Tag Archives: writing

A Change in Plans

A quick note before I get into today’s post. The series on formatting will continue next week. I want a little more time working with some of the programs I’m going to discuss before blogging about them. Sorry for the delay but I wanted to be comfortable with the programs before not only reviewing them but, in at least one instance, recommending them.

As for today, well, the title says it all.

Last week, I released Nocturnal Rebellion. It is the fifth book in the Nocturnal Lives series and the sixth title overall. This was the first series I started and Nocturnal Origins was the second book I published. To say this series and its characters have held a special place in my writer’s heart is to put it mildly. Because of that, I expected a few days, maybe more, of mourning after Rebellion’s release. Why? Because Rebellion brings an end to the current story arc and I’m not sure where the story will go from there — or when the next installment will happen.

Okay, that’s not quite right. I have a glimmer of a spark of an idea about where to go next but that’s it. Knowing Mac and company won’t be part of my regular writing schedule for a while is, well, odd.

Normally, I take a week or so away from writing after a book release to do some promotion and to simply get my head cleared of that book and ready for the next project. That’s when I try to catch up on my reading, reorganize my office — okay, cleaning it and getting it ready for whatever I’m about to start writing — sleeping and gaming. It is also when I catch up on those projects around the house that I put on hold while I got the last book ready for press.

This time, however, it didn’t happen like that. I took a day. A single day. Then I dug into my office, clearing away all the notes and research used during Rebellion’s writing. Once that was accomplished, I sat down and over the course of the next two days, made notes on the projects that have been floating around in my mind, those I knew I needed to get done in the next six months or so as well as others that, it seemed, had been lurking just below the surface until I finished Rebellion.

By the time I was finished, I had notes on 12 separate titles. 12. What the bleep?!? Fortunately for my sanity, not all of them are novels. More fortunately, some were for titles I’d already planned and, in a couple of occasions, are projects I’ve already gotten very rough drafts completed for — the next in the Honor and Duty series as well as the next in the Sword of the Gods series. What I hadn’t expected doing this were the several standalone titles that cropped up or the additional titles I hadn’t planned in the Eerie Side of the Tracks, including a novel that hit me out of nowhere but that I’m very excited to write.

So what’s the change, you ask.

First, and least important, is the fact I sat down and actually made notes on more than the current work in progress. I very rarely do that. While I’m not a pantser, I most definitely am not a plotter either. I’ve always fallen somewhere in-between. Whether this indicates a change in my process or not, I don’t know. I’ll admit, the prospect of my process changing is a bit scary. But it’s happened before and I adapted. I’ll do so again.

The second change is in the publishing schedule. Again, it’s no biggie. That is the joy of being an indie. I can shuffle my schedule as needed. But, in this case, there is no shuffling needed. I simply added more titles to it. In a way, that’s reassuring. It is also daunting because it means I can’t goof off and say “I don’t know what to write”. And yes, there was a teen-like whine with that quote.

The change is the obvious one. For the first time in more than five years, I don’t have a story with Mac in the hopper. Part of me mourns that. But it was time for this particular story arc to come to an end. Yet, even as I write this post, I know Myrtle the Evil Muse is thinking about what to do with our band of heroes next. She’s already teased (okay, tormented) me with a scene with a panicked Mac discovering she’s pregnant and wondering the best way to potty train the baby of two people who shift into jaguars. Do you buy stock in diapers or kitty litter? Do you buy teething rings or scratching posts?

You see why I call my muse evil?

Crap!

Even as I sit here typing in this post, I hear Myrtle cackling madly. It’s not enough that she inflicted me with a book that wants to be written NOW! I feel a new series coming on. In case you’re wondering, it’s a bit like feeling a headache coming on. Why? Because Myrtle isn’t subtle. She comes racing in with her combat boots and bullhorn.

Seriously, the change I refer to in the title is more of a mental change than anything else. I noticed something as I wrote my last couple of books. I was allowing myself to be distracted by the internet, by gaming, etc. I know the reasons why but knowing them doesn’t always mean I do anything about them. So, I made the decision to change one very basic and yet important part of my writing. I have switched machines. My PC laptop no longer is my work machine. I’ll still use it for a couple of post-edit functions because it has a larger screen and some of the programs I use after I finish a manuscript. But the actual writing now happens on the MacBook Air. So far, it has been a very positive change. It is as though my subconscious understand that when I’m on the Mac, it is “work”. the PC is “play”. We’ll see how long that lasts.

