probably, because I had found an outlet not just for the frustrations at work, but also within the larger context of life, the universe and everything, as well.

“Mr. Mason! Would you please tell the court whatever possessed you to turn the sun inside out?”

“So everyone could see how it works, your honor. We published the plans on the internet, anyone can do it, it’s not even difficult, really-“

“Mr. Clavell! Did you just shoot your own client with a stun gun?”

“Yes, your honor. As his attorney, I felt it was in his best interests.”

“Approved. And keep that thing charged up and ready for use!”

“Yes, your honor!”

So: it’s been around for years, Donna and Rex and E.E. even have their own fan base. Recently, thanks to Facebook and my tendency to post the snippets there and the fact that I have Facebook friends from work, it has even become widely known at work. “Look! That was Rex! When we told him the machine was shooting sparks, did you see how his eyes lit up? That’s Rex, that’s how you can tell!” WHY, in all this time, has there been no book?

That’s a tough one. When I sit down to write the book, I have all these expectations: it has to be good, interesting, funny, exciting, there are folks I’ve known for years who are letting me use their names … and I sit and stare at the screen. And anything I do get written is mostly junk I delete in disgust. How many times I have thought of just giving up on it, I can’t count. And yet, when I sit down and write something up, just fooling around, to toss up on Facebook, here comes all this pretty good, pretty funny, stuff. Sometimes thousands of words of it. Sometimes I have to stop and make notes because the ideas come so fast I can’t keep it all in my head. What in the Hell? Seriously, what in the HELL?

I’ve written a couple of other things, short stories, that turned out as well as I had hoped they would (Blackie, The Copier Guy, and a super short piece, Valentine’s Day). I worked up another series, a mystery series, that I can write all night long and be happy with it. But I want to write Rex, Donna and E.E.! A short while ago, Donna had me work up a story of our niece and nephew getting lost in the E.E. building. That turned out pretty good, too. So … how about a new character? How about trying to come into it from a different angle, through the eyes and experiences of a new character? Somebody not real, that I don’t know, and that way, if it isn’t any good I won’t be letting them down? And it was off to the races! I had Polly’s Summer Vacation at Excentrifugal Engineering written up in three evenings, edited twice, and sent off to Amanda for editing in a week.

Of my previous two stories, Polly has not just done better, she has blown the doors off the other two by a considerable margin, and that was with it being first published with all kinds of errors, and a cover so bad (what WAS I thinking?) that Sarah Hoyt made me a new one! Polly’s 2nd-4th years with E.E. are in the works and moving along nicely, too. The only problem is not letting Rex take over, which he tends to do.

Which is odd, because Rex is just this guy. The most boring man on Earth.

“… and also in the news today: mad-man inventor Rex Mason and his company Excentrifugal Engineering have done it again. They claim they have prevented Earth from being invaded by elder evil gods from the lost millennia, which Mason calls, simply, the “Tentacles.” Mount Everest was cut in half in the process.

“I don’t know what all the fuss is about. That could have happened to anyone, and anyway, the other half is still here, it’s just in orbit. Soon we’ll be calling it a new moon and laughing about all this,” said company president Rex Mason.

The Green Party and the Gaia Club are calling for Mason to be prosecuted in the World Court for environmental destruction and persecution of a newly discovered endangered species, the Tentacles. When asked what he had to say to this, Mason announced a new E.E. summer intern program, saying, “It would be the biggest thing ever …”

***

You can find out more about Rex, Donna and especially Polly in Jim’s short story, Polly’s Summer Vacation at Excentrifugal Engineering.

When a slight problem of some missing mountain range threatens to have Rex Mason thrown in jail, what does he do? He creates the Excentrifugal Engineering Youth Internship Program! The first participant: 13-year-old Polly Madison! But it won’t be easy, and confined to a wheel chair, it may be too much for her. Join her as her intelligence, creativity, perseverance and courage are all tested as never before in her life!

 

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