I’m not recommending everyone go out and buy a laptop or desktop that is a totally different OS from what you have now. What I do recommend is that you review how you write and be honest with yourself about whether you are allowing yourself to become distracted too easily. I know authors who have machines without internet connectivity that they use to write on. Others don’t put games or social media apps on their work machines. I finally am starting to understand why.

The other thing I’ve done is blocked off several hours in the morning and then in the afternoon where I don’t go online. I don’t check email and I don’t go to Facebook or similar sites. This is “work” time. That has helped as well.

In other words, I am practicing what I preach — I am treating my writing like my business. I’m still looking at ways to get better, both with time management and with promotion. Boy do I need to get better at promotion. How about you? What can you do to improve your productivity? What techniques are you using that seem to help?

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Filed under AMANDA, WRITING: CRAFT, WRITING: LIFE

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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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

What is long enough?

Thanks to Sarah for filling in for me yesterday. Family always takes precedence over blogging and my son is home on leave.

This morning, as I was talking with Kilted Dave about what to blog about, I came across a post from an author wondering if they should change how they write. No, they weren’t talking about their writing process but more the length of what they sell. They were noticing how some authors are releasing titles every month or so but that those titles are shorter works. So they were wondering if they needed to move away from novel-length work to shorter work in order to sell more.

My first response, after beating my head against the proverbial wall, was shake my head. Yes, it hurt to pound it against the wall and I needed to clear the cobwebs. But also because you can’t judge what is right for your work by what other authors are doing. You have to look at each individual work and decide what length best serves the story.

Oops, there I went and did it. I said the icky word: story.

Let’s face it, story is what we need to be worried about. Have we written enough, well enough to not only give the reader an enjoyable and engaging story or plot but also characters they can identify with and cheer for or against? If we haven’t, it doesn’t matter how long or short the piece is. Without that development, it won’t sell for long and you certainly won’t garner the sort of reviews that help other readers decide to buy your work.

There is something else to consider when you are looking at how long a story should be and that is the way you write. Not everyone is a natural long fiction writer and not everyone finds writing short fiction easy. I can take almost as long to write a 12,000 word piece as I do a 100k word novel. Why? I’m not really sure. Well, in one way I am. You can’t go into as much detail, have as many scenes and sub-plots in a 12k word piece as you do in something longer. So you have to pare it down to the essentials — plot, character, message (if you have one).

Now, Amanda, you can release a novel in serial form.

Yes, you can. But what about the reader who accidentally misses one installment? Or what happens when your reader realizes that those $0.99 installments or episodes are suddenly costing them as much — or more — than a traditionally published e-book? I quit doing episodic fiction as a reader when I realized that the novel when and if it ever finished was going to cost me much more than I am willing to pay for an e-book.

I also realized that a number of authors releasing their work as “episodes” really didn’t get the idea behind serials. They hadn’t spent time reading the serials from magazines like If and Analog back in the Golden Age of SF. They hadn’t watched serialized shows like Flash Gordon and others (no, I’m not THAT old but they used to play them late at night on the weekends). There is an ebb and flow to a good serial that most of those trying to do them now simply don’t get.

The basic lesson is you have to give the reader a reason to come back and pay you more money to keep reading your work. Going hand-in-hand with that, for me at least, you have to prove you are going to finish the serial. I do NOT want to spend $0.99 or more per episode only to have the author decide in the middle of the thing that it isn’t worth finishing. Then there is the problem of making sure your reader remembers to go grab the new episode when it comes out. Unless you have figured out a way to make a subscription to the serial work, you run the very real risk of losing readers simply because they don’t remember to go back each month to grab the new title.

So I will repeat the rule we’ve all been told who knows how many times. A book or story is as long as it needs to be. Quit putting artificial word count limits on yourself without taking the plot of your book into consideration. Anyone who has been around short story writers knows the agony they go through after writing a story and then having to cut words to meet a word count requirement for one publication or another. There are times when they have to say the market they initially wrote the story for won’t work because they can’t cut it any more than they already have.

Also, don’t go into a project with the mindset that you think you only have so many words in you for it — ie, you don’t think you can write more than x-number of words — and then limit yourself to that number. I have known writers who, before they have put the first word down on paper have said they really don’t think they have more than 40k words in them for a certain project. What always happens is they either wind up not giving the reader the description the reader needs to truly enjoy the book or they rush the ending — something that is very noticeable. If you have spent 38k words building up to the climax of the story and then you have the final showdown and the cigarette moment in 2k words, you have probably just done your reader a disservice.

In other words, don’t worry about what other people are doing. Yes, there will always be writers out there who write faster than you do. They may write long fiction or short fiction. It really doesn’t matter. All that does is putting out the best work you can.

And now, for the mandatory author promotion. Nocturnal Rebellion will be released in the very near future. To help ramp up for its release, I have lowered the price of Nocturnal Origins, the first book in the series to $0.99.

Some things can never be forgotten, no matter how hard you try.

Detective Sergeant Mackenzie Santos knows that bitter lesson all too well. The day she died changed her life and her perception of the world forever.It doesn’t matter that everyone, even her doctors, believe a miracle occurred when she awoke in the hospital morgue. Mac knows better. It hadn’t been a miracle, at least not a holy one. As far as she’s concerned, that’s the day the dogs of Hell came for her.

Investigating one of the most horrendous murders in recent Dallas history, Mac also has to break in a new partner and deal with nosy reporters who follow her every move and who publish confidential details of the investigation without a qualm.

Complicating matters even more, Mac learns the truth about her family and herself, a truth that forces her to deal with the monster within, as well as those on the outside.But none of this matters as much as discovering the identity of the murderer before he can kill again.

I have also started working on the “Special Edition” version of Vengeance from Ashes. I’m really excited about this project. These special editions will include new material and it has been fun planning them and, once Rebellion is out, I’ll be working on them in the evenings after the days are spent writing the next book in the series. Well, not really writing as it has been drafted already but taking a very rough draft and making it publishable. Then it will be on to the next project, whatever it might be.

 

 

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It really is a business

Maybe it’s because taxes are due today. Maybe it’s something else. But, for whatever reason, the last few days have been spent looking at my writing from a business standpoint. I try to do this on a regular basis, but I know I don’t do it nearly as often as I should. Part of the reason is because I would much rather write. After all, I am a writer, not an accountant, etc. But the business aspect is a necessary evil.

It also includes much more than simply looking at sales and making sure taxes are paid.

But it does include numbers — ick — and looking at trends, seeing what other authors are saying about their sales and making determinations about what needs to be done, if anything.

So, the short version of what I’ve done over the last few days is simple:

  • Reviewed my sales for the last year
    • by title
    • by genre
    • by price
  • Looked at pricing for similar titles, including age of title
  • Reviewed blurbs and keywords
  • Reviewed covers and compared them with what is currently selling well, indie and trad published
    • looked at the art elements
    • looked at the font
    • looked at overall cover design
  • Reviewed my publication schedule for the next year
    • made determinations about what should be released when
    • made determinations about new titles (unrelated to current series)
  • Reviewed my meager promotion operation with an eye to expanding it

Now, don’t start running to the hills. I’m not going in-depth into what I did and what my plans are. For one, a lot of those plans are still being made. For another, right now a lot of it is subject to change, at least until I work some more on it. Still, some of the things that are factoring into my decisions are, I believe, things each of us need to look into when it comes to our writing.

Because numbers (ick) are involved, I’m still looking at my sales figures and comparing them with the last several years. In some ways, this is an exercise in comparing apples to oranges. In others, it is interesting. For one thing, I can definitely see a trend. Once I hit 10 novels, my sales across the board went up. Also, once I started linking my pen names with my name, sales across the board went up. Still, numbers are involved, so this will take several more days for me to winnow out all the information I’m looking for. (sorry, I’m a writer, not an accountant and numbers make my head hurt.O

The next thing I looked at happened to be my product pages. Oh my, there is so much there we have to take into consideration and we don’t tend to. At least I don’t. Sure, I want to have the best possible cover to draw the reader’s eye. I want a snappy and interesting blurb to grab the reader and make them want to buy the book. But I don’t tend to check the product page on anything other than my laptop. I forget to look at it on my Kindle Fire or Mom’s iPad. I sure forget to look at it in my phone. Or, more accurately, I used to forget it. After the last few days, I won’t. What I learned is that the longer blurbs will work on a tablet or computer screen but, on a phone, they are a pain because you have to keep scrolling. Not good. Scrolling for a screen or two is one thing but for screen after screen after screen — nope. Not gonna happen. Fortunately, most of mine weren’t that bad and those that were happen to be on two titles I am going to withdraw because they were supposed to be short term promo titles initially.

Another thing I don’t always do, and it is now on my list of must do, is check the preview function for my books. I’m not talking about the downloadable preview (although that should be checked as well) but the “click to see inside” preview. A number of readers, myself included, use this to determine if we want to buy or borrow a book. This is where they will get their first real impression of that particular title. It’s important to make sure the preview doesn’t appear to be poorly formatted. Even more important is making sure there are no misspellings or outrageous grammatical errors present. I can’t stress this enough. This is a free promo and so many of us don’t bother checking to make sure it is accurately representing our work and that, in turn, can cost us sales.

All that showed I have some blurbs to update. As a reader, one thing that will stop me from buying a book is a badly written blurb. If I find misspellings or poor grammar or punctuation in a blurb, I’m going to assume the book is written in much the same way. Also, look at the formatting of the blurb. If there is no white space between paragraphs, you are basically screaming one of two things. Either you are in newbie who doesn’t know how to format blurbs or you are careless and don’t care. Either way, it isn’t the image you want to put out for your readers to see.

I also need to update my keywords on several books. This is important because the keywords help with the search function. Also, in case you didn’t know it, keywords can also help determine what genres and sub-genres your work is listed under. Amazon is starting to crack down on what keywords you use because they had so many complaints by readers about searching certain keywords and finding books that were not “romance” or whatever. That means I need to go back and make sure I have not run afoul of the rule by mistake.

Also, the keywords change from time to time. So to sub-genres. That makes it imperative to regularly make sure we are using the best keywords we can. It helps sales by helping readers find out books.

While doing this, I also looked at my covers. Now, I’m not going to spend any time on the making of covers because, duh, I’m not an artist. I will say this. Don’t be afraid to periodically change your cover. Now, I’m not talking every month or even every six months. But, just as sub-genres change and expand, covers for those genres change as well. As indies, we need to be aware of what the trads are doing in our genres, both with images and with fonts. While we don’t have to copy them, it never hurts to at least have the same “feel” as they do. Why? Because if you write books with the same feel as the Mercy Thompson or Jane Yellowrock books, it will only help for your covers to have the same feel. Why? Because readers of those series will see something that is familiar when they look at your work and the cover might just entice them into reading the blurb and buying the book.

But there is something else to look at as well. If, like me, you write series, your covers within the series have to relate to one another. It is another way of cuing your readers that the new book is part of the series they are already reading and enjoying.

Finally, even if your cover worked when the book came out two years — or ten — ago, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will now. So look at what is selling well in your book’s genre and sub-genre and then look at your book cover with a critical eye. If it doesn’t feel fresh, if it looks and feels dated (or worse, amateur), then change it. But do your homework. Know what works — both in images and in fonts — in your genre and sub-genre.

Now you see why I said I wasn’t going in-depth today about everything. All this was just off the product page. More than that, it was off the product page of just one one-line store. More than that, it isn’t everything off the product page that I’m looking at as an author. By the way, I am also looking at it as a reader, trying to think about what strikes me and grabs my attention when I’m looking for a book to read. If you guys want, I’ll continue with this next week. Otherwise, the next scream of frustration you hear is me when I once again return to the task of looking at my numbers and trying to see if I can make sense of their arcane magic.

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Writers write and more

When I woke this morning, I had an idea for today’s post but wanted to make sure I had my facts straight. So I checked several sources and came away with several things to discuss today. All are things we need to think about as writers. I know, I know. Writers just want to write. Unfortunately, there is a great deal more to it now, whether you plan on going indie or traditional. Writing is a business and that means we have to make business considerations.

The biggest considerations we have to make today as writers is whether we want to go the traditional publishing route or go indie. There are pros and cons to both. We’ve discussed those factors time and again here at MGC, so I’m not going to spend a great deal of time rehashing them. However, there is one thing to take into consideration when making that decision you do need to know about.

When talking to writers about the big difference between indie and traditional publishing, the main difference you will hear is that traditional publishing can get you into bookstores. I knew very few writers, myself included, who would’t love to see their books on the shelves of the local store. As indies, that is a near impossibility, especially if there are no locally owned bookstores in the area. So that leaves us, whether we are traditionally published or indie, to hope for shelf space in Barnes & Noble, at least here in the States.

Unfortunately, the fiscal health of B&N has been in question for some time and those questions are growing louder. As of last Friday, stock in the company was down 17.04% for the year. That includes a 5.61% decrease in the last 30 days. For the past year, stock is down 24.43%. Think about that. In 12 months, the stock value of the company has declined close to 25% and this at a time when the S&P has risen more than 16%. If that news doesn’t trouble you as a writer, it should. B&N is the main bookstore in the United States. If you thought the publishing industry was rocked by the loss of Borders, think about what will happen if B&N goes under. Even if it doesn’t, do any of us doubt that it is going to have to greatly change its manner of operation? More stores are going to close as leases come up for renewal. How many of them will be opened in new locations? No nearly enough. Worse, the loss of brick and mortar stores means publishers will lose their bookstore advantage and, believe me, they aren’t ready for that to happen. Not yet and, I hate to say it, I’m not sure any of the Big 5 will be ready when — and if — that time actually comes. So it is up to the authors to take steps to protect themselves now. What those steps are is up to each individual author. But they need to know what is happening in the industry and not let events broadside them.

Next up is the latest in the Tate Publishing debacle. A year ago, Tate was hit with a class action law suit filed by its authors. It later closed its doors. Last week, Xerox won judgment against Tate for more than $2-million. This was after Tate’s lawyers withdrew from the case after they hadn’t been paid. The basic lesson to come from this is that, as a writer, you need to do your homework before submitting your work to anyone, much less before signing a contract. Tate’s reputation for having problems predated the class action law suit for quite a while and yet authors continued to submit to them. This is why using sites such as Preditors & Editors is so important. So is doing a simple Google search. You need to know who you are doing business with. Beyond that, you really should have an IP attorney look at contracts before you sign them. Publishers are in the business to make money — for themselves. Authors are merely cogs in the machine, cogs they feel are interchangeable.

Finally, I came across this article and I really, really hope it’s someone’s idea of an April Fool’s Day joke.  I want to believe that it is. After all, any of us who have submitted our work to an editor or publisher only to have it rejected know how much that hurts. But to give up after trying with two books, especially in this day and age when indie has gained a strong foothold in the market, is beyond me. So is the oh-so-precious “I’m scarred” attitude. I really want to believe the author was trying to be funny on April Fool’s but considering the site where the post is published, I can’t be sure. What do you think?

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What do you want to read?

First off, I have to give a hat tip to Jason Cordova for this topic. On his FB page today, he commented that he was tired of all the stories where “the US is a fractured dystopia. You know what I want to see? A fractured dystopian world in which the last guardians of the gate is the US.” This started a discussion where another poster commented that his daughter had complained not long ago about YA novels where the protagonist is a teen girl whose parents are either dead or abusive. According to the commenter, his daughter wanted to read stories where the parents were normal and supportive. All that got me to thinking about what I want to read — not to mention write — and what I heard from my son when he was in school about the books he’d been required to read.

Which brings it all around to the issue of whether our kids read more or less than we do and why.

Let me start by saying I agree completely with Jason about wanting to see something than the US in ruins. All you have to do is look at who the gatekeepers are in traditional publishing (mainly the Big 5) right now to understand why they love this sort of book. Hell, all you have to do is look at their social media accounts to see that they believe the US is already on an irreversible course to total destruction. They scream and yell and cry at the mere mention of Trump’s name. You can wander over to the Tor site and find a post about how they simply don’t know what to imagine now because, you guessed it, Trump.

These are the same gatekeepers who have made it almost impossible to be published by the Big 5 and the smaller publishers following their lead if you don’t have the appropriate checklist of character traits in your novel. These are the ones, especially in science fiction and fantasy, who have taken the fun out of reading. And, no, this is not a screed against message fiction. You can have a message and still make it entertaining. You can have literary fiction and have it be engaging and entertaining. It doesn’t have to preach to the point of becoming boring and abrasive.

There is a reason if you look at the best seller lists on Amazon for e-books, you see as many, if not more, indie books there as you do trad published.

So, what do I want to read? I want t read a story that engages my imagination. I want to be entertained. Sure, I read more than my fair share of non-fiction and I enjoy it. But, for fiction, I’m not reading to be depressed or lectured to. I’m reading to be entertained, to escape the pressures of every day life. I want to see characters who are challenged and who do everything they can to overcome that challenge. No, they don’t have to always prevail. Life isn’t like that. Very little will turn me off of an author quicker than every protagonist turning into a Mary Sue.

Every character doesn’t have to agree with my personal religious or political beliefs. Life doesn’t work that way and neither should fiction. I want to see boundaries pushed, but not in a way that it breaks the world or throws me out of the book.  If I’m reading alternate history, I expect the author to have a working knowledge of the historical era and location he is writing about. Alternate doesn’t mean throwing everything out and starting over. It means taking something that happened and changing it. The Man in the High Castle, by Phillip K. Dick, is a prime example. The Axis won World War II and he goes from there. As you read the story, however, you know he had a feel for the real historical events behind his new world.

Getting back to the original comment that prompted this post, I believe we see so many books coming from traditional publishers where the US has fallen because that is what they want. That is especially true right now. Don’t believe me? Go check out the social media accounts of some of those sitting in the ivory towers of publishing and see what they are posting. I don’t know about your feed, but mine shows more political posts coming from them than news about books or the authors they work with. It’s sad really and, were I one of the authors they worked with, it would piss me off . Why? Because they are turning away readers, not necessarily because of their politics (although that is open for debate) but because they aren’t promoting my work.

As for the daughter’s comment that she would like to see a YA book with a female protagonist with normal, supportive parents, I remember my son saying much the same when he was in junior high and high school. Teachers wondered why students in his class didn’t finish their summer reading list when the books on it were about drug and sex abuse, mental illness, homelessness, poverty and the like. I can’t remember a single summer reading list where there was a book on it that could even remotely be termed entertaining. Instead, the books were chosen by committee to make sure the students learned about all the bad things in society.

Oh, and the books had to meet a vocabulary requirement as well. On the surface, that might look good but it wasn’t. This wasn’t so much an attempt to challenge students by giving them vocabulary that would expand their linguistic skills. Instead, they wanted to make sure the books weren’t too “challenging”. After all, they mustn’t have little Susie or Johnny running to Mom or Dad to ask what a word meant or, worse, looking it up for themselves.

Worse, the subject matter wasn’t always appropriate to the age group. Yes, rape exists and victims come in all ages. However, to assign a book to a kid going into the fifth grade that includes a graphic attempted rape scene is not acceptable. Yet they did and the teacher couldn’t understand why I had an issue with it. After all, no other parent complained. Which wasn’t exactly the truth. I just happened to have been the first because I was at the school waiting to complain the moment the teachers reported before school started for the new year.

And they wondered why kids weren’t reading.

They weren’t reading because the books didn’t speak to them. They didn’t grab their attention and entertain. It is all too easy to put a book down and walk away from it if you aren’t pulled in by the story. If the story bores you or turns you off, it is more than tempting to simply never return to the book. THAT is why our kids don’t read what so many public schools want them to. When school administrations — and, more importantly, the politicians who think they know more about education than the professionals (and yes, I know that’s an oxymoron) — realize a kid can learn more from reading Pratchett than he can from being forced to read a book that is torture to get through, they will see an increase in the number of books read, in reading levels and in vocabulary.

There is nothing wrong with reading for information or to learn. Non-fiction is necessary, at least for my reading needs. But not everyone loves, or even likes, literary fiction. Not everyone wants to read to be depressed. There are other ways of getting those lessons across. It is time we as parents, as adults, as educators and writers, understood one simple truth: if we don’t keep our readers’ attention, if we don’t make them want to continue reading, they will put the book down and walk away. So instead of asking what “lesson” we want to teach with a book and then figuring out a bare minimum plot to go around the sermon, we need to figure out how to build a rich and engaging plot where the “lesson” can be woven in subtly and in such a way we get the point across without resorting to the literary equivalent of a 2X4.

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Filed under AMANDA, POLIT(ICK!)S, SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY, WRITING: PUBLISHING